Living MY Dream

When I was little, not even old enough to talk, my parents and I would go for Sunday drives for fun. I would gaze out the window and watch landscapes pass, every time I would see horses out in a pasture, I would get so excited and squeal. I’ve loved horses ever since. 

 I started taking lessons once a week during the summer, at a small barn down the street from my house, when I was 6. I loved learning all the basics. Anatomy of horses, parts of different kinds of tack, how to tack up, how to get on my lesson horse by myself, and ride around a small arena. While the riding wasn’t anything formal, it made my heart soar for the two fun filled summers that my addiction started. One year, my dad was a little late to get me signed up, and all the spots were filled. We found another barn that I could continue taking once a week lessons. 


This was when things started getting more serious. I watched show jumping in the Summer Olympics for the first time, and I decided from that point forward that I wanted to jump, so here started my English lessons! Once a week turned into two, and then three times a week.

My trainer helped find my very first horse, and I started going to open breed shows. While I was so excited to start showing, my horse didn’t have the same feelings. After a few shows of him running away with me, from one end of the arena to the otherand my string bean body not able to get him under control, myconfidence dropped. I was terrified. I was able to show a different horse, more of a been there done that kind of horse. While he helped me get back in the show ring, I wasn’t working toward my goal of being able to jump. After much considerationand talking with my trainer, we came up with the game plan to sell my horse to get me something more suitable to my needs, and move to a Hunter/Jumper barn.


After a summer of consistent lessons with incredible school horses and an incredible trainer, we bought another horse that would help me get my confidence back. “Aria” was nicknamed “Mary Poppins” because she was “practically perfect in every way” and she taught me all the ropes and gave me many great rounds showing. Not only did Aria teach me important lessons while I was riding, I was able to learn the importance of workingto help afford my board and lessons. I was a true barn rat. I watched other people take lessons, offered to sub cleaning others stalls or feedings for extra money, and helped clean tack for adults that had busy work schedules. After a year with my little chestnut mare that I loved, I very quickly out grew her and moved on to an OTTB that was named “Pop Tart.” He was my next step up, and with the help of my fantastic trainer, he and I grew and learned so much together. We always had so much fun,had success at the shows, but with the reoccurring theme, I quickly outgrew him as well. 


My trainer saw something special in my dedication, and abilities, so she worked out a lease agreement, so I could ride one of the most talented horses at our barn. Donovan was the horse that put me on the map. This horse was a once in a lifetime horse, and he came along right when the economy dropped. I learned a whole new meaning of working hard for what you want. Paired with parents who believed in me, and a trainer who wanted to see me succeed more than anything, I worked hard and was able to continue doing what made me happier than anything else in the world. Donovan was the thing that got me through high school. My social anxiety gave me fears of most things regular teenagers were excited about, but when Donovan and I walked into the show arena, I was more confident than any time in my life. He made me, me. 

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A year after graduating high school, I met Aaron, the love of my life. Being incredibly young, and driven by love, Aaron and I got married. I needed to take a break from riding so we could afford our life together. I became a large animal vet tech with the best clinic in Utah, so I could still have the connection to horses that my heart longed for. I loved my job as a vet tech. All the years of working hard for my horses were being put to good use. Working long, exhausting, and physical hours along side of brilliant vets, I learned so much. 


One day, while running anesthesia on a race horse, the owner was informed that he had a injury that would require him to never race again. After surgery, and in the recovery room, the vet I worked with the most, suggested that I purchase this horse. He told me that with adequate time off, he would be sound enough he could jump. The thought of buying a broken horse seemed crazy to me, but I trusted my vet, and went with the idea. I found the most charming barn seven minutes from my house, and by that weekend, I owned the broken down OTTB and moved into Three Roses Ranch. 


Over the last five years, Hanska and I have grown and learned so much together, and just last weekend successfully competed in the 3’6” hunters. He has given me more confidence than I have ever had in my life, and because of meeting him, I met my beautiful mare, Faith. She and I have learned how to ride and compete in the AQHA/APHA ranch riding classes, as well as in halter. I continue every day trying to better myself for the sake of my horses and work hard to afford the life that they deserve.  

I’m still the crazy little girl that shouts when she sees a herd of horses in a pasture on the side of the road, that is always looking for something to learn about horses and different disciplines. I’m just a little older, and a lot taller, and happier than I could ever imagine. I’ve got calloused hands, a farmers tan, and permanent dirt under my nails, a husband who supports me, and two dogs, and I am blessed to live the life I live. 

