Dressage Trainer Lives Out Dream Of Many Children
by Nancy Brannon
When you ask Aaron Wilson how he got to be a top-rated dressage trainer and how he got the trainer's position at Massar Stables in Arlington, Tennessee, he will tell you that he started out like many other children: at 12 years of age he started cleaning stalls for his neighbors in southern Illinois. Just like the "B.C." cartoon strip, the job of stable hand is the entry-level position for most children who develop an interest in horses. Most of the farms near where Aaron lived were small breeding operations, where he learned the knack of working with foals and started breaking young horses at age 16. It is apropos that the stables where he got his start in showing had mainly Arabians. He, at first, went to the local "fun" shows, and then as his skills and horses improved, he started going to the Class A Arabian shows in that region.
A trainer of Arabians in Missouri noted his success, so at age 19 he got his first full time position breaking horses. Although he was training Arabians exclusively in western style, he was fascinated by the dressage work of a boarder at this stable. This boarder had a Warm blood and she had learned dressage from a trainer in England. He knew that dressage is good basic training for any other discipline, so he solicited lessons from her. He had a show hunter that he was riding at the time and it was his job mainly to keep the horse in condition for its owner. Even though his background was in western riding and he was competing a reining horse, he began to get compliments on his riding improvement as he took dressage lessons. So Aaron was from this point hooked on dressage!
Aaron moved around the mid-west working for various Arabian trainers and soon became the head trainer at a stable in Kansas City, Kansas. A close friend had received an offer to manage Arlene Rigdon's stable nearby. Arlene Rigdon is well known in the dressage discipline as an S judge (meaning Senior Judge) and a Sport Horse Judge. As it turned out, Arlene had a difficult young horse, so Aaron's friend asked for his help in working with the horse. Aaron went to ride the horse as a favor to his friend and, as Arlene watched, she was impressed with the horse's progress and offered Aaron a job.
Aaron saw this as an opportunity to broaden his horizons, so he left his comfort zone of western riding to learn more about dressage training. He was impressed with how harmonious the relationship between horse and rider is in dressage - without all the devices and gimmicks. He also realized that if one can ride dressage, one could ride all other disciplines much better. After all, dressage means the basic training of the horse. So he accepted the job working for Arlene Rigdon.
Now he was working strictly in the dressage world and gradually began selling his western tack. Throughout his career he has always sought improvement and learning. While he forte' was starting young horses, he has started approximately 350 in his career, he began to work with a few horses that he was able to take to upper levels in dressage. He rode one horse that had been trained to the Prix St. Georges level. All the time he was riding for clients, he was also taking dressage instruction from Arlene Rigdon. In fact, he progressed to the point that he earned the bronze medal from USDF in third level and the silver medal from USDF in Prix St. Georges level. Riding with Arlene, he got lots of experience from the intermediate to the advanced levels. Aaron says that, "upper level riding is so gratifying, as well as being very hard work."
The year after he started working with Arlene he was showing a horse at third level that qualified for the USDF national championships. He got to compete at the American Royal Building show and his very talented horse won the national championship. That was also the year he left Kansas City - on a very high note!
Next he traveled to Claremore, Oklahoma where he worked for Woodridge Farm as their head dressage trainer. There he started training a stallion and was also able to get instruction from top dressage trainers Jochen Hippenstiel and Felicities von Newman-Cousel. As he continued his lessons, he also trained and competed the stallion from first level to Prix St. Georges level.
So what circumstances brought him to the Massey's stable in Arlington, Tennessee? Being head trainer at a breeding operation is restrictive in the fact that one is always needed at the barn for care of mares and foals and long-term travel to shows is out of the question. Aaron wanted to travel to Florida or shows where he would be gone for longer periods of time. He also wanted to start his own business as a professional trainer, rather than continue working for others. So his fiance Cynthia Sera was networking for him and found this job offer over the Internet. The Massey's farm seemed to be a good opportunity because they didn't need a full time trainer. Here he could be the part-time trainer for the Masseys and develop his own business as a professional trainer. So the position has worked out well for both parties.
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