Plaidcast 328: Melanie Wright, Sybil Greene & Eric Smiley by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 328 Melanie Wright Sybil Greene Eric Smiley


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Piper speaks with Melanie Wright and Sybil Greene from Wynmore Farm about growing our sport. Eric Smiley also joins to talk about his newest book, The Sport Horse Problem Solver. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!


  • Host: Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Guest: Melanie Wright and Sybile Greene own and operate Wynmore Farm based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Wynmore caters to both children and adults, with a focus on showing at the local and national levels. Melanie does the majority of riding and training on the road while Sybil splits her time between the home base in Nebraska and going to the horse shows. 
  • Guest: Eric Smiley is a former international event rider who represented Ireland, winning team bronze medals on two occasions. Eric began his equestrian career in the Pony Club, continued riding in the army, and then at the world-renowned Talland Equestrian Center, where he gained his British Horse Society Instructor’s certificate. In 1995, Eric passed his British Horse Society Fellowship exam. Eric was the Team Coach for the Belgian Eventing team at the 2011 European Eventing Championships and the 2012 London Olympics and is an FEI judge. Eric is also the author of Look… No Hands!Two Brains, One Aim, and The Sport Horse Problem Solver.
  • Photo Credit: Melanie Wright on Game Day. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography
  • Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services, Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
  • Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Sponsors: Purina Animal NutritionAmerica CryoAlexis Kletjian JewelrySaddlery Brands InternationalBoneKare, StreamHorseShow Strides Book Series, Online Equestrian College CoursesWith Purpose: The Balmoral Standard, and American Equestrian School

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm 
[00:00:33] This is the Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up today on episode 328, I talk with Melanie Wright. And Sybil Greene from Wynmore Farm in Omaha about how we make our sport accessible in remote areas and some of the challenges they face. And then I’m going to be talking to author Eric Smiley to discuss his newest book, The Sport Horse Problem Solver, which I just really enjoyed reading. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. 

Piper Klemm [00:03:06] Melanie Wright and Sybil Greene own and operate Wynmore Farm based in Lincoln Nebraska. Wynmore caters to both children and adults with a focus on showing at the local and national levels. Melanie does the majority of the riding and training on the road while Sybil splits her time between home base in Nebraska and going to horse shows. Welcome to the Plaidcast Sybil and Melanie. 

Piper Klemm [00:03:29] Sybil, when I meet with a lot of young equestrians, they are very eager to start their own business. And a lot of times financial stability comes from having a corporate job, something that you’ve done side by side with your business this entire time. Can you talk to us about building your business structure around having a traditional job? 

Sybil Greene [00:03:50] You know, I moved out here to Nebraska from Maryland, which my business partner, Melanie, is still in Maryland. And when I got here, there wasn’t a lot of. You know, hunter/ jumper activity out here. They had one rated show a year. There were barns. But my barn back in Maryland where Melanie and I rode, Rolling Acre Farm, they didn’t really have a good connection out here to send me to a barn. So when I moved out here, I kind of had to feel my way around and figure out the lay of the land, as they say, and what was out here. And I really didn’t come across a lot. And so when I got out here, one of my my goals, with some help of some individuals I met through the horse community, was to start a schooling show series, which we did and was very successful for many years. And, you know, that just kind of was part of me starting my business. I started to teach because there really wasn’t a lot around and not a lot of showing, just not a lot of understanding of of showing and where to go in those sorts of things. So I started a business because of that, because like I said, there wasn’t a lot and I continued to build that business and branch out to some other things related to horses in the area. And so, you know, it was kind of a necessity for me to start it because again, I come from this wonderful, great show barn that had people on the track to competing at, you know, big national horse shows. And I came out here and it was like a desert, like there was nothing. And so, you know, it was helpful to me to still feel that passion and that ambition in riding, to start my business and start teaching people the love of riding and educating people to be good horse people. So. That’s really how it got started. 

Piper Klemm [00:05:57] So, Melanie, do you want to tell us a little bit about your background and then as Sybil said, you two work together in Maryland and then talk about how you’ve grown into the the business structure you have now together. 