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT Tara FROM Three Roses Equestrian?


INSTAGRAM: @Three.Roses.Equestrian

Bless The Lesson Horse

Dust billowed behind as we made it down the country road, the Jeep Cherokee jarring me and my mother in reaction to every bump and dip in the road, matching the excited butterflies in my stomach. We were on our way to my weekly Monday night riding lesson. We drove up the drive to the tiny barn, and as I got out of the car the humid atmosphere and loud hissing of cicadas welcomed us to a typical summer evening in north Florida. I dropped my helmet off in the tack room and grabbed the tan halter that belonged to my favorite horse, Rocky. Walking quickly, I ventured into the pasture to collect him for our lesson. His bright eyes watched me as I outstretched my hand in greeting, and felt an acceptant blast of warm air from his nostrils. I was home.

I am a first-generation horsewoman, and the only person in my family who actively rides. My grandma always told me that some of my ancestors in New England were horse thieves, which makes me think that it got passed down but just skipped a few generations. Ever since I laid eyes on a horse I was obsessed. I played “save the foal” with my mom, an elaborate game where bad cowboys would steal a baby mustang from the herd and trap it, and the goal was to get past the waterfall, through the mountains, and ultimately make a daring rescue. I used every one of my toy horses in a mock western landscape with cardboard boxes. I always hated Barbies and baby dolls, everything had to be horses. For Halloween one year, Mom made me a cardboard cut-out of a flying unicorn and I went as She-Ra. Mom got very good at painting horses for me.

When my parents realized that the equestrian bug was not just a phase, they started looking into ways for me to get riding experience. At 8 years old, I got my first riding lesson. My parents could only afford a 30 minute lesson once a month, but I was walking on sunshine. It was at a barn called White Star Farms in the Redlands, Florida just outside of South Miami. I was instantly smitten by their Paso Fino horses with their luxurious manes and tails, Spanish flare, and unique way of moving. And to be honest, I didn’t care what kind of horse they were, I was just happy to be around horses! I first learned how to ride on a bay gelding named Tommy. I learned how to keep my heels down, how to paso corto, and how to groom and tack up a horse. My very first fall was a very comical experience: I was walking Tommy around after our riding lesson, and he put his head down to eat under a small tree, and kept right on walking under the tree! I grabbed the branch in front of me and slide out of the saddle while Tommy just couldn’t be bothered! 

In about a year after I started taking lessons, my family moved up to Tallahassee due to new opportunities for my dad’s work. I excitedly stared out the window of the car as we pasted farm after farm of horse land. My mom had a college friend who had some horses in her backyard and I started riding horses with her. I transitioned into a western saddle on a bay Mustang mare named Missy. Looking back on it now, it certainly wasn’t the safest learning environment. I remember I fell off at the canter into a picnic table that was in the arena and had bruises for months. I remember going to a show and the lady throwing me up on her four year old colt for a pole event, and I was not ready for that at 10 years old. It was shortly after that bad experience that we looked for a better, safer place for me to ride.

In middle school we settled on a small place that taught English and the emphasis was on the care of the horses. They had a variety of breeds: Quarter horses, Morgans, and a Saddlebred.  I was placed into a Monday night group lesson and in the summers they held a week-long sleepover camp at their house. I adored waking up and feeding the horses, learning more about proper care and grooming, the importance of warming up and cooling down. I was taught never to brush a tail but to pick it out carefully, one strand at a time, to avoid breaking the hairs. I learned how to sit a buck and how to ask for a “big trot”, all the while in the flattest saddles you could possibly imagine. My first horsey love was at this barn, a dark bay Morgan named Rocky who had a small white star, a snip, and a double whorl, on above another, on his forehead. Thinking back on it now, I think my love of horses with double whorls started then and somehow followed me. I often wonder where he ended up, and like to think he lived out his days fat and happy in a big pasture.


One of the best things about living in Tallahassee and having a love of horses is being close to one of North America’s best three-day event, the Red Hills Horse Trials.  I went almost every year and was absolutely in love. I started searching for a barn where I could learn how to jump and ride dressage. I found a barn, and I overlapped my training for a brief time at both, but ultimately said “thank you” to the flat saddles and “hello” to knee rolls. I was 16 and worked off some of the lesson costs by doing barn work. One of my most laughable memories was when I accidentally turned out a pony in her normal field - but they had rotated the herds and forgot to tell me! The pastures were so big and the horses were the same colors and numbers as her pasture mates; it was an easy mistake. I had to rush out and gather her back up before any very exciting greetings happened. Life at a barn is never dull.

