How would you describe what you do?
One of the best jobs in the world! I get to work daily with some beautiful horses. I work alongside my sister with training mostly Arabians and Half Arabians, we keep the horses conditioned for the owner and then get to teach the owner(from youth to adults) how to work with their horse and show it to their highest potential
What is a typical day at the barn for Sondra McPadden?
A typical day for me is starting the day off with the daily care of all the horses. We feed, water, and also clean all of the stalls for morning chores; then bed all of the stalls and clean up the barn before people start coming for lessons and training. In the summer we have a helper with this but the rest of the year all up to us! Then, I will start giving my riding lessons for the day or working the horses that I have in training; horses need to be worked almost everyday just like an athlete would exercise, so keeping them in shape is very important. Then, it’s a noon feeding for the show horses again and checking waters, more lessons and training and then evening chores of feeding and watering; in the long summer days we will usually always work until dark. We also do all the upkeep of the farm with the help from our Dad and even do our own hay in the summer; we do it all! So it’s never a dull day. I also am blessed that my 3 year old son comes out with me everyday and Grandma(my Mom) helps watch him while we get all the work done If a show is coming up, we will be busy with those daily tasks along with packing all of the show gear in trailer and getting the horses “show ready” with clipping and bathing.
What makes the Arabian Breed your primary breed of choice?
My mom passed on her love of the Arabian breed to us for sure. I have worked with many breeds in my training years but I just have a special bond with the Arabians; they are smart and usually fast learners. Mom started breeding Arabians when I was young; and I’ve grown up loving the versatility of the breed. Whether its trail riding or the highest level of showing, they are my breed of choice. You can go to an Arabian show and go to one arena and see the athleticism of them working cows, or the next arena the beauty and poise setting up for Halter, then in another arena the pure power of an English horse trotting high with their perfect tail carriage; and then their kindness in another with a little rider in walk trot. They can do it all and look beautiful doing it!!
How did you get started training horses?
I believe I got asked when I was 13 or 14 years old to train someone’s horse for them. I was so nervous! I believe they asked me because many people knew my Mom around the area and I had literally rode horses since I could walk and they saw that and just asked if I would be interested to train their young horse. To me, seemed an easy answer, “ride a horse AND get paid?? Ok!” I wasn’t nervous really to actually do the work with the horse because that was the part I enjoyed; but to then teach that owner what I had taught their horse and then give them lessons to teach what I was doing I didn’t know if I would ever get used to! Especially adults worried me ha! But, I started getting more and more comfortable with it. It just grew from there, I started to train more and more horses and go to bigger shows and things just fell into place. I actually went to college and was going to totally give up training and become an amateur. But, when I came back from college I could not stay away from training and I absolutely love teaching lessons and I decided to do this completely full time.
Can you tell us about your first horse?
So, I was blessed to have kind of a few “first” horses since my Mom had them I had one that was really mine but I didn’t show him until I was a little older as he knew nothing and I did all the training on him by myself no trainer help. My first “show horse” for walk -trot was a beautiful chestnut with a blaze and white socks named Desi. Again, my Mom bred him she owned both the sire and dam. Desi went on to touch so many lives as we ended up using him for all our beginners for our lesson program. He definitely tested me, he was so full of life back then and wanted to do it his way sometimes! He challenged me but in a great way that I am so thankful for and taught me so much. Also, I showed him in literally EVERY discipline. We started SaddleSeat which will always be my first love. But, he went on to be a great western horse, I think I even ran barrels with him at 4H! I used him for 4H and then went on to do Arabian shows and he even took me to my first Regionals in Walk-trot. He actually just passed away a few weeks ago at 32 years young. He lived a great life and was loved by all!
Can you talk about your favorite parts about each discipline?
Saddle Seat – My favorite! I’ve always loved the power and the mind of the English horses. There is no bigger rush then being on a big trotting horse with their heads high and moving with so much effort. It is such an adrenaline rush to take this animal that looks like they want to jump out of their skin with excitement and you get on them and work with them to control that and put all the energy into their movement and entertaining the judges and crowd.
Hunt Seat – I have to be honest, when I was a kid I hated hunt seat. It has came SO far in the Arabian breed and now I absolutely LOVE the hunters! The breeders are doing a phenomenal job of perfecting this discipline. These horses are driving with so much grace from the hind end and I also love especially with the Half Arabians that their are so many different types of looks with all the different breeds to choose from. The training is so perfected as well; soft in the bridle and really engaging the horse to work to their full potential and so steady!
Western – One of the BEST classes to watch at Nationals is the Arabian Western Pleasure Open. They are perfection! They have them beyond worked; the headset never moves with the loosest rein you might as well be riding bridleless! The transitions, the hand gallop is something everyone needs to see in person! I give those western trainers so much credit!
Any guidance you can provide new riders?
I feel like I could go on and on with this subject. I always tell my riders to set your own goals. Each class you need to focus on what you and that horse in that moment want to work on and literally drown out everything else around you outside of that arena(except your coach lol!). If you save your energy for just completely zoning in on your horse and ride, it will go so much better! 100% no ride will ever be exactly the same and you have to realize that and be able to adjust. Also, your horse has bad days just like we do and as a team you have to learn to work with each other as rider and horse. They are your partner; learn to work with your partner and guide them as much as possible. As a new rider I think it’s so important that you spend as much time as you can with your horse outside that show arena. Create a bond with them. Make them trust you and WANT to work for you.