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 over 20 years 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.

When Nikki bought her first horse — Heaven’s Fire, still a dragon teaching lessons through age 32 — we joined a local Pony Club. Our years in USPC provided an invaluable education, culminating with Dana’s experience as a District Commissioner and Nikki’s national H-rating.

We’re both grateful for that excellent foundation, because it gave us the confidence to start our own riding school and develop a curriculum that suited our circumstances and goals.

Working together as business partners is still a fun and rewarding experience. HorseSense has grown up around us, but it remains a small family business.

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coaching Levels students at shows

What We're Doing Now

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

Nikki continues to offer riding 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.

We’ll both do occasional Level Up clinics at local farms for our students, and offer a few of our popular specialty clinics to local barns who want something fun and different for their clients. Check our Facebook page for updated information.

Our big plan, however, is to finally have time to work on the Learning Levels curriculum. More good stuff to come!

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The short answer: We ran an eventing-based riding academy that was centered on Pony Club principles of riding safety and horse management.

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

The MUCH longer answer:

We developed the Learning Levels curriculum in 2006. We were teaching USPC-based safety and horse management principles — but we needed a structured system for those students for whom Pony Club is not an option. (In a rural community, before USPC developed their Pony Club Centers, this was definitely the case.) So 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 created 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!

By the time we moved to our last farm in Ellijay in 2013, 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 are engaged and committed and we have very little attrition.

Kids grew up with us and left for college or careers but still came back for lessons and camps and just to visit; most of our teenaged students and all of our adult Boss Mares students are riding friends for life. We had the same students year after year for summer day camps; eventually we just expanded our Level Up camps to accommodate all of our regular students and had very little space for non-students.

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 still love our barn family, and we’ll stay in touch through lessons and clinics and barn parties.

But now we’re pretty excited to share all the knowledge and resources we developed along the way with a wider audience.

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. . . and we realized that one overwhelming benefit from the Learning Levels system is that our students are engaged and committed and we have very little attrition. Kids grew up with us and left for college or careers but still came back for occasional lessons and camps and just to visit . . . 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.

We want people and horses to form partnerships based on realistic expectations rather than vague ideals – because it’s usually the horse that pays the price when reality doesn’t match the dream. A comprehensive educational plan is the key here: you need knowledge of horses and riding in order to find an appropriate equine partner.

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 humans can – and should – do better!

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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.

USPC teaches its members to give back, both to the club and to the community. This is our way of sharing the joy and fulfillment we’ve found in a life with horses.

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We have been blessed with many talented photographers over the years: students who voluntarily stood out in a sweltering/ freezing arena – or slogged up and down our hilly pastures – capturing lifelong memories of camps, clinics, and shows. We’re grateful to all of them!

One such student, Delaney Witbrod, is now a professional photographer with a gift for animal portraits – see more of her fine work here.

You’ll also find illustrations throughout our online courses and printed materials (like study guides) graciously donated by Rhonda Hagy, who is a student and lifelong friend. Contact us for information about her work.

Are we lucky or WHAT?!

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