I feel like the time spent between high school and college was all a blur between the academics I was pursuing and the amount of activities with which I was involved. Theatre has always been a huge part of me and I was engulfed in it, especially during college. I rode less, a lot less. My trainer from high school had to sell her farm and gave up giving lessons. In my final year at FSU, I started taking lessons with Marsha Hartford-Sapp. I was really able to learn more in the short time there than I had before. I rode schoolmasters of calibers I had never touched before, and learned something brand new every ride. My favorite ride was an old chestnut Hanoverian mare who made you WORK for it, and when you got it right, the feeling of true engagement and suspension was absolute bliss.


After college, I moved to Vero Beach and started working for lessons at an eventing barn called High Hopes Eventing Farm. It was small which meant that I learned a lot hands-on. The trainer adopted some young horses which I got to work with and exercise. At one point in time she had five chestnut Thoroughbred mares, all the kindest souls. I learned to jump courses, and had a blast running through water cross-country schooling. I fell in love with a horse named Daisy, a huge 17.1 chestnut off the track Thoroughbred. She was big boned with a delicately dished face, a unique star, and a double whorl between the eyes. She was incredibly kind and sensitive, and the largest-moving horse I have ever ridden. Her walk was marching- she was going somewhere with purpose! Her trot ate up the ground and just floated. I remember one ride I took her out bareback, and her canter was so soft yet powerful and she offered lead changes as smoothly as if she was in the FEI sandbox. It’s one of my most treasured memories. The four years I spent at High Hopes I learned so much, and look back fondly on.


In 2015, my husband and I moved across the country to Denver, Colorado to start a new life in a place all on our own. Between 2015 and midway through 2017, I was only able to take a handful of lessons. My confidence for jumping was shaken after I fell flat on my back after a simple crossrail back in Vero Beach (why is it always the simple stuff?) and I decided I was going to focus on dressage. I started taking lessons with a dressage trainer, and the opportunity to partial lease came along. I had never had a better first ride on a horse. Fortune is a beautiful bay Thoroughbred gelding with a unique star, two whorls right in the middle, and a kind and curious personality. I started partial leasing him December 2017 until May 2018. He taught me a lot about the importance of relaxation and listening. Half the time I would go out and play with him freely, letting him loose in the arena after everyone else had gone home and just spend time with him being a horse. He was a puppy dog on the ground and thrived off of the attention. Under saddle, he was tense and nervous and you could tell he was trying so hard to please. I fell into bad habits, seeing spooky items at every corner and the little things created a mental block for me. I ended our lease due to financial reasons, in the hopes of saving the lease payment towards a horse of my own.


Since May of 2018, I have been transitioning back into a forward seat but with a classical approach. I have been thriving off of learning more about the biomechanics of my body in the saddle; why the body needs to do what it needs to do. I believe that hopping around from discipline to discipline and riding multiple horses can be beneficial, but I have picked up some bad habits along the way. I’m too rigid. My hips are stiff. My hands need to stay closed, my leg under me, and my leg on. My mind is finally learning to stop thinking ‘what if’ and just ride.

Recently, riding a chestnut Appendix paint named Hank has boosted my confidence. He’s the perfect horse for right now because he is steady enough and knows his job, but doesn’t just give it to you (I’m looking at you, outside leg!). I was ridiculously happy with myself when I sat an excited buck when cantering out in the field. I was over the moon this week as I make my baby debut back into jumping. I am finally feeling like it was the right thing to strip everything down to the baby basics and re-learn how to ride. And for now, the goal of riding more correctly is more than enough to worry about. 

I have been a lesson kid for the entirety of my equestrian journey, and I am so thankful for the trainers who continue to maintain lesson programs for kids who don’t need to own their own horse to get the opportunity to ride. In the future, I hope to be able to have a horse to call my own. I believe that when I do, I will happily let my trainer give lessons on my horse to pay it forward. I’m so incredibly thankful for the opportunities I have had in the saddle, and may the universe bless the lesson horses who taught me and who continue to teach student after student. May your pastures always be green, your students always be kind, and your freedom of expression never be dimmed.