Melanie Wright [00:06:12] Yeah, sure. So I ride/rode in Maryland with Rolling Acres, and that’s actually where I met Sybil. And I was a junior and she was an adult at the time, but we were close in age and we showed for some time there. And once I became an amatuer, I went off to school and I kind of stopped riding. I had done a lot, had had a successful junior career, and just wanted to go into school and do that. And Sybil then went on to go start her thing in Nebraska, and I didn’t ride for a long time, probably 15 years. I started a family, all the things, and my girls really wanted to ride and were begging, begging. And so I actually met up with Sybil at Rolling Acres when she was in town, and they kind of talked to me back in to it. One of my daughters started riding. And so that’s how I kind of got back into it. And then, you know, as time went on, my girls rode and Patti had asked me to come and teach there for a bit. I said I’d give it a go, at least for a couple of months, you know, to help them out with some things. And that evolved to several years of me being home based. And then Sybil and I always had a relationship and friendship and what have you, and she needed some help. And so I came out and met at a horse show, and I did some riding for her and some training and things. And then we kind of I would just start to come in and out to help them at the horse shows. And the last I guess it’s about two years now, we decided to kind of go off on our own and start our own thing. And so I have, since I no longer work at Rolling Acres, but I still have great relationship keep my horses there when they’re in Maryland and I go back and forth. And so we’re kind of on two different sides. And I definitely see and understand what she what she’s what she means and just the difference in the showing world as a whole and people’s idea of it. And, you know, it’s just very different. So we’ve tried to kind of get a little handle on it and try to help grow that area and help just, you know, get people out of that area and into other places like Florida and things like that. So that’s kind of where we started, how we kind of gotten to where we are. And here we are. Here we are. 

Piper Klemm [00:08:43] So, Sybil, you’ve had kids that you started, that you took all the way up to finals and Devon and big Horse shows. Let’s talk about that from, like, a logistics side. Our our sport has so many nuances, so many customs, so many things that are just a lot to explain to new people. I feel like every day I’m on the phone with a parrot being like, you know, can you believe that this costs, this or that costs that and every trainer is like, could you believe of all the work we did? And then the clients complained of and it it’s. I think it just comes down to the fact that it’s literally so complicated and you do such a great job at bringing clients into the sport and teaching them how to be horse people in a in a really methodical fashion. Can you talk about what it’s like bringing people in, like discussing those expectations, discussing, you know, what’s really within reach in the short term, long term and setting appropriate goals? 

Sybil Greene [00:09:49] Yeah, You know, that actually is probably the hardest part of the job. I think mostly I think it’s harder out here in Nebraska maybe than it would be on the coasts just because we have a smaller population here. So we don’t have as many people to pull from to get them involved in the sport, which is a challenge in a lot of smaller areas. And so, you know, convincing people, one, that their kids want to ride horses is one thing, and then the next thing, once they start getting into a program and they start riding, you know, convincing the parents that, hey, you know, your child really loves this, they would like to continue to do this. You know, you’re going to need to lease or purchase an animal. And then on top of that, then say, okay, well, we’ve got these schooling shows, you start here, but then you work towards a goal, towards a bigger level, and the money financially increases as each step goes. I mean, that’s really the hardest part, I think, for myself and Melanie can also add to be very honest and upfront with individuals and customers that come to us and express an interest in being in our program. Because for us, we grew up at a very, very successful and big show program is where we rode. And so we have this, I think, a little more understanding of of why we do what we do, right. I mean, people can ride for fun and that’s great and wonderful and I totally support it. But if you are into horse showing, there’s a path to getting to certain shows and fulfilling goals that I think the USEF has for its members. And that’s to be part of, you know, regional zones, national championships. For me, you know, I’ve always enjoyed elite competition because I’m a child of a of an Olympic athlete. So for me, I feel like, you know, if you’re going to do something, you really need to do it at at the best to your abilities and try to be at the top of what you’re doing financially. Some people don’t have that. That’s okay. You can still try to do those things by being strategic with your team, your trainers, planning, what shows to go to and how to get to those. As you mentioned, national championships like pony finals, junior Hunter finals, you know, zone finals, those sorts of things. And so I think sitting people down and saying honestly with them, hey, this is how it works in our program, you know, we start here, but then, you know, our expectation is, is that you lease and you own something and that you commit to it because the reality is, you know, if you’re only taking one lesson a week, you’re only really riding 52 hours a year if you ride every single week, right? That’s like two and a half days a year. I don’t think anybody has gotten to be an expert in riding, only practicing two days a year. And so, you know, for anything. 

Piper Klemm [00:12:59] Or anything else. 

Sybil Greene [00:13:00] Or anything else, correct. I mean, absolutely. And so I think when we sit down with our customers, we have meetings every year with them to kind of go over goals and expectations. And we try to discuss the things that we feel are important about where they are, what animal they need for the next year or, you know, whatever it may be, if they’re leasing or buying or whatever it may be. We try to map out the shows, like if you know, we’ve got kids that do Devon and indoors, you know if that’s you know the direction we have some of our people going and we have to strategically plan shows that for kids that aren’t going to have that ability or spend that money or spend that time and still show and enjoy where they’re going. And also you have to kind of map out where you you can be successful and everybody can have fun because at the end of the day, even as competitive as Melanie and myself as we are, we do like to have fun and we do want our customers to have fun. But I don’t know. Melanie, do you have anything more you want to add to that? 

