Based in Arkansas, USa
Who I Am
I’m a 20 year old equestrian from Little Rock, AR. I have experience riding both English and Western styles, but for most of my career, my specialty was in Eventing. I’ve successfully taken several horses with little or no prior experience in eventing through Training level. I’ve been an equestrian for over 13 years and a lover of the equines since before I can remember! I share this love for & journey with horses on various social networks such as Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. I’m currently living/working on a horse farm as a trainer for rescue horses, ex-racehorses, and more. My focus involves delving into the world of Positive Reinforcement through Clicker Training. Full disclosure, it is a new experience for me; however, I am extremely passionate about training horses keeping in mind a philosophy around using the least intrusive, minimally aversive (LIMA) methods. My interest in behavior modification leads me to my last fun fact: I am currently pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Spanish. The minor is irrelevant, but I’m paying for it so I feel like you should know.
I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. I constantly drew them in school, strictly wore horsey apparel, and even rode “stick horses” like it was my job. Around the time that I entered second grade, I had just about given up on the dream of becoming an actual horse. Until one fateful day, my best friend showed up to school in knee-length shorts, half-chaps, and paddock boots. I tagged along to her lesson & never looked back.
I began my riding career by testing out several potential schooling mounts over a few weeks (lessoning ONLY once a week at the time…that was torture at its finest!). I immediately fell in love with a 15.2hh, chestnut, Quarter Horse gelding named Bingo Bug Fuzz. Yes, I was that kid that never had a pony. Did I mention he was 20 years old? Regardless of his goofy name and advanced age, I loved that horse with my whole heart. My parents surprised me on my 8th birthday with him as my present. I had never been more thrilled in my life. From that moment forward, riding consumed my thoughts and dreams. I went to every lesson, every summer camp, and was truly living and breathing everything horse. I rode in a western saddle for about two lessons before I decided I wanted the English one—as, from my understanding at the time, it was the more difficult option. I soon learned that riding bareback was also an option, and then…it was “good luck getting Jill to use a saddle!”
My first pivotal point was when my trainer moved away. I found a new one in my first eventing coach. I was completely flabbergasted by the harsh reality that most people don’t choose bareback as their main riding style! I had to ride in a saddle and eventually learned how to really jump. I fell in love with it instantly. But that didn’t stop me from riding bareback every time my trainer was absent(;
The story moves on, and after a wonderful two years together, Bingo was sold to another young girl as it was “time for me to get an event horse.” I was devastated. But, I did eventually move on & my family purchased Dragonfly. Another 15.2hh, chestnut gelding, but he was an 11 year old Morgan Cross. Dfly was a family favorite. He was truly the kindest and most gentle horse I have ever met. He was a fox hunter prior to my owning him, and once he was mine, I took him up the levels from level one (now called starter) all the way up to Training. Sadly, he was maxing out. He wasn’t fast enough for the time, and he was struggling to keep up. We retired him to a wonderful local family where he got all the love and attention he deserved, but in a much less competitive environment. Dragonfly gave me some of the best years of my life. In four years, he established my confidence as a rider extremely early on and helped me overcome my fear of jumping anything bigger than a cross rail!
After Dfly’s retirement, my family bought Beau aka Hearthrob (JC spelling, no it’s not a typo) in August of 2014. He was an 12 year old, 16.1hh, bay, thoroughbred gelding. This horse was the reason I started my equestrian social media accounts. I posted about him constantly because I was so excited to finally have my big time eventer. Beau was intended to be my move up horse, but he had a lot going on. He was sound for our first six months together, but gradually, his behavior began to worsen. There was no way to stop him from going sideways in the approach to jumps. It was the most bizarre behavior I’d ever seen in a horse—let alone one we bought to be my upper-level eventer! I went to a clinic with an Olympic level eventer & he couldn’t even get Beau to cooperate. He told me I should sell the beast & get something my level. My trainers told me to kick him on & make him do it. I had to show him who was boss or he’d be winning, usurping my authority, undermining my leadership, or disrespecting me.
But something never quite sat right with me. I always felt like something was wrong—and there was. We finally got the vet out after Beau went lame. He’d been lame for five weeks. Five weeks of me soaking his hoof in Epsom salts, wrapping it, and giving him time off. When the X-Rays were done, we discovered a Keratoma: “a rare benign tumor of the inner layer of keratin-producing epidermal hoof wall cells that forms inside a horse's foot. As the tumor slowly grows, it expands and separates the hoof wall laminae, causing pain and lameness,” (VCA Hospitals). We took him to Oklahoma for surgery & brought him home a week later. Around six months on stall rest and eight total before he’d grown enough hoof for me to get the vet’s okay to ride lightly.
