Plaidcast 378: Maggie McAlary, Laura Connaway & Dr. Sandra Gregory by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

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Plaidcast Episode 378 Maggie McAlary Laura Connaway Dr. Sandra Gregory by Taylor

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Piper speaks with rider and trainer Maggie McAlary about her career and splitting her time between Europe and the United States. Working amateur riders Laura Connaway and Dr. Sandra Gregory also join to talk about how they help each other to make horse shows within their busy careers. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!

GUESTS AND LINKS:

  • Host: Piper Klemm of The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Guest: Maggie McAlary is a 34 year old show jumper and trainer originally from New Hampshire and now splits her time between Wellington Florida and Antwerp Belgium. Following a successful pony and junior career with highlights including the youngest ever winner of the USEF pony medal finals, winner of the USEF medal finals, ASPCA Maclay finals and team gold and individual silver medal at NAYRC she attended Auburn University where she competed as part of their NCAA equestrian team earning SEC championship wins, a national championship win as well as being a two time academic All American. Turning professional after graduation she worked with some of the top riders in the world including; Francois Mathy, Darragh Kenny, Double H Farm and Ben Maher. She considers jumping for Team USA at the CSIO 5* Spruce Meadow Masters as a standout professional moment. After years of building her resume and skill set she started McAlary LLC at the start of 2022, focusing on developing riders and horses. 
  • Guest: Laura Connaway is the founder and president of Connaway & Associates Equine Insurance Services, Inc. Laura is also an amateur grand prix show jumper that has competed several horses that she bred herself. 
  • Guest: Dr. Sandra Gregory is an amateur equestrian, part-time equine photographer, and an ABR Board Certified Radiation Oncologist based in Alpharetta, Georgia. Dr. Sandy is a member of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Medical College of Georgia. Sandy has worked in hospitals and cancer treatment centers in major cities including Memphis, Tennessee and the greater Atlanta area.
  • 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.
  • Photo Credit: Shelby Phillips Photography, Sportfot, Andrew Ryback Photography
  • Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Sponsors: American StallsPurina Animal NutritionWordley Martin Premium Equestrian SurfacesLAURACEAAmerica CryoBoneKareShow Strides Book SeriesWith Purpose: The Balmoral StandardGood Boy, Eddie and Cheval Press

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm: This is The Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up today on episode 378, I talk with professional rider and trainer, Maggie McAlary, about her career and how she splits her time between Europe and the United States. I also talk with working amateur riders, Laura Connaway and Dr. Sandra Gregory about how they help each other to make horse shows work within their busy careers. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services.

Piper Klemm: Maggie McAlary is a 34-year-old show jumper and trainer originally from New Hampshire, and now splits her time between Wellington, Florida and Antwerp, Belgium. Following a successful pony and junior career with highlights including being the youngest ever winner of the USEF Pony Medal Finals, winner of the USEF Medal Finals, McClay Finals and Team Gold and Individual Silver at North American Young Riders Championships. Maggie attended Auburn University on a full scholarship where she competed as part of their NCAA Equestrian Team, earning SEC Championship wins, a national championship, as well as being a two-time All-American. Turning professional after graduation, she worked with some of the top riders in the world, including Francois Mathy, Derek Kenny, Double H. Farm and Ben Maher. Maggie considers jumping for Team USA at the CSIO 5-Star Spruce Meadows Masters as a standout professional moment thus far.After years of building her resume and skillset, Maggie started McAlary LLC at the start of 2022, focusing on developing riders and horses. Welcome to The Plaidcast, Maggie.

Maggie McAlary: Thank you for having me. My first podcast!

Piper Klemm: Let’s talk a little bit about your career and growing up in the sport and that evolution of your skillset. I remember reading in The Chronicle and I remember blowing my mind at the time. There was some quote, I think it was from your mom that you literally had so many catch rides on ponies that you couldn’t even ride them all. And so you would have to decide which ones would be most valuable for you and your time. And I couldn’t even imagine, like it blew my mind reading that.

Maggie McAlary: It’s actually crazy. Cause when I go back and think about all of the things that I was able to do, obviously my mom was super involved that we were not a horse family. No one in my family rode. I had a cousin that rode a little bit, which is how I first fell in love with the sport. But yeah, for a little family from New Hampshire that knew nothing about the sport, we did some crazy things.

Piper Klemm: I didn’t know your mom wasn’t a horse person. She was so into it when you were, she was so much.

Maggie McAlary: She, my mom’s actually one of 15 children, 11 girls and four boys. So she had always loved horses and they had when she was older, the opportunity to have like two horses, but that was kind of just for pleasure and two horses between 11 girls is not a lot of saddle time. So she’s always loved the animals. And when she saw how serious I was, she really became a student of the sport and trying to figure out ways that we could financially kind of keep going with my riding career and the dreams and goals that we set as I got older. 

