Touch n GO Farm

Whitesburg Georgia

Chapter 2 PDF Print E-mail

Living and Learning

gigi_hoey_teaching.jpgFor everyone, graduating from high school is a monumental occasion. Whether heading for college, the military or into the workforce, every eighteen year-old is trying to answer the same question, "what am I going to do for the rest of my life?" I knew quite specifically that I wanted a career with horses but I wasn't sure how or if it was possible.

I turned eighteen the summer after I graduated from high school and was working in shipping logistics for a local manufacturing company. This full time job was interesting but far removed from my passion for horses. Twice a week I would leave work and head to Don and Marge Markley's Hob Nob Hill Farm in Easton. In the beginning the Markley's small farm had three boarders and no students. You have to start somewhere so I began giving beginner lessons to anyone that would come. Slowly the lesson program grew and the barn had to be expanded to accommodate the new clients. After one year Don and Marge asked if I would like to instruct full time. They offered an apartment, board for two horses, $67.00 a week and $2.00 for each lesson after 50. Not much but a start.

It was 1974. I was twenty years old, newly married and finally beginning a career in the horse business.

1974 - 1983

gghunter.jpgWhile in school, my equestrian education had been limited to a few local instructors. Flo Lininger had given me a sound, basic understanding of riding, stable management and discipline. Bobby Bectal had pushed my limits and given me a glimpse into the world of competition. It was obvious that in order to develop as a rider and instructor that I had to study with the best trainers available.

Bobby Bectal sent me to Tewksbury Farm in New Jersey to work with Carl Bessette. Those early lessons with Carl were the first of hundreds of lessons I would take with respected trainers. When Carl relocated to Wellington I started training with George Morris. When George traveled to Florida each winter season I worked with Frank Chapot. I didn't have spectacular horses to ride for these professionals but Georgie Girl and Phyllis Magillis showed definite improvement.

phyllis_magillis.jpgAs a natural result of this training my understanding of riding broadened and my own instruction improved. Soon the students at Hob Nob Hill were winning local shows and championships. Several won their three medals necessary to compete in the Maclay finals. I continued to successfully compete throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. During this early stage of my career as a teacher I began to realize how much pride I felt in watching my students perform well. It is always nice to win a blue ribbon but I have always approached competition more as a means of testing my horse and myself rather than simply trying to beat a competitor. As the students began to succeed I experienced a new sense of accomplishment separate from my own riding. The satisfaction I felt when one of my youngsters won a big class was equal to that of my own show successes. I then realized that I could experience fulfillment in a career with horses beyond competition riding.

In 1978 George Morris made the fateful suggestion that I ride in a dressage clinic with Gunnar Ostergaard. Those lessons opened the door to dressage and my quest for knowledge doubled. I continued training with George and Frank Chapot for the jumpers but my interest in dressage led me to ride with Gunnar until he left for Florida and when I began to ride with Col. Kitts. Later, I attended a clinic with Jessica Ransehausen in New Jersey and began to take regular lessons at her Blue Hill Farm as often as finances allowed.

At this point I viewed the dressage training as something I did for myself. It was challenging and demanded tremendous discipline. Schooling Georgie Girl in elementary dressage figures gave me a break from the constant hunter/jumper lessons I gave throughout each day. However, it wasn't long before the training concepts I gained from the dressage instruction began to creep into my lessons with students over fences. A much broader understanding of riding concepts was developing and, more than ever, I knew I had made the right choice for a career.

As a professional it is difficult to exercise much control over training programs if you do not own the facility. In 1980 construction began on a 30-acre piece of property in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania. The small house and six stall barn was christened Bit by Bit Farm. Initially nothing spectacular, it was the beginning of my dream to have my own equestrian center. I kept my horses there and continued to build a client base working for others.

bbb_construction.jpgI left Hob Nob Hill and accepted an offer from Ted and Levada Morgan to operate their South Forty Acres facility in 1981. I knew the move was temporary but, nonetheless, I worked hard and helped the Morgan's barn with twelve boarders evolve into a thriving jumper facility requiring fifty additional stalls within a year.

My students continued to perform well and I started to test the waters at competitive dressage. My faithful Georgie Girl began to perform double duty at a lower level dressage horse and competitive jumper. Her burden was eased when I began competing the Morgan's jumper Rens Prince and Four Winds as a dressage horse. By 1982 I was showing third level dressage on a sponsored horse and continued saving every penny towards building my own facility.

Later that year the equipment moved in and work began on the Bit by Bit Farm indoor arena. In the fall of 1982 I left South Forty Acres and spent the next six months building my own training center.


grandopening2.jpgIn April of 1983 I held an Open House at the new Bit by Bit Farm. This event marked the beginning of the most exciting and tumultuous eight years of my life.

As the barn and stables were constructed I tried to maintain my clientele by running from farm to farm to give lessons and secure boarders. When the doors to Bit by Bit opened the facility had two outdoor arenas, one indoor arena, 22 box stalls and 6 standing stalls. My students were wonderfully patient and the business started with 17 boarders and thirty regular students. The lesson program grew quickly and it was difficult for me to believe that I actually had my own farm.

There was little time for dreamy reflection. That year I also purchased my first dressage horse Canadian Way, from Sally Grayburn's daughter, hosted an LVDA clinic with Janie Savoie and maintained an active show schedule. Youth is a wonderful thing and, looking back, I felt busy but not overwhelmed.

