Breeding a passionPublished 6:58am Sunday, April 21, 2013
Albert Lea trainer spends her time raising and showing horses
Jodie Distad takes life at a gallop.
Distad, a horse trainer for the last 16 years, owns and lives on Broadway Farm just south of Albert Lea. Between training, breeding, caring for and showing horses, it’s a busy life on the farm.
Distad grew up in upstate New York. She’s the first to admit she and her twin sister have been “horse crazy since we could walk and talk.”
Her youth proves it. At the age of 8, she and her twin sister started taking riding lessons. Two years later, they got horses. Distad went on study equine science and management at Morrisville College in New York.
She moved to live on a horse farm in the Austin area around the year 2000. Then, eight years later, she moved to Broadway Farm in Albert Lea, where she lives today, riding and training horses for her clients, and also giving riding lessons.
“My identical twin sister does the same thing in New York,” Distad said. “We’ve always done the same thing.”
A typical afternoon consists of teaching two to three lessons, with people ages 5 to 65 who are from all over southern Minnesota. Many come from Owatonna, Wells and Albert Lea.
“Sometimes my customers come down from the cities,” Distad said. “It really depends on the day.”
Apart from the 12 she herself owns, Distad keeps about 13 more horses on the farm that belong to others who take lessons with her or show horses.
Distad has always had a good eye for understanding a difficult horse and knowing how to calm it down.
“It’s just so natural for me,” Distad said. “People bring me problem horses and I’ve been able to fix them and maybe communicate with them in ways their owners can’t.”
Despite the unforgiving weather, winter months don’t slow training down at Broadway Farm. Distad has an indoor arena that blocks out bad weather. While riders still need to layer up to protect against low temperatures, the structure keeps out snow and ice.
“It’s nice that we can ride in any weather,” she said. “It’s attached right to the barn.”
Her instruction doesn’t end with lessons on the farm, though. Recently, Distad was hired to teach a part-time equitation class during the spring semester at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. She goes to instruct students in an intermediate-level riding program there two evenings a week.
It’s a different experience than teaching lessons on her farm. Distad said her students come to school with a wide variety of aspirations. Some set their sights on horse training, while others want to become a horse chiropractor. They are shooting for a career in the industry, unlike those who come to Distad’s farm looking to improve their riding, showmanship and safety on a horse.
When she’s not holding lessons, Distad travels to horse shows put on by the American Paint Horse Association, where she does English and Western showings. The shows are specific to the paint horse breed, and will not admit any other type of horse.
“People come from all over the Midwest,” she said.
Distad has been involved in shows at the Freeborn and Mower county fairs as well as other locations in Minnesota and in Iowa. Her show team consists of eight people, and Distad is in charge of keeping nine horses ready to compete.
“I am the trainer, so I will make sure all the horses are ready for the customers,” she said. “I do everything from grooming to warming, to making sure they’re riding properly.”
While Distad said she and her team are highly competitive, they don’t neglect having a good time.
“Our show team is a very fun group,” she said. “It’s like a second family … we all like to get away, and we all enjoy the sport of showing horses.”
Wells resident Christie Wetzel, who has been part of Distad’s group for three years, can second the sentiment.
“It’s like a sisterhood,” she said. “We really have a team mentality. Everyone is willing to help one another.”
After she purchased a retired showhorse so her daughter could take up trailriding, Wetzel arranged for her daughter to take riding lessons with Distad. Soon the thought of showing horses became appealing, and both Wetzel and her daughter joined Distad’s team.
“It looked like a lot of fun, so I ended up buying a showhorse from Jodie,” she said. “We do it together.”
Distad keeps the horses in shape and helps the riders get ready as well, Wetzel said. They typically leave for the show on a Friday, and spend that evening letting the horses acclimate to the arena and giving them a heavy-duty bath to make them look their best, Wetzel said. Then the team spends Saturday and Sunday showing.
“She really is an amazing trainer and a fabulous coach,” Wetzel said of Distad. “She has a detailed eye and knows what to look for.”
Back on the farm, horses are a way of life for the whole family. Distad’s older son, 9-year-old Cole, is a third-grade student at Sibley Elementary School who now participates in horse shows. Devin, 4, is a preschooler who does leadline, where children sit up on horses led by their parents.
“They just have to show proper form and show they can steer,” Distad said, adding children typically transition to riding by themselves around the age of 6 or 7.
Distad’s husband, A.J., leads oversized loads for Pro Trucking. While he doesn’t participate in competitions, he does enjoy going trail riding occasionally.
Though she may have a way with horses, Distad cautions that training and showing horses is no walk in the park.
“There’s a lot of hard work involved,” she said. “Everybody thinks that riding horses is easy.”
That’s not the case. Apart from learning to control the animals and teach riders, the job comes chock-full of physical labor. There are stalls to clean, and hay and feed to unload. Animals require a lot of care. Broadway Farm breeds and raises horses, and keeps six broodmares and a stallion in the stables.
But the work is an investment that’s well worth it for Distad.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she said.