Horses Are Her Life and Her Livelihood

May 9, 2013 

Paul Mangiaracin of East Lake Farm

Belleville resident Paula Mangiaracina, 49, found her life’s passion during a visit to the State Fair when she was just eight. “I didn’t want to get off the pony. To get me off, my dad finally said, ‘We’ll get you riding lessons,’” recalled Mangiaracina of her first ever horseback riding experience at the fair.

And, from that time on, her world has revolved around her fascination with horses and horseback riding. First, it was learning all the fine points about riding and caring for a horse. Soon it was riding competitively at higher and higher levels. And, for much of her adulthood, she’s earned her livelihood by training other riding enthusiasts at East Lake Farm near Caseyville. In recent years, pain from a back injury unrelated to horseback riding has kept her from being able to ride herself, but sharing her love for horses and her riding expertise has given her a way to stay connected to her passion.

Instant Attraction
Many horse people literally grow up in the saddle. But that wasn’t the case for Mangiaracina, who spent her childhood years in Springfield.

She had no farm background, and neither her parents nor her friends before her State Fair experience had any interest in horses. And, though she liked other animals, she was not an animal lover in the extreme. But her attraction to horses was immediate and soon became all consuming.

“It’s hard to explain, but it’s probably the communication between you and the animal - and getting them to do what you want to do,” she said of her long-standing love affair with horses.

And riding has many benefits, from stress relief and goal setting to developing balance and mental focus, even problem-solving and self-confidence, she noted.

“People say it’s easy, that the horse does all the work, but that’s not true if you ride correctly.”

Natural Progression
At first, Mangiaracina took riding lessons only sporadically since her trainer had no indoor arena available. After about a year, she entered her first show. It was English style riding because that’s what her trainer taught. Though she didn’t get a ribbon of any kind at that first show, she was undeterred.

Soon her parents bought her a horse of her own that was boarded at her trainer’s stable. That allowed her to ride outside of her official training time, and it also gave her an excuse to hang around the stable, learning even more. Her younger sister became involved in riding and training as well, and, eventually, her parents bought 10 acres with a barn so they could have their own horse set-up.

And, all the while, Mangiaracina kept training, competing and advancing to ever higher ranks, placing in national level competitions. Even her original trainer’s departure to enter vet school didn’t sideline her, though her search for a new trainer is what first brought her to the Metro East as a teen.

“It was just what I wanted to do - even back then. It became so big in my life that I would stay (with the trainer in the Metro East) several days at a time to train whenever I could.”

Fast forward a few years, and she chose Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville for college for its proximity to training. Then, three-and-a-half years into a nursing program, she decided that horses were the only career path for her.

“I was close to finishing, but I knew I would only be happy doing something with horses.”

Pass It On
In 1994, she and a partner started East Lake Farm between Belleville and Freeburg. She became sole owner in 2000 and moved to her current location. There she has worked with students from preschool age to senior citizen, toward goals ranging from basic horsemanship to the highest competitive levels.

She never tires of the work, but it’s extra special when she watches someone get on a horse for the first time.

“They’re like ‘Whoa! This is neat,’” she said, remembering that long ago day when she first sat on a pony at the fair.

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