How to best take advantage of your horseback riding lessons so you are more prepared for horse shows.

Cloud Nine Farm, Midway & Lexington, KY

As a professional in the Hunter/Jumper world, I teach a ton of lessons and have a wide variety of students with all different skill sets and levels of experience. I truly enjoy practicing different exercises and seeing my students improve and grow as riders and horsemen. The best kind of student/rider is one that is a sponge and wants to absorb as much information I throw their way. The forward progression in their riding is the result of being focused and applying what I am teaching them. The hardest thing to experience as a teacher is seeing a student make the same mistakes over and over and therefore not progressing or at a snail’s pace. Here are some tips and tricks to help you, “the rider”, take full advantage of all your training and lessons so that you can constantly improve and get better and rock it in the show ring.

Know what type of learner you are

In other words, are you a visual, verbal or physical learner? If you are aware of how you best absorb the information then that will help you pay attention to different aspects of the lesson. For example, I personally am a visual learner and get the most out of watching someone else ride and demonstrate what it is I should be working on. A tip would be to have someone video you while you are riding so you can go home a study your technique. Also, watch as many of the professionals as you can and try to emulate how they ride including their position and style. There are so many places online to find an array of videos to watch. If you are a verbal learner, pay attention to what your trainer is saying and ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you are a physical learner, then give it a go and evaluate afterwards.

Pay Attention in your riding lessons

If your lesson is an hour, you should be prepared to give your trainer and horse your undivided attention for that whole hour. Try your best to leave any stress or distractions you have in your head behind. Your horse needs and deserves your full focus. When you are fully present, you will be more aware of slight changes in yourself and your horse and you will be able to tweak things here and there. When your trainer tells you some specific to do, make sure you are paying attention to the details and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Watch the others ride and learn from them and their mistakes

When I was a junior rider, I was consistently in lessons with several other riders. I always loved watching the other riders do their courses and learn from what they did. If they made a mistake, I would try to analyze why it happened and if it would effect me and my horse. I would also pay attention to what the trainer was telling the other students but tried to not overthink what was being said to other riders as it didn’t always relate to me. An example would be if another rider had a horse with a short stride and my horse had a huge stride, the lines would ride somewhat differently. That is part of paying attention to details! It is always best to watch other people go and see how the course rides before your turn. If you do have to go first in a group lesson, then make sure you are focused and have a plan.

Get in the zone

This is something that takes some practice but will become automatic once you have done it enough times. Always practice at home as if you are at a competition. As the wise five time Olympian, Anne Kursinski, has said many times, “Perfect practice makes perfect!” When I was showing in the juniors and competed in several equitation classes along with the finals, we paid extra attention to our mental state and on focusing. I learned to go through a checklist in my head before every course so that I made sure I was prepared before picking up the canter. Each rider should have at least three things to think about before starting your course or exercise no matter how basic. If you can even visualize the whole course ahead of time, you will likely have a better round.

Go over what you learned and what you should continue to work on

At the end of each ride, try to analyze the positive and negative things from the lesson. Remember that the negative things should not be a set back but simply a reminder of what you can improve on. Don’t be afraid to ask your trainer for advice or pointers if you are concerned with anything. Try not to overthink a bad lesson. So many times either the rider or horse is just not having a good day and remember that tomorrow you can have another shot. Often times, we can easily end up in a continuous rut if we let our bad experiences get to our head. Try think about what you can improve and also visualize some good rounds and experiences to try to recreate them in future rides.

About the author-

Stevie McCarron Wigley owns and runs a Hunter/Jumper business called Cloud Nine Farm in Midway, KY just 20 minutes from Lexington and competes regularly at the Kentucky Horse Park along with several other facilities around the country. She specializes in beginner to advanced levels from ponies to the Grand Prix ring. If you would like more info about Cloud Nine Farm you can email us at or visit the website

Frequently asked questions when starting horseback riding with your child...

  1. What age should a child start riding? We have had experience starting children as early as three years old. Having said that, there is a limitation of what the child can do at that age and the lessons will be somewhat limited until the child gets a little stronger which helps with balance on the pony. Most kids five and up will progress at a faster rate because of physical strength and maturity.

  2. What equipment is needed when starting to take horseback riding lessons? Most barns will require the child to have their own riding helmet as well as boots with a heel. A certified helmet with a good fit is extremely important for safety. Any reputable tack shop will help you fit the child to the appropriate size. The heel on the boot is what provides safety from the foot going through the stirrup too far and the child’s foot getting stuck. There are also riding jodhpurs or breeches that are specialized for riding and have an extra patch on the inner side of the leg to provide some added comfort. Comfortable leggings are also acceptable.

  3. What should be expected during the lesson? During the hour, the trainer will assist the child in grooming and cleaning the pony as well as tacking up the pony while learning different parts of the pony and proper horsemanship. Once the pony is fully tacked up, the majority of the time will be spent in the saddle learning basics and different techniques of riding. The level of experience for the child will decide how basic or advanced the lesson is. Each lesson lasts one hour start to finish.

  4. Will your child be in a private or group lesson? Most beginner students will start in a private lesson so they get the most one on one time with their trainer. The less experienced the rider the more the child will need assistance in simply steering and riding the pony around the ring. Once the child gets more experience and confidence to guide the pony around on their own, we will then group them with another child that is on the same level.

  5. When should your child start competing and going to horse shows? This is ultimately up to you, the parent. Riding horses can happen on all levels and competitions are not always a must. But, we do take most of our students to shows around Lexington, KY throughout the season so we are always happy to include our younger students. Most of the competitions will have a division that is called the Walk/Trot poles. This specific division requires the child to be able to guide the pony around a basic course of poles on the ground at the trot.  The child will need to remember a course of poles and which direction to follow while steering the pony around. Once your child is able to achieve this at home, they should be ready to head to a competition.

