Party games, ice cream ... and horses
For family members, a way to share love of horses
URBANA — Katrina Olson jokes that her rural Urbana family decided to start a horse party business as a way to "subsidize their horse habit."
The Olsons opened Misty Pines Stables last fall, a business that offers two-hour parties for birthdays and children's groups, badge programs for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and gift certificates for 30-minute horse rides. When children come to Misty Pines, they learn how to groom and saddle a horse and then go for a ride in an outdoor arena.
The family's interest in horses started about six years ago when daughter Hailey did a Girl Scout activity as a second-grader.
"It seemed to be something she was very interested in," Katrina said.
At the time, the Olsons lived in Savoy, so owning a horse didn't seem like a possibility. Dad Scott Olson volunteered for several years with the Society for Hooved Animals' Rescue and Emergency (SHARE) near Dewey, where he learned about caring for horses and repairing stalls, fences and equipment.
Katrina took classes at Parkland, and daughters Hailey and Sydney took riding lessons.
Scott and Katrina are both educators — Scott is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Katrina teaches advertising and public relations at the University of Illinois.
"We just read a lot and bought books (about horses)," Katrina said.
While neither Scott nor Katrina grew up on farms, Scott did have some family members who owned horses. The idea of moving to the country almost three years ago and buying horses didn't happen overnight.
"It was a very thoughtful and gradual process," Katrina said.
But the decision to make the plunge came one night when the Olsons were watching a western called "Open Range."
"Scott said, 'We should just do it,'" Katrina recalled. "I'm very social, so I didn't know if I could live in the country, but it's been nice."
The Olsons wanted a few acres in the country with a newer home. They ended up making an offer the day their home went on the market. They now have a total of 7 acres, some of which the Olsons use to grow hay to feed the horses.
It took some time to build the physical structure. Scott's father and brother helped with building stalls and lofts, a party room and cabinetry.
"A lot of stuff here I collected from resale shops," Katrina said. "Of course, you need saddles and other stuff."
In addition to boarding two horses for other people, the Olsons bought two of their own, Okey and Boots. They're both American Paint Horses (a combination of Pinto and Quarter Horse) and older mares (Okey is 22, Boots 19).
"They're warm and they're really fun to ride," Sydney said.
Horses typically have a life expectancy of 35 to 40 years, according to Katrina.
"We don't blanket our horses, so in the winter they grow a thick coat," Katrina said. "We have learned so much in the last four or five years."
The Olsons wanted a way to share their love for horses with others. Katrina sometimes invites teaching assistants to come out and ride with her, but the family wanted more.
"We're not really qualified to do lessons," Katrina said. "But we think every horse should have a job. They need stuff to do."
Hailey and Sydney had run a pet-sitting business when they lived in Savoy. Katrina felt her experience with planning events and with throwing parties for her daughters would help her with the family's new venture. She noticed that there weren't that many venues for children's parties in the area other than the traditional gyms and museums.
"It was something different and unusual," she said. "It's a novelty. You don't often get to ride a 900-pound animal around. We want people to be exposed to something different and to have fun."
The business differs from those where children ride ponies around in a circle tethered to a turnstile. "They're full-size horses, not little ponies," Katrina said.
The Olsons plan to keep parties to 10 or fewer people. The barn has a 12-foot-by-24-foot party room where guests can serve cake and ice cream. There are horse crafts, coloring pages, games and puzzles — even a board gamed called Horseopoly for partygoers to enjoy.
The Olsons have educational materials about horses, their safety and their care that children will review before having any contact with the horses at Misty Pines.
"We don't want kids coming here and going home saying, 'Mommy, let's buy a horse,'" Katrina said. "They eat all year and poop all year. So it's a big responsibility. A large part of this for us is education. It's an opportunity for them to learn something."
Christine Walsh is editor of The County Star, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit county-star.com.
What: Misty Pines Stables
Where: 1096 County Road 1800 E, Urbana, 7 miles east of Savoy's Willard Airport on Airport Road
Parties: Available at 1 and 4 p.m. on Saturdays, 3 p.m. on Sundays. When school is not in session, the business will offer daytime parties as well.
For more: Call 217-979-6771 or visit MistyPinesStables.com