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Youngstown woman’s growing business built on horse sense

Melissa Koser, a former rodeo champ who went pro at age 13, doesn’t just ready her students for national rodeo competitions. She creates champions.

At age 20, Koser started MK Quarter Horses and began leasing a 23-acre farm at 3360 East Ave., Youngstown. She has been involved in boarding, breeding, training, rehabilitating, buying and selling horses, as well as giving English and Western riding lessons, and even preparing students for rodeos.

Now 32, she also has proven that she has great business sense, expanding her business by purchasing an additional 40-acre horse farm at 4430 Chestnut Road, Wilson, last September.

“My parents never told me ‘no,’ as long as I worked hard at it,” said Koser, a native of Berwick, Pa. “There are not a lot of families in this area who know about rodeos or are even horse-oriented, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn to love horses the rest of their lives. I want to be the force behind kids who want to do this. I’ve done a lot of things in the past 10 years, and I want to give other people the opportunity to do great things, too.”

Koser, who swears she’s caffeine-free, is up at 4:30 each morning, runs the Niagara Gorge, boxes for fun and usually doesn’t retire until nearly midnight.

“I function on just a couple of hours of sleep,” she admitted. “I’m very driven. I know what I want for my families and for my business.”

Koser recently took some time to chat for a few minutes about her new spread, her students and plans for the future before heading to Tennessee with a local student who will compete this week in a national rodeo championship.

What did your new farm include when you purchased it and what are you adding?

It had a large indoor riding area and a barn with radiant heated floors. We built a brand-new outdoor riding arena, and we are building another barn with 20 more stalls. So, we’ll have a total of 72 stalls altogether – 36 in Wilson and 36 in Youngstown.

We’re starting the Three Crosses Equine Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, hopefully by September. We’re transforming a large pole barn for that. Other places might have a certain piece of equipment, but we’ll have them all here. The closest center like this would be Morrisville State College (where Koser earned a bachelor’s degree in equine science management), which started a program a couple of years back. I know of one in Ohio and more in Texas and Florida. We want to work with the race tracks in Hamburg and Batavia, but it would be open to anyone with an injured horse.

We’ve also put in 30 acres of pastures and paddocks. We’ve done a lot already. Every time I look out my window, I pinch myself that I actually own it. We’re just constantly improving it.

Who is helping you?

Rob Szczepanski is my other half – the best support you could ask for. We’ve been together eight years. He keeps the facilities looking awesome, even though he has another job. He’s an operator at Covanta Energy. Horses are my thing, and hunting is his thing, but he’s my hitching post and best cheerleader I could ask for.

I also have a girl, Kaitlyn, who has been doing chores for me for two years in exchange for lessons and boarding.

And the kids (students) have afternoon chores, but we don’t call it work because everyone enjoys it so much. We have from one to 15 kids get off the school bus in Youngstown every day, and they’re here until 6:30 or 7 at night. They’re helping in the barn or riding – anything we need done. And when their parents come after work, they don’t just pick them up – they help around the barn, too. It’s really a family environment.

How many students do you have?

We’re up to 53, and that includes a handful of adults, too, Monday through Thursday and occasionally on weekends. We have lessons in Youngstown, but not in Wilson now; we just train and board horses there.

Tell me about some of your students.

Michaila Raby is a sixth-grade phenomenon. She started here when she was 5 and had lots of bumps and bruises but never gave up – she really has the heart for this. She was just named Rookie of the Year for the New York State Junior High School Rodeo Team, competing against sixth- to eighth-graders. She was the barrel-racing reserve champion and placed in the top four in pole-bending and goat-tying.

This week, she’ll be competing in the National Junior High School Rodeo finals outside of Nashville. She trained her horse herself under my guidance – a horse that knew nothing about barrel-racing, but she kept chipping away at it.

The younger girls see how dedicated she is to her horse and being the very best. She’s a very positive young lady, and people have taken notice of her.

Meghan Ebert was also a student here, and she earned Rookie of the Year, too. And she just finished her freshman year at Casper College in Casper, Wyo. She went on a full scholarship. She was someone Michaila looked up to. But Meghan always told Michaila, “You don’t want to be like me – you want to be better than me,” and that’s something I’ve heard Michaila tell the younger girls.

You’re starting a formal therapy and rehab center, but you’ve been offering rehab services all along, haven’t you?

Yes, and we do get referrals from local veterinarians. I had someone call about a month ago from the Northeast Association of Equine Practitioners – referred by two local vets – which was nice. They hold a seminar every year, and this year, it happens to be in the Niagara Falls area, and they needed a facility. They said this will be the largest group of veterinarians and farriers they’ve had. They came up from Florida and interviewed me and looked at my facility. This isn’t open to the public, but it’s a huge honor for us.

What other honors have you recently had?

The New York State Horse Council’s local chapter used my facility recently as part of a large clinic with Gary Lane (a nationally known gaited horse trainer from Kentucky). I think they thought I have a nice facility – I certainly think so. We’re trying to let people know it’s here. I feel truly blessed to have it.

And you also train and buy and sell horses?

I’ve been training horses since I was in my teens, and we do quite a bit of it here. I only take on two outside horses per month because I want to make sure I have the time to devote to them. We have two babies here right now, and you could say we are beginning to train them to be halter-broke and tied. Most people send us horses to train for riding, or tune-ups and finishing touches or barrel-race training.

I have clients all over the world who buy my horses, but especially throughout the U.S. and Canada. Overseas isn’t a huge market for us, but we do ship horses overseas or bring in a good handful each year for our clients.

To what do you owe your success?

We just try and treat people like we want to be treated. Our families know we’d do anything for them to keep them smiling. And we couldn’t ask for better people.

I look at each and every kid who rides with me as my own kids, like I’m their second mom.

What are your long-range goals?

I’d like to see my business keep growing. My biggest long-term investment coming up is an aqua-tread, which we’ve been saving for. We’re also building a pool for the horses to swim, but they won’t be able to use it in the winter. I want to still have my business, love what I do and be able to educate everyone on this rodeo life.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email