The Equestrian I Am Today

Like many equestrians, I’ve been surrounded by horses my entire life. I was raised in a horse family- both my mother and grandmother being horse lovers. That being said, it’s hard for me to pinpoint when exactly I started riding when people ask how long I’ve been involved in the sport. It seems like I’ve always known how to ride a horse, that I’ve been riding since I could walk. 

I started taking real lessons, not just back yard riding, when I was about 10 years old. Right away, I fell in love. I had no idea there was so much more to riding than what I had been doing in my grandparents back yard! This is also the same time I found my love for dressage. I took lessons for a few years, and would compete in an occasional schooling show on various lesson ponies. On my 13th birthday, I received the best surprise ever- my very own cream colored pony, straight out of The Sound of Music song. Pippen was my first horse, a stubborn yet sweet haflinger pony. I loved Pippen more than anything else in the world. He taught me so much, and gave me the confidence I needed to become a better rider. We competed a little bit together, mostly in intro level tests because his little legs and chunky little body could only be so dressage-y. Regardless, I loved that horse. He especially became my saving grace after a life altering event that caused me to have my right arm amputated. 

One of the few things I remember from my time in the emergency room is trying to keep myself positive by saying “Guess I’ll have to switch to western pleasure now” and my surgeon who we found out later is a fellow dressage rider telling back, “Over my dead body will you do western!”. Sure enough, after a week of recovery in the ICU, the first thing I did after my hospital release was visit Pippen. I wasn’t cleared to ride for a while, since my risk of infection was so high because of my large wound. That didn’t stop me though. My mom would cover my bandaged nub with a plastic bag, then lead me around the pasture on Pippen. Once I was able to start riding again, I was faced with challenges I never thought I’d face. Learning how to ride with one arm? Hard. Tacking my own horse? Impossible at the time! Pippen was an angel for then, once again giving me the confidence I needed to ride again. However, once I got the hang of it, we realized that I needed a horse that was more fine tuned than Pippen, and one who would respond better to lighter aids. Enters Charlie, my heart horse. I remember the day I met Charlie, and the second I gave him his first of many face scratches. I knew from the get go that he was the horse for me, but it took the people around me a little longer to come around. After all, Charlie was a paint and a hunter! Not necessarily the warmblood most have in mind when dressage horse shopping. Regardless, he was the one. And to this day, I know I made the right decision. Charlie retaught me mostly everything I know, working together from intro level tests all the way to the Para grade 5 intro tests, which have 1st and 2nd level movements. What I love most about Charlie is that we can have serious rides where we really focus, then the next day go out and ride bareback around the field and he is the exact same horse. Even though he may not be a fancy warmblood, he’s really the best parter. To me, he seems like even more than a team mate, he’s a friend! And he gave me the confidence to further myself as a para equestrian. Overall, even though my riding journey has had its fare share of ups and downs, I wouldn’t change my experiences (the good and bad!) for the world. My journey made me the equestrian I am today. 





A Love Letter To The Underdog

Long before Joyful Dressage, Two Red Mares, or even Misfit Farms existed, there was a sturdy, moody, and excruciatingly hard-working young girl with two parents who had their different roles in my riding life. As I sit writing this, I’m staring into the area of my parents’ front yard where two horses once lived. Despite the many years that preceded a boarding situation gone awry, it feels, to this day, that this acre of land is where my future rooted before it bloomed. 

I’m one of those who girls fortunate enough to be able to ride their whole life. Not because my family is horsey, not because of our financial position, and not because of circumstance. As a toddler, around 2 years old, my grandmother bought me a horse breed book. I can still remember the smell of the book at my mom or dad read me descriptions of breeds and colors before bed until I had practically memorized all the book had to offer. For my third birthday, I was gifted a pony ride. A young father of (then) one hoisted his firstborn into the stirrups of a trusty trail pony and took me for a walk around the property. No helmet, in saddles, and proudly wearing a dress. 22 years later, not much has changed, minus the helmet – thank goodness.


 Through my formative saddle years, I don’t think there was anything particularly special about my riding talent. The barn happened to be a few miles away, letting me take weekly lessons. I attended pony camp during the summers. During the school year, my homeschooling allowed a flexible schedule where we could spend extended period times at the barn – me learning about the chores horses require, and my momma getting some peace to read with my little brother.