Melanie Wright [00:14:04] I think that’s pretty much spot on. I mean, the hardest part and Sybil and I have gone back and forth and struggled within our business. And, you know, I’m here and I, I see things one way and she’s always like, like, wait a minute. Hold on a second. Like these, it’s a little different. And, you know, the idea of the horses and doing the showing is one thing, but the financial responsibility and ability, you know, there are people that have it, but they in especially in that area, they don’t spend money on things like this. And it’s an exorbitant amount of money and trying to explain to them like what we’re going for. And I think the hardest part, they like she said, we do sit down and we come up with a plan that works best for their children, but trying to get kids to understand the broader picture when you’re in such a small area, like I find the goal for a lot of the kids is just to go to pony finals. Have an idea about about indoors and what is it? And even, you know, one of our kids that got there and, they’ll turn to us and go, ‘Well, what is it exactly like? What are we getting briefs for? Is kind of they had she has a real tangible thing to look at. When we were kids, we were at Washington or at Harrisburg and wanting to be there and seeing it. And then how do we get there? But out there, that’s not even like on the radar. So trying to get people to understand, okay, if we’re moving to this level and translate and and get them to spend the money that’s necessary to get there, giving them an idea of what we’re even going to. So like getting people down to Florida a couple years ago was like, oh, this is a thing. Yeah. So and we want to be competitive. So you can’t in order to be competitive, you have to have the animal to compete. It’s not just about the kid. So I think that that has been almost our hardest thing is getting people to understand this small schooling show to this huge world of horses and what you know, what you can get from it and what you know, the experience is for your kid. And we do have the meetings and stuff and, you know, you just have to manage people’s expectations. And so along the way, you kind of have to reel it in and maybe have another meeting and say, okay, well, this is where we are now and this is what we do next, and we try to be on top of that. So. 

Piper Klemm [00:16:30] Melanie, how has this changed for you looking at it through the lens as a parent with with your own kids participating? And one of the things I say to people all the time is that there’s no amount of money where you feel like you’re doing all the things you ought to in this sport, like it just does not exist. 

Melanie Wright [00:16:49] I mean, for me personally, like, like, like Syb said, we are super competitive people all the time. And I think that’s where I get myself in trouble because I do have kids at home one at this point. My youngest rides in so I can bring her in and out with me, you know, with me to shows and whatever. But I have older, older girls and they’re athletes as well, so they understand. But for me and and getting involved, like I always want to do more and you know, if that’s not going the way I want, I’m like, okay, well, we can do this. We can add this horseshow or whatever. And then just trying to reel it in for my family base because they’re like, Mom, you’re you’re never here. Like, we need some time too. So that’s the hardest part for me, but the most enjoyable part. And no matter what we’re doing or what horse show we’re doing, like we tried to, we try to keep it a little family based. We try to like, like Syb said, do things outside of the horse show and make it an experience. And I really enjoyed that part of it. And also just the the, the hard work paying off and seeing that result. And then I try to circle back to my family like, Well, this is why we’re doing this. And however, you know, whether they get it or not, but I would say that that’s the most enjoyable part for me. 

Piper Klemm [00:18:21] So Sybil, let’s talk like logistics about, you know, it’s great to talk about these planning, these horse show schedules. I mean, how far are you from a lot of these nearby rated shows? I mean, I have recently looked at the map to Omaha as well. So I’m driving to a World Cup Finals and I’m like, oohhh. 