Piper Klemm: So you started off with a bang winning the USEF Pony Medal Finals when you were 10 years old. To that end, your mom was always, it seemed like sourcing you green ponies and young ponies. And you, as I said at the beginning, literally rode everything in that word. What was that kind of time like for you learning and traveling?

Maggie McAlary: I would say I was really lucky. When I was six, my parents moved to the farm, what wasn’t a farm when I was six. They built a house in a two-stall barn for my sister’s pony and my pony. “And when eventually by the time I went to Auburn, it was a 12-stall barn and we had bought the lot across the street to make a bigger range. So yeah, I was really lucky that my parents like supported me and like I said, my mom didn’t know much about the sport and in order for me to keep going at a higher level, we had to kind of finance it ourselves, which meant, yeah, being a young kid, I don’t know if necessarily my mom and I should have been training young ponies because I don’t really think we knew what we were doing, but we got very lucky that my mom kind of, I had a very good eye for a pony and we were able to produce a few to sell so that I was able to keep, for example, Toy Story for a little bit longer. He’s probably one of the first ponies I got to keep that I had some success with. And at the end of that year, he won Devon, Pony Medal Finals, Harrisburg and Washington, and then we sold him so I could get my first horse. But yeah, it was a lot all at once, especially being from New Hampshire. Our closest show is probably Connecticut , maybe Fairfield, Ox Ridge. So it was a lot of trial and error, but they figured it out. 

Piper Klemm: So you moved up to the equitation ring and saw similar success there. How did that kind of evolution happen into the horses and all those transitions and all the catch riding translate there?

Maggie McAlary: Yeah, so I’ll never, one of the probably most successful ponies we had that went on to have success with multiple riders was a pony named Angenot who I produced and then was bought by Adrienne Sternlich. And then after Adrienne, she went to Lillie Keenan. So she’s probably one of the more famous ponies that we had. But at the end, I was 12 years old and I was starting to do the equitation. And my mom was like, okay, your sister is gonna pick the last pony. And so my sister was in charge and she found the pony from a breeder in Canada.“And she’s like, okay, this is the last pony we’re doing. I’m like, I’m 12, I’m trying to do horses. This is a small pony. So it’s like, this is not ideal. But at that point, that was like, before you could like send a link to a video, we had like the VHS of her. My sister had a good feeling. We bought her. We took her to Florida that season as a small green pony. And she ended up qualifying for Devon, which is when we then sold her. But she was kind of the last pony we produced together while I was trying to also do horses. But because of her, I was, you know, able to get my equitation horse that we actually had originally bought as a jumper, but that I went on to win medal finals with. So the ponies for sure were super important in getting me to the next stage.

Piper Klemm: And then you moved on to NCAA equestrian kind of ahead of the curve, I would say, before it was like popularized like it is now. Is that like kind of a fair statement for a lot of people of your age group?

Maggie McAlary: Very, very fair. I knew two girls on the team when I went for my official visit. I went for my official visit kicking and screaming. I will not lie about that. I was like, that’s very far away from home. I was still riding at Heritage Farm, which is based in New York. I had these plans of being able to go and ride on the weekend. And so that was a big kind of leap I took going to even visit. And I have to say, I just really loved the town. The girls on the team could not have been nicer. And it gave me an opportunity, honestly, to go to school for free, which was a huge thing for my parents. I had a full scholarship and that allowed my parents a little bit of financial freedom to actually, I could then keep my horses not at home, but at Heritage. So I could be at school and have a little less worry that they were at least in a program where, if I had left them in New Hampshire, I would not have been able to just meet them at shows. So it was a little bit of a compromise with my parents. But I’m very glad that I did it. And I think it’s been really fun to watch the program grow. It was different kind of settling into, you know, you’re used to doing the equitation, a normal flat class where you’re with your peers, but having to learn to do the dressage tests took a little adjustment. But yeah, it was a great four years of my life. And it allowed me to, once I graduated, I had made a deal with my parents that I could go to Europe and work and kind of take a minute to figure out exactly what my next step was. So I’m very thankful that I had those four years there. And it was a very good experience. I couldn’t recommend it more. I think it’s a great opportunity for especially kids that are talented and need a push for the finances of school. It’s great opportunity.

Piper Klemm: Can you tell us about what you majored in and some of the things you studied?

Maggie McAlary: Yeah, I was a communications major with a minor in human development and family studies. My plan was if I was not going to be an equestrian, I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. That’s what I studied there. To be honest, it started, I was like, I need the least math and least science major. But I actually ended up really liking communications and the radio television and film aspects. So that would have been my plan B if I was not an equestrian.

Piper Klemm: When I interview kind of the old guard of the sport and the people I really respect, I ask them a little bit like where they think we might be going wrong with the sport or where we’re struggling. And the number one answer I get back is that people don’t apprentice for long enough and kind of learn from the best and be assistant trainers and be a sponge. You’re then moving to Europe. You’re kind of a testament for this old school mentality and how, you know, a lot of top people you think that should work.

