GLEF 2018: Thoughts and Reflections

I started out brainstorming the highlights of our week to post to social media. But this is what came out….

I’d normally go into what a great time we had, what classes we won, and how proud I am of our team, but today I find myself resonating with a different part of the horse business. As always, we had a great time, had some wins and some learning experiences, and I am incredibly grateful and proud of our team. But at this moment, all I can think about is how my understanding of who I wish to become and what I am trying to accomplish has been restored in these last few weeks.

Just as everyone, I have encountered the incredible amounts of stress that this business, and really life itself, puts on people. I have experienced the anxiety, the pressure, the stress, and the mental and physical toll that this business puts on trainers. But really it relates to all professions and passions of anyone trying to be truly great on their chosen path.

I began to feel really wrapped up in the madness and even accidentally spreading the negativity that can come as a reaction to these pressures. But then I went to GLEF with an open mind, and I was met by fellow craftsmen of our sport. During that time, I did my best to learn from those around me, both for their weaknesses and strengths. I started to network with different people and start building future business relationships, and somewhere along my way, I remembered why I started.

I diligently watched those who I valued and what they were doing, from their tactics in the schooling ring to their setup at the show. I wanted to do business with them, I wanted to sit tail and tail with them. I didn’t have negative thoughts. I wasn’t dissecting their every move. I wanted to see their reaction. I wanted to learn. I respected them. I wanted to hear how they handled situations. And I remembered how I started.

I became a professional because I wanted to be great at something. Then I realized I couldn’t do it on my own, I needed to be part of something great. Usually I end up thinking about my business and my team that I want to be great. But really, I want our sport to be great. The best way to do that is to build a great team and support others to be great.  

I think too often we think about ourselves as individuals or even ourselves as a business, but we often leave the story short. It’s not about us, or our team, it’s about our sport. It’s about our love for the horse, our passion, our reason for doing everything.

I can’t speak for other professions and lifestyles because I haven’t been there. But I can’t help but think that they must endure similar obstacles. If people are lucky, they end up doing what they love. And it is easy to know why you began something, but the wherewithal to stick with it is really the game changer.

Unfortunately, there are times I too have become negative. I believe negativity breeds faster than anything else. It is hard to not get stuck. The notion of continuing what you believe and what you love Is the difference. But belittling others and judging what they are doing will never get you closer to who you are trying to become. It is important for your well-being and the well-being of others that you set that negativity aside.

I know I have big dreams and lofty goals. I have set out not only to become great at what I do, but to enable others to become great. We all have our upsides and our downfalls, but I try to focus on what I can do and what I can help others do. I want to find the most suitable horses for my riders. I want to help my riders to reach their goals. And I want to enable others to do the same.

I only wish that the competition could remain in the ring. I hope that trainers and riders don’t wish poorly upon others thinking that it somehow makes them seem more relevant. I hope that fellow horseman can look onto other riders and congratulate them on their winnings and learn from what they did. I hope that all trainers and horseman can work side by side and learn from each other for the sake of our businesses and the sake of our sport.

I am thankful for all the horsemen and women I have worked beside these last couple of weeks. I am thankful for the kind words and encouragement, and I thoroughly enjoy the comradery and sportsmanship. And I am ready to continue my path to learn from those around me and become the best that I can. 

The Art of Wearing All Hats Well: The Life of a Trainer

Sometimes it is hard to put into words exactly what it is horse trainers do. Scratch that, it is always hard to put into words exactly what it is horse trainers do.  We are small business owners. We are animal lovers. We dabble in therapy and counseling. We are event planners. We are negotiators and middle men. The list goes on. But above all, we are horse trainers and we care about the horses first and foremost. Second, we care about our clients and their growth and happiness. Thirdly, we must maintain the capacity to be several different people.  Throughout the day, we need to put on all different hats. In a sense we need to be a model that everything looks great on.  

I became a trainer because I love the horses, I love working with students and helping develop passions. I was taught long ago that some spirits are not meant to fit inside cubicles, so I have done my best with the hand I have been dealt. I have been blessed with a great family and facility to help me on my way. But I will say now, if there is one truth to all the things your parents said to you when growing up, it’s that life doesn’t get easier.

Prior to writing all of this I would like to clearly state, this is not a complaint. I love my job and everything that comes with it, I am just merely stating my day. This is also in no comparison to other professions or jobs. My hope is just to merely state my own life experiences and hope that in some way it either is comical, teaches someone something new, or at best hits home for someone.

People say, “Oh you run your own business so you pick your own hours.” NO. I run my own business so it takes up all my hours. I work more hours because it is my business. I don’t clock out and go about my life. I eat, sometimes sleep, and breathe it every day. And on that one day I choose to sleep in a half hour, I wake up to countless texts and phone calls.

I make lists for everything. For the seventy-five horses in my care, for their programs, for the daily activities of the grooms and trainers, for the veterinarian, for inventory on medications and tack, and the list goes on. Generally, I go to bed with a long list of things to be done the next day that no one human could accomplish. Then, I wake up with messages to add to the list.

I do my best to prioritize and get things accomplished. And as the day goes on the madness continues. A horse comes out lame or sick. Someone cancels late for minimal reasons, again uprooting a half hour of my day that I very well could have used. And lastly, without fail, someone has a meltdown of some sorts with their horse or another client where I then instantly need to become a mediator.

When I finally get through the day, there is someone I forgot to return their call, a lesson I forgot to reschedule, or a client’s request I failed to uphold. And I want all of you to know, it’s not because you’re not important. It’s not because it doesn’t matter. And It’s not because I’m lazy. I want you to know, when I forget that one thing, I lose sleep. It is because when I am booked to start, but figure out a schedule to make it all work, with fifty of my own clients, seventy-five horses, twenty employees, and three dogs, something or someone always needs a bit extra that day. You are not forgotten, and one day that something or someone that needs extra attention, it will be for you. And I will be there.

Horse people say, “Oh you are so lucky, you have the location, it must be so easy doing business there.” My response is yes and no. Yes, my location is great. I have encountered more clientele and more great people here than most in a lifetime. Managing seventy-five horses on five acres, takes precision and constant attention. Between their turnout schedules, grooming and care, and those added supplements and vet requests. My lists have lists. My stall cards are color coded and fool proof. The system must constantly be adjusted and enhanced for every new horse that walks through the door to ensure proper care. And this is just the horses.

Keeping over two hundred clients per week happy and feeling important, also requires a great deal of staff and attention. The ring must be well maintained for the traffic, the horses must be suitable for a great variety of people, and each trainer must remember each specific student and their weaknesses and strengths and help them grow as riders.

Let’s move onto the facility. Twelve hundred pound animals in stalls. Things break. Other things just need to be updated to stay with or keep ahead of the times. From updating the footing, to planting flowers, to just keeping the schedule up to date, it is a whirlwind. I am very thankful that my father always told me, “Sweetheart, you can sleep when your dead.” Because that is the truth.(Except he didn't call me sweetheart, but it sounds better.)

And that truth for me is, on that rare day, when everything is going great and I can have that moment to breathe. I start repainting the paddocks instead.

I spoke with a prospective client today, and she asked me what is it that makes you different? At first I thought, I was in one of my own interviews with a prospective trainer. I have yet to be on this side of the fence. But my response was this:

I love what I do. I love my barn and the place I call home. I will work every hour of every day to ensure the horses are cared for properly. I will standby and do right by my clients, because they deserve it and that is my job. My job is to help them grow and take care of their horses, and I will standby that always. I don’t know if that makes me different. I can only speak for what I do and what the people who I surround myself do. And I can tell you this, you don’t need to lose sleep, we will do that for you. We do anything and everything we can to make sure we do right by you. It is not because I am a people pleaser, because I am not. It is because I am passionate about what I do, and the people here are passionate about what they do.

I enjoy taking care of the horses, because I love it and that is how we all got started. I enjoy taking care of the people who put their trust in me. And I enjoy encouraging growth in the people around me and myself because it is contagious and uplifting. With every difficult day, comes that moment you remember why this all began.

While every day is a challenge, I have come to welcome it. In one moment I have on a top hat and I'm making a pitch, and in the next I'm in my baseball cap relating to a child. You just can’t lose the notion of what you set out to do.  

A Year of Change and Growth: 2016 Recap


January 1, 2017

Dear 2016,

We are thankful for each and every of our 365 days together. Each day was different and wonderful in its own way. Those difficult and stressful days, I remember them now as days of learning and growth. The days that everything just seemed to work out, those are reminders that you are on the right path. Those days and all of them in between, we are thankful for. 