Sybil Greene [00:18:38] Gosh, you know, that’s funny. Funny that you ask that question because when they sent the topics about show schedules and stuff like that, and I actually like sat down to like kind of go through my brain how I might answer a question like that. And I thought to myself, we really don’t have any horse shows locally in the winter. Like if you’re not serious about showing and you don’t go to Arizona, Florida, California, Texas, you know, the coast or wherever, there’s really nothing close to Nebraska. So the reality is with St Louis is 6 to 7 hours, Ledges in Illinois is 8 to 9 hours. WEC Ohio’s 12 to 13 hours or Texas is 8 to 9 or 11 to 12, depending on which location you go to. And Gulfport is 13 or I think 13. We’ve not been there yet. But you truthfully, if you want to do this and do it, you know, competitively, you really have to be willing to travel in Nebraska. And I think that’s really hard to convince people to do because of school and those sorts of things. And so, you know, when Melanie and I sit down every year to plan, you know, our schedule does change a lot because one, sometimes weather, you know, we’ve had blizzards roll through. I think I flew down to Florida like two weeks ago, Mel, and I got caught in a blizzard. And my plane I got on and off the same plane for three, three times. But in Florida it was nice and sunny, so they were able to keep showing. And I just happened to get there late. So, you know, this area can be real unpredictable and there just isn’t a lot. I wish there was. I wish. Kansas City two, 3 hours from us had stuff. You know, I love living in Nebraska. It’s great, but we don’t have a lot around here, so we have to plan accordingly. And we really started going to Florida because of COVID, which really changed everybody’s show plans. But the reality was, is that we needed to go somewhere outdoor where there were very little restrictions on being close to other people and stuff. So we added Florida to our schedule. Not that Florida hadn’t been something that was done in younger years because it was. But you know, and I know Melanie showed in both WEF and in Ocala her junior years, But, you know, people in Nebraska, I think, are not really, like Melanie pointed out, told about the different paths to things because it’s not visible. So for them, you know, a lot of the local barns, you know, and maybe it’s some of the trainers are afraid to ask people to spend more money or spend more time on the road, but they just are kind of insulated in this bubble of doing just local schooling shows and just local, you know, rated shows. And they’re not branching out to other ones. So, you know, for us, we try again, we sit down and we try to figure out the best schedule. And a lot of a lot of our planning is really surrounded around my daytime desk job because not only Melanie’s family, but my desk job because I don’t have that much leave. Like I have a lot of flexibility. My boss is great and my work is great, but. I don’t always have eight, 12, 15, 16 weeks. I don’t absolutely don’t have that amount of time every year to horse show. So, you know, having Melanie in my life as a business partner has been exceptional because, you know, where I can’t go early in the week and do the things that most trainers do early in the week. You know, she can do that with our grooms or whomever we hire. And then I come, you know, midweek or towards the end of the week, and then I help during those times. And so we really plan our schedule based around what’s as close as we can get, which I really hope the St Louis shows really pick up because people need to start attending local shows because if you don’t, they go away. And for us in Nebraska, if we want our customers to really search the path that USEF has out in front of us for all the things we should be learning about the United States Equestrian Federation, we we need to teach people that there’s something outside of, you know, the four walls of your state, that there’s things that you can go to, but you have to be willing to travel to those. So, I mean, we do we plan accordingly to my schedule, her family schedule, also the distance between the two of us. I mean, people are like, wait, where did you come from and where? I’m like, Well, I from Nebraska. And she came from Maryland and they’re like, Wait, what? More like, Well, but you’re in Mason City. Well, yeah. She drove all the way from Mason, see, from Maryland to Mason City with a horse trailer or, you know, she Saint Louis. I drive, you know, 7 hours and she drives like 12. And so, you know, we we have to plan accordingly. But I really hope that, you know, the Midwest starts to get a few more bigger horse shows in it, you know, not to plug the World Cup -They brought the International to Omaha, which really gave people a look at showing that Melanie and I had as kids growing up. I mean, I remember skipping school to buy box tickets to the Washington International so we could go and like all day and do all the events and like understand that and those types of shows. And I think that we need to really create an environment with all the trainers in the area and all the trainers that where we’re we’re advancing people above the level of just, you know, staying local and, you know, wanting to do other things. 

Melanie Wright [00:25:05] Well, said Sybil Greene. She’s obviously the talker, and I’ll just get on and fix things. 

Sybil Greene [00:25:10] That is that is our relationship in a nutshell, I think. Yeah, that’s true. 

Piper Klemm [00:25:14] Yeah. I was just having this conversation with someone the other day that I grew up near Devon and. And in a non horsey family. And back then there was, you know, no internet and no anything in the in the Devon book they would publish the owner hunters and so I would be there with my like Devon Book scribbling out like what the rider’s names were on every page so that I could try to learn who everybody was, you know, get organized. And I. 

Sybil Greene [00:25:41] I lived for those books. 

Melanie Wright [00:25:45] Yes, you did. 

Piper Klemm [00:25:46] And the World Cup in 2017, in Omaha, I mean, there were so many kids there which made me so happy. And I can’t wait to see how many kids are there this year. Back up in Omaha for the World Cup finals, because I do think that these massive high level competitions are are how we how we soak interest in the sport. 

