Working student Alana Brewster Bernhardt’s family has long been acquainted with the dressage trainers Michael and Vera Barisone, so it was a natural choice to look to Barisone Dressage as she strives to improve her riding.
Alana, 23, moved to New Jersey from her home in Upstate New York last November, living in the barn apartment with the other working students. She brought along her 6-year-old horse Quinlan, a branded Oldenburg bred by Nancy Holowesko of Crosiadore; whose sire is Quaterback and his damline is Akzent II. Previously Alana has also worked with trainers Debra Lochner, Susan Barisone, (Michael’s sister), and Sue Laurentis.
“My mother rode with Michael and Susan a bit when she was young, and Susan was in my parents’ wedding,” she explains. “I did eventing, hunters and Pony Club and started focusing on dressage while I was at Mount Holyoke, where I majored in Philosophy and Sociology and wrote my thesis on dressage. It’s been a big theme in my life!”
Alana says there’s really no typical working day at Barisone Dressage. “Things change when Michael and Vera are away at clinics, but generally we get up and feed horses and turn them out, and make sure Michael and Vera have a horse ready if they need one, and take care of the horses after they ride.”
While she likes to use a curry comb with magnets before tacking up and again after the horses have been ridden, things are pretty straightforward as far as the caretaking of the horses. “We pretty much believe in good nutrition and good care and making sure they get adequate turnout,” she says. “We bring them in at night to monitor them but give them as much turnout as possible during the day; young horses especially are turned out on grass.”
As far as riding, she says, “Typically we ride our own horses and might warm up a horse for Michael and Vera, walking them and stretching them. My time here is pretty unrivaled as far as instruction time on your own horse. Michael and his assistant trainer Justin spend a lot of one on one time with us. There are four girls and all of us have had our horses since they were born – one since the horse was a yearling – so we all know their quirks, and Michael and Justin have taken the time to get to know our horses as well and really work with us. That’s unique to this working student position.”
Alana’s plan is to go to Florida again as a working student and get some training on her horse, and in the fall of 2016 she plans to enter law school.
“I’m looking at the University of Virginia, Seton Hall, NYU, Duke and Columbia,” she says, noting that her experiences as a working student have helped her in her pursuit of a law degree. “I think the ability to handle pressure and take constructive criticism is something lacking in a lot of young people,” she says. “Michael and Vera made it possible for me to spend two afternoons each week in a law office, which I found through a client of ours. The ability to network is also important to learn. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I’m in Fairfield, NJ interning with a prosecuting attorney. He also does a lot of business litigation, which is what I’d like to specialize in, and apply it to equine law. I think you have to be more general than just horses but there are a lot of legal situations that are applicable mainly to horse people and other farming communities.”
While she is currently focused on training her horse, Alana does have plans to compete in Florida over the winter, and hopes to earn her USDF Bronze Medal with Quinlan.
Alana says that having several trainers available at Barisone Dressage has given her a well rounded education. “Justin is very accessible and has been crucial to helping me with my young horse, and often hops on,” she says. “Michael can really put the building blocks on all the way to the ground. I think Vera honestly has the best eye in the barn – she sees every detail – and she is especially good with seat and equitation work. If I’m having trouble figuring out something with my body and my seat, Vera’s the first person I go to.”