Do You Need To Know How To Wrap A Leg To Go To The Olympics? A Conversation With Colleen Reed

Jan 15, 2021 - 7:58 AM

Twelve of the USA’s top young show jumping talents are gathered in Wellington, Florida, to participate in the first session of the 2021 U.S. Equestrian Federation Horsemastership Training series, which runs Jan. 14-17.

While the annual clinic draws spectators online and in-person (in previous years) to watch Olympic veterans like McLain Ward, Beezie Madden and Anne Kursinski give riding lessons and advice to the next generation, the program also features unmounted sessions, and riders must perform all of their horse’s care.

Colleen Reed is overseeing the clinic’s barn management component. A longtime industry professional who has worked in numerous top show barns including Beacon Hill Show Stables and Fairfield County Hunt Club and has cared for Leslie Burr Howard’s international show jumpers, Reed also is a clinician for the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Emerging Athletes Program National Training Session. We asked her what she plans to teach the country’s next crop of young team hopefuls and to discuss the value of horse care knowledge in modern sport.

What’s the schedule at the clinic? What time do riders arrive in the morning? What are they doing back in the barn with you?

So we started setting up on Thursday, Jan. 14, and they’re allowed assistants to set up, but from 10 a.m. on they’re on their own. Once they got there, we went over your general horse care, what is expected of you, and I answered a lot of questions. They got to hack around by themselves on Thursday, and we did a tack check before then; everyone groomed and tacked, and that first afternoon a physiotherapist was there to help me with checking saddle fit. The rest of the afternoons they have unmounted sessions.

What sorts of things are they learning in the unmounted sessions?

They’ll have a lesson on how to set gymnastics and different ideas for exercises from Beezie. They’ll meet with a vet to talk about lameness and how to ensure your horse is fit for the job you’re asking them to do. They’ll talk about rider fitness and working out in the gym, horse nutrition; it’s a really well-rounded set of subjects.

What time do they arrive and start their day in the barn with you?

They’re expected to be at the barn at 6 a.m. to start chores. They’ll clean their stalls, unwrap, unblanket, hand walk, organize their tack for the day; we treat it like a show barn. It needs to be pristine and ready for when the clinicians get there, as if the clinicians were the owners or the sponsors. We talk a lot about the time management and organization needed to keep things running smoothly, so you’re not scrambling or fumbling around not knowing where the stuff you need is when you’re trying to get something done.

Riders at the first session of the USEF Horsemastership Training Series must do all their own horse care, including leg wrapping and stall cleaning. Mollie Bailey Photo

Then they’ll learn how to take vitals on their horse if they don’t already know how to do that, and we’ll start talking about how you can catch and recognize the little health problems before they become big problems. A lot of these kids are on borrowed horses, so we spend a lot of time talking about how you would manage a new horse coming into your program, recognizing what ailments the horses came with, recognizing what’s normal for that horse’s legs. I always say take pictures of the horses and each of their legs, and keep a record of it so you know what’s normal for this horse, what’s new, and you can start perfecting your leg care.

After everyone rides we’ll have afternoon chores, which will give them plenty of time to do all kinds of things. They get the horses out of their stalls for another hand walk; they do any leg work or back work that horse needs with magnetic blankets or poultice; they’ll pack their feet. A lot of the riders will be used to doing this work, and a lot of them won’t. For some of them it will be new, so I’ll teach them how to do it and explain the importance of it all.

It’s interesting that some of this horse care is new to some of these riders. This clinic is part of a pipeline identifying riders who might potentially be on U.S. teams someday, so they’ve progressed to a point in their riding where they’re winning a national equitation championship to get a spot in this clinic, but they’ve maybe never wrapped a leg or longed a horse before. Do you find that at all concerning?  

No, I wouldn’t say it’s concerning. The one thing I find is regardless of their backgrounds, it’s not a matter of them not wanting to do the care; sometimes it’s just a matter of not having the time. Everyone’s in a hurry. They’re riding multiple horses in different rings; they have school; some of them are flying or driving back and forth to the show for the weekend. They just don’t always have the time to slow down.

I find with this clinic and this week all of them enjoy the week and the chance to slow down and spend time bonding with their horses. I feel like it’s great for them to have the knowledge to properly manage the operation and the care as they go on into the business, whether they go on to be amateurs or professionals, because it’s such a major component. So I think all backgrounds are really hungry this week to learn about the horse care side of it.

It’s great that the riders enjoy the opportunity to learn about these things, but what does it say about our sport if you can make it to their level without having to learn the horse care side?

Well, I think this week helps teach those kids how important the team behind doing the horse care really is. You look at the greats now, you look at riders like McLain and Beezie, they all have these great teams behind them who are a vital part behind the operation, which, at the end of the day, gets you a ribbon hung on your horse’s bridle in the ring.

Yes, people like Beezie and McLain hire other people to manage their horses, but Beezie and McLain still know how to wrap a leg themselves. They would still know to step in if they thought something in the horse management was incorrect.

What about these kids who grow up in a program never having to learn that in the first place? How are they going to recognize if something isn’t done properly by the person they’re paying to manage their horses?

That’s what things like this clinic are for, it’s to help start them on the path to get that knowledge and recognize the importance in having it. They’re going to need it. If you have your own barn someday, and you’re standing there by yourself, and there is a problem, what are you going to do?

You have to play a big part in the decision making; you need to be knowledgable when you’re having conversations with your vet and your farrier and know what you’re talking about; you need to understand nutrition and the importance of hay quality because it’s going to make you a better rider, and not just a better rider, but a better horseman. We want them to understand that this stuff they learn about horse care and what’s going on behind the scenes of that successful Nations Cup team really does make a difference. It’s equally important.

You’re saying this clinic is giving these kids these horse care tools, and sure, some of them are going to go forward in the industry and use them differently, but they’re all getting value out of learning them.

Exactly. All the athletes at these clinics learn to understand the inner workings of efficient stable operations. They learn and understand the vet care and the horsemanship side of it, the business side of it; they learn so much in this week. And now we’ve changed the program so it goes on throughout the year; there will be a continuing education component to it so they keep progressing in that knowledge.

I see riders from this clinic go on and be very successful assistant trainers. You see quite a few on the business side of things, buying and selling horses, developing young horses, and I think clinics like this open doors for these riders to come learn from the greats, to start meeting people and building connections in the industry so they can start finding their place in the industry, if that’s what they want.

But I definitely don’t think it’s a concern. I think horses are cared for better than they’ve ever been, and while funds are obviously a huge step forward or leg up for some of these riders, I don’t think [riders who pay for others to do their horse management] are uninterested in horse care. They’re equally interested in it, and I think clinics like this are a critical part of the pathway both for riders we hope to see on teams one day and wherever they end up in the industry. I feel like the industry is going in a great direction. There are more educational opportunities than there have ever been, and I hope we see riders come out of it and maybe fulfill their dream, wherever that is in the industry.

You can watch the USEF Horsemastership Training Series live on the USEF Network, and you can find the participants and schedule here.


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