Amber Gelinas pursues lifelong love of horses

Feb. 28, 2014 @ 07:24 AM

On acres of sloping land dotted with grazing horses, and inside a building where rows of nameplates spell out horses’ names, Amber Gelinas is living a dream.

Gelinas, a lifelong lover of horses, came to Lenoir from Mooresville along with Matt Hartline and their daughter, Matilyn, to open Oakwood Stables on Pisgah Church Road. For the last year and a half, they’ve offered boarding and lessons in various riding styles, along with birthday parties, guided trail rides and monthly game nights.

And Gelinas has big plans, too. Hartline has been out on the land making space for a fire pit and camping sites so Oakwood can offer overnight rides, and Gelinas hopes to add a petting zoo and a pumpkin patch.

Gelinas had been the manager of a horse barn before, in Minnesota, but let that part of her life drift when she came back to North Carolina. When she and Hartline found the property in Lenoir that is now Oakwood Stables – which had been vacant for three years – it was a dream.

“We kind of just dropped everything to start this up,” she said Wednesday, leaning against the door of the stable that houses her horse, Keowee.

That, by the way, is where the dream comes in. Gelinas has loved horses forever. She got Keowee when she was 5 years old and he was 5 months old. Throughout a childhood marked by frequent moves, the horse was a constant.

You can see in the way they interact how long they’ve known each other – Gelinas is small, dwarfed by the horse, but her movements are smooth and confident, and his are docile and accommodating.

“This horse – other than that little one over there – is my everything,” Gelinas said, gesturing toward 7-month-old, blue-eyed Matilyn, whose reactions to towering horses are roughly comparable to the typical infant’s acknowledgement of a small dog in the room.

Gelinas wants her stables to be a refuge for people who share that love of horses but may not have the money for pricy private lessons, or to own a horse. The price to saddle up and ride at Oakwood’s monthly game nights, for example, is just $5.

“I’ve been at barns where it’s all about the money,” she said. “I don’t want it to be like that here.”