bernice-4This month’s blog is all about an amazing lady who inspires me and everyone who meets her. Her name is Bernice. Her horse’s name is Altea and together their ages total well over 100. Altea being 20, so you do the math.

Bernice and Altea have been at my barn for about a year, but I’ve known Bernice for many years. She was originally my teacher when I was at University and was fondly referred to by all the students as ‘the dragon lady.’ You did not mess with her.

Bernice had been doing work with the clicker for several years with me off and on at another barn where she was boarding for several years. Zack, her old Arab, had been trained by a wonderful fellow and knew how to do lots of things, including some high school dressage, but he was getting on and had many health issues so things, while they progressed, were limited a bit because of this. So, when her old Arab passed, she was needing to fill that void and Altea just happened to need a new home as her owner was not well and needing to find her a special new person.

Altea is a lovely Arab Andalusian cross mare who from what we know about her history was mainly a go down the trail kinda girl. She came to Bernice having lovely ground manners and being a very safe horse with a sweet disposition, with some exposure to clicker work, but without a lot of formal ‘schooling’ in dressage.

Bernice, like me, loves dressage and so Altea began her ‘formal’ education. We started with the foundation lessons which got her excited about playing and helped build the relationship while also starting to work on her balance. From there things quickly progressed as Altea realized just what a great deal this clicker work with Bernice was. Altea was amazed by all the odd things she was asked do in order to get her human to produce a click and a treat.

I’m sure she was thinking…So if I offer to pick up my foot I get a click and treat? If I swing my bum towards you while you stand on the mounting block? If I let you hug me? Wow this is a great deal. The hugs are one of her and Bernice’s favourite parts of the day.

Bernice comes out at least six days a week and is a great student. She practices and splits things into smaller parts if things aren’t going smoothly. She will go home and read her old books and think on how do things need to look. She will remember what her trainer of Zack used to say or do and incorporate that as well.

She also works on herself. Some days the focus will be on her body and what she is doing and how it is affecting Altea. Other days it will be working on something on the ground and then riding the same exercise and if it still isn’t working then going back to the ground and the books or asking me for suggestions. I never have to teach her the same lesson week after week, though we may occasionally revisit one to fine tune it or add another layer onto it. I must say she is a better student for me than I was for her some 30 years ago!

Needless to say Bernice and Altea inspire everyone else who is out here to play harder and have more fun. ltea gets lots of cuddles and kisses and she and Bernice have lots of laughs together while trying to figure things out.

Here (at right) is an early picture of Bernice and Altea. They had started on WWYLM (Why Would You Leave Me?) and the foundation exercises and were just starting to explore a bit of shoulder in.


Now here they are probably eight months later. Look at the change in balance and expression in this picture! This amazing pair can now do a lovely haunches in, shoulder in and half pass both inhand and under saddle, not only at the walk but also at the trot.


And just this past month (a bit over a year since they started) Altea has popped out the most lovely trot and canter imaginable. Altea is soft and moving in balance.


Here is a glimpse of it.

We are still in the process of capturing and rewarding the first step of the canter but you can see the lovley trot before it and no rush into the lovely balanced stride of canter.

So for those of you starting on this journey a bit later in life, or those who have been on this journey for a long time and think they are getting too old, take a page from Bernice’s book and don’t be afraid to make your dreams come true.

So I wanted to show this to Bernice before I published it to make sure all was ok. I still respect ‘the dragon lady’ and she had this to say to me –

Wow, who is this Bernice? This is so complementary I am afraid I will get a “big head.” You neglected to say what a wonderful teacher you are to inspire such dedication to the process.(Loved the pictures)You are an inspiration to me. This is proof of it. If I did not believe in the method I would not be so diligent. So you see, the teacher inspires the student. Take some credit.

To which I replied, Thanks Bernice for making me the great teacher I am today.