As most avid equestrians, I grew up doing pony rides on my grandmother’s horses before I could walk. It wasn’t until I turned 7 that I began taking regular lessons at a large school horse barn. I, of course, had a favorite horse. He was a chestnut named Jerry. He was quiet and lazy (as the best beginner horses are), but did have a bit of a spook which looking back probably speaks to my choice of horses now (get ready for the story of Freebie 😉).
My instructor at the time eventually left that barn, so I followed her doing private lessons and dabbling briefly in dressage. Instructors in upstate New York were limited so I rode as much as I could with what I had. My grandmom ended up buying me my first horse. He was a 8 yr old chestnut quarter horse with 4 white socks, a big blaze, and an even bigger attitude. Mikey taught me all the necessary skills like sitting a buck and getting on again (and again and again) after you fall off. We did a small amount of showing in some flat equitation classes and unrecognized dressage shows. After he put me on crutches for the second time, my parents decided it was best to move on from him. He still lives fat and happy at my mom’s barn, not having been ridden since I was in high school.
At about the same time, my family ended up moving to West Grove, PA. Chester County is in the heart of horse country, so my somewhat mild horse obsession stood no chance. My good friend and neighbor got me started in fox hunting. Joan has a string of wonderful/athletic/reliable/amazing/etc horses. I have ridden them all countless times across all of Chester County hunt territory. I eventually joined the Cochran Hunt, and was up at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning through high school to make the meet.I experienced all aspects of the hunt from first and second field to a brief period of being an assistant whipper in. If you’ve never been fox hunting I highly recommend it. Galloping across fields and jumping such a diverse mix of fences gives you an eye that cannot be rivaled. There is also quite an art to getting hunt horses fit! And as my students and colleagues will tell you, I have quite an obsession with proper horse fitness!
While I was exercising hunt horses (and attempting to finish my high school homework), I was gifted a 20 yr old plain bay thoroughbred from my one of my dressage trainer’s students. Lenon Dozy was a retired 4th level horse. I continued my dressage education with her and we showed unrecognized through 2nd level.
Because riding horses didn’t take up enough of my free time, I also continued my education in carriage driving (under my grandmom’s strict guidance). I had the opportunity to attend a summer camp where I learned to drive singles, pairs, and four-in-hands. After a while, I started picking up weekend jobs grooming for a few private driving barns. I got to do quite a bit of traveling along the east coast for those driving gigs – all the way from Saratoga, NY to Southern Pines, SC. Through all the parades, combined driving events, and pleasure shows we attended, I began to learn an entirely different side to the horse world which is an opportunity I really cherish.
In 2007, I started college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I believe it goes without saying, but just in case, I immediately found a barn and horses to ride. At the Hoofer Equestrian Center, I took weekly lessons and eventually started teaching beginner lessons as well. I also spent my summers teaching the kid’s summer camp and would ride as many of the school horses (they had around 15 to choose from!) as I could, as frequently as I could. Any time I wasn’t doing homework or studying, I could be found at the barn. It was during college that I realized that my horse obsession would not end or lessen. After obtaining my bachelor degree’s in Biological Systems Engineering, I decided to take some time off before graduate school to be a working student. And so began my eventing career.
I began working for Kate Hicks in Cochranville, PA in the summer of 2011. At the time Kate was preparing for her first 2 CCI4*s Rolex Kentucky and Burghley Horse Trials. Not only did I get to groom and attend all the premier events on the east coast (and England!), but I had billions of lessons on countless horses. My time with Kate quickly accelerated my knowledge base – she taught me how to properly ride such a wide range of horses all of which came into training during my year and half working for her. One of these such horses was a 12 yr old 16.3h plain bay retired steeplechaser. Free Admission came in as a sales horse. Since I needed a horse of my own to compete, I quickly bought him.
The story of my journey with Freebie will require a post of its own. So for now, let’s say that together we learned about eventing. We started at novice and ended his lustrous eventing career at intermediate. While I never won any premier competitions on him, Free Admission is the horse that gave me my first taste of the upper levels of the sport.
As all working students learn, horses are expensive, especially when you aren’t making any money. In order to pay for this insane hobby, you quickly master all aspects of the industry. Really anything that people will pay you for, you do. And so, I became an expert at braiding, body clipping, mane pulling, tack cleaning, etc. I also picked up many side jobs teaching lessons in riding/driving, as well as exercising a slew of horses. I now believe that the true value of horses lies in the strong independent person that it forces each of us to become to be successful in the sport.
While I was in Pennsylvania, I had the good fortune to spend a brief stint hacking horses and grooming for Boyd and Silva Martin. Seeing behind the scenes at such a large operation is very eye opening, and I attempted to soak up as much information as I could. Unfortunately though, it was soon time for me to continue my education in the real world, so I left for Washington D.C. in the fall of 2014 to begin my master’s degree at George Washington University. During my first year at school, I spent my days working for advanced level rider Samantha Allan and Jennifer Clover in Brandywine, MD. Sam helped me make the move up to preliminary on Freebie.
While I finished school, I moved out to Upperville, VA and began a year of working and riding full-time for a private eventing and fox hunting barn. The number of trainers in the northern VA area is somewhat overwhelming – but I did what I could to take as many lessons as possible on my partner in crime, Freebie. I lessoned with such amazing trainers, including Lynn Symansky, Allison Springer, Stephen Bradley, and Hannah Salazar. It was then that I contested my first CIC and CCI1*s.
In March of 2015, I decided to leave the full-time horses gig and I entered back into the real world as a residential energy auditor in Columbia, MD. During my first few months, the horses took a back burner. That is until I decided to throw myself back into teaching and riding at Aisling Stables in Glenwood, MD. Freebie made the move up to intermediate and I was back to being completely obsessed with eventing.
In the spring of 2016, I decided to retire my favorite buddy from the upper levels of the sport. With my new found free time, I officially started my own riding/teaching business and bought a 5 yr old OTTB, Deep in de Nile. Niles is an athletic and quirky little fellow, who will hopefully continue to progress through the levels. Meanwhile my otherwise healthy and sound buddy, Free Admission, has started his USDF career at the young age of 17. In 2017, through the help of Grand Prix dressage rider Vanessa Swartz, we have begun pursuing our new goal of obtaining our USDF bronze medal with the goal of moving up to third level dressage by the end of the season.
I have a knack for finding and training with a diverse mix of instructors, so I spend my time bouncing around to different trainers to hear all of the lessons that they can teach me. As an instructor myself, I believe it is my job to pursue my education so that I can teach and ride to the best of my ability with every horse and person I meet. 😎