ThumbsUp Riding School

English riding instruction, full board, layup for travelers. Near Gainesville and I75. All ages.

This is the page for Thumbs Up Riding School. We teach Balanced Seat Riding, which is an English form, the root of Dressage and Eventing. The focus is on developing a solid foundation: balance, control, communication, confidence. All ages are welcome, with adult beginners and returning adults a specialty, as well as children. Full board is offered, training for weanlings, and layover for folks traveling to the show venues South or North of here. We're 10 miles off of I75. Hours are "by appointment". The property boasts 40 acres, most of it in pasture, with a sand dressage ring, grass jumping pad, and a cross country jumping course in process. Come visit!

Tamarack Hill Farm

There aren't many riders who haven't been guilty of what I am going to describe---

I/you/me/they/we grab a horse who has just been doing what a horse does and being what a horse is, and we put tack on that horse, get on its back, and go make it do what humans want it to do.

The horse has zero interest or desire to be tacked up and ridden. The humans who think that are either 8 year old dreamers, or older people who still manage to think like 8 year old dreamers.

So, if we want the horse to actually do human "stuff" rather than horse "stuff, " and do it in a manner that is at least somewhat cooperative, we have to somehow make that transition in ways that we don't trigger anxiety and discomfort.

Think---as in actually ponder---those two words, anxiety and discomfort.

Because if the things we want the horse to do, and the ways in which we try to get the horse to do them cause anxiety or discomfort, the horse is going to "resist, " simply out of self preservation, and God help the poor horse who RESISTS, because now the horse is being BAD, and now we have some sort of cosmic permission to remedy that incorrect behavior.

All over the world, today, May 24th, and yesterday, May 23rd, and tomorrow, May 25th, and every day, past, present and future, riders are going to get into this confrontational mind set with horses, and once it starts, it almost always snowballs into more struggle, more force, more coercion.

Simply put, horses and humans do not have the same goals. They don't, and it doesn't matter how many nice little stories we read as children about how Pony Petunia loved little Sally, and tried to please her.

So what can be done? Well, a number of things. Make sure that the horse knows what we want, by teaching rather than forcing. This means the rider must know how to teach. If you don't, learn.

Make sure the tack fits.

Make sure the horse is healthy, teeth, hooves, worming, feed, turnout, so many facets of horse management.

Make sure the horse is fit enough. Fatigue causes both anxiety and discomfort.

Use a long, slow warmup, as a transitional stage between standing around and being schooled, rather than just starting to demand.

School to educate, not to coerce, Take all the time it takes. Build a tiny layer, then build upon that, and then upon that, and then upon that. This might take years. It sure as heck won't take days or weeks.

Bad riding and bad horsemanship lead to bad situations.

Good riding and good horsemanship lead to successful conclusions.

So it is our fault when it goes poorly, and not the fault of the horse. If you can't handle that truth, you are not ready to be a horse trainer.

Badminton Horse Trials

We hope you enjoy the 2017 winners' cross country round - a brilliant round featuring an all-star commentary team to boot!

Partnered with Nereo, Andrew Nicholson finally won his first Badminton Horse Trials title after 36 attempts. What a performance it was and made for a truly memorable Badminton.

Les Vogt

Equestrian Tai Chi

Equestrian Tai Chi is Tai Chi that I developed for practice on horseback.

It combines the positive aspects of Tai Chi and the therapeutic effects of the horse’s natural energy.

The purpose of Equestrian Tai Chi is to promote the smooth flow of Chi (internal energy) through the body and to bring harmony and balance to the horse and rider's energy.

Practicing Equestrian Tai Chi has many benefits ….

It promotes suppleness and flexibility in your body.

It improves posture and balance.

It helps to make us aware of and correct one sidedness.

It helps to develop security and stability in the saddle.

It helps us to be soft and go with the motion of the horse.

It builds intimacy and trust between the horse and rider.

It helps with lack of confidence, fear and anxiety.

It eases pain in muscles that ache.

As well as all of this – horses find it calming relaxing.

Equestrian Tai Chi is helpful in balancing the emotions, relaxing the body and calming the mind.

When riders practice Equestrian Tai Chi, it helps the horse and rider to connect and to reach a place of tranquillity and stillness together.

This leads to having a more intimate and trusting relationship, helping the horse and rider to feel secure and safe in each other’s company.

Equestrian Tai Chi can be practised and enjoyed by riders from all disciplines. People from any age group, any level of riding ability and people with sensory and physical disabilities can practise Equestrian Tai Chi.