2016 began like most years for me at Freedom Woods, busy. While I have been fully involved in most aspects of the barn all of my life, managing has been a fairly new venture for me beginning in the summer of 2015. I have always spent my days teaching, riding, and taking our team to the shows. I have been blessed to have a supportive family and clients to help me thrive and develop as a professional. Adding manager to my list of things has put more on my plate. I have always been the type of person who tries to do everything by myself, a bit of a control freak. Over the years, in times this has worked for me, but generally leaves me feeling exhausted. I always knew I wanted Freedom Woods to grow and flourish. To be a wonderful place for people to come and ride and of course for the horses. Over the years I have created countless notebooks outlining the future, but thats all they were, plans. 

I was able to see that in order for things to change, I needed to change. No one person is capable of doing everything. Luckily,  a small group of people were here already who share the same work ethic and support the barn. In order to grow we really needed to find motivated, hard working, and talented professionals. People who are trust worthy and reliable. People who want to work hard, grow, and develop themselves and as a whole. Having the right people could allow me to spend more time and focus my energy on putting plans into action.

2016 became a great year for change and growth at Freedom Woods. We are beyond excited and proud of what we accomplished this year, from our team, to our clients, to our horses, and our facility. 


Over the course of this year, three incredible professionals joined the team. Haley Buchmiller started our year off right. She has become part of all aspects of the barn. From teaching lessons, to showing client horses, and coming in on her day off to help clean up or paint around the barn. She has developed riders from our school program and moved them on to leasing and riding at a higher level. 

In the Spring, Stephen Foran joined the team. Shortly after, we took a trip to Europe and brought home some impressive horses. Since then, he has ribboned in multiple Grand Prixes including his win just last month on Cooper 152 in the Futures Prix at the World Equestrian Center. In addition to riding and working with the horses, he also takes pride in our students and encourages and helps with their riding. You will find him on most days off helping out around the barn as well. 

Our team has continued to grow with Jackie Kinson coming on board last month all the way from North Carolina. While Jackie has only been here a short time, she has shown us that she shares the same work ethic that we do. 

Just a few weeks ago, one morning I began scrubbing the aisles and deep cleaning the walls. In the past when I would begin a project like this, it would take forever because it would just be me. Without hesitation, Haley, Stephen, and Jackie all jumped in to help. What would have taken me a month to finish, we finished in less than a week. This is just one of the many examples of how well we work together. 

Being part of the team and knowing we have the right people here has allowed me to loosen the reins a bit and spend more time putting dreams into action. From our trainers, to the grooms, to the office staff, we all work together. We all help each other. And because of this, we have all been able to grow as individuals and as a whole. 


Our trainers spend hours and hours in the arena each day teaching. Watching our students gain experience and develop their riding over the course of the year is truly incredible. To help develop their riding from a large children’s pony in the beginning of the year to purchasing their first jumper and working through all of the changes that entails. The progress for many of our riders this year has been overwhelming.When we think back to the beginning of the year and how far they have come, it is one of the best feelings in the world. 

In addition to the riding, I look back on this year and I am overwhelmed by the amount of trust and support our clients have in our stable and in me. Through all of the changes of hiring new staff to remapping the turnout schedules and some of the day to day operations, I have received nothing but help and support. 

We have truly become a second family. When you ride here, you don't have one trainer, you have all of us. When our trainers have long hours on the weekend, there is a supportive client to bring you a coffee halfway through your day. Each day we go out of our way to help each other, without hesitation, without question, because we care. 

We are proud of all our students and clients success in 2016 and we are looking forward to continued growth and success this year. And we are so thankful for your continued trust and support. 


Every year, it seems the quality of the horses here gets better and better. We are all beyond excited and appreciative for the horses we have and get to work with. After all, this is how it all started, for the love of the horses. 

This year we have added countless new faces to our team, from beginner ponies to imports from Germany and we love each and every one of them. They work hard from teaching students to ride, to competing in the Grand Prixs. We are so lucky to have such wonderful partners to work and compete with. We are so proud of the progress and success they have made this year and are looking forward to continued growth in the coming year. 

I wonder what new faces will join us this coming year…


The thing about having a place that is home to seventy some 1,200 pound animals is that it involves constant cleaning and work just to maintain it. Then you throw in the hundreds of people who come through every week and your random goat and chicken, and things get more complicated. Over the course of 2016, on top of regular maintenance we also managed to make time for improvement. We refurbished and painted two new courses of jumps for both the indoor and outdoor We made a new grazing area outside that will be available for use in the spring of next year. We began building a new wall for the outdoor that will be complete by summer of 2017. 

We are so thankful for all of our staff who helped make these improvements possible and have even bigger plans for next year! 

We are so proud of all of the growth and success 2016 has brought. We are thankful for all of the trust and support we have each and everyday. 

The power of positivity is truly an amazing thing. When you love what you do and you work hard everyday, it is easy. When you have a team of people who love what they do and work hard everyday, it becomes effortless. 

Cheers 2016, thank you for all of the memories! We are ready to hit the ground running and knock 2017 out of the park! 



Ashleen Lee and The Freedom Woods Family

Riding: The Mental Game

As seen in the Plaid Horse October/November Issue:

Good riding requires you to be both physically and mentally fit. You must be able to feel your horse and move with them. It is important for you to both control them and get out of their way; this in itself requires you to be physically fit. Good riding requires consistent thought. Riders must work and rework exercises to instill repetition in the rider, the horse, and together as a team. Once you understand the concepts and acquire the feeling that good riding takes. Other than repetition and learning to work with the horse through difficulties and misunderstanding in training, the mental piece to riding proves to be the most difficult to grasp.


Mentally preparing and reacting to the horse properly requires a bit of time. It also tends to be a more influential piece as you age or if you have suffered an accident. The two most common situations that the rider must mentally overcome are basic instincts in moments of physical fear and fear of making mistakes.


Physical fear occurs when the rider feels out of control of their horse. This feeling of panic happens more often with novice riders who have not learned to adapt. For example, if the horse locks its jaw and bolts a novice rider will tend to lock up and clamp onto the horse with their legs while also locking the elbow to try to overpower the horse to stop. Basic instincts tell them to hold on. They do not realize in clamping on with their legs, they are communicating to their horse to go forward. It is a trained response to relax the leg when bringing the horse back. While doing so properly requires you to keep leg, it is not a clamped leg. It is a steady controlled, and connected leg.  When a rider locks their arms, they are attempting to overpower the horse. This is impossible. The arm must stay elastic even when trying to reel in a horse that is running away. Especially in instances where the horse has locked their jaw, the rider must stay elastic in order to supple the horse and unlock their jaw to bring them back properly. Physical fear can be overcome through training and experience. In an experienced rider, it may reoccur after an accident or traumatic experience.


The fear that tends to reoccur more often in riders is the fear of making mistakes and can happen for a number of different reasons. Your nerves might come into play during a big class that you have been preparing for. Maybe it is your first time moving up levels on a young horse and want to ensure they have a good experience. When riders operate from a place of fear, they tend to miscommunicate with their horse. They begin to either over think or become incapable of thought for that moment.


Personally, I struggle with fear of making mistakes from time to time. In June, I moved up to the 1.40m with a horse that I partnered up with recently. Our first class we were double clear and decided to do the Welcome Stake. It was the same height and similar in difficulty, but the word ‘welcome’ got the best of me. I misread the bending line and placed him long and weak to a wide oxer. My horse jumped for me and took both the front and hind rails down. Knowing it was rider error and I wasn't going to get it together, I chose to withdraw. I dropped down to the 1.35m to get my confidence back. Things were going quite well until I jumped into a combination and he struggled to get out. I finished the class. But all of a sudden, my mental fear kicked in. We had jumped hundreds of in and outs, and just one time we struggled but now it was in my head.  As irrational as it was, I thought I was going to have trouble with all the combinations. The moment I thought I had trouble with combinations, I did.


I would set my eye on the combination and began to overreact. Either pulling through the turn hoping to find a forward distance or lengthening my canter through the turn thinking I needed more pace. All and all, I really just needed to canter. The panic caused me to make poor choices making it more difficult from my horse to jump clear. The combinations weren’t the problem, it was my irrational fear of making a mistake.


Similar to relationships, it takes years to build trust and only one moment to break it. However irrational this fear was, it is still real. Once I decided I had this problem, I started to pull or leg and misread the distance. I went home and practiced and retrained my thinking till that one combination was a distance memory flooded by many successes.


As riders, good riders, we think and rethink. We go over what happened, what went wrong, and what we could have done differently. Perhaps that's what differentiates riders.  We do our best to self reflect and reason with what happens in that 60-80 second window in the ring. I was lucky enough to have the guidance of a great horseman, Bucky Reynolds down in Wellington. He told me many things of value but most importantly he told me two things I will never forget. One was, “Don't verbalize”, while funny and true in its moment, I understand it now. When you speak of your fear, you give it meaning and power. You make it true. You should not give it any recognition; it needs to be buried until you forget about it. No excuses, keep riding.


