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franklin county times

Phil Campbell couple shares love for farm life


Tucked away in a picturesque corner of Phil Campbell, Rise Again Riding School welcomes students ages 3 and older to learn about horses – and about life.

Working with horses is second nature for the school’s riding instructor, Jam Lee TePoel Saarinen, who said she has loved horses for “pretty much as long as I can remember.” She’s now been teaching consistently for about 23 years and averages 15 students a week. “Riding and learning about horses are excellent activities to do together,” she said. “Being around horses is therapeutic. They have a very calming effect.”

TePoel Saarinen moved to Phil Campbell in fall 2020. What brought her to the area was a love story years in the making.

She and now-husband Jeff Saarinen, a Phil Campbell native, met online through eHarmony. The two were initially hesitant to meet in person because they lived nearly eight hours apart. “We just talked as friends for a long time,” Jam explained, “and then we finally decided to meet.”

Jeff had been married previously. He said when his first wife passed away, he didn’t think he would ever get remarried and went through a long period of time when he was not interested in even looking. “One day, I suddenly got up, and I think God was just working in my heart, telling me it was time to move forward in my life,” he explained. “I couldn’t get any peace about it, and I finally just prayed and said, ‘Lord, if you’re wanting me to find someone else, I’m going to trust you to bring them into my life.’”

He said working on his farm kept him busy, not leaving much time to be social or pursue a relationship. After doing some research, he decided to give eHarmony a try. “They do a very good job of screening people,” he explained, “finding out your likes and dislikes, and I just felt led to try that out. As I recall, Jam and I were around a 98 percent match.”

Jam, who had not been married before, “was 42 and just looking for a committed Christian who wanted to live on a farm and live the kind of life I wanted. I had been praying about it a long time, and God put it on my heart to try this way,” she added. “I really feel like God led Jeff and I together.”

She describes him as “a wonderful man and a wonderful Christian.” She said one thing that really stood out for her in getting to know him was what a “giving heart” he has. When the two were still just getting to know each other, Jeff had followed Jam’s Facebook page and learned about one of her students, Briella, who had cerebral palsy and couldn’t afford lessons but very much wanted them. Jam gave her some discounted lessons, and Jeff donated a sizable sum to pay for more. “When Jam told me about her,” he explained, “I just felt in my heart that I wanted to try to help and support her in more riding lessons.” Jam said this provided about 20 lessons for Briella, who really benefited from them.

It was after this expression of compassion that Jam said she started thinking more seriously about meeting Jeff. That’s when everything started coming together, despite their mutual concerns about the long-distance relationship that would be required at first. “All through this, I just felt in my heart that Jam was the one God was pulling on my heart to be with, and I decided to trust Him, accepting that it would work out if it was meant to be,” Jeff explained, “and it did, and it has been wonderful.”

“I feel like it was all God leading us,” Jam agreed.

God’s leading also had a hand in the naming of Rise Again Riding School. “God kind of put the name on my heart,” explained Jam. She said it has both practical and spiritual meanings, including that Christ will rise again, as well as that people should rise again and get back on if they fall off a horse. It’s also a reminder to those stumbling in life or spiritually to rise up and try again. Additionally, it’s in reference to a part of English riding called a “rising trot,” also known as “posting.”

A “theme verse” from the NLT Bible goes along with the name: Micah 7:8, which says, “Do not gloat over me, my enemies. For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord himself will be my light.”

Jeff said his main exposure to horses has been since he and Jam got married. He has worked with poultry and other animals over the years but had only had limited exposure to horses. “It’s been an enjoyable journey,” he added. “I enjoy the one-on-one interaction with horses. They have their own unique personalities, and I have a closer bond with certain ones.”

He explained living and working on a farm can be difficult and stressful at times but notes there’s something “kind of peaceful about it,” adding the horses help with that. His favorite is Lola, who Jam describes as a “great big 17-hand draft horse – huge, very gentle and sweet.” They also have Jam’s favorite, Skoolboy, and five other horses: Sage, 27; Rain, an Appaloosa; Pepper, a Pony of the Americas; Mara; and Big John, a half-draft, half-paint horse. In addition to running the riding school, they raise Kiko goats and operate a pullet house, where they raise chickens for Mar Jac Poultry.

