The Plaid Horse June 2024 - The Young Horse Issue

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IN THIS ISSUE On-the-Ground Coverage from Longines FEI World Cup Finals™ in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia JUNE 2024 • THE YOUNG HORSE ISSUE NORTH AMERICA’S HORSE SHOW MAGAZINE Published Since 2003 PHOTOGRAPH BY © FEI/MARTIN DOKOUPIL
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North America’s Horse Show Magazine, published since 2003
24 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

The Young Horse Issue MAY/JUNE

30 PUBLISHER’S NOTE Should I Stay Or Should I Go? 40 COMMUNITY First Lesson Horses 42 SPOTLIGHT BoneKare’s Vitamin Supplements 44 SPOTLIGHT American Cryo Product Solutions 50 FEATURE Grace Russo: The Importance of Community 62 SPOTLIGHT The In Gate’s Unique Approach to Luxury Retail 68 SPOTLIGHT Caroline “Carl” Weeden: Horse First, Success Follows 74 SPOTLIGHT GreenHawk Equestrian Sport Expands to U.S. 78 SPOTLIGHT Equihemp: Hemp-Based Products 86 SPOTLIGHT Equiclient Apparel Barn Styles 94 SPOTLIGHT Allison Kroff: Planning for Success 116 SPOTLIGHT Equiphaire, LLC: Importing with Trust 120 SPOTLIGHT Will Coleman: Strategy, Dedication, and the Olympics 126 FEATURE Farewell to Paul O’Connor 134 VOICES Finding Falcor 140 RIDERS The Plaid Horse Questionnaire with Dr. Briana Schwapp 142 SPOTLIGHT Cloverland Farm and Tate Hanna Reilly 156 FEATURE What to Know About EPM 163 BOOK EXCERPTS Summer Reading Package 188 PHOTO FEATURE Safari By Horseback 196 EXPERT TAKE Sitting (and Staying) “On Top” 204 HORSE SHOWS Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic 208 EXPERT TAKE Your Pre-Ride Routine 212 FEATURE On-The-Ground Coverage from the 2024 Longines FEI World Cup Finals 2024 26 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
May/June 2024 THE PLAID
Model Lauren Raggio

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Who was the first lesson horse or pony you started to ride on?

We loved this question posed in our Plaid Horse Adult Amateur Lounge on Facebook. Here are some of our favorite answers…

My first ever real lesson, with a pony named BLACK VELVET when I was around 6 years old.

I wish I could remember his name and had a photo…but it was all the way back in 1958. Local not-so-fancy stable, little scrubby chestnut pony. That was a beginning of a long journey that hasn’t ended yet!


Buckaroo – 1978

I took my very first lesson on a school horse named SANDY. I was 12 and I couldn’t figure out how to turn without her halting. I took most of my beginner lessons on an old white gelding named Boy Blue. We weren’t allowed to learn to canter until we could trot with and without stirrups. I even remember a bareback lesson one day!



Our PLAID HORSE ADULT AMATEUR LOUNGE on Facebook is 11 , 000 members strong. Come join us!

This was KIM—she gave so many young riders, including myself, a start through the 4-H horseless horse program. Forever grateful to my 4-H horse leader/first trainer for her generosity. Her barn and home were always open to kids willing to work hard—so many great childhood memories there—she was a second mom to so many barn rats. This whole thread has me a little misty-eyed—these horses and ponies are all worth their weight in gold.


40 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024


A Q&A with the equine vitamin supplement’s

Jay Golding and Sara Gentry

BONEKARE IS a bone health and soft tissue vitamin supplement for horses of every age. Recently The Plaid Horse spoke with Jay Golding, President and Founder of BoneKare USA, and Sara Gentry, General Manager of Sales and Operations.

How did you first learn about BoneKare?

JAY GOLDING: During one of my trips to Europe to find and bring over new talent, I came across BoneKare because it was widely acclaimed among breeders and equestrians in the area. Encouraged, I tried it on my own horses and witnessed first-hand a variety of positive results. Convinced, I took on the role of the U.S. distributor to make the product more widely available and help horses working in a variety of disciplines across the United States.

SARA GENTRY: I first met Jay in 2011 through his wife, Tia. Tia grew up riding and training with my grandmother, then my brother, so she is basically family. Jay trained me at some horse shows and I purchased a really nice horse from him.  He talked frequently about this unique supplement “BoneKare” that he found in Europe. It was really helping his horses and he wanted to bring it to the U.S. The science and research along with positive case studies and testimonials (not to mention the patent) made BoneKare extremely interesting and seemed to be a common-sense product for horses. The founders of BoneKare in Germany are also excellent horsemen, which made the company feel truthful and sincere in the quest of equine health.

I started with Jay in 2018 and have thoroughly enjoyed the journey of growing BoneKare awareness. Working with vets,

owners, trainers, and breeders on a daily basis has increased my horsemanship and it’s satisfying to be a part of something so positive in our equine community.

Tell us about your own background with horses.

GOLDING: As fate would have it, I went for a pony ride one day at the zoo. The faster the pony went, the more fun I had, and, as they say, the rest is history. I owned and operated a large hunter/ jumper facility in Virginia that is now an equine retirement facility and I was lucky enough to have an extensive background of mentors from different disciplines including Rodney Jenkins, Sonny Brooks, Harry Gillhuys, and Konrad Fischer.

GENTRY: Horses are truly in my blood! My grandmother, father, and brother all owned and operated professional hunter/ jumper facilities and I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in the saddle. My younger years were filled primarily with young horse training but as I’ve embraced my amateur career, I’ve since gotten to compete at a variety of top events, including Devon, WEF, Capital Challenge, and more. I now operate a retirement and layup barn and throughout my time as a

farm owner and as a rider, I have seen the incredible benefits BoneKare has to offer.

What is the best result you have seen with BoneKare so far?

GOLDING: I’m touched when clients tell me that they have gotten a few more years of use and or competition out of their senior horses. It’s also rewarding to hear of many stories from friends and fellow equestrians how well it has helped horses with soft tissue problems.

How does BoneKare differ from other similar products on the market?

GOLDING: Our original product has a patent protected, bio-available water-soluble Vitamin K1. It is uniquely formulated to offer superior bone health benefits and stands out from copiers with its higher dose of Vitamin D3 per serving and the inclusion of calcium. The combination is crucial as the higher dose of Vitamin D3 enhances calcium absorption and works in tandem with the Vitamin K1 to optimize bone metabolism, and calcium itself is essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones.

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America Cryo

A Product Solution For Every Performance Problem


The ORIGINAL subzero localized cryotherapy machine with over 20 years of research and usage. Benefits of Cryotherapy over traditional icing practices:

• Liquid co2 thermal shocks the tissue which has greater benefits over just icing.

• Can be used to treat more difficult areas that ice boots can’t properly cover.

• Is great for horses that often need icing on their feet because it doesn’t require the feet to get wet and therefore runs less risk of hoof issues such as thrush and quarter cracks.

• Added bonus: Can be used to kill bacteria and speed healing for surface level fungal and bacterial dermal issues.

• Loved by Paris 2024 contenders Amy Millar and McLain Ward.


This industry-leading unit combines the widelyknown benefits of PEMF (Pulse Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy) with advanced laser technology to deliver a double-punch of two incredibly advanced therapeutic treatments. Benefits of this two-in-one revolutionary device include:

• Finer grain control over the type of magnetic waves that are delivered.

• A water-cooled unit that can run indefinitely without running the risk of overheating.

• Mobile friendly and great for use onsite at clinics, horse shows, racetracks, etc.

• Increased efficiency. The PEMF will boost the lymphatic system to flush out inflammation and lactic acid quickly, while the addition of the laser will stimulate tissue repair in the areas just treated.


Shockwave therapy is the leading choice of veterinarians, trainers, and therapists to address musculoskeletal disorders and return horses to work within an optimal timeframe. What makes America Cryo’s shockwave device unique?

• Because this device uses radial shockwave instead of focal, the waves are broadcast in a different way but the effects are largely the same.

• Radial shockwave devices are safe enough to be used by the average person with instruction; because of the way the wave is delivered, there is much less risk for misuse.

• Still creates the micro trauma that shockwave is known for which then stimulates healing in the body.

• Loved by Israeli Olympic Show Jumping Athlete Ashlee Bond


A laser for every need! America Cryo’s four unique and superior offers are based on individual need. Things to consider when deciding on a laser:

• All have slightly different power outputs.

• Bi wave is best for personal or small string use where there are only one to two horses and treatment does not need to be as quick. A perk of this laser is that it can also work for a limited time on battery, making it optimal at shows or events where power is limited.

• The Tri wave laser jumps from 15 watts to 30 watts of power, meaning necessary treatment time gets cut in half. This is the company’s most popular laser and is the best option for stables of half a dozen horses or more to get treated where time efficiency is more necessary.

• The Quad wave laser is best in high volume clinical applications or large show barns needing to provide the therapy to a lot of horses in a short amount of time.

• The 3b laser is unique in that it is handheld and portable. While it does not have the same power output as a class IV laser, it is great for maintenance during competition and can be used in FEI.

• Loved by Irish and Australian International Show Jumpers Andrew Bourns and Sharn Wordley

• Bonus: America Cryo’s lasers are some of the most affordable on the market!

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The importance of community in an individual sport

WHEN GRACE RUSSO thinks back on some of her earliest memories, she recalls the days she spent watching her mom ride. At just three years old, Russo had developed a liking for horses and begged her mom for lessons.

Her wish was granted a year later and she began taking lessons once a week at a nearby farm. While her talent was recognizable at an early age, Russo showed a desire to become a true horsewoman and learn as much as she could from the professionals around her.

At nine years old, she began riding with Archie Cox, and soon after found herself competing on some of the country’s biggest stages.

While her success in the show ring is something Russo is proud of, one thing that hasn’t changed is her desire to continue learning, always putting her horses first along the way.

50 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Russo and Esme Root
May/June 2024 THE
“The support that I can provide a teammate, or vice versa, produces a positive mindset. My relationship with my fellow teammates motivates me to make them proud.”
PHOTOS: ANDREW RYBACK PHOTOGRAPHY (TOP); ARCHIE COX (LEFT); SARA SHIER PHOTOGRAPHY (BOTTOM CENTER) Russo and her brother after a championship win Russo and Naomi Wegner
52 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Competing in Las Vegas

EVERYONE WHO has influenced me , even in the slightest , has helped me become the horsewoman I am today and will become in the future,” Russo tells The Plaid Horse.

Now in her last junior year, Russo is excitedly looking at the road ahead and exploring her options on how to continue developing her skills both in and out of the saddle.


While Russo has a few great horses of her own (more on them later!), she has also gotten the opportunity to catch ride several different horses, from local horse shows to Junior Hunter Finals.

“Catch riding has improved my ability to adapt my riding style to a horse,” says Russo. “It’s valuable

to learn from a variety of horses. The ability to adjust your mindset and adapt your plan in the ring based on the horse that you have is crucial for becoming a wellrounded rider.”

This mentality proved to be important in Russo’s reserve championship in the USHJA 3’6” Gladstone Cup-West. During the

testing portion, she swapped horses and rode G-Star to move up from fifth to her final standing.

“With only 90 seconds and two pre-set jumps to warm up on our assigned mounts, my experience with catch riding helped me adapt to G-Star, as that’s a limited amount of time to learn a horse! It was an incredible experience.”

She also received third place honors in the USEF/NCEA Junior Hunter Seat Medal Finals after competing on another rider’s horse during the bracket phrase.

While Russo says she has had a lot of wonderful catch rides over the years, a few that stand out to her include Ceremony, a junior hunter owned by the Little family

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 53
Russo holding the IEL Varsity High Point Rider Trophy
“Catch riding has improved my ability to adapt my riding style to a horse. It’s valuable to learn from a variety of horses. The ability to adjust your mindset and adapt your plan in the ring based on the horse that you have is crucial for becoming a well-rounded rider.”

and trained by John French that she rode Indoors in 2023; and Day Won, a small junior hunter then owned by Balmoral and trained by Carleton and Traci Brooks.


While Russo cherishes the time that she spends riding, she enjoys spending time with and learning with her horses even more.

Her current equitation horse, Diplomat, has been her partner for

almost two years. When she first got him, he had never done equitation, but within a couple of weeks, Russo piloted Diplomat in the USHJA 3’3” Hunter Seat Medal Final-West to a fourth place finish.

“He’s a lovely horse and as I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve learned how to prepare him to improve our results in the ring,” says Russo. “For example, I know he goes better if he hacks in the ring in the morning. Then, based on his reactions to the

ring, I know how to set him up for our success in the class.”

In the barn, Russo cares for Diplomat and her other partner horses, including jumper Diane De Sivry and equitation horses Casalino and Jarabel K Z. “On the ground, I like to be involved with the care of my horses—it’s helped me to be more knowledgeable about them. Understanding their behavior in the stall is revealing about their personalities and how they may behave on course,” she says.


Russo loves building relationships within the human equestrian community as much as she does with her equine partners.

Russo attends Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy (FSHA) near her

54 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

home in Pasadena, CA. Balancing life as an in-person student with a 4.260 GPA and competing at the highest levels on both the East and West Coasts takes a lot of discipline and hard work. She often has early morning lessons before school to balance her academic and equestrian pursuits; she currently trains with Susie Schroer at Meadow Grove.

“I love starting the day riding before school; the burst of cool air, the sun coming up…it all sets the tone for a better day,” says Russo. The young rider also finds community at school, where she is a member of the Interscholastic Equestrian League team, an organization that includes almost 100 high schools across Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Russo was named FSHA’s Most Valuable Rider and earned the title of league champion

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 55
Russo celebrates her career high 94 on Black Jack

for high point varsity rider for the 2022-2023 season. In the same year, Russo also won the championship in the varsity horsemanship medal final, where Karen Healey was judging.

Russo loves riding with and for a team, and takes in as much as she can from her fellow teammates. “We all have the opportunity to watch and support each other,” says Russo. “The support that I can provide a teammate, or vice versa, produces a positive mindset. My relationship with my fellow teammates motivates me to make them proud.”

Russo rides on both coasts, traveling across the country to venues such as Desert International Horse Park, Wellington, Traverse City and Kentucky. While she thrives on the competition, Russo says she is grounded in the camaraderie and horsemanship that maintain a supportive equestrian community.

“I appreciate competition because it makes me better. I get to work with those around me to improve myself and watch my friends around me do the same,” she says. “I enjoy the community feeling that I have with

many of the girls I compete with. We all love and respect the horses that do so much for us.”


While Russo plans to finish her junior years competing at Indoors on the East Coast, she is looking forward to the future, both academically and in the saddle.

Russo takes honors and AP courses and is committed to continuing her high academic standards in college. Alongside academics, Russo is excited to continue riding at the highest collegiate level. Over the years, she has watched friends participate in different styles of collegiate competition—one of the unforeseen benefits of her strong community is hearing from other girls about their experiences. From these conversations and visiting schools and camps, Russo knows that she wants to ride for an NCEA Division 1 school.

“I want to ride for an NCEA team. The style of competition uses my skills honed from catch riding, including being intuitive about what different horses need. It expands my mindset and I’ll get to experience more horses as I feel like that constantly improves me as a horse person,” says Russo. “I love being part of a team—I feel that I have a lot to offer to the horses, my teammates, and my school.”

Until that next step, Russo will continue her journey of constant improvement, grateful for the many people who have aided in her success along the way. “I have such an incredible community of trainers surrounding me,” says Russo. “So many people have given me something over the years, big and small, and I’m honored and humbled.”

56 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
“One of Grace’s strengths is that in a short time of riding a horse, she figures out how to ride the horse in the way the horse likes to go best. [She] is very appreciative of the horses she rides and they sense that.”
May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 57



• WIHS Overall Winner, Desert Circuit I

• Winner, Equitation 16-17 3’3” Flat, Desert Circuit I 2023

• ASPCA Maclay Winner, National Sunshine 2

• Winner, WIHS Hunter Phase, National Sunshine 2

• Winner, WIHS Hunter Phase, Blenheim International Jumping Festival

• Champion, Large Junior Hunter, Blenheim International Jumping Festival

• Winner, EMO Ins/USHJA Jumping Seat Medal, Blenheim Fall Tournament

• Champion, Large Junior Hunter, Blenheim Fall Tournament

• Winner, USHJA Jumping Seat Medal, Del Mar Classics 1 & 2

• Winner, CPHA Style of Riding, Del Mar Classic 2

• Winner, WIHS Jumper Phase, Del Mar Classic 2

• Winner, West Coast Equestrian Medal, Del Mar Classic 1

• Winner, WIHS Overall, ESP Summer II

• Winner, 1.00 m Jumper, GLEF VI

• Winner, WIHS Overall, Del Mar Festival 1

• Winner, Equitation 15-17, Blenheim Spring II

• Champion, Equitation 15-17, Los Angeles Spring Classic

• Champion, 3’6” Junior Hunter, Los Angeles Spring Classic

• Champion, Equitation 16-17, Desert Circuit IV

• Winner, ASPCA Maclay, Desert Holiday III

• Winner, Jr/AO Classic, Desert Holiday III

• Winner, USEF/NCEA Junior Medal, Desert Holiday II

PHOTOGRAPHY (LEFT 2); SPORTFOT (TOP); ANNE SHERWOOD Russo and groom Albert Garcia Russo and Temple Lucky Kiss
58 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Russo and Emily Williams’ Beach Boy PHOTO: ANDREW RYBACK PHOTOGRAPHY
May/June 2024 THE
Russo at the Las Vegas National Horse Show 2023
is the ultimate horseman—he is all about the horse and its well-being. He can ride with the best of them—inside and outside the show ring.”
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A Unique Approach to Luxury Equestrian Retail

JIMMY SARDELLI IS A LIFELONG HORSEMAN with a knack for connecting with other horse lovers. As the owner of The In Gate®, a luxury equestrian lifestyle boutique, he finds a true satisfaction in collaborating with customers.

“Nothing delights us more than seeing our clients over-the-moon happy with their horses, looking their best, and, in turn, feeling their best,” Sardelli tells The Plaid Horse. “We love to spend time with our clients, getting to know them, celebrating their successes, and laughing with them along the way.”

Horses have always been a big part of Sardelli’s life.

Born in upstate New York and growing up in central Ohio, he rode with some of the most prominent names and farms in the area. He even rode for Abigail Wexner and several other top equestrian owners after

graduating from SUNY Morrisville with a degree in equine science and management. However, it was during the ten years he worked in equestrian luxury retail that Sardelli began to realize there was a problem in the industry—and that he might just be the perfect person to solve it.


Sardelli managed one of the country’s top equestrian lifestyle boutiques called Malvern Saddlery, on the Philadelphia Main Line, and then spent over six years leading the equestrian division for Hermès. Working side by side with the world’s finest craftspeople in France and Italy, he brought high-quality items directly to his clients. There, he developed an even greater appreciation for offering these quality equestrian products while truly getting to know and understand his clients’ needs.

During his time in these retail positions, friends and customers would regularly seek Sardelli’s advice for everything relating to their equestrian lifestyle. From show clothes for themselves, to tack or products for their horses, to design ideas for their barns and homes, Sardelli was their go-to. It was becoming increasingly clear to

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“We love to spend time with our clients, getting to know them, celebrating their successes, and laughing with them along the way.”
PHOTOS: KIND MEDIA (BOTTOM IMAGE); NUHA FADERA FAR LEFT and ABOVE: Confident riders ready for the show ring, styled by The In Gate ABOVE CENTER: The In Gate Field Hunter Bridle with Curb Reins and Flat Martingale (left) and Coronation Bridle™ and Martingale (right) NEAR LEFT: The In Gate owner Jimmy Sardelli showing at WEF 2024.
May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 63

him that these customers needed more than just good service. They were asking for one-on-one expertise and advice.

At this time, Sardelli was also aware that tack had not kept up with the changes in sport horse world. And so, he got to work.

Late one night, he found himself designing what would later become his first Hunter Bridle. He carefully crafted the bridle with exquisite, traditional details reminiscent of the old-school hunter bridles while refining sizing.

Building on that vision, Sardelli set out to offer curated collections of products beginning in 2021 as the horse world struggled to adjust to a new normal during the pandemic.

The In Gate quickly developed a mobile shopping experience that allowed discerning clients to browse a selection of equestrian items in a safe, private, and comfortable environment during that challenging time.

Today, the store continues to offer the finest items for the rider, horse, barn, and home.

“Our products are carefully selected based on years of industry experience. The client is at the center of everything we do. We believe in bringing a curated collection of products directly to our clients while offering them a no-stress experience and building life-long relationships—both in person and online,” says Sardelli.

