Success Equestrian rider Timothy Bourke

Introducing Bourke Eventing

Success Equestrian is thrilled to announce our newest sponsored rider, Timothy Bourke, of Bourke Eventing! Tim has made quite the name for himself as a top event rider and sought-after trainer. Tim was named to the Irish High Performance list and is looking forward to the development and future success of Bourke Eventing. Let’s get to know Tim a little better…

SE: Please tell us about your past. Where you were born, and how you got into riding horses?

Tim: “I grew up in Western Ireland, in Wesport. I have been riding horses my whole life. My grandmother had a lot of influence over me as she ran a riding school. I attended Gurteen Agricultural College and studied Equine Studies. After college, I came to the US and began riding with Bruce Davidson. I learned a great deal through Bruce, especially producing event horses to the top level in the US. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. This was it for me.

My wife, Marley, and I headed back to Ireland for a year after working with Bruce, knowing that we would return to the States, and settle down there and start a business. That year in Ireland was extremely beneficial, as I worked at a show jumping barn for Jonathan Reape, and I came across this amazing 3 year old, Luckaun Quality.

We came back to the US, and settled down in VA, where we now have a very successful training facility.”

SE: What horse changed you as a rider and put your career into motion?

Tim: “Obie,” changed my life as a rider. This is the horse that made me. You know, we never had enough money growing up to buy really good horses, and when we brought along young horses, we didn’t have enough money to keep the really nice horses later on. But once I realized this was going to be my life and being a top level eventer rider was it for me, I knew I needed a really good horse. I ended up getting Luckuan Quaility, or “Obie,” an Irish Sport Horse (by OBOS Quality and out of a Cavalier mare) from the show jumping barn in Ireland. The Reape’s were very generous and knew this horse I are were meant for eachother. I broke Obie as a 3 yo in Ireland and knew he was a special horse, even though he was quite unrideable for a while. Actually he sort of still is unrideable, but that’s probably what makes him such a fantastic event horse. He has his own agenda!

We just clicked from the get go. Obie just cruised along once we brought him to the US. We did end up getting him tie back surgery after a difficult event, but after that we haven’t looked back, and Obie has been absolutely amazing. He is 11 years old right now, and he’s completed four four stars successfully.”

SE: What type of horse are you most attracted to? What qualities must an upper level horse have, in your opinion, to succeed?

Tim: “I’m not so much into pedigree, as I am into the type of horse. It’s more about the feeling I get when I sit on the horse. We do have a lot of horse’s that are from Ireland. I guess it’s based more on a feeling than an actual, or specific type. Though I do look for an uphill horse, with good conformation, that’s a good mover that can really jump. Though the brain is the most important factor. They must have correct brains.”

SE: Tell us about your current string of horses and your goals for them?

Tim: “Right now I have 16 horses in my barn. Some younger horses that are ready for the 4 and 5 yo young event horse outings, and I have some that are ready for their one star debuts. They all seem to have very promising careers. I start all my horses from the bottom up. My hope is that Obie will be a team horse at some point and represent Ireland.”

SE: What are your greatest strengths and what are your greatest challenges as an upper level rider?

Tim: “XC is definitely my greatest strength. I have trust and faith in my horses and that’s why I can ride boldly, go fast and make time, or come close to the time because I know my horses can do it. I would say my biggest challenge right now is dressage, though I’ve been working really hard in this area. This fall I will hone in on making more progress in dressage and in show jumping.”

SE: What’s your farm life like?

Tim: “We are based in VA, and we are doing really well. Our business and farm has grown a lot. I really enjoy teaching, and seeing other people progress is just really cool. Of course I also love producing the horses. We have a great team, and my wife is the most amazing person, and I couldn’t do this without her support. She basically runs this business and I think I have the easy part. My wife is also pregnant with our first child, and we are very excited!”

SE: What advice would you offer to a young rider, or anyone looking to “make it” in this sport?

