America’s Horse

Go behind the scenes of the June issue of America's Horse.

America's Horse

Take a look inside the June issue of America's Horse.

It’s funny the kinds of friendships that are forged at horsemanship clinics. Occasionally, you’ll find some that have a lifespan beyond the clinic – people you just have to stay in touch with. But more commonly, the bonds only last until the trailers are loaded up at the end of the last day. These are people you enjoyed spending time with due to your common interests, but everyone tends to go their separate ways. (Although Facebook does make it easier to keep up with these folks.)

And sometimes, friendships are forged with the four-legged clinic participants.

As a bit of history, I was able to introduce my equine love, Stop Drop And Roll, aka “Zen,” to AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm at the Western Dressage Association of America World Championship Show last November. Lynn killed it there, taking home four world championships with the knockout Larks Home Run. But she also took time out to offer some words of wisdom to me, and her advice really did help me manage Zen’s show nerves, as that was her first big-show experience and she’s a very sensitive girl.

So when Lynn and I made plans for me to come to her place in Ocala, Florida, a month later to write stories about the AQHA Trail Challenge clinic and competition she was hosting, she offered to loan me a horse, so I could experience first-hand how the obstacle course – and the preparation for it – helped both horses and riders.

“I’ve got just the horse for you,” she said.

Gray. A mare. Sensitive. Rugged Lark-bred. The similarities between Lynn’s school horse and Zen were uncanny. Lynn promised that the things I’d learn in Ocala would have a lot of carryover when I went home to work with Zen.

On the first day of the clinic, I saddled Sky Blue Lark and led her to the arena, where Lynn and her husband, Cyril Pittion-Rossillon, were to coach us on rider position, the correct application of aids and other basics that are prerequisites of any successful riding. “Sky” wasn’t sure about it, and as her nerves got to her, mine got to me. After all, she was an unfamiliar horse, and I wasn’t sure how challenging she might get.

I felt myself leaning forward in the saddle (hello, fetal position!), even though my brain knew that wasn’t the correct thing to do. But then the little voice in my head that was telling me I ought to sit deep and tall in the saddle suddenly gained a French accent. It was Cyril, speaking up to tell me to use my seat. He and Lynn coached me to correct my position and then make frequent changes of direction using an opening rein, which helped Sky settle down. She quickly showed me what a sweetheart she really was.

As we graduated to the three-acre Trail Challenge course, Lynn introduced Sky to many of the obstacles from the ground while I took photos. In-hand work is the perfect way to help horses get used to unfamiliar obstacles or a new environment, and Sky’s confidence continued to blossom. (See the June issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal for more details on Lynn’s plan for introducing a horse to the Trail Challenge.)  

By the time I mounted up on the course, Sky was a rockstar. She and I gained more confidence together, which is exactly the thing that Lynn expected to happen. Trail Challenge obstacles offer the perfect setting for horses and riders to build trust in each other.

I certainly did get some ideas on how to support a nervous horse, which I expect to use when Zen and I head to our first schooling show of the season next week.

Doing a few final practice obstacles in Ocala, one of my newfound friends, Liz Surrey Saylor, offered to take some photos of Sky and me. Liz was a fun, enthusiastic companion during the clinic, as both she and I were borrowing Lynn’s school horses.  Liz’s horse, Conclusions Shadow, was temporarily unsound during the clinic, but I was so glad to hear an update later. He’s all better now, and the two of them are continuing to compete in Trail Challenges.

I emailed my husband some of those pictures Liz took, and of course, I regaled him with stories of how much fun I was having, what a nice mare I was riding and how much I was learning. He could tell how much I liked Sky.

“Ummm,” he asked hesitantly, with a more than little trepidation in his voice, “Are you going to try to buy her?”

I laughed and reassured him that Sky was staying in Florida. After all, I had my own gray mare at home. Sky would end up being one of those fleeting clinic friendships, but the lessons I learned from her, Lynn and Cyril will definitely be long-lasting.

Read more about my experiences at the Trail Challenge in the June America’s Horse, which goes exclusively to AQHA members. There were lots of fun horse people at that clinic and competition, and you’ll enjoy meeting them in the pages of the magazine.

Go to if you need to join AQHA or renew your membership to cash in on this and other great member benefits. If you’re already a member, don’t forget that you can go to to access the digital edition of the magazine. As a digital exclusive, we’ve got some tips for a DIY obstacle course, including some photos of Lynn and Cyril’s course.

Here are some other things you won’t want to miss in the June issue:

  • War Horses – An exhibit at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum spotlights the U.S. Army Remount Service and its impact on the breed. There are a ton of American Quarter Horses – including those Rugged Larks – that descend from Remount horses.
  • Match-Making – Trainers from the Horsemen’s Reunion offer horse-buying advice. Besides the tried-and-true advice like “always take a trusted friend or trainer with you to horse-shop,” there are also some novel suggestions you’ll want to remember for the next time you’re horse hunting.
  • Do you live and breathe Quarter Horses? Then why not consider vacationing with an American Quarter Horse? Colorado’s Laramie River guest ranch offers a picturesque setting for trail rides, horsemanship lessons and more.
  • Meet a 36-year-old American Quarter Horse who has touched several generations of writer Amy Keith McDonald’s family.

Happy reading – and riding!