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Taking the Reins at Green Mountain Horse Association

Jane Rodd, the new executive director of the Green Mountain Horse Association, with her horses Flight and Flaire at her home in Reading, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Jane Rodd, the new executive director of the Green Mountain Horse Association, with her horses Flight and Flaire at her home in Reading, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Reading, Vt. — Jane Rodd is in full mutlitasking mode these days.

A newly minted 50-year-old, Rodd is in the midst of finishing her studies in a doctorate program in educational psychology at the University of Albany-SUNY, tying up loose ends as she leaves a job as director of training and education at an equine facility in Ancramdale, N.Y., while at the same time purchasing a house in Reading, Vt., which is where Rodd and her husband, Andrew, will live when Rodd takes over as executive director of the Green Mountain Horse Association on March 1, replacing Marty Hunt, who has served in that position for 4 years and is now retiring.

There’s also the move itself to prepare for, which includes relocating two humans, two horses, two cats and two dogs.

Despite all she has on her plate, Rodd, a native of Norfolk, England, recently took time to talk to the Valley News about her move to Vermont and her hopes for the GMHA. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

Valley News: How would you describe the Green Mountain Horse Association for people who know nothing about it?

Jane Rodd: The actual site that the Green Mountain Horse Association is on is a 65-acre park-like ground, which is tailored to meet the needs of the equestrian population. So it’s set up to run competitions, clinics and educational events both with outside facilities for the horses but also with things like lecture rooms and a cafe for people. It offers a base in the community for horse people of all disciplines to come in and be a community in their own right. That culture of being part of the community is really important.

VN: How does the community interact with the organization?

JR: It’s very different from season to season. Six months of the year, the facilities are packed. Every week they run events and competitions and activities for different groups of people. (These are events)where people bring their horses or they come in to support other people and watch them ride their horses. It’s busy, busy, busy from when the weather gets nice to right through into October.

In the winter it’s a much quieter place, so there’s more work by the staff doing fundraising and things like that. But there are things that go on, weather permitting, through the winter.

I’m sure that you understand that, in this day and age, where there’s a lot of development going on and people are very busy, access to the trail system, which is really our heritage, being able to ride through the countryside without having to go on main roads, is becoming more limited worldwide. Sadly, in Vermont as well. Probably the main, most important mission that GMHA has to try to not only keep open but to expand the trail system around the South Woodstock area of Vermont. GMHA works very hard to build and maintain good will with local landowners, to the point where it actually now has landowners, through its easement program, pledging the use of these trails through perpetuity. So this is something that’s going to be there for generations to come. Unlike in other areas of the country, where they have lost all of their trail system, GMHA has had the forethought to prevent that from happening. That’s really a central part of GMHA’s mission. ...

VN: Does GMHA offer riding lessons?

JR: It has a strong educational mission, and part of my job is going to be trying to increase educational activities. For example, we run clinics, which are where people come in with their own horses and we bring in very experienced teachers who have a lot to share. They’re called clinicians in the horse world. They come and run a one-day or a two-day or even a week-long training course that riders can participate in. And it doesn’t just cover riding. There will talks on saddle fitting, bitting, nutrition, that kind of thing. It’s very holistic, about the welfare of the horse, not just about the riding.

VN: What are you most looking forward to with this move to GMHA?

JR: I’m coming to GMHA because I want to be part of that culture. That’s what excites me. It’s a fabulous organization. But I’m coming in very openminded. I have a lot of ideas, which stem from my experience and what I’ve seen elsewhere, and I have a lot of enthusiasm. But it’s already a great organization and I feel I need to spend a while just observing and understanding and recognizing how it all works before I start to encourage them to change things. I don’t want to change something that’s already working well and, in the process of changing, lose something that’s already working well.

I guess if I had to pick two things, firstly, the 2013 goal for GMHA would be to replace all the footing, that’s the surfaces in the arenas. They already did a lot last year on the cross country course, which was destroyed by Irene. They have restored and improved the footing for the outside riding. This year the goal is to do the footing in the actual rings themselves.

That’s a huge project. The horses normally compete on a sand mix footing and the surface needs to be level and well drained, without holes or hard patches or slippery patches. (This is) partly for the welfare of the horses, because we don’t want them injuring themselves, and partly for safety, because we don’t want the horse and rider falling. So we’re looking for this beautiful, well groomed footing, which will be made of a sand mix. To replace all of the arena footing at GMHA is going to cost, well, certainly a quarter of a million dollars. So that will be a huge campaign, getting people to donate.

My (second) main goal is to really look at widening the knowledge locally as to what GMHA does, because it really is a very special place. It’s almost like stepping back in time. It’s an amazing facility. Anybody with a horse or with an interest in horses can access it. It’s part of the community. It’s somewhere people can go walking or picnicking or go on a Saturday afternoon and watch these lovely horses compete.

VN: Are there admission fees for using the trails?

JR: No admission fee at all. They should call the office, because sometimes when there’s a horse event going on that uses the cross country course, it may be a little nerve wracking to go hiking with horses galloping around. So just for safety’s sake, they should call the office. But assuming they respect the property and don’t drop litter and things like that, people are very welcome to just come and hike.

VN: Do you encourage the general public to attend the horse events as well?

JR: Absolutely. That’s one thing I would like to increase, the amount of local people who just come, maybe bring a picnic, hang out and just enjoy it. It would be a great family outing. Most of the competitors are really friendly. If you walk around the stable area, they’ll let the kids pet the horses. And there’s no cost involved.

VN: Did you grow up around horses yourself?

JR: I grew up in a farming community, where my parents actually ran a country club. So though I had nothing to do with horses from the family perspective, a lot of the kids in the area who lived on farms did have horses and I would spend time at their houses and I became the typical horse-mad child. Eventually one of these nice friends agreed to keep a pony for me, so I spent my entire childhood going off with this friend, starting with the pony club and progressed to fox hunting and eventing and dressage, all the way through my teens into my early twenties, when I decided to pursue it as a profession.

VN: How does one pursue a love of horses as a profession?

JR: It’s a little easier in England, because there is actually a vocational system of qualification to become a qualified riding instructor. It’s a very old, well established system that is recognized worldwide. It’s through an institution called the British Horse Society. I trained through their program and became a qualified riding instructor. That was part of every job I had, but I spent the last 12 years of my working life in England in the college system. I was head of the equine department of a big agricultural college.

While I was at Hartpury College in England, show management was a big part of my job. I was lucky enough to be on the organizing committee for some international events. One was the World Disabled Games. I think we had just over 30 nations participating. Some brought their own horses, and some borrowed horses, so we had to organize horses for them to borrow. This was like four years in the planning. That was a phenomenally motivational event to be involved with. You’ve got riders riding with no arms, people who were totally bent and crooked and couldn’t even sit up without some support. The bond between the riders and the horses and the care the horses took over these riders would just bring tears to your eyes. It was an amazing thing to be involved in.

VN: Do you care to take a stab at explaining that bond between riders and horses? I ask that question of anyone who understands horses better than I do.

JR: It’s definitely a sixth or even seventh sense, and it’s definitely based on empathy. Some people seem to have it for virtually all animals and some people only seem to find it with just one or two special animals. It’s something beyond the norm. You can be taught to handle a horse safely and to win its trust, but it goes beyond that. It’s a sense of what the other needs and what the other is feeling. It’s very unique.

Diane Taylor can be reached at dtaylor@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error.

Trail easements obtained by the Green Mountain Horse Association apply to equestrian use by association members and even participants only. Other recreational users must obtain permission from the individual landowners before using the trails. An earlier version of this article inaccurately described the allowed use of the trails.