The mental aspect of riding is the most difficult to overcome. Once a rider has, it may from time to time rear its ugly head. I believe this is true for most riders, and it comes in varying forms. Sometimes it is fear of being hurt, fear of ruining our horse, or fear of being wrong. Either way, the fear is real. Good riders work through it when it occurs. Great riders have found a way to overcome it. While we all feel it, we must learn to deal with it. We must realize in all instances it is not helpful and works against us. In most instances it is irrational and a constant battle for many riders. 


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From your Trainer: An Open Letter to Students

A letter to my students...

You and I are both at the stable for the same basic reason, we love horses. We love riding. Every weekend there are plenty of passionate young horsemen and women at the barn. I spend eight hours each weekend day teaching in the ring, most days I don't leave the ring and I watch what all of you do. Most of you spend a few hours hanging out with friends in the barn, I can’t see you but generally I can hear you. You then casually make your way to the arena to ride, where you walk around texting or on social media. Following this, you trot a bit and then canter each way. Sometimes when your trainer isn’t in the ring, you spend time goofing off or cantering over poles with no clear plan of what you are trying to accomplish. I am not speaking about everyone, but in general and more so to the younger crowds who have not yet realized the importance of flatwork. When you are finished with your ride, you bring your horse back to the barn while they sit on the cross ties and you are your phone. After about twenty minutes of this, you briefly brush them, put them away, and go back to hanging out with friends. As your trainer, as your coach, and as a fellow horse person, this saddens me.

Given the sheer amount of hours you spend here, you should all be getting better exponentially. Sadly, many of you waste your extra time here. Yes, hanging out with friends and enjoying the weekend is important. I have spent quite a bit of time teaching you and I know riding is important to you. I know you want to be great. I know you have the capacity to be great but it requires work, focus, and diligence. The work to be great needs to come from you. The focus and thought needs to come from you. I can give you all of the right tools, your parents can provide you with the proper horse for the job, but the rest is on you.

If you want to get better faster and really understand what riding is about I encourage you to do the following:

If you are not riding a horse, watch and listen. Watch the people who are more experienced then you. Pay attention to their position. Where are their hands and more specifically how they move with the horse. Watch their legs and seat and how they change based on what they are doing. Watch their horse; watch the rhythm and feeling between the rider’s seat and legs to the horse. Watch the feeling between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth. Listen to their trainer about corrections they need to make. Try to learn from others mistakes. Listen to hear what they are doing well and how to fix what they are doing wrong. Take a few simple theories and exercises that fit your ability level and practice them. If there was someone who had a great position, copy him or her. If there were simple things you liked, try them. 

Before you get on your horse, think about what you want to accomplish. Take one or two problems you have and work on them. For example, if you tend to cut corners, practice pushing your horse out at the ends of the ring. Take simple flat exercises you have learned in lessons and perfect them. Ask your trainer what you should work on during your ride. Ask them to give you exercises to practice. As a trainer, I have a difficult time watching my students just trot and canter around on the rail mindlessly during their open riding time. Make circles, half turns, serpentines, and change directions often. Work you horse laterally, do leg yields, shoulder in, and haunches in. Work without your stirrups. Focus on your full seat, then focus on your half seat. Whatever it is you chose to work on that day, have it be thoughtful. Work it equally both directions. Take your weaknesses and work them at lower gaits and in simpler exercises until you understand how to do them well. Have a plan for your ride.

During your rides, do not be afraid of trying different things. You will try, and you will fail, time and time again but then you will understand feeling. You will understand what works and what does not. I encourage you to make mistakes. Don't continually make the same mistake, try the same exercise a bit differently. Have a plan, know what you want and make changes to your leg, hands, and position until you get the result you want. Use trial and error and see what works. Think, then feel, then adapt!

Other than having a plan and things you would like to accomplish or change during a ride, I also encourage you to have patience. If you are frustrated and brash with your horse, their reactions will be similar. If you or your horse is frustrated, take a lap, rest a moment and then try again. Always end on a good note. If you accomplished something you wanted to, be done. Don't continue to work the same things until your horse is too tired to do it well. Don't continue till your legs are too tired to accomplish it. Set a simple goal, have a plan, and when you reach it, be done. You and your horse will go home feeling accomplished, and will go home happy for tomorrow's ride.

When you are done riding, do not put your horse in front of the fan and zone out on your phone for twenty minutes before giving them a quick brush and putting them away.  Care for your horse. Spend time with them. Get to know all the ins and outs to their confirmation and their quirks. That same horse lives in a stall, going into turnout once a day, and otherwise lives for you, their rider. Appreciate them, care for them. Your friends and your phone can wait. Build your relationship with them. And take the time and spend fifteen extra minutes taking them for grass because they deserve it.

To all of the students who spend hours and hours at the barn on the weekend, make them valuable. Learn something. Love what you do. After you have watched more experienced riders and learned from them, take ownership in your ride, take care of your horse, and then go play with your friends. If you want to be good, if you want to be great, everything you need is sitting in front of you. It is on you to pay attention to what matters, to think about what you are doing, and to focus on your horse and your riding.




Your Trainer

The Madness Behind the Inside Leg to Outside Rein

Often times I feel like a broken record. I tell my students and myself when I am riding, use the inside leg to the outside rein. Why?

The outside rein holds the track. Without it you are inherently falling in and teaching the horse to fall in. The inside leg, because if you solely use  the outside rein, your horse and you are also falling in. 

People tell me, I want to go back to basics, and my response is that it is all basics. The basics of a good trot and a good canter is the same basics as riding to the fence. If done well, they all contain good rhythm and a straight horse. You produce it in the same fashion. Sure, the pressures are different, but the concept is the same. So why is it so hard? 

When the horse is leaning, the natural instinct is to grab or to pull. When the horse is turning, the instinct is to hang on the inside rein to make the turn. Why does my horse run? Why does my horse fall in? Why can my horse not make the change? The answer for almost all of them is the same, they are off balance and they are not straight. 

Balance, connection, and feel. This is what riding thrives upon. If you merely just hold the outside rein, your horse is not in balance, they are falling in. If you over ride the inner rein and leg with failure to keep the outer rein, you will also fall in the turn. 

The key is, inside leg to the outside rein. Not outside rein to the inside leg. The order you do it in is key. You must push the horse into the outer rein. This pushes your horse onto the track and balances the horse on the outer legs through the turn. It allows them to hold the desired track well. It allow them to free up the inside leg to raise up and change the lead. If the horse is off balance they tend to speed up in an attempt to regain balance. 

It is so simple, so why is it so hard?

Our instincts tell us to grab the left rein when turning left. Our instincts tell us to grip up when our horse tightens or speeds up. Our instincts are wrong. Hence why we must remind ourselves to ride from the inside leg to the outside rein. Because our brains operate on two legs, but we are riding an animal with four. Once things become habit, we will remind ourselves less, but it is not instinctual. We must think.

Inside leg to outside rein. It produces a straight horse. When turning or circling we must work the inner rein to produce the bend, but it is secondary. We still want the horse's haunch on the outer track and to hold the track. The inside rein is used solely to produce bend and create suppling of the mouth, all of which is secondary. 

Too quickly riders go to grabbing and locking, attempting to over power the horse. When you think this through logically, you cannot over power them. Locking enforces the horse to lock up. Locking causes your failure to feel them give to you. You cannot force an animal that outweighs you by ten times. It is illogical. If you try to over power the horse you will fail.

So, you work with them. You intend to get them to supple by being supple. You offer them balance. You offer them rhythm, When you get it right, they will trust you. They are not intellectual, they are not intelligent in the same way as humans, but they understand rhythm and balance. 

Hence, the madness behind inside leg to outside rein. The madness isn't in the theory, but it consistently doing it right because it is not instinctual for us. We must work and rework it. As trainers, we must teach it and reteach it. If done right, it offers balance and feeling. It communicates a solid turn to the next fence, allowing you to find the distance. This in itself is more than half the battle when walking, trotting, or cantering properly. It is more then half the battle when riding to the fence. 

I encourage everyone to work these aids and rework them. Until they make sense. Until they are habit. You will know when you are doing it right, it will feel right. It will make life easier. A balanced horse is a simpler horse. 

Qualities of a Great Teacher

What makes a great teacher?

At a young age, I was fortunate enough to have a few great teachers. Some were great because they were knowledgeable and they could clearly explain their theory to a novice rider. Others were great riders, who had poor explanations that as a novice rider I could not comprehend.  My family has owned a stable since I was very young, and when I graduated high school, my trainer left, and I had big shoes to fill. I will admit now, I was in way over my head. Over the past eleven years of teaching, I have learned a great deal through seeking the guidance of others and learning from mistakes. So now, I think what is it that makes a great teacher? I may not share the same philosophy as everyone, but through trial and error this is mine.