Maggie McAlary: Well, what’s funny is when I started out, obviously we did our own thing, but it was still so expensive. And so then we were trying to figure out a way to make it work. And at that time I was finishing up indoors. I was 12 years old. And my mom had a meeting with Andre at Heritage. And she was like, I don’t like, we can’t afford this. I don’t know how to make it work. And he was like, well, your daughter’s only, she’s just now going to be 13. She can’t really be a full working student. She’s a child. So I actually left for a year and a half. And I went and rode somewhere else, but I was devastated because I just got along with Andre and Patricia so well. And actually that winter, Patricia had an accident. And in my free time, I would go to the ring and just set jumps for her because, you know, she was such an important mentor to me. And after that winter, Andre invited me into his office with my mom and he was like, okay, we’re going to make this work. You’re a good kid. You’re putting in the work when you didn’t have to. And like, you know, then on the summers, I was basing at Heritage and I was a full working student, myself and Matt Patel were like more or less the managers and one of the main barns being in charge of everything. So I was lucky that they gave me the opportunity. But yeah, I feel like I was really allowed to learn a lot, not even just from sitting in on lessons, but like I said, like managing the blacksmith vets, everything like that for like a 40 horse barn at Heritage. I learned a lot. And then I was given the opportunity after my junior year of university to go to Europe. I didn’t know Francois Mathy well. He was recommended to my mom via McLain Ward, who obviously was a huge idol to me. And I went and met him for one week. And it went well. And I, you know, I’m terrified. I didn’t know anyone. I was going to be on my own in this little town in Belgium. And it was again, one of those moments where my mom pushed me to do it. And I’m so thankful that she did because I was, I would have never been able to on my own have the experiences that I did there. I had an amazing group of horses. I got to go to shows almost every weekend. I was learning so much. It was completely different. I feel like now there’s so many opportunities that there’s international shows or FEI shows in America.“But that was my first time competing in an FEI event when I went over there. And that was a lot to learn. Like I was like, how do you flat a horse? That’s so different. I was very lucky to get to do that and then come back and work with a lot of other amazing mentors. I feel like it’s not the same though. I don’t really know why, that is, to be honest. But yeah, I put in a lot of time and work and was given great opportunities to work with top riders that once I finally felt ready to go out on my own, I knew all aspects, not just how to ride and train a horse or how to teach a rider, but how to maintain the horses to the best of my ability and everything that goes into it. It’s more than just being talented in the saddle.

Piper Klemm: How is the flat work different? 

Maggie McAlary: I actually learned a lot. I would say probably the most I learned about obviously in growing up like the basics and haunches in, haunches out. But I think that one of the most important things I learned was when I was working for Ben Mayer and it was that no matter what at the end of the day, the horses have to flat and ride well because if they don’t work out for us, they have to be suitable for a child or an adult, which means that they have to be very rideable. So, that was kind of a different outlook that I got working for him was, and obviously it makes so much sense. Not every horse makes it to the top of the sport, but if they’re going to go on to do a less job with a child or an adult, it’s so important that they’re flatting and riding well. So, he put a lot of emphasis on that, especially for the young horses that I was riding for him and that’s something I for sure taken with me is the importance of flat work with the horses. 

Piper Klemm: What kind of horses, you said young horses, what kind of horses were you riding at most of these barns? I’d imagine that not always easy ones. 

Maggie McAlary: Francois’ was a dealing stable, so he had a few very, very nice young horses that he had bought with the plan to produce and sell when they were a little bit older. And then he had horses that were sent to him to sell. So I had kind of an array of horses, but I was very lucky that the two oos I went to work with him, I ended up having young horses, kind of horses for the small middle classes. And then I had a horse to jump in in the Grand Prix. So yeah, just a little bit of everything, which is kind of what I was used to, honestly.

Piper Klemm: Looking for experiences, I think a lot of people overlook kind of the value of the dealing staples for always having kind of horses coming through. And, you know, it’s such a balance because, as you said, you need to learn all aspects of the business. And the best way to learn the client side is to be, you know, in a client barn, but kind of on the flip side of that, like most of the time, many of the times those horses jump are probably going to be when the client is riding them. You know. Identifying what opportunity and you’re working on in yourself and matching that with the right situation is so important to that development in your career. So yeah, starting your own business in 2022, how old are you at this point?  

Maggie McAlary: 31 

Piper Klemm: So you essentially spent 10 years after college, you know, honing your skill, working for the top, some of the top people in the world. 

