Bettina Drummond Keeps Focus On The Horse

Tales From  The Trails

I met Bettina Drummond, a mesmerizing person and expert horsewoman, at a clinic she helped organize at Mary Anne McPhail’s White Fences Equestrian Estate in February.

Drummond is an internationally recognized classical trainer and one of the founding members of the Association for the Promotion of the Art of Horsemanship in America. If you ever have a chance to ride in or observe one of her clinics, grab it with both hands.

“The goal of the APAHA program is holding workshops for teachers by teachers,” Drummond said. “We want to create a network where instructors get out of their small regular circle of contacts, where they’re busy earning their keep, and watch and meet others who may be doing things differently or on another level. It’s a way to maximize their own riding while continuing to learn. Sometimes hearing the same message from a different voice makes all the difference, and puts one back in a state of causality. We all get a little rusty, like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.”

In a clinic setting, teachers see real horses with real problems and learn new ways of working through them, Drummond explained.

“For the most part, these instructors are working with amateur adults, riders who aren’t the big clients with unlimited funds, who will never get the chance to go to Europe or compete at the higher levels, which is fine. This is all about learning the substance of helping the horses become more rideable, more supple, and the riders more forgiving — understanding the psychology of working with different horses,” she explained. “We stress the dialogue and cooperation between horse and rider, taking the horse’s interest into account. Learning to balance in an upright posture, to stay in balance on the hindquarters, is not natural to horses. We try to make it as fluid and understandable as possible to both horse and rider. It takes much time, care and effort.”

Trainers appreciate having the opportunity to come to such workshops, Drummond noted.

“I can custom-fit the learning curve to their needs,” she noted. “It’s always a pleasure working with them. The best gift I give myself is seeing that look on their faces when they understand a concept and see how doing something a different way can make the riding feel right for a horse on a daily basis. Your flow, how you flow into it, makes it right.”

This gets to the central reason why Drummond runs the program.

“I began this program because I saw a gap, a wastage of time and energy and effort. Many instructors are not taught how to teach. They come out of the show world and then teach their students what they know, what they’ve experienced. They don’t have time to focus on learning how to teach effectively, because they’re too busy earning a living. This program seeks to solve that problem,” she said. “When I was young, I was injured and couldn’t ride, so I had to find something else to do. Learning how to teach others to ride, I got more and more into it. The proudest time in my life was becoming a good teacher.”

Hopefully, her workshops will help others become good teachers.

“Balance is the zen of life,” Drummond said. “Half of the problems with trainers is they haven’t learned how to handle themselves in difficult circumstances. This workshop gives them a hands-on experience in teaching others how to help solve a variety of horse issues, how to give feedback to riders dealing with their own fears or nervousness. It requires more than just show experience.”

Drummond said one reason that training is not the same as showing is that a coach doesn’t have to be a great rider to be what she called “a perceptive eye on the ground,” noting that communication skills are crucial, too.

“We strive to show how the two jobs become one without ever losing sight of the horse,” she said. “One problem with showing versus training is that the competitive urge can take over, the pursuit of ribbons and big wins. This should never be the goal, especially if encouraged too early in childhood. With maturity and proper coaching, riders understand the more important basics of horsemanship, from which all else flows. It behooves us all to help each other along that road, to look for the voice of caution. There must be a conscience guiding us when we show.”
She cautioned riders and trainers not to be over-eager to do better in the ring.

“You’re not riding against the others; you’re always only competing against yourself. Your first and most important job is assisting the horse, your duty to the horse. Before doing anything, you must always first ask, ‘How does the horse feel about this?’ Everything you do should encourage your horse’s curiosity and sense of wonderment,” Drummond said. “Good riders and horses are grounded and receptive to feedback. They respect lightness in spirit. There is no room for the frustration some show riders exhibit if they do not win.”

The APAHA program is open to professional clinicians who operate throughout the United States at very basic levels. It allows them to work on their own riding and bounce their ideas and questions off an experienced mentor. The organization seeks to provide these trainers with a truly unique educational opportunity by linking them with breeders who loan out young horses, providing APAHA students with opportunities for guided break-ins.

In exchange for this educational opportunity, teachers who become students in APAHA programs then teach other teachers who participate as auditors. Teaching is the focal point of the transmission of knowledge based around the needs of horses. The APAHA is meant to act as a spark, helping riders and teachers light their own candles of knowledge, which will then light the candles of their students.

Future two-day-seat workshops with Bettina Drummond and Jason Wright at Windhorse International in Bethlehem, Conn., will be conducted June 16-18, Sept. 8-10, and Nov. 18-19. A two-day APAHA workshop will be given Oct. 14-15.

For more information, visit, or e-mail Drummond at