What was special was my determination. Without sounding self-aggrandizing, I know for a fact that I am a hard worker, and I always have been. And hard work began to differentiate me from girls my age and older. Cue a little spotted lesson pony. Apple, now my partner of 19 years, proved himself to be the biggest challenge and the most intense love of my life. We experimented in every discipline as we grew, and we failed at all of them. I know now that he was not the IDEAL child’s pony, but then, I thought being bucked off every ride was par for the course. Bruises, scratches, and frustration were just signs of experience, I reassured my little self. I knew each time I successfully navigated the waters of Apple’s alter ego, Crapple, I grew stronger, and each time I was able to have the foresight to ride proactively, I knew to my core I was getting better. I did not, and still, do not, have time for fear.

 I “worked” (what are child labor laws?) at the stable where my trainer lived. I cleaned stalls, I taught lead-line lessons that progressed to full-fledged lessons. I tacked up/cooled down/un-tacked anywhere between two to six horses a day. I cleaned the tack room until it glimmered. I was entrusted with working on my own with the “client” horses, aka any horse my trainer was 1) too scared to ride, or 2) didn’t have time to ride. I babysat my trainer’s daughter, as did my mom. All of this work paid for Apple’s half-lease as well as his eventual full lease. My emotional attachment to Apple wasn’t something I had control over. I was possessive, jealous, and always concerned if he was being treated well by other girls. I cried in bed at the thought of my full lease ending, and no longer being able to call Apple “mine.”

To my surprise, my parents scrimped and saved to purchase Apple as a Christmas present. Now over 15 years ago, I’m forever humbled by the investment and belief they had in a precocious young girl, determined to keep her universe revolving around an appy pony. At no point did a world exist where Apple was not mine, no matter how tall I grew and no matter where I wanted to go with my equestrian career. It was him or nothing. It still is.


While this all sounds great and lovely and idealistic, things went on behind the scenes I am only now, at 25 years old, to truly process and explain to those around me.

 To me, my trainer could do no wrong. She became a maternal figure, despite me not needing another mom. We went to the mall together, she let me stay at the barn overnight, she educated me from the ground up on breeding, dressage, Trakehners, and even helped (poorly) with boy problems. I was part of her home with her husband and young daughter. As I became a young teenager, she assured me she wanted to provide me with the riding career she had not had and that my family wasn’t in a position to financial facilitate. We all believed her. Who was to say we shouldn’t? Were we supposed to know better? My responsibilities at the stables grew, and I began to lease another horse that would take me from bare bone’s intro to schooling most of third level. We traveled to breed shows as she began to campaign her first homebred, she introduced me to who I truly consider my mentor now, and I thought of her mood swings as part of our relationship. Little did I know at that age her mood swings were typically alcohol-related.

I didn't tell my parents about a lot of things that happened. Some because I didn’t know they were wrong, like the lashing out and verbal abuse or her encouraging me to be a more aggressive rider than I should have been, and others because I knew they were wrong, like trusting her to be sober enough to take the wheel after competitors parties or allowing sexual comments to be made towards me by men three times my age. But… I was getting more riding opportunities than ever. While I never lacked confidence in the saddle, I was able to ask more pointed philosophical training questions and my capability began to shine. I was working my hands to the bones each day, up by 7am to ride my bike to the barn to feed, fix fences, fill waters, move horses, work horses, drag the arena, clean, ride, schedule and manage feed/vet visits, and make grain orders. On the good days, I rode a high that couldn’t be touched, lauded loudly by my trainer, the clinicians I took lessons with, and my peers. On the other days, I stifled my tears during rides or shows where I was belittled and broken down to pieces, told I wasn’t dedicating enough of my time or energy into my own growth. As if my trainer’s time had been wasted on me. I was growing in the saddle, becoming a real young rider, but behind closed doors, I was wracked with questions of self-worth, as her favoritism would swing back and forth to people with more money but less work ethic.

The shine wore off. I realized she was never going to be able to fulfill any of my aspirations because she was uncomfortable with anything past second level. I gritted my teeth and began to branch out, taking two exercise rider positions through connections I had made from her. I needed these opportunities. I had been the person she had trusted enough to care for the last foal she bred. A perfect, bold, electric chestnut Trakehner filly we agreed to name Joy. After a summer’s worth of work (for her and a part-time job), and saving every penny possible, I was able to purchase Joy for the price of the stud fee. A cost my trainer would later try to hold over my head as an adult that she did me a favor, knowing I could never afford “a horse of that quality without a little charity.” Ultimately, it was her loss. Joy turned out to be the best horse of her bloodline. Not because of her breeding, but because of how she was produced.


