Interview with a Trainer, Part 1

Hey all! As promised, I have a fun little interview with one of my trainers here. I’ve referred to her as AT (Assistant Trainer) many times, but I honestly think we can lose the “assistant” at this point. She’s taught a whole bunch of our lessons, coached me at shows, schooled my horse, and helped me out when I’ve been hacking around. She’s a kickass trainer and a totally kickass person.



Introduce yourself! Or at least as much as you want to share on the internet.

Initially from the Midwest (Minnesota/Illinois/Iowa), Joanna honed her knowledge of barn management and schooling green horses early in her riding career. She taught beginner to intermediate/advanced lessons, was a summer camp director, and worked local shows – pulling ingate duty, announcing, and filling in for jump crew. Joanna also specialized in off-track thoroughbreds and retraining difficult and problem horses. She rode competitively in the hunter and equitation divisions before crossing into the jumper ring. Throughout her junior career, she helped pay her own show fees by braiding at shows.

After college, Joanna ventured to Wellington, Florida to work for Stadium Sport Horses, in conjunction with Ashland Farm, as a show groom for the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). While there, Joanna gained much of her experience from Debbi White (who rode and managed for Anne Kursinski), and Luis Madriz, a top groom for Ashland. Through WEF, she received an opportunity to be a rider and show manager for Wood Run Farm, based outside of Denver, Colorado. At that upper level show barn, she kept the show string organized, groomed, and prepared for various show seasons; which included hunters, amateur jumpers, and FEI-level horses.

Eventually, Joanna longed for a change of pace, and was encouraged by close friends to check out the Northern Virginia area. Here, she met Terri and Don and the Clairvaux family and knew it felt like home.

Most often you will find her at the farm with her dog, Tifa, keeping busy with the well-being of her four-legged clients and passing on her knowledge to her students.

(Editor’s note: she doesn’t actually talk like this, she just copied and pasted her bio from the barn’s website. Clever girl.)

When did you start riding?

My cousin got a pony when I was 3/4yo. I started formal hunter/jumper lessons at 7yo.

What was your path to becoming a professional?

I tried a lot of other normal-ish jobs, and finally decided that I might as well try to do the horses professionally. It’s the one thing I’m completely passionate about. I was in my early 20s, and didn’t have any strings attached to anything to stop me, so why not.

What’s your favorite discipline and why?

Jumpers. I’m not against other disciplines, or think that jumpers is the best, I just prefer it. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to flying without mechanical help. I also like that it’s judged objectively.

Favorite horse you’ve ever ridden and why?

So many, for different reasons. I think it’s easier to list the horses I don’t like (which are mostly limited to the ones that would prefer to stomp me into the ground).

Best/favorite parts about being a pro/trainer?

When the green horse you’ve been training does what you’ve been trying to teach it. When things start to click, no matter how minuscule it seems.

Same applies to students.

Worst/least favorite parts?

Dealing with drama and politics

What’s something important about being a trainer than you didn’t realize before you became one?

Not everyone has the same level of commitment that I do.

What’s the biggest difference between teaching kids, competitive juniors, and amateurs? Do you prefer one over the others?

Every person learns differently, even if they are competing at the same level.

I prefer anyone who has the desire to improve; I’ll take hard work every time.

What are the corrections you have to give almost everyone?

More leg. Outside rein. Outside aids.

(Ed. note: this is the soundtrack to my lessons. One day she won’t have to remind me as often. One day…)

Do you usually have a goal in mind for each lesson? Show?

I have a rough outline of what I’d like to accomplish in the day, but working with horses makes you be able to be flexible with plans. The horses (and sometimes riders) are good at not following your plan.

What tips would you give to an adult getting back into the sport after some time off?

Find a good trainer. Try not to overthink things. Have fun. Work hard. Let go (literally and figuratively). Lots of stretching. If you are only planning to ride once a week, have realistic goals for making progress. Don’t rely on riding to be your sole form of exercise, you’re an athlete – treat your body as such. When you’re an adult making a comeback, it’s a lot of mental strength, not just physical.

Any advice for an amateur on a budget to continue progressing?

If you have a good working relationship with your trainer, they’ll be able to help you make progress, no matter your budget. Be willing to get on anything and everything. Work hard. Absorb lots. Say you can’t ride in a clinic- go audit (it’s usually cheap or free to listen). Watch the classes you have goals to compete in; see what the level of riding is to be successful in those classes. Watch the pro classes- don’t be caught up in how well the horse goes, study what the pro is doing before, over, and after each fence to help the horse be successful.

Who is your favorite client and why is it me?

Lol. My favorite is anyone who wants to be a student of the horses.

(Ed. note: nah but seriously she just doesn’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings. Totally me.)

Anything else you want to share?

Have big goals, but have realistic/attainable steps to those goals. Be able to take constructive criticism and try to apply. As a trainer, I want you and the horse to succeed. I would never ask either to do something that cannot be done, I will not set you up for failure. Don’t get frustrated; if you’re having a rough round, take a breath, find the little things that went right, live to ride another day. Success in riding does not happen overnight.


Yeah I know, it’s totally awesome that I get to ride with her. Next in the series will be input from our other trainer/barn owner, so stay tuned for that!

Would you guys be interested in reading interviews with other people at the barn? I’m thinking maybe one of the barnhands, a parent of one of our juniors, another ammy, basically anyone I could get to sit down and answer some questions. Would love your feedback!

5 thoughts on “Interview with a Trainer, Part 1

  1. Jenn 09/10/2015 / 9:17 am

    This is so fantastic on so many levels, but I adore that second-to-last question. Totally brill 😉


  2. Karen M 09/10/2015 / 10:54 am

    Love her answer about jumpers being the closest thing to flying 🙂


  3. Courtney 09/10/2015 / 11:14 am

    Very interesting to hear it from the trainer’s side! I like and would approve of interviews with everyone and anyone!


  4. emma 09/10/2015 / 1:05 pm

    great interview – love her perspective. can also attest first hand that YES mental strength is a huge part of getting back into riding afte a long hiatus. maybe the hardest part. not insurmountable tho


  5. Rebecca 09/10/2015 / 1:29 pm

    Love love love this! More please! And thank you, Joanna/AT!


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