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A Life The Barn Builds

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A Life The Barn Builds

By: Heather Henken


I distinctly remember feelings of both excitement and nerves while walking into a musky barn one chilly afternoon for my first ever riding lesson. I was 10 years old and I had longed for something more than a pony ride for quite some. That first lesson we spent a large portion of our time grooming and tacking. I remember using all of my might to try to fasten the girth and then watching my instructor tighten it with ease. The trek across the indoor arena reminded me of walking on a beach, except I was navigating the deep sand in boots and layers of clothes, rather than a swimsuit and flip flops. My helmet shifted over my eyes (note improper fit) as I mounted the horse and I learned about sitting balanced in the saddle. As my horse walked in a circle around the instructor on the lung line, I got to learn and practice stopping my horse and I even got a chance to try to stand up in my stirrups. The whole thing was simply perfect in my eyes, and while we were at the barn for over an hour the time went by way too fast.

While that first lesson was a 1 off, I fell in love with horses and riding and I couldn’t wait to ride again. Soon thereafter, my younger sister and I got to start riding lessons at a local lesson barn. I started lessons there on a grey pony named Romeo. I took several lessons on Romeo, learning to trot and post. Romeo even took me over my first jump! As I started becoming more skilled I got to ride more and more horses, each of them very different from the last. Each of them challenged my skill.


I very quickly was obsessed with horses. I always dreamed about being at the barn when I was not there. I always waited eagerly for the next issue of my Young Rider magazine to arrive in the mail. I drew pictures of horses and frequently designed blueprints of barns and fields that I would one day own (this I’m still working on). I always had buckets, brooms, mops, and whatever else I could find set up in my backyard as jumping courses and I would drag our family dog over until we were both exhausted. I longed to spend a summer at sleep away riding and I would wish daily for my own horse and beg my parents for one every Birthdays and Christmas.

Once I was in middle school, the person that I took lessons from moved to a new barn and over the years she faded out her lesson program to work outside of the barn. Around that same time my parents were separating and the barn became my refuge. It didn’t matter if I was grooming, feeding, turning out, clean stalls, clean tack, riding, or whatever else needed done, I was happy to do it, the barn was my happy place. The lady that ran the barn appreciated my help around the barn so much that she would drive out of her way on her way home from work to pick me up several days a week and drive me home when we were done. I got many hours at the barn during that time frame which over the years turned into me working with young ponies that she bred. A lot of what I did with the ponies was trial and error, I would go slow, starting by leading them around the ring, doing lots of ground work to get them comfortable, then adding tack piece by piece over the weeks. I would work the ponies up to standing near a step and gradually start introducing them to weight in the saddle on their back. Before long we were trotting and cantering around. I loved this process, slow and steady, soft and forgiving, this way the ponies would trust me. Doing this independently made me proud. I ended up starting many ponies and a hand full of horses in my later teen years. I never stayed in contact or followed were the horses went but throughout my career I would occasionally run into them at shows or hear that they have become lesson ponies. 


When I turned 16 and got my drivers license I spent even more time at the barn. Now that I could drive, I got a job at show hunter barn, which introduced me more into the professional world of horses. Working in a beautiful clean facility with really nice show horses was very different from my prior horse experiences. I was asked if I wanted to be a show groom and travel with the horses to shows (a totally foreign concept that I didn’t even know existed). I thought to myself, do people actually take horses to shows and stay for several days? How? I had no idea what or how this worked but I was eager to experience it! This led to countless long weekends of staying in hotels, waking up well before the sun came up and working to dark. As time went by, I was trusted with more and more responsibility. One of the most interesting horse shows I worked at was the Washington International Horse Show, because this show, the horses layover at a different facility and then ship in to DC on 18 wheelers. The first time handling a fancy horse on DC street and bathing a horse in a parking garage was something else! This job really allowed me to network and learn from some of the best professionals in the area. 


After leaving for 1 year attending a 4 year college I moved back home to work and take classes at the community college and continued to work at the show barn. I soon landed a job with housing at Virginia Equine Imaging where I continued to develop a passion for detailed horse care. I learned so much working alongside Dr. Allen and Dr. Johns. I loved working in the clinic assisting such amazing horses. I got the pleasure of working with some of the world’s most talented horses like Teddy O’Conner. I got to do things like radiographs, bone scans and MRI’s as well as lots of sterile preps for injections and jogging horse after horse down the aisle. I also got to spend time with vets on the road traveling around to some stunning stables. During this time I also got to work with some of the Allen families personal hunt horses. I absolutely adored legging them up and helped keeping them fit for hunting because I got to ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. 


These few years were exhausting. I worked 3 days at the clinic and 2-4 days at the show barn depending on if we were on the road showing that week or not. I took night classes after work, which usually started at 7 and ended just before 10. Doing this much wore me out and it took a toll on my body. My allergies continued to worsen. I would have contact allergies from hay and horsehair would put me in hives, eyes that would itch and swell until they were bloodshot and I was having asthma attacks in the middle of the night. I did eventually finish up my associate’s degree and I decided I would finish a 4 year degree to take a step away from being in the barns all the time to give my body a break. I moved south and picked a college based on location where I could still work a little with Dr. Johns when she traveled south and continued to assist the appointments she had in the area.


I finished my bachelor’s degree and moved to Arlington and later got married. After not getting an equine insurance job that I interviewed for, I took a sales job in DC. For several years I really was not around horses or the barn except to substitute teaching some lessons or fill in for a groom that was out. 


One afternoon, in the middle of DC’s hustle and bustle, I got a call from the Equine Insurance Agency that I interviewed at previously. They had a position open and they wanted to hire me! I was beyond thrilled, because I had longed for a job that included my love for horses, but didn’t involve me being in a barn daily due to my allergies. 


A year or so later my husband and I bought a house in Warrenton and with the shorter commute I was looking to spend a little time around horses again to get “my fix”. This is when I came across Sprout.  It was 2013 and I started volunteering one night a week after work. I immediately fell in love with everything about Sprout. Several years later I finally felt that I had the experience and the time to pursue getting certified to teach therapeutic riding and made a commitment to teach 1 night a week after work. I really enjoyed everything that teaching therapeutic riding had to offer. 


After starting a family, it became clear, I wanted to focus on things that I found the most gratifying. I decided to leave my full time job as an insurance agent to spend more time doing the things that I care most about.


My time with horses has ingrained in me a work ethic and drive and highlighted my passion for animals. I always dream of having a fancy horse and showing but that is not what keeps me interested. By the time I was about 14, horses were no longer funded by my parents. I occasionally had an opportunity to show but mostly I worked behind the scenes, and I was ok with that. I worked to be able to learn the art of riding and horsemanship from so many wonderful people. My opportunities and experiences came from having people believing in me and giving me that chance to try and I truly believe that’s what got me to where I am today. As an instructor at Sprout, I am now grateful to be in a position to allow students to take those chances, to try, to work through challenges. And with that, I hope that their time in the barn can be as gratifying as mine and take away lessons, experiences and skills that help them in all aspects of life. 


Remembrances of a 10-year old boy and his horse Falcon!

