An Ode to Woman Power

Bug and I before our first Advanced cross country at Southern Pines last year. Photo by Jordan Armstrong.

Recently, I lost one of my aunts to cancer.  She had been battling it valiantly for quite awhile, but cancer is mean, and it doesn’t give up easily. It seems that when life takes a dive, I sit back and reflect. There have been so many strong women in my life. Nothing against the men in my life, but I have found that the majority of the people who have helped to mold and shape my life have been women.

My mom is a truly amazing woman. She worked incredibly hard at her job for 35 years or so, and she never complained about it. She tried very hard to keep me on the straight and narrow, and she was not afraid to set me straight if I needed it. She pushed me to follow my dreams and do what would make me happy. (Dad definitely had a lot to do with it, too!)

Many ask me how I got started with horses, as neither of my parents are particularly “horsey” people. That role fell to my twin aunts, Brenda and Glenda. They’re my father’s sisters, and they are the ones that started it all. They both have had horses all of their lives, and they had me on a horse at six months of age. I fell in love and never looked back. I have been horse crazy for as long as I can remember, and I couldn’t wait to go to their houses in the hopes that I might get to ride.

The next big chapter in my life came with the addition of Jacki Rutledge of Rutledge Horse and Cattle Company in Spring Grove, Pa. I started taking riding lessons with Jacki when I was 8 years old. I wanted so badly to ride western like my aunts, but Jacki told me that if I couldn’t ride in an English saddle first, I had no business being on a horse. She is a great horsewoman that loves each and every one of the many horses at her farm.

I rode with Jacki until I went off to college at 18. My first horse, Colby, the cutest black Quarter Horse-Morgan cross, came from her.  Colby and I did everything together: western pleasure, English pleasure, halter classes and even pleasure driving. I worked for Jacki every summer and every Saturday during the my entire time riding with her. She taught me so much about horse care. I wasn’t one of those kids that boarded my horse somewhere and knew nothing about his care. I worked hard, and I learned a ton.

Unfortunately, my first stint at college didn’t go well, due to a lot of unforeseen blips in my life. I took some time off from college and lost my way a bit. I still had a driving passion to ride horses, but there were so many other things going on around me. When I was 21, I was working at the local hospital in the radiology department. My job was to sort the x-rays and hang them in the reading room for the radiologists.

It’s funny how life can lead you to the people you need to meet. One of the doctors there was a small woman with a ton of personality. Dr. Desiree Lerro is also another strong horsewoman. She had been a jockey from 1972 to 1982, and then went on to become a doctor. She also runs her own sporthorse breeding facility, Echo Knoll Farm. She quickly learned of my passion for horses and my dreams.

She helped me out a lot with the OTTB I had at the time, Mr. Lincoln.I had decided that I wanted to delve into the world of dressage and eventing, but I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Desi helped me a lot in getting Abe to understand dressage and how to use himself. She was also instrumental in convincing me to go back to college to get my equestrian degree.

Enter Wilson College. Wilson was an all women’s liberal arts college at the time that I attended, and it was full of strong women. During my time there, Annette Gavin of Hastilow Competition Saddles, was one of the main riding instructors and classroom professors in the equestrian department. She played a huge role in teaching me about eventing.

I had never jumped before I went to college, and Annette is the one that got me started. She guided me in my pursuits and really helped me to learn to train a horse. She was instrumental in taking me from a greenie over jumps to jumping 4-foot courses by the time I graduated three-and-a-half years later. I still had a ton to learn, but she definitely laid the groundwork for my future.

After college, I ended up finding my way to the next influential woman in my life, Kim Severson. The first time I rode with her in a clinic, I gained so much knowledge. I knew then that this was someone I needed to ride with as much as I could. Her farm is more than four hours from me, but I did my best to get to her as much as I could. She was instrumental in starting me down the road from a training-level rider (and not a great one, at that!) to my first CCI2*.

Kim saw that I had a horse full of potential, but that I needed a lot of guidance to take him where he needed to go. Unfortunately, due to the distance between us, it became difficult to get as much help as I needed at the upper levels. However, she still plays a large role in my competition coaching, and she always has insightful things to say about my riding that keep me thinking and moving forward.

Realizing that I needed more help closer to home, I started the search for my next coach. Enter Bonnie Mosser. Bonnie has been an amazing help to me. Not only has she helped me to bring Bug up through the three-star level, but she has taught me so much about bringing along my young horses and running my business. Her insight into the eventing world and riding has been paramount to my success.

When things don’t go as planned, Bonnie is always there to help me make a new plan and to think things through. Her outlook on life has definitely helped to mold and shape how I am approaching my riding and business. Her influence has also helped me to remember that there is more to life than just riding. We have to have a bit of fun too!

Finally, I can’t forget to add the person who first got behind me with sponsorship. Susan Snider, owner of Snider’s Elevator, a feed mill/store extraordinaire, in Lemasters, Pa., has worked very hard to turn a small, family-owned feed mill into the bustling business that it is today. She knows firsthand just how hard you have to work to make things happen, and she has taught me a lot about running a business.

In my short 32 years, there have already been eight amazing, strong women in my equine career. This doesn’t begin to count the many others that have affected my life in some way, shape or form. Though all of these women taught me about horses and riding, I believe that they also taught me about life. I believe it is my job to pay it forward and be a strong woman and good influence to other young women. I wish that every young woman could have as many great influences in their life as I have had.

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