  6. What riding attire is needed for competitions? Horse shows/competitions require a hunt coat over a plain white shirt that has a high collar as well as beige breeches. They must wear black or dark brown paddock boots and a black helmet that is certified safe. Black gloves are also a good accessory so the child does not get blisters on their fingers.

  7. Do we host week long camps? Yes we do! We will most likely have a summer camp in July and we are not opposed to adding more camps during school breaks if we get enough interest. You can always find out more details about them by visiting our website

Introduction to/Benefits of Sport Psychology

How often as riders do we hear ourselves say, “why did I do that?” after making the same mistake again when we come out of the show ring? It can be especially frustrating when we have done it correctly numerous times at home. I hear this constantly around the horse show and from clients on a daily basis, and still struggle with this myself as a rider- more often than not, our mental game is what lets us down, not our physical ability.  Even though strong mental skills can’t make us ride beyond our potential as athletes, weak mental skills can for sure cause us perform far below. 

Despite its increasing popularity, sport psychology (and psychology in general) is still stigmatized and folks don’t want to be seen as “crazy” or “having issues,” so they avoid working on their difficulties.  Top riders all over the world, including McLain Ward and Liza Boyd, have openly discussed how the inclusion of sport psychology has been integral to their success, yet I still regularly encounter this stigma as a major barrier to seeking support. A large part of why it is so stigmatized is because most people don’t understand what sport psychology really is and how it can help us.  Hopefully, in learning more about how this field can help us as well as the significance of the presence/absence of a strong mental skillset, we can all become better equipped to experience our equestrian pursuits to the fullest. 

So what is sport psychology really? To use the more academic explanation, the American Psychological Association defines sport psychology as "the study of the psychological and mental factors that influence and are influenced by participation and performance in sport, exercise, and physical activity, and the application of the knowledge gained through this study to everyday settings."  Sport psychology techniques are designed to help athletes optimize performance.  Specifically, this includes working to improve focus and deal with distractions, increase confidence (particularly post-fall or injury), develop coping skills to deal with setbacks, find the right zone of intensity, instill a healthy belief system and identify irrational thoughts, develop healthier and more accurate self-talk, balance motivation for optimal performance, identify and enter “the zone” more readily, reduce unhealthy perfectionism, increase composure, plan training more intentionally, and improve development of sport-specific strategies and game plans.  In other words, it can help athletes enhance their performance and enjoyment. It is designed to help those athletes/coaches that truly want to improve the mental component of the game and believe that it is possible to do so.

More specifically, the following are some of the ways that riders/athletes can benefit from sport psychology:

Enhancing concentration and managing distractions effectively> There is so much chaos going on at the horse show (or even at the farm), it is natural to be distracted by any number of things- the weather, our horse’s energy level, flapping tents, things going on at work or school, results, our own thoughts/self-talk, etc. However, as we all know, if we can limit the impact of those distractions, we will absolutely perform better.  Learning to stay in the present moment is just one of the ways we can improve our ability to focus. 

Cultivating confidence> It is extremely common for riders and athletes to be plagued with doubts (about ourselves, our horses, etc.).  If we can practice different exercises to enhance our confidence, we can begin to establish a foundation going forward. Having this strong foundation will provide a base from which we are freer to make productive mistakes and grow as athletes. Further, if we experience a setback, it is usually much less threatening.  Some of the ways to approach this include tracking goals, challenging perfectionism, and simulating competitive conditions. 

Increasing resilience and grit> Developing a repertoire of coping skills to deal with and overcome adversity is instrumental to developing our potential as riders (AND PEOPLE).  Being able to recognize, manage and limit the impact of our negative emotions while fortifying ourselves with resilience-building practices can make all the difference in the world.  For example, being able to bounce back after we encounter our old trainer just before we walk through the in-gate or recover well after a fall will only contribute to a more productive and enjoyable experience.  

Finding the optimal zone of energy/intensity> Knowing ourselves is critical as we are all different. If we have a tendency to become tense or nervous in our body, engaging in practices that will help decrease the tension (relaxation, breathing, etc) is often useful.  On the other hand, we also need to be able to sustain our energy over the long horse show day, and knowing how to access that extra adrenaline (going for a brisk walk, listening to music, eating strategically, etc) is helpful too, especially when our class goes at 5 when we thought it was going at 3! It is a balance, and it is important to understand how things like sleep, nutrition, and exercise affect us.

Maintaining a healthy belief system/challenging irrational thoughts> Given the level of perfectionism among equestrian athletes, it is no surprise that we tend to have pretty terrible self-talk.  We are hard on ourselves in a way that actually diminishes motivation and detracts from our performance, contrary to popular belief.  We will find ourselves thinking, “I should never miss,” “I always make mistakes when so-and-so is judging,” “I can’t let so-and-so beat me,” “I stink at bending lines,” when this self-defeating (and INACURRATE) way of talking does nothing but interfere with learning, growth and our development as athletes/people. Being able to recognize more realistic and supportive ways to talk to ourselves is critical in achieving our potential.

Developing effective short/long term goals> Ironically, when we stop thinking about the desired outcome or the results we want and focus on the process, we tend to realize our goals.  It is helpful to have a clear vision of the rider we want to become- that way we can break it down into smaller, more manageable steps and create a plan for how to become that rider, but it is important to be intentional about how that vision is utilized on a daily basis.  Designing specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals will not only help us keep our focus, clarify purpose, and increase confidence, but also provide us with the reinforcement/feedback we need to maintain motivation.

