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January 6, 2012

One Day, Three Saddles

Jennifer Berol Bliss started the day in a dressage saddle and finished up by team penning. Photo by Ashley Wodehouse.

I don't consider myself an inherently adventurous person. I have a very healthy respect for structure and routine. I like to plan, sometimes to a fault. And yet, if it involves a horse, I will try anything.

 A few weeks ago, I had one particularly memorable day, filled with all kinds of horses and riding. 

My early morning began with a dressage horse. I have a friend whom I am helping out—she is currently pregnant but wanting to keep her horse going a bit. Her barn is located just down the street from my house, so I often stop by to ride before heading to my own barn. I am certainly not an expert in dressage, but I do enjoy flatting a horse nicely. The fundamentals of flatwork—getting a horse supple and responsive—really apply across the board of disciplines.

Instead of continuing to bring my own saddle along, I decided to embrace the whole experience a bit more and try riding in her dressage saddle. (I might add that I ride in a very old, very flat saddle, seemingly held together with duct tape, bubble gum and love. Compared to a dressage saddle, it is sort of like riding on a pringle!) It wasn't such a hard transition, though, due to the fact that I have done reining and have become pretty comfortable in a western saddle. I was much more prepared for the lengthened stirrups, deeper seat and more open hip angle than I might have been otherwise. I was pleased that I was able to find my new center of balance and be effective with my aids relatively quickly.

Then my day carried on as usual, riding and teaching at Sleepy Hollow. I must admit that I was somewhat happy to be back in my element. It is nice to feel like you have the knowledge, tools and confidence to help and improve the horse, rather than just maintain.

After my last lesson and a quick wardrobe change, my colleague and friend Ashley Woodhouse and I headed off on an adventure. We had been invited by one of our farriers to come try team penning. I had a slight advantage over Ashley, having actually sat in a western saddle before. But beyond that, it was pretty much the blind leading the blind. Thankfully, we had great horses to ride and a very patient third team member to show us the ropes. We got better as we learned the rules. (Meaning we were able to carve out a little more time each round before getting eliminated. Those cows are hard to keep track of!)

I know where my strengths lie, and I have a clear vision of what my goals are within the hunter/jumper world. But there are so many other things with horses that I want to learn and try. I just have such a love for the animal and such interest in how different people interact with and train them. Horses truly make me a better person by inspiring me to reach beyond my comfort zone. Seeing the multitude of things that one animal can do and achieve makes me think of all that is possible within ourselves as well. I hope that is a lesson I can carry forward with me, both in the barn and in life.

Jennifer Berol Bliss had a very successful junior career, which included achievements such as earning USEF Pony Finals championships, national championships in the pony and junior hunter divisions, and top 15 placings in all the major equitation finals. She ran her own business, Harris Hill Farm, from 2007 until 2011. In September 2011, she joined Sleepy Hollow Stables in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., as a rider and trainer. Jennifer is a USHJA Certified Trainer, as well as a member of the USHJA Young Professionals Committee.