Not in the Saddle
Trainers get one with the horse
A dog is man’s best friend, but a horse runs a very close second. Tucked away in the Litchfield Hills are numerous horse farms where one can learn to ride, board a horse, or just enjoy watching these incredible animals in action. There is nothing so graceful as a horse running free through a meadow, sun glistening on its body, tail flying, carefree and beautiful.
Sharon Curran, owner of R Barn Stable & Studio in Bethlehem, knew that she was hooked when she was three years old. “There was a traveling photographer with a pony who came through our town ,” she recalls. “A child could sit on the animal and have their picture taken. So, I did and I wouldn’t get off. I’ve loved horses ever since.”
Curran came to Bethlehem 37 years ago. “The property I found was situated at the town’s highest peak. The view of the countryside was breathtaking and I fell in love with it.” Curran is also an artist, and her interest in horses is twofold: she loves to ride them and she also creates sculptures of them.
“Everything is in one building,” she says. “I have a house, a studio, a barn, and a small indoor ring all attached. I can go down, work on my art, turn out a horse, come back and do more artwork, and never have to go outside.”
Katja Eilers also rode her first horse at the age of three. Born in Germany, she grew up in Oldenburg in lower Saxony, a large horse breeding area. “My father had a tax business, similar to H&R Block, but he would buy and sell horses on the side,” says Eilers.
“Along with my required schooling, I rode competitively, got an apprenticeship and became a professional rider in two and a half years instead of the usual four. I got an offer to come and train in the United States. I thought I would stay for a year, but here I still am 32 years later.” Eilers is now the head trainer at White Bridge Farm in Litchfield.
“I was taught in the classical riding system in Germany,” Eilers says. “So, no matter how much training a client has had previously, I go back to the basics and evaluate their ability. If they pass that test, after a few lessons they are on their own, but this enables me to match their training with the right horse.”
While Curran and Eilers discovered their love of horses at an early age, Jimmy Fairclough was predestined to ride horses. His family lived for horses: his mother was a professional show jumper, his father a four-in-hand driver. His sister was entered in the equestrian competition for the 2000 Olympics.
“My parents never pushed me into riding,” he says. “I loved contact sports; I always rode but it was on the back burner and not my main focus. Eventually I realized that I did love being involved with horses.”
Jumping is Fairclough’s chosen area. While still in college, he worked for the Stal Hendrix family in Barlow, The Netherlands. That brought him international mileage as well as helping to establish him in the sport. “It was a great experience,” he says. “In the States show jumping is taken a little less seriously than it is in Europe. The level of show jumping there far exceeds what we have in this country.”
Fairclough is now the head trainer at Stone Horse Farm in Bantam, after having had his own business in the Hamptons. All three trainers admit that much has changed over the years in the business. They all agree that establishing trust with a horse is the key element. Perhaps that is why in recent years horse whisperers have gained in popularity.
“I think there have always been people, including myself, who work quietly with the horse to gain its trust and cooperation as opposed to the cowboy rough and tumble approach,” says Curran. “We do a thing called round-penning, where you are in a confined area with the animal and by using body language you can establish a successful communication.”
Eilers believes that one develops a certain intuition that helps in understanding issues that may arise in training. “It’s impossible not to, if you are around horses long enough,” she says. “I can stand in the ring and spot a problem, even if I am not looking at the rider and the horse.
I can hear it in the footfall, in the rider’s breathing. It’s all part of successful training and realizing that even though this is a really big animal, its instincts are similar to others and its reactions to our movements speak volumes.”