Understanding why it matters> Being able to really connect with why our riding is meaningful and important to us is critical.  So often, we lose touch with why we got involved in the sport to begin with or the specialness of the partnerships we have with our horses.  We get caught up in who won what class, qualifying for indoors, going double clear, getting called back for the test, being perfect etc and miss the whole point.  Being able to recognize (even after chipping to the single oxer when we were about to get a 90 or having a rail at the last vertical in the jump-off) that we are all so lucky to be doing what we are doing is going to make everything better- not only will we feel more appreciation and enjoy ourselves more, we will also probably ride more effectively.      

Most of us believe (at least at one time, myself included) that we can’t really manipulate and change our ability to concentrate or manage things like our emotions.  As a result, we don’t really work on our brains like we do the physical skills of our sport.  However, if we can approach it differently, and treat it just like we do our position or learning to counter canter, we can see tremendous improvements in our mental game. Given that this is where we tend to struggle the most, isn’t it nice to know we can do something about it? In the same way that we might practice using an automatic release until we can do it comfortably and routinely (if that is a goal), we would use repetition, time, and patience no matter how awkward and uncomfortable we felt initially.  The same can be said for learning a mental skill; for example, if we are trying to learn to help keep our body relaxed with muscle relaxation exercises, we need to give ourselves that same repetition, time and patience to overcome that initial awkwardness and discomfort we did with the release.  

The benefits of sport psychology are remarkable and it’s exponential growth in popularity and utility among riders and trainers of all levels across the world is undeniable.  However, many riders/trainers/parents only seek this type of support when there is a problem to remediate or something is “wrong.”  While this is a normative reason to consider tapping into this type of resource, it is just as important for all of us to work on our mental game when things are “right.” We can use that information to identify and capitalize on what works, which can help us progress as riders.  In exploring different mental skills we can also discover new and powerful ways to enhance performance and overall athletic functioning. What do I mean by all of this? Most of us wait until there is a problem, when thinking about our mental game before we have a setback is actually the optimal time to start.  If we can take some time to reflect on our experiences and ask ourselves some challenging questions, this can help us discover some powerful insights that can really improve our overall experiences as athletes. 


Dr. Jennifer Speisman showing in the hunters

Dr. Jennifer Speisman showing in the hunters


Dr. Jennifer Speisman is a licensed clinical psychologist as well as a Certified Mental Performance Consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (CMPC).  Dr. Jen is an avid equestrian herself, and has been riding and competing for over 20 years.  She is passionate about blending her love for athletics (particularly equestrian sports) with her training and education in psychology and feels extremely lucky to be able to watch riders/people develop and thrive. Email her at or call 917-549-1000 for more information regarding individual sessions, consultation (parents, trainers, etc), barn clinics or with any questions.  


My road to the Maclay finals and what I learned along the way....

My road to the Maclay Finals and what I learned along the way...

In 1997, I was 18 and it was my last junior year competing in the hunters, jumpers and equitation. I was training with Karen Healey in Southern California and showed my own horse, Wanaheim, in the Junior Jumpers as well as leased a couple horses to compete in the equitation. I loved the jumpers and thoroughly enjoyed going fast against the clock. Growing up as the daughter of a jockey, going fast was in my blood. When I started riding with Karen, she had explained to me that only doing the jumpers was not going to give me the polish I needed as a rider, especially if I was considering turning professional. I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to do after my last junior year, but I did always want to be the best rider I could be. So, Karen talked me into giving the equitation a go, and we leased a horse for a couple months at the start of the year. I was lucky enough to qualify for both the AHSA (now USEF) and Maclay finals during the winter circuit, formerly known as Indio, so for the rest of the season I focused on my junior jumper and qualifying him for the Young Riders and Harrisburg zone team.

When it was time for the regional finals at the end of show season in September, Karen found me a chestnut mare named “Santana” to show, and she had just come from Europe where she was doing the jumpers. When she first came, she would jump two feet over everything so we had our work cut out for us to keep everything smooth. She didn’t know counter canter and wasn’t that great with lead changes. But, with lots of hard work, we finished well in the regional finals and ended up qualifying to go back east and compete at both Harrisburg and Madison Square Garden. We had also qualified for USET finals at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

This was my first time competing in USET finals, so there were definitely some nerves. Knowing that my mare was quite green, I didn’t quite know what to expect. That year, 1997, George Morris and Anne Kursinski were the judges, and they designed the courses. They were challenging to say the least. The flat phase went pretty smoothly, and so we geared up for the gymnastics phase. The very first jump in the course was a small wall that we had to walk over. Yes, you read that correctly, we had to walk over it!! Before I even walked into the arena, I was defeated. I kept telling myself that my horse was not experienced enough to show at this level of technicality. I was so nervous in the warm up area! I specifically remember circling time and time again in front of the warm up jump because I was holding my breath and couldn’t see a distance. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get out of my own head. And no matter what, I would fail.

So, I entered the arena at the trot like Karen had instructed and then brought my mare down to a walk about 8 to 10 feet away. As we got closer, I could feel myself tense up. All I had to do was close my leg to tell my horse that we were, in fact, supposed to go over the jump, and I just froze. So, sure enough, my mare stopped out of pure confusion. After that, I took a deep breath and felt as if all the pressure was off since I had screwed up. Then, I laid down a very good round. There were several other challenges in the course which both my mare and I handled well. I came out of the ring with an “oh well” type attitude and that did not impress my mom. As I had said before, I wasn’t as excited to show in the equitation but decided that it would be good for my riding career.

