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Love of Family and Saddlebreds Hold McNamara and Codeanne Families Together

by Ann Bullard               

Best friends are to be cherished. A mother/daughter relationship can be even stronger. When family ties expand into close ones, the results can be magic. This best describes Lynn McNamara and Kate Harvey Codeanne. Until June Larson’s death in the early 1990s, the group included three generations of an American Saddlebred-loving family who remained close friends. Now Codeanne’s children, Molly and Patrick, have picked up the family banner.

The successes McNamara and Codeanne continue to enjoy come as no surprise to those who know their history. They come from a line of unusual and strong women. Codeanne’s ability as an equitation and performance rider has been well-documented. Her mother has gone from junior exhibitor to professional. She is a sought-after judge who will mark the UPHA Medal cards at the American Royal for the third time.

It’s been an interesting ‘ride’ for three-plus generations of the Larson, McNamara and Codeanne families. It all started with June Larson.

“Mom was raised in this very town by her mother and grandmother. They owned an onion farm which comprised a large part of Wethersfield,” McNamara said, explaining that Wethersfield, Conn., is adjacent to the state capitol of Hartford.

“Every day, my great-grandmother would drive the horse and buggy to Hartford. She played the stock market. For a woman to do this in the early 1900s was remarkable, to say the least,” she added.

What type of horses those were is lost in the fringes of family history. Suffice it to say that McNamara’s grandmother and mother also were enamored with horses. At age 14, June Larson, McNamara’s mother, started Birchwood Stables in their home town.

“Mother came by it naturally,” McNamara said. “Not only did she teach, but she began to show as well.”

Meanwhile, Ray “Doc” Larson had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical School. As might be expected, he and June met over a sick horse. Three months later, they were married. Soon after, they bought the property that became Cedarledge Farm. The Larsons began establishing the stable that remains the center of the family’s horse operations today. They built a home and barn. When McNamara and her first husband married, she bought a historic home nearby. When she and Rick McNamara married later, they built their house on the farm. It now is the middle of the family dwellings as Kate and Chris Codeanne’s home occupies another piece of that
New England countryside.

The Larsons married relatively late in life for those days and had but one child. Their marriage remained strong until June Larson’s death in 1991, 49 years later. Rather than slowing down (or at least not slowing down much,) the 91-year-old veterinarian continues his practice, performing surgeries five mornings a week.

Larson bought her first Saddlebred from the late George Gwinn of Danville, Ky. As far as McNamara knows, that was the first Saddlebred the family owned.

“Mother was just a real horse person,” she said. “I honestly don’t know what precipitated her buying the first American Saddlebred. Maybe it was advertised somewhere, maybe she heard of it by word of mouth.”

McNamara says that first Saddlebred “was a beautiful five-gaited mare. One of my first horse show memories was sitting on the ground under the bottom rail of the show ring watching my mother show. In those days, you’d show your horse in the open in the morning and back in the championship at night. When she came out, Mother would always let me ride in front of her back to the barn.”

However she heard of Gwinn, Larson became a good customer. She trained her own horses, establishing herself as one of the top amateur riders in the Northeast.

“Frank Bradshaw and Earl Teater used to show at the Garden,” McNamara said, pointing out that Madison Square Garden was a major Saddlebred as well as an international hunter-jumper show that opened the New York social season. “They had heard of Mother. Sometimes when they were looking for an amateur to ride, they asked her.”

While Larson owned and showed such horses as Reverie’s Highland Kitty, her horse interests didn’t stop there. She owned and showed an open jumper as well as Hackney and harness ponies. More important, she became her daughter’s instructor and a popular judge.

“Grandmother lived and breathed American Saddlebreds,” Codeanne said. “She always had her own farm. She was absolutely fabulous and taught Mom much of what she knows. People of the day considered her one of the top American Saddlebred trainers in the country.”

Robin McKenzie Vuillermet got her start with June Larson. Vuillermet still has her three-gaited horse You Move Me with Smith Lilly. Lilly sold Vuillermet and Beckley’s three-year-old five-gaited horse earlier this year.

Vuillermet was 11 when she began taking lessons at Cedarledge Farm. She rode with Larson until she entered college.

“Jimmy Frey was the Cedarledge trainer at the time,” she said, pointing out that Larson taught but did not earn a living from the horse business. “She really was a lady before her time in the industry. Most of the time, Frey worked with her. I am probably her only student who still is involved with Saddle Horses.