Through these various exercise positions where my only payment was the knowledge gained, I realized I was aggressive, and I needed to get a handle on that. I learned to love mares. I ran young horses in hand, rode 1000 new horses, and quickly made mistakes when backing young stock. As Joy reached three, I knew in my heart of hearts I couldn’t let my trainer start her. Joy has always been special and particular, and I had seen my trainer’s multi-facetted ugly sides with horses. I knew I couldn’t let her lay a hand on Joy. Ultimately, that led to the ugly “break up,” a physical altercation, a broken bitter heart, and the horses living in my front yard. I was unceremoniously given hours notice to leave the ground I had grown up on.

 At 17, I found myself alone, with the help my parents could provide, in charge of educating a three-year-old and maintaining an aging pony on my own. I was lost and felt like my soul had broken. Dreams I had as a young rider blew into the wind as my peers continued their upward trajectory, fueled by unwavering faith in a trainer and their parents' checkbooks. I couldn't imagine trusting someone so much with something as precious as Apple or Joy. I wanted to be able to say no, ask questions, and disagree. But, until I was back on my feet, this meant utilizing all my resources to give Joy the education she deserved. I paid a lady three miles away to use her facilities, where I would hand walk Joy over, get on and school, then get off and walk back until Joy was trustworthy enough to ride over. We hacked around my horse-friendly neighborhood. My little town opened a Frisbee golf course, and I would sneak down when I didn’t have the cash to pay for facilities just so I could school on flat grass. I audited every clinic I could get to, began to scribe, and tirelessly studied any material I could get my hands on. I had begun college, and I would ride before commuting, or long into the night after classes.


Joy and I began to enter local dressage shows. And we began to do well. I reached out to my mentor, someone I had been an exercise rider for who would let me trailer to visit him for the occasional lessons. He kept me on the right path, respected my ethics, and allowed me to move at the pace I deemed necessary. I felt at home on this little chestnut mare, no matter what the girls in my region were doing on their massive schoolmasters and the shameful, misguided pressure they placed on my own journey. They didn't understand my aspiration of simply and slowly building Joy to be the best SHE could be, instead of buying schoolmasters I couldn't handle and had to be in full training programs. They were nervous before every test on horses they were having flings with, using them to achieve their personal goals before trading them out for something new. That's the cycle as a young dressage rider if you want to be a pro or get to NAJYR. Meanwhile, I was gleeful before each test the few times a year I got to show because of all of the hurdles we overcame to be there. And I got to be there with her! This spooky, sensitive, sometimes ticking time bomb was all mine! No matter what happened, I was building a relationship that I hoped would last a lifetime, and that meant win, lose, or excused, I made each trip down centerline a positive learning experience for us both, remembering there's always another chance to do our best. 


Our scores began to get higher. We attended rated shows, and we qualified for our first regional championships, where we placed with high scores in massive classes and did our first parade laps. For the longest time, I thought Joy would talent cap at second level, and I was okay with that. It would be disappointing, but a horse like Joy is once in a lifetime. You don't just throw them away when you can't get where you want. However, in usual Joy fashion, she reminded me to let myself dream a bit bigger, as we came home with a 69% in our second level debut. She told me she was ready to step up, and I worked to provide her the adequate preparation. I set my sights on earning our USDF bronze medal - a goal many girls had long achieved and left in the dust - before I aged out of the JR/YR classes. And we did it. An undereducated 21-year-old girl and a backwoods produced, disfavored, and underestimated six-year-old mare. Two years later, not long after beginning my first semester of law school and planning Joy's downtime hobby (hint, bun in the oven), I couldn't believe I was writing my silly filly's name, Fair Joy *Pb*, down to enter an FEI test, and I weeped when I tried on my shadbelly for the first time. We completed a short season at Pre St. George, earning our silver medal along the way. That moment of our final centerline before taking a hiatus from showing for Joy to spend time in the broodmare shed was the most overwhelming flood of emotions unlike anything I had ever felt. We had achieved something beyond my wildest childhood dreams, and we had done it with minimal guidance. I hoped I proved to her that her faith in me had never been misguided, and in return, I cried into her neck with reckless abandon, telling her "thank you."