My parents were always extremely supportive of me and my riding and wanted to do anything they could to help me achieve my goals. My mom and dad always believed in me and felt I could be very competitive in any arena. In hindsight, when I agreed to do the equitation my heart wasn’t in it as much as it was in the jumpers. After my horrible round in the gymnastics phase, my mom sat me down and said that she felt like I wasn’t trying. And she was right!! The basics of riding was always very easy for me, and I often didn’t challenge myself enough. The USET finals was my first really big challenge, and I didn’t realize what it took to ride at the best of my ability. I had an epiphany that day that there were so many other riders competing against me that were on lesser quality horses with maybe less talent than me but they were going to beat me every time because their heart and desire was overpowering mine. My mom and I had a long talk, and I committed to putting in 100% effort from that point on. That set the stage for traveling east for the finals.


Some stablemates and I flew east and started out at Capital Challenge which was a good warm up show for us. My mare and I were working very hard and felt improved each time we were together. I had also worked with a Sports Psychologist per Karen’s recommendation and that helped get my head in the game. In between showing, we were constantly having lessons, riding without stirrups, doing sophisticated flatwork and jumping courses. As we got closer and closer to Harrisburg, I felt more and more prepared for the AHSA finals.

When we arrived at Harrisburg, I was very excited because I was not only going to show in the Equitation finals, but I also got to compete my jumper “Wanaheim” in the Zone Team Finals. The jumpers were my true love, and I had so much fun in that division. After the competition was compete, the Zone 10 Team walked away with a gold medal. It was such a fun and amazing experience. Now it was time to focus on the AHSA Finals! I was mentally and physically prepared and felt that I could handle it. I cannot remember how many riders competed that day but it was over 200 from all over the country. It was a big deal to just be there. Santana and I had a great first round and we made it to the second round where we had to do a shortened course with some harder tests. Even though I came into it with a better attitude and more mental preparation, I ended up watching a lot of people ahead of me mess up which were not the most ideal images to have in my head before I walked in the show ring. I started to doubt myself and my horse when I saw other people making mistakes. As much as my mare had improved, we also still had things to work on so that was always in the back of my mind.  So, when it was time for the second round, I choked and made similar mistakes that several other riders made.

One big lesson I learned that day was to pick and choose what riders to watch and when to just stay busy back at the stalls on other things like polishing boots, cleaning tack or helping the grooms . By overwatching, you tend to overthink and create more doubt. Try to select riders that typically have good solid rounds and then try to recreate what they do.

Next, we went to Washington where i just practiced. I didn’t show in the equitation throughout the whole year so I did not qualify to compete at these finals. Washington was a nice break for me to get to watch a ton of amazing riders with no pressure of competing against them. I got the chance to learn and also see who I was up against.

The final week was The Maclay Finals in New York City at the amazing venue Madison Square Garden. It was such a trip to see the horses getting unloaded off the semi-trucks in the middle of a huge city. My mom flew in to watch me compete, so I was excited to see her and for her to see how hard I had been working. I had been on the road for about a month at this point and did nothing but eat, sleep and ride. If I wasn’t at my best at this point in time, then it just wasn’t my time. I knew in my heart that it was going to be a great experience because I was relaxed, focused and well prepared. Again there were over 200 of the best junior riders throughout the whole country that had qualified to be there along with me. I went late in the first round and had made a plan to watch a select group of riders to see how the course rode and develop a plan. I was sitting in the stands with my eyes closed and trying to relax when something told me to open my eyes and there was my Dad sitting there. He flew in from California and surprised me. I was so excited to have him there for such a special day. As I had said before, my Dad was a jockey and always worked on the weekends so he hardly ever got to see me show. After getting to visit with my Dad for a bit I had to get back to business.  

As the day went on, I saw many different types of riders and many different scenarios play out. Some bad, some average and some amazing rounds. When it was my turn to go, I paid a ton of attention to the mental side of it. I lost my focus and confidence in previous competitions and I didn’t want to allow that to happen again. I wanted to stay positive. So, I went in the first round and both “Santana” and I performed great. After the first round and flat phase, we ended up in the 15th spot. In the second round, we were given a course of jumps and we had to design a course ourselves. The rules were we had to jump each jump once and do a couple of “tests” somewhere on the course. I was the only rider in my barn to make it to the second round, so I had my trainer, Karen with her husband Fred and assistant Melissa all to myself.  They helped me walk the course and decide what the best route was to take. One of the tests was to change leads somewhere on the course and because my mare still was a little green we decided the best type of change was a simple change to ensure my mare and I would fully complete it. When I was on deck and stood at the ingate, I remember very well taking a deep breath and focusing on only myself and my horse. It was as if I had tunnel vision and I didn’t think or focus on anyone or anything around me. I knew we were as ready as we would ever be.

So, we entered the arena and off we went. We had a good solid round, but we did have a rub on a jump. Since we did a simple change and some other riders did flying changes, that put us slightly below them. It was up to the judges of whether they would mark me off for the rub. But, overall we had a great solid round and I was extremely happy. After the second round was completed, we were called back into the arena for the awards ceremony. This meant I actually got a ribbon!! It was pretty surreal and to have both my parents there was a very special moment. In the end we received the 8th place award. I was extremely excited to say the least! There were so many things I learned from going to indoors and competing in the different equitation finals.

Photos below are Stevie receiving her 8th place ribbon, Stevie and Santana in the first round of Maclay finals, the beautiful arena at Madison Square Garden and Stevie with her trainer Karen Healey, Karen's husband Fred Bauer and assistant Melissa Jones.