Tim: “It’s not just a career, it’s a lifestyle. You have to love it that much, otherwise, don’t bother. You certainly won’t get rich doing this, which is why you have to absolutely love every part of it. If you work hard, you’ll get a lot out of this sport, and lifestyle. You have to put the time and energy in.”

SE: Lastly, please tell us why you chose Success Equestrian Saddle Pads?!

Tim: “I love Success Equestrians saddle pads because they DO NOT MOVE! They look great too. I don’t just accept any sponsorship. I have to really believe in the product. After meeting Bill at Rolex, I took a saddle pad and didn’t get back to him for at least a month, because I wanted to really to see how I liked the saddle pads. I have some horses who are difficult to fit, as far as saddles, and I needed something that would keep my saddles secure and in place, and these pads accomplished that.”


SE Rider Kristen Bond competing at Pine Top, 2016. Photo: Danielle Beaver

A Change Of Scenery

Greetings from Ocala! At times my blogs are inspired by my imagination of what the Florida horse life is all about. Luckily for me and my readers, I’m pleased to bring your information straight from the source!

My boyfriend, my two dogs, a couple horses and I all made the trek from Vermont to Ocala just over a couple of weeks ago. Neither of us have been to Ocala before, and quite honestly lust leaving our home and farm behind was a major ordeal. There always seems to be a plethora of loose ends to tie up before leaving your nest for a month. There seemed to be never-ending planning and yet everything oddly enough, seemed to be crammed into a two-day time period. We finally managed to make our escape and hoped we had everything we needed to live in a horse trailer for over three weeks!

Other than the overly cozy, shall we say, living quarters, life in Ocala has been pretty remarkable. We are both so grateful to be somewhere warm for a few weeks. We relish in the idea of sitting outside and simply enjoying the warmth and breeze. Not to mention, this area has something for every kind of rider. My boyfriend is a team roper and calf roper and there’s quite a group of cowboys down here. Obviously there’s not a shortage of eventing or jumpers in Ocala, but I had no idea there was nonstop opportunities and activities going on every day.

Within my first week in Ocala, I went cross country schooling on my friend’s lovely young horse at Longwood, an amazing facility adjacent to the O’Connors property. There were xc jumps as far as the eye could see. I felt like I was in heaven! Of course then I experienced the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Qualifier at the 2016 Live Oak International, which was pretty darn cool! I learned a lot over the course of three days as I watched some spectacular horses and riders make their way around a very tricky course!

I went to a schooling jumper show at the Florida Horse Park, which was also super fun, considering I was catch riding a horse I had never jumped before. The horse was terrific and I learned I am less likely to feel nervous to ride in public when I’m riding other people’s horses, so that was pretty eye opening. In fact, I think I ride other people’s horses better than my own, when you eliminate the emotional factor!

I watched some riders school cross country at Clayton Fredericks farm. I can honestly say I have never seen a xc course like this one before. Every “scary,” or “weird” obstacle was on that course, from skinny wedges, to a variety of keyholes, to a very cool water complex, bank and ditch complex. I even got to see Clayton school a few horses which was really neat.

Lastly, I watched the intermediate division at Rocking Horse III this past weekend. Of course I would have died to be the one competing, but watching is the next best thing. The course looked amazing and appeared to ride really well! I would love to compete there some day, maybe next year!

Leaving an icy and cold Vermont farm to come to the sunny south has been more than I anticipated, and one of the coolest parts, is I have barely spent a dime. I know several people down here and watching these events for the most part is free! I would keep going about all these amazing experiences, but I am off to watch the $15,000 Ocala Horse Properties Eventing Prix invitational! Tell next time!

winter clothing 2016

When Winter Starts Weighing Down

Even though I am native to New England, the cold temperatures are annoyingly apparent, and quite honestly inescapable at times. After a while, I suppose you simply get used to the idea of numbing extremities and permanent ice cream headaches. Just as Floridians acclimate to the extreme heat in the summers, Vermonters and neighboring states simply deal with the trying weather forecast, perhaps not always with a smile, but we cope!

