Health, Fitness, Horses and Nature are at the Heart of Everyday Living for Michelle Werner
She takes it all in stride.
- Written byDiane E. Barber
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Equestrian, massage therapist and nursing student Michelle Werner has been committed to a healthy, athletic lifestyle since her youth. She played volleyball throughout high school in Torrance, and when she was not on the volleyball courts she could be found playing flag football at the beach. But it was horses that tugged on her heart since childhood.
“When I was in elementary school I wanted to take riding lessons, but my parents could not financially support it. So I set my sights on finding a way to pay for it myself someday,” she shares.
Michelle began diligently saving for horseback riding lessons before she was old enough to drive. She worked in clothing stores and later at Hennessey’s Tavern in Riviera Village, where she met a customer who was a horse trainer from Portuguese Bend Riding Club (PBRC) in Rancho Palos Verdes. With enough money set aside to fulfill her childhood dream, she began taking lessons at PBRC when she was 18 years old.
“I took English riding lessons for one year and then got into jumping for five years,” Michelle says. “I became a regular at the stables, and people eventually entrusted me to exercise their horses for them. All of the horses that I have ridden have found their way to me somehow.”
Such was the case with Michelle’s current beloved equine trail-riding companion, Warrior—a retired Arabian endurance competitor owned by Rancho Palos Verdes resident Pippa Davies.
“Five years ago I was riding Friesian horses owned by a friend who was Pippa’s neighbor,” she explains. “Pippa approached me to help her with Warrior following an injury. While I was juggling my time to help both women exercise their horses, the family with the Friesians moved out of the area, freeing me up to ride Warrior regularly and bond with him. He had just come off of endurance racing, so he had to be reprogrammed to enjoy being a leisure horse on the trails—which was fun to work through.”
Michelle’s nurturing nature is at the core of her essence and reaches beyond her horse world. The loss of her mother and her calling to help others inspired her massage therapy career and her recent enrollment in nursing school. When Michelle was a teenager, her mother was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, which she succumbed to after battling it for 18 months.
“Before my mom became sick, I had already decided I wanted to be a nurse,” she shares. “When I graduated from high school, I attended El Camino College so I could stay close to home. She passed away in the middle of my two-year program. I finished all of the prerequisite courses but did not apply to any nursing schools because, at the time, I knew I could not bear to walk into a hospital. It was too soon.”
After putting her pursuit of a nursing career on hold, Michelle took time to do some soul-searching in Europe and realized that a career in a healing environment was key to her happiness. “I decided to go into massage therapy as a way to care for and help people heal without any of the sadness of terminal illness. I went to massage school in Santa Monica thinking it could be a temporary career. Now 23 years later, it is still going strong,” she says with a smile.
“I am 100% present and grounded in gratitude every step of the way.”
Nursing was always in the back of Michelle’s mind as a massage therapist. It was the loss of a friend that rekindled her desire to pursue the nursing aspirations that she set aside decades ago.
“My best friend, Karina, recently passed away,” she says. “I was with her when she had the stroke and accompanied her to the hospital. When I was witnessing the chaotic cadence of the emergency room, it all felt very familiar and oddly comfortable. I remember asking the nurse, ‘Do you like what you do?’ When he responded, ‘I love it,’ I felt like I was tapped on my shoulder and I knew it was time.”
With her back-to-school wheels set in motion, in 2015 Michelle began to update the courses she had previously taken. Then in the fall of last year, her patience and perseverance were rewarded when Los Angeles Harbor College accepted her for the school’s nursing program.
While managing her rigorous schedule working full time and attending school, Michelle’s riding and hiking adventures with Warrior on the Peninsula keep her fit and mentally centered. “When we are out on the trails immersed in the beauty of the ocean and nature, it feeds my soul and is great for my overall well-being,” she says. “I am 100% present and grounded in gratitude every step of the way.”
MICHELLE’S YEAR IN HEALTH
I typically work out four to six days a week. I take a circuit/strength training class four times a week; Rollerblade on The Strand one to two times a week; and ride Warrior three times a week.
I love cookies and wine.
Fitness craze you want to try:
I like to think of myself as a “surf ‘n’ turf” girl. When I’m not riding or hiking with Warrior, I love be in the water or at least near it. I often paddleboard in the summer and skate on The Strand year-round.
Tell these three young ladies that they fight, climb, dance or act “like a girl,” and they’ll take it as the ultimate compliment. All younger than 13 with very different passions, these extraordinary South Bay youth prove that with a kind heart and both eyes on a dream, you can be unstoppable.