About her love affair with horses Kristen Bouchard quips, “It’s a bug that bites you.” If that’s the case, her entire family has been infected. Kristen and her daughter Cassidy operate Washington County Stables in South Kingstown, RI. Kristen’s husband, Darrell II, and their younger daughter Casey ride as well. Darrell also helps with arena maintenance.
Kristen’s love of horses started early. She was six years old when her parents brought home three horses and “threw them” at her. From that moment on, every spare second she had was spent handling and watching the animals. She recalls, “I did two things: I did schoolwork and I did horses.”
Soon she noticed the way horses used their bodies, their voices and their expressions to communicate with each other. As children will, she tried “talking” to the horses by mimicking their behaviors. It worked. Unbeknownst to her, she was becoming skilled in “natural horsemanship,” a term she would not learn for another couple of decades.
Kristen began taking lessons in Western. Then she added English. She showed both English and Western pleasure. She loved her hobby but it was just a hobby. When Kristen and Darrell were married, she joined him working on his family’s turf farm.
Cassidy was young when her mother bought her a pony and “she never got off.” Cassidy is a multi-disciplinary rider like her mother, pursuing dressage and earning a National Barrel Horse Association state championship.
A family of riders needs horses to ride and it wasn’t long before the Bouchards owned six. All of them were boarded at a nearby stable. Cassidy was showing great aptitude for training horses and had announced her intention to make that her career. She says, “I never really had an interest in doing anything else.”
Six years ago, Kristen and Cassidy decided to open Washington County Stables. Darrell’s parents gave them 60 acres of land for the endeavor. The original plan was to build a 16-stall barn for the family’s herd of 10 and a few of their close friends’ horses. They built the barn, an attached indoor arena and an outdoor arena. They also put up fencing and run-ins.
At Washington County Stables, the primary goal has always been to do what is best for the horse. Kristen said, “We let horses be horses here.” The natural condition for horses is to be outside in a herd to graze at will. Every aspect of farm management is designed to provide maximum turnout in social groups on the best feed possible.
It is no surprise then that the Bouchards’ pasture management is almost an art form. Turnouts follow a rotational grazing plan. The pastures are cleaned with a manure vacuum daily to minimize flies and parasites. The manure is hauled into a wooded area where landscapers collect it for fertilizer.
In dry conditions, the Bouchards use the turf farm’s irrigation system to ensure lush grass throughout the growing season. Kristen laughs, “We’re never in a drought!” The indoor has its own irrigation as well to control dust.
It wasn’t long before the original plan spiraled into something much bigger. As their friends saw the results Cassidy and Kristen achieved with their methods, they wanted help with training their own horses. The Bouchards began to get a reputation for being able to work with “problem” horses. One such horse is a big Percheron named Captain Rhett Butler who was brought in for training by the Providence police. After applying her methods, Kristen rode him as part of a synchronized riding team for three years. She now uses him as a lesson horse for advanced beginners.
Horse and rider are a unit. It is important that both parts of that unit share a common language and a common goal. As the Bouchards worked with the horses, they automatically learned about the horses’ owners. They soon realized it was just as important to work with the riders as with the horses. Kristen says, “It’s sort of retraining them to understand what the horse is.” And so it was that the training program gave birth to an equally successful lesson program.
They tell of “the girls,” fearful young riders who came in several years ago with “train wreck ponies.” Cassidy and Kristen took the ponies in hand, retraining them using the natural horsemanship approach. The girls began picking up the philosophy. Now Cassidy beams, “You watch them and can tell how good they are…with the same horses.”
Kristen credits their dramatic results to two things: “fantastic” lesson horses and natural horsemanship. With beginning riders, the horses are as much teachers as Kristen or Cassidy. Kristen said, “We can’t have any ‘pills’ in our program.”
With responsive horses and natural horsemanship, the Bouchards can use subtle body cues to “direct things from the ground”. As riders gain confidence and expertise, the trainers gradually hand over control to the riders. Cassidy asserts, “I’ve never seen those methods, applied correctly, fail.”
In the beginning, Cassidy only taught lessons part-time. As the students increased, so did her hours. The program now numbers around 50 students. Cassidy, age 22, is the full-time head trainer/instructor. The farm boards 26 horses in addition to the family’s 10. They will be putting up another three-stall barn this spring. Cassidy and Kristen have also expanded their offerings to include two one-week summer camps, a 4-H club, education clinics and participation in competitions. They offer guided rides off-site or through their own 20-acre woodland.
One might think the Bouchards have as much as they can handle. They don’t agree. Cassidy has just acquired a new project. “Gamble” comes from an abusive background. He is a head-shy, untrusting Hanoverian who has been sitting for five years. He is the sort of horse many people would run from. Not Cassidy. She says simply, “I work well with that type of fearful horse.”
When asked about additional plans, Kristen just smiles. “Anything’s possible for the future.”