As a rider in New England, there are obvious challenges as well. The terrifying ice layers everywhere and anywhere visible, and even worse, the invisible ice layers. Frozen water buckets, frozen shavings piles, wild and exuberant horses with more energy than you can manage at times. Worrying about our horses slipping and falling down, or worse. The sun sets super early which is not exactly motivating for evening riding, though we deal and we keep trucking along. Cars and trucks won’t start and even if you wanted to trailer somewhere, the driving conditions are hit or miss in the winter. The list is infinitely long, but I won’t bore everyone!

This might sound pathetic and incredibly juvenile, but one of my LEAST favorite parts about winter riding, or anything related to horses in the winter is the excess amount of clothing. Seriously people, can many articles of clothing can one person wear? Have you ever stopped and counted the number of things on your body in the winter? It’s ridiculous.

Just this morning, I woke up, eyes half open, slippers on, coffee machine warming up, dogs let outside, and I go back upstairs to grab my usual attire for the day, knowing most of my day will inevitably involve horses and a barn and I lay my clothes out on my bed. I stood back and looked at all the stuff I needed to put on and it made me exhausted just looking at it.

Of course this pile does not factor in winter boots, gloves, and probably two more coats. There sat this daunting pile of clothing. Sometimes I wonder why it takes me such a ridiculous amount of time to get ready in the morning, and there sat part of the reason why. Of course I was not blessed with the get up and go gene which adds extra time to already late watch in the morning! Instead I was burdened with the night owl and the I can barely function in the morning gene.

But seriously, the long underwear, the Darn Tough thick and high socks, the winter breeches, the Under Armour, the thin coat for when I get warmed up and am ready to shed a layer while riding. The list is insane! Plus, this ridiculous amount of clothing literally weighs and drags you down. It’s heavy. It’s tiring. It’s EXHAUSTING!

For some of us, we don’t necessarily have the luxury, or opportunity to head south with our horses to warmer climates and less clothing! Instead, we deal with our obstacles up north. I can handle almost anything up in the frozen tundra, but the amount of clothing one wears on a regular basis to the barn truly makes me cringe and yawn, but I’ll keep puttering away!

Vinnie and Lila Stoneleigh Burnham 2015

My Top Five Anti-Winter Blues Activities

In Vermont this time last year we had enormous icicles dangling from tree branches, large snow banks, and everything that goes along with winter time in New England! While the ski centers, and everyone else depending on a heavy snow fall for their companies’ success are currently praying for white stuff to fall from the sky, I am absolutely elated about the current weather conditions. In fact, all of my horsey friends in the area are incredibly happy. Whether we blame global warming, or perhaps we just lucked out, equestrian enthused New Englanders are not taking one second for granted. Currently, there is no snow on the ground, the ponds and rivers remain unfrozen, and horses are hacking outside and even still riding outside in dirt arenas.

Though, if growing up in Vermont has taught me anything, it’s to be a pessimist when it comes to the weather, and possibly more, but that’s another blog. Even though I’m still able to ride outside without wind burn, or frozen extremities, I know what’s inevitably coming our way. Winter will be here, whether its fashionably late or not, it’ll arrive. Therefore, I like to start preparing for such misery now by making myself a to-do-list when it comes to beating the winter blues!

1)      Indoor Jumper Shows! I started attending some indoor jumper shows three years ago and have become more invested and more excited about them every year. Of course these shows are weather dependent, you need a truck and trailer, and you need to be able to get in and out of your driveway, but other than that, these shows are absolutely amazing and I cannot get over how many huge indoors there are all over New England! I have personally been attending the Gold Cooler Jumper Shows. These shows are relatively inexpensive, are low key, super fun and give you something to look forward to!

