Trainer Spotlight: LPSDC’S CHRISTINE HEADLEY

LPSDC’s Christine Headley was the focus of their September Issue club news. Read more about this incredible trainer (and club!) below.

On Lebretto at WEC. Photo: Carolynn Bunch

“I grew up completely immersed in the horse world,” says Christine Headley, of CH Equestrian at Heron Pond Farm, Port Townsend, WA

It began with her mother, Kim McGuire, who moved to dressage 40 years ago when her OTTB, Irish Bay, had physical challenges calling for a different career than eventing. Accompanying Kim to her weekly lessons with Dietrich von Hopffgarten, watching lessons, watching her mom teach clinics, going to horse shows, Christine went with Kim. A totally horse crazy girl, she was fascinated watching horses and riders, asking questions, and developing her eye along the way. By the time she was eight or nine years old, she was competing. With her mother’s training business, Christine had a unique opportunity to help train and ride. Before mirrors were common in arenas, Kim often put Christine on a horse in order to see them move.

In 1980 Christine’s parents built a farm on Vashon Island with show, training, and sales horses. In 1987, Kim bought a farm on the Olympic Peninsula, naming it for Irish Bay. Christine spent most of her childhood there. In 1987 as a six year old, Christine joined Pony Club, remaining active for 13 years, earning her “A” rating in 2000. She counts this as a major achievement because at the time, failing one section meant failing the whole test, and after failing three times, there were no more tries or advancement, plus members aged out at 21. Christine is proud to have been the first to get her “HA” (horse management) in Jefferson County, and the only person to earn an “A” rating in Jefferson County. She drove a truck hauling a horse trailer soon after she got her driver’s license. Kim put her show career on hold to support Christine. Immersed indeed!

Christine describes herself as “very driven and self motivated.” Determined and goal oriented would also seem to apply. At 19, while preparing to test for her “A” rating, she took a hard somersault fall off her horse. It shook her confidence in riding that horse. Not to be stopped, she gathered six potential horses to ride for the rating, and spent the week before the rating with Linda Chatfield on Whidbey Island switch riding ten horses (her six plus four who were there) to find the best match for the rating. It worked.

When Christine moved to Seattle to attend community college, she commuted to Vashon to teach lessons on her dad’s farm. This is when and where her teaching and training business began. 

After earning her Associates degree, as she thought about transferring to university, her Vashon business had also grown. One of her student’s fathers encouraged her to follow her heart, and she decided to set college aside, and has never looked back. Once she focused all of her energy into it, her business on Vashon took off.

At the first offering of the USDF Trainers Certification in Region 6, Christine was in. She was the only person to pass, and in her mid-20s, was youngest of the group by eight years.

A few years later Christine reached another crossroads. Wanting more for her business and to take her riding to the next level, at 28, she sought a position as a working student with an upper level trainer. Expecting to land on the West Coast, opportunity led her to spend two years in Wellington, FL working for Danish Olympian Lars Petersen at his Legacy Farms.

Christine says, “This was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was a huge adjustment from being self-employed to an expectation that I work six days a week for 10 hours a day and be on call 24/7.” She was homesick. The landscape was so different. She did so much hand walking of horses that she walked through three pairs of shoes in six months. And for that, Christine was immersed in a professional European approach to horses and a “level of riding unparalleled in Washington State.”

She credits Petersen as being the hardest working man she’s ever seen, riding or giving lessons to 20 horses every day starting at 4:30 AM. From her experience there she learned how to get horses fit, and saw firsthand the amount of work, time, and diligence required to succeed in the sport of dressage. Getting a behind the scenes look at some really big horse shows, she worked her way up from polishing tack to riding young horses to warming up horses for Petersen, and sometimes having lessons on those horses. The opportunity to ride international caliber FEI horses “was an incredible experience, and totally changed my seat and how I ride.” Christine found she had no problem getting up at 4 AM to tack up Petersen’s horses. It was a quiet time in the barn when she bonded and learned from him.

With Vioen Duala at Wellington

When she moved to Florida, she brought a Dutch Warmblood mare she was rehabbing. After realizing how much more the mare was worth in Florida, Christine sold her and used those funds to realize a dream to go backpacking around the world. With no strings of a business, mortgage, horse, or relationship, it was the perfect time for an adventure, and a great way to integrate what she’d learned in Wellington while coming down from the intensity and fast pace of life there. After two years totally revolving around horses, competitions, and training schedules, Christine had learned what it takes to ride at the top levels in this sport. And she was ready for a change.

She bought a plane ticket and headed off solo, spending four months visiting horse friends in Europe before “stopping off” in Thailand on her way to Australia. After six months exploring Southeast Asia, she finished her adventure with visits to Bali, New Zealand, and Australia. “This trip rounded me out,” says Christine, “Traveling taught me to value my own soul before the sport.”

Eight years ago, returning to Port Townsend where her mother had moved to Heron Pond Farm, Christine started up her business again, this time joining Kim to work as a team—a shared dream of theirs—at Heron Pond Farm. 

With Hailey Gallagher and Emily Kilgore: LPSDC – ODS Champs 

Starting by offering lessons with school horses, Christine’s early students have now grown into riders and many have their own horses. Teaching all ages—she appreciates her “lovely crew” of adult amateurs—Christine is again involved in Pony Club—the same chapter she grew up in, as well as the Vashon Island Pony Club where she also teaches. 

After decades of riding and training, Christine finds joy in her work training the horse, improving the quality of the gaits, and helping riders feel connected with their horses. These are the students she loves to work with, valuing the horse before the sport or competition.

As her 40th birthday approaches in early in 2021, Christine is excited to develop a solid working student program at Heron Pond Farm to support someone aiming to become a trainer, wanting to work with many different kinds of horses, and develop skills ranging from rope halter, to long lining, to piaffe half steps. With two ADUs on the farm, she also offers cost effective short stay training packages. She always loves bringing good clinicians to her farm.

Christine appreciates the Lower Puget Sound Dressage Club schooling shows and their fun awards banquet. She loves the schooling shows because they are like an A system show with good judges at quality venues, but smaller, more fun, more friendly, and affordable. She approaches showing as a report card, and loves taking her riders to these shows for safe, positive, expanding experiences. She doesn’t train to show, rather she shows to train and receive valuable feedback. With so many unknowns this year, the LPSDC virtual show series has been a life saver, giving her riders a way to continue working towards their goals. 

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