Maggie McAlary: Well, I kind of felt like college was amazing, but it was kind of like a break for me. And after college, I was so lucky that I could then kind of fast track back because I went to Europe to ride, which I wouldn’t have had that riding opportunity in America at that time, for sure. It’s just not like we got like you kind of just touched on, it’s not really how the farms here work. So I went to Europe, got great experience, jumped some big classes. And then when I came back to the States to start working again, there were so many people that were like, Where have you been? What have you been doing? So then it was kind of like catching up again to show and prove that I was the, you know, riding at a good level and able to ride professionally for other people. So yeah, it takes for me that was that was why I think it took like you just said the 10 years and then I was working with Darragh Kenny and then I got an amazing opportunity to work for double H, which I don’t think I would have had horses to jump in the in the five star at Spruce Meadows unless I had just that happened to be an amazing opportunity for me. Like I said, I don’t think there’s very many of those jobs in America. So that was unbelievably life changing for me to go to those events and have the horses that I did working for them. And then on to kind of piggyback off of everything I learned there to then go and work for Ben Mayer and be working with him and for him when he won the Olympic gold was a whole different you know, experiences and things to add to my resume, where I finally felt like I was well rounded enough to go out on my own. 

Piper Klemm: How did you decide to structure your business as being in Wellington and in Europe? Did you think about having a business just here or just there? How did that evolution come to be?

Maggie McAlary: Honestly, it happened super organically just because the the two clients that I started training with directly, they were very happy with that one was already Alexander Crown was already kind of doing that schedule and then my other client was was working quite a lot in Europe. So it was way actually easier for her to commute from her office there to Belgium than to be coming back to the States. So yeah, it just happened very kind of organically and naturally and I liked, I really loved being in England, Brexit made it a little bit more expensive and complicated going into Europe to show and Alexandra had kind of already sorted out stables where she wanted to be and they’re close to Antwerp, which is a really lovely city that I actually live in. And then I drive like 25 minutes to the stable, but having lived in Belgium before, it was an amazing opportunity and the farm was beautiful where I was working, but there wasn’t a lot to do outside of being in the stable. So it kind of just all worked out great. I live in the city, the barn is beautiful. I have like a quality of life outside of the stable, which is important to me. Having worked all these years, I want to be able to also enjoy life a little bit outside of the barn. So right now, the schedule, it just works. I’m not, we’re not married to that schedule. It might change in the future depending on everyone’s goals and where we’re at. But for now, it works. 

Piper Klemm: How do you balance kind of training at the top level and riding yourself and all the different pieces that you need to keep in play now? You know, you’ve done it with so many people, but on your own, it still is different.

Maggie McAlary: Oh, yeah, no, a hundred percent because, you know, at the end of the day, it’s now you making the hard calls and having those difficult conversations. And honestly, when I worked at Ben’s, the main person I was training was Flo Norris. And at that point, I didn’t have much to show myself. So it was strictly like just trainer brain. And last winter, I had I have a very good horse of my own. He’s out of the sport right now, but hopefully he’ll be back soon. And I was jumping the same classes as Alexandra, which I had to actually worked with a mental coach, Duncan McCarthy. He’s from actually based in the UK, never had worked with an equestrian before. But I had to kind of figure out in my brain and I was so used and programmed to just be worrying about whoever was doing that class. Let’s say for example, it’s Alexandra and her best horse Dumont. I was so programmed for months and months and years of being focused on someone else’s plan and making sure that they knew exactly what they’re doing and everything was right for them that I found the first few times I was showing in the same classes, hard switching my brain quickly from the coach trainer to the rider myself, which I hadn’t experienced. So it was something new. And I was like, okay, for sure, there’s got to be an easier way to mentally balance this because so many people compete and train in the same classes. But working with Duncan, it was really helpful for me just trying to find little things that helped make the switching from trainer to rider kind of easier and more effective.

Piper Klemm: When you’re in Europe, you’re competing against a lot of people who didn’t grow up with kind of the equitation system we have, what kind of you think your upbringing brings to the table for you that maybe is less common there or do you think that there’s an advantage to kind of bridging kind of the best of both systems?

Maggie McAlary: What I really like about being in Europe is honestly just the sourcing of horses. Being able to go to shows just focusing on four and five year olds, I’ve had a lot easier time sourcing horses and making connections with people that maybe I don’t do business with them right away, but years down the line I have done business with them. So just for us just being a jumper bar, it’s given me a lot of good connections and relationships to hopefully do business with people for a long time over there.

Piper Klemm: And then what are you looking forward to both in your own career and training and what are your goals that you’re looking forward to accomplishing?