“She had boundless energy,” Vuillermet added. “She would work horses in the morning and then go to the veterinary hospital to do their books and help her husband in other ways. And she was a very shrewd business lady who [like her grandmother] did a lot of her own investing.”

Vuillermet recalled Larson’s owning such horses as Gay Dictator, Broadway Bill, who defeated CH Forest Song as a three-year-old, and Royal Commander, one of the early horses exported to South Africa.

According to Vuillermet, Larson sent many of her top Saddlebreds to the late Raymond Cowden. At the time, McNamara was married and living in the Washington, D.C. area. When McNamara was pregnant with Codeanne, she moved back to Connecticut, helping her mother with lessons and working Vuillermet’s horses.

“The first time I went to Lexington, it was with June,” Vuillermet said. “It was an incredible experience for me. At Lexington, everyone was talking about the new ‘tall man’ [Tom Moore]. I watched him work young horses; I’d never, ever seen anything like that.”

Trips to Madison Square Garden and Devon were equally memorable. While Vuillermet has many memories of those days, perhaps the thing that sticks with her the most is Larson’s cooking, especially baking cookies. “She made the very best cookies in the world. I loved to eat them and I loved to eat the batter,” she said with a laugh.

“June was a very special person in my life,” Vuillermet said. “If it weren’t for her and Dr. Larson, I wouldn’t be where I am in the Saddle Horse business today.”

“She was the only instructor I ever had,” McNamara said fondly, explaining her mother trained some horses but that it was not the way she earned a living. “She took me to a reserve in the Goods Hands Finals and third in the AHSA Medal Finals. Both classes were at Madison Square Garden. It was a great year, and one I’ll never forget.

“I remember when I was near the end of my equitation career, I met Helen Crabtree for the first time. I said to her, ‘I would love to take lessons from you sometime.’

“She looked at me as only Helen could and said, ‘Why would you want to do that? You have the best instructor in the east.’ And indeed I did. Perhaps I just didn’t realize it at the time.”

Although McNamara was deeply immersed in Saddlebreds, she grew up with a several breeds. As an only child living on a large farm, horses and other animals “became my life [when I was] growing up.

“Growing up at Cedarledge was a grand experience for a kid. While it could be lonely at times, we had a multitude of animals. Dad always was bringing home an abandoned creature from the hospital,” she said, adding she had a pet raccoon that drove everyone crazy for years. “We had a cow that I never could learn to milk.”

She also found time for ‘normal activities’: high school cheerleading, membership on the high school swim team and skiing. Still, her life revolved around animals.

“Mom and Dad believed I needed to know a horse inside and out and to know several different breeds, not just the flashy show horse. I raised a Quarter Horse foal that was out of my 4-H entry horse. Our 4-H club had a horseback drill team, did overnight pack rides, barrel racing on weekends, costume classes with horses and simply had lots of fun. Once I was Zorro and made my poor little plump friend be Sgt. Garcia. I think that horse and I were also a matador and bull … a vision of what was to come in the horse business,” she said with a laugh.

After her 14-year-old year, McNamara and her mother “concentrated primarily on gaited horses. Mother’s first love became my own. We had some good ones and we had some pretty terrible ones. In retrospect, I learned more from the terrible ones. You had to learn to be a cowboy to get some of those horses around the ring,” she recalled.

When college years came around, McNamara enrolled at Adelphi University in New York, majoring in art education. Imagining Lynn McNamara as a bass guitarist in a girls’ rock and roll band is a stretch, but she includes being part of The Actives in her resume. A member of Delta Delta Delta sorority, she served as secretary of her senior class and president of the Lantern Honor Society.

“Well, I did graduate, married and then it was out in the working world as an art teacher in (of all places) a junior high school in Maryland,” she said with her wry humor. “Believe me, that didn’t last very long. I guess I decided being pregnant was far better than teaching in junior high.”

McNamara had “two wonderful children, Kate first and John two years later.” She never stopped showing horses.

“Both kids were on horses from an early age,” McNamara said. “Kate took to it almost from the beginning. John was patient about it, but decided that baseball and basketball were his sports of choice.”

Codeanne began in lead-line classes on her Shetland pony, Fiddlesticks, when she was four. When she graduated to the walk and trot division, Fiddlesticks served as her first mount. Her mother and grandmother then paired her with her first Saddlebred, Tommy Tucker.

Perhaps the most challenging person to instruct is your own child. McNamara and Larson recognized Codeanne’s talent and desire, and elected to entrust her equitation career to trainer Bill Beckley, who then operated Skylinevue Farm in Wallingford, Conn.

