Kelly showed a keen interest in horses as soon as she could walk. On her first visit to her aunt’s farm at the age of 4, she jumped her cousin’s horse, appropriately named Escape, over the small fence that surrounded their front yard and cantered away into the pasture. “I knew that I was going to get into trouble, but I knew that it would be worth it.”
That was the beginning of Kelly’s jumping career. At 8 years, she started taking lessons, and immediately began finding anything and everything to jump. Barrels, logs, picnic tables—anything that she could prop up. Determined to have her own horse, she had a “fundraiser” at her 8th birthday party. After inviting the entire 3rd and 4th grades, she requested that everyone bring a $5 donation toward the “Buy Kelly a Horse” fund. Instead, everyone brought her a stuffed horse.
Her mother would not allow her to return all the stuffed steeds and collect the money, so Kelly started doing odd jobs and saved $1,000 by the time that she was 12 years old. With money in hand, she got a newspaper and bought the only horse that was advertised—”Pokey” a 2-1/2 year old Foundation Quarter Horse mare (just started 60 days prior).
Pokey was Kelly’s transport to town, the local convenience store, the beach, her friend’s soccer games, and houses. And she also showed her in every 4H event. Then Kelly went to a 4H clinic on jumping. She was sold, and begged for an English saddle for Christmas and never looked back. She found a jumping/hunt seat trainer, and began taking lessons. She started showing in all the local shows that she could, winning numerous local championships in hunter over fences as well as jumpers.
In high school, Kelly developed an interest in Eventing. Living in Corpus Christi (just a few miles north of the famous King Ranch), the opportunities for competing were slim. After college however, she was able to expand her interest. She moved to South Carolina, which is one of the biggest areas for Eventing. There, she acquired a black TB gelding who she competed heavily in Dressage as well as through Training Level in Eventing. Excelling in Dressage, he was the Combined Training and Dressage Regional Horse of the Year in Training Level. Kelly reached a plateau with him in jumping. He did not have the heart to go to Preliminary. She then sought out a horse that could take her there.
George, i.e. Fortis Atticus entered her life. “He was an off the track Thoroughbred that was almost donated because he would only spin in circles in the dressage arena. His previous owner had him for 30 days and wanted to get rid of him. I saw his potential, and when I jumped him, I knew that he had the heart and the ability to go where I wanted to go.”
Kelly was not the only person that saw the horse’s amazing potential. In her first clinic with David O’Connor, David said, “We should put a big “S” on his chest for Super Jumper.” And told her, “not to even think about selling him, because you would never find another like him.” Two years later, when she was riding with Jim Graham, he told her that if George didn’t go lame or Kelly didn’t get pregnant that George would go to the World Games. He said, “You can write your own ticket with that horse.”
Kelly competed George through the Intermediate Levels with amazing success. He succeeded on the regional, national and international level. In 2002 George helped bring his team to 2nd place in the USEA Chronicle of the Horse Area IV Adult Team Championships, which qualified him and Kelly to compete in the National Adult Team Championships. In 2003 he was named the Central Texas Preliminary Horse of the Year, and Kelly was named the Preliminary Rider of the Year.
As Kelly was experiencing highs in the show arena, she was also experiencing lows. “As I started to move up the levels, I began to lose my confidence. At the time, I had no idea how this lack of leadership would affect my horse. I assumed that he would just pack me around. George began to be more difficult to handle, and he stopped loading into the trailer. At this point, I knew that I had to do something.”
After days of attempting to load this top competition horse who had been all over the country and world, Kelly became very discouraged. Her neighbor suggested that she call a friend of hers who was a nurse. “I really had no idea how a nurse could help me, but I was desperate. I called the lady, and she came out and starting playing with my horse on the ground. I had no idea what she was doing. It looked so foreign to me. Within 15 minutes, my horse was loading in and out calmly, and then standing without trying to run out backwards. I was amazed. I asked the lady how she did that, and I asked if she could show me some of these methods. She agreed, and I set up a time. I then went and talked to the barn owner who was irate that I allowed a Parelli person on the place, so I ended up moving to another ‘Parelli friendly’ barn down the road.”
“I met with the nurse again and she showed me the Seven Games. Better yet, she also gave me all of the information I needed to get started with Parelli. I immediately bought the Level One pack and the tools. I was so excited that there was actually a program that I could go through to achieve a high level of safety and communication with my horse.”
Kelly stuck to the program, completed a ten-week school module and attained her Level 2. That following summer, she received her Level 3 during her first University Module. She stayed on, attending two more University Modules in which she continued to develop her Savvy, and received Instructor Stars in Young Horses, Foundation Training, Horsemanship, Dressage, Jumping, and Reining.
Kelly took on the role as the Parelli Tour Manager for the 2005 National Tour. In the Fall of 2005 she attended the new 6 Week Course Module as well as taking part in the Faculty training. At that time, she received her 2 Star Parelli Instructor rating. Kelly received her Third Star in 2009, and received her Level 4 in January of 2010. Since then, Kelly has returned back to the Parelli campus at least once a year to train with Pat and Linda Parelli. She assisted in teaching the Two Star Professional course in February 2012, led Fast Track at the Parelli Colorado Campus in August 2012, and led the 2013 Summer Course.
In 2011, Kelly attended the Operations Level Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER, Inc.) course. She realized how much this training paralleled the Parelli system and what value it had to offer Parelli students. She then teamed up with Justin and Tori McLeod from the North Carolina Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team (NCSMART) to develop a course which coaches the backyard horse owner, as well as barn managers, equine professionals, and anyone in the equine field to better prepare themselves and their horses for an equine emergency.
2012 also ushered in an exciting partnership between Kelly and Colleen Kelly of Rider Biomechanics and the International Society of Rider Biomechanics. Kelly trained to become one of Colleen’s coaches, and in doing so, received the highest score in North America on her written exam. Since then, Kelly has been teaching Colleen’s program and has developed a unique Super Clinic with Colleen that partners Rider Biomechanics and Parelli. Kelly is head of the Teacher Training Program, as well as a board member of the International Society of Rider Biomechanics. Kelly is the only instructor certified to teach Colleen’s program in a clinic format.
In addition to Kelly’s new alliances in coaching, she has also partnered with Dream Equine, a non-for profit that rescues nurse foals and mares that were used in this industry. Kelly and her top student, Nicola Steffanina, help naturalize and train these horses at no charge so that they can find a forever home.
In her “spare time” Kelly spends time with her young son, Reed, and husband Jim, at their 28-acre farm, Looking Glass Farm. Scout, her Jack Russell, still thinks she runs the farm and Kelly and her family, along with any visitors, are just there to spoil her. Their newest quadruped is Gertie, a 160-pound English Mastiff they adopted from a rescue in Ohio. She was rescued after being used as a mommy in a puppy mill and now her only pup is Reed who she adores. Gertie thinks she had another puppy and Reed thinks he got a pony.
Looking Glass Farm still has the occasional transient dog, or dogs, that find their way somehow, usually via Nicola’s big heart and love for animals, to the farm that are temporarily sheltered, fed, and cared for until a good home is found. Kelly still plays with Buckley, now 18, and her newest addition, Regalo, a 5-year old off-the-track TB. Maggie, her Swedish Warmblood mare is semi retired and just had a foal, Patriot. Life continues.
Aiken South Carolina Natural Horsemanship
Anne L. Dutton