I have lived, dreamed and breathed horses all my life. I grew up in the American Midwest where I began taking riding lessons at age nine. By age 13, my mother had purchased my first horse, a bright red chestnut grade mare, Missy, for $500. I rode Missy all around the farm roads of southeastern Wisconsin, showed her in 4-H shows and taught her to jump. I told Missy all my secrets and spent many bleary-eyed Saturday mornings braiding her mane and dreaming about ribbons.
Thus passed my very horsey childhood, for which I believe my mother was eternally grateful, as am I. There were other horses, more lessons and more shows. I spent my late teens at regional hunter/jumper shows and began teaching riding lessons and working as a groom on weekends at age 16 to help defray the costs of a lifestyle that was, to be honest, not a little beyond the scope of my family’s resources. My teen years culminated with year-end championships in the children’s hunters and then adult equitation divisions.
Once I graduated from high school (as hastily as possible), I hung out my shingle as a professional hunter/jumper trainer. I spent a few good years coaching clients and riding hunters and jumpers on the regional hunter/jumper show circuit.
As it tends to do, life changed. At age 28, I suffered a stroke and lost all motor skills on my left side. Within a few months of the stroke, I found myself packing my things and relocating to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I entered physical and occupational therapy full time and over time regained full use of my left arm and leg. As soon as I was functional enough, I purchased a young Thoroughbred gelding as a resale project. Two years of frustration and tears followed as my tool box of horse knowledge and training techniques dwindled with few of the desired results. At the time I was more than proficient at producing winning show horses. However, this gelding evidently hadn’t gotten the memo. After two years of work, he was still hard to shoe, didn’t tie, didn’t catch, seemed to be injured more than not and was still marginally broke on the flat much less over fences. I was confused and frustrated with him and with myself.
I decided I’d probably needed help with him if I were to ever get him sold. I began working with horseman David Carswell, a good friend of the owner of the ranch at which my horse was boarded. David showed me how to lead my horse properly, discussed with me the qualities of a good leader and helped me start to wade through the flood of questions that seemed to grow by the day. In 1997 I met Colorado horseman and clinician Mark Rashid. I spent the next 12 years studying horses and horsemanship with Mark, serving as his full-time assistant in 2005 and 2006. Over those years, I had the opportunity to see many horsemen work and talk about horses and horsemanship. I was immersed in horses and horsemanship and I was pretty happy about that.
The horse never did sell. He spent his days getting me to ask some new questions about horses and horsemanship. He caused me to start to develop some depth in my understanding of horsemanship, and I added that to what I already knew about hunters and jumpers.
I headed out on the road as a solo horsemanship clinician in 2007, and routinely do about 30 clinics a year across the U.S. and U.K. I winter in Camden, South Carolina where I train horses, teach horsemanship and show at hunter/jumper horse shows. My winters on the farm allow me the time, horses and peers to explore many of the hues and shades of horsemanship, which for me is a continuous journey of discovery and rediscovery.
When I was 13 years old, I wrote an essay for a school assignment in which I hypothesized that I would grow up to be a horse trainer. In the circles and spirals and concentric, interlocking spheres that are life and are horses, one feeds the other, one grows the other and one informs the other. My life with horses is both a childhood dream come true and the result of over 30 years of persistent work and study – proverbial blood, sweat and tears. My work at clinics surrounds me with horses and people who love them and every day I am humbled by the elegant, elemental truthfulness of the horse.
I still live, dream and breathe horses.
Photo by Stephanie Roundy