Bedford’s most popular riding styles
Courtney Bolender of CB Walker Stables in Bedford Hills is a dressage trainer and competitor whose methods encourage balance, strength, and confidence of both horse and rider.
Photos By Joseph Henry Lipstein
Courtney Bolender, who recently opened CB Walker Stables in Bedford Hills, started riding when she was two years old. “My dad taught me everything I know about horses,” the fifth-generation horse professional says. “I’ve done all types of riding, but dressage is my foundation and my strength.” Kristen Carollo, who owns nearby Courtyard Farm, started out trail riding, but soon found she loved the speed and excitement of jumping. Caroll Bancel, vice president of the Bedford Riding Lanes Association (BRLA), understandably prefers the trails to the ring.
Which style is right for you? “It all depends on how competitive you are and what you want to accomplish,” Bolender says. “Dressage is like dancing. Just like a ballerina learns to support herself on pointe, dressage horses are trained to engage all their muscle groups to support their bodies on their skinny legs.” Horses are expected to segue smoothly from gait to gait and movement to movement with strength and grace. There is an intricate relationship between the horse and the rider, who uses reins, seat, and voice to communicate. “For the rider, it’s like sitting on an exercise ball on a balance beam—you need to be centered, balanced, and full of trust and confidence. “You can’t teach ‘feel,’ but that is so important. The ‘aha’ moment when my students finally get it helps me in teaching the next one.” An extension of dressage is “eventing,” which combines that skill with jumping, and takes place over fields and streams.
Carollo teaches three disciplines at her show stable: Equitation is judged primarily on the rider’s form, position, control, and how well they “invisibly” navigate the horse. It’s the opposite with hunter where judges are looking for correct form and free-flowing movement of the horse. Jumpers are judged by their speed with the least number of faults, which include balking at the jump or knocking down any part of the obstacle or fence. “A rider needs the basics of hunter or equitation before moving on to jumping,” she notes. “Almost every high-level jumper in this country has also competed in equitation.”
Carollo’s mother owned race horses, so she grew up going to the track and spending summers in Saratoga. “To get a big animal to jump obstacles correctly is exhilarating,” she says. “The horses love their job, too. Some are very competitive and enjoy the change of scenery, the different jumps, and colors. When they are in their element, they love to perform.”
While hunter competitions have a slower pace in a controlled environment, an actual hunt through the woods with hounds is quite different. “You need to be a bit of a daredevil,” Carollo cautions, “not caring if you fall into a ditch now and then. A big group of riders start out all at once, jumping over hedges and fences all together.” In a hunter pace, which BRLA holds twice a year as a fundraiser, teams of two or three go out every few minutes and follow a marked course over streams, bridges, meadows, and narrow trails in the woods—along with 50 optional jumps (with go-arounds for those preferring not to). “People like getting together at these events and sharing experiences with other horse people,” Bancel says.
What if you’re not a daredevil and have no interest in competing? “Many trail riders have gone the competitive route, taking lessons, going to shows, everything done in a very structured environment,” Bancel says. “But I’ve taken riders out of the ring and onto the trails and they say: ‘This is what I want to do!’” However, trail riding isn’t simply a stroll in the park. Deer can dart out, dogs can give chase, cars might not slow down. “If you have only been in the ring, you won’t know to lean back while going down a steep hill or forward while going up,” she adds. “In most other sports, the experts don’t want anything to do with the novices, but it’s not that way with riding. Experienced riders appreciate bringing new ones into the sport, and it is important to take advantage of this before attempting to go solo.”
Whichever style suits, happy trails (or show rings) to you!
Bolender suggests enrolling your child in a local pony club to get a taste of everything—a well rounded education—before deciding on a focus.