Monday, 14 June 2021


My trainer SJ is moving 9 hours away and I'm pretty gutted about it. She's become a good friend as well as my trainer. This is a great opportunity for her so I'm happy for her but really sad that she is leaving. She tried to give me as much notice as she could so that I could schedule extra training sessions to finish working on a couple things before she left, but then she broke her foot so she is out of commission for all of her remaining weeks here. She is going to try and come back for clinics once or twice a year but 9 hours is a pretty long trek for either of us and neither her new town or here have any commercial flights (rural Canada sucks sometimes) so opportunities to work with her are going to be few and far between. 

I don't feel right about posting photos of other people, so please enjoy some of the native plants and animals in Naia's new pasture, first up, Mr. Gopher

My blog's name is Autonomous Dressage for a reason, I'm no stranger to working without a trainer, I've done it before and I can do it again, but that doesn't mean I want to. 

As sad as I am to be losing her, I owe so much to SJ and everything she has taught me and my horses over the last 2 years. A lot of that time fell during the time that I was terrible at blogging so I'm going to make this post an ode to everything she has done for me. 

SJ is primarily a horsemanship trainer. She is interested in dressage as well but her specialty is ground work and working with scared and green horses. She started offering ground work obstacle clinics at my barn in February 2019 where I first worked with her when I did one with Kachina. I saw how patient and kind SJ was with horses, and I loved that her training methodology was well thought out and based on horse and behavioural science, and so got her to start working with Kachina more regularly. 

There's a killdeer bird somewhere here trying to lure me with her pretend injury

In earlier posts (like here and here) I have written about how no one else besides me could seem to catch Kachina, and that concerned me in case any emergency came up. Additionally, after a life as an outdoors horse, Kachina wasn't super comfortable inside the barn. I hired SJ to just do short sessions with Kachina to catch her, bring her into the barn, feed her, and then let her out again. The idea was to build lots of short positive associations with both another person and the barn. It also worked out really well because SJ kept her own horse at the same barn as me so it was easy for her to do frequent sessions. In reality, it took a while for Kachina to let SJ close to her so a lot of these sessions just ended up being approach and retreat within the paddock, and not a lot of barn time, but SJ did gradually earn Kachina's trust and was able to catch her easily. 

Through the Spring and Summer of 2019 SJ continued to work with Kachina on trust and I also participated in a few more ground work/obstacle clinics with SJ. We also became closer outside of our training relationship. 

November of 2019 was when Kachina colicked while I was out of the country at a wedding. Unfortunately that ended in tragedy but I am still forever grateful for SJ during that time. Even while sick Kachina wouldn't be caught by the barn owner so SJ was the one who caught her for the local vet, spent time walking and comforting her, and then later loaded her onto the trailer for my Dad to take her to the vet hospital in Calgary for surgery. I don't know what I would have done without her. While I am so sad that I wasn't there for Kachina at the end, it helps to know that someone else she trusted was with her while she was sick. 


After I lost Kachina, I knew I wanted another horse but I really wasn't sure what kind of horse to look for. Gradually I began to realize other potential benefits of having access to SJ's training and experience with green horses. It has always been a life goal of mine to train a horse from start to finish. With both Ellie and Kachina I had learned to teach a horse basics of dressage coming from another discipline (Hunter Jumper for Ellie, trail horse for Kachina), but I had never done the "starting" part before and I knew I needed help and experience. SJ and I talked extensively and she was confident that I could handle an unstarted horse and she was happy to help me as much as I needed. Even at that time I knew that SJ probably wouldn't be around forever (not because her upcoming move was on the radar, just because that's how the world works) so it made sense to make use of the opportunity while I had it. I never would have bought a horse as green as Naia without SJ's support. 

Since getting Naia in February 2020, I have had 36 lessons with SJ, and it would have been more without COVID restrictions. She has talked me through everything from getting Naia to lead to our first trot under saddle. She was there for my first 6 rides with Naia and helped me so much when I was being a chicken. Even when pandemic rules or our schedules got in the way of lessons, she was always there for me to message about how my own training sessions were going, giving me advice and encouragement. For the most part, SJ has trained me to train Naia, rather than training Naia directly. I really wanted to learn how to go through this process so I really appreciated SJ being willing to work with me in this way even though I equally know that Naia could have progressed a lot faster in some areas if I had just handed over the reins to SJ. I feel like it is the "teach a man to fish" principle where all my future horses will benefit from what I have learned. However, there were a couple concepts where I was struggling and needed SJ to use her superior body positioning and timing to get Naia understanding what we were looking for, those two concepts were bridling and trailer loading. SJ did a total of 13 training sessions directly with Naia focusing on these concepts. Bridling is now a total non-issue. Trailer loading has come a long way, but we were taking the slow and steady approach and unfortunately I am still not confident that I will be able to consistently load Naia solo once SJ leaves (this was a big thing SJ was going to focus on before she left but that a broken foot makes pretty impossible). 

Early yellow locoweed - very pretty but can make horses or cattle go "loco" if they eat it so I've been digging up the few plants of it

Another thing I owe to SJ is the fact that she introduced me to AM. AM is a clinician who is now based in BC, but that SJ trained under for years. They have very similar philosophies, though AM has been training a lot longer and also has more dressage experience. My first clinic with AM was in the fall of 2019 with Kachina. In only one lesson she had pinpointed a vital training hole and completely revolutionized the way I trained free walk and stretchy trot. It was an amazing clinic, and was a great last ride on Kachina (she died 3 days later). Since then I have done 3 clinics with AM with Naia, one of which was where I had my very first 2 rides on her (but with SJ right there as well). SJ's relationship with AM is part of why AM came here for clinics, but I hope that she has enough other clientele here now to keep coming once SJ moves away. 

So in summary, I really appreciate SJ and the fact that she is moving away really really sucks and is throwing me for a loop for so many different plans. 


  1. I am so sorry, that's an incredibly difficult situation. Would she be willing to do virtual lessons? Those are working out SO well for me with my own trainer.

    1. Thanks. I am hoping we can continue in some way, but a lot of her training was a lot more visual/hands on that I think a lot will be lost if I only have her voice in my ear.

  2. It's so hard when you lose a trainer! Is there a possibility to do video lessons?

    1. I haven't succeeded in getting video lessons to work previously but this might be good motivation to try again!

  3. This can be so difficult. Strongs!