“Integrity Has Always Been My Longevity”

Kristen Carollo at Courtyard Farm. Photo by Adam Hill.

Meet Courtyard Farm’s, Kristen Carollo

BY April Bilodeau

When many successful equine professionals share their journey, they often say that it was always their dream to train horses. For Kristen Carollo of Courtyard Farm, that wasn’t quite the case.

Carollo’s late husband, Jerry Carollo, started Courtyard Farm in 1984. When she met him, she was riding as an amateur with limited experience in the show ring in her 20s. While the two were growing the business together, her husband was unable to ride the ponies, giving Carollo the opportunity to train them.

With her new rides in place, she came to the realization that there was a need in the business for someone to teach the pony kids and start bringing them up the levels.

From there, her new business model began.

“My husband was my biggest mentor and trainer. He was a great teacher,” Carollo tells The Plaid Horse. “Even as an old-school program, he always talked to the horse. So I teach my kids to always talk to their horse and listen. When you learn to communicate with your horse, that’s when you’re going to be successful.”

In 1999, her husband passed away but she was committed to continuing the legacy that they had built together. Two years later, with her sons Daniel and Nicky in tow, she embarked on a multi-million dollar project to renovate a condemned cow barn in Bedford Hills, NY, and turn it into her dream property.

Today, Courtyard Farm is known as a top-level training facility. Sitting on 32 acres less than an hour’s drive from New York City, the farm is equipped with 55 stalls, brand new indoor and outdoor riding arenas with Travel Right footing, a Grand Prix field, and a derby field.

Courtyard Farm.

While the facility can accommodate even the highest level client, Carollo’s training and commitment to her riders brings the experience for students beyond expectation.

Starting Out Strong

Known for starting many successful riders on a lunge line, Carollo takes on the full education of her students, focusing on the whole experience and timeline of their careers. Being one of the few lesson barns in the area, she has built a strong school program.

“My most successful students are the ones who began their riding careers with me,” says Carollo. “I’ve developed most through Short Stirrup and brought them through the ranks. I feel like I’ve really started all these kids that have become successful in the larger divisions.”

Discussing a great round at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by Sportfot.

Courtyard Farm also has an Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) team, and holds camps and mini camps that teach and promote horsemanship to young riders.

All About The Ponies

While Carollo has riders who have successfully competed in the Big Eq, hunters and in the adult ring, her specialty is in the pony ring.

The list of pony winners that Carollo has trained at national finals is almost too long to count.

First there was Paddington, the first pony that brought her the most success in the Children’s Pony Hunter and Short Stirrup rings.

There was Canterbrook Prince Charming, who won at Pony Finals six months after import, followed by a reserve championship at World Championship Hunter Rider finals.

The most successful pony under her tutelage was Woodlands Stevie Ray. Carollo trained him to the win at US Equestrian Pony Finals in 2016 in the regular medium division, and he was champion everywhere from the Washington International Horse Show to Wellington Equestrian Festival. One of Carollo’s riders won the award for Best Child Rider at Washington on him as well.

Woodland’s Stevie Ray and Emily Aitken, Champion at Washington International Horse Show 2016 and Best Child Rider on a Pony. Photo by Shawn McMillen.

Cleverest, Frosted, Everyday Enzo, Cosmo…her list of winners goes on and on.

Carollo has had Sportin’ Around in the past, and now has him back in the barn years later as a Short Stirrup pony; they teach the next generation of young riders together.

“My experience in doing the pony hunters for so long and my success in those years is what I bring now to the kids,” says Carollo. “What has worked and what hasn’t. We work with the ponies on the ground. Most of the kids that do the higher level shows in my barn do camp, so they get that experience as well.”

Introducing Emery

One of her current pony riders, Emery O’Keefe, took her very first lesson with Carollo and is now showing in the pony hunters on multiple ponies.

“I gave Emery her first lunge line lesson,” says Carollo. “There was just something about her. In 20 minutes in her first lesson, she was posting. I said to her parents immediately, ‘you’re in trouble’.”

Emery O’Keefe and Smallwood Mystic in the Winter Equestrian Festival Pony Derby 2023. Photo by Sportfot.

From there, with the guidance of Carollo, O’Keefe flourished. She has won numerous championships from WEF to Old Salem to Vermont. With the help of HG Mud Puddles, she was third her first time out at Pony Finals in the over fences, finishing in the top ten in her division
overall, and has qualified for Indoors and Devon multiple years in a row.

“She’s so balanced, she’s so talented,” says Carollo of O’Keefe.

Communicating with the Horse

Carollo strives to produce riders who show the same dedication that O’Keefe does both in and out of the saddle.

“Because we’re a smaller, boutique barn, the students get very individualized attention,” says Carollo. “We don’t typically do group lessons, but if we do, they are flat lessons. We dedicate a lot of one on one attention to each rider.”

Carollo takes an individual approach to each pony’s daily schedule to plan for both daily progress and longevity.

And while developing strong riders who possess the form to be competitive is important to her, teaching horsemanship and how to listen to your horse is a key part of the Courtyard program.

“Yes, you have to have your equitation, but you have to listen to your horse to be a good horse person,” says Carollo. “It’s never the horse’s fault, we’re the ones that are telling them what to do.”

Life Lessons

Carollo believes that everything she teaches in the barn is a life skill that can be used in any environment.

“My students and staff call my words of wisdom ‘Kristenisms’”, Carollo says with a laugh. “That’s what is so special about riding, you can take all of the lessons you learn into life.”

While Carollo has certainly worked hard to develop the program Courtyard has today, mentors such as Judy Richter, Carol Maloney, Kim Stewart, and Jennifer Bieling all supported her and taught her a lot.

Carollo praises the longstanding commitment of her entire dedicated staff, especially her core team of Biz Carney, Narcizo Lopez, and Justo Lorenzo, who have all been at Courtyard for between 15 and 20 years.

Emery O’Keefe wins the Pony Hunter Classic at the Fairfield County Hunt Club Horse Show. Photo by SEL Photography.

“I’m the first person to say that I did not do this on my own,” says Carollo. “I’ve had a lot of great people along the way to help me.”

For those that wish to follow in her footsteps, Carollo advises young professionals to learn from and watch the best trainers and riders, and to always display integrity.

“For me, my integrity has always been my longevity,” says Carollo.

To learn more about Courtyard Farm and Kristen Carollo, visit courtyard-farm.com.