Here are some pointers if you are going to be competing in a big national competition or any show for that matter.…

  • First and foremost you have to give it 100% effort. At the start of the finals season, I realized that I wasn’t giving it a solid effort and that others would always beat me because their heart was in it more than mine. You can never work too hard to be the best rider out there. Riding without stirrups and continuously working on perfection will only better you as a rider.
  • Another great tool was to practice some simple sports psychology techniques….breathing and visualizing my course jump by jump with lots of details helped me a ton.

  • One thing that I think a lot of people forget is to pick and choose who you are going to watch. If you go later in your class and have the ability to watch some riders, pay attention to selecting specific riders that will likely have solid rounds. Another important element is to pick riders with horses that are similar to yours. If you have a big strided warmblood and you watch a smaller thoroughbred type, the course will likely not ride the same for you and your horse. Be aware of that in any discipline.

  • The first time you compete at an indoor finals it is very overwhelming. There are a lot of elements to adjust to including riding in a much smaller arena (including warm up areas that are the size of postage stamps). The pressure of competing in front of a big crowd is also something that a lot of people are not used to. Remember that showing horses is a spectator sport. We will always have people watching us no matter where we are. But, in my experience the judge is always rooting for you and most other people are watching you for their own benefit of comparing themselves and learning. In my opinion, it is always best to show at indoors the first time with less pressure and simply try to absorb and learn as much as you can. The next time you compete at an indoor show you will be so much more knowledgeable and well versed to the schedule, size of arenas and the pressure.

  • Stay positive!! It is so easy to focus on your mistakes and negative experiences. Know that we learn from all our mistakes and take those lessons to improve your skills. No matter what sport we compete in, you must have a positive approach so you can continue to grow as a competitor.

  • My last bit of advice is to love and respect your partner the horse. In any discipline, the horses are our teammate and they are a huge part of our success. Try to always be in tune with your horse and have a mutual respect for them. Discipline for both you and your horse are imperative to success but there must be a balance. Remember without the horses this would not be possible.

More about the Author Stevie McCarron Wigley

Stevie grew up riding and showing in California, turned pro at 18 and worked for many different professionals including Karen Healey, Butch and Lu Thomas, Candice King and Anne Kursinski. She then moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 2005 to start her own business, Cloud Nine Farm. She has been a pro for over 20 years and is very passionate about the horse business. Cloud Nine Farm is now accepting new clients starting May 1st. Please contact Stevie here...  




Want to become a professional horse trainer and rider? Here’s my advice.

As someone who has grown up in the horse business and turned professional at the age of 18, I feel I have a great perspective on how to make it long term in the Hunter/Jumper world and any aspect of the horse business. I have been a professional for over 20 years working for several different big “A” barns as the assistant trainer and have had my own business for almost 13 years. I run Cloud Nine Farm out of a beautiful 18 acre farm in Midway, Kentucky just 10 miles from Lexington and The Kentucky Horse Park.


Stevie and student Lili Marshall with Anne Kursinski and her partner Carol Hoffman at Market Street in New Jersey 

I have seen firsthand the lack of effort and care that several young professionals have put forth, and frankly, I am so shocked and saddened that it still continues year after year. I am writing this article in hopes that I can inform and inspire our future workforce and educate young people of what it takes to make it in the horse world. I always tried to grow up learning from others mistakes so that I could be as successful as possible. Hopefully, some of you will get a little something out of this.

Advice for becoming a professional horse trainer and rider:

First things first…..Be Reliable and on time!

It does not matter what line of work you are up on time and when you are supposed to. No excuses!! This is a big one for me. There is nothing worse than someone constantly showing up late. In fact, showing up early and being extra prepared for the day will allow you to be organized, and you will make a great impression. You will impress not only your boss but your fellow employees. I promise you that if you constantly show up late or not at all, you will lose respect by those around you and it will take a long time to get it back. One thing that is so important in the horse business (and any business) is teamwork. Everyone must work together to get the job done well and in a timely manner. If you are not around and are not able to pull your weight because of your absence, everyone will suffer collectively. As a pro, I have heard every excuse in the book of why someone was late or just didn’t show up. Trust me when I say that your future boss will see right through the excuses so just be on time and reliable if you want to succeed!


It goes without saying that you must work your butt off

The horse business is a tough one whether you are riding, grooming and/or teaching. There no better time to work hard and earn the respect of others than when you are young and first starting out. If you have any ideas of being a professional with your very own business one day, I advise you to get your hands dirty in every single aspect of the horse world. This industry is incredibly competitive! I promise that it doesn’t matter how much talent you have, if you are not willing to work hard and put in the time, you will not survive. There will ALWAYS be someone else that is maybe a little less talented than you but is willing to work hard to move forward and advance in their career. As a professional who hires riders, assistants and grooms on a regular basis, I would much prefer someone that is a little less knowledgeable but willing to learn and put the time in than someone who knows it all but doesn’t want to work hard.


Be a sponge an admit you have things to learn

This was a particularly hard lesson for me to learn as a young professional. To give you a little background, I skipped college and turned pro right out of high school at the age of 18. I had an amazing opportunity to work for my trainer at the time, Karen Healey, so I decided to defer to college for one year and take the job. I think in hindsight I always felt uneducated by skipping college. Even though I was in a business that didn’t require a college degree, I was constantly trying to seem very smart and educated. That ended up hurting me in ways because I didn’t admit to being ignorant to certain aspects of the horse world. Once I realized that you never stop learning in the horse world it opened up an amazing opportunity to learn so much. I started paying more attention to the chiropractors and vets that came through the barn. I would sit and watch different pros teach and try to absorb as much of their teaching as possible. I asked a ton of questions. All the pros that I worked with would always take the time to teach me and they loved the fact that I was hungry for knowledge. Try to get experience in as many aspects of the horse industry as you can. This includes but is not limited to grooming, basic veterinary care, knowledge of hay and grain and how to best feed your horses, medications and giving shots, being able to operate farm equipment like a tractor and manure spreader, daily maintenance of riding arenas and knowledge on basic hoof care. If you decide to have your very own farm one day you will have the confidence and wisdom to run it smoothly.