Sybil Greene [00:26:07] I. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, I think, like you said, I, I worked for Lisa back in 2017 for World Cup, and I thought it was a fantastically run, wonderful event, which I know for a fact will happen again. I think it’ll be even better than 2017. And I. I, like you, was shocked. Not that I got out of my little office in underneath, but very often, which Melanie can attest to. But I when I went out, just the people and the educational pieces of it and, you know, the big riders going around and being able to talk to them and it was just set up to be such a friendly, wonderful environment that I think anybody who’s listening to this and is thinking about going to the World Cup really needs to visit Omaha. It’s a great town and it’s a great avenue and venue, and I think it really shows where people can go and what this sport is really about. And the lovely part about it is it’s international. And so you get to see that it’s not here, it’s everywhere. Which I liked. 

Piper Klemm [00:27:25] Absolutely. 

Melanie Wright [00:27:26] To piggyback a little bit on what she said. Part of it is definitely generating the interest and exposing the kids to what is is beyond what they think they can put their hands on or see. And I really do wish that there were not only just the schooling show, but or small rated shows, but quality, you know, some quality, some level. Because just like we were saying. You get them in, you tell them. And we sit down and we say, of course, this or what have you. But to tell somebody to go do a short stirrup that they have to spend $2,000 in hauling to start and then don’t even get to care and hotels and training and all of those things. So you know, for most families to go to, one horse show is $7500 or $5,000, whatever it may be. You know, that is tough for most parents. Most people at that point just want to see what the level of interest their kids even have in horses or whatever. And that’s a large amount of money for many most families. And so I think that’s where the the point it’s it’s hard because you they want to pull the trigger, but then they’re like, well, you know, can we afford $75,000 to go to, you know, including the horse or whatever, to go to five horse shows for the year. And that’s a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow. So we have to get or have to find some way, especially in that Midwest area. Like Syb said, the St Louis horse shows, you know, they’re they’re doable. You know, it’s not super close for us in particular, but they’re doable. But those places are dying because you have to have the attendance and people that have the finances may go elsewhere. And we do try to support them. And, you know, like Syb said, I’ll drive I think it’s 15 hours for me. And I you know, if I have horses in Maryland, yeah, by the time I actually get there, by the time I actually get there. But, you know, we bring in we do two weeks or what have you, and I can bring five. I mean, we’ll have 10 to 15 horses there and they need that. And those other people that are closer than me in Maryland, you know, need to support those too because we need those. You need to have a stepping stone for your kids to go on from there and to to grow them. And once we have more of a solid base and and more of accessibility, then it grows, you know, overall. And then everybody’s sitting better, more clients, more horses, all of the things. And so coming from this side, it’s really tough to watch because I know within, you know, an hour, 45 minutes, 2 hours, I can probably put hands on three horse shows every weekend so I can take those startup kids if if I had to and go there and just get them some miles. So I don’t know where or how or who, but we really need to just kind of drum up those things that will answer a lot of the problems when you have the ability to get to places that aren’t 10 hours away. I mean, that’s a lot for most families starting out in any sport. So there’s my little tidbit on that. 

Piper Klemm [00:30:39] And another layer to all of this is because you don’t have a ton of other people at your level in your market. There’s not a lot you can shop for with animals locally in Omaha. So either you’re traveling, even if you’re not traveling 10 hours for the first horse show, you’re traveling 10 hours to try a pony or you’re shipping ponies all the way to Omaha, which if you do it like a few ponies that cost a fortune. You know, you’re you’re in an interesting pickle shopping for animals as well. 

Sybil Greene [00:31:09] Oh you’re not kidding. I mean, I was just saying we’re like, nobody wants to buy anything out here. Like they tell you you’re in Nebraska, you know they message, you on Facebook or wherever, And they’re like, where are you? Oh, Nebraska, yeah that’s too far. And I’m like, you know, we do have planes, trains and automobiles out here so you can come out here and people just won’t. 

Melanie Wright [00:31:31] But, you know, it’s Syb I have chatted about this before and not to cut you off Sybil, but, you know, when you come to Florida, you can sit on ten, right? Or you can sit however many you can get to. A lot of times when you fly for one, it’s it’s got to be it’s got to be really worth it. And not to say that it’s not, but like, you know, like she said, people are like, oh, I’m not coming. Do you have like more, do you have five or six? And, you know, you don’t or even for us getting horses sold or leased or what have you were in that same conundrum right now. It’s like, okay, well we have horses that need to get done. Do we send them back in Nebraska? Me Nobody’s going to come there. We don’t have accessibility of local shows or even some of the animals that are on the higher end. Like, do you have the market to get them done there? So, you know, we have to utilize other people obviously, to get. Some of them done just for the accessibility factor, but trying to explain to clients that we’re trying to you know, we’re not we can’t we already have the costs of the shows and for them to deal with. So then you have the cost of the animal and everybody has a budget or some kind of budget. And then telling them, okay, well, you got it. If we want a trial that we’ll have to pay for because people you got to pay for those and we pay for it and then we’ve got to ship it 10 hours. So, you know, however, a couple thousand dollars to just get it to us and then we got to send it back if it doesn’t work. I mean, for a lot of those startup people, that’s most of their budget. So. It is really, really, really, really tough. But we just try to you know, we use a lot of the people and a lot of the connections and contacts that we have and we’re able to get it done. I mean, we do get it done, but the struggle is definitely is definitely there. And getting in just, you know, the ins and outs of being where we are. 

