Danya Thornton got her first pony when she was 6, and she was hooked.
Today the Arizona native owns and operates her own horseback riding program in Gilbert, where she shares her lifelong love with others.
“I often wish I could go back to myself when you’re struggling with your teenage identity crisis and sadness and say, ‘Don’t worry. When you grow up, you’re going to have so many horses, and it’s going to be your job and your career, and you’re going to be able to share it and change so many people’s lives,’” Thornton said.
Lessons open to all
Thornton has worked around horses most of her life. S.T.A.R.S. of Horsemanship—S.T.A.R.S. stands for Specialized Training And Riding School—is in its 11th year in existence. Lessons are open to riders of all ages and abilities.
“You’re never too young,” Thornton said. “You’re never too old.”
S.T.A.R.S. of Horsemanship offers a variety of riding lessons, including English, Western and bareback, differentiated by the type of saddle and the clothing the riders wear. Barrel racing and jumping lessons are available.
“Most barns usually just specialize in one, but I like to introduce everyone to everything,” Thornton said.
Riders can also compete in monthly shows through local saddle clubs.
“Usually we pick one each year so that it’s more budget-friendly for our clients,” Thornton said. “The last couple of years we’ve done East Valley Saddle Club, which was actually founded by one of our student’s moms. We usually have two shows every month.”
From Triple L Stables
S.T.A.R.S. of Horsemanship is operated out of Triple L Stables, a 10-acre facility tucked into a residential neighborhood near Williams Field and Gilbert roads. There are smaller round pens for beginning riders and a large, open arena for the more advanced.
A variety of breeds are at S.T.A.R.S. of Horsemanship since all of the horses are rescued or adopted. Many are in dire condition, and it can get expensive to nurse them back to health. But Thornton said it is worth it to give them another chance.
“So many of them still have so much to offer,” she said.
S.T.A.R.S. of Horsemanship
Located at Triple L Stables
14002 E. Pony Lane, Gilbert
Hours: new student lessons at 10 a.m. Saturdays; all others by appointment