“The relationships with our clients come from truly getting to know one another and it makes all the difference. We sell the highest quality items, and pride

“Jimmy has impeccable taste and an innate ability to dress the rider and horse perfectly.”

ourselves on collaborating with our clients to design bespoke items just for them. Every single item that is shipped to a client comes with a handwritten thank you note. We truly love our customers. Without them, there would be no business.”


Some of The In Gate’s clients know exactly what they want and are able to buy right off the rack. However, others want a more personalized shopping experience that is unique to The In Gate.

“They might also prefer to design and personalize their own helmets, show coats, and boots,” says Sardelli. “These customers typically also love custom embroidery on their show shirts and horse clothes or designing them with their barn colors. For this level of service, you need someone who will take the time to sit down and work through all the fine details in a friendly, no-pressure, and welcoming environment with someone they can trust.”

The Out Gate, which is The In Gate’s “outlet” section of their website, offers hidden gems, discounted items, floor models, and up to 75% off certain items. They also offer free economy shipping within the USA for items purchased through The Out Gate.


the name for the collection.”

Sardelli says he and and his team are continuously innovating and improving their line: “We insist on the highest quality materials and the finest craftsmanship for our line with an emphasis on sustainable materials and practices.”

“We love to test new things and learn as we go. The Coronation Bridle™ is the evolution of our Hunter Bridle™, and the Balmoral Bridle™ with hidden integrated blinders is the evolution of our Coronation Bridle. We also partner with top riders like Carleton Brooks and incorporate their feedback.”


In addition to their online shopping experience, The In Gate also has a number of in-person shopping experience locations.

“We’re really just getting started,” says Sardelli. “In 2024, we plan to attend a full schedule of horse shows such as WEF, WEC, Devon, Upperville, Lake Placid, and more. We love meeting people face to face in each of these locations.”

Shoppers can also find The In Gate at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, Washington International Horse Show, and several shows at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center, as well as at Pony Finals, The Kentucky Summer Classic, and the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show.

“While on a trip to England, I found an adorable tack shop and chatted with a craftsman who produces racing equipment. He then connected me with the craftsman that now makes our Coronation Collection™,” says Sardelli. “I was actually in England during Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, and I contacted the bridle maker the following week. The first pieces came shortly before King Charles’ coronation—hence

The In Gate even offers a personal barn or group shopping day experience. And a trunk show can be scheduled by appointment at their place or yours.


“I think a big part of our success is that my current clients are returning with their friends, family, trainers—and smiles. On a regular basis, our products and services are suggested on social media, in chat forums, and in person,” says Sardelli.

“We’re incredibly thankful for our families and friends that have supported us through this journey thus far. We’re also grateful for every client that has entrusted us to deliver our exceptional products and services.”

Visit The In Gate online at and follow them on Instagram @the_in_gate and on Facebook @shoptheingate

The In Gate Hunter Bridle with laced reins
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Horse First, Success Follows: 10 Questions with Merryburn Farm’s Owner and Trainer

CAROLINE “CARL” WEEDEN’S name has become synonymous with success in the hunter and equitation rings as a top trainer who has worked with horses and riders at every level of competition. Her boutique program at Merryburn Farm is based in Zion, Illinois, right outside of Chicago. With a focus on always putting the horse first, Weeden has a passion for the sport and dedicates a great deal of her time to serving on different committees for U.S. Equestrian (USEF) and the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA), supporting the growth and improvement of hunters, jumpers and equitation in the United States.

THE PLAID HORSE : Why do you feel Merryburn has been so successful over the years?

WEEDEN: When I started Merryburn, I made a conscious decision to keep my operation small. I wanted to focus on individualized care and training for each horse, which I believe is easier to achieve with a smaller business model. This approach has allowed me to prioritize the well-being and training of the horses, which has ultimately led to success. Over the years, I’ve produced numerous horses and riders, and I attribute much of this

success to my focus on putting the horses first—I feel like I really know what’s going on with my horses in the barn.

What qualities do you look for in a top-quality hunter?

Talent is essential, the movement and the jump, but equally important is the horse’s temperament and willingness to perform its job—that’s a huge part of it. A trainable attitude and soundness are also crucial factors. The third piece is the ability to keep these horses sound and in good shape. You have to start with a horse

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Merryburn Farm caters to all levels of riders with a focus on always putting the horse first

that has good conformation and has good physical attributes that can stay sound and handle this sport.

Could you share your philosophy on balancing training at home versus competing at shows?

Competing at shows allows riders to showcase what they’ve learned, but it’s essential to strike a balance. When we’re at home, we’re learning, we’re training, we’re keeping our horses in good physical condition by doing a lot of exercises with them. Showing’s not easy on these horses, and I think to expect horses to stay at the top-level week after week puts way too much pressure on them. I think developing a show schedule for the horse and rider that gives them enough time in the ring to be competitive, but also enough time at home to learn and stay physically fit is very important.

What exercises do you find most beneficial when training at home?

I have cavallettis in my ring all the time, and I have a little log that stays in my ring. When I am flatting my horses, I work over little cavallettis and I encourage my riders when they get to a certain level to do the same thing. I feel you can do a lot of flat work and just getting those horses to leave the ground at the cavallettis will enhance their conditioning. I do a lot of cavalletti exercises, figure eight, poles on the ground to a vertical measured at certain strides, and then have the riders do different strides from the pole to the vertical to the pole. I think this can help the rider stay in condition and work their eye without stressing the horse too much. Obviously, there’s a time when you have to step up and do the jumps that they do in the ring so the rider feels comfortable when they see those jumps. We also try to keep a lot of different material in our ring so the horses are used to seeing all the different jumps that we now have in our classes today.

Why do you feel the equitation discipline is an important part of our sport?

Equitation is a great place for juniors to work through different exercises and develop their riding ability. It asks different questions than the hunter ring, but it also focuses on invisible riding, which I think is very important no matter what direction you’re going—to be able

to ride a horse without interrupting them and interrupting the way they use their body. If you look at our history, a lot of those top equitation kids have gone on to become Olympians, so I think it is a part of the sport that’s very necessary.

What qualities do you think make a successful junior rider in today’s culture?

They need to have the time and dedication. It comes down to time in the saddle, and there’s also room for all different types of junior riders. You can be a top junior rider and one that might go on and do this business for a living, or you can develop your riding skills as a junior rider. I think some of these kids forget that riding is a lifelong sport and they may come back to it after they go to college. They feel that pressure of their last year and they feel like they have to get everything done in that year. This is a lifelong sport, so I’m hoping that these kids will start to realize that and not feel that that last junior year is the end, because it’s not the end—sometimes it’s just the beginning.

As a mother who rode while raising two daughters and running a business, how do you support amateur riders in balancing their riding with other commitments?

I have some amateur riders who have careers and children, and their focus is family. We do a lot of those foundational exercises so they feel confident when they walk in the ring at shows. When you’re not showing a lot, it’s important to be able to manage those jitters when you get to the show ring and be able to refocus them. I make sure that their horses are ready to go and that they have that foundation, so when they go into the ring they are confident, but I fully support

them with the other things that are important in their lives. We sit down and we come up with a plan and we find those workarounds to make them successful.

What program do you feel needs significant focus to grow the sport?

The hunters in general are in a precarious position right now. Part of it is the subjectivity of our sport, but we all need to get focused on how we reinvigorate and reinvent the hunters so that we don’t lose the hunters. I truly think that they’re the foundation of our American riding and they teach people how to ride, so we all need to pay attention to that.

How does your approach to putting the horses first reflect in your business philosophy?

I think that’s something that we all need to do. The horses are the foundation, and even if you look at it from a business aspect, if we lose the horses, we lose the business. When I rode as a kid, I started as a groom in Canada and I worked with a top groom. I’m in the barn, I’m making feed, I’m around my horses all the time, so I have a really good idea of what’s going on with them. For me, the horses are always first, and I am very lucky because my owners stand behind that philosophy as well.

Merryburn Farm is based at Happenstance Farm in Zion, IL, featuring top-quality turnout and facilities just a short drive from Chicago. Weeden is also based in Wellington, FL from January through March, competing at Wellington International during the world-class Winter Equestrian Festival.

For more information about Weeden and her program, visit or follow @merryburnfarm on Instagram.

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Stephanie Harris with her winning mount Spellbound and Caroline Weeden
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The Canada-based tack store expands to the U.S. bringing an elevated, unique shopping experience

GREENHAWK EQUESTRIAN SPORT is a Canada based family-owned business founded in 1985, with a mission of serving every equestrian, from the once-a-week rider to the recognized competitor. Greenhawk prides itself on being a one-stop-shop, both in person and online.

In the spirit of wishing to serve every rider, Greenhawk has expanded their already large footprint in North America to Natick, MA, in a familiar spot to many riders.

“Moving into the United States was a very logical next step for the company,” Melissa Hubbard, General Manager at Greenhawk USA, tells The Plaid Horse. “Many, many months were spent searching for the perfect location for our flagship store. When the space in Natick, MA became available, Greenhawk jumped on the opportunity. It’s a central location for equestrians in the New England area.”

However, Hubbard’s history at the store’s location predates its opening.

“I was on the team of people who opened a tack store in this same location in Natick 18 years ago,” says Hubbard. “It is really quite special to be able to do this again.”

Hubbard’s past work experience in the equine industry spans over twenty years and

includes working for not only SmartPak but also EquiFit and Kerrits. She was among the first ten employees at SmarkPak and and jokes that while she got her MBA at UMass Boston, she really earned her MBA at SmartPak.

All of this experience has brought her to Greenhawk with a goal of showing customers in the United States what makes the company so special.

“My job is to work with the Greenhawk Team and help build an omni-channel business in the U.S. as has been done in Canada,” says Hubbard. “Natick is the flagship store, which means there will be more coming!”

Currently, Greenhawk is the largest equestrian retailer in Canada with over 50 locations across the country in addition to a large

Since 1985, Greenhawk Equestrian Sport has been outfitting horses and riders in North America
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“Our team is just as passionate about the customers’ horses as we are about our own horses.

e-commerce business. While several equestrian companies have been acquired by larger companies, Greenhawk plans to stay family-owned to offer an unparalleled experience to equestrians.

“We feel that family-owned companies have the ability to adjust and change for the customer,” says Hubbard. “We strive for that flexibility to create a more personal shopping experience for everyone.”

With their move to the United States, Greenhawk will be providing riders with their familiar favorite brands while also introducing new brands that are not readily available in the United States.

Greenhawk’s new location at 30 Worcester Street in Natick, MA has undergone significant renovation, adding signature touches to not only represent the brand but to provide the best service to their customers.

“We want our customers to feel at home in our stores and be confident in knowing that they will be greeted with a smile no matter what their experience level,” says Hubbard.


With a grand opening in early May 2024, the team at Greenhawk wasted no time making their vision of their new space come to life.

“We got the keys to the location on March 15 and immediately a team of people streamed into the building and got started on renovations,” says Hubbard. “Our goal is to create a jaw-dropping shopping experience for our customers, so this was the most exciting part!”

The complete overhaul of the exterior included updating signage, repaving and reconfiguring the parking lot, new landscaping and outdoor seating, and of course, a new logo above the iconic windows.

The interior also had a complete remodel which included painting beautiful hunter green accent walls throughout the space.

Additional improvements include new lighting, fixtures, and new flooring.

Greenhawk is also known for their signature blanket wall which makes shopping

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Greenhawk Headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario; Customers will recognize brands such as LeMieux, Ariat, Kerrits, EquiFit, Back on Track, Horseware Ireland, and many more

for blankets easier for customers. The store also includes a pet section so that no barngoing, four-legged friends get left behind.

“Our goal was to create a beautiful space for people to shop, and I think we succeeded!” says Hubbard.


The Greenhawk Team—led by CEO Ian Russell and President Garry Millage—works together to create a warm, welcoming environment to every rider that comes through their doors, providing service to horse people, from horse people.

“Our team is just as passionate about the customers’ horses as we are about our own horses,” says Hubbard.

Employees of Greenhawk have worked hard to make passion, quality, and price synonymous with the Greenhawk name. As a family-owned business, the company stresses the importance of commitment to each and every one of their customers.

“Greenhawk really has a renewed excitement and enthusiasm,” says Hubbard. “We are so excited to bring a new shopping experience here.”

For more information about Greenhawk and their new location in Natick, MA, please visit; @greenhawknatickusa on Instagram and @Greenhawk Equestrian SportNatick, MA on Facebook

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EQUIHEMP Founder, Eduardo Pèrez


Helping Horses Live Their Best Lives with Hemp-Based Products


PLAYER EDUARDO PÉREZ FOUNDED EQUIHEMP during the spring 2023 polo season, two years a er selling his Atlanta advertising agency that he founded in 2003. Now based in Aiken, SC, he aims to educate people and care for horses with his hemp-based equine products.

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EQUIHEMP ’s philosophy is to “introduce high quality hemp-based equine products with the mission of helping our equine partners reach their full potential and live their best lives,” Pérez tells The Plaid Horse. He adds that he has learned a lot about plant-based, specialty products for animals through his college friend and founder of Pet Releaf, a CBD brand for pets. His friend’s guidance and trust has been a source of inspiration and a great foundation as he builds EQUIHEMP Pérez saw the benefits of CBD for dogs. “These products are great and are not being used for equine partners and

athletes,” he says. Pérez decided to explore non-CBD hemp-based products. His search led to their first product, hemp bedding.


Hemp is versatile, the strongest natural fiber, and able to grow acres in a matter of months, as opposed to the years trees take to grow. The plant itself is wonderful for the environment with its ability to “remove contamination from the soil” and “can replace plastics.” The roots of a hemp plant can reach eight feet long, with a history to match.

People have used hemp for over 10,000 years. Pérez says that Betsy Ross’s flag was made out of hemp, and Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. As the United States colonies were founded, “one of the biggest crops planted in the colonies was hemp for hemp fibre,” says Pérez. “Before the cotton gin, rope and clothing were made from hemp.” In 1937, hemp was made illegal, but a 2018 Farm Bill reversed that law.

While it may seem as though hemp clothes, ropes, and health products are only recently hitting the shelves, history

EQUIHEMP is making a name for themselves with their hemp-based stall bedding. It is made without toxic chemicals, and covers more surface area than traditional shavings.
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proves otherwise. “There are over 7,000 different products that can be made from hemp. Their nutrition profile includes vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, B6, among others,” says Pérez. “They’re not new products but they’re new to us. We can use them again, and we are just the vessel.”


EQUIHEMP is making a name for themselves with their hemp-based stall bedding. It is made without toxic chemicals, and covers more surface area than traditional shavings. Horses are known to sleep better in their soft, clean, dust-free, hemp-based bedding.

In the past, hemp was “prohibitively expensive for bedding,” notes Pérez. Now it is more cost effective, due to the fact that hemp is now grown in the U.S. Also the material lasts 4-5 times longer than wood shavings and takes “half the time to clean a stall” because the waste clumps like kitty litter. Hemp bedding is 100% natural and compostable, and can save a great deal of money in waste and waste removal. Pérez adds that wood shavings may be detrimental to soil and grass and the environment, while you could put hemp-based bedding in your garden after it has been mucked from a stall.

Hemp-based bedding is hypo-allergenic, twice as absorbent as wood savings, and it is anti-microbial. These properties allow the bedding to be resistant to pests and mold, which can lower vet bills in horses. For Pérez, knowing horses are comfortable and healthy—while saving money on vets bills and bedding costs for their owners and also being environmentally friendly—allows him to continue his mission of helping horses “live their best lives.”


Hemp-based bedding is made from the stalk of the plant, while EQUIHEMP’s Hemp Seed Oil and Hemp Hull are made from the seeds and seed parts. Their equine health benefits are seemingly endless.

Heep seed and hemp oil are super foods with all three types of Omegas (3, 6, and 9). With 22 essential animo acids and an enzyme-like property that

EQUIHEMP’s philosophy is to “introduce high quality hemp-based equine products with the mission of helping our equine partners reach their full potential and live their best lives.”

is called GLA (gamma linolenic acid).

“GLA plays a pivotal role in regulating prostaglandins, essential hormone-like substances that act as chemical messengers within cells,” according to a statement from EQUIHEMP.

These messengers include PGE-1, which is anti-inflammatory, and PGE-2, which is pro-inflammatory. “Hemp seed oil, rich in GLA, increases the production of PGE-1, thereby reducing the levels of PGE-2…some common medications for horses…for hind gut ulcers, are synthetic forms of PEG-1.” These unique components “make hemp oil’s GLA a valuable ingredient for horses dealing with ulcer issues,” according to the company.

Pérez says that for horses on the hemp seed oil, “within a few weeks, the coats were better, the farrier noticed improvements in hooves, two horses dappled that had never dappled, there was better movement even in a senior horse, and improved topline.” He added that “one horse stopped cribbing, perhaps because of the amino acids that can lead to improved brain function.” Other stated benefits of adding EQUIHEMP’s hemp seed oil to a horse’s diet are improved joint function and prevention and post-attack hoof healing in laminitis.

The hemp hulls that EQUIHEMP created provides amino acids. It is 60% fiber,

8% protein, and 4% fat. It is a supplement that “supports good circulation, strong muscles and joints and a healthy digestive system” and a wonderful addition to a horse’s diet, the company notes. Pérez plans to add treats made from hemp meal to their product line that will have the “same benefits as the hull but in a treat form.” Shoppers can expect to find those in late spring 2024.


EQUIHEMP’s Hemp Seed Oil, Hempbased Bedding, and Hemp Hull are currently available at tack shops in FL, SC, and VA. Barns and individuals outside of those equestrian communities can buy directly from EQUIHEMP. Barns can order by the pallet or truckload, and Pérez encourages riders to ask their local tack shops to carry their products.

Pérez currently travels to shows, tack shops, and equestrian hubs to spread the word about all the benefits hemp-based bedding, hemp seed oils, and hemp hull has for horses. He has a vision to expand his team and have EQUIHEMP’s products readily available across the country and beyond.

For more information about EQUIHEMP products, visit

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Stitching Together Community Through Customized Barn Styles


THE HORSE WORLD is multi-faceted. Of course, the relationship we have with our horses is the core. Then there’s the competition and hard work, the successes and failures. But there’s something we carry alongside all of this—our barn style.

It’s not just about aesthetics or functionality; having apparel that matches your barn friends and trainers represents the unity, pride, and identity of riders and the teams we form together.

Jennifer Shaw-Butler, owner and founder of Equiclient

Apparel, understands this and has cra ed a business that provides custom apparel with a foundation of exceptional customer service and a personalized touch.


Having something with the logo of the place we spend so much of our time and resources with goes beyond a mere accessory. It shows the collective identity we create in and out of the ring. With a lifetime in the industry, Shaw-Butler intimately understands this.

She started riding at 8 years old and became a constant “barn rat” presence by 11. As a teenager, her rst job was in retail where she learned to “go to

the ends of the earth for the customer and enjoy making things happen and creating a great experience for people.” She has upheld that lesson across her entire professional journey in the horse industry.

By the end of her junior showing years, Shaw-Butler was teaching and training and hasn’t looked back since. Throughout her career, she has worn many hats within the industry, from groom to instructor to trainer, competing on the

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Working with Jennifer was great from the start, creating our own online store, consulting on logo placement for each item, and ensuring we had a wide range of styles, sizes, and price points to provide to our customers. I would recommend Equiclient Apparel to anyone looking for a branded gear solution with the equestrian in mind.”

—NANCY FREE, Brass Ring Farm, Buckley, WA

A circuit for over two decades. She also received a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Truman State University in Missouri.

This extensive background has provided her with a deep understanding of the importance of barn apparel, not just for its functional bene ts but for its ability to create a cohesive and professional appearance for groups of riders at shows.

As Shaw-Butler tells The Plaid Horse, “Branding is more important than trainers o en realize because it gives some solidarity to the entire team supporting your program, and helps them be excited about the community you’ve created.”


As a trainer working with various programs, Shaw-Butler saw rsthand how di cult it could be to organize quality, customized apparel for equestrians. She

kept bumping up against a lack of personalized options, expensive shipping, or subpar customer service.

“It was hard to get a reply from some providers, while others had extremely long lead times and inconsistent communication,” she says. When her spouse’s job prompted a move away from the farm she had been training at, Shaw-Butler saw an opportunity.

“I had been thinking about this for years being the organizer for branded apparel for a couple of di erent farms, and knew there had to be a better way.”