2)      Dance and Sing! Ok, you might be thinking this seems odd, but personally I love listening to music, whether I’m sitting in my office, going for a walk, working out, or riding a horse. Music just pumps me up and while I am not the most gifted singer or dancer, I find that these activities help keep me motivated during the winter. In fact, I am thinking about joining a dance class this winter to stay motivated, and stay in shape!

3)        Skiing! Instead of sitting inside and mopping about the cold and ice, why not go enjoy it?! Personally, I have always loved skiing, both downhill and cross country! Instead of trying to fight winter, I’d rather try to enjoy some of its many perks, and skiing is definitely up there on my list. Plus, it’s good to try other activities, in addition to riding.

4)      Vacation. Of course, vacation is not something everyone can enjoy, nor can everyone, including myself afford a tropical vacation, but I think just getting away from a week, two days, a month, is key to surviving the winter. It almost seems irrelevant where you go, as long as you get away from the same old tiresome view day in and day out. Shake things up, and plan a trip!

5)      Lessons and Indoor Homework. While to some, this may sound boring and/or obvious, I absolutely love this time of the year because I get to slow down and really practice, learn, and repeat. If I can, I try to take weekly lessons, both dressage and jumping. I also try very hard to get other people to video my rides so I can learn from any mistakes, or build on what I am learning. This time of the year is less about immediate goals, and more about finessing my ride which is tremendously important to me. I do not wish to be okay at my sport, but I long to become the best I rider I can be!

So, what are your top five?!


Success Equestrian Para Dressage rider Sydney Collier, photo taken by Lindsay McCall

No Saddle December?

If you have anything to do with horses and anything to do with social media for that matter, you’ve probably come across NO STIRRUP NOVEMBER. Well, in case you have not, basically somebody out there in cyber space, or perhaps your riding instructor, or your next door neighbor decided to make November the month where all riders, students, coaches would practice diligently in the ring without stirrups. IE, November translates as the “get in shape and feel the burn” month!

Personally I do not participate in this particular exercise mostly because of the timing, but not because I do not believe in pushing myself and becoming a better rider! I think having goals and sticking to them is key in this sport. If you want to become a better basketball player, you practice throwing the basketball, correct? If you want to become a better golfer, you practice. Some riders push themselves very hard, while others find excuses to find other easier activities to partake in.

I like to think of myself as a very diligent student. If I had a crazy busy day teaching lessons and riding clients horses all over the place and I finally get home around 6pm, I would never skimp on my own horse or horses, because I know that every little bit of fitness and every hour spent in the saddle is valuable. Maybe we can’t always see or recognize this progress day to day, but after the months go by and the years pass by, you will absolutely notice a difference.

I am a total nerd. I always have been. I LOVE doing homework and cannot wait for more lessons. I never think I am the best and I would never argue that I don’t need more help. Even when you feel like you’re riding really well, and you have blue ribbons and a flawless record to show, this does not mean there isn’t more to learn, or more skills to finesse. This is why I do not participate in no stirrup November because it’s completely arbitrary to me. I practice without stirrups frequently. I sit the trot on my horses all the time. I push myself and I work very hard.

Whether you participate in this activity or not, I think it’s crucial to understand the underlying theme which revolves around hard work and being diligent. Never giving up seems quite important too. If you want to get better, and get dirty and sweat hard, you have to put in the hours. If riding in the dark, or cold is not for you, but that’s your only opportunity to ride, then maybe you do not have what it takes to become the best.

I think the bottom line is to constantly push yourself and continue to find ways to improve, whether that means handing in your stirrups for this month, or sitting the trot for 30 minutes twice a week on two very different horses, or forcing yourself to see a distance over a rail on the ground over and over again, whatever you are working on, don’t give up and keep trying!

Vinnie and Lila King Oak. Open Prelim 2015. Spotted Vision Photography

Why Two Always Seems Better Than One!