A great teacher inspires others. Like the old saying, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” As a teacher, the goal is to get people to think for themselves. Luckily, most of the people I teach are very passionate, sometimes they don't know it, but they are. They love horses and riding, that is why they are here. That is the beauty of the job, I am not teaching something that people have to show up for, they choose to be here. So what now? A teacher should give you tools and inspire you. A truly great teacher, teaches their students to be better than them. Everyday, I encounter the hard workers, the talented, and the few who just really want to be a part of it. And the reality is, all of them are capable of being great if they work at it.  

I believe a great teacher must do the following things:

1.     Explain things in a way that make sense to the individual

2.     Train students to think for themselves

3.     Instill passion and encourage students through moments of weakness

4.     Keep students grounded in moments of success

5.     Hope that one day, your students surpass you


 1. Explain things in a way that makes sense to the individual


I have been lucky enough to have a few great trainers in my past. What I have failed to mention thus far, is that some of the trainers who have taught me the most, were not the best of riders or the most knowledgeable. And I have been taught by some of the best riders who could not explain things to me in a way I could comprehend. Some inspired me, others gave me tools and knowledge, and sometimes it was just time in the saddle that I needed. A great deal of riding well has to do with feeling and connecting with your horse.

I find the most difficult thing to teach a student is contact. Not pulling, not letting go, an elasticity and connection to the animal. As a teacher, you must connect with the rider and teach them to connect with their horse. I teach exercises that try to develop the feeling. Often times, I bring them into the middle and use my hands to teach them the feeling. I try many different approaches and exercises with the same objective because people learn in different ways. I give them simple exercises to practice on their own to try to help them develop the feel. Riding well, is not something that comes overnight; it requires a great amount of patience and practice. We come back every few days and discuss issues and work through it. Through this, I learn more about them as riders and can help them work through their issues. A great deal of riding is self-teaching. I give you the tools you need and make corrections along the way, but it is on the rider to do so. There must be an open ongoing discussion between rider and trainer in order to continue with positive results.


2. Train students to think for themselves


When students walk into the show ring, I don't want my students to rely on me. I want them to trust in what they know. Together, we develop a plan and go over areas that may be difficult. Before they enter the ring, we go over the plan in it's entirety. I make sure they are prepared. Overtime, the goal is for them to need me less and less. I want them to use me for guidance, not as a crutch. 

I often ask students what was their exact plan going into an exercise and what do they feel they need to improve upon. It is important that they have an opinion about how they did and how to change the outcome of an exercise. If I over teach them, then I teach them to rely on me. We go through the exercises together, I ask them first what they thought before I give them my thoughts. It is important that they are thinking for themselves, and can plan and make adjustments. 

I repeat myself a lot at work and recently I was told I have a mantra. I always tell my students to have a plan which sounds so simple but sometimes very difficult to accomplish. This is something I say constantly, and it is of the upmost importance, not just for riding but everything. Often times, things do not go according to plan. But if you have a good plan, then a misstep or moment of confusion is less dire.

For example, distance is something many riders struggle with. If I have good rhythm and the right track to the fence, I really cannot be that wrong. After all, it is a simple math problem. If my horse’s stride is twelve feet, then at the very worst I can be six feet off. Given, if I see my distance three strides out, I only need to condense my stride by two feet if I see the worst distance possible. My mind works in numbers. Often I see students change rhythms off the turn, sometimes more than fifteen strides out. If you take away from the rhythm that far out, you have changed the distance more than necessary and minimized the pace which makes the jump more difficult. At this point, you have also changed the horse’s balance, which in most instances is the most concerning. If you pull a horse hard the last few strides without balancing with leg, you have hollowed out your horse’s back and taken away from the stride making it much more difficult for the horse to jump the fence. Over time, I have learned to sit still when I do not see something and trust that it will come. This was very difficult and counterintuitive, but overtime and through practice I understood it. 

I want my students to come to me for guidance; I do not want them to rely on me. Eventually, I want them to trust in themselves and what they know.  Riders need to be able to act on a whim and a feeling. I want them to have opinions; I want them to try different things, because in the big picture of riding this is how we learn.


3.    Instill passion and encourage students through moments of weakness


Every rider has had that moment where they feel like they cannot get passed it. “I can't”, they exclaim. My students will tell you they are not allowed to utter those words. I can't means I gave up. As riders, we all have those days, where our horse let us down, or we let ourselves down. A good teacher, reminds you of the big picture. Those days happen to all of us and eventually make us stronger. It might not happen immediately, but we dust ourselves off and we work through it. My last blog was about my worst fall, it was the biggest moment of weakness I have had thus far, and eventually I overcame it. I did not do it alone; great riders and people who support me reminded me that I was capable. As a teacher you must support your students.

Back in 2012 one of my students was accepted into EAP Nationals. Two months before competing, he suffered a concussion and was unable to ride in the weeks leading up to it. He was very capable but in the moment, he had self-doubt. I went and supported him, and he rode great. Although he did not win, the clinician later reached out to him to recognize his achievements.

Walking into EAP Nationals without practice, he put his game face on and worked through difficult moments with an unknown horse. I came to watch him on the last day,  he smirked at me when I walked in and continued on his course. As his trainer, this was one of the greatest moments. He did not win, but with all of the setbacks leading up to the event he was still a contender. I was overwhelmed with how he handled himself. I didn't need to say anything I became a spectator, and it was a wonderful feeling. I was there and he recognized it, but he did not need me. It was everything I hope for in my students.


4.  Keep student’s grounded in moment of success


I don't know that I have felt this personally. But I will go to a moment that rings truest to me. I was sitting at a restaurant in Kentucky with one of the most winning hunter riders in the country and another young professional. He had just won his first $50,000 class, and was living in all of his glory. And she took her moment and without belittling him told him he needed to be humble because it can all go away as quickly as it comes. It took me a moment to realize someone as accomplished as one of the best hunter riders in the country, telling someone to be humble. But after millions of dollars of wins, she is still humble.

I teach little kids who think they are great, because they don’t understand what truly being great in this sport is. Seeing it on a higher level gave me an entirely different perspective. When you get to that high of a level and still stay grounded sheds light on how hard everyone else needs to work. I tell my students this story, in hopes they see it how I do. It is a noteworthy quote, “As quickly as you can rise to the top, you can fall to the bottom.”


5.    Hope that one day, your students surpass you.


I am sad to say, that some trainers do not feel this way. If you need them, you employ them, and you keep the cycle going. For me, if I can enable someone to surpass me, I have succeeded in the best way. Years ago, I started a student who was scared to jump. She moved on and is now touring Internationally and riding with an Olympian. At sixteen she has surpassed the level I compete at now. Does this upset me? Absolutely not, I was apart of the process. It is a beautiful thing. To help others grow and be part of something I love is why I started doing this in the first place.

If your students outgrow you, then you have done well. Sure, I understand the other side; it is financially straining to loose a good client. But only for a short while, others will come who need your guidance. For me, it helps me always strive to be better and to want more. Everyday, I push myself to be better than the last. I want my students to succeed and flourish, and I want the same for myself. In some ways, my students have taught me more than my trainers ever have.

Teaching is a gift. It is a talent. But just like riding, you must constantly work at improving your plan and your knowledge. You must be able to describe and relate. You must be able instill confidence in each individual, to trust their judgment and ability. You must teach them to trust you through moments of weakness and to believe in the process. Through moments of success they must know to be humble. And if you are truly a great teacher, you must know when to let them go. If your student surpasses you, you have not failed; in fact you have had the ultimate success. 

Overcoming my Hardest Fall

Let's talk about what we all don't want to talk about. 

Overall I consider myself to be a safe professional. I always wear a helmet. If I think my horse is going to be too wild, I turn it out or throw it on the lunge. I am not a thrill seeker, but rather in my own eyes, I am a realist. I am brave, but I am not asking for it. I diligently try to keep my students and myself safe. 

For the first 24 years of my riding career, I have come to know now, I was very lucky. I had never had an accident that landed me in the hospital, or a broken bone, nothing more than a scratch or a bruise, I just dusted myself off and got back on. However, I never felt invincible. I have always had respect for my horses and this sport. I never felt the need to prove anything by getting on a horse that for me was unrideable and maybe that is what kept me safe for so long.