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Remembrances of a 10-year old boy and his horse Falcon!

By:  Tim Mooney  


“I want one of those!”


That is how my love of horses began!


It was early 1965 and my family was beginning another adventure in Southeast Asia after living in Bangkok, Thailand for approximately 3 years.  My father had previously worked for the U.S. Embassy, but was now working for USAID – the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  His first overseas assignment with (USAID) was to Vientiane, Laos as the Director of Public Safety for the American mission.


We arrived on an incredibly hot afternoon to our new home at K-6…the American housing compound – six kilometers from the center of downtown Vientiane.  As we entered the compound and pulled into the driveway of our new home, I saw several kids riding horses.  They were riding bareback…riding fast…and having the time of their lives.

As we were getting out of the car I said to my parents, “I want one of those!”  The reply was swift and definitive from my father.  “We will be getting you, your brother and sister bicycles from Sears”.  It became clear after a few days that getting bicycles shipped from America, from Sears, in 1965 was going to be a major undertaking and cost a great deal.  It also became clear that I was not going to let go of the idea of getting a horse.

After relentless badgering of my parents – and after they found out that the horse would only cost $50 and $5 a month to feed and stable – we began the search for my horse.  I found Falcon pretty quickly and he moved into his new home at K-6.  I loved that horse the minute I saw him and I began riding him with friends from school that same day.  Falcon was friendly, frisky and fast…just what I was looking for in a horse.  He was also very fond of my family; in particular, my mother.  When I would bring Falcon home to graze in the yard, my mother would bring him carrots, bananas (from our trees in the yard) and all sorts of other treats.  She would pet him, wash him and oftentimes walk closely beside and behind him.  I always warned her that Falcon could get spooked and possibly kick her…but she was not worried in the least.  Falcon just nuzzled up close whenever she came around.  I think he was also fond of my older brother Pat…but Pat wasn’t terribly fond of Falcon; particularly after he managed to bite down on the backdoor doorknob, walk into the dining room and head directly for my brother’s birthday cake.  The cake was saved but the relationship suffered greatly!  


There were five or six of us that rode together often – usually 5 – 6 times a week (except during the rainy season when torrential downpours happened daily and often).  We would head to the stables right after school and bridle our horses and ride for hours, bareback, wearing not much more than shorts (at the risk of sounding 1,000 years old, I am not sure they had invented sunscreen at that point!).  We would race throughout the countryside of Laos riding 10 – 15 miles a day.  One of our most favorite things to do was to jump rice paddies while racing with and/or from water buffalo.  We would canter and often gallop through the paddies…racing for hours without a care in the world.  Like most 11 – 12 year olds, we were blissfully unaware of any potential dangers.  We would swim with the horses (just about the most fun I have ever had) in muddy waters with all sorts of things that make me shudder to think about even to this day.  There were leeches (we always carried some salt when we were planning on swimming – in the event we had to remove the leeches from ourselves or the horses), snakes and who knows what other kinds of germs and bacteria in the water.  That said, I think the horses were so large that no other animals dared approach them; at least that is what we told ourselves. 


I am amazed to this day that none of us was ever injured or thrown from our horses…particularly when we were racing with the water buffalo.  It seemed that Falcon and the other horses always seemed to keep us out of harm’s way.  I had three wonderful years riding Falcon.  Outside of my family, he was the most important thing in my life. When word came that we were moving back to the United States and Falcon would not be coming with us…I was inconsolable!  On my final ride with Falcon, I was galloping through a familiar pasture on a brilliant afternoon and remember thinking…”I will never be this free again!”  Little did I know that was indeed the truth!  And little did I know that after finding my way to the “magic” that is Sprout earlier this year…I think I still “want one of those”!!

I  was unable to locate any photographs of Falcon but will share them with you as soon as I can get to our family photo bin (wherever that is these days!).  My friends and colleagues from Sprout want to get me “back in the saddle”.  Until that happens – if it ever happens – this will have to do! 


Hero Horseman – Ruben Troyer

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Ruben Troyer Biography

     My name is Ruben Troyer. I live in Aldie, VA with my wife and my daughter on our four-acre property and in a ranch style single level house.

     I am a civilian employee of the US Army Caisson Platoon. The Caisson Platoon is the last full time equestrian mounted unit in the Department of Defense. It is their mission to serve as a mounted escort to the departed servicemembers who are buried in the Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. It is my full-time job to train the horses that perform those missions.

     My life has involved horses from my youngest experiences and earliest memories. I was raised in Holmes County Ohio in an Amish community. I have worked with horses in practical ways since my youth. As an Amish boy, I would use horses for transportation as well as for farming and recreation. In my teenage years, I developed the desire to train horses rather than to simply use horses that had already been trained by someone else. Through reading books, attending a few training clinics, and a lot of trial and error, I managed to get most of the horses trained that I set out to train. 

     In later years, I would end up leaving the Amish and leaving horses altogether, never thinking that I would ever again do anything professionally that would involve horses. I joined the Army in 2005 and was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard. The Old Guard is responsible for the Memorial Affairs missions for the Army in the Arlington National Cemetery. One of the specialty platoons within the Old Guard is the Caisson Platoon. Due to the extensive 

experience I had with horses earlier in my life, I decided to capitalize on what I already knew, and volunteered to serve in the Caisson Platoon. 

     After the mandatory 10 week course that was required to join the Caisson Platoon, I was assigned to a riding squad that was responsible to perform the the mounted missions that are daily assigned to the Caisson Platoon as well as the maintenance and upkeep of the barn and and the wellfare of the numerous horses we had. Soon, because I had prior experience training horses, I was assigned to help the civilian horse trainer to train the new horses that came to the platoon. I thrived in that position and enjoyed the privilege of being allowed to take horses that are otherwise unmanageable, and train them to perform the Caisson Platoon’s mounted missions in the Arlington National Cemetery.

     Since my Military Occupational Specialty was Infantry, I felt that it was my duty to serve overseas as most of my other infantry brethern had done during the time when we had wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, I decided to re-enlist to extend my service in the Army in order to volunteer to serve with the 82nd Airborne, a unit that was deploying to Iraq soon. After serving in the Baghdad and Salman Pak regions of Iraq for a year, I returned to the states to continue the mandatory training period after deployment.

     Soon after returning from Iraq, I was once again put on orders back to the Old Guard. Again I was tasked with training the horses and the soldiers that were assigned to the Caisson Platoon. 

 During this time with Caisson, I was also helping with a therapeutic riding program that helped wounded warriors recover from trauma incurred from service overseas. I was amazed at how the activities and interaction with the horses stimulated and reignited senses and confidence that many of these soldiers had thought they lost a long time ago. The before and after photos were amazing.

     As comes with every term of enlistment with the US Army, mine was drawing to a close. I had to decide whether to extend my time in the army by re-enlisting or to get out of the Army and return to a civilian job. Since I had decided to get out of the army, the Old Guard offered me terms of employment as a civilian to keep training their horses for them since the other civilian no longer worked for them. I had planned to get out of the army and pursue a different career path but since I couldn’t be certain that my other career plans would come through, I opted to accept the offer. I have been working for Caisson as a civilian for over five years now and I am continuing my service in uniform with the Virginia Army National Guard.


