By Jennifer Hemphill
Where shall my story begin with our journey together? Let’s start from the moment this beautiful mare, Easy Spirit of Garr Dell, walked off the trailer in April of 2016. Gosh that seems so long ago. I was looking for a challenge, and I definitely received that when Easy arrived into my life. Not much had been done with this sweet mare and at the age of 10, it was for sure going to be challenging for me. ‘What was I thinking!’ was basically what was running in my mind over and over again. But I saw a kind soul who just wanted to find the right partner to flourish with. And so our education began together.
Now my background was all Quarter Horses and Paints, toss an Arabian in there occasionally. A newly blossoming trainer, I had very little experience with Drafts, let alone one with so much hair even Rapunzel herself would be jealous. Welcome the magnificent breed of the Clydesdale. It was tough to find anyone in my area that would help guide me with the right education I needed to make this a successful training experience. I had a Clydesdale cross for several years prior to purchasing Easy. Bud had helped my husband and I learn so much on the big movement of these horses. How versatile they could be. Not just a horse pulling a big wagon full of beer, if you catch my drift. I was met with some negative feedback at first from many exhibitors and judges alike in the open all breed show world, but I was confident I could truly convince everyone how quiet the Clydesdale could go around the pen and determined to get noticed that way. It did take some time for people to realize that yes, these horses can collect, lift, be balanced, and step lightly at a walk, trot, and canter. But it certainly didn’t happen overnight – as a wise trainer and friend once told me, Rome wasn’t built in a day! And that could not be a truer statement!
The first full year of owning Easy, I did nothing but ground work, earning her trust and respect. She has always been leery of new people and who she allowed to be in her space. I can not really blame her, at 10 years old she did not know anything about riding or driving. So I started her as if she was a weanling, exposing her to everything I could on the ground first, taking her to as many shows as I could. I had to stay patient with her and allow her the appropriate amount of time to be mentally prepared for the expectations I was about to put in front of her. The next year we started under saddle and I wanted to show saddleseat so badly, for some reason I thought she might make a great saddleseat horse buuuuut as the year went on, we soon realized this mare was very much destined for the dressage arena. However I didn’t know if I was quite ready to enter into the world of dressage. I put that on hold and started her driving training. Oh my, she took to this discipline so easily (no pun intended). It was like she had done it her whole life. Training was such a breeze with driving for her. I was so over the moon with how far she was coming along that in 2018, I decided to compete at the World Clydesdale Show in Madison, Wisconsin. She had proven her self worth and education in many many open all breed shows at this point, and we had competed at a few county level draft shows where she also proved how well she could compete with the rest of her kind.
Our haul to Worlds ended up being a bit of a nightmare entailing Easy staying on the trailer for almost 13 hours straight. Through Indianapolis, she somehow managed to jump in our hay manger (yes, can you picture that a 17.2hh Clydesdale stuck in a hay manger?) but I opened those big trailer doors and asked her to back and very quietly, she hopped down. Phew, I was not sure if I was going to have to call the fire department to cut my trailer in half. The years of trust I had put into with her helped in an emergency situation.
She walked away from that with minor superficial cuts and so I decided to keep going on to our destination. A vet would be at the show to look her over and clear her for riding, followed by a much needed magnawave session after that horrible trailer ride. She has always walked right on any trailer for me though so that has to speak volumes of the training I had done with her over time. She and I ended up placing top five in a deep western riding class of almost over 40 riders, placing top ten in a very nice pleasure cart class of 18, and overall performing really well at her first World show.
Our 2019 year proved to be one of her best years of performing at state level. Ohio state treated us well. She and I ended up placing first in english riding, first in western riding, and first in pleasure cart. Wow! She even placed fourth in a ladies cart class, which is more for “hitch” type horses. It blew me away because I for sure thought she would come in last for several reasons. I do not put scotch bottom shoes on her, and she moves more like a pleasure horse than a hitch type. How incredibly proud I was of her. So much hard work and time had been put into our relationship to form a strong bond and connection. It’s a beautiful moment in time when you experience that with a horse.
Enter our 2020 year! Finally, I was ready to take on the dressage world! I was nervous and I knew I would have to work even harder than what I was now. I entered a small local schooling group and off we went. Staying in Intro A and B, I wanted us to master these patterns before we moved up levels. Her very first test, we pulled a 61%! I was impressed but still determined to get a 70% at least by the end of the year. A solid achievable goal I knew we could obtain. Covid kept us away from our usual open shows to practice, and our draft shows were cancelled, so I mainly put all our focus on dressage. At the end of the season, we had reached our goal of a 71% in both Intro A and B! So proud of both of us. We had many look at me funny hauling in a Clydesdale to perform a dressage test. But I only viewed that as encouragement to press on and prove that yes, this breed can and will do it. We both learned so much in our level of riding through dressage, so much so that I ended up purchasing a yearling Shire (now 3 years old) that will be exploring the wonderful world of dressage in the coming years. Easy was Grand Champion Intro Level Senior 2020 overall.
Which brings us to this year; I knew we were ready to hit two major shows for 2021. Every year, I set out goals for each of my horses to achieve. I pick shows that I feel we might be ready and prepared for and plan ahead. This year, I was bound and determined to prove once again how great my partnership was with Easy. Clydesdale Nationals was in my sights followed by the first North American Clydesdale/Shire Fall Classic. And so, off we went in working and training and preparing. Easy came home from Nationals as Reserve Grand Champion Western Riding Clydesdale, top ten in English riding and pleasure driving, and Reserve Grand Champion Clydesdale in Dressage with a score of 72%! Oh yet another long haul (to Iowa this time) was worth it!
Then we traveled to Shipshewana, Indiana for the Fall Classic and she placed first in both english and western riding. Finally, we were getting noticed by the Draft horse community. It took us so incredibly long with not always great feedback from fellow competitors. But we always stayed the course, never gave up, and pursued the dreams I knew she and I could grasp. I held back many tears this year in the show arenas and hugged that mare so tightly after each class. To think so many had said she would not amount to much, and that there was no way a Draft could do dressage, we knew better.
I want to express to so many people to never quit your dreams. I’m 40 years old, a hard-working horse trainer and riding instructor that has had to start from scratch, educating myself all the time. Yes, the little pay and long hours can get to me somedays, but the several minutes of time in the show arena or dressage ring makes it all worth it. The gratification and self-worth, the acknowledgment and recognition is one of the best feelings in the world to a dedicated trainer making daily sacrifices to climb to the top. The beautiful partnership formed with such a magnificent huge horse is a feeling that is described simply as bliss. As our barn motto states we are “Small but Mighty”.
For our 2022 year, we are venturing into sidesaddle and continuing to stay within the dressage world. It has been the toughest discipline to accomplish and so rewarding for myself and for Easy.