On June 12, 2015 I was riding my favorite and best horse in the performance hunters. This horse had taken me to my first professional classes at Nationals, in my first International Derby, and to anywhere and everywhere I wanted to go and was always a knock out. Needless to say, I felt safe on him. On the second day of the division at Spring Spectacular, he caught a toe coming into the two stride. He fell through the vertical into the line. I landed on my chin causing some lacerations on my face. I have always been one to jump up upon hitting the ground, which in the past has served me well, but not on this day. As I was getting up, my horse who had flipped head over heels was getting up as well. He inadvertently hit me with his hoof in the left temple of my head as we were both trying to right ourselves. This knocked me out cold. I don't remember much of those moments or the moments after, only what I can piece together from stories. In that moment I have been told I was panic stricken, but not for the reasons you would imagine. I wasn't concerned for me, I was concerned for my horse and for the day of work I knew I would miss. I was in charge of my team. I knew when they had to be on, where they needed to be, and when they needed to be there. I was worried about what would happen if I wasn't there. Had I taught them well enough to conduct the day successfully without me? I couldn't rest. I sent countless texts to my assistants and grooms from the ambulance and hospital trying to help as much as I could. I know now, I have the right staff who could function without me. But in that moment, I was panic stricken that I could not be there. The entire time I was just itching to be back at the show. 

There is a quote, that riding isn't a sport but rather a lifestyle and that is so true for me. In that moment, the hardest thing was comprehending that I couldn't be there. My wounds and concussion put me out of commission for awhile, and I wish I could say that was the worst of it. I was itching to get back on. I had to watch my students and my horses showing and working and it was difficult to not be in the ring with them. I just wanted to get back on. But when I did, that was when I discovered the work I needed to do to get back to where I was. 

I don't remember much of what happened. I think that is for the best, but I was wrong when I thought that meant I was getting away unscathed. When I got back in the saddle, I wasn't scared at first, but oh it came. Two weeks after I got back on, I walked into the show ring. I tried to pretend I was okay. But my instincts were wrong. I was scared. I started pulling and hesitating at the fence. When my horse tapped the rail, I tensed up in fear he would fall down. In August I went to Kentucky, Kelley Farmer, a good friend and great rider came to me and said, "Ashleen, I've seen you do a lot of things. But this is not you." Tearfully I told her, I know, but I am scared. And she told me, "You are not the first rider to have this happen to you. You need to get over your fear. You need to go home and practice and practice.  When you are ready, then come back to the ring." If anyone knows, she does. She is one of the riders I look up to most. And not because she is the best (even though she is) but because she is so unbelievably human. She's been hurt countless times, and she has figured out how to get over it. And not just get over it, but to thrive and become the best. So I took her words to heart, and I went home and a pushed myself. I've been told it's called flooding, I went home and I just dove into jumping. I jumped all of the horses at my disposal. I set up simple exercises and I practiced and practiced. When I thought I had enough, I practiced some more. When I was ready, I went to the shows and left my help at home so I could figure it out. If I relied on the people who worked for me they would help me and let me live in this fear. It took a lot of time, a lot of deep breaths, and telling myself I was not going to die, but I got over it. 

It funny though, through all of that, not at any point did I think of stopping. No part of me ever thought about giving up riding. The only torture was trying to figure out how I was going to get over it. Not feeling great about my riding translated to many other areas of my life. Since I was little, riding has always created a sense of confidence for me. Then it grew into a career and I really took to it. It has always been one of the biggest parts of my life. But when I didn't have the confidence riding gave me, I doubted other areas of my life. It was affecting my relationships with my family and friends. I lost sight of my goals, my ideals, and my passion. I worked tirelessly. I had plenty of moments before walking in the ring where I just wanted to turn around and go back to the barn. But I faced it, cause I needed to. I kept at it, until I felt great again. I kept reminding myself that I used to love that moment before you walk in the ring and it is all on you. I have always viewed that moment as the calm before the storm. It is that few moments before you venture out on the course. Your last seconds to firm up your plan and your track. I used to savor these moments. Sometimes the stakes aren't very high for a small class, and sometimes you are planning that final trip at Nationals or your handy round of the derby. But in those moments, you take your last few seconds to think about your round.

I want to pause for a second and go into these moments a bit further because I think it is important. This may very well just be me, but I don't think so. Right before I walk into the ring before a big class. A class I have been preparing for, a big money class, a derby, or that inaugural ride on a young horse. This is the last moment I have before the moment of truth. I have always loved this moment. That moment before you give it all you have. After that fateful day, for a brief moment I dreaded it, but I knew the only way to get over it was to keep at it. I took deep breaths and envisioned myself being successful until it became a reality again. 

Falling off is a reality of the sport. I get that. But it is about getting back on, no matter how difficult that seems at first. If you truly love the horses and riding, you find a way to get through it. And maybe that is my point in writing this. I just want to shed light on the fact that sometimes we get hurt, sometimes we fall, just as football players get concussions. It is the reality at the end of the day, most of us won't get seriously hurt, maybe we fall and it just scares us. But you have to get over it. If riding has never scared you, than you haven't really ridden. 

Only now, do I feel like I can ride well again without fear. It took 6-8 months of drilling and jumping to get my nerve back. I feel better and more driven every day. I am sure one day, I will be on the other side of the trenches again, but I know I will come back again. Recently, one of my clients gave me a compliment. And she is not known to give compliments, so that is how I know it is real. But she said, she thinks I am better now than ever and she sees a difference in me. I know hard work goes a long way. And I am not proud of what happened to me, but it did. It has happened to a lot of riders, a lot who are far greater than I. I am not the first, nor will I be the last, But I will take my scars and I will continue to try to be better. I ride horses, and I will continue to strive to be the best because that is the only thing I know to do. 


Expansion: Freedom Woods North

One of the great things about Freedom Woods is our outstanding location. However, the downside is we have limited space. While our horses are happy and well cared for, you don't really get that country feel. A few years ago we purchased land just over the boarder into Wisconsin about an hour away from the city limits. The fifty-five acres in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin came with a 5,000 square foot loft home. Originally, we bought the property with hopes of growing our own hay. In the last two years, we have changed our plans. First we equipped the loft home with geothermal heating. Last year, we built two large barns on the property that in  time will be heated and contain stalls, wash racks, and tack rooms. 

Our long term goal is to offer a second facility for retired or rehabbing horses that offers fun weekends in the country for our clients. We have aspirations to build a full derby course. This will include a bridge, a wooded area, and hills to simulate competing in a real hunter derby. We will have hired staff to live on the property to care for horses that are rehabilitating or retired around the clock. For weekends in the country we plan to offer them for both children and adults (separately of course).

The Children's Weekends (Under 18)

These weekends will consist of 15 students or less. The horses will arrive Friday evening. We will spend time caring for the horses and settling them in. The students and staff will then enjoy a nice evening of BBQing and sharing stories around the fire pit. The students will all sleep in bunk beds on the second floor of the loft home. Two hired counselors and trainers will also be staying on site on the lower level of the home. We will begin Saturday morning at 6am with feeding the horses. All of the students will then come back inside for a hot breakfast. After breakfast, everyone will tack up their horses and participate in an hour and half long training session in the derby field. After we care for the horses after the ride, all of the students will be served lunch. In the afternoon on Saturday we will go for a trail ride around the property and stretch our horses out. For dinner, we will grill outside and hangout together. Weather permitting, we can also hangout in the jacuzzi and rest our muscles after a long day of working and riding. Sunday, we will start our day with feeding our horses and a delicious hot breakfast as well. We will then have a training session in the derby field. After our horses are cared for and settled, we will make our way back to Freedom Woods. 

The Adult Weekend (Over 21) 

The Adult Weekends will consist of much of the same as our Children's weekend. The only difference is on these weekend beer and wine will be served in the evenings. 

There is still much work to be done until we can offer these fun weekends but we are very hopeful and working diligently to offer them soon. Right now this is still a bit of a dream but in the near future we are hoping to make it a reality. This year, we will finish the inside of the barns. In 2017 we hope to finish the paddocks, pasture, and derby field. The future of this secondary facility is looking very bright and hope to have everything up and running by the summer of 2018. Stay tuned for updates on our progress and the opening of our new facility! 

Lake Saint Louis Festival - February 2016

Early in the morning on Tuesday February 9th, the Freedom Woods crew hit the road with two trucks and trailers and eleven horses. After a six hour drive we all arrived safely at the National Equestrian Center in Lake Saint Louis. Our team of two trainers and grooms, quickly settled in the horses, bedding their stalls and giving them hay and water. We efficiently set up the curtains and grooming stalls while the horses settled in. The rest of Tuesday consisted of preparing the horses for the week. This involved lunging the horses and working the horses in their respective show rings. After a long day of travel and preparing for the week, we all got a good nights rest. 

