You might not recognize it amid the urban sprawl of today, but Becky Brown still can envision the area around Hillcrest Road and Park Lane as horse country.
It was the perfect neighborhood for a teenager in the 4-H club at Hillcrest High School to sneak through barbed-wire fences for a peaceful ride after school.
“It was all pasture across the street,” said Brown, whose parents bought her first horse for $175. “I would just keep my bridle in my locker.”
The open fields around the old Caruth Farm have long since given way to NorthPark Center and other development, but those bonding moments between girl and equine instilled a passion in Brown that continues today.
Brown has been teaching horsemanship for more than 40 years, and has been running her own school since 1988. Many of her current students grew up not far from where she did, and have followed their older relatives into riding.
Brown gives lessons in riding either for pleasure or for competition in such disciplines as dressage, eventing, or show jumping.
“It doesn’t matter if they want to compete or if they just want this to be part of their lives,” said Brown, who still occasionally competes in dressage. “They get the same attention.”
Jennifer Murray and her two young daughters started taking lessons from Brown after they moved to the Park Cities from New York about five years ago.
“It was the kind of riding that I liked to do in New York. She’s great with adults and kids both,” Murray said. “All of what she’s teaching is consistent with what the best in the dressage and show-jumping world would tell you. She’s really well-schooled in proper riding techniques.”
Brown earned her certification in 1973 from the Talland School of Equitation in England. She later graduated from Texas Tech and went into the restaurant business with her husband, who founded Barbec’s near White Rock Lake.
Since 2008, when she outgrew the farm in Dallas where she taught for 17 years, Brown has been based at BuckBranch Farm in Wilmer, where she stables about 15 school horses. The 130-acre facility has been owned by the same family since 1876.
Both of her assistants are former students, including Brown’s daughter, Rebecca, who has coached the school’s competition team since 2009, with a few riders reaching international levels.
Brown has more than 100 students, about a third of which are adults. Many of them find her through word-of-mouth, whether for individual lessons or group camps.
She tries to use horsemanship to convey life lessons to some of her younger students in terms of relating to their horses.
“To work with something large and nonverbal, you have to listen and be firmly empathetic. They’re such generous creatures. It’s built on trust, not brutality,” Brown said. “If I can help them understand the language of the horse, then it can make the horses happier. I hope they take it out into the world.”