Welcome to the Boss Mares Blog for Equine Professionals!

We wanted to recognize our students' progression and achievements even if they could only afford a couple of lessons a month, never attended a show, and never owned a horse of their own.

Welcome to the official blog of HorseSense Learning Levels!

Over two decades (and counting…) of teaching horseback riding, we’ve accumulated a wide variety of questions and thoughts we’d like to share. We believe that a good equestrian should never stop learning and asking questions. Whether you are a student, instructor, program director, or just a fellow horse lover interested in our system, we hope you stay awhile and join in our conversations.

First, a bit of history

Who are the HorseSense Boss Mares? We are mother-daughter business partners, involved in the equine industry since Nikki took her first riding lesson at age 9. This lesson led to:
Boss Mares instructors watch student practice dressage test
Dana rode as a child, and logged many hours as a DC of various Pony Clubs, but didn’t officially return to riding until rescuing Zahtar, a scrawny elderly Arabian, from a slaughterhouse fate.

Zahtar was actually the catalyst that led us to our first barn. Now a two-horse family with a very small budget, we found the cost of full board prohibitive in our small town, and began looking into other options.

By this point, Nikki had developed a love of teaching through Pony Club and an informal apprenticeship with a local mounted patrol instructor. She also had a couple of walk-trot students riding Heaven, who was in her late teens and had developed some sense.

When moving the horses became unavoidable, we ended up forming a small co-op and leasing a vacant barn. The goal was to teach just enough lessons on Heaven and Zahtar to support our horse habit. Ha!

Little did we guess that within two years, we would have thirty+ students, a ten-horse barn, multiple summer day camps, and a full-time job … and that we were just getting started.

Build it and they will come

The Learning Levels came about for two reasons.

First and foremost, our experiences with USPC, 4-H, and the early days of Parelli Natural Horsemanship had given us an appreciation for a clear system providing goals for progression.

Our barn was located in rural area well outside the affluence of metro Atlanta. We wanted to recognize our student’s progression and achievements even if they could only afford a couple of lessons a month, never attended a show, and never owned a horse of their own.

We also wanted to emphasize safety in our program, which meant providing a very clear picture of the skills required for advancement. Most beginners want to know: “When will I canter? When will I jump? When can I trail ride, horse show, gallop in the fields…?” The Levels, we hoped, would provide answers to these questions.

We found that sticking to our guns and requiring students to progress Level by Level actually did make our program safer; the year the Levels were implemented, our number of falls noticeably decreased, especially in children learning to canter.

(This was a powerful concept for a young, relatively new instructor: learning to ride takes the time it takes, and nothing is gained by rushing ahead!)

Success is in the system

Over the years, the Learning Levels defined our riding program and gave it a consistent structure.

Having this system has helped us in innumerable ways. The Learning Levels have formed the backbone of our class schedule and our lineup of camps and clinics.

They provide a clear expectation for students, so they can set goals and understand their rate of progress.

They provide a clear expectation for teachers, preventing confusion and educational gaps when multiple instructors are working together.

And they’ve helped students invest in riding with us for the long haul. We still have college-aged students schedule custom camps during school holidays to finish up Levels.

We also started to appreciate the time-saving benefits of having this curriculum as our framework.

By developing teaching materials and lesson plans for each of the Levels, we had everything we needed to plan a camp or a surprise rainy day lesson on the fly. It also reduced the amount of time spent prepping and note-taking for each lesson.

instructor teaching a Boss Mares clinic in the arena

From our barn to yours

A few years ago, our business model shifted considerably.

The needs of our aging school horses and ailing family members, combined with the economic realities of maintaining a lesson string without owning property, forced us to reevaluate our priorities and goals. As much as we loved our busy little riding school, after fourteen years, it was time to put health and family first and give our hard-working horses the retirement they richly deserved.

Now, we offer lessons on a freelance basis, and are finally able to spend time on making our educational materials available to other instructors.

When we began talking about this transition with our barn family, in addition to meeting with each student individually, we gave out a survey to determine how we could still help them achieve their goals.

The one question we got asked more than any other, by far: “Will you still offer the Levels?” Every single one of our continuing students – and a surprising majority of them continued! – listed “Pursuing Horsemanship and HorseSense Levels” as a high priority.

In other words, we’ve found something that really works for us.

Meanwhile, we were sharing the Learning Levels curriculum and study guides, first with other local instructors, then to a wider audience through our barn’s website.

That showed us that a Leveled curriculum can be a game-changer for other equine educators, too.

Our hope is that by sharing our system, we can make YOUR busy lives just a little bit easier, and help you create the perfect system that works for you.

Here’s to helping students Level Up their horsemanship – and making the world a better place for horses AND the people who love them!

Get email newsletters:

We'll send you an occasional update with new posts and resources. And never share your information with anyone else - see our Privacy Policy for details. Easily unsubscribe at any time.

Not Yet a Member?

Join us to get ALL available resources for learning or teaching the Learning Levels. Sign up for an LLPro Membership - cancel anytime.
Join Us!

We’ve been blessed with many talented photographers over the years: students who voluntarily stood in sweltering/ freezing arenas, capturing lifelong memories of lessons, camps and shows. We’re grateful to all of them!

One former student, Delaney Witbrod, is now a professional photographer with a gift for animal portraits – see more of her fine work here. We’re also grateful for photos of Western riding donated by LLPro instructors – particularly Bit of Pleasure Horse School and Joyful Hearts Photography!

You’ll find illustrations throughout our online courses and printed materials graciously donated by our friend Rhonda Hagy. Evan Surrusco contributes additional illustrations and handles most of our photo processing. Contact us for information about their work.

We'll send you a link download to this

stuff happens while instructing card

Add your own teaching experiences and share with assistant instructors and other equine professionals - we all can relate!


Subcribe to our free email newsletter

Easily unsubscribe at any time.