It's hard to completely understand how capable you can be on your own until you have to be. My parents, these towering figures of support in my everyday life, knew at some point, I would spearhead my riding career. I would be calling the shots. It just came younger than anticipated. They helped along the way, knowing that these two horses, Apple and Joy, were more than just mounts. They watched us grow up together, learn, develop, question authority, make mistakes, say no to clinicians/trainers, and keep trying, no matter the adversity. But it did come down to forging my own way, wiping away tears (sometimes blood), struggling to budget time and money, an incredible amount of sacrifice, and trusting that I had my horses' best interests at heart. I think I've succeeded.


No one person's riding journey is the same, and that's one of the things I wish I could tell my teenage self. Non-traditional does not mean lacking success. It's been 22 years since that first pony ride and seven years since I made a life changing decision about my horses' welfare and my ultimate trajectory. I think back to teenage Bailey more often than not. I wish I could go back and give her a big hug, hold her tight, reassuring her she won't always make the right calls, but that any decision made in the furtherance of personally developed principals to serve your horse is worth the uncertainty. I wish I could tell her that it's okay to feel lost, to feel stunted, and even jilted at times. It's hard to stride out on your own with zero guidance but your heart and the trust of a young horse who doesn't know any better. I really wish I could tell her that in the future, her non-traditional journey will not be the punchline to a joke between peers but, instead, the beginning of a story that serves a purpose even more than horsemanship or scores or ribbons for any young girl in the same situation: with a horse they believe in, and not much else.

Consider this the love letter to bravely doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is, to the never-ending education of dressage, and to the underdogs.


WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT Bailey FROM Joyful Dressage?


(if you aren’t already, you’re missing out on three epic redheaded babes!

INSTAGRAM: @JoyfulDressage

BLOG: Two Red Mares

7 Years Later

Many of you know that I am a rerider, meaning that I had stopped riding for an extended period of time, but I never shared my experience before I had stopped riding. So sit tight and buckle up, because we’re going back over a decade ago. But can we pause to appreciate Baby Kaitlin and George… 

My riding journey started when I was in grade three after my sister and I had spent over 3 years tormenting my mother to buy us a dog. With only an appreciation for animals, my mother would have never welcomed a dog with open arms into our house- so she got my sister and I into horseback riding. To her, this was a quick and easy fix to all her dog related problems.


I rode once a week, 9:00am on Saturday mornings in a semi-private lesson with my sister. As a child and still now, as an adult, I consider myself so lucky that I was able to ride these majestic beasts. Truth be told, I used to be terrified of horses. I would start shaking in the saddle, while grooming and you couldn’t pay me enough to get them from the paddock. Until I met one chestnut thoroughbred called Tara. She taught me how to be confident in the saddle and canter. Unfortunately, Tara moved away when someone bought her and shortly after that, the barn decided to close.

My sister and I transitioned into a new eventing barn, once I had moved barns we created friendships and relationships with horses that left me wanting more. Riding once a week was never enough, but my parents availability left my craving unsatisfied. So, I started working in the barn for free rides, lesson and more horse time. More saddle time meant more time with my all time favourite pony called, Tobey.

This pony stole my heart the minute I saw him walk by. Chunky, fluffy, orange and adorable my heart was set on him. He taught me everything from how to sit a buck, jump a course and how you always need more leg. After one chipped tooth later and some falls, I was ready to make a bigger commitment in my riding career. But truth be told, I was never the competitive type and unfortunately my parents couldn’t afford the time to spend taking me to all the commitments showing required. So I continued working in the barn and helping out with clinics to earn free saddle time. As my love for the sport grew so did my friendships with other riders and I couldn’t imagine my life differently. I spent over four years at that barn and loved every second of it while it lasted.

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I vividly remember the day my riding career came to a screeching halt. It was during a March Break camp in 2010, while I was halfway through grade nine. During the last day of the camp, the barn put on a mini schooling show- like many camps do. I to this day do not remember why I wasn’t riding Tobey, but unfortunately it just worked out so that I couldn’t. Instead I was riding, Romeo, he was a beautiful ride but nasty on the ground. I was riding Tobey the whole week and out of all horses in the riding school, Romeo was always my last choice because of his ground manners. 

