Warner's Sporthorses

6161 North Bluffs Court

Charles City, Virginia 23030


Warner's Sporthorses

About Connie

showing jumpers in college
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I started riding at the age of 12. Like all beginner riders in Indiana, I was started in western lessons. But I quickly switched to english as soon as I was allowed! Within a year I was learning to jump and loved every minute of it! At the age of 14, I started training horses that were brought home from the local horse auction. These varied from Saddlebreds to Arabians to draft horses. While in high school, I was working at various local barns. I starting teaching english and western riding lessons.

My first big opportunity came when being accepted to William Woods University's Equestrian Science program (Fulton, Missouri). I spent four years riding hunters, jumpers and equitation horses. The intense program required riding Saddleseat, dressage and western as well. I showed "A" shows in St.Louis and Columbia, Missouri. I took full advantage of riding in every hunter/jumper clinic offered including ones taught by Frank Madden and Linda Allen (1996 Olympic course designer). I showed hunters and equitation in my first and second year of college. As a junior and senior I started in jumpers and never looked back!During the summer I worked in Omaha, Nebraska at a warmblood breeding farm. I futhered my experience in starting horses by working the farm's young warmbloods. I also learned how to start young horses over fences and got experience taking them to their first horse shows. I also worked as a carriage tour driver in Omaha's Old Market district downtown.

After college, I worked in Tulsa, Oklahoma as an assistant hunter/jumper trainer and instructor. Eventually I returned to Indiana and started my own training/lesson business. For the next five years I mostly started young horses, using a combination of round pen methods and traditional english techniques designed for the individual horse's learning style.

I obtained my ARIA certification in hunt seat with a high score of 97. 

In 2003 I met my husband and we got married in 2004. It was his idea to buy a horse farm. Needless to say, I didn't object! After careful consideration of the local economy, we decided to leave Indiana. My husband landed a new job as an engineer and we were on our way to Virginia! My parents, still living in Indiana, moved to Powhatan after us! Its great to have them living here in the state. In summer of 2008, after saving forever, we purchased 15 acres of land in Charles City. We had it cleared, built a house, two barns, eight pastures, round pen and outdoor arena. We are working on our property all the time! 


I currently take weekly lessons with Harry de Leyer  ( Snowman fame )and participate in as many hunter/jumper clinics as I can afford. My goal is to someday be in the big jumper ring. 'If your not moving forwards, your moving backwards' as my college teacher Ms.Lampe says.


Whatever your dreams and goals happen to be, I'll do whatever I can to help you achieve them. Nothing is impossible if you break down your journey into baby steps. The biggest step is taking the first one,  that is just getting started! After that your success builds on the step you took before and your confidence will grow. Before you know it, you'll be where you want to be.


Our barn is now open and we are accepting new customers. I also still offer mobile training and lessons. Please contact me with your horse training and riding lesson goals. Thank you!




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On Being a Lifetime Learner

Heaven is high and earth wide.  If you ride three feet higher above
the ground than other men, you will know what that means.  ~Rudolf C. Binding


March 2013---Yes, I can attest that those words are true, especially while riding a willing horse, flying through the air over jumps of every kind. The experience of a course of challenging jumps never ceases to thrill! It never really leaves your blood, and even as I was building my farm and my training career, the joy of the jumps remained, waiting for the time when I could get back to it.


That time has come. I've started soaring three feet higher above the ground again under the watchful eye of a real master: Harry de Leyer. Harry and his amazing horse, Snowman, are famous for the whirlwind story they made together in the 50s and 60s when Harry bought the grey at an auction for $80 and then took the jumping world by storm. Snowman was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992, and Harry is still teaching his craft to people like me. I feel very fortunate to be his student. 


Now, I admit, I've found that even I had some jitters coming back to three foot jumps, but you know what? After only a few lessons, I feel like I am jumping at my college level...perhaps even better. My lessons are indoors, over a well-orchestrated course just stuffed with jumps and sharp turns and walls that come up fast...and Harry encouraging me, correcting and urging me to perfect my form, to look ahead, to ride like I am flying. I am picking it up again like I never took that busy break, and under Harry's instruction, I know that I'll be learning new skills, experiencing new levels of achievement, and striving anew to be a dedicated reflection of Harry as both a rider and a trainer. 


