No matter what you do with your life, there will be people who enter into it and remind you of what the ideal could be. There are people who make you think, “Yes, I want to be like that.”
Sandy Howard was one of those people.
Sandy was a handsome woman, with an erect posture, hawk-like features and iron gray hair. She was articulate and spoke with great clarity of purpose. She judged, cliniced, taught and rode almost until the end of her life and her contribution to the dressage world is undeniable. But that is not what I would like to write about. Most likely, in next month’s “Dressage Connection” or “Dressage Today” there will (or should) be articles on her accomplishments.
That is not my purpose here. Nor is it to speak of Sandy Howard as a friend or close relation. To be honest, I am not sure she would remember me were my name mentioned. I cliniced with Sandy extensively and traveled multiple times to her facility to attend Teacher Training Workshops, but I was one in a crowd of faces.
That being said, Sandy Howard’s affect on me was massive. She is the person who I have modeled myself after – the type of trainer that I strive to become. It is so easy in this profession to burn out, to fatigue, to allow your standards and expectations to slip. Likewise it is so easy to, once you have grasped some measure of success, to believe that there is no better way, that you have all the answers or that you are the end all, be all. With Sandy Howard, she was constantly striving to find a better way. Nothing was beyond investigation or consideration. Video replay technology, experimenting with different methods of saddle fit, mechanical horses, in-hand work, literature on learning theory – all and many more were explored and tried.
She hosted clinics at her property that were as much for her education as for the others in attendance, for she was right there along with the rest of the trainers, asking questions and searching for answers, for that better way. In the weeks before her passing, Sandy said to her daughter Anne, “It’s not a bad thing to have shared your life with horses. They are a special animal.”
What I want, more than anything, is to galvanize in myself that strength of spirit and iron-willed curiosity that fueled her. It is so easy to get tired in this profession, or to get pulled off track from what you are really here to do. To ride and train horses. To teach and train students. To contribute to and improve the sport. If I could have a wish for myself it would be in forty years time, to be marching around my property in my own full length down coat, with clear eyes and unfettered spirit, riding and teaching and training.
Sandy Howard worked tremendously hard her entire life to raise the level of standards and education amongst the dressage world. I hope that I can be one example of those who she has affected for the better.