Enjoy the Ride…A Barn Rat’s Tale

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Enjoy the Ride…A Barn Rat’s Tale

By Brooke Waldron

It doesn’t happen often anymore, but if you play the first five chords of Hal Ketchum’s, “Small Town Saturday Night” he’ll appear through the fog of my memories.  Gregarious, strong, and coated in dust and sweat.  The self-proclaimed “first black cowboy in Fairfax County.”

An eclectic mix of horseman, wild-man, father and friend.  He took kids under his wing and made all the upper-class yuppies in McLean and Great Falls uncomfortable.  


His name was Jim Moss.


He got to the barn at 9am, 7 days a week (and during my time) without fail – the mix tape of country classics would start cranking.  The day had begun!


Horses would run down a hill from being turned out over-night and he’d throw a scoop of feed in every bucket as they waited impatiently along the fence line.  As a kid, I lived to watch the magic happen –  he’d swing open the gate, let out a rebel yell and all 30 horses would simultaneously run into their stalls.  To this day, I’m mystified by the organized chaos of it all – a feat that only Jim could have (or would have) pulled off!


Back in the hay day of my youth, summers weren’t scheduled.  There weren’t waivers or emergency preparedness plans.  We didn’t have a laundry list of activities to check off, or Pinterest crafts to create, or Tik Tok videos to film.  We had our horses and our friends, and Shadybook Stables… our playground.


We’d jump out of our cars in the morning (a Playmate cooler in one hand and jiggling change we found around the house in the other) hearing the booming welcome of a nickname only Jim could pick.


“Hey Brookie baby!”…”Half Pint!”…”Blondie!”…”Muscles!”…”Shorty!” 

…and others that I’ve now replaced with proper names of adulthood.  


Since Jim was a one-man-band, horse care was pretty much up to whoever would pitch-in and everyone felt an obligation to help – cleaning stalls, watering, grooming, you name it.  There was an equal amount of expectation from him and respect from us – a badge of honor we wore with pride. 

If you weren’t there to help… you weren’t invited to be there.

After chores were done it was free rein…literally.  Double bareback in halters and lead ropes, we were off to the water hole.  Kids and ponies – free from authority, we galloped the trails that I’m sure have been overtaken with homes or abandoned because of liability.  We’d ride down rocky paths, through pine forests, swim with our horses, and take off up “dead-man’s hill”, allowing our wet-noodle bodies to slide down our pony’s rumps like wild Indians.  


We’d hoot and holler, sing and joke – having a grand ol’ time and mostly staying out of trouble. Surprisingly enough, I can’t remember falling off except for the one time I was launched into barbed wire when my horse stopped at a log (I still have the scar on my hand to prove it).   One day, someone had the bright idea that we should disguise ourselves as we rode through the woods.  We pulled leaves and vines and stuffed them in our shirts, shorts and helmets thinking we were the queens of the forest…only to show up the next day covered in poison ivy!  

….lesson learned.

Sometime in the afternoon, Jim would pile us up in the back of his truck like sardines (seat belts weren’t a consideration) and we’d ride with our hair blowing in the breeze to the 7-11, where we’d stock up on Funions and Slurpees (or any other junk our parents wouldn’t usually allow us to have).  With that, we’d have the energy we needed for the circus-like antics of the afternoon – leapfrog mounting, barrel racing, jump-off’s.  We rarely had formal lessons and spent most of our time learning from each other – holding mane and our breaths, believing in our ponies and vowing to show others their prowess.


The dares would escalate through the day and as the summer progressed.  Late night trail rides, riding backwards bareback from the creek and jumping over people…things that we’d never allow now because it’s hard to believe we lived through them.

By the time our parents picked us up, we were stinky and smiling – barn rats personified.

 Year-after-year through the fall, winter and spring we’d meet up and ride everyday, but we all lived for the carefree abandon of summer.

My last summer at Shady Brook was my senior year and by that time, most people had moved on to more competitive barns – an endeavor that I didn’t really have the opportunity or the desire to take.

I ventured onto college horseless and heartbroken.  I remember sitting in the dining hall, in tears over missing my horses and my life in the barn.  I joined the equestrian team at the University of Delaware and moved to an apartment by the college farm as soon as I could – taking any opportunity to be around horses because I never knew life without them.  

I rode english, western, foaled out University mares (Haflingers I might add – I think that might be why they are my favorite breed).  I halter broke Oldenburg weanlings (I have a couple funny stories from that) and worked for a breeding and training farm as a peon on the weekends. 

From the time I was 8, I committed myself to pursuing a life with horses and had my sights set – tunnel vision style – on becoming an equine vet because it was the only option that I thought existed. I landed the opportunity to work for Virginia Equine Imaging in the summers and winters and learned so much as an apprentice at Dr. Allen’s amazing practice.  One important lesson being…I wasn’t cut out to be a vet. 

First of all, I got woozy at some of the gnarly injuries that horses managed to collect and secondly, I had a hard time building relationships with horses that I only saw for a few moments.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until my senior year that this realization hit me and it wasn’t easy to stomach.

I clutched at straws, trying to come up with a viable “plan B” which didn’t seem to exist for a scrappy rider who didn’t have a major show record or solid connections in the horse world. I decided horses would have to take a back-seat so I could land a “real job.”

I tried on a few options.

Pharmaceutical sales?  



Nothing seemed to fit.

Desperate and deflated, I headed to Shadybrook on spring break.  

A floundering young adult now, the classic country music, the dust of the arena and the mixed smell of manure and hay reminded me of who I was – a barn rat. 

Jim (I suspect he saw my desperation) threw me into teaching an impromptu lesson to his next generation and I left with an idea. 

I was going to become a teacher!  

(If you are involved with Sprout, you probably know my journey from teacher to possabilitarian…and if not, that’s another story for another day.)

I applied to Marymount University after admissions closed.  I miraculously got in and ended up loving the idea and profession of igniting the minds and the hearts of others. It felt right.  


The year I graduated from my masters program was the year Jim passed away.  I had a chance to visit him before he died and I told him some of the things we did with our horses when he wasn’t looking.  


We chuckled and sighed…and not too long after, he galloped off to heaven with his wife and son by his side.


Jim was a legend.  A misfit, unencumbered character in an uptight town – and he gave so many a chance to be the same… to be themselves – unbridled and free.


His family hosted a memorial and people came from far and wide to give a testimony on his impact on their lives.  One-by-one, hundreds of his “kids” shared the tales of adventure and abandon – opportunities Jim provided by letting us take the reins on our lives (whether we were ready or not).


It took two full days for the memories to pour out – a mark that few rarely make on this world.  The people who loved him and learned from him have horses forever imprinted on their hearts – and many are still in the barn every day, with horses personally or professionally (a feat not many trainers can claim)…and to me, that’s more important than any award on a wall.  A living legacy that continues to unfold to this day.