In 1977, Larson suffered a debilitating stroke. About that time, McNamara chose to make Cedarledge Farm into a full-time training operation.

“Mother watching the farm evolve into a full-time training facility was therapy. We kept our customer base small, anywhere from 10 to 14 amateur three-gaited, pleasure, five-gaited, western, road horses and Morgans,” McNamara said.

Although Codeanne pursued equitation, she continued to participate in 4-H programs and local shows while still riding with her mother and grandmother.

Beckley, who now lives in Killingworth, Conn., picked up the story. “I got to know Lynn through local shows. Our farm catered to young riders,” explained Beckley, who had recently moved back East after working for Redd Crabtree. “Lynn wanted Kate starting with other young junior exhibitor and equitation riders. She was a determined mother and would do whatever it took. She wanted to promote Kate, buy the best horse and do everything right.”

“We purchased Special Sensation (Minnie) from Bobbin Hollow Farm,” McNamara said. “This little bay mare with the four white legs and a heart as big as all outdoors was responsible for the wonderful years Kate spent in equitation.”

Codeanne’s record both in the junior and senior division led to her being voted Horse World’s Equitation Rider of the Century.

Codeanne made her Louisville debut in 1979, earning a 10 and Under Equitation Reserve World’s Championship. The following year, she rose to the top of that competition and at 11 won the 11 and 12-year-old world’s championship. In 1982, she won the UPHA Junior National Finals and finished third in the NHS Good Hands Finals.

Opportunities drew Beckley to California. Codeanne spent the next two years riding with Jan Lukens, through whom McNamara bought Magic Marauder. She then moved to Sarah and Rob Byers at Premier Stables for her final two years of equitation. Those were never-to-be-forgotten times.

“Bill was a superb instructor and a joy to be around. He and Kate had a special bond which lasts to this day,” McNamara said. “Jan is a great instructor who gave her the experience of riding many kinds of horses.”

“Bill taught me my riding basics in a way that made riding fun,” said Codeanne. “I’m riding today partly because he instilled that in me from the start. Jan developed my horsemanship as she put me on everything. She taught me about communicating with a horse and helped make me a horsewoman as well as an equitation rider.”

In 1987, Codeanne, supported by her mother, grandmother and the Byers, wrote her name in equitation record books. She followed championship rides at Rock Creek and Lexington by winning the Senior Saddle Seat Equitation World’s Grand Championship. Then it was on to the finals. By the time the season ended, Codeanne had won the Triple Crown of Saddle Seat Equitation (the AHSA and UPHA finals at the American Royal and the National Horse Show Good Hands Class at Madison Square Garden.)

Codeanne and her mother still speak of the Good Hands Finals. June Larson was at rail side, sitting in a wheelchair.

“I loved it when I was little and my grandmother would come to watch me ride,” Codeanne said. “She supported me throughout my equitation career and was there when I won the Finals.”

Equitation fans still speak of that year’s UPHA Medal Finals, the last leg of the Triple Crown competition. Codeanne and Betsy Kiltz Stallings were two of the top contenders. At the UPHA convention, members voted the 1987 Five-Gaited World’s Championship class and the UPHA Medal Class the two most exciting classes of 1987.

McNamara explained the reasons why. “They rode in the morning and then had a workout. In the afternoon, riders came back for rail work and another workout. Then they pulled out Kate and Betsy, had the girls change horses and ride on the rail.

“I personally thought Kate won that workout the first way and Betsy the second. Kate had a special challenge as Betsy’s horse was blind in his left eye. I remember Raymond [Cowden] reminding Kate that the horse was blind in his left eye.

“Riders came back into the middle of the ring while the two judges talked. They then sent them out to come back in on the strange horse and perform the workout they had performed in the last part of the class.”

When it was over, Codeanne had won all three legs of the Triple Crown.

That year’s National Horse Show Good Hands Event, the first of the Triple Crown competition, remains a poignant memory for Codeanne and her mother. Nancy Orchland, a fellow Premier rider, also was a top contender. This was the last equitation class Larson saw her granddaughter ride.

Codeanne picked up the story. “At the Garden, they read the numbers backwards. When they read Nancy’s number as second, I rode to the rail and held my grandmother’s hand when they read mine.”

Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Cedarledge contingent.

While both Codeanne and her mother cherish the memory, Sarah Byers calls Codeanne’s win with her grandmother there “the biggest thrill of my equitation life. What it meant for her, for that kid to win that class ….!”

