Kari Wegenke has been teaching novices how to ride horses since she was 16 and has now been named as one of the top 50 riding instructors in the nation by ARIA (American Riding Instructors Association).
Wegenke will be honored for her achievements in December at their 2007 National Riding Instructors Convention in Naples, Fla.
ARIA is an organization established in 1984 to promote safe, knowledgeable riding instruction.
Wegenke, an instructor at Patterson Training at the Ray Tanner Ranch in Star Valley, and has been a riding instructor there for the last four years.
ARIA notified Wegenke in May that she had made the list of 50 top instructors in the nation and was also in the running for instructor of the year.
Wegenke's mother, Joann, said her family is proud of her accomplishments.
"It's exciting for us to see her named as one of the top 50 instructors in the whole country, out of so many candidates," Joann Wegenke, Kari's mother said.
Nominations for instructor of the year can be submitted by anyone, Kneeland said, but colleagues, students and members of the community typically make them.
Her students nominated her as one of the top 50 instructors earlier this year.
"It wasn't really anything I'd thought too much about, but a couple people made the suggestion that I might want to try for the top instructors, so I put out a couple of sign-up sheets last year and told everyone if they wanted to nominate me they could," Wegenke said.
She didn't win the top honor, but has been named to ARIA's Circle of Honor along with two of the horses she uses for training new riders.
"There were quite a few nominations for instructor of the year, and many of those entered didn't even make the list," Charlotte Kneeland, with ARIA, said.
"The Circle of Honor is comprised of the top candidates not chosen for Instructor of the Year, and even though it isn't the top honor, it is quite a distinction in itself," Kneeland said.
One of the horses Wegenke uses for training, Dylan, won ARIA's Lesson Pony of the Year award, and a Shetland pony named Tony and another horse, Rosie, made it to the Circle of Honor, and will be recognized by ARIA at the convention.
Wegenke and a Cottonwood woman were the only two riding instructors from Arizona named to the top-50 instructors list.
Wegenke said a chance comment not long after she moved to Payson in 2004 led her to meet Shari Patterson, and not long after she began working at the ranch as a groom.
After only a few short weeks, she started giving lessons while ranch owner, Shari Patterson, attended various horse shows.
Wegenke began getting students of her own soon after she started working for Patterson, and the rest is history.
Wegenke is from Wisconsin, originally, and attended the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, where the majority of her education was in equine-related courses, her mother said.
She has been an instructor at Patterson Ranch for four years and said she has no plans to go anywhere else anytime soon, Wegenke said.
Wegenke offers lessons to anyone age 6 or older, but she said she would consider younger students on a case-by-case basis.
"My youngest student I am teaching right now is only 4 years old, that is a little young in most cases, but he does really well for someone so young," Wegenke said.
"He had his third lesson in October and did great."
Wegenke also teaches children with disabilities how to ride safely, within the limits of their disabilities.
"I have one student, David, who has Down syndrome," she said. "He does exceptionally well and takes lessons every Thursday."
Wegenke offers lessons in Western pleasure riding, jumping, dressage, vaulting, English and just about any style of riding a person can imagine.
Jennifer Nicolella from Cottonwood was the other instructor from Arizona, recognized by ARIA.