Reprint of July/August 2014 Pony Issue. Read the full magazine at https://issuu.com/theplaidhorsemag/docs/the_plaid_horse_70814_96_pgs
BY PIPER KLEMM
During the Devon Horse Show this year, I had the privilege of staying with the Bernhard family at The Farm in Malvern, Pennsylvania. The green, rolling hills of Chester County farm are gorgeous. But while the sight of champion show ponies turned out in huge, lush fields all night was magical, what was truly mesmerizing was how trainer Holly Bernhard has kept her old-time horseman values, while still winning in today’s instant-gratification, fast-paced show world.
Raised at The Farm (then called Perrevan Pony Farm), Bernhard benefitted from her parent’s varied interests in equestrian pursuits throughout the 1970s. Growing up training ponies and enjoying a storied pony hunter career, including a Championship at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto and many trips to the nearby Devon Horse Show, Bernhard’s riding was hardly limited to the show ring.
With her parents, she enjoyed foxhunting and dabbled in sidesaddle, rode Thoroughbreds off the track, and was involved as her father moved into racing.
With her own three children, all of whom grew up riding competitively in Chester County; Bernhard instilled these same values, not only showing, but also foxhunting and being part of every aspect of living on a farm.
Bernhard’s teaching and training her students comes from this lifetime of horsemanship in many forms. She has only three clients, which is all she’ll ever do. She is a single-handed operation – she drives the trailer, takes care of the farm, trains the animals, and keeps smiles on the kid’s faces. There are no grooms and expectations of the three girls in training are high. Bernhard says, “We do a lot of one-on-one. My kids are all involved with their own animals. We muck stalls, bathe their ponies, and do everything together at the shows.”
With the green hills rolling around the farm, they often ride outside the ring, either in the large fields or cross-country. When Bernhard takes them out and about, they jump anything they might find and the ponies are expected to behave over any hazard in the way, such as walking over a tarp someone might have set out on their property. Lessons frequently involve jumping out of the ring mid-way through to head out on an “outside course” before returning.
The success of her program falls right in line after the training regimen. Caroline Blank and Coldbrook’s Catch A Wave, a pony Bernhard and Blank have taken slowly through the ranks from scratch, was USEF National Reserve Champion Large Green Pony Hunter in 2013.
Blank and “Ty” were also Champion Owner-Rider at USEF Pony Finals, Reserve Champion Welsh or Half-Welsh, and 5th Overall in the Large Green Pony Hunters at USEF Pony Finals. They have followed that success with success in the Regular Large Pony Hunters in 2014, including Qualifying again for USEF Pony Finals.
The prospect of getting a young pony to make-up for a professional, let alone a junior with a set number of years is daunting. Starting with a green-broke pony, Bernhard says, “It takes about three years to get that relaxed ahhhhhh feeling on course.”
Bernhard sees it all as fun and believes in putting the time in at home, but not pressuring the kids. She says, “The thing I tell the kids when they head in the ring is ‘have fun’ – that’s the important part. It’s not their job, it is what they do for fun.”
With such an emphasis on the show ring and winning; and time spent on basics and fun not being rewarded at many levels of the sport, my time spent at The Farm was incredibly refreshing and horse-industry reaffirming. At The Farm there are students spending time learning, junior riders doing all aspects of the work, and the trainer taking everything slowly and methodically in the best interest of the animals.