In 1984 I purchased the thoroughbred stallion Hot Legs and started showing the Wesser family's Hannah in the jumper ring. Along with my regular lessons with Jessica Ransehausen I took clinics with Belinda Nairn, Bella Buttykay and Bruce Davidson. My vacation was spent at Anne Gribbon's Farm riding her schooled horses and developing my understanding of dressage. While the hunter/jumpers were my mainstay, I began giving lower level dressage instruction to students and working more dressage shows into my schedule. The barn was full and now the students were heading to dressage and hunter/jumper competitions each weekend.

legs2.jpgDespite that fact that Bit by Bit Farm was less than two years old, the waiting list grew to the point that expansion was warranted. Three dividable brood mare stalls were built along with six additional box stalls. They were full as soon as construction was complete. While the boarding and lesson program grew so did my concept of dressage riding and the need for a schooled horse and weekly instruction. So in 1985 I purchased the Dutch gelding Monarch and began my training with Irma Hotz. This was also the year I took my first clinic with Karl Mikolka. Those two trainers and Monarch set my dressage career on a path I follow to this day.

As my concept of dressage training developed I passed it along to my students. Both the hunter/jumper and the dressage riders benefited. Soon there were students showing second and third level successfully. Monarch offered me the chance to compete in the FEI ring. Always open to new ideas, I attended clinics with Edgar Hotz and one with Sally Swift at Gladstone.

dressage4.jpgTwelve more stalls were added to Bit by Bit in 1986 and the farm had a solid reputation for dressage riders as well as hunter/jumpers. I felt that I was on the correct path to riding Grand Prix dressage but the jumper in me remained and I continued to ride the Wesser's mare Hannah. Bernie Traurig came to the farm for a jumping clinic but he also worked with Monarch and I on the flat. A short break in the hectic pace came when I helped the Andretti family find a horse for their daughter in Arizona where I was able to ride with Bernie again. This year marked my first competition at Prix St. Georges in Culpepper, Virginia.

The regular training with Irma Hotz kept my competitive drive in check. She consistently reminded me that dressage was an art and that I should respect it as such. Whenever Karl Mikolka was in the area I would ride with him and come home with numerous gymnastic exercises to incorporate into my training regimen. mirror.jpgThose two special individuals prevented me from falling into the trap of "training to win." With their guidance I realized that I should "train to improve the horse" and with that the wins would follow. These ideas found their way into my own lesson program and the students began to embrace the concepts too.

By 1987 I was attending every major dressage show in the Northeast I could manage. The experience proved invaluable and I began to feel like a competitive dressage rider. The work with Irma and Karl not only improved Monarch but also allowed me to train Hot Legs using more classical methods. A clinic with Johann Hinnemann only reinforced my confidence in the European methods. My ambitions in the show ring were being realized and the farm was successful but I took a lot of satisfaction from my teaching as well.

award.jpgThe demands of managing a farm, training several horses and showing constantly can beat the enthusiasm out of the most dedicated rider. As Bit by Bit Farm entered it's fourth year I found comfort in the idea that I loved teaching as much as riding and showing. The little day-to-day improvements I saw in the students encouraged me to learn even more. It was gratifying to see that as my skills improved, so did my students. Unfortunately, it is commonplace to see a rider move up the competitive ladder and begin to drop their lower level students and ordinary horses. I vowed never to treat people that way and, to the contrary, it was wonderful to see that the traditional training techniques I was studying worked equally well with "up-downers" and middle-aged housewives. I was determined to see to it that we all succeeded together.

The training, show experience and hard work came together in 1988. I rode in my first Grand Prix classes and won my USDF Gold Rider Medal. Monarch and I competed at Devon, Gladstone, Port Jervis, Lexington and others with reasonable success. It was gratifying to hold my own in the show ring with the same riders I had read about in magazines.

facility2.jpgThe last spot of usable space at Bit by Bit was utilized when temporary stalls were placed at the far end of the indoor arena. Three instructors taught 150 lessons each week and the old horse van seemed to be headed for a show every weekend. The farm was a place of constant activity.

The weekly lessons with Irma Hotz continued and my vacation was spent at Karl Mikolka's farm in New York. The chance to work with Karl on a Grand Prix horse as well as riding horses he trained was thrilling. As always, I returned home with a book full of new gymnastics and a greater appreciation of his genius. That year I also rode Monarch and in a clinic with my old instructor Gunnar Ostergaard.

When 1989 rolled around I knew that a few difficult decisions lie ahead. Monarch turned seventeen and his days as a competition horse were drawing to a close. He was generally sound and I decided to show him through the season and then sell him to a longtime student. Knowing that he would go to a good home didn't make idea any easier.

We hit many of the major shows in the Northeast and did well. Monarch and I were placed on the USET long list and our success resulted in offers to attend special training events. We served as the Grand Prix rider and horse team at the International Judges Forum held that year in Warrenton, VA and was invited to a special clinic with Robert Dover at Gladstone for long-listed riders. As the USET clinic ended I loaded Monarch in the trailer and took him to the veterinarians for his pre-purchase inspection. When the sale completed I wired funds to Holland for my next competition horse Vergilius.

For many this would seem like an emotional but positive way to end the year. I had the show season of my career and a new Dutch Stallion on the way from Europe. Sadly, December of 1989 proved to be a disaster as my fourteen-year marriage crumbled. The typical distress of such an event took its toll and I wound up in the hospital with pneumonia. My sister picked me up Christmas Eve and I spent the holiday mending body and soul with family.


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