Shaw-Butler’s vision was clear: to o er a truly custom shopping experience that addressed the unique aesthetic and functional needs of di erent equestrian programs. She created a service that would eliminate the hassles trainers faced, from dealing with unresponsive suppliers to navigating the complexities of designing apparel that truly represented their barn.

By blending her intimate knowledge of equestrian life, a keen eye for design, and an unwavering customer- rst philosophy, Shaw-Butler set out to revolutionize how equestrian programs approached their branding and apparel needs, ensuring

every piece not only looked professional but also fostered a sense of community and team spirit.


At the heart of Equiclient Apparel lies a commitment to exceptional customer service. From working with riders and trainers rsthand, Shaw-Butler understands that for many clients, visiting the barn and engaging with their equestrian community is the highlight of their day.

“The barn is the thing people look forward to. It’s the break from all the stresses at work or their personal life that they’re dealing with,” she says. “I need to do whatever I can to make sure the experience is as good, positive, and welcoming as it can be.”

Shaw-Butler is aware of the di culties that trainers face—including the time-consuming task of organizing branded apparel. With Equiclient Apparel, she alleviates those challenges by o ering a streamlined, hassle-free service. “I want to be known for my ability to provide exceptional customer service and a positive overall experience,” she says.

This dedication to customer service is matched by her commitment to quality and attention to detail with the embroidery work on the products. Shaw-Butler goes to great lengths to ensure that every

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“Branding is more important than trainers often realize because it gives some solidarity to the entire team supporting your program, and helps them be excited about the community you’ve created.”


product not only meets but exceeds client expectations, even inspecting embroidery with a magnifying glass to look over everything carefully.


What truly sets Equiclient Apparel apart is its promise of a personalized experience. Recognizing the unique needs and preferences of each program, Shaw-Butler works with you to create the right online store and product selection that ts your aesthetic and needs.

“It is truly a custom shop for your program,” she says. The business model is designed for simplicity, eliminating the traditional hassles of ordering and managing branded apparel. Trainers are provided with a direct link to their store and QR codes to post in the barn for easy access, simplifying the purchasing process.

“There’s no more making a list of client requests and collecting checks,” Shaw-Butler adds. “Once the store is done, you don’t have to worry about anything. Just share it with your clients and let people order.”

Equiclient Apparel prides itself on

quick responses and keeping clients informed every step of the way, ensuring a smooth and satisfactory transaction. They also add a nancial incentive for trainers who set up a store. Twice a year, trainers get 5% of their store sales back as a credit for them to purchase their own apparel and goods. It’s an innovative approach to partnership and communitybuilding while giving trainers, who can be drowning in the expenses of running a business, a way to get their own quality apparel to represent their brand.

This comprehensive and thoughtful approach to apparel is not just about selling products, but providing a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Equiclient Apparel stands as a testament to Shaw-Butler’s dedication to the equestrian community, innovative approach to business, and commitment to providing unmatched customer service. From her early days as a passionate rider to her current role as a pioneering business owner, Shaw-Butler’s journey is a re ection of her unwavering dedication to excellence, quality, and the deep bonds formed within the heart of the equestrian world.


For trainers interested in establishing their storefront with Equiclient, the process is designed to be straightforward and hassle-free:

• Provide Basic Information: Trainers begin by providing Equiclient with essential details such as their logo, preferred colors, and specific preferences regarding items or designs.

• Equiclient Creates Online Store: Upon receiving the necessary information, Shaw-Butler and her team take on the task of building the storefront, ensuring it aligns with the trainer’s vision and requirements.

• Review and Approval: Trainers are then given the opportunity to review the storefront. Any requested changes are made to ensure complete satisfaction.

• Launch and Management: Once approved, the store goes live. Equiclient handles all operational aspects, from order processing to customer inquiries, allowing trainers to focus on their core responsibilities.

The costs associated with setting up a new storefront are transparent and straightforward, with a $75 fee covering the digitization of up to four different logo variations and the setup of the online store. For those who want custom Dreamers & Schemers socks included in their product offerings, the setup fee is $105.

GET STARTED creating your own store of personalized products today by visiting Equiclient online at or on social media @equiclientapparel.

Now through July 2024, new stores will receive a $100 merchandise credit with the coupon code THEPLAIDHORSE.

90 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
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Drawing Road Maps for Success


A FEW TIMES A YEAR, you’ll find Allison Kroff sitting down in the barn with her clients, pen and paper in hand. Together, she and her students create and review a thoughtfully designed goal sheet.

On it, each client writes out their short-term, six-month, one-year, and lifetime riding goals, as well as going into detail about how they will accomplish those goals. The deliberate crafting of such a roadmap is something that Kroff herself has used to great success throughout her career. She continues to rely on the practice as she looks toward the future of her riding career and her Scottsdale, AZ-based hunter/jumper training operation.


Kroff credits her father with teaching her to go after her goals and to map out the steps to achieve them, but Kroff’s love of horses started even sooner.

“Me and my best friend just decided we wanted to ride one day, and we chose English,” says Kroff, who began riding at age seven. “My parents thought it was a phase, but it was not a phase. I fell in love immediately.”

Fortunately for Kroff, 40, while her parents were also new to horses, they were quickly hooked as well and did all that they could to support her.

“I would not be anywhere if it weren’t for them,” says Kroff. “My dad is so organized with: ‘These are the steps to take.’ All through my young rider career, it was the same thing. We had a yearly calendar, and we just knew exactly where we were going the whole year and

“I try to keep my numbers smaller so that we can be more goal-oriented for my clients.”
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May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 95


with school and everything.”

Kroff ’s mother worked at a bank, and her father built custom homes, so while there was no background in horses, her dad jumped at the chance to venture to Europe on horse-buying trips.

“My dad researched a lot, and by the time I was 10 or 11, he said, ‘Okay, the ones that are winning are warmbloods coming from Europe,’” she says.

That was all that David Kroff needed to realize before he was on a flight overseas and making friends abroad that could help connect him to quality horses for his daughter. “He just would go over and watch them and come back with them,” says Allison, who, by the time she was a young teenager, had a quality string of horses to compete in the Junior Jumpers.

It was with those horses, and at only 15 years old, that Kroff won her first Grand Prix. The following year, she qualified for what is now called the North American Youth Championship, and she would go on to compete there six times—including winning team silver for Zone 8 in 2005.

After graduating from high school, Kroff briefly moved to Germany where she spent three months riding, showing, and growing her equestrian knowledge.


In 2007, with increased knowledge and experience under her belt, Kroff achieved what she continues to look back on as one of her career highlights: Attending the FEI World Cup Finals as the U.S. team alternate and getting to compete in the event’s Grand Prix aboard her own Nomograaf.

“It was incredible,” she says. “I had never been to any show of that stature, and I was just sitting in the stalls in the warmup arena trying to listen and learn from everyone who was there. It was a different league than I’d ever seen.”

Still, she quickly proved that she belonged. In the fall of that same year, Kroff and Nomograaf earned the win in the $50,000 Las Vegas National Grand Prix CSI-W, marking her first World Cup qualifier victory.

In 2013, with her growing resume, Kroff opened Kroff Stables, which she

now runs alongside her husband, James Girolamo. The business specializes in helping riders of all levels achieve their show ring goals while Kroff simultaneously pursues hers.

All told, she has amassed more than 60 Grand Prix wins and countless other victories, including at the 2023 Pin Oak Charity Horse Show in Katy, TX, where a Pin Oak Welcome Stake win and multiple second-place Grand Prix finishes helped earn her the distinction of being one of the show’s 2024 “Faces of Pin Oak.” The honor of representing the

US Equestrian Heritage Competition is bestowed annually to those, like Kroff, who have previously earned top results at the event.


This year at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show, Kroff ’s goals looked slightly different than they did a year ago.

In the fall of 2023, she broke her wrist, which rendered her in need of surgery and saw her out of the saddle for 12 weeks. For Kroff, it was, fortunately, the very first time that

96 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Kroff and T-Quick Hurricane Z

she had broken a bone while riding; however, it was also the first time she ever felt her riding confidence so significantly shaken.

“It’s interesting just how your mind perceives things,” she says. Now, following the injury, “it’s a little bit more of a mind game than I ever would’ve believed. I’d never struggled with that before getting hurt. It was sitting out for three months and then getting back on and thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t see the distance where I think I should, and I’m not feeling the same way I did before.’ It

gives me a totally different perspective.”

“I didn’t quite understand the depth of [the mental side] and what the true fear is when you are going to the jump, and you don’t quite know where you are. That was really hard for me at the beginning. When I first jump schooled back, I kept circling, and everyone said, ‘You just have to jump the jump.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think I can.’ It actually is a freezing moment, and I had never experienced that before, so it was quite different and uncomfortable for me,” she says. “Now, I feel that I’m able to better

“I love all aspects of it. I love the horses. I love being outside. I love traveling. I like meeting new people where we go. I’m very fortunate to get to do this every day.”

help riders in that situation. It really just falls back on basics. It’s nothing more than rhythm and track and trusting your abilities.”


As for Kroff ’s clients, each pathway and goal are individualized and given careful attention.

“I try to keep my numbers smaller so that we can be more goal-oriented for my clients,” she says. Kroff ’s students are aiming for everything from the USEF Pony Finals to the NAYC and the Grand Prix ring.

“I want to make sure we’re going to the appropriate horse shows for those goals being met. It’s really important for me that nobody gets left behind. It’s not just, ‘Oh, I’m going to jump the Grand Prix.’ We all want to do that, but what steps can you take to get there? It’s also a huge commitment for families, so I like to make sure that they understand, ‘If your child really wants to achieve these goals, these are the steps that we have to all take together.’”

While achieving goals—and helping her clients achieve theirs—is one of Kroff ’s favorite parts of the job, the journey to the goals is even greater.

“I love all aspects of it. I love the horses. I love being outside. I love traveling. I like meeting new people where we go,” says Kroff. “I’m very fortunate to get to do this every day.”

To learn more about Allison Kroff and Kroff Stables, visit

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 97
Stonewall Farm • Text: 920-889-0028 STONEWALLPONIES@YAHOO.COM • IXONIA, WISCONSIN Wishing All Competitors Best of Luck at Devon!
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Workers show up. They are ready to learn from the moment they get to the barn. We all get distracted, but a worker is the one who puts in the extra time. They pick up, and help around the farm with whatever is needed. When they ride, they ride with a plan. They do transitions, and figures and have a goal. They ride without stirrups, without reins. They put in days of long, boring fitness rides because it is the right thing for the horses. They do the hard things, because it makes them stronger and better.

Stonewall Farm • Text: 920-889-0028 STONEWALLPONIES@YAHOO.COM • IXONIA, WISCONSIN Best of Luck to all SWF Sales Graduates in 2024! PHOTOS © ANDREW RYBACK PHOTOGRAPHY, SHAWN M c MILLEN PHOTOGRAPHY, SARA SHIER PHOTOGRAPHY, COPPER ARROW PHOTOGRAPHY “The more young riders we teach to train young horses, the better our sport will become.”


WHEN IMPORTING A HORSE, trust is paramount. And trust was top of mind for Danielle Runions, founder of Equiphaire, LLC, when she started her business. Runions wanted to set her company apart from other equine sales and import agencies with a strong vision, passion for horses and their wellbeing, creativity, and to improve trust within the equestrian community.

“I’m trying so hard to be a voice of trust and value and integrity,” Runions tells The Plaid Horse.

She puts love and energy into building a team in Europe and the United States in which everyone shares the same values. Her team is a family who stay connected daily, regardless of time zones, to ensure that every client, investor, and horse is matched with care and expertise.

As a child, Runions’ parents imported and sold horses while she rode on the circuit. Later, she became a trainer for decades before co-founding Halifax Sport Horses. This foundation provided all the tools that Runions needs today.


Thanks to the team behind her, “I can find that gem, that diamond in the

rough for someone,” says Runions. Equiphaire has a base at Graystone Stables in Berwick, ME, and with her business partner, Natalia Jablońska, in Ponznan, Poland. In order to have a strong, trustworthy voice in equine sales, Runions built a team she can trust, and Jablońska’s eye for good bloodlines and expert movers makes her a gifted buyer for Equiphaire in Poland.

Janko van de Lageweg from VDL Stud is a mentor to Runions as well. “He is someone I like to source top quality horses from,” she says. “He’s always guiding me. He’s one of the classiest, down-to-earth horsemen that I know.”

Equiphaire has two riders in Poland to exercise the horses that the agency finds for buyers: Julia Jablońska, a 1.45 m international, “versatile rider,” and

Hula Hoop Z, currently for sale
116 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Patchat, sold to Canada
LJ currently stateside and for sale

Bringing a Trustworthy Voice to Equine Import Sales

Szymon Stasiak, a rider with true gifts for horsemanship and international success at 1.45 m as well. Stateside, Kathryn Phair and Lana Dufour exercise Equiphaire’s sale horses.

Runions refers to Dufour as “the spirit of the team…the anchor for Equiphaire.” Dufour is based in Kittery, ME, and has show miles all over the U.S. Phair adds a lot to the team as a dressage rider out of Berwick, ME. Phair is a “crucial part of our team’s nutritional needs,” adds Runions, as Equiphaire focuses on maintaining great gut health for their horses traveling from Europe. Both Phair and Dufour ensure that every aspect of Equiphaire “runs smoothly” in the United States while Runions is “up at 2 a.m. to talk to Europe and up late talking to U.S. trainers.”

The Equiphaire team prides themselves on providing every client what they need with the help of their vets, transport teams, and other collaborative partners. Some of these teammates include Kuba Jablońska, Natalia’s husband and owner of RJT Transport; their trusted flight team, Equijet; and top vets and insurance companies in Europe, California, Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and the Northeast.

Once a client’s horse arrives, collaborations with SmartPak and Voltaire add to the incredible customer experience. “We are an incredible team of non-judgmental people, knowledgeable and kind and trustworthy. We all have something to bring to the table, and when we come together, we can make just about anything happen for our clients,” says Runions.


The attention to detail and passion for horse sport sets Equiphaire, LLC apart from other sales and import businesses. Tell the team what you want, and they will find it. In fact, they want to hear about a client’s wish list, rather than showing them a bunch of different horses. If their barns in Poland and the U.S. do not already have the ideal equine partner, then the team will search until finding what the client dreamed of, whether the horse is for them or an investment.

“We exist as a company to protect, guide, and support and find exactly what you are looking for down to the color and budget. We have very good access to all levels and price ranges,” says Runions.

Every horse that Equiphaire sells or

LEFT: Polish International and Equiphaire rider Syzmon Stasis on Akavago currently for sale ABOVE: Julia Jablońska, a Polish International and Equiphaire rider, on Columbia WORDS: JESSICA SHANNON
May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 117
Charlie, sold to Emily Koit and her trainer Heather Froehlich Cortell of Novelty, OH
“We’re all in it for the same reason, because we love horses.”

imports has been ridden by a member of the team, and clients can find comfort knowing that the team is not only looking at bloodlines and show records, but they are also experiencing how the horse moves and how they are likely to transition to American show rings.

A client’s budget, whether looking for their own horse or an investor, does not exclude them from working with their agency. Runions is aware of fluctuating budgets and standards, and she aims to find something for buyers in many price ranges. Equiphaire matches riders and investors with dressage horses, Grand Prix jumpers, hunters, and equitation horses in all budgets.


Runions and the entire Equiphaire team actively listens to their clients and gets to know who they are and their needs. “Once a client has decided on a horse, we always have an initial set of X-rays to give your home vet a jumping-off point. Then we set up a clinical exam, videotaping as much of the process as possible, and we usually ask that your vet try to make contact with

the European vet,” says Runions.

It is important for her that she and her team are as transparent about every aspect of the process as possible. Dufour loves that Equiphaire is focused on the horse holistically to help riders and investors find that “soul to soul connection” horse lovers know well.

Once vetting is complete, clients are guided through the steps of attaining global insurance. The team organizes ground shipping to a hub, and, unless the client chooses someone else, the purchased horse is flown to the United States with Equijet.

Runions finds peace knowing that “Equijet knows my little protocol. I like to ensure the most comfortable, stressfree flight. Pictures are usually provided and/or video prior to your horse’s flight. Once off loaded, USDA provides us with the most handsome mugshot prior to setting them into quarantine for a short period.” Runions is available at all hours to communicate with clients feeling anxious about the flight, paperwork, and any other aspect.

Dufour creates a “Get to Know Me”

pamphlet for the client’s horse. The horse will arrive at the client’s barn from quarantine with this personalized document that includes what they have been doing, last vaccination, feed they have been getting, turnout schedule, and the likes and dislikes. Equiphaire continues to check in a few times to ensure both clients and horses are happy.


As the company grows, Runions has not lost sight of her most important mission—trust with her client.

She has noticed a negative change in the equestrian community that perhaps many have felt. Runions says she witnessed that trust amongst horse people had waned. “I wonder when we lost that. We’re all in it for the same reason, because we love horses.”

Instead of leaving the industry altogether, she chose to be part of the change. Runions chooses to use her experience and her voice to lead the charge in bringing back trust to the horse world. After all, she says: “Horses make us better people.”

BELOW: 10 year old Schoolmaster, Akavago, swing in the 1.45 m with Szymon Stasiak in the irons RIGHT: King Phinn Phinn, currently for sale
118 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
DC, sold to Sarah Kane of Massachusetts
PRESENTED BY June 3 - 9, 2024 171st Upperville Colt & Horse Show Prize List available March 15 Regular Hunter/Jumper Entries Open April 15, 2024 at Noon Jump 4 Fun, June 2 Entries open May 2 Online entries only: Grafton & Salem Showgrounds Upperville, Virginia

A Glimpse into Strategy, Dedication— and 2024 Olympic Dreams


AS THE ANTICIPATION for the 2024 Paris Olympics continues to build, athletes like Will Coleman are busy fine-tuning their strategies and training regimens with the hope of being chosen to represent the United States on the international stage.


120 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
“I think the best horse people always have a plan, but they also have one ear on the horse.”
PICTURED: Will Coleman and Off The Record winning the 2021 CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S
May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 121

FOLLOWING HIS one-two finish at the $100,000 Conceal Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field with his top Olympic prospects—Hyperion Stud’s Chin Tonic HS and Off The Record, owned by the Off The Record Syndicate— Coleman spoke with The Plaid Horse about what’s next.

Coleman represented the United States in Eventing at the 2012 London Olympics. Twelve years later, he is now running a business alongside his wife Katie.

“I think our program, our training system, has changed. You become more evolved as a professional outfit because there’s no way to simulate the experience you get competing at the five-star level events around the world,” he says.

“I’m putting that experience to good use, and when it comes down to any big event or major championship, it’s about good fundamentals, good training and good horsemanship. That’s something we work on every day, whether we’ve got an Olympics on the horizon or not.”

One significant aspect of their evolved approach is the recognition of how much the sport of Eventing has changed over the last decade. To compete at the highest level requires horses capable of excelling in all three disciplines: dressage, cross country, and show jumping.

“To win at a major five star or a medal at a major championship, you’re talking about a horse that can perform a fourth-level dressage test at very near 80%,” Coleman says.

“Then they have to be able to finish on that, which means they have to do a 10- or 11-minute cross country course going over and navigating some of the most technical, biggest cross-country questions that we have in our sport. On Sunday, they must be able to execute a very technical 1.35 m

“We’ve had Paris as a goal, but we have kept our focus on the week-to-week stuff and on the next event.” —WILL COLEMAN

show jumping track. Those skills have to be honed and developed not just in the year or 18 months or 24 months before a major championship, but throughout a horse’s entire development.”

This commitment to excellence has led Coleman and his team to incorporate dedicated dressage and show jumping outings into their training program, using these experiences as measuring sticks for the effectiveness of their training methods.

When it comes to selecting horses for potential Olympic contention, Coleman emphasized the importance of flexibility and adaptability. Each horse is unique, and their journey towards Olympic readiness may unfold differently. Whether it’s the seasoned

campaigner like Off The Record, or the up-and-coming talent like Chin Tonic HS, Coleman’s approach is grounded in listening to the horse and adjusting the plan accordingly.

“I think the best horse people always have a plan, but they also have one ear on the horse and they are really listening to what he needs, week to week,” Coleman says.

When talking about his two world-class mounts, Coleman adds that Off The Record and Chin Tonic HS “could not be more different.” A veteran competitor, Off The Record is described as an “incredible partner” with unmatched tenacity, who embodies the essence of an underdog who continually exceeds expectations. Chin Tonic HS, with his remarkable

122 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
BELOW AND RIGHT: Will Coleman competing with Hyperion Stud’s Chin Tonic HS

athleticism and stunning presence, presents a different set of challenges, requiring intense focus and attention to detail. Despite their differences, both horses share a passion for the sport, a quality that Coleman puts above all else.

