Moving school to Watsonville brings people, community together
WATSONVILLE — Twice doctors thought he might not survive the wounds from the bull, but it still did not stop him from penning a note saying “call Liz, we will have it done.”
Before being gored by his own bull, Joseph Moules, of Watsonville-based Country Hills Feed, was looking to expand and decided he had found the right person in Liz, or Elizabeth Liz, or Elizabeth Van de Kerckhove.
“She is my favorite person to deal with,” Moules said. “She always has a smile from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night.”
His partiality to Van de Kerckhove and her personality led Moules to ask what it would take to convince her to move her business to his property.
“I told him no at first,” Van de Kerckhove said. “But he asked what it would take to move so I made some lists. I wrote down everything we could ever dream of, and when I handed it to him, he just said ‘OK.’”
And so BellaMar Training Stables and Riding School came to Watsonville.
There were some challenges getting started. The 30-day notice Van de Kerckhove gave was cut short when she said the owner kicked her out two weeks later.
“I gave my 30 days June 15,” Van de Kerckhove said. “But after being kicked out, I had to call Joe and ask if he could have everything ready June 27.”
Then there was the bull attack.
Moules had one bull that his daughter raised, and had sworn he would never get rid of it. But before he could complete all the projects for the school’s opening, he ended up being gored and thrown up in the air multiple times.
“He was impaled twice by the horns. One of the horns went all the way through his body,” Van de Kerckhove said. “It went through his lung. We didn’t know if he would survive.”
She wasn’t the only one worried. According to Van de Kerckhove, medical personnel on the helicopter were skeptical, one even saying that “if we don’t fly faster, we’re gonna lose him.”
What was more incredible, Van de Kerckhove said, was what happened the next day.
“It was a trainwreck, he couldn’t talk, but he kept trying to,” she said. “They gave him a notepad and he wrote me a note.”
Not only that, but just a couple days later, workers were showing up asking “who’s Liz, and what’s the 27th?”
“After that, it was like we were family,” Van de Kerckhove said.
Now the school is running smoothly, and they held an opening barbecue that gave the community a chance to see what they do. Held Sept. 26, the event featured food, hay rides, demos, tours and more.
“I live in Watsonville and love being part of this community,” Van de Kerckhove said. “I want to be
the go-to riding school.”
A couple months in, Moules says everything is perfect.
“She is like a part of the family,” he said. “I’m really happy she is here.”
With 20 to 30 students enrolled, Moules wants to someday be able to provide Van de Kerckhove with a covered arena. He also said he feels lucky to be alive.
“I’m here,” he said. “I’m not gonna give up yet. We are going to keep growing and I am really excited.”
With three instructors, they are prepared to teach more than 100 students. Already they have an active show schedule, with some of the younger ones putting on their first show at this year’s fair.
“All the kids love being here,” Van de Kerckhove said. “There’s still room for more growth, there’s a lot of potential here.”
One student, who goes by Mo, followed Van de Kerckhove and spends the first four hours of every school day at the school. Her mother, Almita Schaefer, is a Watsonville resident as well and said they were excited for the move.
“It was definitely nice,” she said. “There are advantages, Mo can ride every day and can follow her passion and put it first.”
Schaefer has been taking her daughter for lessons for the last five years and said she admires Van de Kerckhove for her dedication, patience and life skills that she passes on to her students.
“She teaches them that it is a commitment,” Shaefer said. “It’s an all day commitment for Mo, she has developed relationships with the horses, she shows discipline, tenacity, and hard work. These are all skills they have given her.”
To Shaefer, it is not all just about the arena.
“They have given her so much time and extra effort,” she said. “I love that [Van de Kerckhove] is comfortable, patient and persistent in her teaching. She really teaches them the day-to-day nuances about what it’s like to have a horse.”
While lessons are normally an hour, Van de Kerckhove also has programs to lease out horses to the students.
“They really get the experience of owning a horse,” Van de Kerckhove said. “They can ride whenever they want, they take care of their horse.”
Van de Kerckhove found Mo’s current horse, and Mo taught her how to jump, training her and preparing her for competition. This year will be the first year they will be competing together which Shaefer said is a testament to Van de Kerckhove instruction.
“They have really served as mentors for her,” she said. “She is exactly the kind of person you want your kids to see and emulate. She is a person that took her passion and worked hard to make it her livelihood, and what more could you ask for your child?”
BellaMar Training Stables and Riding School is located at 151 Casserly Road. For information, visit bellamartrainingstables.com.