Jessica Flaherty

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Barn Name: Flaherty Equestrian at Navillus Farm

Location: Davidsonville, Maryland

Jessica Flaherty began riding through a park and planning 10 week introductory program at the age of eight. She quickly fell in love not only with riding, but with the care of the horses, and wanted to learn everything she could about these magnificent animals. Jessica enrolled in summer camp and lessons that year and the following, and at the age of ten, was admitted into a working student program and short stirrup show team at Clay Hill Stables in Landover, Maryland. Under the instruction of Emmie Prettyman, She learned how to care for, ride, recondition, and compete with various types of horses.

Jessica’s family moved when she was twelve, and she was forced to locate another riding facility. Jessica needed to find a working student program, as her parents were unable to financially support her growing addiction. She found a home at Loftmar Stables in Bowie, Maryland, where she worked as a working student for the next three years, including working as a junior counselor at the summer camp. While at Loftmar, she was presented the opportunity to show the farm’s horses, as well as work at the farm enough to pay board on one of my own.

Jessica’s first horse developed navicular disease not long after she acquired him. While this was heartbreaking for a thirteen year old, looking back it was a wonderful learning experience. She was able to learn first-hand what it takes to keep a horse comfortable and happy when his genetics are fighting against human efforts. Austin was ultimately retired as a companion horse, and Jessica spent the next year looking for a new companion of her own. Jessica did not want a “push button” finished horse- She wanted one she could learn with. She found a ragged, off-the-track thoroughbred, and was in love.

Jessica knew this little chestnut horse was special, but did not find much support with her trainer at the time, who had wanted her to purchase something she could win with right away. Jessica moved “Magoo” to Tag Along Farm in Davidsonville, Maryland, where he and Jessica both blossomed. In addition to riding and training her own horse, she was offered working student opportunities, the opportunity to teach lead line and walk-trot lessons, and schooling rides on farm and boarder horses. Magoo and Jessica had several very successful years of showing together, before Jessica was injured in a car accident and had to take a hiatus from riding.

Though she could not ride, Jessica still wanted to be around horses. She spent many early mornings braiding at horse shows, and watching other people ride. Once she was cleared to ride again a year later, Jessica stumbled upon a position as a hot walker and groom at the Bowie Race Track. She was only able to hold this job over the summer, due to school, but feels it was a valuable experience as it exposed her to different training and stable management practices. When this summer job ended, she learned that there was a barn manager position open at Loftmar, where she had worked as a working student years before.

During this time, Jessica acquired a rescued filly (6-8 months old) that was found on the side of the road by Salisbury Police. A friend of Jessica’s, who was a police officer involved in finding the filly, called her to help. She held the filly for thirty days while they attempted to locate the owner. No owner was found, and Jessica was informed she had the right to sell the horse if she so desired. While the police department was looking for an owner, Jessica was busy rehabilitating the filly, who was injured (she was found wrapped in barbed wire), severely malnourished, and fearful of people. The filly had slowly begun to trust Jessica and gain weight when Jessica received the call that no owner had been located. It didn’t take much thought to decide that this filly deserved a chance at life, and that Jessica wanted to see what she would become. 10 years later, Jessica still has her.

The barn manager position at Loftmar Stables included stable management as well as caring for the health and well-being of over thirty lesson horses, show horses, and boarders. That spring, Loftmar hosted a CHA (Certified Horsemanship Association) instructor certification clinic, which Jessica participated in. Upon completing the program, she had earned a Master Trainer Certification, which she still holds. That summer Jessica was offered, in addition to the barn manager position, a head instructor position for the summer camp. After summer camp she was offered a full-time instructor position, including coaching the Short Stirrup Equestrian Team, and the Archbishop Spalding High School Equitation Team. She quickly fell in love with teaching riders how to become partners with their horses.

During this time, another rescue horse came Jessica’s way. Her name was Mariah, and she was an emaciated, cushinoid, ancient Welsh pony, who was obviously dying. Jessica picked her up, not expecting her to live long, but hoping to ease her pain and show her love in her last days. She gained weight, her cushings improved with diet and medication, and she lived another 2 years before succumbing to heart failure at the (vet estimated) age of 42.

After teaching and coaching riders for several years, Jessica was presented the opportunity to saddle break a boarder’s two-year-old, and also train a young morgan gelding who had arrived freshly gelded 2 months prior, with 30 days under saddle training as a stallion. She was also in the process of breaking her own two young mares, and retraining her daughter’s pony that arrived with a bolting issue. These scenarios, occurring almost simultaneously, solidified Jessica’s belief in gentle, horse-centered training practices. She believe that it is important to treat the horse with respect, not only as a partner, but respect to the fact that he is a 1200+ pound animal that could kill you if he really wanted to. She believes it is important to ask the horse to do things that it is capable of, and build on tasks that it already knows. For example, it is simply unfair to expect a horse to piaffe down the center line when he has not yet mastered a half pass. It is unreasonable to expect a horse to stand still to be mounted if he has never been ridden before.

Building upon these ideas, Jessica believes a horse needs to be presented with building blocks of training that make sense to him, and are packaged in ways he can absorb without becoming frustrated or scared. She also believes that the horse needs quiet time to process what he has learned. She believes each horse is as different as each person, and each horse should be allowed to find a career path that is suitable for him physically, mentally, and emotionally. Not every thoroughbred can or wants to jump, and not every quarter horse can or wants to cut cattle. If a trainer can recognize a horse’s strengths as well as his weaknesses, they can manipulate the horse’s training to bring out its fullest potential.

Jessica’s training methods can be best described as following a natural horsemanship approach. However, she does not wish to be branded or limited by the commercialism surrounding that idea. She uses steady, gentle pressure to get the horse to figure out what she may be asking for, and remove the pressure when an attempt, any attempt, is made. This evolves into removing the pressure when a remotely correct attempt is made, and eventually into praise and rest at finding the correct answer. Jessica strives to ensure the correct answer is never out of the horse’s reach or comfort zone- the correct answer must always be attainable to the horse at his level of training.

Jessica currently owns four horses that live at her farm in Davidsonville, Maryland. Each of them is a rescue of some form or another. Her Arabian mare is the filly mentioned earlier that was found on the side of the road. She is schooling small fences along with developing her courage as a competitive trail mount. Her pony is the second pony mentioned previously that arrived as an owner surrender due to a bolting issue. She had two successful years as a leadline pony, and is now happily competing w/t/c, 2’ hunter courses, novice eventing, and in pony club. Jessica acquired her appaloosa after the lesson program she was being used in could no longer manage her. She was aggressive and fearful of humans, and had foundered. She is now sound, loves people, and is semi-retired as a beginner trail mount. Jessica’s fourth horse is the morgan mentioned previously. He was purchased by an adult walk-trot student of mine (against my recommendation) as a fresh-cut, young gelding. She spent 18 months working with the horse before she was able to convince the student that he simply was not suitable for her intentions or level of experience. She did not wish to go through the “hassle” of trying to sell him, and signed him over to Jessica. He is now a very successful power and speed jumper and barrel racer.

Jessica wants all of my horses to become solid, respectable citizens. She want all of her horses to be safe on the ground, and to trust that humans mean them no harm. Jessica wants all of her horses to succeed in whatever discipline suits them best: competitively, or simply as a backyard trail mount. As long as they are happy, and their riders are happy, Jessica is happy.