Ashley Collucci
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Ashley Collucci

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About Ashley Collucci

Hello my name is Ashley Collucci. I am the co-owner of Autumn View Equestrian Center in Woodbridge, CT. I am 30 years old and we have been in business going on 9 years.  AVEC is an Eventing and Dressage barn that specializes in OTTB's and young or problem horses. I have been riding and working with horses for 24 years. My favorite part about my business is bringing along the young horses and watching and feeling their progression throughout their training, and helping riders work through difficulties with their horses and see how excited they are when they acheive the outcome they are looking for

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Springtime Riding

As spring begins to approach in small spurts of sunny weather above 40 degrees, the idea of riding without 50 pounds of clothing on is thrilling. Last Wednesday morning, the sun was strong and for the first time in three months (except when we were in Aiken), I got the mucking, etc. done as fast as possible because I was going to ride a bunch in this amazing weather

After accomplishing chores in record time, I trudged through the disappearing snow, also known as MUD, and catch the first horse of the day.

I decide to start with my favorite newer boy, Five. In the year we have had this horse, I can count the not so great rides on a few fingers. Even when he’s naughty I still have a blast riding him and can always find mostly good points in our ride. So obviously as I brought him into the barn I was thinking about the amazing ride I would have on him in this gorgeous weather.

He was shedding like crazy as I groomed him, so I decided that if the horses think spring is here then it must be true. Good weather from here on out! Once he’s booted and tacked we head out to the arena.

Five marches out to the arena with a little more flair in his step than normal and is looking around, interested in everything around him. I attribute it to the screaming children down the street and think he will have a little extra energy to add to our wonderful ride we are going to have.

Once I mount up, I realize I am sitting on a stick of dynamite that feels like it will blow any second. I always start my horses with five minutes of walk on a long rein so both of us can get situated and into the rhythm.  Immediately I decide that reins to the buckle may not suit his mood today.

We head around the arena spooking and bolting a step or two in whatever direction he throws himself, so I immediately start to work on adding volte’s after six strides of forward walk and then gradually increase the steps in between the volte’s to start getting his attention.

All the while, I was thinking, “Geez I just wanted to have a good ride today,” which was definitely my mistake. Typically as trainers, we are usually really good with not expecting too much from any horse on any given day and riding what we get on that day at that second. But when you add that slightly more personal aspect of one of your own horses that you are really excited about, sometimes we don’t realize that we start to expect too much.

After a half an hour of slow, quiet walk work, Five started to relax and pay attention and I have reminded myself of my annoying perfectionist attitude and told myself that this is what I am getting right now, so deal with it and make it a learning experience for both of us.

We started our trot work a little bit tight and nervous, but it quickly gets more and more relaxed and I decide to use our dwindling snow bank as a large cavaletti to draw Five’s attention towards a different type of question. Each time we trot over the snow bank we continue our straight line and then change the bend and change directions.  Through the exercise, he quickly began to open up his stride and becomes more interested in what I am asking than all of the other outside stimuli that he was finding so interesting and scary earlier in our ride.

I was positive I had his attention, so I decided to move forward with a little bit of canter work. Now galloping is by far his favorite gait, as he did quite a bit of successful racing. His canter has become quite lovely in the past year, but every once in a while he does confuse canter with gallop. We cantered circles over the small snow bank and his canter stays the same rhythm, he feels incredibly balanced and seemed more focused than he has throughout the whole ride.

Although we started on a pretty horrible, nervous and frantic note — which was slightly aggravating to be honest — the proof of the process of quiet, correct riding that showed up in our canter work was so exciting to me. So much of the time, I hear myself explaining this exact method to my students.

Horses have personalities’ they are living beings and have good days and bad days too. We wouldn’t have chosen this sport if the horse was always perfect because where would the challenge lie? Ninety-nine percent of the awesomeness of this sport is in the relationship between horse and rider and how well every person approaches that relationship.

If the rider doesn’t put their whole self into their work with these wonderful animals, they can’t expect a horse to be able to deal with cheap emotions and aggravation. Horses are emotional beings because of their sensitive nature.  Humans have the ability to reason and control our emotions — how can we expect the horse who is counting on our leadership to be able to understand what we want from them?

