Destined For Change


By Chandra Thurman

My name is Chandra Thurman, and while I may have had a different story growing up as an equestrian, my love for the horse is the same. Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, I wasn’t your “normal” equestrian.  Yep, I stood out as a tall, black, and curvy girl that dreamed of having a horse; I was different, but my passion for horses was still there. My love for horses came from my mom, who bred and trained Morgan horses growing up in Tennessee. I was destined to follow in her steps. 

The most riding I did as a little kid was pony rides at the fair or birthday events. Riding lessons were expensive and, with my mom being a single parent, it was not in the cards for me. So, I made do as I got older and took any offer I could get that would involve swinging a leg over into any saddle. I didn’t have any discipline that I belonged to, I just enjoyed any time I could in the saddle.

In college, I rode more, mainly western but was able to experience different breeds such as Tennessee Walkers, Trakehners, Quarter Horses, Hanoverians, Appendixes, and more. I also worked a 35 hour a week job, on top of college, to be able to afford my first lease horse. However, the drawback of being in a small town: there were not many opportunities to be able to pursue my dream, dressage. 
When I graduated college, I was able to fulfill my lifelong dream and own my own horse. My heart horse Kassie is a 16.2 hand, dapple gray Andalusian/Thoroughbred cross that stole my heart. I knew she would be my dressage horse. My everything. I moved her to the barn I was riding at, where there was dressage being taught. We started our dressage journey showing at small local schooling shows. We had a blast just going off property to play in the arena. We took the long haul to our first rated shows and, while we did not have the best scores, our bond grew, and I just knew this mare would go to the ends of the earth for me. 

After a few years at that barn, issues arose. My horse’s care didn’t seem like it was being considered first, dressage was on the back burner, and I was feeling like I was on my own to teach myself dressage, watching YouTube every night for guidance. I knew it was time to move on. 

We moved to the other barn in the area; this one was eventing-based. We settled in and had a great time. We took lessons regularly, which we were not used to, and I felt like we were making headway. However, I was still getting that feeling like I was being held back, not taken seriously, and there was a lack of support. Eventing dressage and regular dressage are night and day different, and Kassie was just not clicking with it. I didn’t feel like I fit in with the eventers, and I was getting more frustrated. I had no idea where to go next, as there were no other barns within an hour’s commute. I simply thought we would be stuck, and I was going to accept the bare minimum. We would not improve from where we were. 

In 2022, my world was shattered when I lost my mom. I didn’t really ride for a month, just a bareback ride here and there and to check on Kassie. I was not interested in dressage or even hanging out with my horse. My depression was hitting hard and I thought I had lost my spark and love for this sport. My mom always wanted to get out there and ride Kassie and, in her words, “Go ride that horse and become famous.”  I knew I couldn’t give up on myself or my horse. 

I got back in the saddle and hit it hard. I listened to my gut, and no one else, and entered my first rated show in almost four years. We received our first 60% at Training Level. I sobbed into Kassie’s neck after that test, before knowing our score, and I just knew my love for this sport was back. After that show, I was determined to keep pushing and even work on moving up a level. However, at the current barn, it seemed like my goals were on a back burner. 

Since I didn’t have a trailer, I had no way to haul to shows. Being in a small town, the closest rated show is a 2-hour drive and most of the eventers at my barn were not interested in a dressage show. There were also no clinic opportunities around to work with a dressage-based trainer.  I was defeated. Although I was getting decent lessons at my barn, I just knew something was missing and that I needed more. I was longing to work with a classical dressage trainer, and I just felt my hopes and dreams diminish. 

One day, as my husband and I sat down to buy Land Rover Three Day Event tickets, we were figuring out hotels, pet sitting and the usual ‘best weekend all year’ checklists. He looked at me and said, “We should just move to Lexington.” I laughed so hard I think I choked. But when I looked at him, I knew he was serious. He proceeded to say, “It’s my favorite city for sports, our jobs are transferable, and it’s horse country. It’s time you find the trainer you and Kassie deserve.” I sat there for a moment and thought ‘This is it. This is the sign from my mom that I needed.’ 

I, then, immediately did my research on dressage trainers, and the results were outstanding. I was shocked at how many dressage barns there were around Lexington. The opportunities were endless. I then came across the barn Alexandra Stables – it seemed to have  infinite dressage. And as I scrolled through their page and videos, I was smiling so hard – this was the barn, my dream dressage barn. I felt it in my bones. 

I am proactive so I had a list of barns to contact, and one by one they were either full or on a waitlist and I was getting discouraged. I only had one barn left on my list to contact, Alexandra Stables. As I had the email ready, I said a silent prayer to my momma and sent the email. Not long after, the barn owner Alex sent me a reply and said they did have an opening, and I jumped for joy. 
So, we took our anniversary weekend, in February of 2023, to Lexington, with our 8-month puppy in tow. We signed the lease for our townhouse, and then it was time for the barn visit. I fell in love the moment I saw the property. After meeting Alex, the barn owner, and Miguel, the head trainer, I just knew this would be my second home.  We ironed out the details and move-in dates and that was it; I would be moving to my dream barn! We were moving to Lexington, Kentucky. 

Now, after being with Alexandra Stables, the opportunities I have had within months are mind-blowing. My first lesson, my trainer asked me, “What are YOUR goals?” and I told him I wanted to not only move up and not feel held back, but to learn the real ins and outs of dressage. He looked at me and said, “You have the horse that’s capable, easy – let’s do it!” And I felt right then I was heard. 
Kassie and I went to work after we both settled in, and Kassie has never looked or felt better. My mental health is blooming and I feel at home.  My trainer is an FEI-Level rider, as well as a certified yoga teacher, and he has made me realize how my seat, my body, and Kassie are truly supposed to feel and move. It felt like taking the blinders off and seeing everything clearly. This was the change I needed. The barn family is so welcoming, not judgmental, and I truly feel at home… like I belong no matter what. 

The support from the owners, trainers, and barn family are uplifting here. It feels amazing to be surrounded by people who honestly love dressage, want you to succeed, and go above and beyond to care for your horse and to see them thrive. Having a group of diverse people at my barn also makes me feel so welcome. 

Today, there are many riders, of all ages, who don’t have the access to a trainer that can help them improve in their riding, or who feel like they aren’t being taken seriously enough because of their horse, size, color, or skill set. We are more than our skin and pants size. There are barns out there that look past all the things and want one thing for you – for you to truly succeed. 

Struggling for years to find the right barn that would not only care for my horse, but want to better me as a rider and not just pass me along, was exhausting. And I know there are others out there that are in the same boat I was in; ones who feel stuck, have no room for growth, don’t feel accepted, or aren’t receiving opportunities. I want you to know, “Do not let your skin color, size, or level of experience hold you back. There is a barn, trainer, and lesson program out there for you.” 

Today there are more opportunities, such as virtual lessons, diverse lesson programs for youth, online shows, apps on your phone to learn from all types of trainers, and more. Change is scary, but stepping out of your comfort zone will get you there. I was afraid to leave my small town, but once you jump, you may just learn you can fly. 

Dressage is about making changes and taking chances. We all are capable. There are people and trainers out there that will be your cheerleaders, not your rivals. Don’t settle for the bare minimum. Give yourself that chance to bloom. If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet. We are destined for change. 

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