Unhinge Your Hips and Hamstrings When was the last time you went to the gym for a hip flexors and hamstrings workout? Never, maybe? The thing is, if you're someone who sits for 4 or more hours a day, that prolonged sitting is actually causing your hip flexors to tighten up-which can lead to lower back problems and ongoing pain. And, did you know that when your hamstrings are too tight, your muscles rotate your pelvis backward?

Cones course from Live Oak to play with


Changes of the frames are the TEST OF THE CONTACT
[turn the sound on]

Whenever you are changing the frame, and you lose contact, and you lose your steady yet weightless connection with the mouth of the horse, then you know that there was no contact. In the higher frame you were holding the horse, and maybe through the training the horse has learned to compensate it, and hide it: he has learned to still "GO" even if the contact was not proper, even if you were holding him back. But when you were giving him space, he was telling you the truth: "I see NO SPACE" and "Look, whenever you drop, I drop as well”. These are the moments when the horse was showing you that there was no contact, there was just holding.

When you want to lengthen the frame or shorten it, or change the flexion, or go from the high frame to low frame, and you lose contact and the horse goes behind the vertical and becomes empty on the bit — it means that there was no proper connection. Even if your horse still looked "OK" there was no correct work. These days we have very good horses, and because of their fantastic pedigree they can hide many of our mistakes. But the changes of the frames are always the test of the contact.

I like to do with young horse as many changes of the frames as possible to see if the horse sees every frame as the open frame. Open frame is the frame that is relaxing the horse and encouraging his whole body to work forward and relax. Open frame is opposed to the closed frame, in which the rider is keeping the horse, carrying him, holding him back and teaching him to hold in and work behind or to compensate and go even if the hand is creating restriction.

When we work with the bit, the frame should be always open, both in the sense of that there is no restriction coming from the hand of the rider no matter if you work in the high, low or working frame, and in the body of the horse meaning that the nose of the horse should be at all times in front of the vertical.

Continue watching with my further explanations:
(Training Video on my YouTube channel)

RTRT Long Reins Online Course:

Best Horse Rider

How Much Does a Horse Cost? Average Cost of Owning One.
Learn more:

Looking Ahead ~ Coachman's Delight A student of mine was at an equine expo watching the various demonstrations and clinics.  Afterward, she sent me a note; “Not one clinician told their stud

Lendon Gray: I Made My Career on an Average-Moving Horse Everyone Said Was Too Small Hindsight is a funny thing. American dressage rider Lendon Gray couldn't have known in the late '70s that she was well on her way to making a name for herself on a small, unspectacular Connemara/Thoroughbred named Seldom Seen, but years later, she looks back at this pivotal time in her career. Thoug...

[02/03/20]   Copied from “Candid Equitation”:

If a horse is “strong” going fast, you’ve got no business going fast.

Common sense would say that you’d first get going slow good then subtly give the accelerator a stroke in small increments as the horses ability to cope with speed progresses, however long it takes.

Unfortunately common sense ain’t common, and rather than do this the majority of folks become hopelessly over excited at a stretch of grass or good ground; they can’t resist a canter they haven’t prepared adequately for, hold a strong contact on the reins “just in case” and so when the horse begins anticipating running like its life depends on it every time the tarmac disappears, the rider decides the horse needs a stronger bit, flash noseband etc.

Cantering out in the open on a drape rein is an essential building block to me. Trouble at the canter is a common gripe and sure, there’s plenty of cool stuff you can do for that indoors. However, I like to include taking them outside, giving them rein, staying out of the way and getting them to find and maintain a canter they find easy on the cusp of galloping. Holding themselves up and consciously resisting the urge to gallop (as opposed to being physically held back) naturally creates a stretchy shape and so they get to practice their ‘big’ canter without getting nagged or cajoled. Muscle memory does the rest and, baddabing baddaboom, one adjustable canter, and a horse that doesn’t think going faster than a walk is a big event.

Swinging off their face invariably either jacks the head up, sees them diving to the ground or dipping behind the vertical- all these postures, especially at high speed, WILL knacker your horses body. Sure, you could chuck a bigger bit on and continue getting your adrenaline rushes that way, but if you’d rather do that than take the time to teach your horse to go fast in a sustainable way, then surely you need to register that your horse isn’t the one who’s impatient or unable to handle excitement...

*Excuse my poker up the arse posture in this picture, you can fit two of me on that saddle and still have room between us for a ouija board and all the demons summoned.