Jim wasn’t a world-class rider or trainer – he had no ribbons, prizes or traditional accolades to his name. He didn’t run a disciplined program full of standards and processes.  He didn’t buy the most expensive horses, heck, I don’t think I ever saw him clean a saddle!  But the guy knew how to believe in a person enough to turn them loose – to let them take chances, make mistakes and enjoy the ride.  


As I muddle through my professional career, I’ve found that it’s easy to get caught up in keeping up.  And I think Jim would remind me to let that go and embrace who I am – a barn rat who loves people and horses 

… and the idea of people loving horses. 

So, Jim, I’m going to enjoy the ride.


From Ponies to Physical Therapist…Dr. Sue’s Story!

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By Susan Schmieg

My trek to becoming a physical therapist at Sprout started when I first fell in love with riding horses.  I feel riding and watching horses move taught me to be able to pinpoint the problem areas in my patients and after learning how to treat patients I can see and feel how the movements of horses impact the mind and body of humans.  It is the correct movement of horse that is the real therapy and the therapist can challenge the patient by redirecting the forces of the movement.

I do not remember a time when I was not infatuated with horses.  The first pony I rode was a handsome pinto named Ajax. I was three years old when I was introduced to riding through my uncle’s friends Dell and Dieter from Germany.  I rode many horses and ponies with Dell and I never remember her telling me that I rode well but she would say to me that I was very brave and strong.  Dell believed that balance was the key to good riding and started the youngest riders in a Western saddle.  She would then progress riders to a “balanced seat” over fences; which was not like our hunt seat position that I learned with a later instructor, and a “deep seat” for dressage.  Dieter and Dell returned to Germany when I was 8 years old. That was a very sad time for me because the farm was sold and all the horses and ponies were sold to different families.

Shortly thereafter, my parents found out that a classmate of mine was taking lessons at a program called Junior Equitation School at Full Cry Farm in Vienna.  It was beautiful, big fields with hills and arenas and many barns.  I had multiple instructors and rode wonderful horses during my many happy years at Full Cry.  I learned to stay in “jump position” or “2 point” over a full course of fences including up AND downhill; I worked in the barns and learned to assist with beginner lessons.  I even learned to drive a tractor before I could drive a car.  Through people who would “ride in” or trailer to their lessons I began to ride outside of Full Cry.  I learned to ride open jumpers and to go cross country.  Eventually, I started to event horses with a family who had a small riding school in Herndon.  To pay for my training I taught beginner lessons and when I was 16 my trainer gave me a most special “summer assignment”.  I was to work with a little boy who had disabilities causing him to need a wheelchair.  I had never met a child who needed a wheelchair and was surprised to hear that his family and his doctor wanted him to learn to ride.

His doctor was trained in Europe where they used horses and ponies as therapy for a variety of health problems and since my rider’s sister rode at my barn the family thought this was where he also needed to be.  I don’t remember if I was ever given his diagnosis; but the first time I met him; he was not even able to sit erect in his wheelchair.  The plan was for him to have physical therapy 3 times a week and me 2 times a week the first week and then have me 3 times a week and therapy twice the next week, alternating through the summer.  I was told that his physical therapy goals were to sit independently on a bench for greater than 1 minute and to stand using a walker.

I knew nothing about therapy and treating disabilities; however, I did know how some one should hold their posture on a horse.  So, I squeezed and tickled and poked this little boy until he could sit while the pony walked patiently around the arena performing the magic of equine movement.  I taught my rider to halt without losing his balance and soon he learned to squeeze with his legs to make the pony walk forward.  During this time in therapy not only did he learn to sit independently on a bench and a rocker board, but he also began to take steps with a rolling walker.  He was getting stronger almost every week he rode and at the end of summer we had a small horse show for all the students and he was in the walk lead line class with 9 able bodied riders and got a third place ribbon.  His doctor was an advocate for using horses in therapy and had a brochure sent to me about therapeutic riding and on the last page in small print it said each program needs a physiotherapist on staff to perform evaluations of each rider.  I wanted to be a professional rider/trainer but my parents were demanding that I go to college.  I told them that I now wanted to be a physical therapist and use horses to treat my patients.

My parents insisted that I volunteer at a hospital to learn what physical therapists really do and I became a Red Cross volunteer.  I was assigned to the rehabilitation department at a small local hospital during the summer after my Junior year in high school.   The director who was my immediate supervisor was awesome.  Her name was Betty Phillips and she had served in the Marines.  Over the course of the summer she taught me how to take blood pressures and use a stethoscope to take someone’s pulse listening to heart sounds, how to set a patient up for traction and how to direct a patient through a series of exercises.  She let me do things that I now know as a PT that we don’t allow students/volunteers perform.  I learned many techniques from Betty but the most important thing I learned was to be “patient with my patients” because they were trying as hard as they possibly could at that given moment and there are many factors that impact a person’s healing.  I left that hospital rotation and Betty left shortly after to start the Physical Therapy Assistant program at Northern Virginia Community College.  

After high school I went to Mary Washington College (now University) in Fredericksburg, Virginia where I continued to ride and work in the riding program.  During my first summer home I learned about a therapeutic riding program in Great Falls and began to volunteer there.  The director had completed her therapeutic riding instructor training in England after her initial college degree.  She eventually wanted to be an occupational therapist and thought my plan to be a physical therapist would mesh well for the program.  I volunteered frequently through college and eventually we both were accepted into schools to complete our professional degrees.  Once out of school we reconnected starting Lift Me UP and working at Mt. Vernon Hospital.  The next year we both got married. She and her husband moved to Germany and my husband and I moved to California.  I worked with several therapeutic riding programs in California but always felt that the therapeutic benefits were secondary to teaching riding skills.  There was a small group of therapists that had a program in San Jose who used horses to increase the impact of their clinical practices and actually had a treatment room at the barn where they could treat on the horse or off.  I continued to see patients in a variety of settings including on horses and after our two children were born my husband accepted a job back here in northern Virginia.  

Once back in Virginia I resumed working with Lift Me Up but returned to full time clinical work when we needed to plan to send our children to college.  I continued to ride with friends because no one can ever give up being with horses once smitten. As I continued on my journey as a therapist, I was given the opportunity to be more than a clinical instructor and initiated an education protocol for all staff including nursing staff at the hospital I worked in.  I realized quickly that there were many areas that I needed to have first hand knowledge about for the new grads.  I decided to return to Virginia Commonwealth University to get my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.  I really felt old and out of step when I was told that they had changed the name of the muscles on the outside of the lower leg.  I received my degree in 2011 right after I accepted a position at Inova Loudoun Hospital.  Shortly after that my boss came to me and asked if it was true that I knew a little about riding therapy.  She and the director had met someone who had a small program in Aldie and they wanted my opinion about the benefits and possibility of a hospital outpatient clinic working with such a program.  I was so excited and that program was Sprout.  We made a visit and I outlined a plan for the clinic; however, the legal department felt it was not a billable treatment and it would increase liability that they did not want to take on.  The clinic decided not to go forward but I had already committed to Sprout in my head and decided to join the staff at Sprout.  I retired from Inova in 2016 but continue with Sprout and a few other special projects.


