Developing Champions for Life

Jennifer showing Poker Face in the 2014 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. Photo © Shawn McMillan

By Jennifer Bliss

I have always admired horse and rider combinations that have been able to withstand the test of time in the show ring and continue to win year after year. These tried and true partnerships are inspiring in many ways. Over the years I have become increasingly aware and appreciative of the care and management that goes into preserving the longevity of top show hunters. I have integrated many of the teachings I have learned to develop a program for my own business, Harris Hill Farm, that is as much about training as it is about proper care and maintenance.

Jennifer Bliss piloted Sugarman to a top 10 finish at the prestigious $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at 2015 WEF. Photo © Erin Gilmore 2015.

Work Schedule at Home:

As a general rule, the typical week for each horse in our program starts gradually, increases in intensity and then tapers again. My ideal schedule:

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Light flatwork

Wednesday: Flatwork

Thursday: Gymnastics

Friday: Jump school

Saturday: Flatwork

Sunday: Trail ride

If a horse is not scheduled to show in the near future, I often replace the jump school with ground rail or cavaletti work. I find that this substitution allows me to practice adjustments and rideability without subjecting the horse to physical wear and tear resulting from the rigors of repetitive jumping.

Our program is specifically structured to encourage the horses to move around during the day. Each horse starts its morning with a turnout, followed up with its training session, and ending each afternoon with a hand walk. When possible, we replace the hand walk with treadmill exercise. I am a huge proponent of this activity because it provides a physical workout without mentally drilling the horses. Our treadmill program alternates walking on the flat with slight incline work every other day

A consistent routine at home is very important. This is the homework that ensures each Harris Hill Farm hunter arrives fit and completely prepared for the test of the horse show.

Horse Shows Scheduling and Routine

I like to schedule horse shows so that we compete for two or three weeks and follow with two or three weeks off. This timetable provides enough consistency for the horses to hit a rhythm and become seasoned, yet provides the necessary time to rest and unwind to stay fresh. By following this schedule, the horses are ready to gear up again and we can also work on any issues that may have arisen at the previous show. 

I really enjoy developing young hunters and I have learned that sometimes less is more. Green horses need to spend time in the lower divisions to become comfortable both in the ring and with the horse show environment. I try to keep these experiences to a minimum and use them as markers to determine where the horse is at in its training and what we need to practice at home to improve. Jumping too many small fences in the show ring can take away their enthusiasm and “try.” I have therefore learned to not overly protect the young ones. Similar to the progression of our own learning process; horses grow from being challenged in a constructive way.

Jennifer showing Knockout in the Green Conformation division at the Old Salem Farm Horse Show, May 2014. Photo © The Book LLC.

Therapies, Vet Care & Organization

My horses work hard for me and it is important that I reciprocate by helping each one feel their absolute best. We regularly use ice boots, magnetic blankets, and a Theraplate machine and also maintain a schedule for bi-monthly bodywork that includes chiropractic and massage. Every six months our veterinarian completes a thorough examination to ensure that each horse is completely healthy and comfortable, regardless if we have noticed any abnormalities in their general condition.

I am adamant about maintaining meticulous records of services performed on every animal at our farm. Not only does this routine assist with scheduling, but I can also reference the records to track trends in behavior and/or way of going. I prefer to use a software program called “Stable Secretary.” It is both savvy for the modern show horse and user friendly for the sometimes technologically challenged, like myself!

Gratification Achieved through Repetition

I think of my horses like family. Some of my happiest moments occur during night check. This is when I enjoy feeding them treats and listen to them munch hay in total contentment while I reflect on the day and make plans for the next. I strive to help my horses achieve success and have long careers, whether with me or after they have ultimately progressed to new owners. Creating a solid routine is critical to achieving these goals, as does being open-minded to new ideas. I am always interested in learning how others run their barns and care for their horses. Often, a little tweak from a bit of knowledge can have a big impact on a program and ultimately create show horses that enjoy their job for many years.


ABOUT JENNIFER BLISS & HARRIS HILL FARM

Jennifer grew up as an active competitor on the “A” horse show circuit and enjoyed great success as a junior, winning such major accolades as Pony Final

Championships, Horse of the Year awards, and top ten placings at the indoor equitation finals. She rode under the tutelage of equitation expert Missy Clark, in addition to catch-riding pony and junior hunters for such top industry professionals as Scott Stewart, Tim Goguen, Tom Wright and Charlie Weaver.

Jennifer opened Harris Hill Farm, LLC in 2008, and in conjunction with fiancé and barn manager, Deywi Rodriguez, has established herself as a successful professional rider and trainer. In 2014, Jennifer was the champion for the both the WCHR Northeast and National Developing Pro Championship divisions and also had a top ten finish in the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals.

Harris Hill Farm is based out of Wellington, Florida and specializes in finding, developing, and showing high quality young hunters.

For more information about Jennifer Bliss/Harris Hill Farm, please visit www.HarrisHillFarmllc.com.