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Leading Non-Pro Exhibitors Share Two Important Things Deeply Connected Horse & Rider Teams Must Have

Have limited time to find a true connection with your horse? Champion Youth and Amateur exhibitors share what has helped them click with their equine partners.

It may seem like common sense that the more time you spend with your horse, the more connected you will be…that may work for some riders but that’s not always the case or practical for many equestrians.

Some riders have limited time to practice or spend time at the barn due to work, school, family obligations, yet they still seem to have this deep connection with their horse. What do they do to get that special bond even, if the rider may live in a different state than their horse and trainer?

We asked top amateurs and youth competitors to share their secrets to creating a once-in-a-lifetime bond with their horse.

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Amateur Broc Clark of Rochester Hills, Michigan shares how he creates a connection with his horse. “I relax my body then feel for my horse’s rhythm. Once I find it, I just connect like dancing.”

So what good habits can you use to create that feeling of dancing with your horse as Clark describes? Let’s find out…

Have a Close Connection with Your Trainer(s)
Michigan youth Estelle McParlan says that, since her trainers spend so much more time with her horses, it’s important to have a deep connection with them. She currently shows Cool Made Machine and Amarillo By Moonlite in the all-around events. 

“I have a level of trust in Shannon (Walker), Hannah (Lind) and Spencer (Groth) that has helped me build my relationship with my horses,” Estelle shares. “It’s really a team effort to build that bond with my horses that is necessary to be able to anticipate my horses’ moves and have my horses feel comfortable and confident, both at the barn and in the show ring.”

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McParlan says that consistency is the most important thing to ensure a deep connection with her horses. That includes her trying her best to be consistent in her riding and always learning from her trainers.

“Showing them love and affection in that downtime is equally as important. That bond also starts on the ground,” McParlan says. “I love my horses deeply and show them that love through confidence and consistency so they always know they can rely on me and trust me.”

Estelle adds, “But, I also have two very different horses with different personalities and needs, so it’s important to meet them where they are at and always remind myself that they need a different version of me to feel safe and confident themselves.”

Cale Thompson of Barrie, Ontario agrees with McParlan that having a healthy relationship with your trainer is crucial to a rider’s success and developing that all-important connection with your horse. Thompson shows his horse, Where I Come From (Monty) in the amateur all-around events.

Cale says that his trainer, Shauna MacLean has helped him develop that “next level” confidence they both needed to step up to a national level.

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“She knows him and me very well, so I’d say she’s my strongest asset when it comes to building off the connection we had before coming to her in late 2021,” Thompson says. “She has designed exercises to help prepare us before we step to the cone so that both of us have the confidence to call on each other when we need to.”

Thompson says that Shauna also knows what it takes for both of them to get to the right “head space” in order to step to the cone confidently in that big ring format.

“I think that’s definitely a key piece to letting your true connection shine in front of the judges,” Thompson shares. “I’m a huge believer in ‘letting the program work for you’ and I do put both of our trust into her when it comes to ‘game day’.”

Do the Little Things
Amateur Katie Kopf of Avon, Indiana and her gelding, Two Ziplines (Leroy) have become quite the duo. This team is currently under the guidance of Jones Performance Horses. 

Even if you have limited time to spend with your horse outside the horse shows, try to spend as much time with them at the shows doing the little things.

“Whether it’s practicing, taking your horse to the wash rack, cleaning their stall, or letting them graze, spending quality time with your horse is when you learn the most about them,” Katie says.Additionally, both my horse and I are very food driven, and I like to think I strengthen our bond by giving him endless amounts of treats,” Kopf says with a laugh.

Amateur Kaitlyn Bloom says that through many interactions at the show, she is able to recognize the normal behavior of her horse so she knows when he’s hyper, when something is off and she makes adjustments. “The biggest thing to me is making sure that my horse knows that we are a team, and I’m his advocate.”

Youth Emma DeJong says that she has a deep bond with her horse, A Midnight Cowboy (Houston). “I’ve had him for almost five years now. One big thing I do with him to help with my bonding is spend extra time doing little things. Like taking him on a walk or spending extra time in the stall with him. I also constantly try to improve our confidence together as a team. I want him to trust me inside and outside of the show pen.”

Morgan Miller-Wakeling and her horse, No Question Im Lazy (Jethro) have become a formidable team in the amateur all-around events under the supervision of Empyre Show Horses. 

Morgan explains that it was very important to get to know the quirky things that her horse Jethro does before and while he is in the arena. “He is a senior horse that has done the all-around for years. So, he knows when he is going to show and gets nervous or excited the same way I do when it’s time to show him,” Morgan says. “My trainer, Troy Lehn told me when he takes a deep breath to give him a small scratch on his withers to encourage him to relax. Then, the first time I showed him in the trail, when he took a deep breath, my rein hand was right there, and I used my nail to scratch him a little. I felt him continue to relax and our pattern got even better from there. I bring little things like that into every arena I show him in, and it’s really helped us to bond and trust each other.”

What things do you do help create a lasting connection and bond with your horse? Let us know in our social media comments.

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