Doing Our Best for Our Horses with Allison Springer
Allison Springer is perhaps best known for her close partnership with her late horse, Arthur. The two spent 12 years together competing at the FEI level — which is no small feat. And while it would
Allison Springer is perhaps best known for her close partnership with her late horse, Arthur. The two spent 12 years together competing at the FEI level — which is no small feat. And while it would be a rare horse who could fill Arthur’s hoofprints, Allison has some very exciting new horses in her string. We caught up with her to discuss the best way to produce these horses up the levels and how to maintain them for a long career, while putting their health and happiness first.
Meet Her String of Up-and-Comers
Allison has quite a few new and exciting horses on her string, including full brother and sister Crystal Crescent Moon and No May Moon, both bred and owned by Nancy Winter.
Allison describes nine-year-old No May Moon as a “beast.” The quarter Connemara mare is sensitive and feisty, with a big personality, and lots of talent. She now has two CCI3*-L finishes under her belt, most recently claiming fourth place in the 3*-L at Tryon International. According to Allison, “She’s little, and she is fierce, and she’s fabulous. She’s on a roll.”
Her brother, 10-year-old Crystal Crescent Moon, unfortunately suffered an injury in 2021, but is on track to be back in the competition arena later this spring or summer.
Vandyke, owned by the RICO Syndicate and bred by Deborah Palmer, was purchased from Karen Dixon in Northern Ireland. The nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding has been tricky to produce, but, as Allison said, “The juice is worth the squeeze.” While he was the Preliminary Horse of the Year when he was six, he’s had a few tricky years since then. “I think he got overwhelmed a bit as a seven year old at the Maryland three-star at the end of the year with all that atmosphere. So his eight-year-old year, he was a little bit tricky in the dressage. He’s just matured a ton since then. He’s a super, super jumper, so I’m really excited about where he’s at.”
Last but not least, Allison recently got the ride on Castle Howard Romeo, owned by Fran Robinson and previously competed by Leslie Law. Buying this horse took a little bit of faith, as Allison bought him sight unseen, off a video forwarded to her by Richard Picken and Joanie Morris. “I bought him off a video about this time last year from Kitty King. Kitty’s just such a straightforward, easy person to deal with and we just did a lot of videos back and forth on him and then I had my friend Rebecca Howard just go sit on him in England.”
A Standard Week on Allison’s Farm
Every top eventer has their own “secret recipe” for creating an upper level horse. Whether it’s their unique approach to fitness or daily horse care, they each have a different philosophy on producing young horses. Allison’s approach is to go slow.
Whether it’s a client horse or one of her own competition horses, all of the horses on Allison’s farm follow roughly the same schedule. “It’s a couple days of flat work, a day of jumping, a couple days of fitness sort of work and a day off. That sort of fluctuates a little here and there.”
When you hear words like flatwork and fitness work, your brain may immediately think trot sets, intense hill work, lots of collection, and the like. If this were a movie, it would be the montage scene with the Rocky theme song playing in the background. In reality, Allison’s standard work week is nothing like this. Her fitness and flatwork focuses on taking things slow – literally.
“They’re actually just doing light walking cavalettis in my field and some trot poles and canter poles. So it’s a really stretchy, over the back, short ride. I love walk cavalettis, because it really loosens their backs, makes them lift their legs. They’re not on the bit. It’s just kind of a loose rein. I think it’s just so good for their body.”
Allison is a big believer in walking and hacking. “My horses all do a ton of walking every day; even on their show jump days or dressage school days, they still go on long walk hacks. I just think that’s really important for their bodies, their minds, their everything.”
Depending on the horse, Allison may also include a day of work on the aqua treadmill at a nearby facility. Allison reserves this particular tool for horses who have a conformational defect that could benefit from strengthening without the added pounding of additional fitness work. For example, horses with a club foot or slightly crooked leg would get a day of work on the aqua treadmill under Allison’s watchful eye. “The aqua treadmill is great if you want to improve the top line. Actually, even the horse’s gait and walk really improves a ton.”
Allison’s goal with her fitness and conditioning routine is simple: to keep her horses happy. “I’ve always been someone who believes it’s my job to make my horses’ jobs as easy for them as possible, easy for them to understand, and easy for them to do physically. I feel like we have a real responsibility to keep them comfortable and happy.”