Maggie McAlary: For myself, I would absolutely love to be back at the highest level of the sport. I think that I’m a little bit realistic about how I want to do that. Like I mentioned before, I had the opportunity to do that and I had such amazing horses that you know how good the horse has to be to be at that level. Obviously, the rider is very important as well. So I have been looking and waiting and trying to find something for myself to get back to that level because I do love competing and that is a goal of mine. But it’s also been equally as if more rewarding to me to see the people that I’m helping accomplish their dreams. Like for again, I’ll use Alexandra as an example. We sat down when I started to help her and she was like, my goal is a three-star Grand Prix. Please don’t laugh at me. I’m like, I won’t laugh at you. Like you want to do that? You want to work hard? Okay, my goal is like that’s my goal now too. And she went to Live Oak. We’ve gone to Live Oak the last three years. And this year she jumped clear in the four-star 155 the first day and she had the last jump down in the 150 jump off class on Saturday. And like for me, and this may sound like corny, but I felt like it was me, you know, and it was a huge accomplishment and we both put in a lot of work. So yeah.

Piper Klemm: Well Maggie, thank you so much for joining us on The Plaidcast.

Maggie McAlary: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Piper Klemm: Laura Connaway is the founder and president of Connaway and Associates Equine Insurance Services, Inc. Laura is an amateur Grand Prix show jumper that has competed several horses she bred herself through the Grand Prix level and competes all around the United States. Dr. Sandra Gregory is an amateur equestrian, part-time equine photographer and an ABR board certified radiation oncologist based in Alpharetta, Georgia. Dr. Sandy is a member of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and a clinical assistant professor at the Medical College of Georgia. Sandy has worked in hospitals and cancer treatment centers in major cities, including Memphis, Tennessee and the greater Atlanta area. Welcome to The Plaidcast, Laura Connaway and Dr. Sandra Gregory. So Laura, I’ll start with you. Can you talk a little bit about kind of day-to-day life on how you’re balancing riding, showing, working and kind of what life looks like on any given weekday or weekend day for you?

Laura Connaway: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s like anybody that does any sport, it’s busy and it’s organized. I think everybody that rides, we get up early and generally I’ll try and ride before the office opens. So I’ll try and ride from like seven to 9.30 or seven to 10. Our office generally opens at nine. So I usually slide in a little bit late and then I’ll work. And of course my husband and I own the farm together and luckily our office is located on a farm. So I can sneak down and like help take care of the horses or talk to the shoe or the vet. They get there during the day. And my husband is actively working on the farm a lot. So we get to spend a lot of time together and then working during the day and then trying to exercise in the afternoons in the evening.

Piper Klemm: And Sandra, do you wanna tell us a little bit about your hospital schedule and figuring out barn time?

Dr. Sandra Gregory: Yeah, I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum for working and riding because my day starts early with work. It usually starts at seven with a conference call. And then I get to the clinic at about nine and I always ride after work. So my riding day starts at 4:30 or so and I finish riding about seven. So I bring riding clothes to work and I change and drive to the barn. So it’s exactly the opposite.My whole day is spent being a physician and seeing patients and I’m unfortunately not usually very available when the farrier is there or when the vet is there. Sometimes those things can be scheduled on a day off. So I have more of a, you know, a distanced relationship with the day-to-day activities of my horses.

Piper Klemm: Sandy, can you tell us about kind of finding a trainer to teach you in the evenings as I understand it? It’s, you know, kind of getting harder and harder to find barns who want to do stuff after school and want to be more accommodating to, I’ll say, traditional work schedules.

Dr. Sandra Gregory: Yeah, that’s a great point. So I have a trainer that I’ve ridden with for about 12 years and I organize those lessons to be done on the weekends and they’re farther away. So it involves trailering and an hour plus drive each way. But I also have a local trainer who helps me, just like you said, in the evenings. And he’s very flexible. There are a couple of us amateur riders who all ride after five. And I think the key is just keeping your eyes and ears open and working on developing a good relationship with maybe a young professional who is more flexible because they’re trying to build their client base. Or like you said, some of the few trainers that are more experienced that are willing to maybe set aside a Wednesday night for amateurs, maybe one night a week. 

Piper Klemm: To kind of both of you following on that question, Laura, I’ll start with you. Like how much of your riding time is supervised by a trainer? How much are you doing on your own? Like how much of your flexibility is built from being independent?

Laura Connaway: I, when I’m at home, I have a wonderful trainer and friend that comes to my barn once a week. And we do a jump school with the horses that I’m riding. Either the young ones that are just learning or my more experienced mount. And then at horse shows, I always have a trainer that I trust to put me in the ring, to help me school if I’m having a difficulty to help me school maybe earlier in the week or in the evening before I show. But I generally am by myself except for the one time during the week at home when I will have a professional come and assist. And then at horse shows, I normally flap my own horses and prepare my own horses because I’ve been doing that at home and just kind of follow suit. And then have a really trusted individual that knows me and my horses and we can work through any issues or just get me confidently in the ring.

Piper Klemm: And Sandy, what about you?