Chin Tonic HS and Off The Record both proved they are in top form at the end of March after finishing first and second respectively during the $100,000 Conceal Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field. The competition served as a valuable learning experience for both horses in preparation for upcoming challenges.

In April’s Stable View CCI4*-S, both horses continued to showcase their ability with Chin Tonic HS finishing second and Off The Record finishing in fourth place. The next stop will be the Defender Kentucky Three-Day for the CCI-S 4* event—a strategic decision aimed at optimizing performance for potential Olympic selection.

“I think there will be a lot of horses gearing up for Olympic selection that are going to use the 4*short at Kentucky,” says Coleman. “It can be hard to do the 5* and then peak the horses again for an Olympics or any championship two and a half months later. For our horses, we thought this was the best route if we are lucky enough to be in a position to go to Paris. It was a personal decision, but our team understands the logic behind choosing one or the other.”

Coleman is excited for Kentucky and the futures of both Off The Record and Chin Tonic HS. While he is honored to be in consideration for the 2024 Paris Olympic team, his dedication to his horses and the sport does not end with that single event. Coleman is grounded in the fact that each day and each competition is part of a much larger picture.

“We’ve had Paris as a goal, but we have kept our focus on the week-toweek stuff and on the next event,” says Coleman. “We’re trying to get better at that philosophy and not get swept up in some of the craziness that comes with an Olympic Games—which is really just an awesome horse show that happens every four years!”

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 123
HITS Ocala
1 Emily
some love • 2 David Jennings navigating across HITS Hunter One • 3 Dorrie
home multiple top ribbons • 4 A future grand prix rider takes a tour of HITS • 5 Morgan Ward jumps past Hunter One’s famous oak 1 2 3 4 5 124 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Chamberlin shows
Douglas takes

FOR COUNTRY In Memory of Paul O’Connor

IT’S EASY TO FIND OLD TIMERS at the horse shows talking about how things used to be. The ‘good old days’ of a manageable horse show circuit. The people who invested in the Team and matched riders with horses and prioritized our country over themselves. The people who put young riders on the map by intertwining their careers with mentors, horses, connections, and owners. The people who made this sport about others and not themselves and quietly saw through the larger vision of creating excellence in America from natural talent, built up from the ground with hard work. Paul O’Connor was one of those people.

O’Connor helped create those good old days by supporting a young generation of hunter and jumper riders who, decades later, still serve our sport today.

Paul Daniel O’Connor, Jr. passed away in January at his home in Reston, VA, at the age of 87. O’Connor, who was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy, was an Air Force Veteran, a lawyer, a businessman, and a horseman.

“He taught me everything about horses,” his daughter Laura O’Connor tells

The Plaid Horse. “He’s the one that taught me how to pick hooves properly, how to put a bit on a bridle, and everything you can think of. Take your time, be slow, don’t rush the horse, crucial to keep your tax box clean. Never messy, always ready for the next day. All these things that I think are so important and I wish there was more of it today. When he was a kid he had his own pony named Rusty. He would ride his pony to school and back, which was pretty cool.”

Growing up in a horse family with his mother riding, Paul O’Connor chose to raise his kids in the same manner.

“My dad was one of a kind. Back then it seemed like there were lots of mother and daughter partnerships. As a junior rider my dad was my groom, truck driver, coach, and all-around support system,” says Laura. “He taught me as a young girl that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to…believe in yourself and stay strong through all the ups and downs. Words I live by daily.

The show world was lucky to have the drive and support of a great equestrian like Dad, as I was, as his grateful daughter. He will be missed.”

While spending time with the horses with Laura, Paul shared the skills of being a lawyer with his son Steve, who recently retired from being a patent attorney for pharmaceutical companies, and his love of music with his daughter Sherry, with whom they sang and played many instruments together. “My dad could yodel like nobody else,” says Laura.

“So many top riders at the time—people like Peter Lombardo,

NEAR RIGHT: O’Connor’s Thoroughbred Pressurized and Leslie Burr Howard on the cover of the 1990 issue of HORSES Magazine
126 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

Lainie Wimberly, Steve Heinecke, and Francesca Mazella all had a parent that was so close to them and so involved in the sport,” adds Laura. “I think being such a big part of grooming and driving the truck is what got him so invested in the sport. When he decided he wanted to ride, they didn’t have any smaller divisions, so he just started jumping the 3’6” Amateur Owner Hunters. He didn’t have a choice. I think it was pretty gutsy for him to go out and do that.”

From showing with his daughter and showing himself, O’Connor became very invested with the United States Equestrian Team (USET) and a huge supporter of the sport. “When Leslie [now Howard] went almost three years without an open horse, my dad asked, ‘What do we do about it?’ I asked him to buy Pressurized for her. Debbie Dolan had Pressurized and it wasn’t her ride, and my dad bought this horse for Leslie for the team,” says Laura.

“My dad got such a thrill out of watching Leslie ride. She was so fast! She won a speed class on Normandy at Spruce Meadows during the Masters

by five seconds. It was pretty exciting and my dad totally enjoyed it. He loved being around, watching Leslie fly around and thought she was so gutsy. When we moved to California and started riding with Will Simpson and Kristin [Hardin], it was a thrill for him.”

A horseman through his life, Paul O’Connor rode as an amateur in the hunter and jumper rings on both the East and the West Coasts. As a dedicated supporter of the United States Equestrian Team, he sponsored many Grand Prix riders, including Leslie Burr Howard, Will Simpson, Kristin Hardin, Jennifer Newell, and his daughter Laura O’Connor, who won the AHSA Medal Final in 1983 and was Leading Lady Rider at Spruce Meadows for three years in a row.

O’Connor’s legacy of supporting our team, humble contribution, and investing in the next generation of talent and excitement lives on in the equestrian world with his daughter Laura, who resides in Aiken.


Please Forgive this humble boast, About a horse I love the most

A mighty bay of 17 hands, We call this big guy Second Chance

He takes big fences in his stride, With arching back & knees tucked high

An honest & forgiving steed, He carries his rider safe indeed

Thinking of him my heart grows mellow, How lucky I am to have this fellow

Greater horses there may be, But there’s no better horse for me.

I would recite this poem to my dad and even two weeks before his death, he was able to recite parts of this poem with me. That I will have forever! My Dad got hooked with horses because of Chance. I rode Chance in the Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden. He was a star!”


May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 127
ABOVE: Oskar and Laura O’Connor winning the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the Chrystler Classic in the same weekend back-to-back at Spruce Meadows 1996
Traci Brooks 310-600-1967 Carleton Brooks 760-774-1211 B almoral los angeles
The Devon Horse Show Stand Alone 1993 Hunter Breeding Winner
Traci Brooks 310-600-1967 Carleton Brooks 760-774-1211 B almoral los angeles
The Devon Horse Show Castle 2019 Small Junior Hunter Champion 16-17
Traci Brooks 310-600-1967 Carleton Brooks 760-774-1211 B almoral los angeles PHOTO: KIND MEDIA The Devon Horse Show Only Always 2022 Grand Hunter Champion
Traci Brooks 310-600-1967 Carleton Brooks 760-774-1211 B almoral los angeles PHOTO: KIND MEDIA The Devon Horse Show McQueen 2023 Grand Hunter Champion
Traci Brooks 310-600-1967 Carleton Brooks 760-774-1211 B almoral los angeles PHOTO: KIND MEDIA The Devon Horse Show producing Devon Horse Show Winners since Day Won
Traci Brooks 310-600-1967 Carleton Brooks 760-774-1211 B almoral los angeles The Devon Horse Show Best of Luck in 2024

Finding Falcor

The history of a unicorn

MONTHS INTO the Covid-19 pandemic in June 2020, I watched a video of a flea-bitten grey jumping down a line. He took each fence in stride, right down the middle, hunting for the next one. He looked…professional. His young rider was slender, small, impeccable. The video was from the 2017 M&S Junior Medals at Old Salem. They won.

I was still that horse crazy girl who never got the chance to really ride. Aside from rare lessons or a trail ride, my equestrian life as a child consisted of books, model horses, and leaping over broomsticks in my backyard Olympics. As a grownup, I got to edit some horse books, always a highlight. But that’s as close as I got.

At 57, I was naive but obsessed, and running out of years to be fit and brave. I’d been riding seriously for all of six months when Covid hit. I had already tried leasing, but the swaybacked old Thoroughbred tended to bolt and the big bay had an undisclosed hock problem. Having failed, I came back after lockdown wanting a horse even more.

The horse dealer sent my trainer a few videos and the grey horse was among them. One of his people texted the trainer: Get your lady (that’s what they called me) this one. He’s safe, kind, good, just needs an easier job. But I’d grab him fast, before someone else finds out there’s a top eq horse going for a steal.

When he hopped off the trailer on a hot morning in July, he was gigantic: 17.3 hh, a fact I’d somehow missed. He sported a battered halter with a broken nameplate and a frayed, stringy lead rope. He had giant, soft brown eyes, a long silver tail that flowed like pale mercury. It was clear he’d had a long journey and was tired. But he stood quietly as a trainer hopped on, then trotted around, cantered, jumped. He was willing and rhythmic. There was

134 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

something stoic about him. And he was stunning: given his size and color, he looked like a phantom in the half-light of the barn.

He was also thin. He tore into hay like he hadn’t seen any in weeks. There was very little information on his sale sheet. Name: Falcor. Breeding: Warmblood. Birthday: Jan 1, 2005, a.k.a. unknown.

I was used to the working line German Shepherd world, where you pore over pedigrees, ancestors, reports on hips, elbows, and temperament before you consider buying a dog. Layers of data help insure against the wild cards: when you’re dealing with a creature whose bite can break an arm, the fewer surprises the better. But no one could fill in the blanks on this horse. My trainers said that with proven horses, pedigrees don’t matter that much. And paperwork is easily lost from owner to owner. So here was Falcor, his documentation as spare as his ribcage. If he was being sold for a fraction of his original worth, that was to my advantage: how else does an adult beginner wind up with one of the Big Eq’s go-to mounts? It was my luck I happened to be horse shopping at the worst time for selling a horse. We vetted him, carefully. His body showed the wear of nonstop campaigning, jumping thousands of fences. We noted his tender back, gauged the spaces between vertebrae, flexed everything, debated his poor topline, decided we could work with it. He had an innate

balance, moved fluidly and calmly across the indoor ring as a rainstorm battered the metal roof. He looked around, head up, maybe a little proud but not alarmed—as if letting us know: I’m not some broke-down reject. I’m a really good horse. He had presence. I bought him just as the whole barn decamped to HITS, so we went too. On the showgrounds I hacked him around, astonished to be in the saddle. Even among all the other horses, some people recognized him from the circuit: Is that Falcor? First, I’d nearly apologize for being a middle-aged newbie on a wunderkind’s horse. Then I’d try to make conversation, get a glimpse into his former life.

Can you tell me anything about him? I’d ask.

Well, here he is, said a woman who told me she knew him well, speaking with horsey matter-of-factness. That’s all you need to know.

As Fall hit, we went into “rebuilding Falcor” phase. We got him on maintenance, good feed, plenty of hay. I learned about horsemanship as well as riding. I began to understand how hard it is to look impeccable on a 1400-pound moving animal. Falcor clearly loved to jump: aim at a rail and his ears pricked like radar. But he’d hold back for me, a considerate schoolmaster, waiting for me to catch up.

Who are you? I’d ask him after he did

Falcor and the author in the show ring. “Can’t wait to move up,” notes Martin

something flawless. He’d turn his head, cast a coffee-brown eye back at me.

The spring mud in this part of New York state is famously thick. One day Falcor rolled and came up with his flank coated. Highlighted by the stain was a brand: a shield around an H, faded numbers below. So, he was a Holsteiner. It was a start. I took 20 photos then reluctantly washed off the mud, the sole evidence I had so far of his life story. I found more videos and began piecing his history together—connecting names, shows, years, trainers, riders—and learning about the breed. To my trainers, this wasn’t a startling discovery. He wasn’t the first horse labeled “Warmblood” who turned out to have a brand. But I was fascinated.

His USEF record ran pages and pages: top placings in all three rings, class after class, rider after rider, season after season. I found his first owner in the US, who sent pictures: a huge dapple grey with those eager ears and big feet; jumping a massive oxer, standing in the winner’s circle at Capital Challenge. I found out he’d been at Beacon Hill, ridden by top juniors, loaned to one of Kevin Babington’s daughters.

But by early 2020, his showing stopped. Then came the pandemic, when the horse show world ran into a momentary wall. I heard that his last owner, a Wellington mom, wanted to buy her daughter a hunter instead. By dint of age, fitness, or circumstance, Falcor went from asset to liability, entering an uncertain trajectory that can lead to lesser barns, lesson programs, camps, auctions, possibly worse. Instead, it led to me.

We call our horses unicorns when they do well, when they tolerate our mistakes (I make many), shine in the ring, show up for us no matter what. But unicorns are the stuff of fairy tales. I still craved the true story. Do you remember where you got him? I messaged his first rider, but she didn’t. Do you have any information? I fruitlessly emailed equitation trainers. While researching, I found out about fake brands, intentionally “faded” to be unreadable. True ages can be hidden, passports disappeared. Scrupulousness and horse trading don’t always go hand in hand, which

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 135

could mean he’d always be a mystery. If I were truly a horse person then, as I had longed to be all my life, it might not have mattered so much. As a trainer friend reminded me, most people just care the horse gets over the fence. They look for the horse they need at the time, then move on. And plenty of horses bred to the nines can’t nail their lead changes.

Months went by. I switched to a barn where Falcor could spend more hours outside, which did his mind and body good. He continued to be my unicorn, though the more we did, the more I wondered if he would soon be too old for his job. Occasionally an advanced rider would pilot him around a bigger course and they’d come back thrilled: rider beaming, Falcor’s high tail a victory flag. He still had it. He was far from done. He was just waiting for me.

Whoever you are, you’re something, I’d say, rubbing liniment into his magnificent shoulders.

As he gazed at the fields and the jumping ring beyond his stall I’d wonder if he was thinking of his show days, or the meadows of his early years. I know what they say: horses live in the moment, yet we also know horses remember a lot. Standing in his purple turnout blanket in the morning fog, he looked royal. Maybe he was. I got a DNA kit from the Holsteiner Verband. One rainy afternoon in October, I put him in the crossties and pulled some mane hairs. I taped them onto the form, sent them off to Germany, and waited.

The Verband’s news wasn’t good: The lab couldn’t find a match. He may have been born before 2003, when we started DNA typing foals. We could look in our database, but we need his brand numbers.

Before 2003? My heart sank. He was 17 now, or was he 19, 20? I was still dreaming of the low hunters, my gateway, hopefully, to 2’6” and beyond. Could he be that old? I asked the vet. Could be, the vet said.

A new barn friend with access to fancy software offered to do some digital forensics. She took my iPhone photos of Falcor’s muddy flank, cleaned them up and threw them into high contrast. We saw a 9, then a fragment of something else — a 5? Impatiently, I ran possible combinations of the 15-digit life numbers assigned to registered warmbloods, but nothing hit. There was a Falcor, but he was a small bay. No tall grays born in 2005 had an F name, or any nearby year. I kept riding. My possibly

older-than-stated, possibly faux Holsteiner counter-cantered down a line of fences without batting an eyelash and executed another velvet lead change. I misjudged distances, buried him at the base, but he got us over every time. At a certain pace, the jumps rolled like waves beneath us. Another winter came, the season he would have shipped to Florida in the past. Crossing the ice to the indoor ring, I wondered if he missed the balmy weather and breezes, or if he took this easier routine to mean he might be discarded again.

But I’d go into his stall and unfurl the neck of his size 87 blanket and we’d do carrot stretches, his breath steaming in the cold. He’d furl his nose into a smile, nicker a mellow hello. He didn’t seem to yearn for anything. The vet said he looked like a different horse: topline restored, coat shining over muscle. One day while currying him, a shaft of sun hit his flank and I saw a second number, or thought I did. On a hunch, I sent another email to the Verband: Hi! The first number is

definitely a 9, the second one could be an 8. Can you check the database?

A week later, on a cold January 25, the Verband’s response landed in my inbox. His life number wasn’t 98, they wrote. It was 99. Matched with the DNA from the hair sample, a horse came up:

Lifenumber: DE421000329905, Brand-Sign-No. 99, male born 09.07.2005 by Corrado I out of R-Condora.

So, he wasn’t ancient. In fact, he was 9 months younger. And the brand was real. I dove onto HorseTelex and there he was: Conrad. Son of Corrado I and R-Condora. In his bloodline: Cor de la Bryere, Capitol I, Calypso II, Ramiro Z, Ladykiller xx, Foxlight; names I knew from the Holsteiner rabbit hole, illustrious sires with glorious biographies, and a famous mare line (Stamm 2067). There were grainy photos of his kin: rangy grays devouring fences in stadiums around the world, all with slightly dished faces, deep

136 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Unicorns are the stuff of fairy tales. I still craved the true story.

brown eyes, big feet, flowing tails.

Information builds its own momentum. I found out Falcor was bred in Germany, wound up in Sweden, did the 1.40 m jumpers and some 1.50 m, is also a registered Swedish Warmblood. A half-brother did Grand Prix with Alexander Zetterman. A half-sister was the highest-scoring 3-yearold in Sweden. It turned out a cousin of his and another half-brother were at our barn. He has thousands of relatives; at any given moment at a horse show, probably at least a few are saddled up.

His first owner in Sweden responded to my breathless Facebook message, remembering the horse as kind-hearted, a bit sensitive, prone to joking around. He sent photos: a strikingly dappled, leggy horse buzzing with health and potential, barely standing still. The dealer I sold

him to imports a lot of horses to the US, he said. That was likely when the name changed from Conrad to Falcor.

So Falcor/Conrad hailed from a long line of jumping horses, bred in the hopes he might make his own mark. He was the rangy youngster in Sweden, the powerhouse soaring with his new American rider, the skilled equitation veteran campaigning in medal finals, then the wise professor with my name on his stall plate who diplomatically packs five strides into four, motors into a floaty trot at my slightest cue, and was as proud as I was when we won our first tricolor in a schooling show.

My father got sick and my own sense of time and life compressed. I had to move Falcor to a barn closer to my house. I worried it was too much upheaval, but as soon as he saw me there, he nickered

and settled in. His new stall is huge, with a view of fields and mountains that might look like Sweden, I think. We did our first bigger show and he seemed honestly happy to be back in action. He’s chuffed! my new trainer glowed. We’re planning a summer return to HITS, this time without apologies. Yes, I’m still awestruck at the good fortune of getting the ride on this horse. But these days he doesn’t have to wait that much for me to catch up.

I know who you are, I say to Falcor. You’re a prince. Of course, regardless of where he came from, he’s still amazing. The better I ride the more I realize just how good, how smart, how sensible he is. Despite finding out his original name, it doesn’t fit him like Falcor does—the name of the luck dragon from the movie The Neverending Story, a benevolent, giant creature of air. Here’s what else I say to him, now that he’s 18, since we could just have a few years before he’ll need to take it easy: No matter what, you’ll always be my Falcor. I’ll always be your home.

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Dr. Briana Schwapp


I have loved horses before I even knew myself. I was told that at about 8 months old my parents brought me to YS Falls to see the horses, and I, a relatively calm baby, screamed uncontrollably when they tried to get me to leave. • I think the biggest misconception about equestrian sport is that the horse does all the work. It’s a partnership like any other sport, except our partner is a live animal. Their athleticism allows us to tackle those obstacles or execute a dressage test, but the fitness and focus required is immense.

• As a horsewoman, I am most proud of my commitment to the sport. I have been riding since I was 4 years old and I have never quit; I’ve paused for exams or work but I have never stayed away for long. I truly can’t live without it. • As a horsewoman, I would most like to improve my leg and seat, especially for riding my horse Hover Craft who often feels like an actual hovercraft. • My favorite horse book is Black Beauty. I read it abut 23 times in prep school. • My favorite non-horse book is The Heart’s Invisible Furies. It is heartbreaking and healing and hilarious all in one. It’s the best book I have ever read.