Wednesday morning was an early start for our team. The show started at 8am and prior to that time we prepared the horses respectively again with lunging and light flatwork in the show rings to ensure they were comfortable and ready to show. It is also important that every morning we organize and clean the equipment and bathe the horses to look their very best in the show ring. When 8am came, professional rider Ashleen Lee suited up to start showing. The first to show was Bel Ami. This is a new horse of Lauren Robishaw's which we acquired just a few weeks prior to the show. This adorable little Hanoverian gelding made his debut in the Baby Green Hunters. He was victorious the first day winning the first class and ribboning third in the under saddle class. Next to show was Bon Vivant, another horse owned by Lauren Robishaw who showed in the 3'3" Performance Hunters. He had two successful trips, and ribboned and jogged in both. The day continued with  Cazzuta. A beautiful young mare showing in the Pre Green Hunter division. She had a successful day ribboning in both classes and winning the under saddle. MTM UP2U, another recent addition to the FW family in the late summer or last year was next up. He showed in the Low Hunter Division to prepare him to show with his owner on the weekend. MTM UP2U owned by Alyssa Pak (known around the barn as Romeo) ribboned in both over fence classes 2nd and 7th out of about 30 entries and won the under saddle class. In the middle of the day, it was now time for jumpers! The first two to show were Kingston, a lease horse of Kara Weinstein's ridden by new professional Alexandra Veleris and Chateau Blue owned by Freedom Woods, both horses had clear rounds in the .85m class and earned a blue ribbon. Frankie B owned by David Waimon was next to show in the 1.15m class and ended up 5th with a double clear round. This young horse was originally imported from Great Britain and has been with us for just over a year. The last two horses to show were Peter Pan owned by Alexandra Veleris and Compis owned by Lauren Robishaw. They both competed in a 1.15m class and a 1.2m class respectively to warm them up for the big classes on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Both had successful trips. After the competition is completed, the day is far from over. We spend quite a bit of time caring for the animals after a day or intense work. They all have a bath and a good rub down linement used to help rest their sore muscles. We then finish the day cleaning and putting away the equipment to prepare for the following day. 

Thursday, was just as successful as Wednesday. All of the horses finished their divisions from the previous day with great results. In the middle of the day the Welcome Stake took place. This is the opener for the big class that occurs on Saturday evening. The class was set at 1.3m, approximately 4'3". Young professional Alexandra Veleris, the newest addition to our team competed in the class for her first time. She had a successful first outing with her horse Peter Pan, finishing the course with just two rails and finishing up in 6th place. Compis, a horse recently purchased in Wellington by Lauren Robishaw just two weeks prior to the show competed with trainer Ashleen Lee as well. Upon coming to Saint Louis, we did not plan on competing in the class, but rather getting to know the horse. After a clean round in the 1.15m on Wednesday, we went out on whim and competed in the Welcome. The result was fantastic, Compis and Ashleen Lee ended up winning the Welcome Stake. This was a great confidence boost for our entire team. 

Most of the professional classes finished up on Thursday. Friday morning started with the amateur divisions. Lauren Robishaw and Bon Vivant was one of the first to go in the morning in the Amateur Adult Hunters. She ribboned second in both over fences and first in the under saddle. Kara Weinstein and her horse Kingston were double clear in their first round and had just one knock down in the speed phase of the second class. All of our pony kids and children came out after the show to practice and prepare for the weekend. 

Saturday and Sunday both proved to be great days. Riley Malina and Mirror Image won the 11 and under over fence class, as well as being chosen for the Best Performance by a Pony rider out of everyone at the show. Aidan Madan and Little Miss Sunshine ended up Reserve Champion in he Children's Hunter Pony Division. Kara Weinstein and Kingston had multiple double clear rounds and good ribbons in the Novice Jumper Division. Lauren Robishaw and Bel Ami ended up Reserve Champion in the Child/Adult I division. MTM UP2U and Alyssa Pak took Champion in the Child/Adult II division winning four out of the five classes. Ashleen Lee and Compis, and Alexandra Veleris and Peter Pan ended up 5th and 6th in the $5,000 Open Jumper Classic on Saturday night with just four and eight faults respectively in the first round. We also had a great surprise at the end of the day on Sunday when Ashleen Lee won Best Performance by a professional. 

The long drive home on Sunday evening was completely worth it after a very successful week. We had to drive slow and safe due to the winter storm and arrived home around 1:30am safe and sound. We are so proud of everyones success this week and are looking forward to going to Wellington in two weeks! 


Working on Better Control and Rhythm

Riders often struggle with distance. They have a difficult time developing an eye. In my experience, teaching students to judge the distance proves to be one of the most difficult. More often then not, the distance is not the problem, they struggle with rhythm, pace, and straightness which ultimately leads up to a bad distance or poor fence. In order to solve this problem of distance, riders need to have a better plan, better control, and a better rhythm. This will ultimately produce a better distance. I have chosen a few exercises I have learned over the years through practice, other trainers, and books to help work on these issues. The exercises of the week include how to better regulate your speed on a circle, how to properly spiral in on a circle, how to keep control around the ends of the ring, and serpentines. 

More often then not, when working with novice riders they do not think through the entire exercise or course and just try to memorize the order of the fences and have a general idea of where they are going. It is important to go over the exercise in your head, and really think about exactly where you want to go, what tempo you need where, and identify areas that will be difficult and need your extra attention. This does not just apply to a course or exercise of multiple fences, but to your flatwork as well. For example, when you make your serpentine, don't just have a general idea of where you are going. Instead, make sure all the loops are even, concentrate on the shape of your horse's body through the turns and on the straight lines. Try to be more definite and exact about what you want and when. When I am going into a class, especially a big class where I am nervous, I sit down and visualize exactly what my plan is. As riders, students, and trainers, it is very important to think everything through before acting, to ensure a better plan and a more successful outcome. Obviously, things do not always go as planned but having a plan and an idea of what your goal is throughout the course has always proved to be useful to me. 

Regulating Speed on a Circle

Practice regulating speed on a twenty meter circle. First start off at the walk, be sure your circle is the shape of a circle. Sometimes it helps to put something in the center of the circle as a point to ensure you stay equal distance from the center of the circle. Alternate between a forward working walk and a collected walk. Once you are successful with that, practice changing speeds each half circle, and then each quarter. It is very important to make sure you horse is working from the hind end into the contact rather then mouth first. You should continue to work this exercise at the trot and canter. Make sure you do not stay on a twenty meter circle the entire time, definitely take breaks and work the entire arena as well. Your goal should be to be able to control the different gaits while maintaining a nice shape in the circle. Also, pay attention to your position, do not get sloppy and try to keep your body quiet and legs connected while changing your rhythm. 

Spiral in on a Circle

Start your horse on a twenty meter circle. Again it may help to put something at the center of the circle to ensure you stay equal distance from the center of the circle. Once you have achieved a twenty meter circle with good tempo and rhythm, begin to spiral in, about two meters each circle, until you reach a ten meter circle. Use your outside leg to spiral in, and it is very important to take your time when making the circle smaller to ensure your horse's tempo stays the same and they continue to work properly from the hind end to the front end.  If your horse is older, or unfit, only spiral in as much as you can comfortably with your horse. Only spiral in to the point where you remain successful. If you are having difficulty maintaining rhythm on a sixteen meter circle, then work that size circle until you are successful. Once you have spiraled in to where you are comfortable and successful, then start to spiral back out using the inside leg. Again, spiral out slowly increasing the size of the circles by approximately two meters each circle. The goal is to be able to keep the rhythm and tempo even while changing the size of the circle. Just as the first exercise, you should practice this at the walk, trot, and canter. Always start out with a slower gait,  and once you are successful continue on at other gaits. It is important to remember when working all of these circles, to give your horse breaks and not to over work the circles and spirals. The ultimate goal of this exercise is for the rider to get and keep the shape of the horse and to keep the horse working from back to front. 

Keeping Control Around the Ends of the Ring 

When practicing controlling the corners, first practice using the entire ring, you can then practice using half of the ring. When you use half the ring, you may find it useful to set two poles at a ninety degree angle, creating a false corner to help you follow the correct track. As the other exercises, start with a pace you are comfortable with and grow from there. When you are practicing corners, pay attention to your horse in your hands, through his back, and his hind end. Practice keeping control of your horse from back to front around the corners. Make the corners very square. The goal is to achieve where your horse comes through the corner and is well balanced, not tilting his head in the corner or leaning out of the turn with his shoulder. Your horse should be balanced on both reins, and in between your hand and leg at all times. It is important to not let your horse just turn in when he wants to. Like all exercises, this should be practiced both directions equally to keep your horse symmetrical. You should only practice it at more forward gaits once you have achieved good balance at slower gaits. Better corners will improve your fences because you will have better control and balance when coming off the turn to the fence. It will also improve your horse's listening through the ends of the ring. 


