San Juan ‘whisperer,’ local girl takes the reins of her future

Horsewoman extraordinaire Emma Billington recently started her own business

It’s mid-afternoon on a Wednesday and Emma Billington, 26, has just gotten off the ferry from Orcas Island to San Juan. She drives out of town and the Olympic Mountains stand tall as the background to sprawling farm fields. She opens the gate and travels down a winding dirt driveway where she’s greeted by three excited dogs, a few seemingly ambivalent horses, and one very grateful student.

They say do what you love, but how many people actually get the opportunity to make a living doing it?

This is Billington’s office—her clients’ pastures, trails and barns. She travels to Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands, not only as a horse trainer, but as a person trainer.

“You can’t train a horse without training its owner,” Billington said. “You have to build a partnership between the person and their horse.”

In her new business, Inherited Horsemanship LLC, which she opened in Dec. 2014, Billington works closely with the horse and its owner to help create a lifelong relationship between the two. If the horse is skittish (which they often are, she said horses are prey animals and behave accordingly) she uses her skills and techniques to calm the horse and help it adjust to new situations. Then, it’s her job to impart those skills to her student, so they can eventually adjust the horse themselves.

Sometimes, it’s the people who are nervous, especially if their horse is new to them. That’s why Billington will often put a client on a calm horse that she knows is good for lessons, until the person has gained the skills and is ready to handle their own horse.

Wendy Crawford of San Juan has been an animal lover and rescuer for many years. Her current horse, Blaze, is a rescue horse that was abused and neglected in Colorado. Crawford has worked with other trainers so that she would be able work with the horse herself, but it wasn’t until Billington came along that it actually happened.

“I was afraid of him,” Crawford said. “Not only is she a horse whisperer, she’s a human whisperer. I have more confidence now.”

Wendy hasn’t been able to ride Blaze in four years, but she plans to get back in the saddle this summer.

dasddsasaBorn and raised on San Juan, Billington has been riding horses since she was eight years old, and helping to train riders and give lessons since 16. As a young adult she worked with horses, but only part time. She always had one or two jobs in addition to teaching horsemanship. In a way, those extra jobs were a crutch, and prevented her from dedicating her energies to working full time with horses. Going into business for herself has worked out well so far, with several different clients that keep her busy all week, but its not without challenges.

“Counting on having enough clients to make your business work is a lot of pressure,” she said. “To push yourself when the only person you’re answering to is a challenge, I have to mentally set my goals.”

Billington decided not to go to college, not because she doesn’t appreciate higher learning, but because she knew something would eventually come up that really wanted to study. Plus, she felt that she could find people in the community to teach her, rather than attend a four year school.

Thanks to her network of mentors, including island equestrian enthusiasts and professionals Sus Kellogg and Ruthie Thomas Kline, Billington was introduced to the Pacific Hoof Care Practitioners program. She’s now learning how to care for horses from the inside out, and will soon be able to impart that knowledge to her clients. Billington recently received the Education Opportunity Award from Soroptomist International of Friday Harbor. The $2000 cash award will go toward travel expenses and tools needed for the program.

As a 20-something, Billington wasn’t sure where her life was going to take her. It was a recent stint in Bellingham where she was living and working, but not with horses, that she realized she couldn’t live without them. She recognized the opportunity on the island within the riding community that she wouldn’t have anywhere else.

“Doing this I’ve decided to stay on the islands, because I’m helping my clients build lifelong relationships with their horses and I need to be here for ongoing support,” she said. “I realized if I didn’t just do it now, I would never be able to.”

-To inquire about horsemanship training with Inherited Horsemanship, contact her at ejmbillington@gmail.com.