Grandma’s Sweet Potatoe Pie

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By Lacy Warner

 I didn’t grow up in the country or on a farm. I didn’t even come from a horsey family. In fact, I was always told that, apart from the occasional carousel ride, I was afraid of horses as a youngster. Around age 3 my aunt had taken me to a pumpkin patch where they gave pony rides and they had one painted blue which I just had to ride – I just could not leave until I rode that pony.  She recalls they couldn’t get me off of it! Ever since then anywhere we saw pony rides I needed to have one and not just one!  I demanded to ride every single pony in each pony ride.

At age six my mom signed me up for horse back riding lessons. For the next 7
years or so I took weekly riding lessons, hung around the barn as much as possible, attended a horse summer camp every available week of summer break and read every horse book I could get my hands on! Like most young girls I always had this dream of one day having my own.

I grew up as an only child and the only grandchild, raised by a single mom and was often looked after by my grandparents. Having a horse in suburbia was not an option, not to mention out of the question financially until my grandfather passed away shortly after I turned 13. He left my grandmother with means to be able to buy me a horse! My dreams were finally coming true!

Buying a first horse was a big decision! I knew exactly what I wanted: a young, inexperienced bay mare I could train myself (because I thought I knew everything). We saw an ad in the newspaper for a bunch of horses for sale at a local lesson barn. Assuming they were selling off lesson horses we called only to find out the ad was for ex race horses, of which they thought a few might be suitable for me.

The first horse we tried was named “Sweet Potatoe”, a young, inexperienced bay mare that had recently come off the racetrack.  The seller rode the horse, then my trainer rode her. She was ok for both of them. The whole time I was watching I just knew this was MY horse! She was THE ONE!

It was my turn to ride. Sweet Potatoe would not stand still for mounting. Even with two people holding her they still had to pop me up like a jockey on to the saddle while she trotted a tiny circle around all of us. Somehow I managed a bit of riding on her until I asked her to canter. She quickly burst into racehorse mode and I fell off.  No sooner had I hit the ground I jumped up to announce, “I love her. This is the horse  I want!”

(and for those of you that know me now this may come as no surprise when I say everyone thought I was C R A Z Y!  In fact, I still hear that quite often). 

Even though I knew she was the horse for me they made me try others. I told them there was no need to waste anyone’s time!! I wanted Sweet Potatoe!! Begrudgingly I “rode” two other horses (geldings) for literally about 30 seconds each to appease the powers that be. I wanted Sweet Potatoe and I was not interested in seeing any more horses!

We leased her for a few months before buying her. To this day I am not quite sure why no one talked my mom out of it. I had no business having this young, spooky, untrained ex racehorse. But she was mine!  I decided immediately that her show name would be “Grandma’s Sweet Potatoe Pie” to honor my beloved grandmother.

For a few years I tried to show, trail ride and just enjoy my horse. I had absolutely no breaks on this horse, ever! She was incredibly spooky and rarely behaved at a show IF she got on the trailer at all to even attend the show. To top it all off she was nearly impossible to catch! There were many many many days I would be in the field, following her around for what seemed like forever balling my eyes out because I just wanted to ride but could not catch my horse.  I just wanted to trail ride with my friends, attend horse shows without refusing jumps or not being able to stop my horse and be able to load her on the trailer and take her places.

When I was 15 we moved her to a new boarding barn. She and I were having the same troubles as in the past but finally they were recognized. This crazy lady was always in the arena with her horse, not riding him but using this orange stick to do whatever it was she was doing with him. Finally after seeing me attempt to ride my horse on several occasions she approached me and my mom and blatantly told us that we needed help before this horse killed me (and boy, was she correct)!

She tried to show me a few of these natural horsemanship techniques she used with her orange stick. I practiced them often but really just wanted to ride! 

Later that year a Parelli Natural Horsemanship clinic was being hosted at our barn so we signed up! I was the youngest person in the clinic, the only english rider and, by far, had the worst problem horse! Of the 2 or 3 day clinic the instructor had to work with my horse all but about 2 hours of it because I could not handle her!  I was enlightened, inspired and encouraged to continue on with what we had learned. I saw what was possible! With a lot of hard work, patience and support my horse might be able to stand at the mounting block for mounting! She might be able to canter instead of gallop everywhere! I might be able to get her on a trailer to go on adventures! The possibilities seemed endless!

At age 15 or 16 when everyone was looking at colleges and deciding what might become of their lives I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to have a horse farm and teach kids to ride! Horses all day every day! So many people told me “You can’t make a living off of horses” or “You need to go to school and have a ‘real’ job to support your horse
hobby.”  The more I heard those things the more motivated I became to prove them wrong!!


I was never really interested in school or a social life per se so I devoted all of my time to this new information I had learned at the clinic. We bought books, dvds, hosted more clinics, travelled to more clinics and eventually attended school at both Parelli University campuses in Colorado and Florida.  



Sweet Potatoe, as frustrating as she could be at times, kept me humble, kept me (mostly) out of trouble. She was my confidant, my shoulder to cry on. My biggest successes included her! Horse shows! Team penning! Obstacle courses! Parelli Natural Horsemanship Achievements! The list goes on! I worked every day to make us BOTH better! She taught me so so much! It became less about riding and more about our relationship. She was no longer my horse, she was my best friend.

Over the years we did so many things together from herding cattle in Colorado to galloping through the countryside to bareback and bridleless evening strolls around the farm.

She taught me that every horse gives us an opportunity to learn. She helped me build a “barn family” of people with like interests, people that also truly cared about their horses as best friends and needed their equestrian escape from reality! Sweet Potatoe taught me that every horse comes into your life for some special reason. But not every horse will be as special as Sweet Potatoe. She passed in a tragic pasture accident 14 years after she became mine. I have yet to find another horse quite like her. I now have several horses that fulfill her role in my life.

It’s difficult to put into words the impact your best friend had on you! I miss her every day but I am so grateful for all of the people I met because of her and for all of the lessons and opportunities she taught or gave to me which I can now pass along to others!



From Pony Rides to Professional…Mr. Mike’s Story!

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I always knew that I wanted to be with horses, in some way. From age five until today, when I’ve made it my profession. I guess it’s just one of those things you just know. Like the first time you sit on a pony or a horse, you just know.

Mike with Coco at a western show, winning a first place ribbon!

It all basically started when I was 5. The elementary school that I went to, every spring they had a carnival that was a fundraiser for the school, and they would have pony rides. At the carnival, I rode one of the ponies probably 30-something times. I would just get off, then get back in line. Finally, the carnival was over and they were loading up the horses. I was still there watching them, thinking how cool it was. The lady who owned the ponies came up and told my dad, “I think you’ve got a horse person here”. My dad looked at her and said, “what’s that?”

She said, “come by my place Saturday and you’ll find out”.

I began leasing that pony — Coco, a little gray Shetland pony. That pony, he could drag you around — he would drag me over to the grass and I couldn’t get his head up. I would get so mad at him and kick, throw the rope up, walk away, just leave him there. I remember my instructor telling me to go get my pony and get back on!

