Returning to the Ring — Fan of the Month Denise Willard

After 30 years outside the show ring, Denise Willard, H&RFacebook Fan of the Month, came back to the arena with her “$5 horse” Pogo, to compete in Western events. Beginning with weanling halter and moving up to longe line and then walk-trot classes, Pogo has helped Denise gain confidence in and out of the show ring. In Denise’s own words, read below how she and Pogo are building their show resume, one day at a time. 

What methods have you used to train him?

Until I needed to have somebody ride him (I now know that it hurts when and if you hit the ground), I did most everything by myself. I read Horse&Rider magazine and others for tips, I watched Youtube to find out how to do Yearling Longe Line, and I read the rule books to make sure I was following the rules. 

What I didn’t know or understand, I asked of the wonderful people that were at the shows that we were attending with the P.O.N.Y. Association at The Stagecoach West. When he was old enough to ride at 2 years old, I had a wonderful Amish gentleman work with him just to make sure that he would be safe for me to ride if I wanted to putter around since I still didn’t plan to show him under saddle because, to me, he still looked too small. I told that gentleman that I didn’t want him loped, just walked and trotted. Then this past winter, after purchasing his half-brother, Tubit and after one of those nightmare trainer experiences, my husband and I found a wonderful lady, Susan Schum, to work with our horses and us to get us and them ready to show. Now you have to take into consideration that I am 47 years old and my husband is 42. I haven’t shown a horse under saddle in over 30 years and my husband has never shown and here we both are on 3 year olds giving it our all.

How often do you get to work with (either groundwork or ride) your horse?

I’m sad to say but with the cold weather and our lack of an indoor arena, we don’t do much with the horses at the present time. We are also giving them a break since they are only three years old and just had their first show year under saddle where they appeared at 15 different shows. Now, over the spring and summer, we worked with the horses 5 to 6 days a week.

What classes do you show him in?

Well, I showed him as a weanling in a halter class at a local show here and won, and I was bit by the bug. The following year, as a yearling, I showed him in any and all halter classes that I could: in-hand trail, hunter-in-hand, and yearling longe line. I did the same with him as a 2 year old. This past year I showed him in halter classes, showmanship, and every Western walk/trot class that I could from Western pleasure and Western equitation to Western trail and horsemanship too with my husband at my side in the same classes with Pogo’s half-brother, Tubit, which was challenging in itself. 

What are your goals, both in competition and otherwise, for you and your horse?

My goals for myself are to become a more confident rider and hope that that shows in Pogo too. With my lack of confidence and experience, I sometimes feel sorry for Pogo. A lot has changed in 30 years so it’s been like learning to walk all over again. I am also presently taking English riding lessons which I have never done in my life (it’s a lot of fun). My goal with that is to ride Pogo’s brother, Tubit in English and to focus on Western with Pogo.

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