By Dawn Bruneau
My adventures with horses began 40 years ago as a working student at Ironstone Farm in Andover, MA. I mucked stalls, groomed, and fed the horses in exchange for my lessons – as all good barn rats do while competing locally for their 4-H club. I was lucky enough to be there through the years that Ironstone was breeding, training, and racing Thoroughbreds for the track, and learned my strengths as a horsewoman during those years.
I began teaching riding in the late 1980s and went on to Colby-Sawyer College (CSC) for Athletic Training, where I was a member of their equestrian and alpine ski teams. At CSC, I was able to go to Nationals for IHSA in 1988, 1989, and 1990, and we were co-Nationals Champions in 1989. After graduating, I continued teaching at Ironstone with their able-bodied and handicapped lessons for Challenge Unlimited, until 2004. I helped lead the Ironstone 4-H Club, and was the Essex County Teen Council Advisor during those years. From 2004-2006 I enjoyed coaching the UMass-Lowell IHSA team.
In 2004, I began managing Performance Lifestyles, our family-owned physical therapy clinic in Burlington, MA, where I continue full-time to this day. In 2009, I joined Atkinson Riding Academy by leasing a horse and taking up riding once again. In 2010, I introduced my daughter, Taylor, to riding and began leasing horses for her. Over the next ten years I mainly “mommed” and, of course, was a super groom and sideline cheerleader for both Taylor and my son, Shea, with their sports and school activities. I thoroughly enjoyed watching and coaching them through their activities, and had some great adventures around New England and New York.
Flash forward to 2020, I decided to begin riding again, joining the dressage world for the first time (which can be so demanding physically). Albeit, this time I was 70lbs heavier but ready to commit time and energy to myself. It was January, we didn’t know quite yet that the world as we knew it was going to change….(COVID)…and I began leasing Avant Garde and working with Crystal Little, owner/trainer of Atkinson Riding Academy. We set goals for riding and weight loss. Each week I would lesson with her three times and supplement with some treadmill/outdoor walking and stretching before riding, as well as cleaning up my eating habits, and weighing in on Thursdays (beginning after my third lesson – gotta set yourself up for success). There were plenty of hard days and tears, and a lot of happy tears (as I would reach certain goals, Crystal would pass down her old clothes to me as she was on her own adventure in body building and strengthening herself).
By September 2021, I had met my weight loss goal and now would continue with a maintenance program. In the spring of 2021 I joined the competitive dressage world! I jumped right in, two feet first, into USDF-recognized shows but, of course, at Training Level, because dressage was new to both myself and the horse. We enjoyed horse shows in Mystic (CT), Atkinson (NH), Concord (MA) and GMHA (VT). Slowly, through those shows, we began to finesse our way through Training 1 and 2, raising our scores more than ten percent throughout the season. Although I know I have a long way to go, I am proud of the accomplishments we made last year, earning my first USDF Rider Performance Award at Training Level while riding alongside my closest friends and family (literally). My best day was at Mystic Valley Hunt Club in October 2021; my daughter Taylor and I were able to warm up together because we were about to show in separate rings at just about the same times! (Something I proudly announced to the judge as I rode by her at C after our afternoon greeting). I look forward to repeating that scenario time and time again for as many years as physically possible!