When practicing serpentines for novice riders, start at the working walk and picture cutting the arena into four quarters, this will make a four loop serpentine. The initial goal is to keep our horse at a working walk, and keep you horse bent around the turn without its hind quarter falling to the outside of the turn. That being said, don't keep so much outside leg that your horse falls into the turn. Try to keep your horse in balance around the turn and make him completely straight when cutting across the width of the arena. Pay attention that the horse does not get behind the leg in the turn and keeps the same pace. Once you have achieved this at the walk, then move onto the trot, and canter. If your horse does not have a lead change, or you do not want to over work the lead change (which is a huge pet peeve of mine), you may find it useful to to simple changes to either the walk, trot, or halt when at the center line in the loop. If your horse is having trouble being successful on a four loop serpentine, you can change it to a three loop serpentine and cut the arena into thirds to make the turns wider and simpler. Once you have achieved good loops and rhythm at all gaits in the simple serpentine you can make it more difficult. You can make it more difficult be increasing the amount of loops, or instead of making normal turns with an inside bend, you can practice turning your horse's shoulder and keep his head and neck straight through the turn. This will be achieved by using the indirect rein and outside leg. You can make a serpentine even more advanced by doing a turn on the haunch in your loops. No matter how simple or complex you practice this exercise the most important thing it to make sure your horses hind quarter is staying in line and your rhythm is staying the same. 

When practicing these exercises and any exercise for that matter, practice it until you are successful, do not over work the exercise. Do not try to make the exercise more difficult and complex if you are not successful, this will only undo your horse. It is important to make sure that every time you put your horse away, he has ended on a successful note and is well worked but not over worked. I hope you enjoy this weeks exercises, check back next week for new exercises and please as always feel free to ask questions during your lessons. Enjoy practicing this week! 

Exercise of the Week: Transitions

When the Freedom Woods website was relaunched a year ago, I was diligent about blogging every couple of weeks. More recently, blogging has fallen by the wayside due to my busy schedule. I am going to attempt to spend more time blogging, but if I miss a few weeks please forgive me. 

Recently, one of my younger students told me that when I am not at the barn she just gallops around on her pony because flatting is boring. I tried to explain to her the importance of flatwork and she very quickly dejected herself from the conversation and rolled her eyes at me. It is very easy when no one is watching you to get lazy and just flat around on your horse. Every now and again I think it is okay because everyone needs a break, however you are missing valuable training time on your horse. Not to mention, more often then not you are also instilling poor behavior for your horse. Every week I will put up a blog to give my students things to work on. Sometimes they will be simple and repetitive while others will be complex. This is an effort to give students a plan and something to work on. This week I will discuss transition work. 

Transitions are important to get your horse listening to your aids. For those of you who are more novice riders, when I say 'aids' I am talking about leg, hand, seat, and voice. Practice transitions, walk to trot, trot to walk, canter to walk, walk to canter, to halt, to backing up a few steps. Any and all transitions are good work for your horse. When I practice transitions, I don't merely go through paces and just do them. For example, if I am practicing walk to canter transitions, I walk until my horse is in front of my leg and behind my hand in a good working walk rhythm, only then do I transition to canter. I then work my canter until again my horse is in front of my leg and behind my hand and in good rhythm, then I repeat. My goal is to get my horse where I want them efficiently without rushing to do so. I repeat them until my horse is accepting and confident. I do not over work them until my horse is stressed or exhausted, but I do not under work them where my horse is not really listening to me. When practicing transitions, start simple, at the walk and trot and work towards more complicated. Do not start at something you know you will not be successful at, get your horse listening first. 

When practicing transitions, it is not just changing gates, it can also be lengthening and shortening strides. Practice lengthening the trot and shortening the trot, both at the posting trot and the sitting trot. Practice lengthening and shorting at all different gates and using all different seats. You cannot be too good at transitions, you cannot make your horse too good at listening. The entire goal is to get and keep your horse listening to you in a relaxed and comfortable manner. 

When I was younger, my trainer told me that you lose 80% of your flatwork when you start jumping. That percentage sounds a little high to me, but lets go with it. When I start jumping, my horse is only listening to me 20% of what he normally does. I remember saying, "Fantastic" (sarcastically). That means, you better practice flatwork or you are going to walk into the show ring and be over faced. Practicing flatwork will improve your jumping. You will be able to gallop down the line in the jump off and do the leave out, and be able to get your horse back around the turn to find that shorter distance to the vertical to make the inside turn in the roll back. 

This week, and every week for that matter, practice transitions. Don't practice till your horses are exhausted, but practice until you are successful. Try to get on everyday and make your horse a better horse, a more educated horse. It is easy to get lazy and just hack around, or to whip our your phone and go on snapchat and send selfies of you and your horse, but try to use your time more wisely and become a better rider and horse person. Until next week.... 


December Ledges Winter Series Horse Shows Recap

We had a great time at the Ledges Winter Series that last couple weeks held by Showplace Productions at Ledges Sporting Horses in Roscoe, Illinois. 

During the professional classes week one, Cazzuta, a four year old by the stallion Cabardino made her debut in the Pregreen Division and came home Champion and was second in the Pregreen Incentive Class. Guidam Grans, owned by Talking Horse, Inc. was Champion in the Training Jumpers. Frontier owned by Lauren Robishaw was Reserve Champion in the Non Thoroughbred Hunter division, winning two of the over fence classes. The week was off to a great start, and when the clients arrived on the weekend, it only got better from there. Incendio and Sarah Lanphere made their debut in the High Children's Jumper Division and won the $1,500 WIHS High Child and Adult Classic. Adeline Rohrbach and her new mount, Rodrigo's Bianca made their debut in the Low Junior/ AO Jumpers and threw down clear rounds across the board. Adeline and her other mare, Rodrigo's Bettina threw down two clear round and good ribbons in the High Child and Adult Jumper Division. Lauren Robishaw and her newest horse, Bon Vivant made their debut in the Modified Adult Hunters on Sunday and came home in the top 3 in all of their classes. Lauren and her other horse, Frontier also had a successful showing in the Amateur Adult Hunters. Alexa Paprosky and Vox moved back into the Amateur Adult Hunter ring, with a very successful tour. In the second class, they scored an 82. Charlotte Garrett and her mare Guidam Grans, owned by Talking Horse, Inc. are just beginning their career with their second horse show ever, and had two clean rounds earning them good ribbons in the Modified Children's Division. Aidan Madan and his pony Little Miss Sunshine competed in their first horse show ever! They came home Reserve Champion in the Short Stirrup Hunter Division as well as the Short Stirrup Equitation Division. They also won two of their classes. My favorite moment was when his mother texted me and told me that Aidan said it was the best day of his life. 

We are happy to report that week 2 of the December Ledges shows, went very much like the first. During the professional classes, Guidam Grans, owned by Talking Horse, Inc. was Champion for the second week in a row in the Training Jumper Division. Bon Vivant, owned by Lauren Robishaw was Champion in the 3'6" Performance Hunters. Frontier, also owned by Lauren Robishaw was Reserve Champion in the Non Thoroughbred Hunter division as well for the second week in a row. 

As the weekend continued, Katie Hochschild and her horse Sailor's Delight won the ASPCA MaClay for the first time! They also performed well all weekend in the Junior Hunter Division, earning many tricolored ribbons. Lauren Robishaw and Frontier had another successful showing in the Amateur Adult Hunters earning tricolored ribbons as well. Lauren Robishaw and her newest horse Bon Vivant, completed their first division together and ended up Reserve Champion. Charlotte Garrett and Guidam Grans really got into the swing of things this week as well, earning their first tricolored ribbons. Adeline Rohrbach had clear rounds across the board on her mares Rodrigo's Bianca and Rodrigo's Bettina. On Sunday, Adeline and Rodrigo's Bianca played Junior Hunter and received many good prizes. Not to shabby, for a jumper braided up as a hunter just to get in some extra practice. 

Overall, we could not be happier for our first two weeks of the 2015 show season. During the last two weeks, many of our riders moved up or showed their horses for the first time, with nothing but success. We are happy to report, two successful shows with happy horses and happy clients. Now we are back to training and practicing until the second week of January. Stay tuned for more updates on our show team and contact the office to find out more details about how to get involved.  


New Faces: Cole and Keller

We recently purchased two new school horses. Their names are Cole and Keller. 

Cole is a 9 yr. old, appendix, gelding. An appendix is a horse who is half thoroughbred and half quarter horse. They generally make for very good horses with the ability and athleticism of the thoroughbred combined with the quieter mind and thicker build of a quarter horse. He stands at 16.1 hands tall, with a beautiful black coat.  Cole is very sweet and easy to get along with. He is very calm, and not spooky. Currently, he jumps around 2'3" with ease to move up. So far he has been a great addition to our school horses and we cannot wait to get to know him more! 

Keller is an 18 yr. old, chestnut, Hanoverian. His previous owners showed him dressage. Keller is very tall and stands at approximately 16.3 hands. He is a great beginner horse, and he is very well schooled on the flat. He is very sweet and enjoys to cuddle. 

