Recently our working student Avery Hogan achieved a lofty goal for American dressage riders: her USDF Gold Medal. Riding Aconto, 22-year-old Avery achieved her final qualifying score at Red Tail Farm in Bedminster, NJ.
Originally from Austin, TX, Avery attended Stetson University in Florida, down the road from the Poulin Family, and worked and trained for them through college. She’d always wanted to jump, so she moved to Wellington so she could do jumping and dressage, and Michael Poulin recommended she look up Michael Barisone. She came to Barisone Dressage in 2012, and had had her horse Incognito less than two months when she qualified for the NAJYRC. Avery has been going great guns since joining our crew, and now balances working at the barn and riding with studying Marketing full-time online at Penn State University.
Last February Avery earned her real estate license and she is planning to specialize in equestrian realty in Wellington.” It would be fun and it’s a good market in Wellington, and the jumping and dressage worlds are so active there; there are a lot of people who need places to live.”
Avery doesn’t currently own her own dressage horse, but has two jumpers and trains with Margie Engel for show jumping. She is considering finding a dressage horse to do the Brentina Cup, but alternatively she might buy a young horse to bring along herself.
Aconto is a horse that Nancy Binter owned originally; she and Michael rode him and trained him up the levels, before Michael’s sister Susan’s husband started riding him, having never ridden before, and got his gold medal in just three years! They planned to sell the horse and Avery leased him last September, showing in Wellington during the winter. “I had one I-1 score from Incognito and I got one Grand Prix score,” says Avery. “Michael helped me a lot with the horse, and now they might lease him to another rider to go for another gold medal!”
Avery says that the biggest challenge she faced in learning how to ride Grand Prix was putting it all together in the show ring. “I could everything at home, but whenever you run through the test at home you train on the horse and make everything better and better, but once you get in the ring you have to trust your training and just ride the horse. The biggest problem I was having was I was still training in the competition ring – so the test wasn’t smooth and I’d create a lot of irregularities in the passage and the passage/piaffe transitions.”
Michael told Avery she needed to trust her training and just ride the horse, and trust that he’d do what they had been doing in training. “It was a lot smoother,” she recalls. “You don’t want to score below a six on anything when you’re trying to get your gold medal! That was a big lesson and it translates to jumping and anything else you do in competition. That’s what Michael was trying to teach me the whole time: that I can’t disrupt the movement. I think I just relaxed and took Michael’s advice and trusted the training process and the preparation.”
Aconto is a 16-year-old, 17.2hh Holsteiner gelding. At 5’4” Avery is on the small side for such a big horse. “I didn’t necessarily look that little on him because I sit tall, but he was a lot to learn how to keep together,” she says. “That’s the biggest horse I’ve ever ridden and I had to learn how to keep him together through all the movements.”
She explains, “With the big stride you have to plan ahead and you can’t let him get strung out. It’s like a death sentence to let him get strung out because there’s no room to get him back together! Now even if I ride a smaller horse, I’ve had to learn through trial by fire that you have to keep the horse together every movement, even every stride, using the half-halts to keep him collected and organized. He has such a big stride, in the tempi changes you can run out of room really easily.”
Since Aconto has 'been there and done that', and Avery had help from Michael, Vera and Justin, Avery’s job was to learn to ride the horse, not train him. This made it possible for her to focus on her own riding skills as she learned the ins and outs of Grand Prix competition.
“He has really good training and it’s nice and efficient to ride a horse that’s trained so well. Michael also knows how to ride him and knows what he likes – everyone who’s ridden him was able to tell me what the horse likes. Justin has also shown Aconto and he really helped me learn the feel of the horse; he’d get on the horse first and then I could get the feeling of how the horse should feel. Vera and Michael both helped me a lot, it was really a team effort. Justin had been riding the horse and putting me in the ring towards the end and I’m really grateful for all his help.”