Lifelong learning does indeed keep us all young. I learn from my trainers and I learn from my students. I bet Harry would admit to the same. There is a thrill attached to being a student of a successful teacher and an exhilaration that comes with being a teacher of a dedicated student. For lifetime learners, heaven is indeed high, and the Earth wide. And what could be better than that? 


Interview with Connie Warner:

Tips on Horse Training and Advice about the Business

by Rachel Grant, Virginia Tech student

Connie Warner, currently based in Charles City, Virginia, has been training for twenty years, beginning when she bought several horses from a local auction. She grew up in Indiana where western riding is most common. However, Connie branched out and additionally practiced nearly every discipline there is: jumping, dressage, cross-country jumping, saddle seat, gaited riding, bareback riding, vaulting, driving, and even sidesaddle. During college, she focused more on hunter/jumper and showing. Today, she trains and teaches both hunter/jumper and dressage.

Connie has been able to ride with some very good instructors, such as Frank Madden and Linda Allen. Her college professor Linda McClaren also had a big part in her development as a hunter/jumper rider. However, she says that it is John Lyons who has had the most influence over her training style, especially round pen work. Author Charles DeKnuffy is an excellent dressage trainer, and his books have aided Connie in her training. In his book Creative Horsemanship, he teaches more than just the theory and riding techniques behind dressage; he stresses the importance of humility, honesty, and hard work on the part of the rider, as well.

When asked who she thought today’s “trainer’s trainer” is, Connie replied that she loved John Lyons, Charles DeKnuffy, and George Morris. Her favorite trainer of all time is Jimmy Williams, a California trainer who began training western horses and then moved to hunter/jumpers. He is very creative and often experiments with various training techniques until he finds the right mix that works for a particular horse. Techniques tend to fluctuate over the years, Connie says, and it is common to “see the same techniques go away, come back, and go away again.” The important thing is to find a method that suits the horse you are currently working with. In fact, this is how Connie characterizes her training methods. She begins by working with a horse and observing him analytically, and then she devises a training plan based on what that horse needs.

Dressage work is important to jumpers as well as dressage horses, Connie explains. Jumper courses are becoming more and more technical. The horse must be strong, collected, able to lengthen or shorten his stride, turn quickly, and be very responsive in order to properly negotiate the course. The lateral work done in dressage, such as leg yields and half-passes, is some of the most important for building up strength in the hind legs. Dressage also teaches precision and accuracy (a horse must be able to jump straight and to take off at the right time), and builds a closer connection between horse and rider, all of which are valuable during jumping.

Every movement a horse is to learn in dressage (as in all other disciplines) must be broken down into smaller steps. How small will depend on the horse. In general, the first order of business is to make sure the horse goes forward well. After that, he must be able to circle correctly, and then bend to both the inside and outside without resistance. Only after he has mastered those skills should he be taught to leg yield, which is the most basic lateral movement. It involves riding twenty or thirty feet off of the rail and, using the inside leg and outside rein, asking the horse to drift back toward the rail while still walking and facing forward. The horse actually looks away from the direction of travel. When the horse first starts to learn this maneuver, reward him for the smallest of tries, even just a slight shift of his weight in the right direction. It may only be detectable by the rider, but it should still be acknowledged. Once the horse masters the leg yield, the movements expand from there. Common maneuvers to follow are the shoulder-in, shoulder-out, haunches-in, haunches-out. It is also useful to do a lot of forward work while working on the lateral moves. In fact, Connie explains, forward work should always be done more than lateral work to keep the horse’s “motor” running. Lateral work, circles, and turns all slow the horse and tend to cut off the “motor.” Again, these movements are just as valuable for a jumper horse to practice as a dressage horse. They build strength and teach collection, coordination, and sensitivity.

When asked about another aspect of training, the use of head-setting aids, Connie replied, “You can mess up a good horse faster than anything can by using ‘head setting’ gizmos.” She occasionally uses side reins, but only if they are needed for a particular horse and even then they are adjusted as long as possible on the lunge line. There are actually physical reasons why head setting devices should generally not be used, and are outline in the book Tug of War: Classical Versus Modern Dressage by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann which Connie recommends. Flexing the horse’s head too much actually causes back problems and lameness. “A horse, properly ridden, works from back to front. Not nose in, to trailing backend,” she states. It’s not that a horse shouldn’t be taught how to flex at the pole, but it is important to understand why this is desirable and how to properly go about teaching the horse to do it. The first step is to teach him to stretch by lowering his head, stretching out his neck, and lifting his back. Ground pole grids work well to encourage even a stiff horse to move correctly. Gradually, he will get stronger and learn to carry more weight on his haunches than his front end, causing his head to flex naturally.