The most fulfilling part of being a vet is the bond you form with pets and their owners. This doesn’t mean that you have to know them for long to feel that, either. They feel like family even if they come in once or twice. It’s a lot of fun and so fulfilling to help people to understand their pet’s health, to guide them through something difficult, to help them say goodbye and to teach them how to care for their animals correctly. • I have recently learned to put literally everything I have to do into my iCal! Otherwise I feel like I’m drowning. This is the only way that I can remember my horse visits, clinic hours, content, appointments, and everything in between. • My greatest victory to this day was winning first place in showjumping in Ecuador. I was first to middle aged men, and I was on a horse that was new to me. • I sometimes wish I had the time to ride more. I only ride once or twice a week and I get excited every single time like it’s my first lesson. • I’m afraid of spiders and coconut crabs. And horseshoe crabs. • Something I say ten times a day is “Absolutely not.” • Horses in the Caribbean are resilient.

140 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024


that everysingle ride matters.

Each day—the bad days (EVERYONE HAS BAD DAYS) and those days where horses really humble you—help to build you into a wellrounded, self-aware, and talented equestrian. Always remember that the horse comes first, and that it is always an honor to have these animals work for us.


You have to love this field inside and out ...

in order to handle it. Owners often do not say thank you, and you have to be strong enough to bear the brunt of their shame and guilt very often. Learn how to communicate clearly, be thorough, and take things lightly. Have something to do outside of work that you love.



IT IS NOT OFTEN that you come across a business that has been operated by the same family since 1808. Cloverland Farm is an exception, the family farm has a long and storied history.

Tate Hanna Reilly on running the historic farm, and her heritage in the Siberian Tribe known as the People of the Horse


It all started in the flyover state of Illinois. The first settlers came to White County, IL, between 1807 and 1809. The first settlements were near the Little Wabash River and Big Prairie, one of the numerous prairies in the county. Early settlers Robert Land, John Hanna, and Joseph Pomeroy were instrumental in organizing and establishing The Big Prairie United Methodist Church. The first services alternated between the John Hanna and Robert Land cabins. The Hannas’ Cloverland Farm grew to over 2,000 acres.

Fast forward to 1923; Harry Phil Pearce was born in Carmi, son of

Albert and Helen Hanna Pearce. Raised on the Hanna family’s Cloverland Farm, he was awarded a Navy Cross by the Marine Corps for his heroic actions taking Shuri Castle on Okinawa and then returned to active duty during the Korean War. After his return to the family farm in the mid 1900s, Phil Pearce, the farm’s sixth generation horseman, conducted a large-scale breeding operation for Standardbred trotters and pacers. The farm stood four stallions and had as many as one hundred foals and broodmares.

Phil’s daughter, Drue Pearce, grew up on the farm and rode horses throughout her childhood. Drue moved to Alaska in 1977 and soon became involved in politics. She served in the Alaska State House and Senate for 17 years, nine of which were in leadership. She was the first woman to serve as Alaska Senate President twice. She married her now husband, Michael Williams, at the family church, Big Prairie United Methodist.

In 1994, Drue and Michael adopted a baby girl from the Sakha Republic, just before the country’s adoptions were banned by the Russian Federation. Tate Hanna Pearce-Williams was born into the Sakha tribe, who are known as the “people of the horse.”

“Before we were allowed to leave Yakutsk, Tate was required by the local authorities to be blessed by a Shaman,” Drue Pearce tells The Plaid Horse. “He blessed her and told us, ‘She is one with the horse.’”

Tate (who now goes by Tate Hanna Reilly after marriage) has lived up to that blessing, with her first word after Mama and DaDa being “Ho Ho,” for horse, which, of course, seemed fitting.

142 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Cloverland Farm, Sparks Glencoe, MD
May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 143
Tate and Watson competing in the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle Class


Tate Reilly always had an affinity for horses—riding any breed of horse, watching mares give birth, and playing with foals from the age of two—as her roots grew from the family farm. Her secondary sport was competitive gymnastics, which she began while living in Alaska.

The family moved to the Washington, D.C,. metro area when Tate was seven. Once there, she continued to improve as a gymnast, training with a Russian Olympian. Alongside gymnastics, Tate competed locally in the hunter/jumper, eventing, and dressage rings. She was also an avid 4-H member. She switched from hunters to eventing during high school. Tate earned her professional card at just 18 years old. Since then, she has become a certified instructor and a hunter/jumper and Western pleasure judge.

Tate attended Otterbein University, where she rode on the eventing equestrian team and was mentored by Olympic rider Bruce Mandeville. Tate knew at an early age the equestrian lifestyle would be her world and career. After college, Tate returned to the East Coast and established a full-time lesson and training program at the family farm in southern Maryland. After several years on the southern farm, Tate moved north to Sparks Glencoe, MD, in 2019 with her now husband, Brian Reilly. Her parents followed in 2020.


Settling down and growing new roots, together Tate and Brian relaunched her equestrian business at the new location. Following the Hanna family footsteps, the family carried the Cloverland Farm name to Baltimore County. Cloverland Farm is a 25-acre, picturesque property that sets a new standard for premium training and

“I am lucky to be able to continue my family’s legacy at such a phenomenal property.”

boarding farms, featuring a luxury stable with the highest quality amenities in a boutique setting.

“It’s my dream facility,” says Tate. “I am lucky to be able to continue my family’s legacy at such a phenomenal property.”

Tate Reilly has quite a few accomplishments under her belt, and continues to add more to her resume. Tate’s passions vary and she coaches clients at many different ringsides. Tate competed with multiple horses at the American Eventing Championships. She had the passion and eye for equitation and hunter/jumper and enthusiasm for the thrilling sport of eventing. She then took a break from the eventing world to focus on dressage.

After receiving her USDF Gold Medal, she took over the ownership of a Dutch Warmblood gelding named Watson. Together, they received all three Freestyle Bars and the Diamond Achievement Award in one year. In the 2023 dressage show season, Tate and Watson were the USDF Zone 1 Grand Prix Champion and placed third nationally.


As an eighth-generation horsewoman, Tate is dedicated to sharing her knowledge with her clients. Tate focuses her training on putting horsemanship first. She encourages her students to take their time with the horse, treating them with

respect, fairness, and kindness every step of the way. Her program varies by horse and rider combination. All of Tate’s clients first learn the fundamentals so they have a proper foundation. From there, clients typically choose a discipline to focus on and then set goals for annual achievement.

“It’s rare to find true all-around horsemen these days. The equestrian sport has become so specialized in the different categories, which is great for disciplines, but I feel the good ol’ days of all-around riding are a distant memory. I take pride in having the credibility to offer professional services in multiple disciplines. The pure joy of my clients when they achieve personal goals provides immense satisfaction, whether from amateur pleasure riding, building confidence in the show ring, or them wanting to learn dressage grand prix movements,” says Tate.

Tate and Brian are expecting a baby girl who will join the family in July 2024. Until then, Tate’s business continues at full speed with show season with her clients, while the legacy White County Cloverland Farm is gearing up for another year of planting and harvesting crops.

To learn more about Cloverland Farm and Tate Hanna Reilly, visit

Tate and Brian Reilly
144 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
Tate Reilly earning final Diamond score, standing with parents Drue Pearce and Michael Williams
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Lessons From the Wrong Horse

Amateur rider Sarah Zaides Rosen reflects on horses and teachers

WE PROBABLY bought the wrong horse. It was my first entry back into horses as an adult who had spent many years out of the tack and at the library, living abroad and finishing up my degree. I had defended my dissertation, was gainfully employed, and realized that I could finally do this sport again. I had put down roots in the Pacific Northwest and you were someone that I had watched ride and admired as a child in California and asked if you would take me on as a student. You agreed.  We set out to find me a horse. As a lifelong student, I wanted a young project. Something with talent and potential that I could learn alongside. We looked at many horses, vetted even more. Some were beautiful and talented but had health conditions, others lacked jumping style or natural technique.  It was several months into the process that I flew to California

and walked into a dusty, hot barn aisle east of San Diego. A black and white face turned to look at me. His eyes were deep coal and his nose was pink. Flies were landing on his shiny, black coat, and he was stomping his painted hooves to shoo them away. The horse was for sale along with a few others. He had been imported from Germany by a kind retired woman who had wanted to try her hand at buying and selling horses with the help of her trainer. She wasn’t supposed to have bought him, she explained, but she fell in love with him, and she made a deal for the three horses. He was the last horse for sale.

I rode him a little—he was only five years old, but I threw my orange sweater over one of the jumps, seeing if I could startle him. He studied the jump and squared up his knees, instead. He landed his inside leads, which many horses don’t

like to do. After I rode him, they put him out in a sand pen with a brightly colored, bouncy ball. He likes to play, they explained, and if you let him be himself, he goes better. He’s more agreeable.

A big personality should have probably scared an amateur away, but I was intrigued. A well-known trainer down the road knew the horse and called you, telling you it was a smart buy. So your assistant flew down to try him again, and after she signed off, we vetted him, thinking surely they’d find something wrong and our search would have to continue. He passed with flying colors. I took a deep breath and wired the money.

Three days later, he arrived on a large semi-truck on a rainy day, just a few days prior to my birthday. I couldn’t believe the timing. I remembered blowing out so many birthday candles in years prior, no

148 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
The author’s horses enjoying the pastures at home in Redmond, WA




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“My mistakes were my own, but they were softened by my agreeable new horse. I wasn’t being driven to study my sport, to study this horse, like I did with the wrong horse.”

matter where I was in the world, closing my eyes and wishing silently for a horse of my own. The paperwork I signed once he stepped off the truck said: “One black Hanoverian gelding and one beach ball.”

The first few months were a dream. You flew up from the California desert to teach me, leaving me with your assistants when you were gone. I was on every morning at 7:45 before the horses started their training routines, either riding in a lesson with you or practicing what you taught me the week before. The horse was intelligent. He learned everything we taught him so quickly—he could canter the narrowest of fences and always find the right distance. He jumped the same off the right lead as he did off the left lead. He never made a bid for the jump. We practiced lateral work and over cavaletti placed across the center of the small indoor arena. And he always understood his leads.

But the beautiful fall weather turned into the rainy winter, and he had to spend more time inside. The horse started to get bored. One day we found him in the barn aisle—he had figured out how to unlatch his stall door—and had spent the early hours of the morning rifling through tack trunks and unwrapping the granola bars meant for clients. Soon a custom carabiner was placed on his door to keep him locked in. As his training progressed, he became more fit, and didn’t have his turnout and ball to expend the energy. The athleticism I felt underneath me on

the cold winter mornings started to make me nervous. I stopped riding confidently. I started to “wait and see” how he would react. One day I asked him to practice through a grid, and when I asked to pick up the right lead canter, he planted his feet and did not want to move forward.

I began to worry.

Lessons became more difficult. If my distance wasn’t perfect, he wouldn’t forgive me, and would slow to a stop in front of the jump. I began to worry something was wrong, spending time on the Internet reading about various stomach ailments and joint discomforts that it could be. I started obsessively journaling, trying to recreate the routines that I thought led to the good rides. You continued to teach me, encouraging me that nothing was wrong with him physically, but that the horse was so smart and I needed to improve my riding.  You pointed out that he never tried any of his tricks with the assistants.  So I began to study harder, and you continued to fly up to teach. I knew you spent so much time thinking about the horse. You taught me to ride the hunter course on my outside seat bone, so that he understood which lead I wanted. I took it so seriously that I found myself at my desk at work, shifting my seat bones and switching my leg position as I typed on my computer, riding an imaginary course. You broke me of my habit of looking down at the jump to try to look for a distance, and showed me that track, rhythm,

and pace create the distance instead. You taught me feel by having me canter jumps off the counter lead—you knew I needed to understand where my horse’s hind end was relative to the jump in front of me.

When we missed a lead change, you didn’t allow me to just go around and try again; instead, you had me school a lead change by doing a turn on the forehand off of that same spur. But then you took away my left spur, shaking your head at how tough my left leg was. You took away my saddle and found me one with a moveable tree. You found a girth made for narrowly built horses, just like him. You noticed that my stirrup irons were of a newer, modern design, so you took those away too. You wanted me to learn to control every detail of my riding, down to the position of my foot.

My education progressed, as did the horse’s. I began to see his talent. We decided to start to show him—early in the week with the professional rider, and on the weekend with me. He showed beautifully with the professional, taking home ribbons and moving up the divisions. My turn was less consistent. He liked some rings and didn’t like others. He hunted down to the spookier, more built up fences, but disliked the plain, two dimensional tests.

The competitions were never close by. I was squeezing in work between rounds, taking phone calls from the set up back at the barn. You drove me around in your

150 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
RIGHT: The author competing in the Adult Amateur Hunters at Sonoma Horse Park PROVIDES OPTIMAL HOOF HEALTH
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golf cart and explained that I confused my horse, and I needed to become more accurate and precise in my riding. You consulted a horseman you respected most—he had us take off my horse’s martingale and use a ball bit made of sweet iron to encourage him to reach down. I tried my best and once in a while we would even win, but other times, I couldn’t even turn away from the gate on the right lead. I was tired, wondering why this didn’t feel like a hobby anymore. I thought I was a good enough rider…how much better could this horse possibly want of me?  I called veterinarians, chiropractors, farriers, dieticians, wondering what we were missing. Some had minor things to add, but nothing ever made it that much easier. Why couldn’t this horse just do his job? I contemplated selling him, but then worried that he would go to a very tough rider at a discount, and they would eventually discard him. I couldn’t do it to my horse. My heart knew that the horse’s best home for the long term was with me, my horse show goals would have to wait.  I know I offended you when I took off for a two-week clinic with a natural horsemanship cowboy. I know you felt that I thought you couldn’t train me on the horse—but I needed to go alone, to spend the two weeks caring for my horse on my own, without the guard rails that you provided. I spent the days riding out in the woods and through the bogs, jumping

solid jumps (boldly off the wrong lead), and trusting the animal underneath me.  It’s maybe through one of those bogs that he got hurt. Maybe over one of the solid cross-country jumps. I don’t know. I rehabbed him for a bit, even clicker trained him to keep him entertained, teaching him to smile and bow. I secured him a stall with an attached paddock so he could go in and out as he chose. The horse softened towards me, started to greet me at the gate. The assistant rode him less. He started to get easier to ride. I started to relax, to enjoy him. But then, he started to feel off, only to be better the next shoeing cycle....and none of the vets could identify anything really wrong. I decided to send him to California to consult with a different veterinarian and spend some time in better weather. I purchased another horse, a simpler horse who understood what I wanted even when I asked it of him less than perfectly. We had success in the show ring together, and I think you were proud of me. The shows became more relaxing and enjoyable, but they weren’t the same without the “test” of the black horse. Back at home, you’d try to stump me in my lessons on my new horse—and sometimes you did—but it wasn’t the same. My mistakes were my

BELOW: A spring horse show at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, British Columbia, Canada

RIGHT: The author’s horse in turnout

own, but they were softened by my agreeable new horse. I wasn’t being driven to study my sport, to study this horse, like I did with the wrong horse.

My wrong horse came back home after 15 months, and when he saw me, I could feel that he took a deep breath. He knew he was back home, and the next chapter would be different. I ride him every day, after he’s had his time outside, practicing his lateral work, flatwork, and some jumps, and taking time to hack out, too. I’ve stopped obsessing. He’s not as tuned up as he once was, but it’s good enough, and I take his pricked ears and fluid pace as a sign that he’s having fun. I practice what you taught me, but, so far, have waited to return to the show ring. I’m just not sure it’s for the black horse and me, for us as a team.

All horses teach us lessons, and I’ve often wondered why the universe sent me the black horse. Perhaps it’s because the horse needed a chance, and a lot of attentive care, and I could provide it. As it turns out, perhaps I didn’t just want a horse all those years, after all. What I really wanted, and needed, was a trainer, and a teacher. And what I thought was the wrong horse turned out to be the absolute perfect horse.


SARAH ZAIDES ROSEN is a historian and a writer working in higher education. She received a Ph.D. in History from the University of Washington in 2017 and is the author of Tevye’s Ottoman Daughter: Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews at the End of Empire. She is also an amateur hunter rider and is passionate about horse showing but also staying home and trail riding. She lives in Seattle with her husband, young son, and two horses, and supports horse rescues and equine professional programs in her area.

152 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024


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“That’s it, you’re starting to get it: Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. That’s how you post the trot,” says the instructor. “But try to sit more lightly on Eddie and not come crashing down like a sack of potatoes, okay?”

I’m teaching my first lesson at New Barn and things are going pretty well. I am a school horse, and it’s my job to teach people how to ride. The instructor, Melissa (she’s the person who teaches the lesson with me), is standing in the middle of the ring while I trot around her in a big circle. The way my rider flops down in my saddle doesn’t hurt, it’s just a little uncomfortable. But I can tell that she’s new to riding, so it’s fine with me. We go around and around the ring. There are walls on every side to keep the wind out. Wooden beams crisscross the high ceiling and I think I can see some birds’ nests tucked up in the corners. Before I came here to this New Barn, I taught lots of riding lessons at a place much bigger than this one. I was one of about fifteen school horses back at the Old Barn. I had so many riders I

eventually lost count! I really liked it back at Old Barn and I’m not sure why I had to leave, especially because I thought I was good at my job.

My new rider—Melissa keeps saying “Kennedy,” so I suppose that’s her name—was very nice to me in my stall when we were getting ready for the lesson, chatting the whole time. She smelled like soap and flowers. I don’t know exactly what she was talking about, but she had a lot to say. And I was happy to listen.

You might be surprised to know that horses understand about seven to ten spoken words. I call them spoken words, rather than English words, because the people I know speak more than one language. I personally know nine words. But the really great thing is that I don’t need a whole lot of words to communicate with people because I can interpret so many emotions. I get body language, too, and I always know kindness when I feel it. Basically, I understand much more than people think.

154 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

The specifics vary from horse to horse, but I personally understand all the following words when they are said aloud by people:





Good boy


When you take the words that Melissa just said to Kennedy, for example, all I really got out of that was trot. So, I kept trotting. Melissa’s voice also sounded kind and encouraging, which are good signs that I should continue what I’m doing; that I’m helping my rider learn.

entirety. I love a good boy, Eddie. We walk a lap around the ring before Kennedy steers me to the center. Melissa pats my head. Gallagher, one of the horses who gets turned out in the paddock with me, is also in the ring now. His lesson is about to start. We give each other a look, like a changing of the guard.

It’s his turn now to take care of his rider. I love what I do, but I’m still a bit relieved when the lesson is done. It’s hard work to keep a rider safe. Also, the end of the lesson means I get a nice brushing, and sometimes a carrot.

As I walk past Gallagher, I wish him good luck. Horses don’t communicate out loud the way people do, but I can hear what other horses are telling me, and they can hear what I tell them, especially once we get to know each other. People don’t pick up on this, of

I can interpret so many emotions. I get body language, too, and I always know kindness when I feel it. Basically, I understand much more than people think.

I also know the meaning of two sounds that aren’t technically words. I know that the clucking sound—when people suck down tight on their tongue and then release it—means to move forward. If I’m already moving forward, then the “cluck” means to go faster. (I’ve come to learn that people can mean more than one thing based on a single sound. It gets a little confusing.) I also know the sound of someone shaking my grain in a feed bucket, which means it’s time to come into the barn to eat.

ALL of us know that sound, even from two paddocks away.

I feel pressure as my rider pulls on the reins, drawing the metal bit back into the corners of my mouth. I slow from a trot to a walk before I even hear Melissa say whoa.

“Good boy, Eddie,” she says with a laugh. Now that, I understood in its

course. If they did, we’d all understand each other with a whole lot less fuss! Horses do “speak” to each other from time to time, but mostly it’s just listening and feeling. If you ask me, I think people could probably benefit from less talking and more feeling.

Horses use our bodies, too, to show what we are thinking. People can usually decipher our body language, if they’re paying attention. Pinned ears means we’re angry, and ears perked forward means we’re concentrating on something. One or both ears cocked gently back means we’re listening. It all seems much easier than the way people communicate.

Kennedy takes her feet out of the stirrups and swings one leg over the back of my saddle. Melissa is taking her through the steps of dismounting. Next, Kennedy slides down my left side,

gripping the saddle with both hands as she allows her body to slink down to the ground. When her feet hit the dirt, she stumbles back a few steps as she regains her balance. I may not be very big for a horse, but it’s a long way down when you’re not very big for a person.

Kennedy gives me a big pat on my neck. It was a good first lesson. Melissa leads me out of the ring, and we walk outside on the way back to my stall. An evening breeze rustles the leaves on the trees all around us. I watch as a few of them float lazily to the ground.

I think I’m going to like this place.



Rennie Dyball is the co-author of the Show Strides novel series and managing editor for The Plaid Horse magazine. Rennie grew up riding school horses and now shows on the A circuit in the adult hunter and equitation divisions. She hopes that Eddie will remind readers of all the “schoolies” they’ve known and loved. Learn more about Rennie at

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 155


A primer on the neurological disease and best practices for prevention and treatment


EQUINE PROTOZOAL MYELOENCEPHALITIS, referred to as EPM, is a term that is often brought up in the equine community. Unfortunately, the abbreviation for this neurological disease is misapplied and misunderstood by many riders and owners.

