I grew up in South Carolina, showing Pointers, English Cockers, & Irish Setters with my mother and siblings. However, after my mom was called in for a Parent/Teacher conference due to the fact that I was galloping and whinnying all over the playground in Third grade, she decided she’d better find a way to get me on a horse. This is when Bumpy the pony entered my life as a leased pony. Bumpy was followed shortly thereafter by Freckles, who spent the vast majority of his time attempting to brush me off under every tree he could find. Mom could see that I was undeterred, and set about to find acreage and horses for me to ride.
Enter, Maggie, Molly, & Sarah. Maggie & Molly were OTTB’s. At the ripe old age of 13, Maggie & Molly were my projects to tune up and sell. Sarah, short for Serendipity, was a buckskin grade mare, whom I decided was a keeper. To this day, buckskin is still my favorite color. Sarah did NOT like to jump, but, taught me many lessons about how to really ride. I kept Sarah for several years, but, unfortunately she was prone to colic and ultimately passed away of this dread of every horseman. Sarah was later joined by Velvet and Midnight, black Tennessee Walkers. I quickly decided gaited breeds were not for me. I also rode my mother’s grey Arabian mare, Blueberry Muffin. She was too smart for me and I found myself OFF of her more than ON her, but, between Muffin and Sarah, I was able to perfect my flying dismount, and it has helped me out of some very tight jams since then. I later purchased a chestnut Arabian mare named Rosie at an auction. It was between me and the meat man. Rosie blossomed under my attention, and was a gem of a find at $435. She was athletic, good at anything I wanted to do, and kind. I eventually had to sell her while in college due to time and money constraints, and have always missed her. I also spent one semester on the University of Georgia Equestrian team, where I rode in one competition, bringing home the blue in my division. My formal instruction during all this was extremely limited to about a dozen lessons here and there. My horses had to teach me. To this day, I still believe the horse is the primary teacher.
After a long hiatus from horse ownership while finishing school, beginning a career, and marrying, I got back to my love. I met Lisa Lawton, who had three very lovely dressage horses, and began taking lessons from her. While our association was brief(she & her husband moved to Virginia, and I & my then fiancé moved to Nevada), Lisa’s impact on my life would prove to be profound. She introduced me to the discipline of dressage, she taught me what a real spitshine on black boots looked like, and she made me realize I had no idea what fabulous horses existed out there. Galene, Greta & Monopoly were specimens. Her Jack Russell, Penny, and our Sheltie, Bailey, were fast friends. They were lost to cars within a month of each other, and only Lisa & Mark understood our need to have a memorial service for our dog. It was on Galene that I rode in my first dressage show. The words “waterskiing behind your horse” from my test sheet are seared into my memory. I clearly had a long way to go.
Once settling into our new home, Dow began to look for a barn for me, knowing how much I needed to be around horses. He met Barbara Beans, purchased a lesson package with her, and brought me to the barn for my birthday. Despite my introduction to dressage, I still thought I wanted to jump over stuff. I began taking hunt seat lessons, and leased Ollie, better known as The Dinosaur. Ollie was a black Oldenburg who could pack me around a course, me having no idea how to count strides, and hit five every line. I was not even aware that he was correcting the leads for me. I just sat on top and tried to look pretty. When Ollie was sold, I decided it was high time to buy a show horse, and began the search. Fate led me to Charisma. I saw her sister by chance, pointed to her and told my trainer I wanted “that”, and the mare’s owner told Barbara where to find her twin. One trip to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and, I was not leaving without her. I went through the motions of riding her and several other horses, but, I knew as soon as I looked in her eyes she was mine. Naïve and starstruck, I brought my four year old mare with 21 days under saddle home to Nevada in July, 1998. I took lessons on Charisma with Barbara for another month, until she decided to take a hiatus from horses completely, and there I was with a green broke mare. Now what?! I started reading. Re-enter dressage. After a couple more years of unsuccessful riding over fences, I realized I was missing something important-how to REALLY ride. I took lessons from clinicians who came to the barn, notably Christiane Noelting and Steve Kinnikeberg. I was still barely conscious to what this discipline involved, but, was captivated by the precision and level of awareness required of the rider. Christiane’s warmth, depth of knowledge, and genuine belief in her students inspired me to stick with it even after I moved far away in 2001.
Once moved to Alberta, I began taking lessons from a young lady named Chris Kierzek, now Franssen. She loved Charisma, and gave me the courage to keep going despite some dauntingly low scores. I moved my mare closer to home, but kept riding on my own for another year or more, clinicing with Tom Dvorak whenever time, money & weather allowed, which was not nearly often enough. This led me to Sheri Dumonceaux, who hosted those clinics. Inspired by the fact that most of her students rode “regular” horses and yet were successful, I began taking lessons with Sheri in earnest in 2003, and this clinched my fate. I wanted to succeed, not just survive. She helped me transform my hunter princess mare into the best dressage diva she could be. I decided the only way to really learn would be to immerse myself. I was fortunate to have the time in the winter of 2005-2006 to serve as a working student for Sheri. It was humbling, to say the least. I rode horses of all shapes, sizes, minds, and talent. I worked on the lungeline. I fed, mucked stalls, groomed, got kicked, got frostnip, fell into bed aching every night, took Tylenol by the bottle, and decided I wanted MORE of that. Upon bringing my mare home in the spring of 2006, I realized I’d turned a corner when I had multiple requests for help with other’s horses. I had to work out trade arrangements, so as not to lose my coveted Amateur status. But, the universe has its plans, and I realized in the spring of 2007 that I wanted to help as many horses and their owners as I could.
My goal as a trainer is to help others discover the depth of communication that is possible between imperfect humans, and God’s most perfect of creatures, the horse. If we listen to them, they can teach us everything we need to know, about riding, and about life. I try to bring a kind, thoughtful approach to the process, and help each horse be its best. I will be fair, but, I will also expect the horse to try. I believe that competition helps riders be their best, and make a point of competing myself, but will never require it of anyone who does not wish to do so.
Dressage is a beautiful discipline, and should look effortless, because the horse knows the right answers to your questions. That does not mean it is not hard. In fact, I believe it is a very difficult discipline and is not for everyone. It is, however, good for every horse, if only to give a basis for solid training. Any young horse can benefit from its principles, and it is an excellent tool for re-schooling the older horse. Any rider, regardless of interest in discipline, can benefit from the precision and attention to the aids, seat & position that dressage brings to horsemanship.