One amazing horse came into my life well over a year ago. Vinnie, the sixteen year old Irish Sport Horse has been around the block so to speak. Not only did he have an amazing owner and rider in England, but he had a very successful and thoughtful start to his eventing career. He is just such a good egg, as they say. Yes, he’s a lovely horse who can be competitive with the fancy warmbloods in dressage and he’s plenty scopey, but beyond that, it’s his attitude that’s the most remarkable attribute.

Vinnie has jumped jump after jump, time after time and just kept plugging away and doing what he was being asked to do. He is such an amazing teacher and coach. He never goes above and beyond, for that extra sparkle, you have to work hard, but for the basic level of consistency, this guy simply shows up to work very day ready for any agenda.

Like I said, I have been riding this unbelievably cool horse for two seasons now, where we allowed to finally reach my goal of competing at the Preliminary level. Check! We went onto complete seven more prelims, and we reached my next goal of completing a CIC*, which we accomplished this August. Sometimes I cannot believe I have this horse and don’t always understand how I got to be so lucky.

I never want to say that I take this horse for granted, because that would be utterly absurd. I know how lucky I am and I am beyond grateful. I am not the girl who grew up riding fancy ponies, or packers. I did not grow up wearing fancy riding clothes, or being able to compete a lot as a child as my family had limited funds. I worked incredibly hard to get to where I am and am grateful for me hard working upbringing.

Even though I have only been riding Vinnie for a couple years now, I would dare to say that we are getting quite used to one another. We are becoming a team and our relationship has developed over time. I am still getting to know Vinnie and never want to get to comfortable with him and let him down in any way. I want to keep trying to understand him better and better. Although, for those of you who ride only one horse, it’s easy to fall into some traps that those stumble across when we ride only one horse.

Our vision can, often times, become narrower, and we can become hyper focused on minute details at time. Sometimes we are too fixated on what is not working, instead of realizing all those parts that are working. Not right away, but at some point this summer I was hired to ride more than one horse, more than one day a week. I started riding several horses, including Vinnie this summer and something changed for me. Everything started to become clearer, and my riding and issues with Vinnie seemed to clear up.

Lila and Gayle Davis's Mr T schooling at Tamarack Hill Farm. Sept 2015.
Lila and Gayle Davis’s Mr T schooling at Tamarack Hill Farm. Sept 2015.

The thing about riding other horses is that it tends to be an invaluable experience. Riding one great horse seems like plenty. In fact, what more does one need than one good horse? But riding more than one horse, even if that horse, or those other horses are not going to the Olympics, they are teaching you something and there’s always something to gain, whether that horse was a positive or negative experience for you.

As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to ride three extra horses this summer, all very different, but all very good horses that have allowed me to ride Vinnie even better. In fact, after riding these other horses, it has become even clearer how fortunate I am to be able to ride such a saint. One horse seems like a great idea, but if you can find the opportunity to ride more than one, that time spent in the saddle really in invaluable!

Lillian Heard and Share Option, Rolex 2015. Photo: Mike McNally

Help Lillian And Whitey Get To Pau!

Success Equestrian rider and two time Rolex rider Lillian Heard and her fabulous Irish Sport Horse have been given this very exciting opportunity to compete at the prestigious CCI**** at Pau in France this November. Lillian needs all the support she can get in order to turn this dream into reality. She needs to raise money in order to help fund her journey overseas.

A little background on this young superstar: Lillian has competed throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and the South as well as internationally in Ireland and England. As of 2014 she has successfully completed the Kentucky Rolex CCI**** on her amazing horse Share Option, aka “Whitey”. Lillian returned to Rolex this spring and rocked around both cross country and show jumping clean! Lillian has had the opportunity to train with top coaches in the sport of eventing, dressage, and showjumping. She is a level III certified instructor in Instructors Certification Program run by the USEA.

