Michelle McVey is the owner, trainer and instructor at Desert Palms Equestrian Center in Cave Creek. With a focus on expert training of American Saddlebred horses and proper instruction of riders at a beautiful facility, McVey has developed a successful and individualized training program that caters to the unique needs of each horse and rider combination.
McVey has had a lifelong love of horses and started taking lessons as a young child and began teaching horse riding when she was 13. In college, she was pursuing a career as a veterinarian, but fate had other plans. McVey explains, "When I went to college, I went to work at a place like Desert Palms for five years and I thought, ‘Hmmm, let me figure out how to make more money at this.' And I thought, ‘Vet school.' Then I went there for one year and decided I liked working with horses better."
Located just past far north Scottsdale in Cave Creek, McVey's Desert Palms property gives the perfect flavor and place to learn riding, bottom to top. "My parents live out here and they're retired. I had lived out in Kentucky when I was working for a while for the company I was with," McVey says. "Of course, Kentucky is all horse country and I love it, but I wanted to be closer to family and I wanted nice weather. I drove by this property and saw it was for sale and picked it up."
Desert Palms Equestrian Center is situated on five acres and offers English and Western private horse lessons (focusing on saddle seat English style riding), horse showing and competitions, horsemanship camps, boarding, horse sales and even exciting birthday parties. McVey has 53 horses on her property and she and her assistant and fellow instructor Mike Setzer take care of instructing all the students.
"My ultimate goal is to have somebody come in and take lessons, eventually buy a horse and show it," states McVey. "Not everybody can afford that, so we do lessons, too. My second goal is lessons and horse training. It's a whole experience and people just love it. I help them choose a saddle and suit, show them where to go to a horse show, what kind of horse they need... It's a whole sport and it's very involved."
McVey will also travel with her students to help them select the right horse. Once riders get to know McVey and she gets to know their personality and style, she will help her riders find a horse that is matches to them. "I try to suit the best horse for the personality of a particular rider," she says.
Summer horse camp is also thrilling and is a perfect way to introduce kids to the sport. "We have three different sections-beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each camp session meets 8 am to 11 am for four straight days and there are many sessions meeting May through July. Riders can sign up at the Desert Palms website. "They'll learn all aspects-how to groom, bathe, lead, tack and untack a horse, properly clean a stall, how to put on polo wraps and bits-they'll learn it all," states McVey.
Riders from Desert Palms get to participate in local, regional and national shows at every level of rider experience. McVey has successfully coached numerous winners at major horse shows including American Royal, World Championship Horse Show, Lexington Junior League and she has even had a Triple Equitation Crown winner.
At a recent show in Del Mar, California McVey accompanied 30 riders to a show. "I was right there helping them get ready, doing their hair up in buns and doing their make-up. I had my staff getting horses ready and making sure they looked phenomenal," says McVey.
Although the sport is primarily female, she also has several males that take lessons and participate in shows. The Show Team program at Desert Palms runs year round. "We pretty much show all year, except for February because of the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show at WestWorld," notes McVey.
Riders are welcome to take lessons, advance and eventually graduate to the Show Team, but students are also welcome to just take riding lessons, too. Birthday parties are a fun departure from a typical party and can be scheduled in advance.
McVey's love of everything equestrian continues to be as strong as when she was a child. "I love every day that I go to work," she says. "I live, breathe, eat and sleep for horses. I'm so glad I can do what I love to do because it doesn't seem like work."
Desert Palms Equestrian Center is located at 28410 N. 44th St., Cave Creek. Visit www.desertpalms.net or call (480) 239-4896 for additional information or to sign up for camp.