In the middle of all the recent changes in my life, I wanted to take a moment to look back and reflect on all the trainers I have had in my life and all the amazing lessons they have taught me. The lessons I have learned have gone well beyond riding and the details of a half-halt. The things these very special people have given me in many ways have given me the spirit of who I am today.
My first trainer Mary Claeys-Smith was a stickler on horse care. I spent 30 minutes of preparing properly for the lesson and then taking proper care of the horse after. She patiently had me and my 9 year old friends running around her large property just basking in the joy of newborn foals, wild stallions and the joy of loving horses. She had this peach tree in her front yard that we used to secretly, or maybe not so secretly, raid. She was the first trainer who believed I had talent and she made a German clinician who came to work with adults watch me. I remember him making me ride without stirrups on my pony for nearly 40 minutes! Afterward, he agreed that he would work with me when he came to the US. She is the one who pointed out my potential to my parents and had them get me more training and a horse of my own. She got me back on a horse after my first big scary fall and I will always remember that.
My second trainer, and the one I spent the most years with was Mary Mahler. Mary had kids my age and I spent time swimming in the pool with them and we even went on family skiing trips together. Mary made the possibility of a life in the equestrian world seem like a future I desired. She kept me in the small environment of the Arabian dressage world to give me time to grow in confidence. She gave me the protection of developing my abilities without stress. Being at her house as a working student in the summers was a lesson in the contentment of a day well lived through hard work, persistence and dedication. She had a good heart and was the epitome of patient and kind yet firm and honest. I blossomed under Mary and started winning a lot of local, regional and national attention in the Arab world. When Mary decided to return to teaching in the classroom and not the barn for a period of time I was so scared to leave the warm and loving nest that I had thrived in.
Mary sent me to my next trainer Bre Dorsett. Bre was by far the most fun trainer I have had. She has the spirit of a teenager and we quickly all flocked to Aunt Bre. She encouraged us to see the fun in equestrian sport and ownership. We had costume parties and trail rides. Our horses bobbed for apples on Halloween and we played question games in the truck on the way to competitions. Bre was the trainer that also told me to take my time, not just to enjoy riding but to develop my skills properly. Don’t be in a rush to get to the end goal, get there in the best way. She showed me that sometimes to get 3 steps ahead you may have to go back first. Here I began to feel the pressures of winning and also ways to deal and not deal with the choices I have made in my career. These were the typically ‘tough’ teenage years and I think we survived them together and with only a few scratches each!
After winning Juniors I moved for a year to train in Kirkland, Washington with Jeremy Steinberg and his partner Shauntel Bryant. Jeremy had been the youth coach for a short time and he had just begun his whirlwind traveling tours. Shauntel ran the daily training and Jeremy would direct me training when he was home. Shauntel taught me about being a professional. Shauntel came to the barn every day with a smile on her face, with her hair perfect and her earrings in place. She always looked spotlessly clean, and after hours at the barn I think she must have had magic powers. She always spoke to everyone with the kindest but most professional demeanor. I found myself wanting to be like her. I started to dress like her and wear my hair the same. I started to match my polo wraps to my saddle pads too! She is probably one of the best kept secrets in the dressage world. Because of the location of Kirkland, Washington it is not in the dressage hot spot. If she was in SoCal or Wellington she would be another JJ with flocks of young and successful adoring students around her. Jeremy would pop into town and teach me about the bigger picture. Having grown up in Texas and then moving to Washington I had never been in the stresses and pressures of the highly competitive youth programs of some other regions. This had been a blessing but also kept me isolated from many of the things that my friends like Genay, Bebe, Anna and others had to experience from a lot younger age. Jeremy spent a lot of time telling and showing me how to make the transition from youth rider into a professional. The perspective of my goals, of the things to be considered needed to change. Things that were legitimate and valid to consider at 14 as a junior rider were not the same goals at 17 after winning back to back championships and considering a career as a rider. He taught me the need to change some of my perceptions and goals.
When Jeremy moved to SoCal I moved as well and then began to train with Christine Traurig. I have to say that I love Christine in ways I cannot even begin to express. Christine is my hero. I will admit openly that I worship her and think she is truly gifted and the most talented person. If I can be like her someday and live a half of the life she leads I will have been successful in my goals. She explains things exactly as I need them. She is a perfectionist. She has shown me how to take a 6 or a 7 and make it an 8 or a 9. She has shown me the truly detailed beauty of our sport. She taught me to feel the horse’s thoughts before he has them. She taught me about true harmony and connection. She also taught me about myself and claiming my own goals and my own outcomes. Robert was absolutely correct in pairing Christine and I up! We meshed and I will always hope that I get the chance to continue to work with Christine again throughout my career.
But like all change, we discover the amazing and new things ahead and the pain of what we leave behind lessons. I will be working regularly with so many great people in Wellington. Let me say a heartfelt, overwhelming thank you to the amazing people who have helped me in my life so far. You all played such big roles in helping me to become not just the rider I am today, but the person.