Dr. Sandra Gregory: So I try to have a lesson once a week, either with the local trainer like Laura, we have one day a week on Thursdays that we have evening lessons with the local trainer as far as working with a more, a trainer that doesn’t work in the evenings when I have to do that on the weekend. I try to do that maybe once or twice a month. And I think one thing that Laura and I both have in common is that we are good note takers. We exchange a lot of exercises that we can do on our own during the week. For example, we’ll share gymnastic sets or like small jumping exercises where you feel safe doing it on your own and you don’t really need somebody to raise it. So I do exercises like that on my own maybe once or twice a week. And I do a lot of dressage on both my young horse and my older more experienced horse. So that’s kind of what my week looks like. And I plan it out. I take Monday off always to do things other than riding. And I plan out, you know, how my week is going to look based on my jump school with the local trainer every Thursday night or whether I’m gonna trailer down and do a bigger jump school. I work my flat work days around that. I work, if I can’t have a jump school over the weekend with the trainer, I’ll set something myself. So I think having that kind of flexibility where you feel comfortable setting little exercises by yourself really helps when you have a career and you’re working a lot on your own.

Piper Klemm: Laura, I know you’re breeding your own horses. You’re riding a lot of young horses. Can you talk a little bit about kind of the riding toolbox and the horse care toolbox you’ve developed over the years, which help you have this flexibility? I always say to young people, the more types of horses you can learn how to ride and the more challenges you can ride through, the more options you have for horses later, the more options you have for horses that maybe aren’t top dollar, the more options you have for breeding yourself or buying younger ones because you’ve developed that toolbox over the years. 

Laura Connaway: Yeah, I think that’s a very important idea and I think it’s a very good way that young riders or individuals maybe that are not gonna have the funds or the availability of already trained horses that they feel like they can jump to the top of the sport with. If they can develop the tool to bring a young horse along, either by breeding or purchasing a young horse and bringing it up through the meter, through the meter 10, the meter 20, there’s no reason they cannot develop up to a meter 50 if they have the skills and if the horse has enough talent. I’ve developed those skills through learning how to do groundwork and I’ve thought a lot of that out by myself, I’ve watched a lot of videos, I’ve gone to some in-person training because in my opinion, a lot of what you do on the ground is a precursor to what you’re doing on the horse.“You can teach a horse how to yield to the pressure, you can teach a horse how to leg yield, move away from your leg, all of that on the ground. And I jump my horses from the ground some, just to see what maybe their inclination is or just maybe see what their strengths and weaknesses are. And then I think the most important part of the young horse training is the everyday small steps and the perseverance, and then Sandy and I, we both ride young horses and we both run into obstacles. And we work through those a lot by, like I’ll call Sandy and I’ll tell her what I’m feeling on this young horse. And then we’ll try and work through how to change that on the flat and through dressage and what jumping exercise is and how much pressure maybe the horse needs. Maybe the horse needs a different pressure at takeoff. I’ll try that for a little while and I’ll report back and say, well, that was either good or boy, we need to like think through this and I’ll send her a few more videos and we’ll come up with a different scenario. But with the young horses, it’s not magic at all. It’s just every day you maybe start in the same place and you try and get a little farther or maybe you start a little bit further back and you try and get back to the same place or maybe you start a little farther and you try and maintain that before you take the next step. So there’s just nothing magic about it. It just takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of patience and time and just consistent day-to-day progress.

Piper Klemm: And Sandy, like that almost sounds like like a scientific approach to me, you know, with your kind of science background. Could you talk a little bit about maybe using some of the same approaches to young horses and to training horses and training yourself?

Dr. Sandra Gregory: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I definitely have more scientific minds than maybe the average kind of person. And I am very analytical. I think one thing to one important part of being a working amateur and maybe not having access to training, a big trainer all the time is to read a lot and to study a lot and to watch a lot of videos. And I enjoy that, that studying part of my brain that maybe got me to where I am in my professional life. I love the German training scale. I love the science of it. I love the analytical, the procedural nature of the German training scale. And I think it’s actually really fun to analyze issues and try to establish exactly where the problem comes from. And then like making the diagnosis and coming up with the treatment plan in medicine is almost the same for horses. You look at the cause and you try to find a solution. Well, and like there was one point when I was working with my current five-year-old and I was having a little, I felt like her jumping technique was a little flawed. And Sandy and I discussed it and discussed it. And finally she said, I found a horse that canters like your horse.​​ You need to watch this horse and see how this person is riding this horse and see how this horse is doing this and that. And I tell you that really helped. I watched that horse a lot and I watched the rider a lot. Of course, the rider was a fabulous rider and it was fun to try and duplicate some of the techniques that they were, that he was doing. And if the horse is not jumping a lot better in two weeks, I mean, it was amazing, but it is a lot of back and forth. And when you truly don’t have somebody standing on the ground that often for you, it really helps to have another person that you try to bounce things off of. 