Mike, Rosie and Mrs. K – the lady who got him into riding.

I rode and showed Western on Cocoa. When I grew, I graduated to a larger pony and started riding English. I liked the variety, getting to jump. I showed and rode in flat and jumping classes.

It was a while before I got my first horse, after I outgrew the bigger pony I was riding. I was in middle school, seventh grade. We bought this mare named Rosie, a bay Standardbred. I had her from age 3 to 29. I did everything with her. I remember going into Aldie (to where the Aldie Peddler is right there in town) — I used to ride her down there, right across the bridge, and stop traffic. I remember standing up on her hind end in the middle of the yard, and she would just stand there.

Mike with Rosie at a hunter show.

She was bombproof — and she was wildfire. You would pick up the canter — when you’d say “slow down”, she’d say “too bad”. Nothing was ever fast enough for her. There were a lot of people who would say “you couldn’t pay me enough to get on that thing”. But you just needed to understand her, know how to manage her. Then she would be perfect.

When I got Rosie, the first time I went to tack her up, I brushed her like she was a million dollars. Perfectly groomed — I mean, you couldn’t even pat any dust off that horse or comb the hair backwards and see any dander. She looked perfect. And I went to put the saddle on and I remember my instructor coming up to me, and she goes, “hang on, I’m going to help you one second”. I had put the saddle on backwards. I was so excited that I put the saddle on backwards. I remember that like it was yesterday.

Thinking back on my first horse — you don’t realize until different horses have come and gone in your life, and you’ve thought back on your experience with them, how good that horse was, and everything they taught you. It was like that with Rosie. We did so much together. I never would have done a third of what I did with her, with other horses.

Mike with Rosie (center) and boarders (Skipper — right, and Major — left).

I worked at a few other barns over the years, some smaller private barns and a 40-stall hunter jumper barn. Finally there was this one barn where I was working, the owner had this Quarter Horse named Skipper that he hadn’t ridden in a while and had started bucking under saddle. At the fearless, stupid age I was, I said, “let me get on him, I’ll fix it.” And I ended up riding him and fixing the issue. That was my first sort of training experience.

Eventually my dad got moved to central Virginia for his job. When I realized it was “horse country”, I was so excited. I saw how many farms and equestrian people were in the area and couldn’t wait to move. The biggest one I was in awe of was Karen and David O’Connor’s farm. We found a house with a 6 stall barn and 10 acres, and ended up with boarders and training horses for the 21 years we owned the farm.

Mike at Tail Race Farm, his business for 21 years.

One day, my dad and I were taking a drive around during farm tours. We would always pass by the driveway to Sprout, and on that day, my dad said, “you know, I’ve always wondered what is down this road”. We drove down Sprout’s driveway and there was an open house going on. And that’s how we discovered Sprout.

I started volunteering at Sprout, eventually working there part-time, while operating our home boarding and training business.

When we sold our farm after 21 years, I came to Sprout full time. And I’ve been here ever since.

Sprout is a special place to me. It’s special to be able to give people the opportunity to ride, when they probably wouldn’t get the opportunity anywhere else. Some of the things we’re able to do to make it so people can ride, the horses, the people. It’s a place like no other.

Mike with Olaf and Sprout rider, Caroline Elgin.

The Teacher

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The Teacher

By Amy Perez

Like many of us, we all have had many teachers in our lives. It starts with our family. Our mother, father, siblings, and grandparents and as we age we continue to receive new teachers in our lives. School teachers are usually what comes to mind first when you hear or say the word teacher. But there are so many others that come and go in our lifetime and I bet that if you can think about it, you will always have one special teacher that has impacted your life more than the hundreds of others that have crossed your path in life. Maybe it was a music teacher, or maybe it was a religious teacher, or possibly it was an animal teacher. 

That’s what happened to me…I had the best teacher and he was an animal. I’ve had many animals in my lifetime. Dogs, lots and lots of dogs…each with their own unique lessons that they brought to me and each has a special place in my heart. I’ve had a few horses in my lifetime as well.  My first horse was a special teacher, he taught me at the tender age of 7 through the age of 18 how to be responsible.  He was with me all during my growing up years until I went to college and I sold him to another little girl so that he could teach her the same lessons of growing up and responsibility.  He was a special one…but the MOST influential teacher in my lifetime will be HEMINGWAY.  No, not the author, but the horse.  My horse.  I called him ERNIE.  He had many names though…ERNEST, ERN, ERNEST-T.  He came into my life after I had raised my two children and wanted to start riding again.  He entered at the perfect moment.  I had goals to horse show at Upperville, and Aiken and Kentucky with my first horse as a kid, but was unable to achieve them. But with ERNIE, I had the opportunity to achieve those goals in my adulthood.  

ERNIE and I were successful in the show ring. He would light up whenever he was in the ring. The judges loved him as did many a spectator.  He was famous for his kind, gentle demeanor and his gorgeous jump.  The first lesson that he taught me was kindness. Whenever a competitor at a show would exit the ring just finishing their jumping round ERNIE would ALWAYS shake his head up and down as if to give his approval of the round to our competitor and say, “Yes, what a fine round that was!” I still to this day, no matter if I know the horse and rider competing against me and my horse or not, I always take my kindness cue from ERNIE, and say to them “well done, nice trip” upon entering the ring. 

ERNIE taught me to listen. Horses don’t speak like humans do. But they do “talk” to us. He taught me to listen when it was time to retire from showing. I didn’t hear him for a while because I wasn’t listening. He was telling me, through his own way, that the jumps were getting harder, his body was getting heavier and his feet were getting a little sore. I wasn’t listening when he told me in his kind, gentle way that he just wasn’t able to be the partner to me that he once was…but he STILL wanted to be my friend and companion.  I remember the day that I finally LISTENED to ERNIE. I took his cue, and told him that he would be my forever companion and we would retire from the show ring.  He loved his new “job” of his retirement life of walks on trails, and standing in the ring with me watching his barn mates taking lessons and jumping jumps.  He enjoyed his pasture time with his friends and quietly moved aside while he watched me grow with his new brother, always seeming to say, “ you can do it mom” 

I could go on and on with the hundreds of lessons ERNIE taught me over the 9 years we were together.  But the most important lesson he taught me, was selflessness.  Having horses in your life is a tremendous honor and responsibility. ERNIE told me last week that he wasn’t feeling well.  I listened.  ERNIE showed me the way to kindness and selflessness was to send him somewhere without me, to where he would wait for me, but that I would be without him for a time. ERNIE thanked me and we had one last lesson together….how to be without each other. I miss my friend ERNIE so very much. But I know he’s still going to teach me. I know these lessons I learn without him will be perseverance, patience, and loyalty.  Until we meet again my sweet friend, and teacher. 

Crafty: Pushing The Limits

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By Perri Green
In this time of COVID 19 isolation I have been using Facebook to reconnect with people.  It was requested that we should post a photo of us on a horse that makes us happy.  I posted a photo of me riding my horse, Crafty Craig at the Ledyard Olympic three-day eventing selection trials. I won fourth in that competition.  It was my first time riding in the advanced division.

