Two Hundred Acres of Horse-Riding Heaven in Ponca HillsDec 30, 2021 11:50AM ● By Kamrin Baker
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Mactier, now 71, runs the family business: Ponca Hills Farm, a premier equestrian facility in the metro. She maintains the Mactier legacy with purpose…and of course, dozens of horses.
The story of the facility is simple.
“My mother always wanted a pony for her birthday,” Mactier said. “Every birthday. Every Christmas.”
Jan’s mother fell in love with her high school sweetheart, got her pony, and raised children who loved horses just the same.
Ponca Hills Farm opened in 1964, after Ann and J. Allan Mactier, Mactier’s parents, bought 60 acres of pastures and forests on the highest hill in Douglas County. Allan was an avid fox hunter and wanted a property on which to practice the hunt, while Ann wanted to teach people about riding horses. Together, they created one of the best equestrian facilities in the Midwest. At the time, it was reported to be the largest indoor arena between Denver and Chicago.
The barn was modeled after a World War II aircraft hangar—wide, open, and sturdy for their dreams of indoor riding. The space seems boundless for an indoor ring: measuring 100 by 200 feet with wind blowing through the interior. In that same space and beyond, Ponca Hills Farm now offers summer camps, teaching programs, boarding, hunting, and jumping on its 200 acres. Its riding options are ample: trails, cross-country jumping, a pond to ride through, and indoor and outdoor arenas.
The life and legacy of the Mactier family trots along with the persistence of the almost 50 horses who board, train, and thrive at Ponca Hills. Their spirit is palpable and can be felt on every inch of the acreage, punctuated by old-fashioned, Nebraska-grown family pride.
“The legacy of my parents was to have Ponca Hills Farm to be inclusive, rather than exclusive; a place where all are welcome, where there is always more to learn,” Mactier said. “We are definitely local. My children are fifth-generation Nebraskans.”
She and husband Mick Moriarty married on the property. Her grandmother’s ashes were spread in one of the pastures. She swims in the pond on the grounds every summer and picnics underneath the rustling leaves whenever she gets the opportunity. In the winter, she takes guests on horse-drawn sled rides throughout the property. Moriarty builds cross-country jumps. The couple sell walnut trees, and they regularly host competitions, rallies, and clinics.
Mactier took over the business in 2000 at age 50. This transition came after 30 years of competition. It was easy for her to get into the saddle of the family business; after all, loving horses was in her blood.
“I remember, I was 3 years old,” Mactier said. “A horse came up to me, I touched his nose, and it felt like velvet. He breathed on me, and I was in love.”
Mactier acquired her first horse when she was 9 years old, a $350 pony. It was wanted by five Olympic teams. Mactier refused to sell her horse, which ultimately competed in Munich. This was the start of Mactier’s international travels and passion for the sport.
“It’s all about the friends I’ve made and the places I’ve traveled,” Mactier said. “If you’re a Pony Clubber, you can go anywhere in the world to ride. There’s this beautiful camaraderie of loving horses. At the barn, people aren’t necessarily the same age, but they all have one thing in common: they love horses.”
The Pony Club is an international organization of riders who often compete in horsemanship competitions and engage in regional and national rallies. Ann started the Pony Club chapter in Omaha.
As a competitor, Mactier went to a horse show at Windsor Castle (about which she said: “it’s always good to make friends with the security guards. Prince Philip could drive and he could dance.”). She flew from New York to Amsterdam with her horse. She rode on Pebble Beach countless times. Beginning in 2003, she worked as a road and competition manager, traveling throughout Europe.
She always came home.
“Nebraska makes for good footing, trails, and space,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have that anymore.”
The area is so ideal, in fact, the Fédération Équestre Internationale hosted the World Cup in Omaha in 2017. Mactier housed many friends, and Ponca Hills Farm was a sponsor of the event. Mactier said the competition was so successful that Omaha became the criteria for the federation to follow for the World Cup. She added that her coffee and food offerings 24/7 likely helped when it came to the hospitality of riders and FEI members.
Ponca Hills is mostly known as a place for local riders to call home. Students trickle in after school to take lessons, businessmen end their days with a ride around the ring, and in the summer, the property is abuzz with the wide-eyed youngsters who engage in summer camps.
Vicki Krecek, a longtime friend of the Mactier family and author of I Will Build A Barn: A History of Ponca Hills Farm, took lessons from Mactier in 1989 and has been a rider and hunter on the property ever since.
“Ponca is special because it was created on land that is hilly and has a climate influenced by the Missouri River,” Krecek said. “The land, the wildlife, the forests, are all very unique in Omaha. It is special because [the] Mactiers created it out of love for the land, horses, and educating young riders with the best instructions and facility. Jan is a task master instructor and keeper of tradition.”
Pat Tschetter has been a part of the Ponca Hills family since 1983, still taking lessons and clinics almost 40 years later.
“I love sharing all that life has to offer in terms of love of animals, love of exercise, love of knowledge and a desire to participate with the Mactier family and Ponca Hills Farm,” Tschetter said.
Some of Mactier’s sweetest memories are the simple ones on her home turf.
“When I first got my horse, I would ride bareback through the woods and into town,” Mactier said. “I would save my money and ride to the store to buy candy. My pony liked licorice.”
Her free-spirited joy rides are a little fewer and farther between, but Mactier’s essence remains that of a girl who simply loves to ride her horse.
These days, she spends her time managing the business, conserving the property, planting flowers, maintaining beehives and enjoying every moment she can within her own little slice of heaven.
“It’s one big ecosystem,” Mactier said. “People wonder if we’ll always be here, and we are. The trees get taller, flowers spread, fences get replaced, people leave and return, and I’m just always trying to make it better. Horses keep you humble.”
Visit poncahillsfarm.com to learn more about Ponca Hills Farm.
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.