It’s 8:35 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, March 18, 2017, and the temperature in Wellington, Florida is starting to heat up. We are on our way to Grand Prix Village to sit in on a lesson between U25 rider Katherine Strauss and her veteran trainer, Beezie Madden. We arrive with the sun now well over the palm trees are met by the sound of morning chores.

Upon entering the yellow-toned facility, we are greeted by the resident barn dogs, who join us as we make our way to the sand arena, where Katherine is already on her second ride of the day.

“I usually stay up pretty late during this time of year to finish all my schoolwork, so my morning routine is basically about maximizing sleep and finding coffee! This may sound a little ridiculous, but coffee is a critical part of my mornings. I’m definitely not a morning person, so it helps me be more alert and give my horses the attention they deserve,” Strauss says.

Along with hoofbeats, snorts, and the filling of water buckets, the soundtrack of the morning includes a faint echo coming from the direction of the announcer’s stand at the nearby Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, host to the nearly three-month long Winter Equestrian Festival.

Back in the barn, groom Georgie De Rham is preparing Executive, the 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Stolzenberg x Nimroy B) for his quickly approaching lesson with Katherine. The two first competed together in June of 2016, and have since been developing a strong foundation.

9:15 a.m. Katherine gets on Executive and is joined by fellow U25 rider and Madden student, Madison Goetzman. Guest rider Taylor Griffiths brings the group lesson to three, and they begin their unguided warmups in preparation.

Today, Katherine is focusing primarily on figure eight exercises, downward transitions, and trot circles.

“Executive is a very big and scopey horse, so we place an emphasis on shortness and lightness in our training,” said Strauss. “Specifically, I try to incorporate a lot of transitions and lateral work into our daily routine. Even though he is such a powerful horse, Beezie reminds me that I can get through to him more effectively by giving frequently to positively reinforce his cooperativeness, rather than using my own sheer strength to address his.”

Coming from an earlier commitment, Beezie enters the arena to school the 18-year-old KWPN gelding Simon over small fences. When she’s finished, the arena is split in half to accommodate those in her session and the riders schooling on their own.

9:36 a.m. The students are warmed up and ready for the start of their lesson. The riders start out at the walk with shortened reins, with Beezie encouraging them to get their horses on the bit with the aid of their supporting leg. At the walk, they focus on shoulder-in, before halting and resuming the same exercise at the trot. The riders collect in the corner while being reminded to keep their hands above the withers, practicing the exercises in both directions.

They then canter on the straightaways, shoulder-in to the sitting trot in the corners.  They do a half seat to lengthen the canter and then sit to collect it, keeping the contact throughout by remaining soft and subtle with their hands.

9:55 a.m. The horses are allowed to return to the walk, and the riders let them stretch and take a breather before they begin the next exercise.

10:03 a.m. With the full arena now available, the group begins some cavaletti work. “One of the exercises we practice most frequently is [doing] 3, 4, 5, and even 6 strides between cavalettis. To execute the exercise smoothly, you must have your horse extremely adjustable, which is also critical when competing,” Strauss explains.

“Sometimes, we do this same exercise making walk or trot transitions in between the cavalettis, incorporating a lateral movement to correct straightness, or without stirrups. Overall, the exercise has allowed me to work on a range of fundamental skills.”

10:16 a.m. The lesson finishes and the riders walk their horses out on the grass arena near the front of the barn. Katherine, a junior in high school, plans to spend the next several hours catching up on her schoolwork.

“I try to mentally compartmentalize, but I’d be lying if I told you I don’t sometimes stress about all the work I have due Monday when warming up for a class on Sunday. To avoid the mental distraction, I try to be organized about getting my work done during the week,” Strauss says.

“I’ve been commuting between New York City and Wellington since I was showing in the pony hunters, so I’m lucky I’ve had many years to practice. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten is to ‘be where your feet are’ so that you can put all your energy into doing each thing you care about as well as possible.”

-Photography by Tori Repole.