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Figuring out life together – horses and their companions

Every trainer emphasizes the importance of building a partnership between horse and rider. But it’s not that common to see trainers working together for the benefit of their students. At Armada Bay Equestrian Center on Meridian Road, three trainers have joined forces to offer riders the collective benefit of their experience.Melanie Smith, a clinic instructor for the Certified Horsemanship Association, bought the facility in January 2006 and is working with two other instructors to develop a lesson and clinic program. She worked for 13 years for the Navigators, a Christian ministry that owns the Glen Eyrie estate in Colorado Springs. She developed their riding program and for the past three years taught at the Navigator’s ranch, Circle H on Log Road in eastern El Paso County.When she decided to start her own boarding and training barn, she called on Anna Blake, an artist and dressage instructor, and Leslie Sabin, a past student at Glen Eyrie, to complement her skills. Blake had been helping Smith with her Warm blood mare, and they found that they shared a common approach to horsemanship.Working together to help students has proved to be “ridiculously successful,” says Blake. “The students feel an incredible level of support. We don’t train the exact same way – we just think the same way about how training should be done.” One of their students has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and has good reason to be fearful. “But her love is a little bit bigger than her fear – she won’t quit riding,” says Blake. So Smith and Blake have been training her and her horse in partnership. I met this student on her last day in Blake’s four-week course, “Sunday Morning Introduction to Dressage,” and I watched as she successfully completed a practice dressage test with Smith serving as the judge and Blake as the trainer.The goal of the riding program at Armada Bay is to help people succeed with their horses. “We want to provide a safe place for people and horses to figure out life together,” says Smith. Blake emphasized the importance of clear communication between horse and rider. “So many of the challenges people get into with their horses are just misunderstandings,” says Blake. “The horse does not understand what it’s being asked to do because people can’t ask in the right way.”On the first and third Sunday of each month, Armada Bay holds an open house from 2 to 6 p.m. Horse owners can trailer in their horses for a $10 fee and can work with the trainers for $25. The facility has a small indoor arena, two outdoor arenas (one for dressage and one with jumps) and an obstacle course.”We talk a lot here about building community,” says Blake. “We’ll be starting up one night a week when we ride to music and just have fun. We go to shows in groups, and we have parties. When is it ever not fun to be in a group of like-minded people?”Smith is conducting a summer riding camp for kids age 8 to 18. Sabin will be starting her second introduction to jumping series, and Blake is teaching a four-week riding-to-music clinic. Coming up at the end of August is a two-day trail clinic to build the skills needed on the trail, like crossing bridges, opening gates and riding together safely as a group. The clinic features a BBQ dinner on Saturday night and breakfast on Sunday morning, and participants are welcome to camp on the grounds.The folks at Armada Bay are clearly dedicated to learning – about horses and about life. “The notion that learning is infinite – that’s a wonderful thing,” says Blake. “That means you don’t ever get to grow out of it!Anna Blake’s Web site: www.howlincowgirl.com

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