Saturday, May. 25, 2024

Becoming The Bridge

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As I find myself submerged in the eclectic beauty of the horse industry, I have arrived at a place in which I have some choice about who I want to be in this world as a human and as a horseman. I’ve spent the past six years training young horses for a variety of disciplines; I now am focused on bringing together the best of these disciplines for the overall benefit of the horse.

People make their way in this world in many different ways. As humans, we find ourselves watching people we consider successful and trying to emulate them. It seems to me that the path to success does not always boil down to the “rights and wrongs” that are perpetuated by what is popular. The journey to “success” is not that linear, and in the course of my short career, it has become my goal to embrace the nonlinear wanderings of my own personal style.

Justin Bridge

Justin Haefner mixes disciplines and techniques in training and re-training horses, like Cheryl Grossman’s 10-year-old dressage pony Willow, with whom he is working to stretch, release her back and relieve tension that has lead to explosive behavior in the past. Erin Gilmore Photo

In the modern horse industry, there seem to be two paths to a successful career. One path prioritizes competitive expertise: If I wish to focus my efforts on being a top athlete in any one discipline, that requires focusing on building an impressive and specific skill set. Anyone in the highest levels of competition has an incredible degree of experience and education in their chosen arena, and I carry the utmost respect for the professionals doing just that. However, I find myself on a different path—the path of becoming a connector, a bridge between the experts. I’ve always found myself drawn to the professionals who refuse to choose one niche in the horse industry and instead explore the connections between multiple disciplines.

As I see it, the path to becoming a connector requires developing literacy in the diverse perspectives of the horse industry. It is the case of the handyman versus the specialist, the general practitioner versus the surgeon. In a world of deep specialty, the handyman has become a specialist in their own right. As a non-discipline-specific trainer of young and wayward horses, I already see myself as somewhat of a specialist in not specializing. My goal is to be able to speak the language of all of the professionals in their respective disciplines, and in my own unique way bring a perspective that encompasses them all.

As I embark down this path it is important to me that I am the best I can be in the business that pays the bills: working with young horses and their owners. Beyond that, I am embracing my personal nonlinear approach to life, and I’m pursuing whatever direction my interests take me. For now, a lot of this will look like week-long experiences.

I think we can all agree there is no potential for mastery within a week, but my goal is to use these experiences as investments in perspective, not mastery. If I find something that lights a fire inside of me, then I intend to dive deeper.

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The core of my identity within horses is wrapped up in a combination of classical dressage, traditional Vaquero-style horsemanship and equine bodywork of all sorts, so I decided to starting my journey there.

In January I rode with Vitor Silva, of Sons of the Wind, for five intensive days on Grand Prix dressage horses. My experiences with Vitor were revolutionary, and I cannot wait to share that journey with you.

In March, I will take two green, unstarted horses to my mentor Patrick King’s home facility for a week. I will immerse myself into the style of colt starting that he learned from professionals, including Ray Hunt, all through a lens provided by his years studying classical dressage.

From there, we shall see. I have interest in further pursuing education and experiences in equine cranial-sacral therapy, farriery, liberty, show jumping, saddle making and fit, ranch roping and more. I will be leaving it up to my curiosity to decide which direction I shall go in next, and in the next months I will be posting blogs on my new educational experiences in the many specialties of the horse industry. It is my goal to take you all with me, should you wish to join me on the ride.


Justin Haefner is a born and raised Virginia horseman who dedicates his life to helping riders and horses reach their full potential. He specializes in the foundational development of young high-performance horses, and with a background in vaquero-style natural horsemanship, Justin has developed a passion for creating a style that incorporates the teachings of classical dressage and equine bodywork to best understand the psychology and physiology of every horse he trains. In his partnership with his father, Dr. Paul Haefner, Justin runs Riding Far, LLC, which brings together modern psychology and foundational horse development to help horses and riders work through their individual roadblocks to reach their full potential. 

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