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Saddle Up

To riders with and without badges, a retired member of Key West’s Police Mounted Unit teaches a unique blend of horse-riding safety and self-defense.

By Richard Banks | Photos By Jamie Cole

Mark Newby with trusted steed Texas Tea

Mark Newby with trusted steed Texas Tea

VIDEO: Mark Newby, owner of Suncoast Equine, shares four important tips for riding safety. >>

With 20 years under his belt in law enforcement, Mark Newby saw a chance to chase a dream. He was up for retirement at the ripe young age of 42, so, he took life by the reins, bought 10 acres in one of Florida’s lesser-known pockets of piney woods and pasturelands, and set up shop as a horse trainer.

Three years later, that dream is reality. He now pursues his passion for training horses and their riders at Suncoast Equine, his teaching facility near Webster, Fla., about halfway between Tampa and Orlando.

Newby’s courses, however, go beyond basic riding skills, although that and trail-riding clinics are offered. Much of his focus at Suncoast involves self-defense and safety education for law-enforcement organizations as well as civilians. His curriculum also often involves what he calls “sensory training” for the horses.

“That’s just a fancy term for desensitizing horses to certain stimuli that would otherwise naturally be of concern to them,” says Newby, who exposes the four-legged creatures, as well as their two-legged riders, to such potential distractions as urban noises, wildlife, livestock and one of the most dangerous components of modern-day living, bad guys.

“Unfortunately, today, it’s just as likely you’ll be accosted riding on a trail as in a parking lot walking to your car. I just want my students to be safe and have a good time. A little awareness for all these stimuli makes that all the more possible.”

Keys to the Curriculum

Mark Newby knows a little about how to keep a horse calm in the midst of commotion and unforeseen distractions. For 10 years beginning in 1999, he was part of the Police Mounted Unit in Key West, where festivities can get more than a little animated. He’s ridden his horse into bars, corralled revelers and chased down perps, all while perched atop a horse.

That experience informs his Suncoast curriculum, which was culled from a program affiliated with the University of Louisville, where he received his initial training. Now, living and working in an area of Florida where ranches are still plentiful, Newby has further adapted the program for riders in rural, as well as urban areas.

No matter the client, stimuli or surroundings, this type of training involves one underlying principle, says Newby. “It’s trust. You have to reinforce the relationship between the horse and the rider.”