Piper Klemm [00:33:29] Sybil Greene and Melanie Wright, thank you so much for joining us on the plaidcast. 

Sybile Greene [00:33:34] Thank you for having us! 

Piper Klemm [00:35:25] Eric Smiley is a former international event rider who represented Ireland winning team bronze medals on two occasions. Eric began his equestrian career in the Pony Club, continued riding in the Army, and then the world renowned Talland Equestrian Center, where he gained his British Horse Society instructor certificate. In 1995, Eric passed his British Horse Society Fellowship exam. Eric was a team coach for the Belgian eventing team at the 2011 European Eventing Championships and the 2012 London Olympics and is also an FEI judge. Eric is the author of Look No Hands!, Two Brains, One Aim, and the Sport Horse Problem Solver. Welcome to the plaidcast, Eric. 

Eric Smiley [00:36:04] Thank you for inviting me. 

Piper Klemm [00:36:06] I really enjoyed your book because it really walked riders and horse people through processes with with a lot of case studies and by really exploring how we evaluate different things with our horses, we can apply them to so many things beyond the book when we learn the process well. So can you talk a little bit about your problem solving process with horses and what kind of steps you go through to to figure out what the problem is and how to address it. 

Eric Smiley [00:36:38] Well at the start of most problems. And we need to have some idea of what it should look like. So it’s important to look at nice horses going well and and the sort of things that the sort of paces or the sort of characteristics they’re exhibiting. And then it’s also important to have a thought process of what the problem is to start off with. Now, the problem may have appeared and in many different guises and in many different ways. So it’s also quite helpful to know why the problem may have arisen, may have been a training problem, it may have been something that you inherited, it may have been a problem that has always been there. And then we need to have the next stage of why is it a problem, why do we need to solve it? Some things if we if we just ignore them, they go away. But and other things. For example, if you have a horse that isn’t straight. And why is that? Why is that a problem? And where did it come from? Some horses are naturally not straight. Some horses, if you lead them from the left hand side all the time, they become un straight. And and we need to have straightness in horses because we’re asked to trot down the center line, which is testing that very quality. And once you’ve once you’ve puzzled out the whys and what the problem is, then you need to sort out what you’re going to do about it and what exercises are appropriate to solve straightness and how we explain straightness to a horse what we want the horse to do, and in resolving the problem that we’ve got. And then the last sort of stage is trying to make something in our normal work program which tests that renewed straightness and continues to remind the horse of its importance in its day to day work. So we might choose riding a circle. We might decide to ride a figure of eight to see if it’s even on both sides. We might decide to and ride a series of serpentine loops, which will give the rider and the trainer a feel of whether the horse has accept and understood the lesson, whether the horse is comfortable with remaining straight. And so we have a series of exercises which are at our disposal to and renew that sort of understanding and, and hopefully so the problem doesn’t arise again. So that’s the sort of process that every coach I think goes through and every rider probably should go through. 

Piper Klemm [00:39:46] So let’s talk about something I know you know impacts many warmblood’s is kind of being resistant to the leg, lazy you you mentioned in the book that spurs are not the answer frequently which it’s so easy to to be sitting on one that doesn’t really want to go forward and and put a pair of spurs on. Can you can you walk us through how you handle a horse that might be more resistant to the leg and and how you kind of look at the spurs as as a tool but not a necessity. 

