Tucked behind a rural Flagler County road sits a barn not unlike any of the others dotting the network of country roads between Palm Coast and Ormond Beach. It seems wholly ordinary with its 22 horses and double-rail fence, except for one thing: Any afternoon or weekend day, the place is packed with children from the area.
“We call them our ‘barn rats,’” said Pam Stolsworth. “We couldn’t get rid of them if we tried. But we love them.”
Stolsworth runs P&L Stables in Bunnell with her husband, Lewis. Stolsworth also teaches Exceptional Student Education pre-kindergarten classes at Bunnell Elementary School. She’s been teaching with the Flagler County Public Schools for 18 years now, and working as a riding instructor for around 40. Two things have long been in her blood, she said: horses and teaching.
Pam Stolsworth started riding horses when she was 9 years old, and since then, she has stuck closely with them: from competitive horse shows through college (she was the Collegiate National Open High Point Horsemanship Champion while studying at Adelphi University) to working as a riding instructor and supporting her children through the horse show circuit.
She discovered her love for teaching, especially for teaching those with special needs, in high school.
“I had a half day where I needed to find something to do,” Stolsworth said. “One of the school administrators assigned me to ride the bus back and forth with an autistic child who didn’t speak. One day, we started playing with shadow puppets, and that was the start of everything.”
Stolsworth stayed on as a mother’s helper for that child over the summer, and eventually he was able to begin speaking.
“Just seeing a whole world open up for a student who was so frustrated before is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” she said.
With the barn she runs with her husband, she’s been able to marry the two interests: One service P&L stables offers is riding lessons to special needs students.
“Riding can be so powerful for people with various challenges,” she said. “This is their recreation, their relaxation. Nobody’s setting limits for them here.”
Stolsworth has worked on and off as a riding instructor since she was in college, and she and her husband have owned P&L Stables for five years. The stable won a Battle of the Barns horse show two weeks ago, at Silver Sands Bridal Club in Daytona Beach, in which eight area stables competed. The couple says they can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives.
“I love the kids, and I love the sport,” Pam Stolsworth said. “Horses have been such a big part of my life, and I love seeing that being passed on to the next generation.”
Of course, teaching in the mornings and running a stable in the afternoons is not easy work. In addition to offering boarding services and lessons, the barn has also adopted two horses who were abandoned and brought them back to health.
“I’m exhausted,” Stolsworth said. “I collapse into bed every night.” But for her, the hard work has benefits that outweigh a bit of fatigue.
“I have kids that have called me from 30 years ago and told me that their best times in their childhood were when they were riding with me,” she said. “That alone makes you feel like you’re making a difference in people’s lives.”
But, Lewis Stolsworth said, his wife would be making that kind of difference regardless of what her profession was.
“That’s just the kind of person she is,” he said.
Pam and Lewis met through a mutual friend 14 years ago. Pam Stolsworth’s first husband had died a year previously, and a friend from work insisted that she meet someone. That someone was Lewis Stolsworth, who was in town from Kentucky.
The two hit it off instantly: They met in March 1998, and when Lewis Stolsworth visited again in June of that same year, Florida was hit by rampant wildfires. The couple was evacuated shortly after.
“We figured if we can live through an evacuation together, we can live through anything together,” Pam Stolsworth said.
They married the next month.
“She saved me,” Lewis Stolsworth said. “She’s made me a better person just by knowing her.”
Now, the two fill their days with work at the barn, and they don’t have plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“It’s always been my life,” Pam Stolsworth said. “Once you get horses in your blood, they’re there for good.”
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