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Lawton Stables boasts luxurious facilities, prestigious academy

Nestled on 24 acres in Hilton Head Island's Sea Pines Resort, Lawton Stables is home to one of the most prestigious equestrian schools in the United States – the International Riding Academy.

It wasn't always that way. Several years ago, Lawton Stables wasn't much more than a rudimentary field, until Didi Summers drove by and saw something that others hadn't: potential.

“I could imagine it with a beautiful new barn and updated facilities, including, most importantly, much better facilities for the existing animals in the animal farm and horses,” she said.

Summers and her husband, Andrew, bought Lawton Stables in 2008 and have spent the last six years transforming the acreage into a state-of-the-art equestrian facility. They built two new riding arenas, irrigated the grounds and paddocks, raised the pastures, rebuilt and relocated the animal farm, and added a welcome center. In 2010, Lawton Stables even got the brand new barn Summers dreamed of when she drove by the property two years earlier.

Designed by renowned Lowcountry architect Tom Parker, the luxurious barn features beautiful woodwork throughout, and 19 stalls with individual fans, drainage, thick rubber matting and cameras with 24-hour viewing capability. The barn also boasts two fully-secure and flood-proof tack rooms, as well as a private, upstairs lounge – known as the Saddle Club – where riders can kick back and relax between lessons.

“We're very lucky to have a beautiful 19-stall barn,” said Megan Taylor, International Riding Academy head trainer and director of riding. “It's luxurious, with really high-end finishes, but it's also a practical place, and horses are comfortable and happy living here. The barn has a beautiful Lowcountry style as well.”

International Riding Academy students also enjoy amenities such as a special sand-clay-synthetic footing mixture in the championship and warm-up arenas, a grass arena and medical paddocks.

Modeled after prestigious international sports academies, the International Riding Academy at Lawton Stables caters to middle and high school students who are as serious about academics as they are about mastering equestrian skills. Students spend two to three hours per day riding and receiving other equestrian-related instruction, and attend Hilton Head Preparatory School. The academy also partners with a local golf academy that provides student housing.

“The International Riding Academy seeks to attract junior riders from all over the world who would like a safe place to live and attend middle or high school, while pursuing their love of riding by attending shows bi-monthly,” Summers said. “We think we are the only academy in the United States who is doing this and we hope to bring more awareness of the area to the international market. Hilton Head is the ideal place to send children to learn and develop their love of sports at the highest levels, whether it be golf, tennis or riding.”

Contrary to what its name suggests, the International Riding Academy doesn't just focus on riding horses; other key focuses include education, character, mental training, motivation and, most importantly, helping riders achieve their goals for the future.

The academy maintains small class sizes and staff works closely with teachers at Hilton Head Prep to ensure that each student keeps up with their schoolwork and maintains excellent academic standards.

“We have a really great group of students and a really wonderful, nice group of horses,” Taylor said. “It's a great environment to learn in and teach in. I came from a collegiate environment that had lots of students, which is great, but the International Riding Academy is a very small, dedicated program, so there's a lot of one-on-one interaction and a lot of small group work that's really beneficial to students.”

Part of Summer's vision for Lawton Stables, when she purchased it in 2008, was to make it more accessible to the community. To that end, she's eliminated the admission fee to the animal farm to make it free for everyone and also hosts fundraisers at the stables on occasion. She and her husband also founded the Wish Upon a Horse Therapeutic Riding Center that offers free services to local children and adults with special needs. As many as 50 special-needs riders participate in the program each week.

“I am constantly amazed at the happiness I see there,” Summers said. “There is something about animals that brings out the best in people, and watching especially the young people interact with them is something very special.”

For more information on Lawton Stables or the International Riding Academy, call 843-671-2586, email info@iridingacademy.com, or visit www.lawtonstables.com or  www.iridingacademy.com. Lawton Stables and iRiding Academy are also on Facebook.

To learn more about the Wish Upon a Horse Therapeutic Riding Center, email info@wishuponahorsehhi.org or visit www.wishuponahorsehhi.org.