Researcher: Horses Are "Emotional Sponges" – The Horse A group of Welsh mares with limited past human interactions exhibited signs of stress and relaxation in response to respective "angry" and "joyful" human facial expressions and sounds.

Tamarack Hill Farm


As in "The children were nestled, All snug in their beds---"

And how human that concept is, and how strongly the urge and instinct to impose our sense of warmth and security onto our horses.

Tonight, as I turned out Tense in his paddock that has a shed, and saw the various other horses in their fields with sheds, I knew that the forecast is for lots of cold rain, and there was that twinge of guilt that they weren't in deeply bedded stalls.

But they are horses. Their hundreds of centuries of existence have acclimated them to constant movement, not stall confinement. They live outdoors in pitch black, when the wind howls, when it pours, when the snow slants down sideways, and the thing is that even though they have sheds for shelter, much of the time they stay outside.

To judge animal's needs by our standards of need is so often to miss basic realities---And yet, if I wake up at 3 AM to howling wind and plummeting temperatures, in pitch blackness, it is so easy to fall into that mindset, and wonder how they survive-----

Barometric Pressure and Equine Colic College thesis paper looks at the relationship between barometric pressure and incidence of colic in horses.

Real Riders Don’t Hand-Off Horsemanship In the age of handing horses off to grooms and jumping in Range Rovers for coffee runs, it’s important to remember that this sport is called horseback riding—as in these animals are willingly carrying us around on their backs and doing what we ask of them. The horse should always be put first. One o...

The Girl & the Horse

Written, directed & animated by Rebecca Manley A small girl is crying because there is a hole in her stomach, suddenly a mysterious horse appears and things…

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We have a cold front moving in today, we get lots of calls about blanketing so here is a great chart on it. For more info on blanketing, check out our Tuesday’s With Tony Blog on our website, also Dr. Lacher & Justin have a great podcast; Straight From The Horse Doctors Mouth and you can hear all about it there too as well as many other great topics! Stay warm!! #SpringhillEquine

Writing SFF Horses: Notes on Breeds and Riding Every so often when I put up an article in this series on SFF Equines, the commenters give me all kinds of ideas for new articles. And they ask great questions. Last time was no exception. This bat…

The Zen Racehorse


How does this apply to schooling/training? Frontal lobes are involved in higher mental functions such as reasoning. This means that horses cannot reason or plan to be naughty. They cannot be blamed for bad behavior or poor performance. They cannot recognize future consequences. Horses simply react to the situation. They learn through conditioning and memory.

I see and hear so many riders anthropomorphize their horses instead of finding better training tools. Phrases such as, ‘he just likes to be difficult’ or ‘this pony is so naughty’ or ‘he understands or knows what I want, but won’t do it’, or ‘he moves his hindquarters at every halt just to irritate me’. Horses do not know what we want unless we explain it in a manner that they can understand immediately.

A few months ago a rider told me how her horse ‘just does not want to co-operate’. It started with overt flight behavior and then became a subtle ‘snatchy’ movement of the nose. I asked her whether it could be due to discomfort. She answered, ‘no, she is just naughty’. It turned out that the horse was suffering from laminitis and was in severe discomfort! It made me want to cry.

At the moment I am training a young horse from scratch. I also used phrases such as, ‘she has a short fuse’ and ‘she challenges me every step of the way’. Then I realized that everything I was doing on this horse was completely new to her. I realized how frightening that must be for an animal with no reasoning ability. She was actually trying hard to understand me, but when new instructions were a tad confusing, she showed me in no uncertain terms that she did not understand it. The horse’s reactions to learning new skills all depends on personality. This particular horse is extremely sensitive and an introvert. Utopia, my older horse, is less sensitive and a complete extrovert. She can deal with much more pressure than the youngster. The message for me is that I must train each horse with the kind of pressure which they can deal with. Each horse has a different tolerance for pressure. Us riders have to be adaptable to each horse’s ability to deal with pressure. Personally I find that most behavioral problems stem from confusion, discomfort and too much pressure. Photo is the equine brain in front of the human brain.

Thanks to Karin Blignault for the info!!

How to Use Cavaletti for Dressage Schooling ⋆ How To Dressage Introducing work with cavaletti into your regular dressage schooling schedule can help to improve your horse’s suppleness and strength.

Long Rider Saddle Q & A

Thoughts about movement, anatomy and saddle fit. The famous cavalry saddle owned by Swiss Long Rider, Captain Otto Schwarz. It was made in 1916 and saw service during both World Wars, after which Captain Schwarz used it to ride 48,000 kilometers on five continents.


