Want to know more about us?

A bit about who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

Who We Are

HorseSense Learning Levels, LLC is owned by Nikki and Dana Surrusco. We’re based in the beautiful North Georgia mountains, about an hour north of Atlanta.

We've been doing the horsey thing together for almost three decades now, starting when Dana was a homeschooling mom and Nikki fell in love with a Shetland pony on Sesame Street at the age of six.

Several years of hunt seat riding lessons and stall mucking jobs led to our first horse and the local Pony Club, where Nikki graduated with an H rating and Dana served many years as a District Commissioner. Our years in USPC provided an invaluable education and inspired our love of teaching.

By the time a second horse joined the family, Nikki had a job instructing beginners and it seemed like a good idea to rent an empty facility and let our horses work for a living. Little did we guess we would be collaborating on a full-scale riding academy within a year! All of our camps, clinics and shows were very much a team effort, with Nikki in the arena and Dana taking on the role of official Barn Mom.

Almost twenty years later, working together as business partners is still a fun and rewarding experience. HorseSense has grown and evolved around us, but it remains a small family venture.

mother-daughter horse business partners

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coaching Levels students at shows

What We're Doing Now

After almost 14 years of operating a full-service riding school and boarding barn, we’re pretty excited to take all the knowledge and resources from our physical business and share them online.

Nikki continues to offer lessons and training on a freelance basis, working at several farms around North Georgia. If you're interesting in talking to her about lessons, and live in within a reasonable commute to Ellijay or Jasper, you can contact her HERE.

Our big plan, however, is for Learning Levels to become the top priority in our schedule. We have SO MANY ideas we'd like to share with other instructors, and just as many teaching tools left to create! (If you're a LLPro member, thank you for helping us make this dream a reality.)

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The short answer: We ran an entry-level riding academy that emphasized safety, versatility, and horse management.

You can get a good idea of our program from our riding school’s Facebook page.

The MUCH longer answer:

We rapidly grew from a 2-horse family with a few private students to a full-scale lesson and boarding barn, with dozens of weekly students learning balanced seat English riding and unmounted horse care. While we wanted our students to have the same opportunities we'd had - including the Pony Club experience - it quickly became apparent that our rural community needed a flexible lesson program requiring less commitment. (This was back before USPC developed their Pony Club Centers, when clubs were run entirely by volunteers!)

So in 2007, we devised a curriculum that worked for us, and tweaked it as our riding business grew. By 2009, we had started sharing our curriculum materials with other instructors: former students who were starting their own lesson programs, and friends with established riding schools that wanted to add unmounted horse care classes to their program. We began creating Learning Levels study guides to help both our students and those instructors.

Meanwhile, our lesson business was BOOMING and summer day camp season took on a life of its own! We spent many late nights preparing for camps and clinics, wishing we had a library of grab-and-go materials.

By the time our business celebrated its tenth anniversary, we had a perpetual waiting list for lessons. We added a few horses to the lesson string and still had more students than daylight hours could accommodate — and we realized that one overwhelming benefit from the Learning Levels system is that our students were engaged and committed and we had very little attrition.

As riding instructors, this was the barn family we'd always dreamed of having. But it was insanely busy.

At the end of 2017, family health issues required us to make the difficult decision to close down the farm and change both our hectic lifestyle and our business approach. We've been fortunate to keep in touch with many of our students and to watch them do great things with the HorseSense they learned.

Where one door closes, another opens. HorseSense Learning Levels was launched in October 2020, allowing us to share our curriculum, teaching resources and vision with a wider audience.

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. . . we realized that one overwhelming benefit from the Learning Levels system is that our students were engaged and committed and we had very little attrition. . . . As riding instructors, this was the barn family we'd always dreamed of having.

Our Goals for the Learning Levels Program​

In essence, we promote:

We teach high standards of horsemanship to insure that both the horse and the rider have a safe and enjoyable relationship.

In the barn, we promote the same high standards of horse care, with the belief that riders and non-riders of all ages need a systematic approach to unmounted learning.

At the very least, we want to prevent unwitting abuse of horses by creating educated people.

The trust horses put in us is an amazing gift, considering how often they suffer from the things we do or don't do out of ignorance. We believe that as riders, trainers, and caretakers, we should live by the motto "Know better, do better" - and that to be an excellent equestrian is to commit to lifelong learning and self-improvement!

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... and why we do it

We hope that you will carry all that good education forward. Develop smarter, safer riders. Make horses happier.

Being around horses is an invaluable way to teach kids lessons about life, and it's wonderful therapy for us adults!

Over the years we've made life-long friendships through this business. We love horsey people. We believe that most of us are out here trying to do the right thing, and we want to help.

But at the heart of it all, horses are the reason. We've both had once-in-a-lifetime horses that changed our lives and taught us to be better people.

We're so fortunate to still be learning and to have opportunities to share that knowledge with generations of students. We hope we can help you experience the same joy and fulfillment.

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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.