Lillian is an extremely motivated rider, trainer and competitor and has worked tirelessly to achieve her goals. She constantly seeks to improve her own skills in addition to those of her horses while being ever mindful of the intensive care each needs. Lillian’s goals are quite simple. She wants to compete and she wants to win. Of course, she wants to train her horses to reach their full potential.

Currently Lillian operates out of Bascule Farm in Poolesville, MD. She rides and trains her own horses, Share Option, LCC Barnaby, and Dassett Profile. She has an equine training program at Bascule Farm, and she also competes for owners Venesa Crumpley, Laurie Cameron, and Debbie Greenspan, whose horses run Training Level through the 2* Level.

Success Equestrian event rider Lillian Heard. Photo: Mike McNally.
Success Equestrian event rider Lillian Heard. Photo: Mike McNally.

A quote from her experience: “I have learned an incredible amount riding abroad. I am a different rider and a different competitor now. I have spent more time than most young professionals in the ‘learning phase’ of my career before I decided to go out on my own. You have to understand though that there are a million different ways to be successful with horses and I was not satisfied just knowing how one or two people have gotten to the top. Good riding comes in all different shapes and sizes. I am more than ready to use all that I have learned to be a successful rider and coach.”

Please help Lillian and Whitey head to their next CCI**** by donating today! Any amount will help and there is no pair more deserving than these two! If you would like to donate towards Lillians trip abroad, please click here! Also to find out more about Lillian, please visit her website here!

A Whole New Level

Vinnie and Lila. July Huntington. Open Prelim. Photo: Flatlandsfoto, used with Premission
Vinnie and Lila. July Huntington. Open Prelim. Photo: Flatlandsfoto, used with Premission

This past weekend I had the opportunity to compete at one of my favorite venues in Area 1; Stoneleigh-Burnham, in Greenfield MA. I have been competing at Stoneleigh on and off for the past decade. Although, this was the first year I competed Prelim at this event, so I had no clue what to expect!

Sunday morning, my friend and I load our horses early in the morning. The weather was not desirable at the time of our departure. While we were driving there was a steady rainfall with a looming and depressing type of atmosphere. Most of us who are competitors, regardless of our discipline, look for motivation, like warm sunny summer days, with good footing and a slight breeze! Of course that dream land does not really exist, and sometime the weather is crumby and sometimes it’s idyllic. That’s life!

Fortunately, the rain and dreary atmosphere shifted to heavy heat and grey skies by the time we arrived, which seemed a lot better than a steady rainfall. My nerves were building by this point. I had seen the live scores from Saturday and noticed immediately that most of the training rider did not have clean cross country rounds, which begged the question, WHY? Where were the problems and why?

We got there early enough to walk our courses a couple times and at first glance I realized the cross country course, though technically difficult, looked absolutely doable as long as I rode each fence and focused 100% on my job. I was still a bit nervous, though and well aware of Vinnie’s ability and experience which continues to pick me up whenever I am feeling insecure and worried. Just thinking of his confidence and focus brings me to a whole new level as a competitor!

Dressage went well, and we landed in 2nd place after dressage which I was thrilled about. Going into showjumping in second place seems less daunting in so many ways than going into show jumping in first place. I knew I had to put in a fast clean round, but that added pressure of being in first place was something that helped pushed me forward. We went in and had a very solid round with no rails and no time!

I had absolutely no time to get overly concerned over cross country because they ran showjumping, followed immediately by cross country. I personally love this format for so many reason. If you’re doing a one day, it’s nice for me to show jump first when my horse is fresh and more likely to jump clean. Plus, the show jumping gears you up for xc, and acts as a great warm-up…obviously if you have a good go!

