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Cecil County Life

Ellie Luther: Rider, trainer, and all-around horse enthusiast

May 30, 2017 01:27PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Steven Hoffman
Staff Writer

When Ellie Luther was six years old, she went to the Fair Hill International competition and watched the world-class riders and horses turn in dazzling performances on the show jumping course, the cross-country course, and in dressage. As she watched the horses and riders, she knew that, one day, she wanted to be one of the people competing in the Fair Hill International.
There aren’t many 6-year-olds who would set such a lofty goal for themselves, but Ellie has always been goal-oriented.
In 2016, she made her debut at Fair Hill International, just the latest goal that she has accomplished. Many of the goals that Ellie has set for herself and then accomplished through hard work and dedication have been connected, one way or another, to horses.
“I’ve been riding since before I could walk,” Ellie explained in an interview at the Rolling Hills Ranch in Port Deposit. “I was born into it.”
Ellie’s mother, Renee Dixon, runs the Rolling Hills Ranch in Port Deposit. Rolling Hills is a full-service equestrian center that specializes in riding lessons, boarding, and summer camps. Rolling Hills is also home to Dixon’s Freedom Hills Therapeutic Riding Program. It was Renee who was instrumental in getting her daughter involved with horses in the first place.
“I started riding right here,” Ellie explained.
Today, Ellie is a small business owner and young professional who spends long days on the farm surrounded by horses. She helps up-and-coming riders learn how to handle their horses. She trains horses that will eventually be sold to riders. She re-trains thoroughbred horses so that they can become event horses. She helps exercise race horses. And she rides horses―a lot. On a typical day, she will spend between nine and twelve hours riding.
Although this life is a bit more complicated than what her six-year-old self could have imagined, Ellie is quite content with where she finds herself at the age of twenty-six. She's following the mantra that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.
She certainly loves horses. Ellie spent years―between the ages of 7 and 19―honing her talents to earn the H-A Pony Club rating.
According to Ellie, it takes people who are patient, but determined, to get the most out of horses.
“You have to be understanding of their quirks,” she explained.
Ellie holds a bachelor's degree in psychology, which might help her be something of a horse whisperer to the horses that she works with. Ellie said that her mother really encouraged her to get a college degree just in case she ever wants to do something that doesn't involve horses. When Ellie started her freshman year in college, she thought that she could go a whole semester without her horses, but it turned out that she could only make it a few weeks before she started regularly returning home so that she could see them.
Ellie has worked to broaden her experiences in the equestrian world. As a small business owner and a professional, there are benefits to living and working in Cecil County, Maryland, which is in such close proximity to the many horse farms in rural Pennsylvania. There are three Olympians and leaders in the equestrian industry―Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton, and Bruce Davidson―within 30 miles of Ellie's home base.
She has also ventured far from home for equestrian experiences. In 2015, Ellie had a rare opportunity: She was employed as a work rider in Surrey, England for nearly six months. She rode sale horses, and was trained on how to show and prepare the horses for sale. She also learned how to run a sale barn. These are all skills that she is utilizing in her own business today.
“I really liked that experience,” Ellie explained.
As a rider, Ellie has now advanced to become a CCIC** event rider. In addition to Fair Hill International, she has competed at the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm and also at Plantation Field Horse Trials, which are both known to attract top competitors.
She has really enjoyed the experience of competing in events with Fair Fiona, a 17-year-old horse that was bred by Boyd Martin. Ellie has owned Fair Fiona for about five years.
“She’s been great to learn on, and to grow with,” she said. “I learned skills that I can now use on other horses.”
Looking ahead, Ellie wants to take part in the retired race horse project. Participants are given a six-month window to acquire a retired horse. They can then train the horse over a limited period of time before competing in an event. This ensures that everyone is competing on a level playing field with horses that have been trained for a comparable period of time. Competing in an event like this showcases how versatile and trainable a horse is, and also how good of a job the trainer does with the horse.
While Ellie attained the goal she set for herself when she was six years old by riding at Fair Hill International in 2016, she still wants to return to the event. On the cross country course, there are 23 challenges for the horse and rider to accomplish. On their first try, Ellie and Fair Fiona completed 22 of the challenges. One of Ellie’s goals this year is to return to the Fair Hill International in October and complete the full course.
She is also currently re-training four thoroughbreds to be event horses. Three of these horses are for sale.
She maintains a busy schedule on the Rolling Hills Ranch, but Ellie is fine with that.
“This is really all I ever wanted to do,” she said.
The Rolling Hills Ranch is located at 33 Rolling Hills Ranch Lane in Port Deposit, Maryland. Call 410-378-3817 or visit for more information.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected]

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