Keep your head down and act professional at all times

It goes without saying that the horse business has a reputation of being a party atmosphere after hours. As you read in one of the previous points, you must work hard and be reliable and be on time. In my opinion, you can NOT party like a rockstar every weekend and still continue to do the job to the best of your ability. I always felt that in my younger years I needed to keep my head down and work my butt off and then I could enjoy my life more once I had established a place in the industry. I can honestly say that I am still not quite the partier (people that know me are laughing right now), but I am able to enjoy time away from my business because I worked really hard to build my solid reputation.


Remember the horse comes first. That is why you started this path

I think once you start the path of the horse business and have some success it is easy to lose sight of why we got into the business in the first place. The horse MUST always come first. The horse business can be lucrative at times but we must never forget about the welfare of the horse. I see far too often that horses get used and abused so that professionals can make money. I hope that once you become a professional you will always think about what is best for the horse even if you lose money. Without horses, none of us would be doing what we love. Horses are our lives so let’s do right by them and they will do right by us.


The Business side….the forgotten aspect

My last piece of advice would be to educate yourself on business. Figure out how to budget, do basic billing and learn about different categories of taxes. This is the most frustrating part of the business for me as I hate sitting behind a desk. But, without billing I would not get paid. There are several equine specific bookkeepers that could help teach you the different elements that are important so try to learn these things before you get too far down the road and don’t have time to do it.


More about the Author Stevie McCarron Wigley

Stevie grew up riding and showing in California, turned pro at 18 and worked for many different professionals including Karen Healey, Butch and Lu Thomas, Candice King and Anne Kursinski. She then moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 2005 to start her own business.. She has been a pro for over 20 years and is very passionate about the horse business. Stevie is currently looking for someone to fill a working student position at the farm in Midway. Please apply via email.

If you have any questions or would love some advice, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Get in touch here.





Boarding you horse in Lexington, Kentucky and anywhere....


Boarding your horse in Lexington, Kentucky... and beyond


Lexington, KY area

Owning your very own horse is an exciting thing, and it comes with a huge responsibility. Horses are animals that require attention all day and every day. A well fed horse will and should eat up to four times a day and should be exercised or outside in a paddock for a certain period of time every day. Of course, that is assuming they don’t have an injury. I am lucky enough to have my own Hunter/Jumper facility just outside of Lexington in Midway, Kentucky, so I have total control over the care and attention that my horses get. But, not everyone is so lucky. So, if you own a horse, you will likely need to find a place to board that horse. If you’re in the greater Lexington, KY area, I would highly recommend a visit to my facility. However, even if you are outside of the area, here are some tips for things to look out for when trying to find the best boarding facility.


Budget for boarding your horse

First things first...figure out a budget for what you can afford each month.

As I am sure you have figured out, horses are not cheap. They eat a ton of food, require a farrier to come trim their feet every four to six weeks, require yearly vaccinations, dental work and the list goes on. Once you set a monthly budget, you can narrow down a list of barns that fit that budget. Personally, I believe that if you can’t afford very much, you shouldn’t own a horse. In my experience working in Lexington, KY and across the country before that, I have seen too many horses get neglected because the owner simply can’t afford to own them. But, let’s assume you can afford a basic type board at most facilities. So, here are the next questions to consider:

  • Will you be doing your own daily care?
  • Do you want to buy your own hay, bedding, grain?

  • Will you be wanting the barn to do everything from feeding, cleaning stall, turning out, grooming, blanketing, holding horse for farrier?

Some barns will break up the charges and charge you individually for every item of service. From my standpoint of a farm owner, it gets very complicated when you have several different horses that are receiving different types of care and it is very easy to forget to do certain things with certain horses. If I were someone looking for a place for my horse, I would either have them do everything or the bare minimum. That way it’s easier to know what each person is responsible for. This is the way that I set up the pricing at my own Lexington, KY area farm.


Type of supplies and feed matters

Secondly, do your homework on what type of supplies they provide for the horse. If you are paying full board and the facility is providing hay, grain and bedding, pay attention to the type and quality of these things. Most facilities use one brand of horse feed, and it is easy to do a little research on that type of feed. Figure out what options they provide, and if you are unsure about what type of feed would be ideal for your horse, contact the feed company and they can steer you in the right direction. The hay is a bit more complicated. When you are visiting the facility, pay attention to if the horses are eating it happily and it looks clean (not dusty or moldy) then it should be fine. In my opinion, most facilities should provide at least two types of hay. I provide three types of hay at my Lexington, KY area facility. Another important factor is the amount of hay and grain they will feed your horse. Ask the facility how the figure out amounts and types for each horse. Every horse should eat a slightly different amount based on size of the horse and their temperment. A big red flag is how organized is the feed room where they keep all the feed and supplements.

