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Discovering the pleasure of driving

...the right horse makes all the difference

Top Photo: Linda and Atlee Yoder taking Lori, a Georgian Grande mare out for an afternoon drive.
-SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson
Above Photo: Linda Yoder with leopard foal.
-Courtesy Photo

Above Photo: Bohdi - A 1 year old Registered purebred Friesian stallion, that is a son of Julius 486.                           -Photo by Linda Yoder

By Tami Stevenson

Equestrian entrepreneurs Atlee and Linda Yoder fell in love with Suwannee County while looking for a new place to call home in North Florida. They found what they call the “perfect place” and moved their horses and their lives from Texas to Live Oak only five short months ago and are already feeling at home and making new friends with neighbors and other local horse-lovers. Their neighbors are growing accustomed to seeing a horse and buggy traveling down the roads near their fifteen acre ranch nearly every afternoon with some of the most beautiful Friesian and other draft breed horses many only have the pleasure of seeing in books, on the internet or TV. The traffic they face such as 18 wheel trucks, farm trucks and tractors are of no effect. Some whiz by – some slow down, but the horses are unaffected by the large and loud vehicles. Many stop in their vehicles and talk with the Yoders exclaiming how beautiful their horses are as the horses just stand there patiently waiting for them to finish with the conversation.

They both were raised in farming communities and said they fell in love with Live Oak immediately. They talked about how friendly store owners and people in general are in town. They knew they wanted a paved road (which they got), but when they first looked at the property, they loved it so much they didn’t look any further. They said they knew this was it. Since moving here they have traveled all over the state and said they have not seen any other place they would rather move to.

“I’ve seen some barns I would like to have but I would want to move them here, not go where they are,” Atlee said.

Linda said, “We appreciate all the agriculture here. That’s the best part, when we drive home, you see a field of cattle, for instance, it just feels like home, especially after living in Dallas.”

Atlee and Linda Yoder standing by their new sign for LA Ranch

The ranch is appropriately named LA Ranch (“L” for Linda and “A” for Atlee). They have each worked with horses their entire lives but at different ends of the spectrum. Linda was raised on a ranch in Arizona where she worked mainly with quarter horses and cattle before attending college where she received a teaching degree and an agricultural degree with a major in animal science, biology, chemistry and Biblical studies.

Atlee is from an Amish family and grew up on an Amish farm in Ohio where he can remember stacking two bales of hay on top of one another to stand on to bridle the huge draft horses he worked with everyday. Even at the young age of six, he was working with a team of these gentle giants. The Amish train their horses so well they actually have teams of working horses they call ‘children’s teams’. Just about any child with a little instruction can drive a wagon gathering a field of produce, for instance, with these push-button giants.

The Yoders have combined this generational knowledge (from each side) along with their own talents, life experiences and ideas, and turned them into reality. Not only to enhance the types of the horses they work with through breeding and crossbreeding – but to help teach and train the people that work with horses from all walks of life from the beginner to the experienced. The Yoders have over 25 years experience training teams and driving horses.

Linda helped put herself through college by buying and selling horses for others. Having the ability, a ‘knack’, if you will – to match the right horse with the right person, she chose this ‘commodities’ profession over her college degrees and has been making a good living from it ever since.

When she and Atlee first met seven years ago this Christmas, in Ohio, according to Atlee, it was love at first sight. “I knew she was the one for me,” he said. She knew horses and he wanted to get to know her. They have been happy together ever since and were just recently married.

Above Photo: Attlee and Linda Yoder enjoying the afternoon with Georgian Grande mare Lori as she calmly takes them past cars, noisy trucks and barking dogs. It is easy to see they enjoy what they do at LA Ranch.
-SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

The Yoders offer driving lessons for the human and equine alike and gave this reporter a driving lesson while there interviewing them. It was a great experience – without any exaggeration. They are very patient and aware of their surroundings at all times. It was easy to see they both are accomplished teachers and trainers, explaining everything as they went. The horse they used for the lesson was Lori, an eleven year old Georgian Grande mare that actually backed herself into the shafts for the buggy so they could hook her up by using only a voice command. The really exceptional thing is she was happy to do it. She didn’t have to be coerced or yelled at to do what he asked. Anyone could tell she enjoyed her work and the relationship between them was one of trust and mutual respect.

They get many of their horses from the Amish in Ohio where Atlee grew up. “When they get too slow up there, that is the type of horse we want to bring here,” he said. “Because they will never work hard here again or whoever we sell it to.” He continued, “They may drive a few times a year or do a little bit of plowing or we also sell to the commercial carriage companies. So before we bring any horses into the state of Florida they go through extensive testing.” They have videos on Facebook of them opening and closing umbrellas around the horses, beating drums and jumping around. “That way you know what kind of horse you are dealing with,” said Linda.

Changing bits for the drive. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

They will also train other horses how to drive and to refresh them. For example, if someone has a horse that hasn’t been driven much in the last few months and are hesitant to hook them back up, or if they had an accident with the horse. Even for the novice just getting into driving, that is what they specialize in, horses that work well in public places. But they also go to the other side of the spectrum. Atlee is currently working with a gelding for harness dressage and he said he wants him “hot.” He is not for the novice. It all depends on the client and meeting their needs. They can also get any kind of harness, bits and buggys that driving people need.

They have four stallions at the ranch – a Registered Percheron stallion that is a son of All Stars Goose, A KFPS/FHANA, a 1 year old Registered purebred Friesian stallion, that is a son of Julius 486, a 4 year old baroque style registered purebred Friesian stallion that is a grandson of Rintse 386, and a registered Friesian/Dutch Harness Horse stallion that is triple registered with American Dutch Harness Horse, Friesian Blood Horse, and Friesian Heritage Horse.

For more information visit LA Ranch on Facebook or call Linda 870-250-1276 or Atlee 330-231-5219. Horse-lovers will not be disappointed. Interested readers can look forward to hearing more from LA Ranch in the future as they live and grow in the North Florida area.

Two mares that ride and drive happily munching grass at their new home. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson