Equestrian pro turns passion into rewarding career

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When Anna Huggins Porter was 5 years old, her mother signed her up for weekly riding lessons at a farm not far from the family’s home. She continued riding and competing through high school and college, and today she is a professional rider and the proud owner of Eight Fences Farm in Mansfield, where she teaches lessons and coaches a successful junior show team.

Anna Huggins Porter and Grand Strand at HITS on the Hudson in Saugerties, NY

Anna Huggins Porter and Grand Strand at HITS on the Hudson in Saugerties, NY

“I’ve always had a connection with horses,” said Huggins Porter, who lives in Canton with her husband, Mark, a newly elected selectman.

Growing up, she took part in pony club and eventing, which combines dressage, cross country jumping and stadium jumping. Dressage is a competition in which the rider and the horse perform movements that demonstrate the horse’s natural abilities. She moved on to hunter and jumper competitions, in which the rider and horse are judged on their speed, jumps and movements as they traverse courses. She began as a junior rider and has since joined the professional ranks.

Huggins Porter attended Stonehill College, where she rode for the equestrian team. “Each college hosts a show and provides the horses,” she said, noting that Stonehill had an arrangement with a horse farm in Stoughton.

She has a degree in political science from Stonehill and for a time worked in different fields, but felt the pull for her early love. “I tried really hard to do something other than the horses,” she said, “but I kept coming back.”

At Eight Fences Farm, Huggins Porter coaches students who plan to ride in horse shows that are Massachusetts rated, New England rated, and United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) rated. The show team at Eight Fences is made up of elementary and high school students. She also provides stables for clients to board their horses and packages of riding lessons for a diverse group of riders, from young children to senior citizens, some of whom will ride a horse for the first time. She has had her Massachusetts instructor’s license since 2006 and opened Eight Fences five years ago.

When she speaks about the job she loves, it is with the voice of a teacher who is excited about the challenges that both the people and the animals ask her to solve.

“Every person or horse presents a puzzle — to ride at a higher level or to learn something new,” Huggins Porter explained. “How do I get my message across in a positive way so they can succeed? It’s constantly changing.”

She added that over the years, she has learned who is easier to teach. “Hands down, the horse,” she said. “Horses are very honest. What you see is what you get. Nobody is hiding anything. If they have an issue, you’ll see it. I’m with them every day for 10 hours. They very much become our partners. It’s like knowing a close friend.”

She noted that for most people, their contact with horses is limited to seeing them on television or with police officers on a street. She understands that not everyone is comfortable around them. “They’re large animals, but they’re gentle,” she said.

Huggins Porter owns five horses, two of them that she rides in horse shows and three that are based at her farm for her students. She buys the horses and constantly trains them. She said that the horses that do best with the training for competitions are those that love to jump, can adapt quickly to different environments and people, and are comfortable traveling to different locations for shows. If it becomes obvious that the horse would prefer to have a different job, she finds a new home for him.

A lot of her free time revolves around activities in her barn with her clients and their families. “We really like to have a lot of social gatherings, potluck dinners and birthday parties,” she said. The main season for horse shows in the New England area is from April through October. In the winter, she relocates to Florida to compete in the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit.

“I plan to try to expand our show team, the number of students, and to compete in more USEF horse shows,” she said of the future at Eight Fences Farm.

But teaching her students and horses is what she enjoys most. “Watching a student get something for the first time,” she said, “that is the best thing.”

For more information, go to Eight Fences Farm on Facebook.

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