How did I get to this point in my riding career?

I am one of the luckiest people to have been raised with horses most of my life.  My father gave me my first pony for my fourth birthday, Brownie was a Shetland and not the nicest of souls.  Daddy would not let me ride by myself with a saddle because I could not tighten the girth enough to be safe.  I rode bareback.  Each day I would take a dining room chair out to the yard and lead Brownie up to it so that I could get on her.  We would start our ride around a field near the small barn.  As we got to the end of this field and turned around to head back, Brownie would spook at a roll of American wire.  I would fall off and that would be the end of my ride for the day. One day I stayed on through the spook and from that day forward my riding took a great turn for me.

By the time I was six we had moved from the small farm outside of Frederick, MD to a big farm in Loudoun County, Virginia.  Daddy had ridden most of his life so he now had big thoroughbred horses and he bought a horse for my mother.  Mommy was not an avid rider but encouraged me to be the best I could be.  We had a neighborhood young man help us with the barn, Rick Eckhardt.  He started to give me lessons and my riding progressed to using a saddle and beginning to jump.  I was getting ready to go foxhunting with Daddy, who told me when I could successfully jump a big log in our front field he would take me hunting. When Rick was not teaching me, my riding consisted of starting each ride with a charge to the big log.  Brownie would stop and then I would continue with my ride, until one day she jumped the log!  I stayed on.  That late afternoon when Daddy got home from the office I rushed to the barn to tack up Brownie and show him my new achievement.  I got on and immediately went to the field with the log.  We took a run at it and she stopped.  I got really mad at her and she jumped it from a standstill.  I fell off but got back on to try again.  This time we flew over the log.  The next morning Daddy took me on my first foxhunt.

My riding background was foxhunting, Pony Club and local hunter shows.  I outgrew Brownie and moved onto other ponies.  Daddy had many horses who were in training to hunt, point to point race and compete in the beginning stagesof three-day eventing in Virginia.  He was the DC of the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club for a few of my early years in pony club and he was one of the original founders of the Loudoun Hunt Point to Point races at Oatlands.  Horses were his hobby and love.  He could ride any horse that someone gave to him.  There were many horses that were talented but also a bit wild and crazy. I loved to be in the barn and around all of these horses.  I could ride every day.

When I was twelve, I went to visit Rick Eckhardt at Gladstone, NJ.  He was on the three-day Olympic team.  Seeing the fellow team members and their horses, I was hooked and decided that I wanted to try out for the Olympic team someday.

By the time I was thirteen, I moved from the “boring” hunter shows and into the jumper shows.  It was a thrill to compete against Red Revell and Wally Holly and beat their time.  I was competing on a small quarter horse, Mr. Gaines.  He was fast and could jump the moon and turn on a dime.  The first time I jumped Mr. Gainesover a five-foot oxer, I felt like I did heading into that log on Brownie.  When we cleared it and I felt that plain-sailing sense in my heart and stomach I was hooked.  The bigger the better in my book.

By the time I was fourteen, my father had bought Crafty Craig as a six year old steeple chase prospect.  He had been banned from Saratoga as a three year old because he would not start.  He then was sent to a show barn to become a confirmation hunter.  They fed him to make him look pretty but the feed made him buck his way out of the show circuit.  He could jump beautifully and he was fast if he had the mind to run.

I was by then exercising all of Daddy’s horses.  The first time I rode Crafty, I asked Daddy what he could do. Daddy replied “Everything, he can jump the moon!”.  I took him from the barn to a field with a long hill to “leg him up”.  We entered the field jumping over a small coop and he just hopped over it without any effort or hesitation.  As we were walking down the hill a herd of cows came rushing out of the woods into the field.  Crafty bolted down the hill.  I could not stop him or turn him into a circle. I headed him to the gate at the bottom of the hill.  The fencing was barbed wire and I did not want him to run into the fence.  Four strides out from the gate, Crafty changed gears, collected himself and effortlessly jumped the gate.  He landed on the other side and galloped along nicely.  The cows were blowing at us from their vantage on the top of the hill.

I called Daddy at the office and told him I wanted to buy Crafty from him.  He agreed if I would sell my pony first.  This was a pony I had broken and made myself, The Impossible Dream, “Impy”.  This devastated me but I did sell her to a young girl in Pennsylvania.  She would send me notes with photos for many years.

At fourteen, I had a six-year-old thoroughbred who could jump, walk, canter and gallop.  He really did not know how to trot.  This was fine by me, I did not like hack classes, dressage or anything to do with flat work.  Jump, jump, jump worked for me.  I rode with Janet Carter (Janet Hitchen) the first summer I had Crafty and she wanted me to do the hunters.  I convinced her after several frustrating shows that Crafty and I were much better at jumpers.  Peter Wilson (I think) set up a jump at Warrenton Horse show over a pick-up truck bed with a rail over it.  Crafty and I dazzled all by jumping it effortlessly.  I changed from a hunter entry at that show to the jumper classes. We got some blues and I was hooked again.

I went to Oldfields boarding school in Maryland and took Crafty for my sophomore year.  The head riding instructor, Craig Hunter evented.  She wanted me to event Crafty.  She helped me with my dressage and taught me to sit trot on a lunge line on top of one of the choppiest horses I have ever sat on.  This made Crafty feel like a dream as he learned to trot. I had a clinic with Ralph Hill who asked me if he could get on Crafty to show me how to collect him.  Before my eyes, Crafty transformed into a wonder. He was collected and floating.  I asked Ralph to teach me to do that.  He worked with me the rest of the clinic.  I do not know what happened to the other four riders in my class at the clinic but I learned to transform Crafty with Ralph’s guidance.

That spring I entered four recognized events at the training level and we won each event. Crafty and I made the North American Junior Olympic team representing Area 2.  We trained with Jimmy Wofford and had a terrific time winning as a team the first young riders three-day event in Wayne, Illinois.

I was accepted and started at Bowdoin College the fall of 1976.  There was no riding.  I kept myself riding fit by exercising a polo pony.  The summer after my freshman year, I rode with Evie Thorndyke.  I had met her as my examiner taking my Pony Club B Level.  She loved Crafty and convinced me to go preliminary.  We did well at Loudoun and Blueridge at this higher level.  By the end of that summer, I took Crafty to our first Intermediate event at Radnor. Jimmy Wofford and Bruce Davidson were in the cross country warm up area with me. We had all just finished a fast steeple chase and easy twelve-mile roads and tracks course.  Bruce was on Better and Better and Jimmy on Carawich, they were a talking load enough for me to hear them.  Jimmy says to Bruce “Anyone is a fool to start a horse over this cross-country course at this level” Bruce agreed.  My heart was in my throat.  My father had to lead me to the start box because Crafty was picking up on my nerves. He was beginning to not move forward. This did not build my confidence. Once I heard the starter count down and yell “Go! Have a good ride”. I jammed my spurs in Crafty sides started the song “Come Together” in my head and Crafty leaped forward.  The first fence was an easy post and rail. Crafty flew and was now galloping to the beat of the song in my head.  The Irish bank with an eight-foot drop and a four-foot wide and deep ditch on the landing side was effortless.  I loosened the reins to the buckle coming down off this bank, jammed my legs forward and threw up my left arm for balance.  We went clean with no time faults.  Stadium was perfect.  We ended fourth at our first intermediate trial.  Mrs. Mars came up to me at my trailer and offered me a blank check for Crafty.  She wanted Bea Perkins to have him for the team.  I said no thank you, I was going to try out for the team with him.

