Eliana Boan’s second birthday party was pony-themed. She and her twin brother, Evan, couldn’t get enough of them. So Heidi Boan connected with Suzanne Stettinius, a close family friend of the Boans and a modern pentathlete who represented the United States at the 2012 Olympics and trained racehorses, put both kids on ponies. Suzanne’s energy made it fun for them. For Eliana in particular, it helped her feel brave.
Heidi loved seeing that bravery in her daughter. When Eliana fell off during her first lesson with Suzanne, Heidi ran to her as any mother would. “She really just kind of slid down the pony’s neck into the soft sand,” she remembered. When she knelt to help her up, she found Eliana giggling as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. Heidi lifted her back into the saddle and from that moment on, she knew her unstoppable Eliana would bravely kick on. Ponies and riding wouldn’t be just a phase.
Eliana’s riding inspired Heidi to climb into the saddle for the first time at the age of 40. When she did, it felt right. “It resonated with my love of adventure, animals, and the outdoors,” Heidi says. She also found it very humbling to collect her own share of bumps and bruises. “I learned all my other sports had nothing to do with the fitness I needed for riding,” she adds.
One day, Suzanne took Heidi out with Carrollton Hounds in Westminster, Maryland, for a beginner hunt event. She had the time of her life. The energy, the outdoors, and the connection to the people, hounds, and horses hooked her instantly. She knew Eliana would love it. It would embolden her as she continued to grow into her jodhpurs. The more Heidi talked about it with fellow riders, conversations usually ended the same: connect with Mimi Schmitz.
Mimi owns The Stables in Sparks Glencoe, Maryland. “Everyone around here knows Mimi,” Heidi says. “I met her at our favorite coffee shop, The Filling Station. I saw her boots, struck up a conversation, and we swapped info.”
After Heidi purchased an unsuitable horse, Mimi offered Heidi a lease on one of her hunt ponies, Bentley. Weekly lessons with Mimi taught Heidi how to ride him. She also started hound walking, which led to autumn hunting, which eventually led to her joining her local club, Elkridge-Harford Hounds, in Monkton, Maryland. “I had plenty of doubts about my capability,” Heidi says, “but Mimi encouraged me that I could do it.”
She wanted to do it not only for herself but also for her kids. After joining Elkridge-Harford Hounds that fall, she had the time of her life all season. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people with whom to ride,” Heidi says. “We have the most beautiful country to enjoy and it’s an active, thriving club. I received tremendous encouragement and support.”
Now she just had to get Eliana out there. I wasn’t long before Mimi offered Heidi a lease on her 22-year-old, 13.1-hand Halfinger/Quarter Horse pony named Peeka. “Peeka is the angel pony for which every pony mom wishes,” Heidi says.
That first season of hunting and training with Mimi had renewed Heidi’s confidence enough to buy a 16.1-hand Draught/Thoroughbred cross mare named Ghiradelli from a friend she made while hunting with the Red Mountain hounds in North Carolina. The mare hunted with energy and sanity, which Heidi loved. But perhaps what she did best was enable Heidi to take care of Eliana and Peeka as they entered the hunt field for the first time.
“She tempers herself enough to lead Eliana safely across streams and wait while the rest of the field gallops off,” Heidi says. “She will listen to me as we build speed and I keep an eye on Eliana. She isn’t a big fan of the ring but every time she takes care of my daughter, I fall more in love with her.
“The first time I was able to lead Eliana hunting off lead is hard to top,” Heidi went on. “It was one of my all-time favorite moments as her mom. It was a beautiful day and we went out for almost two hours. As we were loading back up in the trailer, she just hugged me out of nowhere and says, ‘Thanks, Mom, you’re the best!’ Then, of course, I instantly became a puddle and blamed hay in my eyes.”
As they did for Heidi, the members of Elkridge-Harford Hounds welcomed Eliana with open arms and helped her feel brave and connected. If Heidi shows up on a Saturday without Eliana, her friends ask for her. Just as Heidi had wished since she helped a giggling Eliana back into the saddle after falling off at her first lesson, Eliana grows braver and feels more connected each time she gets back in the saddle and follows the pack into the field.
“My favorite is when we go really fast,” says Eliana, now eight years old. “My favorite memory so far was when I viewed a fox at the Manor Glen hunt.” Her favorite hound is a pup named Peanut, who she got to hold at a puppy auction. After finishing her first season of foxhunting, she’ll do the Quiz Rally, Games Rally, and perhaps try Show Jumping with Elkridge-Harford Hunt Pony Club, where she’s been a member for two years.
For Heidi, her favorite part of being involved with horses is spending quality time with her children and learning valuable horsemanship lessons along the way, thanks to Mimi and the Elkridge-Harford Hounds, as well as Elkridge-Harford Hunt Pony Club. “Pony Camp is one of Eliana and Evan’s favorite activities of the summer,” says Heidi. “Evan helps me all week long. We run it on the grounds of the Hunt Club, who kindly let us use a full barn and a few paddocks. It’s a full week of lessons, speakers, trail rides, pool time, crafts and we wrap up the week hound walking with our huntsman. It’s pretty awesome.”