Saddle up this summer at Ellis House in Kendall County

By Kelli Duncan For Chronicle Media

Ellis House and Equestrian Center is making childhood dreams of pony-themed parties come true while also teaching kids valuable life lessons.

Hidden deep in the Baker Woods Forest Preserve off of Route 52 in Minooka, Ellis House is committed to teaching their community about caring for the environment by showing them how to properly ride and care for their horses.

Ellis House and Equestrian Center is located in the Baker Woods Forest Preserve off of Route 52 in Kendall County. (Photo by Kelli Duncan / for Chronicle Media)

The center offers riding lessons, themed birthday and Girl Scout parties and summer camp programs.

Their equestrian program has a one-day pony camp for kids ages 6 to 8 and a three-day pony camp for kids ages 9 to 13. They also have their Parent-Tot one-day camp where parents can come with their children ages 3 to 5 to learn about horses and go for a ride.

Equestrian Program Coordinator Nicole Norton said that a day at camp typically includes a craft, lessons on how to care for the horses, riding lessons and other fun activities like nature walks and hay rides.

“Riding teaches kids responsibility. It teaches communication skills. It teaches patience and, as a rider, you learn how to have sympathy for an animal,” Norton said. “So, I think it’s a great way to keep your kids involved and doing something physical, while having a lot of fun.”

But at the Ellis House, it’s not all fun and games. Campers are expected to help out with chores in the barn before they are allowed to ride, Norton said.

Ellis House offers programs and summer camps for children and teens, but adults as well have opportunities to participate at the equestrian center. (Photo by Kelli Duncan / for Chronicle Media)

“In our riding program, our kids don’t just come and get on the horses and go home,” she said. “We teach them the responsibility of getting the horse ready, you know, grooming them and tacking them up before they ride.”

At Ellis House, the staff and the horses they care for are all considered family. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who can’t list off the names of each of the horses, as well as the multiple nicknames given to each based on appearance and attitude — like Nemo, who was named for the fish-shaped markings on her coat, or Missy, who is strong but full of sass.

The historic Ellis House can be rented for weddings, receptions and other events. Norton said they also have an outdoor tent available for rent from May until October which can hold up to 200 people.

Ellis House is also home to Sunrise Center North which provides therapeutic riding services for individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Program Director for Sunrise Center North Kris Mondrella said that her riding program is a great way for people with disabilities to get therapeutic, physical exercise while still having tons of fun.

The horses at Ellis House and Equestrian Center are loved as part of the larger family and staff and riders learn the personalities of the animals. Here Nemo (front) enjoys a grass snack. (Photo by Kelli Duncan / for Chronicle Media)

“Basically, therapeutic riding provides medical benefits hidden through recreational activities,” Mondrella said. “When you’re on a horse it’s opening up your diaphragm, it’s working your trunk, your core, which actually then helps you begin speaking for those of my clients who may be non-verbal.”

Her clients often form special bonds with their horses, which helps motivate them to work harder to communicate with the horse.  Horses are the perfect animals for therapeutic riding because they are so responsive to the emotional state of their riders, Mondrella said.

“Horses are really incredible animals because they tend to mirror the emotions of the rider,” she said. “They have a very heightened emotional sensitivity so they can tell when they’re interacting with a rider with special needs and they respond accordingly.”

Mondrella said she works hard to tailor her services to the needs and skill level of each of her riders. She offers instructional classes for riders who want to train to compete in riding events in the Fall Special Olympics.

The center also offers recreational classes for riders who are less independent and just looking for a fun way to improve physical or cognitive abilities.

All riders at Ellis House and Equestrian Center are expected to care for the horses, including grooming and tacking the horses. (Photo by Kelli Duncan / for Chronicle Media)

In addition, she has her Seniors in Saddle program for adults ages 55 and above who wish to improve their physical health through riding.

Sunrise Center North’s services are also open to disabled veterans and Mondrella said she hopes to gain more clients in this area. She said riding horses can be beneficial in addressing physical disabilities as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Get more information

The last day camp Ellis House and Equestrian Center will be held on Aug. 9. All necessary equipment is provided by the Ellis House, but kids should come dressed in long pants and closed-toed shoes. For more details, contact Nicole Norton at 815-475-4035 or visit

For more information on the services provided by Sunrise Center North, contact Kris Mondrella at 815-467-9332 or

Benefit Run

On Sept. 30, the Ellis House will be holding its annual Hoofin’ It 5K Run/Walk to raise money for the Sunrise Center and equestrian programs. Participants will receive a free T-shirt upon registration and will run on the beautiful trails which wind through the forest preserve around the Ellis House.

The 5K will begin at 9:30 a.m. There will be a kids’ mile race held at 11 a.m. as well as an award ceremony shortly after.

To register, contact Kris Mondrella at 815-467-9332 or visit


— Saddle up this summer at Ellis House in Kendall County —-