The riding school, located at 240 Cochran Road, holds birthday parties and special event days, such as an equine field day for 4-H students in the Franklin County Horse Club. At a special event the day after Thanksgiving, students did crafts and Bible activities while learning about and working with the horses. They were given the option to participate in a horse devotional at the end of lesson.

Students learn basic grooming, parts of a horse and safety, including “the right way to fall,” Jam explained. Children play age-appropriate games to help learn balance and coordination, as well as learn skills to help prepare them for school and life in general, including math skills. Jam said life lessons learned from horseback riding lessons include responsibility, patience, commitment and discipline. Lessons are offered both mounted and unmounted.

“Students learn to put the needs of the horse first, as well as how to solve problems with kindness and build relationships based on trust, not to mention goal-setting and accomplishment, as well as delayed gratification,” Jam explained. Her students are also offered the opportunity to participate in horse shows.

Sisters Elizabeth, 11, and Emily, 12, Yancey, of Phil Campbell, describe their lessons as “calming, therapeutic and fun,” and Jam said she can tell their confidence has improved since they started. At home, they have a pony, Zack, and a mid-size horse, Sparky.

“I think the riding lessons are teaching them responsibility,” explained their mother, Amie Yancey. “It builds their confidence and their character. Jam is very patient with her riders and knows how to teach them and help them feel comfortable.”

Yancey said Jam is good at detecting what each rider needs and which horse they need to ride to feel more comfortable. “My girls love coming every week,” Yancey added. “They like the games Jam plays with them to teach them things, and they are so busy having fun they don’t even realize they’re learning sometimes.”

Thirteen-year-old Debora Sagastume has been riding for the past nine months. “Horses are really nice,” she explained. “I love them. I like trotting with horses. Mara is my favorite. She’s really smooth to ride – very gentle and pretty.”

Mother Vilma Sagastume said the riding lessons have been good for Debora. “She enjoys coming. She’s always happy to learn about horses and get to spend time with them, and it helps her learn more patience.”

Eric and Giovanna Jenkie’s two daughters also take lessons together at Rise Again Riding School. “They love horses,” explained Giovanna. “They enjoy the environment, being out in the country and learning new skills. They have a horse, Maggie, at home, and the lessons help them know how to work with her better.”

Eric said Jam’s focus on safety is important to them, noting she helps her young riders learn to pay attention to details.

“I love seeing my students learn to interact with horses and the joy it brings them to be able to control a large animal. I take safety very seriously and require all my students to wear SEI-approved riding helmets,” Jam said.

As part of lessons, students care for their horses before and after, take care of the tack, learn the value of focus and practice and work to improve empathy.

“It takes time to build balance and core strength before learning to canter fast, gallop or jump,” Jam explained, noting students sometimes get impatient, wishing they could get to those points sooner. “They have to realize they’re learning things in their lessons like how to do a rising trot with and without stirrups and how to do a two-point position. They have to learn certain things before they can progress to the next thing.”

Most recently from Tazewell, Va., Jam’s journey to riding instructor started at 7 years old when she had her first riding lesson with Snuff, a Welsh Pony, while her family was living in North Dakota. She said she fell in love with riding and being with horses right away and took weekly lessons. “I was very happy and excited, and I’ve been riding ever since,” she explained, noting her riding lessons were a Christmas present. She describes that first lesson as “exhilarating,” – the spark that started her life journey of appreciating, learning, teaching and working with horses.

When the family moved to Virginia, she got her first horse, Pherzella, a 12-year-old grey registered Arabian mare, when she was 12 years old herself. Pherzella was pregnant, and Jam’s family started raising horses.

“We would always imprint the foals when they were born, and I would do the breaking and training of the young horses and get them ready for sale. At one point, we had 27 horses,” she added.

They quit breeding horses around 2009 and started keeping only riding horses. Jam eventually began teaching riding lessons after graduating high school, continuing some while in college.

While in her senior year of vet school at Virginia Tech, she rented a seven-bedroom farm with a house and barn on 10 acres. She had horses she rented, and she rented a room to another girl so she could also ride and help with the horses.

In addition to her work on the riding school and farm, Jam is the official volunteer leader for the Franklin County 4-H Horse Club, and students have been to the farm to meet and learn about the horses. She and one of her students, 22-year-old Morgan Russ, are signed up to attend training sessions for horse judging for 4-H and FFA teams.

For more information, visit Rise Again Riding School’s Facebook page, email RARSriding@gmail.com or call 540-230-9777.

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