Vinnie and Lila. Prelim A. July Stoneleigh-Burnham. Photo: Denny Emerson
Vinnie and Lila. Prelim A. July Stoneleigh-Burnham. Photo: Denny Emerson

I head over to the start box and Vinnie has his eye on this giant rock directly next to the starters. He shies at the seemingly foreign object and pretends to act like he has never seen a rock, blowing air, and spooking hard at this object. I smile, give him a pat and tell him its ok buddy…we can avoid the rock, its ok! I start my watch at one minute as I have learned I need ample time to press START because a certain sixteen year old gets start box anxiety and sometimes leaps, and rears and runs sideways. Though, interestingly enough, Vinnie was not that enthused going into the box, possibly because fence number one was not in sight. So, for the first time in a while, we walked into the box quietly and cantered out!

The course was definitely challenging, but rode really well. My only OH MY GOD moment occurred when Vinnie tripped in the water and I nearly came off the side of him. Lucky for me, Vinnie stopped when I was dangling on his side, lifted his head up ad I shimmied back on, proceeded and went to have a great go! We ended up winning the division and received prizes for being the lowest prelim score of the day!

The blue ribbon was frosting on the cake. The learning experience and the confidence this horse has offered to me is irreplaceable! He is a once in a lifetime horse who has brought me to a whole new level in my riding I never thought possible. Because Vinnie is so straight forward in so many ways, meaning he goes in the ring and does his thing and goes forward and seeks out the jumps on xc offers me the chance to become more in tuned with what is actually going on.

I am able to think more than I used to on xc. Instead of worrying constantly about a horse stopping, or quitting, I am more concerned about my approach to a fence, the quality of my canter, my position, and making quick decisions in the moment. I have never really been given the opportunity to have these thoughts as I have ridden some “difficult” horses most of my life who were not as straight forward or as forgiving. This new level of riding, and awareness and dialogue with my horse is outstanding and thrills me beyond words.

Finding A Balance

Social Media Manager Lila Gendal and Theatre Royal, aka Vinnie schooling in So Pines 2015!
Social Media Manager Lila Gendal and Theatre Royal, aka Vinnie schooling in So Pines 2015!

Yesterday I had a dressage lesson on Vinnie, the sixteen year old Irish Sport Horse who has been around the block, so to speak. Vin has given more than he’ll ever know to me and a couple other riders. His easy going, nonchalant attitude towards life makes him a gem. He is one of the most forgiving and straight-forward rides in many ways. He jumps when you ask him to jump, he gallops when you want him to gallop, and he knows how to go in the sandbox and perform! The list could go on for pages. This horse is a dream come true.

However, Vinnie is a horse after all, and part of our challenges as a team boils down to creating that “sparkle” in dressage, maintaining a level of energy, self-carriage, all the while keeping this horse more engaged and coming up in front. That’s it! No big deal, right? If it were up to Vinnie, he would quietly lope around sort of low and heavy in front and with not a whole lot of energy. He is a low key fellow which is one of the biggest reasons why he makes such a fantastic event horse for me as I am not keen on overly hot or aggressive horses. Those types are not my ride. Every rider is different, and this is something I have come to learn about myself over the years. So, interestingly, the one thing that makes Vinnie so priceless in my book is what also makes him a challenging ride simultaneously, but boy do I enjoy the challenge!

Back to my lesson yesterday. Nothing really dramatic was happening in every sense of the word. He was neither forward, not lazy. He was neither super engages, or strung out. He is was just sort of in this “middle zone” as my dressage coach and I refer to it as, which ultimately is not the most desirable zone to be in. Yes, I could go in the ring and get through a test at a show, though I am not looking to just get through a test. I am looking for greatness. I want to literally knock the socks off my judge. I want spectator’s jaws to drop. I want other riders wishing they were me on that horse in that moment. I am searching for perfection. I know that is a lofty goal, and might not ever be achieved, but getting closer to that line is what I strive for constantly.

I am so lucky to have a horse who has been trained and has experience. Of course he does not hand over his hard work and deep secrets without making you work for it. He will give you about 60% most of the time, but that remainder 40% is completely up to me. He has the ability but he will not let me in on his knowledge and abilities until I am ready to ask the correct way. He is a teacher and he will give you everything he has if we are on the same page and Im riding to the best of my ability.

