Ruth Hogan Poulsen reflects on Sarah Cleland, Barn Manager and Instructor at East Hill Farm (Vermont), and then Sarah shares her tale of developing as a rider and instructor, as well as managing operations year-round at East Hill Farm.
As the owner of East Hill Farm, I have to say that the quality management and teaching and training that Sarah is contributing to, is second to none.Ruth Hogan Poulsen
From Ruth’s Perspective
Sarah Cleland has been one of the biggest assets to East Hill Farm since its original founders, Kathie and Jeannette.
As the owner of East Hill Farm, I have to say that the quality management and teaching and training that Sarah is contributing to, is second to none. The consideration and attention to detail goes well above and beyond.
Even this past month when I sent a letter the boarders saying that we were going to have to raise our rates due to increased costs of our own, I received many letters from the clients expressing their gratitude for the management, care and lessons that they get from Sarah and the staff she organizes – and that they were thankful to be there at East Hill Farm.
Veterinarians, equine dentists, farriers, saddle fitters (almost anyone who comes to do work at the farm) all say the same thing: They love working at East Hill Farm, as the knowledge of the staff, attention to detail, organization and the trust that we are a team with them makes the horses and owners healthy and happy.
This kind of dedication, loyalty, honesty and work ethic is why Sarah is so great at her job(s) and why I am so thankful to have her at East Hill Farm.
Her presence at East Hill Farm allows me to run “my section” of the business, Poulsen Dressage, and leave Vermont for the winter months with the competition horses and students that meet me in Florida.
As you read her description of what she does at the farm on any given day, I say she is being modest! – Ruth
In the Beginning
I’ve had the joy to ride with some really great people, and be at wonderful facilities. I also have been places and met folks who were less than ideal. I’ve always learned something, for better or worse, and that varied history gave me exposure to not just different disciplines, but a chance to suss out ideologies in practice.
When I was 13, I found my way to East Hill Farm. I took lessons with Ruth on the school horses, joined the 4-H program they hosted, and got to show at much nicer shows than I was used too.
The following year, I moved my mare Deks to the farm. She was a wonderful horse I could do just about anything with (and did,) but I had outgrown her at that point.
Ruth worked with me on selling her and finding my next mount, Rebel, who would see me through the rest of my high school years of training and competition. I eventually sold him during college to another student of hers.
In this time at East Hill, everything was growing. Ruth was growing.
When she began wintering in Florida and embarking on trips to Europe to import horses for her clients, I had the chance to train with Kathie Moulton, co-founder of the farm, and a wonderful instructor in her own right.
I was obsessed with jumping then, so I never looked forward to Ruth leaving. That just meant more flatwork and less pretty jumps to jump! Ruth and Kathie always got clinics set up for the obsessive jumpers with top notch people which was a blast, and kept me satisfied until Ruth’s return.
Selling Rebel and finishing college was the first time since I was 5 that I had gone without horses in my life as a norm. It didn’t last long.
The Journey Back to East Hill Farm
You end up meeting someone who has a horse, you end up riding that horse, and the next thing you know, things take off again.
During this time, I discovered I was much more interested in dressage than I had thought. Funny how all those seemingly insufferable flat lessons I did, (you know, the ones that made me a successful jumper?) all of a sudden came back to me with a vengeance.
I was lucky to find situations that allowed me to keep exploring my newfound interest or rather perhaps allowed me to dust off my old foundation. By any means, there was always a voice inside me that kept urging me to work with horses and I couldn’t ignore it. I ended up catch riding around the state and had some clients of my own doing various things.
When my personal life dramatically and suddenly changed, I decided I needed to follow my heart and dedicate myself to building a career around riding and training.
On a whim, I found myself pulling into East Hill one day. I went and found Ruth, the woman who I established my roots as a rider with. I remember when she saw me, she gave me a huge hug and asked how I was doing. I gave a standard reply that “I was good,” but followed it with a very blatant statement that “I need to shovel s*it for my soul,” and asked for a job.
It had been 14 years since I had last stepped foot onto the property. I started part time a few days later. I knew this is where I belonged.
It wasn’t long after that the current manager was leaving and I was offered the job. I’ve been with the farm since, fully dedicated. That was 11 years ago.
At East Hill Farm Today
Today I am responsible for the health & wellness of the horses, their training and lesson schedules, the client schedules & training, instruction, the staff, vendors, and upkeep to the property and equipment.
I try to use my talents to connect to all facets of the job. It’s an ever-deepening passion for me. That passion was nurtured by Ruth when I was a young girl, and it’s the same approach I want to give back to my riders, staff and horses.
I particularly love instructing. I have a vested interest in each individual client that enters the arena with me. Assisting them and their horses in meeting goals, improving their feel and technique, while developing a very individual language and biomechanical harmony is something that resonates with me.
The emotional swell I get when “it clicks” is hard to describe. Witnessing that person, that horse, register their “aha!” moment is untouchable. I love the process.
It’s thrilling to have clients that are all so dedicated to becoming the best they can be. They work as hard as anyone to come into the ring every day, no matter what’s going on in their lives, and I put it all down for this one thing.
This indescribable thing that all of us horse people understand. To know I’m a part of these peoples’ training, that they trust me and will do the best work they can, all the time, is frankly quite humbling and a big sense of pride for me.
I am so incredibly fortunate for the amazing clients that come in and out of East Hill Farm. They are all as invested as we are, and for me, that’s real teamwork.
My return to East Hill Farm feels predestined. There was still Ruth obviously, Kathie was around and gave me wonderful advice before she ended up retiring, and I got to build a wonderful relationship with Jeannette in and out of the barn. (I call her my other boss:)
But, out of all the experiences I’ve had, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, no one person has impressed me in their training of both horse and human as Ruth has. Her foundation is always solid, and if you ask me, critical to success.
Dressage and it’s foundation is not an assembly line product.
Yes, there is a methodology and certain things need to be in place, but Ruth doesn’t box a person or a horse into a mold.
Instead, she sees them as the individuals they are and is innately able to be creative with their training and bring out the best for success. I’ve seen that in Ruth throughout the years.
She’s been an absolute model for me in my own instruction and management.
I bring my own personality into my teaching for sure, but Ruth has been a huge influence on not just what I see, but how I’ve matured in all aspects of my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to have her mentors, like Jane [Savoie], see some of my lessons and give such wonderful and positive feedback over the years.
Ruth is Ruth, but I imagine her mentors influenced her professionalism just as she has mine. Ruth has fostered so many excellent equestrians in so many ways. I’d be proud to say one day that she also fostered a colleague.
East Hill has been growing since the day it was established. The stories of the farm and the families attached to it are wonderful and there are many.
I’m a born and raised multigenerational Vermonter who remembers my own family’s farm in the Northeast Kingdom and I wish it were still there instead of a ghost of itself. I remember being small and climbing the old and forgotten loose piles of hay thinking I never wanted to leave the barn. I remember the smell. Long gone cows and horses.
I love it now when the hay delivery comes in and it’s such a mountain I have to climb it with a ladder and start throwing down bales and the scent of shavings gets kicked up in the air.
The way you know every horse’s individual knicker and what it means they want.
Mucking stalls is Zen.
The “aha” smile on your clients face in a lesson.
This is my job.
They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s definitely work!!
I’m just lucky enough that my job, my work, is something I love doing, and I have every intention of being a part of East Hill Farm’s continued growth.
Seems in the end, I didn’t ever actually leave the barn 🙂