It seems like the last Friday of the camp was not my day nor Romeos. We were warming up and it was like any other ride and was going fairly well, until we stepped into the show ring. With a strong canter and eyes up towards the first jump, I found myself laying on the ground- convincing myself that I was fine. Because it was just a schooling show, I was sent back to the warm up ring to shake everything off and to come back after the next person. 

With tears rolling from my eyes, I started my warm up again, before heading back into the show ring. I’m happy to say that Romeo and I made it over all of the fences, but going over the last oxer, Romeo took the long spot and I lost control. As we made it over the jump, he bolted for the bleechers that were up in the ring, making it 6ft shorter than usual. With long reins and no room, the only out Romeo saw, was the door of the arena. In hopes of trying to gather my reins and slow him down, I forgot to duck and practically split my helmet down the middle, as my head hit the doorframe. 

My 7 years of riding came to a cease and desist all thanks to a silly mistake of not ducking. I’m sure you can all guess this all resulted in a severe concussion. This concussion took over two years to heal from. I wasn’t able to finish grade nine, but I was able to take the class average so that I got the credits because of my grades at the time. In grade ten, I still wasn’t 100% and I wasn’t able to take any exams or attend assemblies. I was absolutely crushed. By the time grade eleven came around, I was back in the normal swing of things, but my doctor had yet to clear me for contact sports.

Eventually the sadness turned into numbness and when I saw horses and people riding, I just turned away from it because it hurt so much not being able to do it. So let’s fast forward three years when I started my second year of university. I was living in downtown Toronto on the eighteenth floor facing West- with a view of Drakes old penthouse and Lake Ontario. On the nights I wasn’t out, my life was quiet and I spent a lot of time looking at the lights reflecting on the lake in the distance. I would always say that my mind was congested while I was living there, so I would borrow my parents car and drive as far away from the city as possible.

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During the first quarter I met a guy called Marcus, as many of you know my boyfriend. As we became closer I opened up about the 7 best years of my life, because when I was on the back of his motorcycle it reminded me of the feeling of being free and one with something other than myself (not to mention on a sports bike, as the passenger you’re basically in two point). That January in 2018, I had made an agreement with my parents that if I move back home, I could start riding again. My mother was both over the moon and biting her nails, as she never wanted me on a horse ever again. February 1st, I moved back home and in the same day, bought new riding gear from the nearest tack shop. 

After just over seven years of being out of the saddle, I couldn’t have felt more at home when I got my butt into one. Phoenix was a beautiful draft x tb, I rode her for about 3 months and she helped reteach me. I loved that mare, but we weren’t quite the perfect fit, so I started searching horses to part-board. I rode some of my coaches horses but I didn’t click with any. That is when I decided to take the leap and search for a lease. 

It wasn’t until I tried a horse called Alcatraz who took me on this crazy journey, so naturally, I’d document it. This is when Eyes Up, Darling was born. I needed a positive, safe and creative outlet for my equine struggles with Taz. Truth be told, within the first two weeks of having him, I wasn’t able to canter him, lead him without a shank or really do anything with him. I was so close to ending the lease that I had inquired about it with his owners, but they refused to take him back. Needless to say, he was not the horse I thought I was getting, but I had to make it work somehow. Silly, wide-eyed and ambitious I only tried Alcatraz once and that night decided to lease him- I do not suggest this as I’ve learnt the hard way.

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I put my heart and soul into that little ottb, all to have him torn away from me within three days. Marcus and I had gone camping and while we were away, Taz managed to get an eye infection that resulted in an eye ulcer. For a month before he went back to his owner, I spent hours grooming, loving, and grazing him. The care he needed I could no longer provide as his medication needed to be administered twice a day and living an hour away- it was financially impossible (gas money is expensive).

Just for some background, Alcatraz is the only horse I would consider a project horse. He was severely underweight and didn’t have enough muscle to properly transition into a canter- nor did he know how to jump. By the time he left, he was a totally different horse. 

As I speed through the process of finding my little peach, Lexington, I feel at ease knowing that this is where I am supposed to be. You’d think I would’ve learnt my lesson by only trying a horse once without a trainer, but I guess not. Thank goodness this time it worked out. My equine journey started over fourteen long years ago and somehow the saddle called me home and that's exactly what being with Lex feels like. My riding story doesn’t show rosettes and a show resume, but rather my resilience, determination and drive for what I’ve always wanted- a pony of my own. I’m blessed at 22 with a healthy brain, a huge support system and a fiery dragon.

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