The most amazing part of my job is that these horses humble you all of the time; even the best, most simple rides of your day sometimes challenge you. It’s overcoming these challenges that forms the best relationships. So remember this the next time you are confronted with a small challenge when riding. Proceed calmly with respect to your equine partner and you will always succeed.

Snowy Shenanigans

It’s the end of January 2015. January was a fairly cold month at the farm, but we have definitely made the most of the sunny 30 degree days and gotten some riding in. With the prospect of heading to Aiken, South Carolina in the beginning of March, we definitely want to keep the horses at least slightly fit.

Although winter always seems to put a cramp in your plans, and here comes a giant snowstorm. Possible blizzard, Snowmageddon, prepare to be drowning in snow. Ok, well hopefully not. It’s looking like our awesome, all-weather arena will be getting covered with a few feet of the fluffy white stuff.

Don’t get me wrong it does look so pretty for the initial 6 hours, providing of course that you can start your morning by actually driving down the road to the farm. Lucky for us we are on a quiet, private, dead-end road. Unlucky for us it never seems to be on top of the list to be plowed in large storms.

Once we can get to the farm and shovel a path to be able to open the doors, we can rush around to feed the screaming and pawing horses that are aggravated that we have taken 10 minutes longer to arrive due to the weather. They obviously aren’t sympathetic to our troubles.

Now since there has to be a path plowed down the farm road to get to the horses that live outside, Ted (My knight in Carhartt coveralls) quickly excuses himself from all the farm work to go hang out in the plow truck. Our plow truck is about 100 years old and a rust bucket that almost always seems to start; as long as you don’t leave the battery hooked up from the storm before. But we are very thankful that we do have our own, one of a kind plow truck. It definitely beats dragging hay on a sled down the farm road in waist deep snow.

Separating the horses for breakfast now poses a new challenge. The fresh snow in the fields is apparently so exciting that they can’t stop galloping and bucking. With a couple of close call we decide to just hand out grain while they are all together in the field. Once they start eating they settle down a bit. We realize that the horses can care less about being out in the weather as we try to add a blanket here or there and they gallop off to the furthest point of their 10 acre field. So we give up on adding to their wardrobe and head back inside to start mucking, shoveling and watering in the barn.

This feels as though it has been 6 hours, it has probably been two at the most. The rest of the day keeps on dragging along as we trudge through snow and shovel paths to and from the barns and the shavings shed. The snow that at first glance looked pretty is no longer so attractive. Snow on a horse farm = 10 times the amount of work you do in a day; and probably also means that you won’t even have the energy to go for one 20 minute ride to enjoy the snow!

So as we get the farm ready for a big storm, and I freak out a little to think of the lessons we will lose in the next few weeks and that the snow will probably be getting in the way of the horses fitness schedule. At least I can look forward to the trip down south. There is also always the prospect of taking the horses to some local indoors to get them super comfortable working anywhere.

2015 is a year to turn small annoyances into good experiences for our riding and training. Blizzard or not we will get through it and look back and laugh at all of the ridiculous work that goes into dealing with this obnoxious white stuff.

Perfect Timing for a Week with Denny Emerson

I am the co-owner of Autumn View Equestrian Center in Woodbridge, Connecticut. I am 30 years old, and we have been in business going on nine years. AVEC is an eventing and dressage barn that specializes in OTTBs and young or problem horses. I have been riding and working with horses for 24 years. My favorite part about my business is bringing along the young horses and watching and feeling their progression throughout their training, and helping riders work through difficulties with their horses and see how excited they are when they achieve the outcome they are looking for.

Nick gets the hang of the bank. Photo by May Emerson.

Nick gets the hang of the bank. Photo by May Emerson.

This time last year, I packed up a bunch of my equipment and one of my young horses. Ted, my boyfriend and business partner, dropped me off at Kait Schultz’s farm (whom I had only met through Facebook), to share a ride down south. We were about to embark on a five-day journey to Denny Emerson’s Tamarack Hill Farm in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

To say I wasn’t freaking out a little was an understatement. Most of December in Connecticut had been very cold, icy and snowy; not much riding had been taking place. After planning and finalizing all the details of our trip only one week from when we were leaving, there was definitely a lot to be done. Not to forget the nervous 4-year-old Thoroughbred, Nick. He would have to get clipped and sat on a few times before we headed down south!

