Lauren Onderko’s parents dropped her off for her first riding lesson a dozen years ago.
She still hasn’t left the stable.
That will change this fall when Lauren, a New Wilmington resident who graduated this month from Portersville Christian School, heads to Houghton College in western New York. An equine performance major, she’ll be trading Little Neshannock Stables for the barns at the small Christian school located “in the middle of nowhere” about 45 minutes east of Buffalo.
“My older sister was doing it, so I thought I’d give it try,” Lauren explained of that early “horsey camp” experience, noting that her older sister, Erin, only lasted about a year on horseback and her younger sister, Ali, wasn’t interested after a “mutual dislike” experience with a horse.
“Something just clicked with me,” continued the 18-year-old daughter of Pam and Joe Onderko. “I wasn’t afraid of them – and they’re big animals. But once you get past that, you see that they have personalities and in a way they become your friends.”
While she’s been thrown a couple of times, Lauren has never been seriously injured.
“If you fall off, it’s the rider’s fault,” she said. “When I’ve fallen off, I always ask myself, ‘What did I do wrong?’”
Because the Onderkos don’t own a horse, Lauren has primarily worked with Little Neshannock’s animals, most recently Mo, a 16-hand thoroughbred.
Although she’s not a competitive rider, she will get that experience as part of her college program.
“You have your classes right next to the arena, so you can immediately put what you’re learning into practice,” said Lauren who works at Little Neshannock Stables, cleaning the barns, caring for the animals and helping with lessons and camps.
Eventually, Lauren hopes to become a horse trainer and own a stable of her own.
“I was told early on to do something that would allow you to support yourself, so I thought maybe I’d be a vet,” Lauren explained. “But I also heard don’t do something just to make money. You’ve got to do what you love, and take it seriously.”
Pam Onderko, who works as a guidance counselor and teacher at Portersville Christian, added, “Ultimately, it’s what God has planned for her, but I can’t see her doing anything else.
“We knew we were in trouble that first January and February (after Lauren’s initial lesson), when she’d be angry because it was too cold for lessons,” said Pam, who laughed as she recalled seeing 6-year-old Lauren carrying a shovelful of manure at the end of that fateful first trip to the stables.
“If you’re not willing to clean up after a horse,” Lauren responded, “You’re not going to make it in this field.”