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Horse lovers hit their stride at rural stable

Countryside Hunters offers an escape into the woods and lessons in horseback riding.

By LEON M. TUCKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


DUNEDIN -- Dot Suto has a little piece of paradise nestled in the woods behind a subdivision.

For the past 15 years, she has leased 5 acres amid towering oaks and rural serenity for her Countryside Hunters horse stable.

On this day, she is working the center horse ring.

"Halt," she commands. As the riders and six horses stop, dirt swirls in the air.

"Turn on the forward to the left," she says in her thick New York accent. Like soldiers, the horses turn around and hold their positions.

"Now, go ahead and canter, girls," Suto says. And they do.

Suto not only teaches youngsters proper horse riding form, but she also coaches them how to navigate an obstacle course or jump wooden fences.

"Why do I do it? Certainly not for the money," she says. "I've always loved horses, and I just like passing along what I know to these kids."

Suto charges $25 an hour for private lessons. Twice a month, she takes 20 of her clients to competitions from Venice to Ocala.

Danielle Amico, a 15-year-old ninth-grader at Palm Harbor University High School, said she has wanted to ride horses since she was 5.

"She's a wonderful trainer," Danielle said. "She cares a lot about everybody and how they do. She's also willing to do anything she can to make sure we're happy, riding well and progressing."

So where are the boys?

"If they want to ride, they want to ride like cowboys and Indians," Suto said. "This is more something mothers want their daughters to do."

In 1971, Suto left Buffalo, N.Y., planning to travel the country. Eventually, she made her way south and landed in west-central Florida.

"I was a teenager who was going to see the world," she said. "But the money ran out and this is where my car broke down, so I stayed."

For 26 years, she has worked for the Aerosonic Corp., assembling aircraft instruments at its Clearwater headquarters.

The stable is a side job.

Lori Appelt was among the group of mothers who sat under an oak tree watching their daughters work with Suto.

For Appelt, whose 12-year-old daughter Jessica has been riding with Suto since she was 9, this is more than an after-school lesson.

It's a newly discovered way of life.

"Jessica has always wanted to ride, and she loves it," Appelt said. "But for me, it's a little piece of country people don't know about. And we don't want too many people to know about it."

Georgianne Mustra agreed. Her 10-year-old daughter, Kelsey, has been riding for the past four years.

"I have other kids, and they have done baseball and dance," Mustra said. "And I enjoy this for myself."

Kathy Meinecke doesn't do much riding.

At 49, she takes private lessons with Suto, but says she is content with visiting the stable each day to take care of her horse, Pokemon.

"It has been the best thing I have ever done," she said. "I have a bad knee and a bad back, but when I'm out here, none of that bothers me."

Suto says she is considering starting a weeklong summer camp, but doesn't know how long she will stay in the stable business.

"Until they kick me out, probably," she said. "But it's always up in the air. I plan on being here as a regular fixture for as long as I can."

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