Hi Friends,

This is Bess Darrow, I am a large animal veterinarian in North Central Florida and the voice behind Houses4Horses.

These are some of the first photos we have coming from the two stables still standing in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island after Hurricane Dorian. The roofs are damaged and the smaller barns have collapsed. Most their of hay and grain stores got soaked with water.


I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your donations so far and to provide you an update of what’s going on with the horses and livestock on Grand Bahama.

First of all, it goes without saying that things are chaotic there and communication, although better, is via Facebook messenger mostly and an occasional phone call. Power has not been restored yet and people are just trying to survive and figure out what to do next. Lines for fuel are four hours long and only a few businesses and government buildings are open. The commercial ferry boats are taking anyone who wants to leave back to the US. It’s odd how Parts of Freeport had little damage, and other parts of the island had catastrophic damage. One of the bigger farms lost nearly all animals and buildings. We got a tiny bit of good news this morning, though! 3 of their dogs and 2 cats were actually just found and they are at the local clinic receiving fluids! 😀

Regarding our mission of getting feed, supplies and vet care to the animals there,...things are obviously in a holding pattern until deliveries can be received. Most of us don’t live on small islands, but if you think about it, absolutely everything people and animals need to survive on a daily basis has to come IN to the island. Most of the time, it comes in shipping containers on giant shipping container boats to the port. The Freeport airport was completely wiped out. I understand the port and some of the marinas may be useable in the near future.

I have been formulating a plan to best utilize the donations collected from our group, Houses4Horses and it’s “Hurricane Dorian Horse Relief Fund”. The two remaining stables on the island have about 25 horses total. They currently have only enough feed/hay for less than a month, as everything was destroyed or got wet during the hurricane. The most efficient way to get feed and hay to them is to buy it from their regular US suppliers and have the suppliers deal with the paperwork and export process, something they are very used to doing. There is a feed store in South Florida that ships their grain, hay cubes and beet pulp. There is a hay broker they use in New York. The whole process is so different than anything we, on the mainland, are used to, as the large bales of hay are opened, inspected and then repackaged into super compressed bales so they can fit as much hay as possible into a shipping container. Make sense? You wouldn’t want to have big, sloppy loose bales. Instead, you want really tightly compressed bales to fit as much as possible into a container. Then it has to be inspected and certified that it doesn’t contain bugs or foreign, invasive weeds before it can be allowed into the islands. Another aspect we are not used to dealing with is that every time they receive a shipment of goods, they have to pay shipping fees and taxes on most things.

So, coming in for a landing, since the horses seem to be healthy and not in dire need of veterinary care, our main goal is to make it possible for them to receive hay and grain from their usually sources AND to help cover the shipping costs of these items.

I have added a few photos of their damaged buildings and waterlogged hay. The Bahamians are keeping in good spirits, but times are really tough. It’s hard enough to keep horses and livestock on islands in general, but adding a cat 5 hurricane to the mix really provides new challenges.

I am planning a trip to Grand Bahama in person at the end of the month. Again, we are figuring out the logistics of such a trip. All the horses and livestock need to be checked and vetted. The barns, buildings and fencing will need to be repaired. Please keep watching for updates. I’ll let you know as we get more information.

Donations to Houses4Horses can be made 4 ways:

Our Pay Pal address is:
[email protected]

Our GoFundMe campaign is:

Personal checks can be made to:
“Houses4Horses” and mailed to me:
Bess Darrow 16400 West Highway 318, Williston, FL 32696

We also accept tack, stable supplies and horse/livestock-themed items in good condition. We sell these items at horse-oriented yard sales and use the proceeds for Houses4Horses. Drop off site around Florida. Contact us for more info.

Thank you all for your idea, compassion and support.


Our Story

We teach Balanced Seat Riding, which is an English form, the root of Dressage and Eventing. The focus is on developing a solid foundation: balance, control, communication, confidence. All ages are welcome, with adult beginners and returning adults a specialty, as well as children.

Full board is offered, training for weanlings, and layover for folks traveling to the show venues South or North of here. We're 10 miles off of I75.

Hours are "by appointment".

The property boasts 40 acres, most of it in pasture, with a GGT Fiber footing driven dressage ring, grass jumping pad, and a cross country jumping course in process. As well as a covered arena. Our farm manager/assistant instructor offers carriage driving training and driving lessons as well. We are conveniently located just north of Gainesville, FL and I-75. We also have pasture and stalls available for layovers for those travelling or visiting from out of state.

Come visit!

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22507 NW CR-1493
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