I went back to Bowdoin for the first semester of my sophomore year.  I informed the college that I was going to take the next semester off to try out for the 1980 Olympic team. The administration wished me well.  At that moment I thought my career was clear.  I was going to be a horse professional after riding for the United States in the 1980 Olympics.

I returned to Evie Thorndyke’s to become a working student in the spring of 1978.  I will now wrap this up by going back to my photo jumping the fence with Crafty at Ledyard. I bought that photo because it was the fifth fence after a difficult fourth fence.  I had walked this course at least five times.  The third fence was a combination with either a huge oxer option or an in and out.  I always took the big options with Crafty to save time and jump efforts.  I was fifth to go on the course.  Mary Ann Tausky was riding Marcus Aurelias and was third on the course.  She had a fall doing the oxer option on fence number three. The committee removed the big oxer option and only left the in and out.  I had not walked the in and out and did not have a good line to fence number four, a bounce vertical coming into a wooded line.

The A and B option went fine and as I was galloping up the hill to fence number four.   I realized that I was not quite where I wanted to be for this tricky question of a fence.  I half halted Crafty and in his exuberance he took off into the bounce and breasted the second element.  He scrambled over it, I stayed on by wrapping my arms around his neck.  We landed I regained my stirrups and back into the gallop with no time lost.  His stride seemed normal and I could not see any blood on his legs.  I said to myself, I will see how he jumps the next fence and pull him up if needed.  That is the photo that I have shared with you.  We were plain sailing.  We finished that event in ninth place.

Crafty and had some mishaps in the other trials. I got sick for one of the trials and Crafty tied up after a roads and tracks at one event.  We ended up being 16thin the country for the 1980 Three Day team.  The short list was twelve of us.

I went back to Bowdoin College, licked my wounds and majored in American History completing the four-year college in three years.  I met my husband Terry and graduated with my class in 1980.

I came home from the trials without being on the team but with a lot of lessons learned and more importantly, an idea of the abounding opportunities that exist for those who are willing to push the limits.  I suppose it’s what I’ve done my whole life and never realized it.  My courage came from an internal drive (passed on from my father) to fly without wings on the back a horse.

I carry the fond memories of the past with me still today. And, as it is in the field and on the course, I keep my sights set on the future.

Let’s ride!

Driving Toward Your Goals!

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Driving Toward Your Goals!

By Anna Koopman

In the equestrian sport of Combined Driving, there are three phases of competition.

The driven Dressage test is a series of movements and ring figures in which the driver and horse must complete at specific places in the ring.  The Marathon, second phase is all about speed, endurance, flexibility and teamwork.  The third phase, Cones is the precision test of the entire event.  Combined Driving is a team event, even though there is one driver per entry, there is a team of people supporting that driver behind the scenes.

Driven Dressage challenges the communication, harmony and suppleness of the horse and driver.  The tests are different for each level of training of the horse and driver combined.  Drivers that are new to Combined Driving begin at the Training Level then progress to Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced.  As one challenges themselves to get better, the dressage tests assist in giving the driver a framework for the training of their horse with directive remarks as a guideline to go by. The dressage phase is normally completed in a presentation vehicle with appropriate attire for the turnout. 

Marathon is a whole other ballgame.  Your horse must be fit enough to go the distance of about 12 kilometers, game to run in six to eight hazards and you must remember where you are going when trying to drive your horse as fast as you possibly can safely. Marathon is normally broken into 3 sections that are all timed.  The first is a trot phase of approximately 6 kilometers.  One has a two-minute window in which your team must come in or incur penalty points for arriving too early or too late.  The next section is a walk or transfer phase of about one kilometer which has no minimum time, just a time allowed.  The third with a distance between six to eight kilometers is the hazard section.  For every kilometer there is a hazard in which the driver must negotiate their horse through lettered gates lettered A thru F dependent on their division. Training level historically has completed gates A thru C, Preliminary A thru D, Intermediate A thru E and Advanced A thru F.  This is a timed event.  For every second spent in a hazard your team incurs 0.25 penalty points.  You can (and should) study hazards as many times as possible on the days leading up to marathon looking for a different route, watching others walk and talking to other competitors about the routes that they are taking and why.   When it is your time to go you need to be ready both mentally and physically for the demands of the sport. Once you and your team have successfully completed the marathon course, a team of veterinarians check out your horse’s vital signs (heart rate, respiration and temperature) and to see if your horse has not injured himself while competing.

Cones is on the third day of competition and is comprised of about twenty sets of cones with balls on the top of them.  For every ball that is knocked off, three penalty points will be added to your score. There is a certain width for each division in which the cones are set based on the with of your carriage wheels. As one moves up the levels in competition the cones are set closer together and the time in which you must complete the course speeds up. The advanced width gives you about two inches on either side of your wheels.  One must drive with precision, concentration and connection.  Double clean in cones means that you did not knock down any balls and you made the time allowed.  The third phase must be completed in the same carriage as the dressage test.

Now, how might you say does Combined Driving relate to life?

Our Motivation Monday interviewee, Diane Kastama, found combined driving out of a love for horses, a need to go fast and a desire to push her limits.  She has competed up to the top of the sport against able bodied drivers and at the Para Championships winning a GOLD medal.  She pushes herself to get up in the morning, care for her horses herself, condition her own horses and compete when she can.  She strives to be excellent at dressage, but her most recent goal was to find a great marathon horse!  Diane at the last world championships leased a horse from Koos de Ronde, a top world ranked four-in-hand driver.  She had the opportunity to drive one of his amazing marathon horses.  Diane was able to feel what it felt like to chase her dreams of going fast.  She wanted to find a horse of her own that could give her that thrill of going fast, the torque of the acceleration and the reflexes to turn on a dime.

I can totally relate to Diane. My current competition pony, Navu had excelled at the dressage phase; marathon and cones were a struggle.  We spent last summer at Sprout going slow back to the basics, working on “dressage in hazards” and trotting cones courses with every drive.  We were able to build on this base during the winter season and slowly we started getting faster in the hazards.  We had one double clean cones in competition at Nature Coast and our best marathon phase of the season at the Live Oak International at the beginning of March!

Navu had the fastest time in the Adequan hazard out of all of the FEI competitors! AND the work we put in behind the scenes along the way allowed us to feel good about moving up a division from Intermediate to Advanced…

We have a new and exciting goal, but with that, lots of homework to do!

With the current “stay at home” COVID-19 protocols, we have all been given a bit more time to think about what matters to us.

So, what matters to you? What are your goals?  What will it take for you to achieve them?   Use this time to study your course, plan your actions and be ready to drive forward towards the future!