Sallie Spenard: from Ponies to Grand Prix
Sallie Spenard is a Clifton, Virginia based Grand Prix rider and trainer, who got her start sulky racing and participating in Pony Club. As she evolved from an eventer to a dressage rider, she realized just how deeply-rooted her love for the sport and training others was. She has since developed both her training and competitive careers more than she ever imagined, while teaching event riders at Morningside Eventing.
We interviewed Sallie about her journey and why she likes BioStar:
Tell us about your riding history.
I got started because my parents raised Welsh ponies and I grew up in Pony Club. I would ride and sulky race the ponies. I started eventing when I was ten years old and did Young Riders in 1980 when I was 15 years old. I continued to event and do the long-format and then I got married, gave up horses for a while, had a child, moved around and I bought a Trakhener to event and he decided he was not an event horse. So that was my foray into dressage! I bought him as a four-year-old and got him to Grand Prix when he was around 15.
What does your riding life look like today?
I still compete, I have a Grand Prix horse right now who is acting as a schoolmaster. He has done very well for me, but we kind of topped out with our scores, so now Skyeler Voss is riding him to get her Gold Medal! She already got her two scores at I-1 and this year she will try to get her two scores at Grand Prix to achieve her USDF Gold Medal! I also have a 9 year-old Oldenburg mare named Demure that I will do the Developing Prix St. Georges with this year.
Tell us about your training career now.
My clients are all eventers! I teach the eventers dressage and I love doing that. I totally get their sport because I have done it. Most of my clients are at Morningside Eventing, where Skyeler Voss is the head trainer. I love training eventers because they really have to master not only dressage, but then cross-country and stadium jumping. Back in the day, eventing came about because that is how the military cavalry officers were trained. So the dressage portion was to be able to out-maneuver your opponent. The cross-country phase was to see if your horse could have endurance and boldness and then the stadium jumping phase was to see if you could ride a tired course over a course that could fall down and could they then be careful? So I love eventing as much as I love dressage even though I don’t event anymore. I think those riders have an incredible amount of courage to ride the event horses, so I love teaching them dressage. My husband gave me a really good quote, he said to me, “you can’t win an event on dressage, but you can lose an event on dressage.”
Can you elaborate a bit more on teaching dressage to eventers?
It’s funny, when I read Skyeler’s interview with BioStar she was talking about how when she picks an event horse she is looking at its conformation and also its brain. So for me, teaching the eventers, I kind of like to get them addicted to dressage. I like them to love it because if they love it, their horses will love it. The fun part with me is giving them all kinds of exercises to do and then they feel that their jumping improves because they realize, “oh wow! I can half-halt! And when I half-halt, my horse sits down. When my horse sits down, he can jump higher!” So for me it is such a kick to watch them translate what I am teaching them in dressage into the other phases. For example, straightness! Straightness is the component to engagement. If the haunches aren’t behind the shoulders, you aren’t engaged. So when you are jumping a horse, they need straightness because they need that power.
What about your job as a trainer do you find the most fulfilling?
I was a nurse for ten years and the horses kind of came back and took over my life. I am married to an army officer and he was deployed and I told him I couldn’t go back into the operating room because I had a farm and a child in middle school and at that point, the horses came back into my life full-throttle. I had always stayed involved in the sport, but I had always said I wouldn’t be competitive again, but at that point it totally turned around! The fact that it was not just a choice, but it was almost like destiny that told me that this is what I needed to be doing. Because of that, I am so passionate with my horses and my students. Whatever obstacle they bring me, I really strive to conquer. If they bring me a problem horse or a horse that has a problem with a certain thing, I will wrack my brain and think about it after the lesson, make mental notes about what I need to do the next time I see this horse and rider combination again to try and get them where they need to be for their goals.
What are your competition goals for the remainder of 2021 and going into next year?
My nine-year-old Oldenburg mare Demure is US-bred, which I am proud to say, last fall she won the Intermediare I Region I Championships. I am dropping her down to Prix St. Georges Developing because this is her last year at the age of nine to do the Developing Prix St. Georges. My goal this year is to get invited to the Festival of Champions in Chicago, Illinois in August. I am doing three competitions prior and dropping the lowest score and also I would like to do the Dressage Finals in November at Intermediare I.
How did you connect with Tigger and what has your experience been with BioStar?
I started with Tigger when she first started the company. I had a Grand Prix horse named Chamberlain, a Trakhener, who was difficult to keep sound and he was also a picky eater. Tigger would send me supplements to see if he would actually eat them, so I started with her back at the very beginning. I have sworn by the BioStar products and whenever I see a student that has a certain need for a specific horse, I wrack my brain to think about what Tigger can do for this horse and then put my student in touch with Tigger. It has actually been life-changing. Her thoughts on the Ayurvedic medicine, getting rid of sugar because sugar is an inflammatory and then how best to manage your horse from its immune system to its gut.
What are some of your favorite BioStar products?
Across the board I use Colostrum for their immune system, I use BioFlora EQ for their gut, I use Thera Calm for their brain and gut and I use Circuvate for their circulation. I also have Balance, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood horse that is semi-metabolic. Skyeler is going to try to get a Gold Medal on him. He has tied up once, so I also have him on Locomotion which is their muscle recovery supplement.
You can get away from so many invasive procedures by having a great diet!