At Cloud Nine Farm in Midway, KY, we have a very detailed board that lists all the horses names along with details like type of feed, amount of feed and supplements they each receive. There is nothing worse than spending a ton of money on supplements for your horse and noticing that your horse is not receiving them. As far as the bedding goes, there are several types of bedding. Shavings, sawdust, pellets to name a few are all fairly popular and can be a great bedding for your horse. My biggest concern with bedding is dust. A lot of bedding can be processed and put into bags and then will have a ton of dust when the bedding is then put into the horses’ stall. The dust is a huge issue when you are putting hay down onto the dusty bedding and then your horse is ingesting the dust while they are eating. It is not that difficult to tell if the bedding looks dusty when you are touring a facility so pay attention to that.  Another important element to the bedding in the stall is making sure the facility provides enough bedding. If your horse is spending a decent amount of time in the stall, then the stall should have a nice “mattress” to it. If you can see the stall floor, whether it be a rubber mat or class eye sand then there is not enough bedding in the stall. I personally can’t stand to see horses getting hock sores when they lay down on stalls that don’t have enough bedding. If you are paying for a stall, then it should have plenty of bedding.




Pasture and turning your horse out

Pasture time for any horse is a must unless they have an injury and are not allowed to go outside. Ask the boarding facility what their protocol is for turning the horses out. Here are some important questions to ask:

  • Do they go out individually or in herds?
  • Do they charge extra for individual turn-out?

  • Do they spend a certain amount of time outside every day?

  • Do they go out in the same paddock or field every day?

  • Do they turnout when the weather is bad?

  • Do they have a protocol for when the horse is running around in the paddock?

In my opinion, turning a horse out is a very important part of the horses physical and mental health. Their mental health because as animals they need time outside with their heads down grazing. Physical health because they need to move around at their own free will. If the horse is mismanaged there are many downsides to turning your horse out. If your horse is a little nervous, he/she may run around if they notice another horse being brought in and get worried about being on their own. If they run around too much it is not uncommon for them to pull shoes off and or hurt themselves. If your horse is out in a herd, the barn should make sure that all the horses are getting along and no one is going to get kicked or hurt. Making sure your barn pays attention to the horses that are outside is so important. At my farm in Midway, KY we pay close attention to all the horses that are outside at all times. The moment the horse seems unhappy, we bring them in.


Asses the riding area

Lastly, if you plan to ride your horse at the facility make sure you take notice of the arena or the area they provide for riding. For example, you may want to consider:

  • Do they have an arena with sand or all natural footing?
  • Do they water and drag the footing on a daily basis?

  • Is the footing hard to too deep?


These factors will play a huge part in your horses’ soundness if you plan to ride them regularly. Other things to ask are:

  • Are there times of the day when the arenas are available for use?
  • Are there restrictions for riding during other lessons?

  • Can you bring in a trainer to teach you if they don’t provide a trainer?

  • Are you required to wear a helmet at all times?


In my opinion, if the facility doesn’t have a helmet rule then they are too lenient and you will likely notice more unprofessional behavior. A facility with more rules tends to be more organized and will be a safer place for your horse to live.

Make sure that when you research different facilities you should try to find at least three to compare. Boarding barns come in all shapes and sizes and there isn’t one way to run a barn. Take notice of all sorts of details when you arrive. Is the barn tidy and clean? How helpful and organized is the staff working there? Do the horses seem happy and healthy? Look in all the rooms and make sure you tour every part of the farm. Walk out to the paddocks...are they torn up or are they well maintained? Look in the stalls….are the clean and do the horses have clean water and feed buckets?

Your first impression and going with your gut are two important factors when choosing the best boarding barn for horse. Whatever amount of money you will be paying, the owner/manager of the barn will be fully in charge of your horses’ well being, so make sure you are comfortable with that person and that they seem very professional to you.




A little about Cloud 9 Farm in Midway, Kentucky

Stevie McCarron Wigley has been a professional for over 20 years in the Hunter/Jumper industry and has been running Cloud Nine Farm in Central Kentucky since 2005. Cloud Nine Farm has over 18 stalls and is equipped with both an indoor arena, outdoor arena, several fields and paddocks. We teach several different disciplines including hunters, jumpers, equitation and ponies. We had students that range from 5 years old to over 60 and teach all levels from walk/trot to competing at the Grand Prix level.

For more information or to contact us with questions, get in touch here.





Horseback Riding Lessons in Lexington, KY Area: 5 Reasons Why Your Child Should Ride



Horseback Riding Lessons in Lexington, KY Area: 5 Reasons Why Your Child Should Ride

Midway / Lexington, KY Area

As the daughter of a Hall of Fame jockey, I have been around horses my whole life, and I feel like it kept me healthy, focused and well rounded through my childhood and into my adult years. I now run a Hunter/Jumper barn in the greater Lexington, Kentucky area and see the many benefits that ponies and horses bring to our many students. Here are the many benefits to having your child ride…..


1. Horseback riding in Kentucky is a great way to get exercise

Without a doubt riding ponies and horses require lots of strength and fitness. Riding also helps with balance, coordination and endurance. Most horses are about ten times the size of their rider. Even though there is a huge difference in size, ponies and horses are incredibly in tune with their rider no matter their size or level of experience. It is an amazing thing to watch a tiny little rider get a big pony or horse to do exactly what they are asking.  In this day and age, with so much technology at our fingertips, being outdoors is not as common as it once was. Riding horses gets your kid outdoors in the fresh Kentucky air. A typical riding lesson lasts around an hour. Trying to get your kid to do a physical activity outdoors for an hour can be a challenge. I always find that our students are sad when the hour long lesson is over. Riding horses is a great way to keep them fit and will help burn some of that pent up energy.