Byers spoke of the ladies who not only were her clients but remain close friends. “They are the best. Kate was an absolute perfectionist and a great rider by the time we got her. Every circle she ever made had an exact number of strides. She didn’t have to whisper to herself and count it. If anyone were bred to be great and love this business, it is Kate.

Lynn has certainly stayed as infected by the horse business as she ever was. She’s done so much for the UPHA and our Equitation Committee. She probably spends more hours working to make our business better than many people who make a living at this.”

“Rob and Sarah are a wonderful team,” McNamara said. “It was that team approach that gave Kate the final polish and the ability not just to compete but to perform. They were supportive of her as a person as well as a rider and we all have the utmost respect for their professionalism to this day.”

“Rob and Sarah are one of the greatest training teams I know. They have the ability to teach excellent horsemanship with form and quality as well as style. They have an incredible ability to put an incredible finish on a team. I feel honored to have been trained by and to know them. They always will be a special part of my life,” Codeanne said of her champion trainers and friends.

“A mother watching her daughter go through that final year in equitation. . .” McNamara paused. “You suffer and rejoice at every step along the way. Not until I went through it with Kate did I realize just how much my mother had done for me. And now Kate has begun to experience all this with her own daughter. How history repeats itself!”

While Codeanne pursued equitation honors, it wasn’t her only focus. “I think it’s important for kids to stay centered and grounded,” McNamara said. “There were times when she took that old grade horse, went to 4-H shows and was sixth out of six. Kate did all that stuff almost the whole time she was involved in equitation. She took her half Quarter Horse mare to college and practiced riding without stirrups. When she rode with Rob and Sarah Byers, we had Mighty Temptation, a gaited horse for her at home. He helped get Kate through the tension and pressure of equitation.”

After Codeanne’s junior exhibitor career, McNamara equitated Mighty Temptation and he carried one rider to a sixth place tie in the Medal Finals at Kansas City.

“He gave lessons for me and bailed out more kids than I can tell you,” she said quietly. “He had a heart attack one day when I was giving a lesson on him. He lay on the ground and died with his head in my lap.”

Codeanne had enrolled in Stetson University during her final year in equitation. After two years, she transferred to Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. Following graduation, she enrolled in the Western New England School of Law, where she graduated third in her class and was editor-in-chief of the Law Review.

Kate and Chris Codeanne met in college and married in 1995. For five years, she worked as a permanent clerk for U.S. District Judge Alfred Cavello in Hartford, taking time off from the time her children were born until they began school.

“I’m a career law clerk helping with all cases,” she said, explaining she does such things as helping draft opinions, working on jury instructions and in other areas of federal criminal and civil law. “It’s very interesting, diverse work including a lot of criminal cases involving big drug rings. Lots of that stuff gets in the papers.

“I work in the courts and the other part of the day, I’m at the barn working horses,” she said with satisfaction. “I get to use my legal education and what I have a passion for – horses. They are a good break, a good balance for me.”

Chris Codeanne “is in finance,” Kate said. “We have a very loving, caring relationship. While he doesn’t ride or come to the barn on a daily basis, he comes to shows to watch Molly and me ride. He’s very supportive of all of us.”

McNamara’s life took an abrupt turn a little more than a decade ago. She and her first husband had divorced and she reestablished her friendship with Rick McNamara, someone who had been involved at least on the fringes of the horse industry.

“I’d known her family for about 30 years, from the time her kids were small,” the retired football coach and physical education teacher said. “We each had been divorced and then married. I’m a lucky guy.”

Rick’s horse background is somewhat unusual. A videographer as well as football coach, he worked the major East Coast Morgan shows and UPHA Chapter 14 in its early years.

“I worked the UPHA show with a borrowed camera in those days,” he said with amusement. “I filmed Lynn and Kate a lot.”

According to his wife, Rick has become “the glue that holds Cedarledge Farm together. He loves the farm and his John Deere tractor. And he’s just wonderful about organization. He’s an ‘A’ personality; I’m a ‘B.’ I don’t know what Kate and I would do without him. Whenever we have some situation at the farm, his reaction is ‘no problem.’ He drives the big rig that we have and is so supportive of Kate’s showing and of me.”

Codeanne agrees. “Rick is such an unbelievable help with the farm. He keeps it going. Anything that needs doing is done in the blink of an eye. He takes us to all shows, sets up and is an invaluable asset. More important, he’s a loving stepfather and grandfather. We’re so lucky to have him around every day.”