According to Connie, an aspiring horse trainer should learn from as many good trainers as they can find. The reason is that every horse is unique, so it is beneficial to watch multiple people work with different types of horses and use different techniques. It is also a good idea to ride as many horses as you can. The more familiar you are with various temperaments, styles, behaviors, etc, the more prepared you will be to handle horses in the future. Especially when you encounter a horse that is very similar to a horse you have ridden in that past. Chances are you will have a good idea of how to handle him based on your previous experience.

She would also caution aspiring trainers to make sure it is really what they want to do. The hours are very long, customers can be difficult, and working outside during the middle of summer and winter weather can be harsh. If it truly is someone’s heart’s desire to be a trainer, she recommends that one start small and build slowly, paying only for what they need. They should avoid debt and instead save their money, then pay cash for the items they truly need. “Buy used, make it yourself, or go without,” Connie suggests. She also encourages those just starting out to not be afraid to create their own job if there are none currently available. By listing your skill set and looking at all the things you know how to do, it is easier to find a job than simply waiting for someone to give you one. One should be willing to do things like do simple tack repairs, pet sit, or braid, in addition to trying to start training.

With the economic climate being difficult for small businesses to thrive in, Connie shared some key factors that every trainer should think about to keep their business afloat. Number one is to avoid debt. If you do have debt, including debt on cars, schools, and house mortgages, try to pay it off as quickly as possible. She recommends two straightforward books on personal finance that will help anyone improve their financial status: The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, and Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Most people who are wealthy have gotten to that point based on investments they have made, what they did or didn’t spend their money on, and their lifestyles. They didn’t necessarily inherit their money. Connie says, “The biggest key to becoming wealthy is being debt-free; driving used cars and living a simple lifestyle. So when the economy goes through its down period, you can ride out the storm. If you really have your act together, you can stock up on investments and enjoy the gain when the economy comes back.”

Another key is to stock pile cash when economic times are better. During a downturn, Connie recommends offering coupons to customers (as long as it is something you can afford to give away), or a free lesson card. Offering incentives for your customers will increase the chance of their continuing to come or even for a lost customer to return. It is also helpful to get certified with the American Riding Instructor Association (ARIA) which provides you with access to a professional network as well as a magazine with business tips. In short, the national economy will always fluctuate and is out of our control. But individuals can be in charge of their own “personal” economy if they are willing to do things like build their own jobs if needed, offer incentives to their customers, and exercise monetary wisdom. It is the key to one’s small business surviving when the national economy can be so uncertain. Connie graduated college and attempted to begin her career as a trainer right after 9/11. The economy was in a bad recession then, but she succeeded in spite of that. Others can, too.

That being said, the main points to be considered are to remember that horses are unique from one another, and training methods may have to be adjusted and adapted based on a particular horse. When it comes to jumping, practicing dressage maneuvers will help the horse build strength, agility, and responsiveness. The way to teach a horse these movements, in any discipline, dressage or other, is to break them down into small steps that the horse will understand and to reward little tries. There are also several key things a young aspiring horse trainer should keep in mind. One of those things is to try to ride as many different horses and to watch as many trainers as possible, in order to gain experience with varying behaviors and training techniques. Another important factor is to stay out of debt when starting a business, offer incentives to the clients, and to not be discouraged by a downturn in the economy. Those who are willing to be resourceful by creating their own jobs will most likely succeed. The last important point to remember is to make sure that being a horse trainer is something one really wants to do. The job is rewarding, but far too demanding to only partially want to have it as a career.

Connie has wanted to be a horse trainer since 7th grade, and there was never a question in her mind of what type of career she wanted. The only question was how she would get there. And now, despite economic tough times, she has been working her dream job for two decades and is continuing to build and expand her business. While she wishes she could get better horses and have more work, she knows that will come with time. When asked what the one thing she would change about her career would be, Connie says she would not change a single thing. It is truly her passion. “The best part is doing what I love.”