Eric Smiley [00:40:21] I think most horses will react and respond to the person that’s handling them, if the person that’s handling them, is slow in their responses, then the horses become slow. So I think to start off with, I always try and make and everything that I do with horses crisp and clean and brisk and and bright and cheerful and sharp and response, all those words that conjure up the thought process that the horse needs to reciprocate in their response to what I’m going to do. And and then you start sort of thinking, okay, how can I how can I encourage the horse to accept the leg? Well, the acceptance is the acceptance of the presence of the leg by the horse’s side. That’s the first thing they must understand that the leg is there and comfortable. And then it’s a case of understanding. What is the understanding of the leg? Well, the leg should be there as a means of communication. And and we in the very first instances of the young horse and I would create the triangle of the rider on the ground, the trainer on the ground in a stable and asked the horse to walk around me. So now the horse has the presence of me by the leg position and the horse walks around me. So now we now we get a brisk, positive walk and the horse feels the presence of the trainer. By the girth, the leg position, and the horse walks around you. So you immediately taught the horse that the horse should conform to some presence around the leg area. Then if you transfer that to the riding stage, then it’s the same thought process. You bring that with you and the horse should respond to the presence of the leg and what the leg is asking in that communication. So it’s a process that that begins in the stable with the young horse. And it can also begin in the stable with retraining of a horse that’s dull or slow to the leg aid. And and you brighten the walk up and you encourage the horse to walk around you and you encourage the horse to respond to something of the presence of the leg by the girth. Now, you mentioned that it’s warm blooded. I think it’s I think it’s lots of horses and I don’t think it’s specific to breed. But the first thing is to encourage the horse to up the tempo of the pace by everything you do with it, even leading it in from the field. A bright, brisk, cheerful walk coming in from the field will encourage the horse to understand that forwards is a state of mind forwards is then taking you and forwards is a prerequisite for anything we do with with the horse and the presence of the leg. And that can be supported by and I like tap with, with schooling whip to encourage the horse to understand that you are having a communication with him quickly followed by a reward. As soon as the horse responds, that conditioned reflex then very quickly becomes a horse that takes you and starts to listen to that communication from the leg. And remember, the leg is the primary aid. And so it must continually be a communication that is always light and active and always sort of interested in imparting some knowledge to the horse. 

Piper Klemm [00:44:21] Let’s talk about some of the other like non-verbal communications that that we can keep an eye out when when we’re working with horses. I really thought that your your chapter about contact and saliva producing was was so well explained in the book. Can you tell us a little bit about when and why horses need to have a relaxed jaw and produce saliva and kind of how we can tell if if they’re they’re going well and relaxed. And, you know, with my personal horse, he always his tell on me if I make him nervous, if he sticks his tongue out. So if we’re coming down to a jump and he’s a little unsure of what I’m doing, whether in the show or at home, he kind of always tells that to tell that he’s nervous. So I especially love reading this chapter that that’s that’s been a huge amount of the work with with him, with all horses but with him particularly to to make sure he’s comfortable. 

Eric Smiley [00:45:25] I think there is there is a huge misunderstanding about and making a mouth and thinking about what the the the mouth should be doing. And there’s also a huge misunderstanding about what a contact is from the rider’s point of view, from the rein of the hand down through the rein to the mouth. First of all, let’s deal with with the mouth. Making a mouth is one of those things that people and trainers and riders have a real conundrum about. You need to if you think of a young horse, you need to make a mouth. You need to have a mouth because that’s your brakes. That’s your sort of safety go to. If you’re young in you’re young horse. But it’s the conundrum is that you can’t teach the horse to understand the mouth at the early stages because it’s too soon for him to understand. And so you have this sort of problem of trying to start the horse off and get on him and ride him and make him into a riding horse. But you’ve got no brakes. And so you try and teach brakes. And in doing so, you teach problems which are not always solvable. The mouth should be quiet, so the mind must be quiet. The mouth should be accepting the presence of the bit. And so the horse has to have time to do that. So you need to start with your horse accepting the presence of the bit quietly with a quiet mind. And you need to pick a time in the horse’s daily routine. If you’re starting a young horse, that the horse is quiet. If you pick a busy time when everything is happening around the stable area, you’ll get a busy mouth because the horse is busy in it’s mind. So you pick a quiet time. You try and educate the horse for whatever time it takes to encourage the horse to be quiet in the mouth. Then you teach what the bit means and and people are too quick to try and teach the horse, to relax the lower jaw, to go on the bit, to be soft and round. And. And that’s too early for a horse. To do that in the early stages. The first stage is again, go back to the little walk around in the stable. If you teach him right and left very quietly with an open rein, then they’re very likely to be quiet in that response. They also tend to be straighter horses. They follow the rein. Then you end up starting to say, okay, what stage can I ask the horse to relax at the pole? And the two bones in the pole area, the atlas and axis and the lower jaw? Well, what you don’t want him to do is overreact to that. So you don’t want to force the issue to make him drop the lower jaw so that he avoids the contact. You want him to soften the lower jaw and you can if you watch carefully, you can do that from the ground and you’ll see the horse, nod his head slightly. Then he gets a reward. Do it many times. They then understand the rein contact produces a softer, lower jaw or relaxation of that lower jaw. But at all times, you want him to try and remain confident to take a hold of the bit in a way that it’s like a nice and clear but firm handshake between people. It’s not something that’s like a vice grip and it’s not something that’s so and soft. That’s like a wet fish, you know, It doesn’t doesn’t want to disappear. So you’re all the time encouraging him to take a contact with a quiet mind and a quiet mouth. And over a period of time. Month, two months, three months, four months, six months. I don’t know. It takes it takes different times. In each horse, you end up getting a horse that is comfortable to take the rider’s hand. And the rider’s hand now must not be a busy hands. The rider’s hand must be a quiet hand to reciprocate what the horse is trying to give you. So you then build up this partnership of the horse’s quiet in it’s mind the horse’s quiet with the bit, the rider’s quiet with the hand. So the contact that you end up and as a result, is something that is constant, consistent, always there something that’s feeling that you can feel it at the end of the rein and it’s something that you can live with. When you live with it, then you know it’s going to be there. 