Piper Klemm: It is such, that’s such an interesting point of like, like looking for the rider so the same body type you do and studying them, because, you know, I was watching the five star in Wellington online. And, you know, it truly is incredible that you have people under five feet and people well, well, well above six feet all competing equally, you know, but we all have different, you know, body shapes and different parts of us are longer and shorter. And it’s the same thing with the horses. And, and that’s such an essential and interesting study parameter is finding people with a similar shape to you and a similar body type and finding horses with a similar canner, similar natural style to the horse you’re trying to train and then studying what they do.

Laura Connaway: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, Sandy is really good at that. She brings it to my attention. I’m a little bit more of a, I’m not as studied as she is. So it’s a nice back and forth. 

Dr. Sandra Gregory: I think the importance of that cannot be stated enough because the same training technique is not going to work for every horse or every rider. Horses have different strengths and weaknesses. Riders have different strengths and weaknesses. And if you’re on your own a lot, if you’re working a lot, you have to give yourself every possible advantage to understand that, to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. 

Piper Klemm: And it’s just like, it’s being analytical and being critical and almost like not taking it like personally, like training yourself how you would train someone else. I think it’s so hard. We have so many young people in the sport, which is amazing. But it’s so hard as a young person to sit here and say like, my body shape, I’m really long here to here and short here to here. And like that’s not a value judgment or reflection. That’s just reality. And then not take it personally and not feel like that’s in your way, but something to work with.

Dr. Sandra Gregory: Yeah. And this goes to the subject of being a working amateur rider. You have to take every possible advantage that you can. Because for kids or for people who have the opportunity to be in a professional barn every day and have information in front of you every day, if you’re working, you don’t have access to that. So you have to give yourself different ways to get ahead. You have to find different ways to learn. And you have to make a lot of that happen yourself. And whether it means that you have a friend that comes in videos for you on the one day a week that you have a lesson, which is really helpful, or you have a friend like I have in Laura where we go, we make an effort to go to the same shows together so we can really see in person what’s going on at the show. We share tons of videos and tons of thoughts, and we really analyze things. We analyze the horses, where they are, and we keep in touch on a regular basis. So over the period of six months or a year or two years, you really know that horse. You know where that horse came from. You know what the ongoing issues are. We know what we’re working on as riders. And that’s a very important way to learn as a working amateur, as a working rider.

Piper Klemm: It’s like the best of all worlds. You get to nerd out on this thing you love with your friends and talk about it and talk about ideas and study performances. And it’s constructive, but it also has the added benefit of both of your friendship and feeling like you have community in this individual sport. And both of you are doing it in a private, isolated way in some ways. But you have this feeling of community and coming together and looking forward to that time together. That’s so cool.

Laura Connaway: It is. It is so cool. And then when things go well, it’s like you can’t wait to tell somebody. And then when things don’t go well, you know there’s no judgment. But no one’s going to say, well, that was too bad. And then they’ll let it sit for a little while. And maybe after a few days, well, maybe you should have done something like this. Or the reason that came up that way was because your horse wasn’t coming off the outside leg when you were coming around the turn. But it’s so nice to have a completely no judgment when things are not going so well. And then when things are going so well, to have somebody that you can’t wait to say, oh, my God, everything went so great. I can’t wait for you to see the video.

Dr. Sandra Gregory: And this worked!

Laura Connaway: Yeah. And that worked. And Piper, you bring up a good point about watching The Five Star on Saturday night. I think watching good classes, watching good riders is something that’s almost free. It’s available to everyone. And it’s a fantastic way to learn. Because if you’re struggling with something, with your horse or with your riding, you can almost always see somebody doing it so well. And it’s so important to watch.

Piper Klemm: Laura, talk to us about kind of walking the course and using that analytical mindset and your education to your advantage. I think when a lot of people think about courses or walk courses or, you know, and even in the hunters, it’s like not always thinking. I always like look at the goal and think backwards. So kind of like what question is a course designer asking in this line and then how do I accomplish that on my horse? But it’s almost like a lot of people don’t think about what the end product is supposed to look like and kind of work from there. But having a very systematic, organized approach probably leads you to looking at the end product and then working backwards with that horse when you walk a course.

Laura Connaway: Yeah, a lot of the times it seems like because the coaches are so busy that it often happens that you’re responsible for walking your own courses at a certain level, which you get used to and I think really helps. Sometimes the coach will have walked the course in the morning and then you walk the course when it’s your time to go and then you compare and you learn to develop your own opinion and what you’re going to do at different places. And I like to walk the course by myself first and then if it’s a really big class, walk it with my coach together and then get their feedback and I have an idea of what I thought I was going to do and then we can have a dialogue as to whether or not we want to go with my way or their way and they can discuss why they think their way is better and I can interject why I think my way is better and then we both decide based on the course which way is actually better and I will always defer to the coach as far as on the end because they’re on the ground and they have more experience. They probably jump more around and I’m riding with them because I really trust them. But when I’m walking the course, I like to not only walk the lines but I like to see the front of each jump and visualize what energy I want to get there with, what balance I want to get there with on the horse and exactly how I want to jump that jump as it relates to the next one. So, you know, the lines are all, you jump the first jump based on what is coming up. And I think by seeing the front of each jump, a lot of people just walk between the jumps. I like to see the front of every jump so I decide what canter I want, what balance I want, and where I want to take off from.

