By Janae Klingler
My journey to FEI with my gelding Kenny began nearly 8 years before he was born. At age 13, I purchased his mother, Galla, from my riding instructor at the time, who bred and trained Appaloosas. This was my introduction to horse ownership. As a young rider, I raised and trained Galla myself. She and I competed in 4-H hunter division as well as jumpers, later becoming interested in dressage and eventing.
After my third semester in college, I decided to take a semester off and obtained a working student position at a West Virginia facility specializing in developing and training young horses. Galla and I moved to West Virginia that winter, and in the spring I received an opportunity to breed her to a relatively young and promising stallion, Rapture R. My family owns a small dairy farm in central Pennsylvania, affording me access to stall and pasture space to keep my mare and let her raise her foal.
The emotional investment of breeding and supporting my mare to foal was the cornerstone of the bond and connection Kenny and I have today. The spring leading up to the delivery of my foal, I was able to travel back and forth to college and check on my mare and her progress. Just after my finals, she was beginning to show signs of impending delivery. At this point, I was doing night checks several times a night, and during one of the night checks she was beginning to labor. I drove back to my parents’ house, got them, and by the time we drove less than a mile back to the barn, the foal was one the ground and Galla was already cleaning him off. I was able to watch him stand, take his first steps, and nurse for the first time. As I look back now, it was really an amazing experience to be able to be there for the delivery of my current competition partner.
Having the support of the young horse facility in West Virginia, Galla, her foal Kenny, and I moved back to West Virginia so he could grow around other young horses until was ready to start in training. He did have his fair share of developmental issues as a young horse. At about 2 months old, he developed contracted tendons requiring surgery. We also discovered he was cryptorchid, resulting in delaying gelding him until he was almost three years old, which also required surgery.
I began training Kenny when he was 3. Having graduated from college, I was working at a boarding and training facility in Pennsylvania where Galla and Kenny were now boarded. I began training lightly by lunging with tack, then slowly I backed him before giving him the winter off to mature. The spring of his 4-year-old year, I started him lightly into a training program. At the time, my goal with him was to progress through the levels of eventing. I was able to take him to a few small jumper shows to introduce him to a show atmosphere, as well as cross country. I achieved one of my personal goals, riding Kenny with George Morris in one of his clinics that summer. Later that year, I made the decision to focus on dressage due to the issues he had with contracted tendons. Once I made the decision that dressage would be our discipline of choice, I began training with Janna Dyer of Dark Horse Dressage. Janna is a USDF Gold Medalist that has successfully developed many horses and riders to Grand Prix. I knew then, Kenny was going to be a dressage horse, but I had no idea where this journey would lead.
Our journey through the levels of dressage has been challenging. Prior to Kenny, I had never had the opportunity to ride a horse at upper levels or to bring a horse along above Second Level. I had started many young horses and brought them up through the lower levels of dressage, but had never gone further due to most of them being sale horses. Learning with a horse is one of the most difficult ways to advance, yet extremely rewarding. Kenny and I have had to learn and develop together. Both of us new to the technical skills required, together we have learned half pass, single changes, tempi changes, pirouette, piaffe, and passage. Not only has developing Kenny into a FEI horse taught me the required movements, it has given me the experience of teaching a horse these movements and what it takes to develop their mind and body simultaneously. This process has broadened my patience, not only with my horse but with myself too.
Many times along this road, it seemed like we were not moving forward in our training. I would leave the barn and not be able to stop thinking about everything that I should have done differently, or about how I could have presented an exercise more clearly to Kenny, or what exercises I was going to try next time I rode. But I realized I needed to have patience with both myself and Kenny because we were both going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. As I kept plugging away in our training, suddenly Kenny would be strong enough or mentally prepared enough to try more advanced movements, or make the movements we had been working on really click. I have had to look at myself when things were not progressing and think about what I was doing to cause it or feel what was happening to be able to move forward. He is the type of horse that overthinks everything I ask him to do. Sometimes it is to the point that he can’t allow himself to try what I am asking, and I have had to be very creative in helping him figure out what I am asking. This has also made me realize that many rides are just going to focus on the basics of balance, suppleness, and relaxation. He has challenged me to forget about myself at times and just figure out what he needs to understand the questions presented to him. The bond that I have with him from raising him from a foal makes Kenny and I more partners than horse and rider, which brings many challenges as well as many more rewards to our journey.
I am fortunate enough to be able to instruct and this journey has helped me to mature as both a trainer and instructor. My time spent with Kenny has enabled me to focus on the process and developing my students, so that they have the tools they need to help their horses along. I have learned to give the horses time to develop and relax in their jobs.
I believe that a large part of what has made my partnership with Kenny successful is being committed to a program and having a trainer that is supportive. I have also learned that both horses and riders need time to develop both physically and mentally and we as trainers must give them that time. My experience with Kenny has also taught me to spend the majority of my time training on the basics. Most importantly, I have learned to never forget that I am doing this because I love the horses and the journey.
My partnership with Kenny has allowed me many opportunities, including being able to ride with several Olympians. I achieved my USDF Silver Medal in 2019 and my goal is to continue toward my gold medal, and for Kenny to be the first horse that I develop to Grand Prix. It may take longer for us to get there than most, but learning together and being the one to teach the horse that I bred and raised all he knows has been worth every moment spent. While we have achieved a tremendous amount thus far, Kenny and I have so much more to complete on our journey together.