We are looking forward to getting to know both of these horses more but so far they both seem like great fits for our program! 

School Horse of the Week, Bella

Bella was brought home by Ashleen Lee at a horse show held at Lamplight Equestrian Center. She is a 10 year old, large welsh pony. After seeing how well behaved this pony was at the show she thought she would be a good fit for the lesson program at home. Bella has taught kids and teens how to canter and how to jump for the past two years at Freedom Woods. Bella is an honest pony that will carry children over a course of jumps with confidence. Bella jumps 2'6" courses and has an automatic lead change, she used to be very successful in the Large Children's Pony division at horse shows. 

Bella has been with us for two years this month. There are a lot of students who love her and have learned to jump on her. Bella is a great pony to take a child up through the ranks of beginning to jumping to 2'6" courses. We are very happy that Bella is part of our team!

Fun Facts about Bella:

  • Bella is a Fleabitten Grey. If you look at her closely you can see she has tiny brown spots over her entire body.
  • Bella has a smooth trot. She is one of the best ponies to demonstrate a sitting trot on! 
  • Bella's best friend is Poptart! 

School Horse Spotlight of the Week: Huey

Pictured: Huey and one of his favorite students, Grace

Huey has been apart of the Freedom Woods family for seven years. The barn originally bought Huey for Alex to show in the 3'6" jumper ring. Huey's show name is "Shoot to Thrill" named after a song from one of Alex's all time favorite bands AC/DC. In his prime, Huey showed all around the midwest including St. Louis and Trader's Point. Alex had a successful few years showing Huey, but when it was time for Alex to move up, Huey transitioned into being a school horse. 

Huey is best suited for our more intermediate and advanced riders. He is a small chestnut thoroughbred, standing at 15.3hh. He is a spirited little guy who loves to jump! His favorite job now is jumping 2'6" courses and teaching students how to work with a little more pace. Huey is a great horse for students to get a feel for a jumper type ride.

Fun Facts about Huey: 

1.) Huey loves being scratched on his forehead. He will actually move his head up and down against your hand to scratch it himself! 

2.) He loves jumping so much, sometimes he can't contain himself and wiggles his head after the jump to express himself! 

3.) Huey's best friend is Scout! 

The Wellington Experience

The Winter Equestrian Festival is a twelve week horse show that starts in the beginning of January and runs through mid April just outside the West Palm Beach area in the small town of Wellington. During this time the town is overrun with horse people, from golf carts and horses on the streets to people in breeches being a norm at the local grocery store. 

During my first trip to Wellington, it took me a few days to adjust to the atmosphere. The barns are more glamorous than most people's homes, with chandeliers hanging in the aisles and large oak stalls with intricate detail. You drive past beautiful farm after beautiful farm and then you arrive at the largest horse show facility in the country. There are 12 show rings running every Wednesday through Sunday, the average class has between 50-100 competitors and the divisions they are filled with the top riders from all over the world. 

This year we brought down four horses, Frontier, Vox, Circus Life, and Red Sky. These four horses are all what you refer to as hunters. For the more novice horse people, hunters are judged on their style and grace. These horses are to be beautiful, to jump with ease, and in good style. They should look like they want to be doing what they are doing. The hunters are very competitive at WEF. Three years ago I was beside myself to be third place at such a large show. I am happy to say this  trip to WEF was the most successful thus far. With only four horses and two weeks of showing we came home with two wins, and a bunch of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th please finishes as well. All of our horses came home with a 4th or better, and when you are competing with the best of the best and at the biggest show in the country you can't help but feel great about that. It was a great test for our horses and riders.

In addition to having great success while we were there, we also brought home a new amazing horse. We cannot congratulate Lauren Robishaw enough for her purchase of Garcia. He is beautiful and currently ranked 2nd in the country in the Regular Confirmation Hunters. His new name will be Bon Vivant which meaning is similar to living the good life, and we will call him Beau for short. We are all very excited to have another amazing animal in our program at Freedom Woods and cannot wait to be apart of his success with his new partner Lauren Robishaw. 

Overall we had a great trip to Wellington and we sure enjoyed missing some of the Chicago winter. It was a great way to kick off the 2014 show season but now we are looking forward to the spring and continued success this season! 


Maryland has been apart of the Freedom Woods family for 2 years. Since she has been at our barn she has helped children build confidence on the flat from new riders to kids who are learning to canter. In Maryland's younger days, she showed competitevly in the medium pony division at horse shows. Today at Freedom Woods, she helps students in the lesson program and also plays a very active role in the hippo therapy program. Maryland is best at helping young, beginner children. She is very calm and helps kids build confidence. This summer Maryland will take part in our summer camp. If you are signed up for our camp sessions and you are the right size and fit there is a chance you could ride Maryland this summer!

Maryland lives in between Princess and Little Debbie. It is very often that the students might get Princess and Maryland confused because they are the same color and they live right next door to each other. Maryland's golden color is called a Palomino. Maryland is also a similar height to Princess, standing at 13.1 hands tall. Since both Maryland and Princess are short they make the perfect pair with kids!  

Fun Facts about Maryland:

  • Maryland wears Pastern back boots because when she trots she kicks her back feet together. The boots protect her legs.
  • Maryland loves to Canter! 
  • Just like people, Maryland has seasonal allergies. When the weather changes, Maryland needs some time to adjust to the climate. She has special eye drops to keep her feeling better during these changes.
  • Maryland wears a rubber bit. The rubber bit is really soft on her mouth while riding. Maryland is not strong by any means so she does not require a metal bit. She also has protective rubber rings on the side of her mouth so the bit doesn't pinch her cheeks! 


Volunteers: The Backbone to Equitherapy

The dedicated volunteers are the backbone of the therapeutic and hippo-therapy programs at Freedom Woods. They assist our riders through sidewalking, horse leading and horse grooming. Our volunteers help provide our riders with a safe environment to enjoy riding and a beneficial therapeutic experience. Many of the younger volunteers often start as a way to spend more time at the barn with the horses but end up evolving to enjoying the happiness they bring to the students.

Equitherapy is currently serving more than twenty five participants on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays. A student may ride independently or have the assistance of a volunteer, depending on their ability level. One volunteer will lead the horse, while two others walk to the side. The leader controls the horse through a lead rope. The side-walkers assist with balance and helping the student execute the instructions of the therapist.

Volunteers make it possible for us to provide a rewarding experience to our students. The help by caring for the animals, getting them ready, and being hand-on with the students during the ride. Without them, we could not make a difference in the students lives. The joy on their faces makes the entire experience worth while. 

How to get involved and what to expect:

If you or someone you know is over the age of 14, they can serve as side walkers and leaders, depending upon their horsemanship skills. Someone with knowledge of horsemanship skills on the ground would make a great candidate. Someone with little or no experience is encouraged to volunteer and learn as they go. Those under the age of 14 can be runners, help groom and help change tack. Please stop by the front desk to fill out a volunteer packet if you are interested!

Little Debbie

Little Debbie has belonged to the Freedom Woods family for about 4 and a half years, and came to us when she was seven. She was originally named Little Debbie after the hostess snack given her full figure. She has a bold personality and bold markings. Little Debbie is a medium sized, Welsh pony. She is a unique color paint known as a tricolor because she has black, brown, and white. Paints can have markings that are any shape or size, and they can be located virtually anywhere on their body. That characteristic makes each paint horse one-of-a-kind.

Little Debbie is a good fit for kids of all levels. She participates in the equitherapy program and in the lesson program. In the lesson program, she teaches children who are just learning to ride to kids who are learning how to jump. Lessons provide Debbie the exercise she needs to stay fit because she has a very slow metabolism. 

A few years ago, Little Debbie went on vacation. She had an injury out playing one day that required her to have time off to recuperate. After the vet diagnosed Little Debbie, the best thing we could do for her was let her rest out in a field. For Little Debbie, it was like being on vacation because she got to hang out in a big grass field all day grazing in the sun. When Debbie was all healed she came back to Freedom Woods to finish rehabbing before entering back into the school program.

Little Debbie is an integral part to our barn. She is docile and kind which helps beginner children feel safe. She also loves to jump, you can see her little ears perk up when she trots and canters down to the fences. We are very pleased to have such a wonderful pony who loves her job! Debbie is with us for the long haul! She has a vey bright future ahead of her at Freedom Woods followed by a wonderful retirement at our Wisconsin location when she is done.    

Fun Facts about Little Debbie:

  • She loves face rubs and kisses!
  • She gets turned out daily to run and play indoors and outdoors (weather permitting). Little Debbie loves to roll when she is in turn out!
  • Because of her wide structure, she wears a non-slip pad underneath her saddle to help prevent it from sliding while children are riding her. 
  • Her best friend to be turned out with is Remmie!