The cause of EMP is Sarcocystis neurona, an apicomplexan protozoan, which is transferred mostly by opossums to horses through fecal matter. It is believed that all horses are susceptible to developing EPM and some researchers have found that in America 15% to 89% of horses have been in contact with the protozoan depending on their geographic region.

Interestingly, most cases only involve one horse, limiting the assumption that horses can spread the disease to each other. EPM works by altering the central nervous system (CNS) of a horse, causing a wide range of clinical signs that can make it difficult to differentiate the

disease from other neurological disorders or traumas.

Even though EPM is classified as a rare disease, lack of diagnosis and treatment for affected horses can be life-ending. EPM is not a general term that should be taken lightly around the barn. It is the responsibility of owners and riders to pay attention to their horse’s behavior and activity, not only to display good horsemanship but also to make sure challenging diseases to diagnose, like EPM, do not go untreated. The following article provides an outline of the causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventative care for Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis.


One of the most challenging aspects of preventing and treating EPM is tracking the various transmission and internal pathways of S. neurona. Sarcocystis neurona survives by alternating between a definitive and intermediate host. The opossum is considered a main definitive host while other species like horses, cats, and skunks act as intermediate carriers of the parasite.

The opossum is currently the only animal known to be able to transmit S. neurona to horses. The cycle of transmittance begins after an opossum consumes tissue infected by S. neurona from a prior intermediate host. The parasite then undergoes sexual reproduction in the intestinal tract of the opossum to produce copies that get released into the environment through feces.

An intermediate host, like a horse,

156 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

encounters fecal matter by some form of contamination of feed, water, or housing environment. Once inside of the horse, the parasite can infect any portion of the central nervous system and cause lesions (damage to tissue) on the brain, spinal cord, or brain stem. S. neurona can attack multiple areas of the CNS, which is why there is a vast range of disease symptoms. Although S. neurona is most associated with EPM, another protozoan, Neospora hughesi, has also been identified as a causing agent. Although less common, scientists have suspected N. hughesi acts much like that of S. neurona in terms of external and internal activity.


One of the most important aspects of horse care is being able to tell when an animal is not displaying normal behavior or demonstrates a change in health that could signal an underlying veterinary issue.

Sarcocystis neurona has the ability to target and damage multiple sites of tissue across the CNS allowing the disease in horses to produce an extensive list of clinical signs. S. neurona can harm CNS tissue by causing focal discoloration (tissue discoloration), hemorrhage (loss of blood due to a damaged vessel), and malacia (softening of tissue).

Because the majority of neurological problems have a degree of overlap with the symptoms of EPM, identifying this disease is challenging and can be overlooked even by the most experienced vets. The most common target of S. neurona damage is the spinal cord with lesions on the brain stem being less frequent.

The general clinical signs associated with spinal cord damage are: ataxia (incoordination), muscle atrophy (weakness), stumbling (often confused for lameness), standing splay-footed, leaning on walls/objects for support, and

hyporeflexia (decrease reflex response).

Recurring symptoms of brain stem degradation include behavioral issues, mild depression, facial nerve paralysis, head tilt, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), lethargy, abnormal airway functioning, snoring, drooling, abnormal eye movements. Horses can also experience hyporeflexia (decrease reflex response), seizures, and death. Many horses with EPM will seem bright and have good vitals providing an extra layer of difficulty for barns to pick up on this disease.

The timeline of EPM in horses varies and does not follow a linear projection. It can take hours or even years for a horse to reach a point of recumbency (inability to stand) and most of the time this journey is in a start-stop fashion. Even though EPM is difficult to diagnose due to its vast list of symptoms, knowing the common signs of the disease can help equine caretakers be more conscious of

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 157
EPM is one of the most difficult neurological diseases to diagnose, so once detected, treatment and preventative action is necessary in ensuring the future safety of your horses.

character changes in their animals and encourage detailed analysis of abnormal behaviors displayed in the barn.


Another important question to consider when facing a deathly neurological disease like EPM is: What factors exacerbate the likelihood or severity of developing this disease? Age is one factor that has shown to influence the presence of EPM in horses. A study performed at The Ohio State University concluded that young horses (1-5 years old) and older horses (>13 years old) had a statistically higher risk of developing EPM than other age categories.

Another study performed at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that age also impacted EPM prevalence but found no correlation between the disease and either breed or gender. In addition to age, seasonal temperature has shown to influence EPM presence.

In the same Ohio State University experiment, they found that EPM cases increased three-fold in the spring and summer compared to winter months. Some possible reasons for this are the decreased activity of opossums and horse events during freezing temperatures. Dense population and high stocking densities of barns have shown a positive relationship with the presence of EPM.

An explanation for this could be the displacement of opossums due to human development causing the animals to try and find new homes closer to farms. Within the same study, it was found that a high barn population (20+ horses on a farm) caused a seven times increase in EPM cases.

This statistic poses a contradiction to the previous theory—that horses cannot transmit the parasite directly to each other—and opens up questions of whether or not the animals can pass the disease through other forms like feed and water contamination. Stress is another common factor that researchers associate with the development of EPM.

In another experiment conducted by The Ohio State University, they exposed four groups of horses to an equal number of parasites and then altered the stress induced on each group to determine whether high cortisol levels played a role in EPM development. The study concluded that the more stress a horse is exposed to, the higher the chance and more severe the development of EPM is.

Major stressors for horses include transportation, new ownership, pregnancy, illness, injury, and athletic competitions or training. Another study showed that racehorses and show horses had a higher risk of developing EPM compared with breeding and pleasure horses. The cellular understanding behind stress linked to EPM severity/development is the idea that corticosteroids limit horses’ bodies from exhibiting proper immune response to the pathogen, allowing S. neurona to enter and move throughout the animal more easily.


EPM can be a life-ending disease, however, with screenings and treatment, horses gain substantial increase in the likelihood of survival. Horses that are infected with EPM and receive veterinary attention have a ten-time increase in the chance of improvement than horses without care.

Additionally, if horses show signs of improvement following treatment, then they are 50 times more likely to survive than those who show no positive progress. Common tests for EPM are general diagnosis tests, Western Immunoblot Test, SAG ELISAs, and Indirect Fluorescent antibody test (IFAT), and spinal tapings. General diagnosis tests use horse serum or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to detect the presence of EPM parasites. A positive result does not indicate active EPM; rather, it shows that the horse has been exposed to the parasite.


EPM is one of the most difficult neurological diseases to diagnose, so once detected, treatment and preventative action is necessary in ensuring the future safety of your horses.

Most treatment plans for EPM include: a six-month administration of antibiotics and an antiprotozoal agent or a 28-day prescription of an antiprotozoal (like ponazuril) that may or may not need a second round of use. Other supportive care like immunomodulators and anti-inflammatory drugs can also be given to provide comfort and/or prevent worsening of neurological state.

Unfortunately, there is currently no approved vaccination on the market for EPM. Once a case is confirmed or even before parasite exposure, there needs to be adjustments made to the farm to decrease the likelihood of an/another EPM case. Three major areas of owner improvements to decrease EPM cases are: barn cleanliness and organization, population of humans and animals, and equine management and stress.

In the barn, limiting opossum and wildlife access to feeds, water, and bedding can be done by placing grain in sealed tight containers indoors, feeding and hanging water buckets off the ground, having stalls with doors that prevent passage underneath, and maintaining overall cleanliness to limit unwanted animals. Farms can also work

158 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

to reduce the number of birds by cleaning out nests and eliminating bird feeders. Research has shown that birds can carry S. neurona infected sporophytes that can be passed to opossums upon death or even transmitted to horses (this needs further testing).

It has been noted insects, like cockroaches or flies, can also carry the EPM parasite, making barn tidiness and additional protection like fly spray great preventive approaches. Opossums are omnivores and consume dead animals, so picking up skunks, racoons, armadillos, or cat roadkill can decrease the initial spread of the parasite. Feeding dogs and cats in closed off areas as well as picking up any edible fallen fruit from plants or trees can decrease the presence of unwanted wildlife. Opossums near or around the property can also be relocated (although this is a highly debated moral issue).

High human population and farm density are known escalators of EPM. Building farms further from densely populated areas (acknowledged as not always an option) or spreading out the number of horses per farm could help decrease the presence of EPM. Efforts to coordinate less long-distance shipping and decreasing the number of shows visited per year could help prevent severe EPM development. Other stressful events for horses (like illness, pregnancy, or injury) should be monitored closely by owners because this is a time where horses are known to be more susceptible to the disease.

Even though there is no 100% effective preventative measure for EPM, knowing ways to decrease the likelihood of a case and how to treat current infections can improve future care and survival rate of horses.


Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis is one of the most challenging neurological diseases to diagnose and prevent. Understanding the complexity of the many transmission pathways of S. neurona and the life-altering implications it can cause a horse should encourage owners and riders to be more aware of changes in their animal’s behavior. By understanding the normal nature of your horse, you are becoming a better horseman by potentially identifying diseases, injuries, or disorders that could mean the difference between life and death of your animal.

ELLE GIBBS is a first-year student at Cornell University where she is majoring in Biological Science as well as pursuing a minor in Economics and second minor in Animal Science. Her dream is to attend Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and pursue a career as an equine veterinarian.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.P. Dubey a, et al. “An Update on Sarcocystis Neurona Infections in Animals and Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM).” Veterinary Parasitology, Elsevier, 7 Feb. 2015, www. pii/S0304401715000448?casa_token=fVLSRVyu0S0AAAAA%3AI3_wBktN_RjamZQ1NCzcFuo_q0GWLjC2yL4cGVWedjo5YeINXPDD2vyUHFUOCpg00zrB6HKJ9w. • JP;, Dubey. “Invited Review: Sarcocystis Neurona, Neospora Spp. and Toxoplasma Gondii Infections in Horses and Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM): Five Decades of Personal Experience, Perspectives, and Update.” Parasitology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm. Accessed 17 Mar. 2024. • MacKay, Robert J. “Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis - Nervous System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 29 Feb. 2024, nervous-system/equine-protozoal-myeloencephalitis/equine-protozoal-myeloencephalitis#:~:text=Equine%20 protozoal%20myeloencephalitis%20 (EPM)%20is,and%20regional%20 neurogenic%20muscle%20atrophy.

• McCoy, Author: Annette. “Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM).” Extension at the University of Minnesota, horse-health/equine-protozoal-myeloencephalitis-epm#spinal-tap-1313611. Accessed 17 Mar. 2024. • Reed, S M, et al. “Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis: An Updated Consensus Statement with a Focus on Parasite Biology, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention.” Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC4913613/. • Robert J. MacKay BVSc, et al. “Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice, Elsevier, 25 Apr. 2017, www. S074907391730086X. • Young, Amy. “Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM).” School of Veterinary Medicine, 1 Aug. 2023, health-topics/equine-protozoal-myeloencephalitis-epm. r • W.J.A Saville a, et al. “Utilization of Stress in the Development of an Equine Model for Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis.” Veterinary Parasitology, Elsevier, 19 Feb. 2001, www. S0304401700004210?via%3Dihub.

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A Journey Home

I HAD SAT ON a tiny black pony once in my life when I was about three or four. It was a simple pony lead ride in some summer park we’d gone to as a family in Finland. Neither I nor my parents remember this, but we have a photo of it. I’m sitting on what looks like a mini western saddle, holding on to the horn at the front of it with conviction. My baby blond hair is cut into a tidy bob. My straight-cut fringe is blowing in the wind as the pony is strutting forwards. The determination on my face hints at what is to come.

Years later, it was this determination that gave me the confidence to get out of the car and head toward the main clubhouse. As I walked past the main arena to get to the clubhouse, I saw horses everywhere. I started to feel a little fire starting to burn inside of me. My mother and I walked into the secretary’s office and queried about riding lessons. My mother did all the talking here. Whilst I’d been working hard to get my English up to scratch, she’d been working on her Portuguese. This was the perfect opportunity to test it. Before I knew it, I had a borrowed riding hat on my head and my mother had a list of riding shops in the area where we could get my own gear. A riding instructor came to greet us and walked us up to the stable of the first horse I would ever sit on.

He opened the stable door and I carefully peered in. There stood Simpático. When translated from Portuguese, his name meant sympathetic. What a fitting name for the first horse that I would sit on. He did look kind, compassionate, and docile. As I took his big dappled gingery shape in, he gazed back at me with big, gentle eyes. His look instinctively made me want to walk towards him to pet him,

but not knowing whether this was safe, I didn’t. I’ve often been called risk averse and to this day I probably still am.

The instructor walked him out of his stable. I followed them into the covered round pen where I would be having my first-ever lesson. With the round pen being twenty metres wide, it felt snug and secure. Probably for both me and the horse. As the instructor advised me to come in, he shut the round pen gate behind me. This was it.

I looked up at Simpático. He looked equally calm as before. He was tacked up in a simple snaffle bridle and a long lunge line was attached to his inner bit. The instructor explained he would be controlling the horse from the end of the lunge line. All I would have to do is to sit. Well, sit and follow the movement of the horse. That sounded doable. As long as he was good at controlling the horse. Since he was an instructor I certainly hoped he would be.

My eyes then moved to Simpático’s back. On it sat a thick bareback pad that was held in place with a leather surcingle with handles on it. It looked both comfortable and safe. This should be alright. The instructor confirmed that

I should hold on to the handles to begin with and over time I would learn to let go of them. Baby steps. I liked the sound of that.

He gestured for me to come to Simpático’s left side so I did. He explained, in a mix of Portuguese and hand gestures, how he would help me up on his back. As there was no saddle or stirrups on him, I wouldn’t be able to mount him myself. My mother shouted some translations from the sidelines but I’m not even sure I heard them. I guess I’d learn best by doing anyways. I folded my left knee as instructed whilst the instructor put his hand underneath it. He counted to three in Portuguese, which I did understand, and when he got to three I jumped up whilst he pushed me higher up so I could reach Simpático’s back. As I got higher up, I quickly swung my right leg over his body. And there I was, sitting on a horse. Woah.

Time stopped and so did I. I could feel Simpático’s big, powerful, round back underneath me. As he took his deep, relaxed breaths, I could feel his stomach breathing in and out next to my legs which hung on either side of it. I grabbed the handles on the surcingle instinctively

Reprinted with permission from the author
164 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

but didn’t feel the need to hold them tight. I was high above the ground, so much so that the air felt different. Yet, I still felt safe. I could feel a light breeze coming into the round pen from the lake that lay two hundred metres away. I saw the breeze hit Simpático’s mane and it ruffled gently, in slow motion, in the wind. I felt weirdly at peace.

I was brought back to earth as I felt Simpático move forward into a relaxed walk. The instructor now stood in the middle of the round pen with the lunge line fully stretched so Simpático could walk the full diameter of the pen undisturbed. I liked the way his walk swung. It made me want to swing with him. As he stepped each of his back legs

forward in his even four-beat walk, I felt my hips follow his. Left , right, left , right, left , right. It was almost as if we were moving as one. It was wonderful.

This was an unusual way to start riding but the best way. In many riding clubs, you are pushed on a pony with a saddle and bridle and asked to immediately control him whilst also trying to control yourself. It’s a lot to take in in one go and it’s no wonder many new riders are put off by it. It’s also not exactly the safest way and not the best way if you want to start with a good seat. The way I was learning to sit on the horse before learning to control him gave me the biggest chance of success in being able to control him. I was learning

There stood Simpático. When translated from Portuguese, his name meant sympathetic. What a fitting name for the first horse that I would sit on.

to follow his movements and develop my balance before being asked to control his movements and balance. I didn’t realise how helpful this would come to be. To this day, I’m very grateful for it and I wish more riding clubs offered seat-focused riding lessons. Even today, after 27 years of riding, I would be the first to sign-up.

Before I knew it, I was doing all kinds of manoeuvres on Simpático. In walk, in trot, and, with time, in canter. I’d let go of the handle and lift one hand to the side. Then I’d repeat the same manoeuvre with the other hand. Eventually, I had both of my hands stretched out on the side like the wings of an aeroplane. In canter, it really did feel like flying. It felt like I was soaring through the air, unencumbered and free. Simpático, my first equine companion, never let me down with his steady movements and serene disposition. I genuinely believe he was a saint in horse form. He couldn’t have given me a better beginning to riding even if he had deliberately tried. It was this sympathetic start with him that deeply rooted my love for horses, laying the perfect foundation and hooking me onto them for life.

Horse Girl: A Journey Home is a memoir on love, life, and finding your way home. It is available worldwide from Amazon. com. You can also follow the author on Instagram @susannanewsonen or online at

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NO BORED HORSES Essential Enrichment

for Happy Equines


The answer must be, “No, of course not.” After all, your horse wants for nothing. He lives in a snug stable, eats tasty grain, and gets lots of riding exercise or groundwork. Nothing is missing… …or, is it?

Boredom and a lack of stimulation show up in many ways and in a variety of environments. Just as in your own life, the experience can be brief or chronic, so your horse’s behavioral wellness and overall mental state might not be easy to evaluate. Obviously, when a horse is facing weeks of stall rest after an injury, he will need help coping with the experience, but boredom can occur whether he’s stalled or pastured.

Our horses can’t tell us in words that they need more interest and stimulation. They also can’t articulate why they feel and act a certain way, just like you can’t always pin down the cause of your frustration or anxiety. Their behavior, body language, and habits are our only windows into what they’re feeling.

Signs a horse may be struggling with boredom include:

• Hyperactive, overenergetic during handling.

• Destructive to items and property.

• Irritable, grumpy, or aloof.

• Rambunctious during turnout; prone to accidents outside or in.

• Anxious or distracted.

• Shows strange or undesirable behavior or vices in stall or pasture.

• Has social problems—can’t be turned out with others. Do any of those descriptions remind you of the horses in your life?

PHOTO: FILIPPO BACCI, GETTY IMAGES (TOP); CAROL HAMILTON, GETTY IMAGES (BOTTOM) Reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books
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LEFT: Horses in even well-appointed stables may struggle without the opportunity to enjoy natural behaviors such as grazing and socializing with herd members


A horse cribbing on a fence rail. While this stereotypic behavior is not a personality flaw, it can damage property and impact the horse’s quality of life

The descriptions are more than personality labels or breed characteristics; they can be signs that your horse is struggling. They’re signals that important stimulation is missing from your horse’s lifestyle. Rather than being simply flaws, vices, or training issues, unwanted habits or attitude issues can actually point the way toward changes that can help your horse live a happier life. By preventing or addressing boredom at its roots, you can help your horse get through challenging times and improve problem behavior.


When your horse’s life seems ideal on the surface, but you still wonder whether there could be a piece missing, read on. When your horse struggles with behavior problems or stable vices and you’re looking for fresh ideas, read on. When you’re on a budget but want your horse to live his best life, read on. And if you just want to have more fun with your equine friend, definitely read on!

A happy horse is a joy to be around and will give his best during training, riding, and handling. A happy horse whose needs are met is more emotionally stable, trainable, and friendly. We all want a great relationship with our horses, whether they’re competition partners or backyard companions.

Horsekeeping is more advanced than ever before: today, incredible technology and new research let us provide an excellent diet, high-quality athletic training, and state-of-the-art vet care. Horses often enjoy a longer lifespan. And you— whether a horse owner, barn manager, or trainer—can strive to give your horse the best life possible. But are things perfect for today’s horses? The truth is that even with all these advancements, horses often struggle. Everyone knows a horse who seems to have a troubled attitude or is a real headache around the barn. You might own a horse like this yourself!

It’s easy to lay blame on the horse for his unwanted behaviors. But by taking a step back and looking at your horse with fresh eyes, you can see that some parts of his modern lifestyle might not be meeting his needs, and, instead, are creating a daily struggle for him. The way you care for your horse has a huge impact on his mental health as well as physical wellness. Boredom, frustration,

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and anxiety take a toll on their quality of life and can contribute to significant behavioral and health problems. The more you learn about how horses think and experience the world, the clearer the picture becomes: all horses, from the most pampered athlete to the humblest backyard pony, need enrichment, stimulation, and the chance to enjoy an equine-appropriate life.


Your horse lives in well-appointed stall or manicured paddock. He doesn’t have to work too much and has tasty meals delivered on the regular. He’s pretty much treated like royalty—how could he be bored? Just like Princess Jasmine in her palace or Rapunzel in her tower, plush living spaces aren’t what horses dream of. There’s more to life than easy meals and fancy stalls! Horses require stimulation and interest.

