Life At Full Gallop
A riding teacher looks back at three decades
Marie Jakubauskas doesn’t mince words when people come to Gateway Stables in Kennett Square saying they just want to take one of her horses out for a ride.
“You wouldn’t be here if you knew how to ride,” the veteran teacher tells them.
Feisty but kind-hearted, Jakubauskas has spent a lifetime teaching white-knuckle beginners the fundamentals of riding.
“There is no one from the age of 30 on down that doesn’t know Marie Jakubauskas if they rode horses as a youth. They all got their start at Gateway Stables,” says Centreville resident Margie Robinson, who boards her horses at Gateway and brought her daughter there for lessons.
Driving a beat-up Jeep with her black lab by her side, Jakubauskas arrives at the stables early in the morning just as she has done for more than 30 years. She thrives on a non-stop schedule of overseeing the 85-acre property and managing lessons, trail rides, camps, and scout clinics.
Located next to the Delaware state line, Gateway is one of the few places that offers novice riders—both children and adults—a chance to explore acres of unspoiled woodland trails on horseback. “These are horses that will take care of you,” says Jakubauskas of her stable of 18 horses and ponies.
Safety is a prime concern because prohibitive insurance rates have put many other public riding facilities out of business. Jakubauskas is proud of Gateway’s five-star safety rating from the Horsemanship Safety Association and has an eagle eye for anyone straying from safe horsemanship practices.
“Some people find me too strict but that is my upbringing,” she says.
Jakubauskas’s first exposure to horses remains etched in her memory. It was at the close of World War II and her family was fleeing their home in Lithuania.
“I was riding in a covered wagon driven by my father. We were trying to escape fighting between the Germans and Bolsheviks,” says Jakubauskas, who was five years old at the time.
The family’s dangerous and chaotic journey ended at a displaced persons camp in Germany. They immigrated to America and settled in Worcester, Mass. Jakubauskas not only learned to speak English but went on to earn her college degree in English literature. She married Henry Jakubauskas, a PhD Dupont Company chemist, and in 1971 the young couple moved to Nashville.
There, Jakubauskas discovered horses and a passion for riding. “I had a knack for it. I do have Cossack blood in my veins,” she admits with a laugh. She bought a horse and soon unleashed her inner cowgirl riding in barrel races and cross-country endurance events.
When the Dupont Co. transferred her husband to Wilmington, they bought a house and barn on five acres in rural Chadds Ford. Jakubauskas gave riding lessons in her backyard while bringing up four daughters. When the nearby Gateway property became available to lease, she didn’t hesitate.
With few students interested in Western riding, Jakubauskas had to adapt. She credits the late Mary Warner Brown of neighboring Derbydown Stables with teaching her the ways of a proper Chester County equestrian. She earned certification in hunt seat and recreational riding and hired instructors who had a background in teaching.
“Children are our forte,” says Jakubauskas, whose daughter Laurie competes at the Grand Prix level. Former students now come back with their children and grandchildren. The youngest receive one-on-one instruction and all students progress at their own rate.
Jakubasuskas” oldest student was a 92-year-old physician. More typical of adult riders is Betsy Niederer of Garnet Valley. “I hadn’t ridden for about 30 years,” she says. “As an adult beginner, it’s hard to walk into a place where everyone has ridden for awhile. I”m really lucky I found Marie. I’ve progressed quickly and now I want to compete.”
Helping her students gain confidence energizes Jakubauskas. “I have no plans to retire. I still love coming to work,” she says with satisfaction.