By ABBY BELDEN
While high heels are a fashion statement all on their own, there are some places they just can't go.
One of those places is Songbird Stables, an equine boarding facility located outside of Hays.
So, before Keira Gray could head out to her lesson with Amanda Barnum, she had to ditch the high heels for pink cowgirl boots.
"I didn't really like the high heels. They were showing my toes, and I had music today, and we were moving around. So that was kind of bad. ... I had to change when I got home and because I was riding a horse," she said. "My mom told me to."
But after those high heels were switched for boots, the young rider was ready for her lesson from Barnum.
Barnum, originally from Colby, offers an array of services, including lessons through horse training by Barnum.
Barnum works out of Songbird Stables in addition to attending classes at Fort Hays State University, where she is pursuing a degree in math education.
"I've been located and doing this out of Hays since last August," said the 21-year-old trainer. "I did probably a couple years of this in Colby, so really not that long at all."
With no land in Colby, Barnum has always had to board her horses, which is where this endeavor began after the owner approached her to help with training after seeing her work with many of his young horses.
After arriving in Hays, Barnum discovered Songbird Stables through an ad and has been training there since.
The lessons run $15 for half an hour and $25 for an hour, and offers hands on learning. The horse training is $475, which is similar pricing to others in the area, and includes boarding fees, 30 days of training and more.
"I'm a big believer in as much as I'd love to have you take lessons from me the rest of your life, I want you to be able to go out and do your own horse," Barnum said. "So, that includes how to saddle your horse, care and needs. ... I'm a huge believer in just don't put them on a horse and do a trail ride, let's actually get them out and doing something to where they can actually own a horse and sustain their selves."
According to Kristi Gray, owner of Songbird Stables and Keira's mother, Barnum has been a great addition.
"She's been here maybe a year ... but she started training right away and giving lessons," Gray said. "And my dad brought a bunch of his colts he bought, saved them from slaughter. My dad with his big heart, he brought a bunch of them up, and she's sold every single one of them. ... She's been a great asset."
Barnum said a lot of her business is repeat customers, those who find her through her Facebook page, Horse Training by Barnum, or through referrals.
Barnum also dresses her horses for holidays and offers birthday party fun, too.
"I just load up the horse, and especially if it's a girl party, I'll put hearts on the butt and ribbons in the mane and tail. I have party hats that the horses can wear," Barnum said. "We just take them, and we can do pony rides. This horse (Jemeela) does really well with paint the pony, and they can take their finger paint and paint the horse. ... I don't keep stock that's not safe, besides my training and rescue horses ... that's the main thing, having stock that is calm and is going to handle the craziness. You can't train that into a horse."
Jemeela, whose name is Arabic for beautiful, has been with Barnum since she began riding.
"She's the first horse I ever had. I got her when I was 13," Barnum said. "She'll be 21 this upcoming May. In human years, she is in her 60s to 70s. She's still got a lot of life left in her, but she's definitely getting old."
Magnum, the second horse Barnum acquired, is larger than Jemeela, but he's a gentle giant and "such a good training horse. He's so good with the kids," Gray said.
Barnum said she works with a variety of customers, young and old, some with special needs or with others who are just looking to spend time with horses.
Carrie Haddock's 3-year old daughter, Katelyn, has taken to the horses. But her youngest, 2-year old Zoe, hasn't quite warmed up to them.
"We are hoping for Zoe because she has Down's syndrome, for horse therapy," Haddock said. "She's not really warmed up to it yet; maybe someday. But Katelyn just absolutely loves it."
Haddock is hoping to get Zoe on a horse when she is a little older, as it is believed to help with movement, walking and more.
The time with the horses also gets her kids out of the house and away from the humming of technology.
"I think it's awesome because I don't think kids get the opportunity to be around so much outdoor activities unplugged," she said. "It's amazing. We feel very lucky."
For Barnum, it's about giving back to the horses, she said, who have given her so much throughout the years.
"As cheesy as it sounds, just spreading the love of horses," she said. "And I know that sounds stupid cheesy, but everyone's driving their cars, plugged into their phones. This is something that you ... touch, you get dirty and you have a blast while doing it."