Humans might compare boredom to being lazy or unmotivated, but these concepts aren’t the same. Boredom in animals doesn’t come from laziness, and it’s not a flaw or failing. It’s a negative emotional state caused by a combination of factors: not having enough stimulation for the brain, body, and senses, and having too few opportunities to express natural behaviors.

To return to our fairy tale reference, it’s the same swirl of restlessness and frustration the princess feels when the castle she’s trapped in never seems to change, and when she knows there’s so much she could be doing if only she had the chance.

If you want to give your horse the best life possible, add enrichment—items and experiences that promote natural horse behavior, and in spaces that are right for their species. If you’ve realized that your horse’s current routine doesn’t provide much stimulation or makes natural behaviors impossible, or if your horse is facing a period of stall rest after injury, don’t worry. There’s plenty you can do to make things better.


Enrichment is anything that encourages your horse’s natural behaviors and helps him live a rich and interesting life. Equine “boredom-busters” like stall toys are one type of enrichment. Enrichment also includes special activities, social experiences, changes in pasture layout, and lots

more. If an object or activity encourages your horse to express natural behaviors like grazing, exploring, playing, or grooming, it’s enrichment.

“Behavioral care” means ensuring the expression of natural behaviors. It deserves the same consideration as physical care, but is still a relatively new concept at many equine facilities. It is the missing piece that easily elevates your horse’s well-being. As an equestrian, you’ll find it empowering to know that you’re giving your horse the same interesting quality of life that you’d want for your house pets, kids, or yourself. And there are often tangible benefits to meeting your horse’s need for behavioral expression—everything from less wear and tear on property to smoother, safer riding and handling.

Enrichment is also a must for horses who experience sudden changes, especially being confined to a stall after injury. The transition from their normal routine and outdoor time to constant confinement amplifies all three factors of boredom and can take a huge toll on your horse’s mental health. Injury or illness is already a challenging time, filled with unexpected change, physical discomfort, and a loss of agency and control. Creating a good boredom relief strategy can help your convalescent horse feel his best during long hours in the stable.


When your horse’s environment provides the Three Fundamentals of Forage, Friends, and Movement, extra enrichment like toys, puzzles, and special experiences aren’t must-haves, but they are always fun. Toys, puzzles, and fun activities keep your horse mentally engaged, encouraging creative problem solving, and help keep boredom at bay both by stimulating the mind and occupying the body. Items with varied textures, sounds, sights, and smells let your horse use his senses and enjoy exploration.

But enrichment is about more than just toys. Enriched environments—featuring hills, varying ground surfaces, plant diversity and more—promote coordination and good body condition. And equine-appropriate care and lifestyles that prioritize life outdoors, social relationships, and natural feeding are both enriching and good for overall health. The options for environmental enrichment are many. With a little creativity and the desire to improve your horse’s happiness, you can turn just about any part of your horse’s home into an enriching and enjoyable space!

To order a copy, go to: products/no-bored-horses

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A simple paddock enrichment: feed served on pans between landscape timbers creates texture and interest and provides a more natural feeding experience


“Where You Release Is What You Teach” BY VAN HARGIS

Reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books

SEVERAL YEARS AGO , I was asked by the Idaho Horse Council to be a presenter at the Idaho Horse Exposition. Occasionally at expos, I get the opportunity to watch other trainers and presenters. In one presentation at the Idaho Horse Fair, a trainer was working with a horse that would not allow electric clippers around her ears and bridle path. The trainer was prepared to show the audience how this could be achieved quietly, calmly, and without restraint or sedation.

When he turned the clippers on and the mare heard the quiet buzzing of the electric motor and clipper blades, she abruptly and fearfully moved away from the trainer and the sound. The trainer quietly and calmly maintained control of the mare and simply moved with her as she tried to distance herself from the annoying buzzing noise. He did not try to prevent her reaction or restrain her, he merely kept her from completely bolting away. The very moment the mare stopped trying to move away, or even acted as if she was about to stop moving, he turned the clippers off and reached up and gently rubbed the mare with his hand. The behavior he wanted from the mare was for her to stay put and relax, so he rewarded that behavior. When he turned on the clippers and she reacted by moving or flinching, the clippers would remain on. As the mare again regained her composure, the clippers were turned off.

In the beginning the mare could not stand still, but gradually learned to remain calm as the trainer moved closer and closer with the clippers on. In time, trust was gained and empowerment was established. The horse learned to trust that the clippers were not harmful and the trainer was not going to force

them on her. The mare also learned to control her own emotions and physical response. She learned that she was empowered. How? She had a wee bit of control of the situation. Her behavior determined if the clippers approached or not, and that they did so at a pace she was comfortable with.

In short, the trainer was rewarding the behavior he desired by removing pressure. He repeated this practice several times and got to the point where he could turn on the clippers and the mare wouldn’t move a muscle. He could turn them on and lean toward her and get the clippers within six or eight inches. When she showed signs of being a little worried, he’d stop at that exact point and wait for her to regain her composure, once again trusting him and the clippers at the new (closer) distance. When she calmed, he’d turn off the clippers and move away from her. He persisted in this way until eventually he touched the mare with the clippers. She heard their sound and felt their vibration as they made contact with her body, yet now, she did not try to flee. And when she relaxed, he moved them away from her.

“Where you release is what you teach,” the clinician told the audience. That was his lesson. I am sure everyone

else thought the same thing I did: Where you release? What?

Of course, the answer is where you release the pressure is what you teach the horse.

Here’s what I want people to realize about pressure: Pressure is perceived. It’s not always physical. At that demonstration, it was not that the clippers were touching or cutting her hair that had her scared. It was just the presence and the sound of them that pressured the mare into reacting (she distanced herself from the clippers, moving to an area she perceived as safer and less threatening). Too often, when a horse behaves in an unexpected or undesired way, people say, “I wasn’t doing anything to the horse.” It doesn’t matter. Sometimes it is your mere presence that is the source of pressure. Sometimes you don’t have to “do” anything. It’s the horse’s perception of danger or safety that determines his reaction or response.

So, I’ve coined an addition to go with the lesson the trainer shared with the audience that day: there is applied pressure and implied pressure.

There was no physical pressure applied to the mare, but there was implied pressure when he was with her and the clippers were on. The clinician didn’t physically touch or chase her with them. He didn’t do anything to her—but there was implied pressure. He could tell that was the only amount of pressure the mare could take. Anything more than that and she would have given him more adverse behavior. And then, the very second the trainer got something positive, he turned the clippers off. “Where you release [the pressure - applied or implied] is what you teach.” What you teach depends on what behavior you want.

170 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

In this case, he wanted the horse to stand still and be clipped. So he made it a step-by-step process, pairing the release with standing still, and then gradually, allowing the clippers to come into contact with her body. By the time the whole process was over, he had her bridle path and both ears trimmed. The horse was calm and relaxed. It took less than an hour.

I thought, That sure beats tying them down, putting a twitch on them, sedating them, and forcing them to be clipped. Not that I believed in using any of those methods, but that’s what a lot of people would resort to instead of taking the time to teach the horse with the release. We must realize that in the horse’s

world, it’s all about pressure or the release of pressure. Either there is peace, harmony, balance, and efficiency for them, or there’s a reason for them to move their feet and consume energy and calories to avoid pressure—and seek peace, harmony, balance, and efficiency again. Our reward for them is, when we take that pressure away and give them a moment of peace, harmony, balance, and efficiency. Sometimes, just a moment to experience that which they seek is all they need to get the message.

For more information, or to purchase the book, visit

We must realize that in the horse’s world, it’s all about pressure or the release of pressure. ... Our reward for them is, when we take that pressure away and give them a moment of peace, harmony, balance, and efficiency.
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Reprinted with permission from the author

AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 962 from Raleigh to Charlotte was packed as tight as a Thanksgiving turkey. But compliments of my dearest friend, Betsy, we were sitting in the rarified air of first class on this, and the connecting leg, to Palm Beach. I was riding shotgun, so to speak, for a two-night trip to Wellington, Florida, to help Betsy look at some horses and hopefully find “the one.” My duties as a high school art teacher were on hold during winter break, which allowed me the freedom to come along and add my two cents. Seldom was I at a loss for an opinion, and when trying out horses, an additional rider and another set of eyes and ears was always a plus.

Betsy fell asleep as I watched the midday December sun slip in an out of the fast-moving clouds. This was our third excursion to Wellington, seventeen years after I’d made my maiden voyage with her to look for a new mount. Finding just the right fit of horse and rider is more difficult than one might think, and you have to sift through a great deal of sand to find the true gem. Betsy had been very fortunate with her choices over the years, and we hoped this trip would prove just as rewarding.

Being along for the ride offered me

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“Riding is a bit like the old fable of the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins out in the end.”
COMING TO AUDIBLE IN FALL 2024 Get your copy at

several luxuries: not caring about the price tag, getting to ride some wonderful horses, and staying in an amazing home in Palm Beach. Ellen, Betsy’s cousin, had a winter house there and allowed us full rein of her property when we were in town.

The first time I’d visited, I hadn’t changed from my school clothes and arrived sporting a faded pair of slacks, tennis shoes, and an oversized sweater. Clearly, I didn’t quite understand the definition of knock-around clothes among the rich and richer, and I knew the second I disembarked that I was terribly under-dressed. The next day was slightly better, wearing breeches and tall boots, even though they were last year’s design, and I promised myself to never repeat that mistake. It wasn’t that I didn’t own suitable clothes, just that I hadn’t brought them.

Returning my seat to the upright position as we prepared for landing, I smiled, thinking, your arrival outfit has come a long way, Sarah Sams: from faded cargo pants and Keds to Ralph Lauren and Ferragamo.

Ellen’s property overlooked the Atlantic, and we were offered the use of not only her home, but everything that came with it: a housekeeping staff, a car and driver, even a personal chef. Holy cats, this was top-drawer living at its best and a complete one-eighty from my working-mother, ham-sandwich-forlunch way of life.

The driver was waiting for us at baggage claim, and after securing our luggage, we were on our way. Crossing over Royal Park Bridge, I knew we were getting close. Ellen’s home oozed good taste and gentility. After a late dinner on the patio and a drink overlooking the ocean, we were off to bed. The guest rooms were decorated no doubt by a professional granted an eye-popping budget.

The next morning, we headed to

Wellington—one beautiful horse farm after another—home of the Winter Equestrian Festival, or WEF—and a cornucopia for horse hunting. Henry Black was Betsy’s go-to-guy and owned a farm outside of the village. We rode five horses that day, and she fell in love with one in particular. Henry agreed to ship the big Thoroughbred to Betsy’s farm in Hadley Falls for a two-week trial. After signing all the necessary paperwork, we were invited to join Henry and his wife for dinner at their club. It was a wonderful old place, and we enjoyed a relaxing meal in our come-as-you-are riding clothes. We talked horses, and horse showing, for hours.

On the return flight to Raleigh, Betsy practiced the “I found an amazing horse and he’ll be here in three days” speech she’d use on her husband.

“This is ridiculous,” I said stopping her midsentence. “We’ve come here three times in seventeen years and have found a horse each time. Frank knows you’re not coming home empty- handed.”

“Yes, but this one is way over budget,” Betsy said.

“They’re all over budget,” I laughed. “Frank will grumble over the cost, but in the end he doesn’t care. That horse is the perfect adult hunter, never refuses a jump, and you’ll be in the ribbons every time. All your husband really cares about is that you’re happy.”

“Will you tell him for me?” she squeaked, closing her eyes.

“I absolutely will not,” I said. “Now eat your first-class mixed nuts and stop worrying.”

My husband, Parker, met us outside baggage claim, and we chattered on and on about our three days in “tall cotton” while making the hour drive to Hadley Falls. Dropping Betsy off at her farm, I wished my friend all the luck in delivering her “guess what I found” soliloquy.


Jane W. Rankin’s first novel in the “Rowdy Girls” series, Sour Grapes & Sweet Tea, was published in 2019, and Sweet Tea & Fireflies in 2023, both by Winfree Oaks Publishing. She is also the author of The Woman Equestrian, published in 2003 by Wish Publishing, and has been published in The Chronicle of the Horse periodical and the Amateurs Like Us weekly blog. Jane is a retired public school art educator, mother of two adult daughters, and grandmother of one precious granddaughter. She lives in Denver, NC.

The rest of the evening was spent with Parker watching a bowl game, me unpacking my carry-on suitcase, and Annie, our golden retriever, sniffing my bag in an effort to determine where I had been.

“Remember, we’re going to Bill and Margaret’s tomorrow night to ring in 2008,” I said, on my way to the laundry room.

“Ugh, that thing is so boring,” he moaned. “It’s the same every year.”

“Of course it’s the same every year,” I said. “So are Christmas morning, Valentine’s Day, and Thanksgiving, just to name a few.”

“Well, we’re leaving right after the ball drops,” Parker insisted.

“Okay, but why don’t you want to go all of a sudden?” I asked. “You’ve always had such a good time.”

“I’m just tired of it,” Parker said shrugging, and sighing.

How strange, I thought. Parker loved parties—especially this one. I decided not to press the issue. I’d spent the past three days in the lap of luxury having a great time, and maybe he was envious. It would pass, I was sure of it.

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WHEREVER YOU LISTEN TO PODCASTS Apple Podcasts, Spotify and your favorite podcast app



Reprinted with permission from the author

IMOGEN WAS incredibly disoriented. Once again, she woke up and had this sense that she was somewhere unfamiliar. It was unnaturally quiet. No cars were whipping by or honking. It was still dark outside, but there was a lightening that signaled impending morning. Some small noise or movement had woken her. Her eyes were crusty, and she dimly remembered Gabe waking her up every few hours to ask her questions. God, he was persistent.

Ugh, the concussion. Memories of the moose, the hospital, and sleeping in some strange man’s house in Vermont came tumbling back, and she groaned audibly.

At the noise, a shadow in her window shifted and became larger.

Her breath caught for a moment in surprise. Was there someone outside? It was barely dawn, but she was in the mountains so it could be a bear or something. The size seemed about right. If it was another moose, she was packing her bags and going straight back home.

Refusing to be intimidated, after all, her dog was snoozing peacefully curled up in a ball at the foot of the bed, Imogen slowly crept to the window. When she was in position, she whipped the curtains back suddenly, intending to

surprise the lurker. Instead, she was the one to let out a blood-curdling scream. Cookie jumped up, hackles raised, and began to howl.

Imogen just stood there, dumbfounded.

It wasn’t a bear at all. The dark brown horse stared back at her, unwavering despite the noise. The only thing showing he was even a little nervous was a wide eye and flared nostrils, fogging the glass as he stared right back at her through the partially-opened window. What the heck?

Imogen knew Gabe had some animals on the property, it seemed like a little farm, but was this horse wild? The barn was on the other side of the house. They stayed like that for a time, just staring at each other. Then the

moment was broken when Gabe came running into the room, sliding into the doorjamb, and stubbing his toe. He let out a curse, hopping on one foot, but didn’t stop his forward motion toward Imogen.

“Are you okay? What the hell was that scream? Are you hurt?” The questions were fired in rapid succession, but Imogen didn’t hear them. She was intent on his naked chest and was surprised to find covered in tattoos. He seemed so straight and narrow earlier, but damned if she didn’t like that he had a little edge.

No, down girl. You have a head injury and are only here temporarily. Besides, she had never been the type to jump into something physical without a relationship. He was off limits.

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From The Plaid Horse managing editor Rennie Dyball, a picture book that encourages kids to accept and celebrate ALL bodies …

Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Rennie is the co-author of Show Strides with Piper Klemm, competes in the adult amateur hunter and equitation divisions, and is a passionate believer that all bodies are good bodies.


“Sorry, there was something outside my window and I panicked.” She pointed at the animal who miraculously still stood outside watching them, no, not watching but actively trying to open the window with his mouth. What in the world? “Did your horse get out?”

Gabe winced as another pain throbbed through his toe. His heart was still trying to regulate. He never wanted to hear her scream like that again; it had taken years off his life. Even stationed in Afghanistan, where he’d live on the edge of something bad happening at any minute, hadn’t caused his heart to skip like this. There was just something about her innocent appearance and iron-strong personality that he found he wanted to protect.

“That’s not one of my horses, but he does look familiar.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s almost time for me to feed the

animals anyway. Let’s get dressed and go outside. It’s weird he’s just standing there. Horses usually run away at loud noises.”

He smirked at Imogen, but she just laughed. “I screamed but you yelled loudly too. How is the baby toe?”

Gabe refused to smile at her teasing tone, but he wanted to, she could tell. “Just fine, thanks. I’m a big boy.”

He left the room to don some clothes,

while Imogen watched him limp away. She turned once again to the window and said, “You stay right there, you have some explaining to do.” The horse just blinked at her, then shook his head, his forelock settling haphazardly over his ears in a goofy way.

To learn more about the author, visit



Wildlife Photographer Wiki West documents her adventures with Zambian Horseback Safaris

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UR EXPEDITION with Zambian Horseback

Safaris unveiled the vibrant ecosystem of the Zambezi oodplains in the Simalaha Community Conservancy, a pristine area inaccessible to other tourists. Under the guidance of experienced horseman Doug, we traversed these vast open plains, where the absence of holes allowed us the unparalleled freedom to gallop alongside herds of zebra, hundreds of red lechwe, and even African bu alo. On our last day, we encountered an impressive herd of 17 gira es. The wildlife mingled seamlessly with the traditional cattle-herding and shing practices of the Lozi people, o ering us an authentic African experience. A er long hours of riding, we returned to the comforting luxury of our accommodations and savored the richness of home-grown local cuisine.

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What struck me was the sheer number of breathtaking moments in just a few days: standing in silence as red lechwe leaped past, in awe of over twenty giraffes moving gracefully through the bush, and the rush of galloping alongside zebras with thunder rolling in the background.”

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Sitting (and Staying)

“On Top”


THERE YOU ARE, at the bottom of the list to come back for round two, or last to go for the work-off. What does that mean? In a millisecond it registers in your mind (and the butterflies start racing in your stomach): you’re on top.  Fantastic! Exactly where you wanted to be, right? Or is it?

Being in the top spot is a challenge unto itself for a lot of riders, but why? Isn’t it what you worked so hard to achieve? To be sure, coming back under pressure and nailing your round takes mental discipline, focus and strength. Here are some useful suggestions to help you succeed in those moments.


Once you realize you are sitting in the top spot, you may notice a compulsion to start thinking a lot. Making mental notes of what to do, what not to do, what to be careful of, awareness of what others are doing, worrying about the “what-ifs”—the list can be endless. Instead of giving in to this over-thinking, keep your thoughts simple and smart.  For example, as you wait in the line-up for your work-off or test, simplify your priorities. Decide your first goal is to wake your horse up and go forward when they call your number for your turn, for example. You may even say, “Forward with purpose” to yourself to keep your mind quiet. Another example of keeping it simple would be to take one thing that you did

“It’s more difficult to stay on top than to get there.”

well in the first round of the derby and focus on how to integrate that into your handy round. So, let’s say your trainer gave you feedback that you did a great job of keeping your reins short and your horse’s balance up. After a brief time to reflect, you realize those two things would be great, clear-cut things to focus on in the handy round to keep you riding effectively.


Be sure to stay aware of how you feel mentally and physically. Are you energized? Centered? Taking deep breaths? Strong? Hopefully the answer is yes! However, going in “on top” can hinder all these positive factors by putting you in a type of protection mode where you tend to adopt a defensive attitude. You want to “hold on” and keep what you have. When this happens, you go in trying to protect your lead, instead of simply going for it and riding your best. Feeling nervous about the outcome can manifest as tension in your muscles,

curling up or adopting a bit of the ‘fetal position’, excessive worry, self-criticism, and a striving for perfection that can result in doing nothing. (e.g. You may rationalize that if you take your leg off and make no decision—then you won’t have done anything wrong).

To help combat this effect, stay aware of how you feel. Take a couple of minutes to breathe while maintaining a special awareness on your posture. Inhale slowly as you lift your chin and open your chest. Exhale slowly through your mouth and lower your center of gravity so that you feel grounded and weighted at the bottom of your belly. As you wait your turn with these breaths, briefly look at a fixed point such as your horse’s braids or a fixed point ahead of you to direct your attention inwards. As you do this, consciously direct the energy you feel into physical strength, poise, and confidence.


Once you have registered where you are in the standings, be mindful. Take

196 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

nothing for granted. Truly. Paying careful attention to details in your preparation routine is often what created the great first round ride to begin with, so stay on it. Remain vigilant and careful about your down time the night before, the morning of, and immediately before the next round.