When not involved with the farm or horse shows, Rick often can be found on the golf links. “When Lynn judges, I bring my clubs. I take her to a show, drop her off and go to the golf course. I’ve played from Connecticut to Alabama to California and even at Louisville I will play four or five times during the week and go to the show at night.”

The McNamaras enjoy travel, and in recent years have taken time for vacations. They just returned from a sailing trip around the Greek Islands.

“We have a place on the Cape [Cod,] and love boating and scuba diving,” Lynn McNamara said. “We never had the opportunity to travel when we were so involved in the horse industry, training professionally and judging. Then, all you see is what’s between the hotel and the horse show grounds. Rick and I decided to see the world,” his wife said of the days since the farm has returned to a private operation. “We’ve taken a lot of small sailing ships in the Caribbean.”

Shortly after she and Rick married, McNamara closed the public training barn, taking Cedarledge Farm back to a private operation. They teach a few outside lessons but have no other training horses. She and Codeanne work their own and teach Molly and Patrick.

However, Codeanne’s equitation career didn’t end with winning the Triple Crown. In 1988, she, Kelly Gilligan (another Premier Stables equitation star,) Stallings and Lesley Sodell (Miles) traveled to South Africa as members of the United States World Cup of Saddle Seat Equitation Team.

Her biggest post-equitation thrill came in 1999 when she won the Amateur Five-Gaited Mare World’s Championship in Callaway’s Carissa. “Mom trained her,” Codeanne said. “I had just had my first child five weeks before Louisville. Obviously, I hadn’t been riding. I got on the mare a week before the world’s championships and had one practice ride. It all came together; she was great. It was neat. Mom trained her and we worked together with her. It’s nice to have that kind of result.”

Trainer Smith Lilly brought along Codeanne’s current five-gaited star, Yes I Have. Codeanne took over the reins at Bonnie Blue in 2004. They have enjoyed outstanding success on the national scene and were undefeated at East Coast shows this season under McNamara’s direction.

McNamara’s latest prize spends his days with Sam and Anne Stafford at Blythewood Farm in Cleveland, Tenn. She purchased Night Sight in January of his three-year-old year, sending him back to his breeders for his junior season. Sam Stafford drove him to a reserve in the Junior Fine Harness Stallion and Gelding class at Louisville, coming back to win the Junior Fine Harness World’s Champion of Champions title. She hopes to be on the lines with the exciting gelding next season.

In its storied history, Cedarledge Farm has boasted many world champion and Top 10 Finalist equitation riders under McNamara’s direction. In more recent years, Jessica Golin was third in the Good Hands and earned at Top 10 in all the national finals. Erin Nelli won a world’s championship and tied in the Top 10 in all the national finals.

“We trained the reserve world’s champion road horse, Amtrack, the World’s Champion Amateur Five-Gaited Mare Callaway’s Carissa and last year’s reserve world’s champion three-gaited pleasure horse, The Petite Princess. Such riders as Stevie Bagdasarian, Sara Fawk, Lida Cooley, Robin McKenzie Vuillermet, Kim Timmons, Bianca Toretti, Samantha Kennedy and Casey Holmes were products of the Cedarledge program. Our emphasis was good horsemanship and sportsmanship above all else.”

What lies ahead? No one truly can foresee the future, but it would not be unrealistic to assume the McNamara/Codeanne team will enjoy more of the same. There are no plans to reopen a public training barn, but having Molly, Patrick and Kate as ‘students’ and their own horses to work keeps McNamara as busy as she wants to be.

Molly, now six, has moved from lead-line into the walk and trot division. She most recently has been teamed with Captain Planet, a horse owned by Mollie Kregor and before her, Phillipa Sledge and trained by the Byers at Premier Stables. Coincidentally, Kregor’s newest mount, The Petite Princess, was shown by Codeanne to a reserve world’s championship in one division of the Adult Three-Gaited Country Pleasure qualifier in 2005. The Premier/Cedarledge affiliation remains strong.

Patrick remains in the walk and trot academy division, at least for this season. Codeanne has nice horses to show – and others coming along. McNamara will continue to judge and work for the breed she loves.

When asked about now being a horse show grandmother, McNamara replied, “With Molly, I guess I don’t know if there is any difference. She is only six and is really tiny. We have a wonderful horse for her. He’s so safe and wonderful, but is 16.3 – huge. I have the same fears as with my own children.