Piper Klemm: And Sandy, how do you use kind of your education to be as precise as you want to be walking the course?

Dr. Sandra Gregory: I approach a lot of the course walk similar to what Laura said. I like to walk by myself first and have some kind of an idea of what the course designer is asking. I tend to think that the course designer usually has something in mind. And if there are several lines with options, I try to ask myself, what exactly does he want the horse and rider to do well here? So I try to figure out maybe how the different lines between several jumps, how they all connect, and based on my horse’s stride length and adjustability and level of education, what would be the best option to get that done?

Piper Klemm: And talk a little bit about doing the sport for so long. Laura, let’s start with you. I mean, there are so many pros. Like the sport is so amazing that it is a lifelong sport, and you can really learn over time and your education builds over time. And so even if some years you have less to devote to it and some years more, you know, all of that becomes an aggregate over time of how much knowledge you have and how many systems you’ve built. Can you talk about kind of that career building of everything and also the real challenges of keeping up as so many life events happen over the decades? 

Laura Connaway: Yes, yes, over the decades because it has been so many decades. And like you say, we’re so lucky to be in a lifelong sport. You know, the beginning of anyone’s career, a lot of the time you are trying to develop your own skills and at the same time trying to develop skills of the horses because generally you don’t, I did not start with the most talented animals or the most trained animals. And that actually, like you said at the very beginning, is beneficial because then you learn to get the most out of the horses and you ride enough various horses that you develop more skills. And there are always times when, you know, either through a horse being hurt or a person being hurt or having a lot more responsibility, you always end up taking steps back from time to time. And that’s, I think, when you actually learn a lot too because, you know, you’re not actually trying to do it so much, but you might think about it a lot. And by giving yourself a little bit of a break, you come back even fresher and maybe you just enjoy the animals more. And by enjoying the animals more, I think you get a lot more out of them. So I think having a break from maybe not having a top competition horse, but maybe having only young horses, you really develop just like a nice happiness just for them learning the basic things. And maybe you don’t think you’re going to get to the top of the sport again, and then all of a sudden the horses keep developing, and you get there and it makes it even nicer. But the lifelong part of the sport is so refreshing because then you never feel like you have to push things that aren’t supposed to happen. You just kind of can enjoy a horse for what it is, and if it’s not going to be exactly what you want, you don’t really have to worry. You can just keep enjoying it because another horse will come along. You might sell that one. You know, it might become better suited for someone else. But you don’t ever have to stress because there’s always going to be more time.

Piper Klemm: And Sandy, what about you?

Dr. Sandra Gregory: I think when you know that you’re a lifelong horse person, you have to kind of accept the fact that depending on where your career is at the moment, that riding might have less or more significance in your day, you know, for any one year compared to 10 years before or 10 years after. You know, as a physician, I gave up riding completely for nine years when I was in medical school and when I was a resident. And I knew I would come back to it, which I did eventually. And earlier in my career, you know, I might have had more flexibility as far as vacation time, but less flexibility as far as actual number of hours available to ride during the work week. So, you know, it changes from year to year and decade to decade. And if you’re working for this company or you’re working in a certain part of your career, but if you’re truly involved in the horse sport, you know, as a passion, you have to allow those things in life that put riding either on the front burner or the back burner, you have to just kind of go with it a little bit and enjoy it at whatever, you know, intensity level that you can. And just if it’s a weekend a month that you can show, or if you’re going to Wellington for the whole winter, there are going to be different amounts of time depending on the year. So you just have to enjoy it for what you have. You asked for an it happens story…  This is a working amateur story. So when I want to go to the horse shows on the weekends and I can leave my office on Thursday, I go during my lunch break and I get the horses and put them in the trailer and I park the trailer with the horses in my parking lot at work so that I can leave exactly from my office. And it’s really a spectacle because everybody wants to pet them and the office staff wants to go out and see my horses. So I thought that was a funny story.

Piper Klemm: Oh my gosh. I love that. That’s so fun. And you’re bringing horses to people. You’re bringing like therapy animals to the hospital basically.

Dr. Sandra Gregory: It’s like a petting zoo in my office parking lot.

Laura Connaway: Well, and then you have your dogs too.

Dr. Sandra Gregory: That’s true.

Piper Klemm: I love that. Bringing horses to more people. We always talk about on the podcast how hard it is to introduce people to horses nowadays. And here you go. Well, thank you both so much, I really appreciate both your time. 


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