Did you eat an early breakfast? Take your horse on a peaceful hand-walk? Use time alone in the tack room to listen to your playlist? Visualize your round in detail before you got on your horse? To be successful it comes down to the little things, both in and out of the ring. Being mindful to act on your pre-ride routine (making choices that are appropriate for the amount of time you have) will help get you into your groove and enable you to produce a terrific second round.


Sitting on top going into the last round of any final, classic or championship should never lull you into thinking

that you should ‘just do exactly what you did in the last round.’ This is a dangerous attitude because: 1) It is impossible, 2) it has you looking backwards instead of forwards, 3) it assumes you can’t possibly ride any better, 4) it does not contain any action or performance cues.

Let’s face it: in any performance there is always room for improvement. Each trip contains things that can be done better, opportunities to fine-tune details and smooth out the overall trip. Remember, it is the assertive ride in which you are not only looking to be effective and ride well, but also striving to improve yourself and your horse that will result in success. Going in hungry to show off what you do well and improve on any specific areas you identified in the last round sets you up to be pro-active and ride your best. Stay process-oriented and do not allow your position in the order to distract you from the very things that helped you get there in the first place. Dig in and believe in yourself—you can do it!

“It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. What is tough is being good every day.”



Tonya Johnston, MA, is an equestrian mental skills coach with over 30 years of experience helping riders of all levels be their best. She conducts “Mental Skills for Riders” clinics throughout the country or via Zoom and does phone consultations with individual clients. Her book “Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with your Horse” is available on Amazon and Audible. Tonya has a monthly “Inside Your Ride” podcast that is a part of the Plaidcast. Connect with Tonya at 510.418.3664 or

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PHOTO GALLERY APRIL 2024 • CULPEPER, VA PHOTOS: ALISON HARTWELL PHOTOGRAPHY 1 Arianna Altschuler and Good2Know in the $500 Tiny Bit O’ Hunter Derby 2 Melissa Strawser and Darwin De Mars 3 Courtney Morton and Kenai 4 Wilhelmina Horzepa and College Fund kick off the STX Speed Series • 5 The future of the hunter ring looks ahead 6 Goliath and Addison Reed top the $20,000 CWD Open Prix 1 2 3 4 5 6 HITS Commonwealth
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USET Foundation’s ‘Equestrians in Paris’ West Coast Benefit Gala a Rousing Success

THE UNITED STATES EQUESTRIAN TEAM (USET) Foundation’s “Equestrians in Paris” benefit event raised $475,000 to support the U.S. equestrian teams competing at the upcoming 2024 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Held on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar, California, the event was hosted by 2023 Miss California Sabrina Lewis, and benefit co-chairs Sean Caddell, Katherine Annie Finch, Laura Maloney, Patricia Mayer, and Francie Nilforushan, as well as several athlete host committee and benefit committee members. More than 500 attended and there was live music and equestrian performances, both presented by Halter Ego.

“The event was a spectacular success, and I’m so humbled by all of our donors and supporters for their role in helping our athletes achieve their Olympic and Paralympic dreams,” said Lisa Munro, Director of Development, USET Foundation. “The generosity of our community is crucial, especially in an Olympic and Paralympic year. Unlike in some other countries, U.S. equestrian sport does not receive government funding. As a result, our athletes rely solely on the support of US Equestrian (USEF) and funds raised from the USET Foundation. It’s truly a team effort.

“This evening was particularly special because we were able to celebrate our avid community of West Coast-based supporters and equestrians,” Munro continued. “This community plays an integral role in furthering the USET Foundation’s mission, so I’m delighted with the outcome of ‘Equestrians in Paris’. It will bolster the support we can provide our athletes as we cheer them on at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

In the highly anticipated silent auction, a month of residential training with U.S. Dressage Chef d’Equipe Christine Traurig and Sabine Schut-Kery in California attracted a bidding frenzy.

The private jet roundtrip flights donated to the silent auction by Sky Partners were another hot item, with

the company deciding to offer a second identical lot on the spur of the moment. There was also much interest in the private dinner cooked by Guenter Seidel with wine served by Traurig.

Guests were awed by spectacular demonstrations from several top athletes including U.S. Olympic dressage medalists Seidel, Steffen Peters, and Schut-Kery, as well as U.S. FEI Dressage World Equestrian Games bronze medalist Kathleen Raine and a liberty performance to the national anthem. The dressage riders brought with them a host of experience, in the shape of a dazzling 20 medals between them for the United States from Olympic Games, World Equestrian Games, and Pan American Games.

Olympic show jumping team gold medalist Will Simpson also led a unique performance with his daughter and North American Youth Championships show jumping gold and bronze medalist Sophie Simpson-Leckie. Their tandem jumping performance was a highlight of their demonstration.

Honorary chairman Mark Wahlberg donated a VIP experience at the premiere of one of his upcoming films. Other lots included an Olympic VIP package experience with gold level dressage hospitality passes and a private course walk and VIP tickets to the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, among others.

“With Paris 2024 just months away, the USET Foundation would like to emphasize our appreciation to our devoted donors and supporters who have contributed greatly to the thriving West Coast equestrian community,” concluded Munro. “In addition to all of those in attendance, I want to express my sincere gratitude to our benefit chairmen and committee members, as well as our sponsors. Thanks to the unparalleled collective effort, our U.S equestrian teams will have a very exciting and momentous year ahead.”

For additional information or to support the USET Foundation and the U.S. equestrian athletes headed to the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, visit

2 3
202 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

1 Liberty demonstration

2 Olympic show jumping team

gold medalist Will Simpson and daughter Sophie Simpson-Leckie

3 Some of the 500+ attendees

waving USA ags • 4 U.S. Dressage

Chef d’Equipe Christine Traurig and U.S. Olympic medalist Guenter

Seidel were part of the silent auction • 5 U.S. Olympic medalist

Steffen Peters and WEG competitor

Kathleen Raine were part of a dressage quadrille demonstration










CENTER... 75
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Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic

Home of North America’s First Grand Prix


Congratulations to every horse-andrider combination who competed in last year’s Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic! Here’s a closer look at a few of the 2023 winners.



Chagrin Trails and Riding Club starts fundraising for a two-day horse show at Cleveland Metroparks Polo Field to raise money for clubhouse repairs.


The two-day show has evolved to a major hunter/jumper horse show and the Riding Club looks for new horse show management.

Local horsemen from Chagrin Valley PHA (Professional Horsemen’s Assn.) and nonpro t Board of volunteers take over horse show and continue growth.


The Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show is held at the Cleveland Metroparks Polo Field and proceeds bene t the United States Equestrian Team (USET).

Laddie Andahazy and D. Jerry Baker approach the new Chagrin Valley PHA to host the rst show jumping Grand Prix in North America in response to U.S. Equestrian Team’s need to compete on an international stage and build show jumping in America. On July 25, 1965, the Cleveland Grand Prix was held with a $3,000 purse sponsored by J. Basil Ward and won by Mary Mairs Chapot


Each year, a special panel of judges awards the Sarah Allison Steffee Sportsmanship Award to the junior or young rider who exhibits the most exemplary conduct around the showgrounds. For her fantastic sportsmanship, manners, dress, and consideration of others including her own horses, Julia Rice of Hinckley was honored with this award in 2023.

Rice was a busy competitor at last year’s Classic, riding multiple horses in the hunter and jumper rings while cheering on her fellow exhibitors. Alongside the Sportsmanship Award, she brought home a second-place nish in the $1,500 Open Speed Stake and the Children’s Jumper Reserve Championship with Metro Lass, a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned by Abby Lockwood of Apex, N.C. She was also the Children’s Hunter 14 & Under Champion with To Be Des T, her 11-year-old Warmblood gelding.

aboard Tomboy. Rice (right) with her award 1965: Mary Mairs Chapot and Tomboy, winners of the first Cleveland Grand Prix
204 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
HISTORIC PHOTOS: COURTESY OF The Cleveland Grand Prix: A Show Jumping First by Betty Weibel


Professional Stefanie Portman was on re during the 2023 horse show, supporting the horses and riders of Quiet Meadow Farm while competing successfully in several major classes. The Burton resident strives to tailor each horse’s training program to their unique needs, developing a partnership with their riders to withstand any challenges in the show ring. Her focus on building con dence and knowledge was no more evident than on her own 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Acapulco, with whom she swept every class she entered last year. The pair took top honors in the High Schooling Jumper, $1,500 Open Speed Stake and $9,999 Mini Prix. Stefanie also made several successful appearances in the hunter ring, including a fth-place nish in the $7,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby aboard Famos Amos, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Jodi Fryar of Aurora.


After continued growth, national acclaim, and ongoing weather issues hampering the show, Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show teams up with Gene Mische and Stadium Jumping, Inc. show management.


Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show separates from Stadium Jumping and

runs at various local venues: Lake Erie College George M. Humphrey Equestrian Center in Concord Twp., Ridgewood Horse Show Facility in Medina, and Chagrin Valley Farms in Bainbridge. Stadium Jumping runs shows and the Cleveland Grand Prix at Polo Field.


Chagrin Valley PHA Horse Show relocates to Chagrin Valley Farms in Bainbridge and hosts the $25,000 Cleveland Grand Prix. They add classes for riders with disabilities in partnership with Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center. This runs back-to-back with Stadium Jumping and American Grand Prix events at Polo Field.



Securing the blue ribbon in the $7,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby was Campbell Kahn of Moreland Hills riding Big Casanova. Campbell has worked hard to develop her partnership with her 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding, which was apparent every time they stepped into the ring during last year’s Classic. The duo had fantastic rounds in the hunter and equitation classes all week; they secured not only the Derby win but also championships in the Junior Hunter 3’3”/3’6” Classic, Large Junior Hunter 3’6”, and the 15-17 equitation divisions.

Kahn also nished sixth in the Derby with Coconut On The Rocks Z, a 14-year-old Zangersheide gelding owned by Blackheart’s LLC.

All shows are canceled while new all-weather rings are installed at Polo Field and Chagrin Valley PHA reorganizes, seeking sponsorship and new leadership.


Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic presented by the Chagrin Valley PHA is held at Polo Field with $30,000 KeyBank Cleveland Grand Prix; bene ts USET and the local Therapeutic Riding Center.


Horse show canceled due to COVID and venue restrictions. Lack of corporate sponsorship and riding

costs to maintain the Polo Field add to the issues.


Chagrin Valley Hunter Jumper Classic relocates to Chagrin Valley Farms, which is under new ownership and investing in major improvements to build an outdoor show facility with state-of-the-art footing.


Chagrin Valley PHA Board celebrates 60 years and reorganizes; the horse show continues to grow during its comeback at Chagrin Valley Farms, also hosting riders with disabilities classes.

Kahn and Big Casanova on left Portman and Acapulco 1973: Bernie Trarig with Springdale
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Longines FEI League of Nations

Presented by Lugano Diamonds

1 Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei win the 1.60 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix 2 Aaron Vale and Carissimo 25 during round 1 • 3 Team Ireland during the course walk •

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4 Laura Kraut and Baloutinue • 5 Jur Vrieling and Jourdain
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Creating a Pre-Ride Routine— For YOU

Maintaining pre-ride routines for our horses comes naturally. But what about the riders?


RECENTLY I HAD a few clients in a group training session ask me a great question. Here’s what they wanted to know:

“I feel like I have my horse routine down from when I get to the barn, to when I’m done tacking and ready to ride, but I don’t do anything for me specifically. I would like to do that, but don’t know where to start. What are some things I should be doing to help me create a pre-ride routine for me?”

I thought this was a great question as many other riders are unaware of what’s most important and where to start, so

I’m glad they brought up the topic of creating a pre-ride routine for yourself. Without fail, we always have a routine for our horses, and that becomes second nature with time and practice. It’s such an essential aspect of our time before and in the saddle. The pre-ride routine is overlooked—this is rather normal for riders. I’ll share a few simple things you can do to help you feel more confident; with this information you’ll understand how you can tailor a pre-ride routine that works not just for the horses, but for us too.


You’re absolutely right to think about adding yourself into the equation with your horse. It’s all about setting every scenario for a great ride, both mentally and physically. A pre-ride routine isn’t just another task to ‘check off’; it helps us to lay down a foundation for both of our successes.

Here’s a few key requirements for an equestrian’s pre-ride routine:

• Mindful

• Time efficient

• Personalized

Think of your pre-ride routine as a moment to press pause and get in sync with yourself. It’s about taking a few deep breaths, getting balanced, and shifting

Simmonds is a passionate equestrian and expert fitness trainer dedicated to promoting optimal performance and well-being in the equestrian community with over 12 years of experience. He is also the creator of Equestrian Fitness Academy (EFA), a community driven holistic rider fitness and wellness platform.

into a specific mindset for an awesome ride and deeper connection with your horse. Everyone’s busy, and time at the barn always seems to fly by. Your routine should be quick and seamless within your schedule. To make sure you’re not missing out on precious moments with your horse, do them with your horse if possible.

We’re all unique, and our pre-ride routines should reflect that. What works for one might not work for another, and that’s okay! It’s all about finding what feels good for you.

Most importantly, let’s make sure this routine is your friend, use the K.I.S.S principle of Keep It Short & Simple. This should fit into your daily riding routine without adding stress or burnout.


So, let’s move to the fun part—crafting your perfect pre-ride routine. Think of it as putting together your own recipe for success. Here are three ways to start:

1. Mindful Momentum: You can do this in two ways when you arrive at the barn and or just before getting on your horse. Take a moment for yourself. Find a less busy spot, whether it’s in your car, stall, tack room or a corner of the barn. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let go of any tension and apprehension. This is your time to connect with yourself and set a calmer tone for a great ride.

2. Set Intentions, Not Expectations: Once you’re with your horse and getting ready to tack up, take a few minutes to set your intentions for the ride. Instead of focusing on specific outcomes of what you, your coach or anyone else expects, think about how you want to feel and approach the ride with your partner. It’s all about empowerment and being present in the moment. I always recommend to my clients to talk to your horse as you’re setting these intentions. It sounds funny and might feel weird at first, but the more you communicate with your horse, the easier it is to build a stronger partnership.

3. Warm-Up Movement: Think of the areas that you are tightest in your body and in the saddle. Is it your hips? Ankles? Shoulders? Choose one move for each area that helps you bring more focus and blood flow for your warm up. That could be mounting block calf raises, leg circles, or shoulder rotations. Do this for one to three rounds of 10 reps and I guarantee you’ll feel a difference.

The key to unlocking your best rides yet is becomingintentional, mentally and physically, before each ride. Your pre-ride routine is the secret weapon that strengthens the human-animal bond we all love. Give it a try. All together, this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to do. Experiment with what works for you, but most importantly, enjoy the journey.

Simonds instructing a rider on her heel position while in a deep squat doing a polo wrap
May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 209
Course walk lunges

Longines FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final

1 Indeed with Benjamin Ebeling of the United States stand for the vet check • 2 Charlotte Fry of Britain competes on Everdale to win Grand Prix de Dressage • 3 Nanna Skodborg Merrald of Denmark competes on Blue Hors Don Olymbrio to finish bronze in Grand Prix de Dressage • 4 Patrik Kittel of Sweden competes on Touchdown to finish second in Grand Prix de Dressage


1 2 4 3 210 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

The 2024 Longines FEI


212 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

• April 16 – 20, 2024


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I love to learn and improve. I’m passionate about what I’m doing. So hopefully I can just be a better version of what I’m already doing!”
214 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024

Greya and Kent Farrington Lead Team USA with Impressive Showing at Longines FEI World Cup Finals

KENT FARRINGTON, who was recently shortlisted for the 2024 Olympics, brought home the top spot for Team USA with a 4th place finish just off the podium at 2024 Longines FEI World Cup Finals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This Finals was the first one held outside of the U.S. or Europe and boasted a great crowd. Making his 6th appearance since first representing the team at World Cup Finals in 2006, Farrington split his first two rounds with two up and coming mares at their very first championship, Toulayna and Greya.

“I thought it was a beautiful venue with excellent conditions. We had some of the best horse rider combinations in the world so the level of sport was very high,” Farrington told e Plaid Horse in Saudi Arabia. “I thought it was a good next step for them and would be valuable mileage in helping me get them to the highest level.”

The format of World Cup Finals prioritizes horses who have incredible scope and technical craft over tight courses in an indoor ring. The first round is a Speed class, where Farrington knew the naturally fast Toulayna would shine. For the remainder of the competition, Farrinton paired with Greya, who recently jumped clear in the 5* Saturday Night class in Wellington.

“Greya was always a special athlete that showed extreme carefulness from a young age. I have tried to take my time to produce her the best I can,” said Farrington. While the 10 year old mare has not done many top classes, it is easy to get excited about what her role will be for bringing medals home for Team USA over the next few years.



• 2014 Oldenburg Mare

• (Colestus x Contessa 128)

• Owned by Kent Farrington LLC

• 2014 Zangersheide Mare

• (Toulon x Vuelta)

• Owned by Kent Farrington LLC & Rabbit Root Stables LLC


• Age: 44

• 6th Longines FEI Ranking at Press Time (Longines Rankingsrank: 6 - points: 2982)

• Competed in 735 USEF Rated Shows since records began 1995

• Number of FEI Starts: 2112, Number of Wins: 226

• Pan-American Ranking: 2points: 2970

• 2024 Horsepower: Greya, Landon, Myla, Toulayna

• Gold medal 2023 & 2011 Pan American Games - Team Jumping

• Silver medal 2023 Pan American Games - Individual Jumping

• Won Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva (2017) and the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen (2019)

• Silver medal 2016 Rio Olympics - Team Jumping

• Bronze medal 2015 Pan American Games - Team Jumping

• First American to win the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) Rolex (2015)

• Won Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows (2014)

• Gold Medal 1999 North American Young Riders Competition (age 18)

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 215
May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 217
Losing is often the driving force behind learning and improvement. Run your own
and put
into things you can control.” KENT FARRINGTON :


• USEF RATED SHOWS: 496, since recording began 1998




- Points: 421

• HORSEPOWER 2024: Cassirado BF, Sonata BF


• COMPETED IN: 496 USEF Rated Shows


Celebration turns to tragedy for Humphrey and Chromatic BF

BRILLIANT HIGHS for Chromatic BF and Jill Humphrey, 42 of California, turned to tragedy with the unfortunate passing of Chromatic after the second round. After an impressive double clear for 3rd place, the pair was sitting in 5th place going into the final round.

Jill has represented Team USA prior at the FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas in 2007. Humphrey has earned over $500,000 in USHJA prize money and Qualified in World Cup standings by winning the $78,000 Premier Air Welcome CSI-4*-W at the Sacramento International Horse Show. She earned third place finishes in both the $226,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier at the Las Vegas National Horse Show and the $250,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier at the Fort Worth International, presented by Lugano Diamonds.

218 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024



• AGE: 42


• COMPETED IN: 425 USEF Rated Shows since recording began 1999



• PAN-AMERICAN RANKINGS : Rank: 47Points: 1365

• LONGINES RANKINGS: Rank: 223Points: 925

• HORSEPOWER IN 2024: Eddie Blue


• COMPETED IN: 253 USEF Rated Shows since 2011



• PAN-AMERICAN RANKINGS: Rank: 198 - Points: 350


• AGE: 22


• COMPETED IN: USEF 188 Rated Shows since 2009



• PAN-AMERICAN RANKINGS : Rank: 138Points: 588

• LONGINES RANKINGS : Rank: 691Points: 287

• HORSEPOWER IN 2024: A-Girl, Unchained 2

• LONGINES RANKINGS: Rank: 263 - Points: 791

• HORSEPOWER IN 2024: Citoki, Coolio 23, Crunch K, Tornado

First Appearance for Young Rider

AT 19 YEARS OLD, Skylar Wireman had an impressive finish for clear and 10th in the first round of FEI World Cup Finals and electing to put her horse first, chose to scratch the final rounds after struggling in the second round. This was her first time in international competition for Team USA donning her pinque coat and at only 10 years old, Tornado will gain valuable experience in competition before surely again representing the Team.

May/June 2024 THE PLAID HORSE 219


Anything truly worthwhile will take time. Hold the course and believe in yourself and be true to yourself.”
220 THE PLAID HORSE May/June 2024
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• Six Weeks of USEF Rated Competition

• July 3 – August 11

HITS Del Mar – Del Mar, CA

• Seven Weeks of USEF Rated Competition

• Two Weeks of FEI CSI 2* (Summer Classic I & II)

• Don’t Miss the , April 30 – May 5!

• April 30 – September 29 For Prize List & Schedule details visit

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