2. Horseback riding benefits all types of personalities

We see kids with all different types of personalities at our farm in Midway, KY. We continuously see how much riding helps kids that are more hyperactive. The horses really have a way to calm the child down and demand a ton of focus and patience. The shy and introverted kids seem to come out of their shell when they bond with the pony or horse.  The confidence that a child gains from getting a horse to do what they ask is something that cannot be duplicated. It is incredibly empowering to improve on the different skills required for riding and also teaches the child perseverance. Having a bond with a live animal is something that cannot be compared to other sports and horses specifically have a way of being incredibly in tune with their riders. Horses crave attention, and there is nothing quite like the attention of a bubbly little kid. Horses tend to want to perform better when they are carrying around a child.

3. When riding, you learn life lessons and responsibilities

Riding horses is not just about swinging your leg up and over a horse’s back. Horses require a ton of responsibility from getting fed up to four times a day to having time outside in a paddock and daily work to keep their health and fitness at tip top shape. Caring for a horse is a huge responsibility that teaches the child how important determination and commitment is at a young age. Teaching any child the value of hard work at a young age is invaluable. Another aspect of being around horses is learning to have compassion and empathy for a live animal.  At our Midway, KY farm, we value teaching such responsibility, and it is a part of how we teach lessons here.

4. Horseback riding teaches teamwork

Most sports teach the value of teamwork. But nothing can compare to the teamwork between horse and rider. The horses are moving breathing animals that have emotions and thoughts of their own. They teach the riders to communicate clearly. Whether or not a child is purposely asking a horse to go fast or slow down, they have to be very clear on how to communicate through their body. There is nothing quite like watching a horse and rider complete a course or exercise from start to finish with perfection. The teamwork between horse and rider is the major component that make it all work.

5. With riding lessons, your child will learn responsibility

As I have described, horses require a ton of attention. Horses need daily care like feeding, grooming, and exercise, as well as cleaning and maintaining the facility. At our farm in Central Kentucky, just 10 mins outside of Lexington, KY, we try to teach the child every aspect of caring and riding a horse so they understand the responsibility and privilege that comes with being around the horses. When they are truly involved in every aspect of the horses, there is nothing more rewarding.

About the Farm:

Cloud Nine Farm is located in Midway, Kentucky which is just 10 miles from Downtown Lexington, University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Horse Park. We board about 18 ponies and horses and teach all levels or riders from young kids to older adults.

Thanks so much for reading this post. If you have any questions or are considering riding lessons at our Midway, KY location, feel free to contact us here.


















Bringing your horse to College!


College is a life changing experience and a big change for most young adults. Many young adults and parents find the process of picking a college as a very nerve-racking time. When you are an equestrian and horse owner, the idea of bringing a horse along to that university with you can be an even more stressful time. There are a lot of decisions to be made from which barn to chose, when to move the horse and what services you will need once the horse has moved. 

As a professional in the Hunter/Jumper industry for over 20 years, I view this topic from the trainer and managers perspective. 

Here are some tips and things to think through as you are deciding on where to board your horse.

Firstly, decide when the best and ideal time is for you to bring your horse to school. The first semester for a freshman can be overwhelming and difficult to manage so try to sort out how much time you will really have to go to the farm and spend time with your horse. You may decide to send the horse to school once you have settled into your new routine which is fairly typical.  If you are further along in school this may not be an issue for you. 

Secondly, try to narrow down the specific services you are looking for. There are many types of boarding and training facilities. You can find a basic place that just rents you a stall where you are in charge of buying feed and bedding and you do all the daily care and managing of your horse. Or there are full service facilities that will include every element of care as well as a training program. School can be demanding of a students schedule so try to think ahead on how much time you will have to dedicate to your horse. Remember that horses are animals that need attention from us 24/7. They do not take holidays or get to be ignored when the weather is not cooperating or you have a party to attend. Most horses are fed up to four times a day and require a ton of hands on care. My advice is to find a facility that will do most of the care for at least the first year and then you can scale back or become more hands on in the future years. Some facilities have different tiers of services and will allow you to change your type of care as you go along so that is always something to think about.

Thirdly, research the different barns in and around the areas of your school. I suggest to not just search on Google but to search the local affiliations and see what barns are listed on their websites. Contact as many barns as you would like and be aware of how professional they are whether is is returning your calls, emails or texts. The way they handle the business side will most of time reflect the way they manage their horses as well. When you are in the area visiting the school, try to see as many of the barns as possible. Price can always be a deciding factor in which barns you choose but for an extra $50 per month you could get much better care for your horse as well as better training. Try not to narrow down facilities by price ahead of time because the actual care could differ quite a bit. More specifically to researching the different barns, make sure they provide the services you require. A barn that provides the best care could save you money in the long run by not having to call the veterinarian for various illnesses or injuries. 

Here are some things to think about when you visit different facilities.....try to pay attention to how clean and tidy the barn is, how tidy are the horses, do the horses look happy and healthy, do the clients seem happy and laid back (no drama), what does the quality of hay and feed look like, how organized is feed room, how does the trainer conduct themselves in a lesson with other students as well as how do they ride and handle their horse? It's never a bad idea to watch a lesson or even take a lesson if possible so you can get hands on experience with the barn and trainer. 

Lastly, go with your gut when making that final decision of where to board your horse. If you get a good feeling when you walk in the barn of a certain facility then pick that one but on the flip side if you see something that you don't like, do not ignore it. Because there are so many different ways to care for a horse, try to pick the best place that will fit your needs and wants. For most of us, our barn family is huge part of our lives so pick a place that you feel comfortable and know that you can trust them to manage your horse. 

I hope this post has helped you in what to do when you decide to bring your horse to college.

Stevie McCarwon Wigley