In that time, I began to explore liberty horsemanship, and the join-up method. So, at the time, my understanding of liberty work was anything that didn’t involve riding or lunging. I tried to trick-train Beau while he was off, but it never went well. I so wish I could turn back time & tell my younger self what I know now! When Beau was sound to ride, I began practicing with join-up. It was a concept that I’d seen on the TV series called Heartland, and when I did it with Beau, it worked. I now know that the reason it worked is due to basic negative reinforcement (-R). I added pressure by chasing him, and when he offered the behaviors (low head, tighter circle, licking & chewing) that I was told to look for, I would back off. Pressure and release, reinforcing that his appeasement behaviors were what I was looking for. And still, I always wondered why he would run from me in the pasture, never walk up to me, and never seemed to care if I was around. I spent time with him in his pasture, I groomed him, I went to see him everyday whether I rode or not. I though join-up would tighten our bond and make him like me. But it didn’t. He associated me with work, being scary, and a will he was forced to submit to. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was treating that horse with every ounce of love and respect that I had to give. I didn’t know any better. I thought I was doing the right thing. I broke down so many times because I just couldn’t understand why he was so indifferent or, sometimes, downright resentful.
Now, I know.
I competed Beau through training level after he recovered and documented everything! Instagram & YouTube saw it all. I shared daily rides in pictures & videos and loved every moment of it. Beau was an icon of sorts. Everyone knew him! And soon, they knew Zoë. Zoë was 3 when I first met her in October of 2014. Her story has its own dedication page, so I won’t go into too much detail here. I rode her for a few years, and eventually sold Beau to his forever home in 2016. He is loved, and well cared for there! I bought my true heart horse a few days later: Zoë. Zoë was known for so long as a hot, spicy, or unruly mare. Vets, farriers, etc always wanted to comment on how busy she was with her tail. In clinics with huge names, I was always that student. You know, the one with the problem horse that moved too much or went too fast? That was me. Once, in a clinic with a well-respected, accomplished professional, Zo was dancing around due to the other horses in the group galloping around us — I wasn’t allowed to, because Zo was too amped. So, the clinician walked up to her, grabbed my rein, yanked back on her mouth and simultaneously punched her, closed fist, behind my leg. To finish, she said, “Settle down, Mare.” I don’t know about you, but the last thing that experience would make me do…is settle. It made me sick. I couldn’t believe that someone I looked up to for so long treated the animals that gave them a career with such violence.
In other clinics and lessons, I was taught to hold or to not to hold her, or to push more with my leg or to be consistent or to be lighter. But nothing really solved the issue of her anxiety. It was really a day-to-day matter at that point: was today a Speedy Gonzales day or a Loose Rein Doesn’t Matter What I Do day? It all just never felt right. I had no control/consistency and we were both about to blow a fuse. Everyone seemed to be guessing to see what would work.
Due to some saddle fit issues, she had most of June 2018 off. Then, colic surgery in the following month. This is when I began Positive Reinforcement training. I reached out to several +R trainers, bought the books, and began reading. I researched online, watched videos, read books, and I am hooked. I much prefer the feeling of working with a horse at liberty (which I now know simply means no tack and that they are free to leave at will/liberty). The horse may choose to say “No thank you,” and exit stage left. Oh well. I have days that I just don’t want to work, too. But the beauty of working with +R is that the no’s turn into yes’s. The moments of absence turn into periods of learning. The horse will come to choose you. In Zo and I’s first few sessions at liberty, it could take her ages to show any interest in me. But, I began rewarding for every small achievement and eventually, allowed her to create a positive association with me.
She is not anxious in work, she leads calmly, she looks to me for comfort & scratchies, she whinnies at me, she comes running to me, she chooses me over grass/hay/poop/other-horse/etc. She is an entirely different horse because of the work I’ve done with her through +R. She is happier because of it and enjoys our sessions with her bright eyes, a loose back, and expressive movements. Now, having experienced this amazing transformation, there is no way I am ever looking back. I fully endorse that with the right information, the dedication, and the heart to work with the horse, that clicker training, positive reinforcement work, and liberty sessions can truly revolutionize a relationship between horse and human.
My experiences with many different horses over the years taught me many things. I share them on here so that the reader may gain a better understanding of where I’m coming from, what I believed, and what I did compared to now. A lot has changed in a short amount of time, but my dedication to learn is not going anywhere. I am finally trusting my gut feeling in a way that I was unaware of for most of my life. Something always felt wrong about the way that others and even I, myself, treated horses. This may not hold true for everyone, in fact, I’m confident it won’t. But for those of you out there who feel the same way I did. There is another path. A path that allows for a true partnership that is based in science.
So that’s my story!