We are not always going to get 100% out of our horses every single ride. They are horses after all and there always seem to be extenuating circumstances out of our control, like stiff muscles, or distractions both on our horse’s part and our own. We might not be feeling up to the tasks, so how can we expect our horses to be up to the challenge? What we can do is keep plugging away and keep practicing. We can seek out instruction and we can make ourselves stronger and our horses stronger. We give ourselves breaks and our horses for physical and mental reasons, but then get right back at it. We have to take the good bad rides and the bad rides for what they are.

Our horses are athletes and they are not going to perform at their highest every single ride, which is why we need to find a balance. We have to take the bad rides with a grain of salt, and learn from those experiences and thrive from the positive experiences and rides!

Getting To Know Your Horse

Success Equestrian rider Lillian Heard and Share Option at Rolex 2015. Photo: Mike McNally
Success Equestrian rider Lillian Heard and Share Option at Rolex 2015. Photo: Mike McNally

I recently had the opportunity to interview one of our sponsored riders, Lillian Heard, who had just completed her second Rolex ever. I found the entire interviewing process very exciting and I actually found myself re-reading the interview more times than once. Lillian seems like such a lovely girl, and an extremely talented rider which is why I was anxious to hear all about her experience. I had specific questions in mind, though I was clueless how she was going to answer my questions. One part of the interview that really stuck out was the relationship that Lillian described with her amazing horse Whitey. One thing she mentioned was her ability to offer her horse a fresh pair of eyes every day and to never stop trying to better understand or figure out her horse. This part of the interview was simply awesome in my eyes, and here’s why.

I have been riding horses for about twenty years now. I grew up riding anything and everything I could get my hands on. I have met numerous riders over the years, some of whom I have been friends with since I started this equine obsession. Others are most recent friendships. I have definitely noticed that many riders like to label their horses. For example, my horse will never go through water, or, my horse is the most perfect horse you will ever take out on the trail, or, my mare will never be able to go beyond 3rd level in dressage. The list goes on and on. Not everyone succumbs to these over-generalizations, though I have met more who fall under this category of embellishing than those who do not.

The funny thing to me is the fact that horses are not entirely black and white. Furthermore, it takes a really long time to not only get to know your horse, but to develop a bond, or relationship with a horse. Which is why stereotyping or labeling your horse who you’ve owed for four months seems seriously unfair on so many levels. Perhaps there are horses who always do X, Y, and Z before they can do A, B, and C, but that might be because that specific person is referring to a horse they have owned for fifteen years.

Back to Lillian’s interview. What I found so refreshing and profound almost was th fact that Lillian said she never wants to stop trying to understand her horse. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that to me before. Perhaps there are thousands of riders out there who share similar thoughts to Lillian, but I have not met those individuals yet. Lillian has owned her Rolex horse for over ten years, and here’s exactly what she had to say about Whitey:

“I also have never stopped trying to understand him better. I think when we have horses for a long time we start to assume we know everything about them. Everyday I try to give him the benefit of a fresh set of eyes; avoiding burdening him with my assumptions formed over the past 10 years.”

What an interesting concept of never giving up on getting to know your horse. Don’t assume anything about your horse, even if you’ve known that horse for a really long time. People grow and mature and change, therefore horses can and do as well. Just because a horse was a certain way as a five year old does not mean that that same horse won’t change into something more refined, or more athletic, or more mature.

If we are serious competitors, or serious equestrians in any capacity, we have to take Lillian’s advice and really and truly try and understand our horses. What makes them tick? What makes them upset? What makes them nervous? Why does that make them nervous? What makes them brave and bold? How do we preserve their bravery and their seemingly fearless personalities? We have to look at our horses with a fresh pair of eyes every single day. Never stop trying to get to know your horse!

Saddle Pads with Purpose