Heather Caristo was raised in an equestrian family and began pursuing excellence at a young age. She worked with George Morris as a junior, ribboned in the equitation finals and showed in Switzerland for a season with Gerhardt Etter. She’s a five-time North American Young Rider Team Gold medalist and has won more than a dozen USHJA National Hunter Derbies. Heather won her first Grand Prix at 16 years old, is a three-time USHJA National Champion
and has represented the U.S. on Nations Cup teams in Canada, Sweden and Portugal. She has ribbons in World Cup Qualifiers, HITS Million Dollar Grand Prix and HITS Hunter Derby Finals. In a balanced life outside of horses, Heather graduated from NYU with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 2000, is a licensed massage therapist for humans and is certified to work on horses, has run 25 marathons and is an Ironman triathlete. She now works with her parents and husband, Jesse Williams, at Glenview Stables based out of Saugerties, New York, and Wellington, Florida.
Sidelines is excited to have Heather on board to answer your questions about life in the hunter-jumper world. Do you have a question you want Heather to answer? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m a first generation equestrian. My parents support my riding, but I’m getting to the point where I need to switch barns and trainers. My barn is more of an introductory barn, and I don’t know what to look for in a show barn. Do you have any advice on selecting my next trainer and barn?
Changing trainers can be tricky. As strange as it sounds, I would talk to your current trainer first. He or she knows how you ride and what your horse’s level is, and may be open to suggesting a new barn for your next step forward.
Wherever you choose, there are a few points to look into and questions you should ask yourself. The main one is, what are your goals? Do you want to move up divisions? Are you looking to buy a new horse? Would you like to travel to shows, or mainly stay local to your area? These are important points because they will immediately narrow down your options in terms of what you are looking for: a local barn, a barn that goes away to shows or a barn with a strong sales side. You want to make the right move for your and your horse’s development.
Once you figure out your goals, look to see which trainers have students competing in the classes you are looking to move up to. The rider is a reflection of the trainer, so you can learn a lot by watching the show ring. You can also see if their programs are conducive to the style you and your horse learn best from by simply watching the schooling area. Something else to consider is if you would prefer to be in an environment where you are the only one competing in a certain division or if you like a healthy level of competition by having other students from your new barn in the same classes.
Even though it may seem silly to say, if your goal is to show in hunters, you don’t want to move to a barn that mainly specializes in jumpers. Many trainers are able to teach hunters, jumpers and equitation, but it’s good to find someone who has experience in the area you’re competing.
Make a decision about how far away you’re willing to have your new barn. If you really want to work with someone who lives more than an hour away, you (and whoever is driving you, if you don’t have a vehicle or are too young to drive) need to be able to make the commitment to get there as much as possible. If driving time is going to prevent you from riding as much as you would like to, you may want to consider someone closer.
One other idea would be to see if there are any trainers you’re interested in working with who may be teaching clinics nearby. It could be worth it to get an insider view as to what it would be like to work with that person before you fully commit to that new trainer.
It’s exciting to be moving up and I congratulate you on getting to this point in your riding. Good luck with everything!
I’ve been riding at my current level for what feels like a long time. What sort of exercises can I do to improve and move up?
It’s always fun when you feel ready to move up, but the question then becomes, how do I do that?
If both you and your trainer agree that the timing is right for your horse, here’s an easy way that I found to start. I like to begin by asking a simple question.
I set a very basic trot in gymnastic, maybe even with a lead-in trot pole so the horse enters the exercise the same way each time. I may have a small crossrail, then one stride to a vertical. I will do that a few times until I feel my horse is comfortable, then I will add in a small oxer set two strides away.
After going through that a few times, I will gradually start to build it up in height. If, for example, I am moving a horse up from 3’ to 3’3”-3’6”, I will slowly raise part B of the gymnastic up to 3’3” and then aim to have my last few times through with the final element as a ramp with the back rail 3’6”. But I only do as much as I feel the horse is comfortable doing.
As basic as this exercise sounds, it accomplishes quite a few things when done correctly: It allows the horse and rider to be confident over the bigger height, and because of the preset footage, there are consistent distances each time so learning to jump the higher fence becomes less scary.
Taking out the fear aspect of cantering down to a daunting oxer and not knowing how the horse or rider will react is key. Once the band-aid has been ripped off, so to speak, and both partners know they’ve already jumped the new height, adding that size jump into a course here and there will not seem like a big deal at all.
And soon, without rushing it, you’ll both be doing a full course at this bigger height!