Being able to work with horses every day is work, don’t get us wrong. But it’s also a childhood dream come true.
Running a business that helps students start their own unique equine journeys — and find the same joy with a horse — is a pretty special thing.
Over the holidays this year, we’re taking a little extra time for family, rest and reflection. 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, so it feels particularly important to recognize the things we’re thankful for.
Luckily, our years in the horse business have given us quite a long list!
Our gratitude list includes:
Supportive students that have grown up with us, stuck by us through thick and thin, and still feel like part of the family. We’ve met some truly wonderful people over the years and nothing delights us quite like hearing about their recent accomplishments.
You can read more about building a long-lasting barn family here.
The instructors who have helped shape our philosophy over the years – especially Neal Blair, who taught us that everything is built on the basics; the late, great Ann Haller, who taught us the importance of making the hard things positive and FUN; and Candee Niss, who taught us not to be afraid to think outside the box.
The patient, forgiving guardian angels in horse form that make teaching beginners possible. Our school horses have always been a little on the older side, maybe a little conformationally challenged, not the flashiest movers, but safe and kind and worth their weight in gold.
Many of them were rescues and reclamation projects who found a second life in the lesson program, and we hope all of them felt how much they were loved.
Pony noses. How lucky are we to get to boop these cute snoots on a daily basis?!
All of the HorseSense we’ve learned from the best teachers: our horses. Caring for our little herd – and committing to continued education – has given us a foundation of equine knowledge we’ll probably never take for granted.
Get tips for caring for your special school horses here.
United States Pony Club, a huge part of our life for almost a decade. Pony Club increased our appreciation for a structured, progressive system of skill, and created many friends and memories we still treasure today. The bandaging skills have also come in handy.
The other equine organizations that inspired us with clear goals and logical progression, particularly the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Horse & Pony Program – which guided our self-directed study in the years before Pony Club and was probably the largest influence on our own curriculum.
Mounted Games Across America, which taught us that equine competition can be laid-back, affordable, and really good fun, especially when everyone pitches in.
Hauling a pony across three states to play games in the sub-freezing temperatures somehow always seemed like a delight, thanks to the warm and welcoming atmosphere.
All the wonderful memories we’ve made – and captured. We have a treasure trove of photos and video immortalizing our favorite summer camps, barn parties, triumphant show team outings and trail rides.
This is in no large part due to the volunteer photographers who braved the hot, dusty arena every summer and shared their artistic visions.
Fun fact: student Delaney Witbrod actually went on to become a professional animal photographer and was on the Belmont racetrack snapping Justify’s historic Triple Crown win!
Creative collaboration with other talented artists has occurred outside the arena, too.
We’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have our multi-talented friend, Rhonda, as our in-house illustrator. (She’s also a long-time student and Learning Levels instructor!) Her drawings bring life to our study guides and other educational projects. 💜
The hidden education in running a riding school. We’ve definitely Leveled Up our business and marketing skills, interpersonal communication, and computer/graphic skills.
We can also assemble an electric fence and set gymnastic grids with our eyes closed.
A life that keeps us moving and in tune with nature. Keeping horses is hard manual labor, no doubt about it, and if you teach, you definitely get your steps in!
We might like to complain a little about the heat/wind/rain/mud, but the truth is that we’re lucky to have an occupation that keeps our bodies and minds in shape.
And we’ve had front-row seats to some great sunsets.
That barn smell. You know what we’re talking about. It’s almost as soothing as the sound of horses chewing, and thanks to the ever-present piles of tack in our cars, it travels with us wherever we go.
The ability to walk through a public place in half-chaps without caring what people think. Our clothes will probably always have horse slobber stains and coating of animal hair – and probably that barn smell – but we know our lives are richer because of it.
Family members who start out as reluctant barn help and end up indispensable all-around farm hands. Our adamantly non-horsey example can now spot a colic brewing from the other side of the pasture, and admits that he actually likes building fences.
Our enduring partnership, which puts us in an extra-lucky tier of mothers and daughters. We’ve been doing this horse thing together for almost 25 years now, wrangling students and businesses for more than half of that.
Somehow we’re still best friends.
Last but certainly not least – all of you! If you’re reading this, you’re helping us achieve another dream. Our experience with providing equine education was successful and rewarding in ways that we never even imagined, and we want to be able to share that experience with you.
Our goal for 2021 - and Christmas wish! - is for the HorseSense family to continue to grow
Please let us know how we can help you by sending us your feedback, questions and requests. Tell us if you have any unique challenges with your lesson program, and feel free to request a blog topic or future resource.
And if HorseSense has already been useful to you in any way, you can help us in return. Subscribe to our free occasional newsletter, like and follow our social media pages, and share with your horsey friends using the links below.
Be sure to keep us updated on your business adventures! When we see other instructors take our program and make it their own, our hearts get three sizes bigger.
Horsepeople may all have their own way of doing things, but our lifestyle and love of horses keeps us connected – and that’s something we are always thankful for.