The Breaking of Hamilton

At the end of June 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I took it upon myself to purchase a 9 yr old unbroke 14.1h pony. His previous owners had him since he was 6 months old – acquired from another lady who rescued a pregnant mare and didn’t know what to do with the foal. He sat fat and happy in a field for those 9 years, though he certainly was handled and loved on quite a lot. I have worked with trainers in the past as they’ve broken horses. I’ve never been the first one to sit on a horse though so I knew this might be an interesting experience. But….coronavirus was everywhere and we were quarantining, so what else was there to do besides learn how to break a pony.

For anyone who thinks like me and want to buy an unbroke pony themselves just know that typically the breaking process takes a lot longer with much more heartache and work then I went through. Somehow I lucked into finding the sweetest, easiest, most perfect pony in the world. The first week I focused on teaching him to lunge and longline in the round pen with tack. On day 7 though, I hopped on bareback and had a friend lead me around. It was zero drama. No issues. He happily walked quietly around.

Over the course of the next month I focused on him learning to walk and steer under saddle. You have to remember he had zero fitness and was absurdly obese. I was really concerned about his weight and pushing him too hard, which could cause injury. Under veterinarian advice I started him on a 30-day thyroid medicine, strict diet, and walking fitness plan with the goal for him to loose ~100 lbs before pushing him to trot or canter. In ended up being the best thing for him, because he learned to hack out bravely alone and in groups, trailer quietly (babysitting my hot OTTB), and cart around a junior (he was obviously meant to be a kid’s pony since the beginning).

With the 100 pounds gone it was smooth sailing with his training. I took him everywhere I could and he blossomed into a brave pony that could be ridden by anyone. The young girls at the barn absolutely adored him and wanted to ride him all the time. By the end of August (a short 2 months after he was initially broke), I took him to his first dressage show to do Intro test B and C. In September he went to his first full event at maiden level with a junior riding (her first event as well!). Finally in November, he went fox hunting.

As I think is pretty evident, selling him was never going to be an issue. I really wanted to ensure that he had the most perfect home with a family that was going to dote on him forever. I found just that and he is now a personal pony for a 9 year old girl. My time with Hamilton was short (4 months) but I will cherish the adventures forever. He gave me a lot of much needed confidence in myself as a trainer and reminded me just how fun horses can be.

I have also decided that with the selling of Hamilton, I am going to continue pursuing buying and training horses. This will always be a small scale operation (it’s just me by myself working an unrelated full-time job) but I know my specialty is in creating well-rounded horses with a dressage foundation. Please share and follow if you know someone looking for a horse!

The Story Begins

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.

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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.Slow and SteadyI 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!

IMAG0124While 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 199785_10150113372811541_3052524_nSouthern 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.

Burghley

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.

intermediate2015

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.

FAprogression

Brother2017

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 MorvenXCGeorge 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.

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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.

KellysFord2015

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.

Bareback

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.

dressage

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. 😎

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