If you walk into Allison’s barn at any point in time, you may find a horse getting a little extra TLC in the form of the latest technology. “We are always doing some sort of therapy. I have my Equilibrium back massager to warm up certain backs and that’s amazing. I have a Bemer system that I use on a number of horses. RevitaVet, I love the poll cap on some horses that have different issues. And I have my Multi Radiance laser. We can use all kinds of therapies that I have depending on what a horse may need.”
Allison also credits her horses’ good health to the team she has working with her. All of her horses get a monthly massage from Kendra McQuillen, who also checks the fit of her horses’ saddles — a check that Allison schedules in very regularly. “Most of my horses are pretty easy keepers, which is amazing even at a high level of sport, but their bodies will change quite a bit as they get fitter towards your long format events. So I think that correct saddle fit and having a consistent therapist be hands on is super important.”
She also works closely with her veterinarian, Dr. Susan Johns, and her long-time farrier, Sean Crocker, to ensure all of the horses get exactly what they need, when they need it. According to Allison, her horses wouldn’t get the care they need without the collaborative effort of her team. “Between those three, they notice whatever changes, and they’re always so good at communicating certain changes, and things that they may feel. It’s a pretty good collaborative effort.”
At the core of Allison’s horse care is her belief in listening to the horse. Of course, she says, some of her horses are more vocal about what they need than others. “[No May Moon] is super sensitive and fabulous, so she’s very good about letting us know if something’s wrong. She’ll give us her little angry llama face. Like ‘oh, Mazie’s not happy, what is it? What can we do for you?’”
Allison believes that the key to healthy, happy horses is in the day-to-day riding and management. “Their long-term soundness and health relies so much on how we ride and train them and make them happy, balanced, and correct athletes.”
Planning a Competition Season for Long-Term Soundness
Everyone talks about planning a competition season, especially earlier in the year when I talked with Allison. Because she has a great record of maintaining horses at the upper levels, I wanted to hear her approach to planning a competition season specifically with an eye to putting the horse’s health and soundness first.
Allison’s response focused on two key concepts: working backwards and leaving room for flexibility. “You work backwards as to what competitions, what fitness schedule [you’ll plan] leading up to your goal; what that’s going to look like and what’s the best thing for those horses. Always, when you’re planning a schedule, you have to have a little flexibility.”
Flexibility in a competition schedule is big for Allison, as it leaves room to make decisions that are best for the welfare of the horse. For example, says Allison, “What if the ground is hard and it’s not going to rain, and you’re going to miss your typical gallop day? Feeling like you have to gallop anyways is what’s not going to be good for your horse. You have to have some flexibility and then you also have to be smart about what that particular horse needs.”
“You make your plan, and now you have to listen to them and be able to change your plan if you need to.”
When to Move Up the Levels
How do you decide to move your horse up the levels, while also taking their long-term soundness and overall health into account? Every move-up is a risk, and depending on the horse, that risk could be big or small, but each time, we risk their safety and confidence. Allison’s approach of tuning in to the horse and letting them guide your goals mediates that risk.
“You just have to have patience, consistency, and belief,” she says.
According to Allison, it’s best to let the horse tell you when they’re ready to move up, which is no small feat. “It’s knowing your horse and doing everything you can for them to be fit enough and prepared enough for the competition you’re presenting them with. It’s hard. It takes a bit of experience for people, too. I mean, a lot of times you don’t know how your horse will handle the competition or what your horse needs.”
For example, No May Moon was a particularly challenging ride that Allison chose to take her time going up the levels with. “She was a baby and she was so fractious, and spooky, and irrational, and all those things. I took an extra long time with her. I just waited for her to tell me, and now she’s just so fierce and bold. I think that’s only because I just kept cooking; just let her stay where she needed to be.”
At the end of the day, my biggest takeaway from talking with Allison was that every rider, no matter how experienced, always has more to learn. What matters most is our intention, our goals, and that we keep trying to put our horses first.
As Allison says, “I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m trying my best to do the best for my horses all the time.”
This article is brought to you thanks to sponsorship from World Equestrian Brands, also longtime supporters of Allison and her program. Allison is grateful to be partnered with sponsors that have the same approach to horse welfare as she does. “Certainly Robin Moore with World Equestrian Brands is a long-time friend and she’s so committed to what’s best for the animal. And has always been so involved with that, and I’m so grateful to her.”
Allison’s favorite saddle isn’t just high-quality — it’s sentimental as well. “I, of course, love all my Amerigo saddles, but I have a special connection to my ‘Arthur’ dressage saddle! We just have one horse in the barn that goes in it now, but every time I sit in it I can feel him and all the great memories we made together.”