“As her grandparent, I think the most important thing is that I want her to really enjoy the horse business and not get burned out. I want her to do 4-H, to do the local shows and be sixth out of six. I want her to go to 4-H camp. I did; Kate did. I think that teaches children a lot about their animals. My wish for her is to enjoy the world of the American Saddlebred and of horses in general.

“The other thing is that you share the responsibility of the tension. There is another mother. I know how Kate feels because I’ve been there.”

Codeanne assessed her mother and her life. “Family and horses are the biggest part of my life. I’ve been in American Saddlebreds since before I was born. Now I am with my children. I feel so blessed to have such a loving, wonderful family, to see my kids go in the ring to show, enjoy, smile, laugh and simply have fun. It’s the circle of life. I’m fortunate that I get to do it every day.

“How appreciative I am to have the role model in the mother that I have. She is one of the best trainers I know. Her ability to see and fix things in a horse is unmatched. She’s helped me learn so much over the years. She is a fabulous trainer of American Saddlebred horses. She knows what a horse needs to make it happy and if it’s happy, it will make the best performance. Her method of learning is to do it by watching others. She keeps her eyes open to new ideas.”

But beyond her mother’s ability as a horse trainer, Codeanne appreciates the woman who is her friend. “I’m so fortunate to have her in my life to guide me and show me the way. She’s a wonderful mom and a great grandma.”

When one looks back on the history of Cedarledge Farm and the women who have directed its successes, one can’t help but consider the family roots. Whether or not owning and living on an onion farm led to tears is debatable. Owning, training, showing and loving American Saddlebred horses and the Saddle Horse show world certainly has brought the Larson, McNamara and Codeanne family to tears. But these have been tears of joy, for victories won and good rides that may not have produced blue ribbons, for friends and fellow competitors and the horses that helped bring them where they are today.

Judging is One Way McNamara Gives Back to the Industry

When the gate opens for the USEF Medal Finals at
Kansas City, one judge will have experienced the class from every standpoint. Lynn McNamara rode in the Finals when they were at Madison Square Garden. She stood on the rail and watched as her daughter, Kate Harvey Codeanne, won the class, the final leg of her Triple Crown of Saddle Seat Equitation championship year. She has trained riders for this and other equitation finals.

McNamara has judged in all but four states in the country and at the Royal on four other occasions. She twice judged the UPHA Medal Finals and twice in the USEF Finals at the Royal and has marked the cards at the National Horse Show Good Hands event once. She includes the UPHA Pleasure Challenge Cup Finals, the UPHA Morgan Challenge Cup Finals, Pleasure Olympics, World Cup of Saddle Seat Equitation trials, Lexington and Louisville in her equitation-judging resume.

“I began judging with my mother when I was in my teens,” said McNamara, whose family owns Cedarledge Farm in Wethersfield, Conn. Most of the early shows were 4-H events; sometimes I would judge as many as 10 or 12 in a year. I think all judges should have the opportunity to judge grass roots, local or 4-H shows. This is where you really learn your organizational skills. It’s harder to judge a class when there are no true winners.”

“Saddle Seat equitation has been a part of life at Cedarledge since its inception,” McNamara said. “We are now working on the fourth generation of Saddle Seat competitors with Molly [Codeanne, her granddaughter.]”

McNamara says she “believes Saddle Seat equitation is a means, a pathway to a goal. In this case, that goal is to become an accomplished competitor, whether it be as an amateur or a professional. I fear too many kids see Saddle Seat equitation competition as the end all. This is sad, since this was not the initial reason for creating the division. In teaching and judging equitation, we should keep in mind certain skills that a rider will use when showing a horse in performance.”

McNamara says one of her favorite exercises in a lesson is “to have the rider loosen the reins on the straightaway and then gather them in the corner. It teaches suppleness in the hand and a consideration for where the horse’s frame should be at a different rein length. Riding without irons is great, but more importantly, practice picking them up at the trot or canter. You may have to do this when showing a horse. In other words, I ask riders to perform tasks that will be helpful in future show ring competition.

“I am encouraged by the instructors who have their riders showing in performance as well as equitation,” she continued. “They learn to practice their skills, but most of all the experience has to be fun. Without the fun factor, we will not keep our young people interested.

Judging is one way McNamara gives back to the industry she loves. She also has written the two equitation ‘handbooks’ for the UPHA.

“I truly believe if the industry has been as good to you as it has been to me that you owe it. I judge because I love horses and I love kids. You put the two together and how can you not have a good time. When I walk into that ring, I know what each and every rider has gone through to get where they are and I respect that.”

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