One of my passions is continuing to be a good student, because I think no matter how old I get, there are multiple reasons learning new things inspires me. First and foremost, it helps me be a better rider and trainer, so my horses benefit. Second, it helps me be a better teacher by exposing me to different ways to have a relationship with a horse or a student.
I always bring down horses to Florida that have recently come from the track that I’m restarting to a new career. With any horse I have, whether in training or restarting, I’m big on groundwork. David O’Connor impressed this idea on me over 20 years ago because it allows me to see how a horse handles pressure and their reactions to new things in their environment and to new concepts in their education. I’ve been fortunate this winter to meet Lauren Barwick and her husband, Fabian Brandt, from Bridging the Gap Horsemanship. I’d heard a lot about them from a friend and her daughter who had had them work with their horse. Not only is Lauren a 4-Star Senior Parelli instructor, she is a five-time Paralympian in dressage and five-time World Para-Reining Championships team member for Canada!
I decided to call Lauren and have her work with two of my babies. One I have is named Charm, so I’ve been joking that Charm has been going to Charm School. It’s been a really great education because their approach is a little different than mine, and I’ve learned more about right- and left-brained and introverted and extroverted horses and how you approach them differently. It turns out I have a left-brained extrovert in Charm, who is quite confident in herself and her surroundings but tends to say, "I won’t," not, "I can’t."
Working with Charm is a little like administering a Meyers-Briggs personality test and then learning how to interpret the results. I thought I knew these things, but having her behavior explained in a different way has been super helpful. You don’t want to have a horse say, "I won’t." You have to figure out a way to have them be on your side. If they need to move their feet, let them. Or, if they are gate-sweet, find a way to make them work at the gate until they want to work somewhere else.
I’ve benefitted from being exposed to a different thought process, which improves my approach to all my horses, and interestingly, my clients. I already knew some of this—different pressure points, when to put your leg forward or back to address yielding haunches or moving shoulders, etc.—but having someone explain their system in a new way to add to my system and using the things I like that mesh with my own program ups my game. If you’re in Ocala, Florida, I highly recommend Lauren and Fabian.
This time of year, one of my other passions is having time to work on pure dressage and pure show jumping. In March, I’m all about show jumping, and my clients and I go to HITS Ocala regularly. This year, I was also lucky enough to do the hunters with Claudia Sarnoff’s horse, Helloway. If that’s not a specialty unto itself, I’m not sure what is.
Jan Byyny and Beautiful Storm competing at second level at the World Equestrian Center-Ocala. Video by Susan Merle-Smith.
It’s super hard to have 12 consistent jumps in the same rhythm and the same tempo and make it look like you’re doing nothing! It’s fascinating to me how difficult that can be. I even got to ride in a derby, starting with eight jumps as a hunter round and then going right into a handy round—maintaining the same tempo and producing the best jump, trotting a jump, angling a jump, making tight turns—all for a score, and you could even win $10,000!
I scored a 69 in the first round (I had one jump where I was a bit too anxious, making me too quick to the in-and-out). I made a smooth, tight roll back turn to start the handy and finished with an 81! It’s all about connection and making sure you can be forward to the base to produce the most beautiful jump you can.
For the derby, I didn’t know you have to wear a shadbelly, so I used my beautiful Eventing Team shadbelly, along with my hunter stock tie and buff britches. My friend, Sue, lent me appropriate tack, including a flapped saddle, and coached me.
In Ocala, I am fortunate to ride weekly with dressage coach Barend Heilbron at Island Farm. I’ve done this for four years now and love every minute because he gives me great exercises, says the same things I do when I teach but in a different way, can ride my horse and feel what I feel, and can coach me at shows as well. I also ride with Canadian Olympian Jacquie Brooks when she’s in town.
She is a master at giving you a picture in your head of what you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s keeping my horse’s shoulders towards the bit and connected to the reins (by imagining there’s a 2x4 running from the bit to the front of my shins so I’m always pushing toward the bit and not pulling into the connection), or I’m collecting my horse’s stride by imagining I’m bouncing the saddle up with my horse’s back.
Jacquie’s analogies help me to form a picture in my head for the feeling that I’m trying to create. Her lessons are along the same lines as Barend’s, but her method of teaching adds another dimension to my thought process.
My motivation in trying new things is all for the love of the horse and my students. I make mistakes daily, but I’m always trying to be better. I encourage you to try something new, and don’t get discouraged if it takes some time to get good at it. If you can’t ride yourself, go watch other disciplines—dressage or show jumping, hunters, western, driving, or someone doing groundwork. I think you’ll find it’s worth it.
About the USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP)
Coaches are essential to the training of riders and horses for safe and educated participation in the sport of eventing. The USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP), formerly known as the Instructors’ Certification Program (ICP), was initiated in 2002 to educate all levels of eventing coaches with crucial training principles upon which they can continue to build throughout their teaching careers. ECP offers educational workshops and assessments by which both regular coaches, Level I through Level V, Young Event Horse (YEH) coaches, and Young Event Horse professional horse trainers can become ECP certified. Additional information about ECP’s goals, benefits, workshops, and assessments as well as names and contact information for current ECP certified coaches, YEH coaches, and YEH professional horse trainers are available on the USEA website. Click here to learn more about the USEA Eventing Coaches Program.
It was a busy day at Stable View Oktoberfest in Aiken, South Carolina as all FEI divisions and a few national divisions kicked off their competition weekend, including the 2023 USEF/USEA Developing Horse Eventing National Championships. Both the 6-year-olds and 7-year-olds got their chance to shine down the centerline at the start of the day, with the 7-year-olds also giving their best effort across Michael Vallaincourt’s show jumping track later this afternoon.
The USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) has initiated a renewed focus on the diverse challenges coaches in various regions of the country may be facing. To this end, the program is in the process of enlisting representatives in each of the 10 USEA areas to help guide the program as warranted for the unique needs of each specific area.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) has opened nominations for the annual appreciation awards through Oct. 29. This is an opportunity for the sport to recognize those horses and riders who excelled in eventing throughout the year. It is also an opportunity to recognize and honor the very important people who have served the sport tirelessly both in a non-riding capacity and riding capacity during their golden years.
Anticipation for the 2024 USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championship and inaugural USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) Championship is growing, and the host venue, Stable View, is up for the task of making both events an unforgettable experience for all involved. For the first time, the Intercollegiate and IEL program championships will be hosted on the same weekend at the Stable View H.T. in Aiken, South Carolina, on May 4-5, 2024, creating greater unity between the programs and demonstrating a clear pipeline of participation in the sport from grade school through college and beyond.