Piper Klemm [00:50:22] A lot of the book I felt like was really trying to educate people on how to develop better instincts and develop better intuition at the barn by kind of matching things that that they see their horse doing in various situations. You know, as you in this conversation have related, you know, leading and grooming and other habits to riding. And it is a holistic picture and all related. One of the things that I one of the least favorite conversations I have with people is a lot of people who talk to me want to complain about their old trainer and how their old trainer did this or that or taught them something wrong or, you know, whatever on that vein. And part of me is like we all we all have that. We all have bad habits. We for whatever reason, you know, whether or not to assign blame to anyone. But we all have bad habits. We all have things we need to correct. We all have things that we need to improve on. And and you talk a lot about improving position and improving yourself over fences, especially in the last chapter. What what are some things people need to to improve their position? And I think a lot of it is just owning that. We all have position faults and we all need to do better every time. 

Eric Smiley [00:51:48] It’s a it’s a it’s a big subject. And but it’s a it’s a subject which and you’re right, if you talk about position, I try really hard not to talk about position, but I try to talk about balance. If we find a balance and if we stand, if we stand up and straight will find a balance because our weight is on our feet, if we then bend our ankles, knees and hips and lower our position towards where. And you might have with your stirrups at a jumping length and you’ll find that again, your weight is on the ball of your foot. If you push your heels down too far, then the lower leg goes forward, your weight goes back and you end up tipping forward to try and counterbalance that. So now we’ve lost our balance. If we end up keeping the the heel about an inch lower than the ball of the foot, that allows for enough ankle strength flexibility to maintain the balance of the weight on the ball of the foot and on the stirrup. All too often people are put into a position as opposed to finding a balance. I draw that great distinction of finding a balance. If I, if I, if I say that all top sports people are balanced in what they do, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re and top sports people, they’ve found a balance that allows them to be and mechanically efficient. If we find the balance, whatever shape we happen to be, whether we’re total or small or round or slender, whatever shape we are, we’re able to find a balance. If we find the balance in a saddle, then we are less of a problem to the horse. So the first the first thing I’ll always do with pupils is try and put them in a position that allows them to find a balance and I give them a simple exercise as they walk along. Stand up, Put your weight on the ball of the feet. Stand out of the saddle. Now try it and try and help yourself by putting your hands on the horse’s neck, but find where you can absorb the horse’s movement through your ankle, knee and hip in balance. Once you can do that, then you’ll find that the leg tends to be beside the horse’s girth, and your hand will tend to find somewhere which should find a rein contact going down the horse’s mouth. Once you do that, then the rest of it is practice within that to remain in balance. There is little need over a fence to go forward more than the hands follow the horse’s head and neck over a fence. So it’s the hands moving with the head neck. Therefore, the shoulders must be loose, the elbows must be loose, and very little happens to the upper body. And if I was to sort of correct or ask and to be corrected in one thing I was taught when I was in pony club, it would be that very thing of I was taught to go forward over a fence when actually you don’t need to when the fences get to about one 1.50, 1.40, 1.30 then there is a need to go forward with with the horse because there’s a huge amount of movement. But up to that sort of height, you really don’t need to move very much. 

Piper Klemm [00:55:43] Eric Smiley, thank you for joining us on the Plaidcast. 

Eric Smiley [00:55:46] Not at all. Thank you for having me. 

Piper Klemm [00:57:45] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit You can find show notes at Follow The Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse Magazine at Please rate and review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it, and if you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends, I will see you at the ring!