So this was it; here I was waiting and hoping that it would also be a renewal in my passion for horses and training. 2013 was a bummer to put it lightly. I had lost an extremely talented up and coming young horse named Maker’s Mark. This tragedy struck just days after his first event in June 2013. I will never forget the crushing feeling of such sudden loss. Later that year in November, I would have to say goodbye to my 32-year-old mare, Hot Fudge. “Fudge” had been with me for 18 years and through a whole lot of life experiences with me.

I had been spending time trying to get my heart completely back into the sport I loved. But then again, as they say, the heart needs time to heal. No matter how many good rides I had, they wouldn’t bring back my lost horses. That motivation would have to come from something else.

Nick schools cross country for the first time. Photo by May Emerson.

Nick schools cross country for the first time. Photo by May Emerson.

I had arrived at Kait’s farm and settled Nick into his stall for the evening. I dragged all of our stuff out of my truck and trailer and left it in a big heap in front of her barn. Then off drove Ted, leaving me to wait and wonder how my next five days with a complete stranger would turn out.

Lucky for us, in the horse world there is always work to do. So when Kait showed up, we immediately started packing the trailer, then feeding and setting up hay nets for out 2 a.m. departure. By the time we were sitting down stuffing ourselves with pizza, I felt as if I had known her forever. Arriving in Southern Pines later the next day, I knew we were going to have a great time together. Apparently during 12 hours of driving you can learn quite a bit about each other.

Once we arrived, we settled the horses in, exhausted but excited for our rides over the coming weekend with a legend. The nerves of not knowing what to expect were gone and in their place, the familiar drive inside of me seemed to be coming back. I was beginning to be thankful for what Marky had given me, instead of just sad. At most, I got to feel what a truly upper-level horse feels like, and I know I will eventually find that feeling once again.

I had chosen Nick as the horse to bring with me, as he was a fairly unconfident horse. I had hopes that this trip would help him mature a bit. Although he had never raced, he had been over-trained on the track and handled a but roughly. His “chill” go nowhere fast attitude definitely wasn’t suited for the racetrack.

Over the six months that we had him, he mastered walk, trot, stretching into the contact and had begun some lateral work. Although the canter was just not something he was interested in. So, yes, I took a horse that didn’t like to canter, nevermind jump, to ride with Denny Emerson.

Denny’s inspiring methods of training had Nick cantering and jumping small obstacles in our first lesson. Although it wasn’t easy, we were firm in a tactful way and positively helped him get over that canter “hump” that was holding him back from progressing in his training. I don’t think I’ve ever cantered more rails on the ground in my life than I did in that lesson. Each rail we cantered over gave more push from behind and a little more jump in the canter.

Nick in Southern Pines!

Nick in Southern Pines!

Every rail was also a metaphor for helping me to rediscover my passion. Don’t get me wrong; it would have been fantastic to take a horse who was a little bit more schooled to ride with Denny. But I’m convinced I chose the right horse. I really did need another point of view. My trainers at home and I had started to treat him too delicately because of his past experiences at the track. Denny kicked me back into gear.

The next day, Nick schooled cross country for the first time and answered every question with a little bit of gusto that he used to lack. Thankfully, Denny also had the foresight for me to school the ditch and the bank with him in hand. This was brilliant because once he figured it out on his own, it was no big deal with me in the tack.

I could go on forever about my trip because there is so much more to tell, but I think you get the picture. The timing of my trip down south in 2014 couldn’t have been better. It refreshed my riding and training, but also brought some enthusiasm about the business as a whole.

Spending a week with someone as zealous about horses as Kait seemed to remind me of why I started my farm eight years before. Not that I didn’t love what I do, but as with anything, you get tired, beat down and broken. We all need something that revitalizes us once in a while. This trip to me was more of a reminder that once you find your passion in life, never let it go.

It’s now February of 2015. It’s 13 degrees, and I’m trailering horses to Corinna Scheller Fleming’s Lost Island Farm for our bi-weekly dressage lessons, spending the 1-1/2 hour drive to reflect on things that really influenced me in the last year.

While 2014 wasn’t the best year for me personally, it was a turning point for the business, and I’m thrilled with our great string of green OTTBs that we have been getting to know. I absolutely feel back in the game where the riding and training is concerned. Let’s do this 2015; I am chomping at the bit! So, thanks, Ted; thanks, Kait; and thank you, Denny, for an amazing trip that came at the perfect time.