The “Featured Clinician” article series is provided through a partnership between Event Clinics and the USEA.
Event Clinics recently conducted an interview with top eventer Sally Cousins to learn more about her passion for eventing and her teaching style.
Cousins’ passion for horses began at a very young age. By the time she was in her mid-teens, she had completed her first one-star three-day event. She continued to move up the levels from there.
At 20 years old, she traveled to England and competed in the Badminton Horse Trials followed by the Burghley Horse Trials that same year. In the years after that she competed in the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event numerous times and won the Essex Three-Day Event.
In 2005 she decided to leave her job at Merrill Lynch and pursue her dream of devoting herself exclusively to her riding career. She bought a property in Aiken, South Carolina so she could compete and provide instruction year-round. Due to her extensive experience in the sport and her successful competition schedule, Cousins has been ranked among the top 10 riders on the USEA Leaderboard for the last six years. She has often been the leading lady on that leaderboard and ranked in the top three almost as often.
Cousins noted that her favorite aspect of teaching clinics is the opportunity to meet new people and new horses. She knows that many riders know their horses very well so improving the partnership in the short time frame of a clinic is a challenge that she really enjoys. She offered that she herself learns a lot in the process of teaching others.
Cousins stated, “When I’m teaching a clinic, if there is a large percentage of partnerships I have not seen before, I like to work on show jumping questions at first."
Cousins explained that she may incorporate some questions that will be asked during cross-country but the ring, having less variables, helps in teaching partnerships that are new to her. Once she has seen how the partnership responds to show jumping questions, she is able to better help them with cross-country.
When asked about what her expectations are for riders who attend her clinic, she explained, “When people sign up for a clinic, the first thing that I acknowledge is that they’re trying to improve. I admire that.”
Cousins likes to start her clinics by asking each rider for a synopsis of what they have been working on and what they can expect from the horse.
She noted that during the short time frame of a clinic she may see a horse on their best day or their worst, but she does expect riders to show up on time and be respectful to other members of the group.
Cousins shared that one of the top reasons riders may be unprepared for a clinic is when she travels north in the winter. She noted, “Riders without indoors struggle to keep riding with limited daylight and full-time jobs so I just keep that in mind. If the horse or rider are getting tired, we may just limit our expectations.”
It is clear that Cousins believes in making the best of the situation you have in front of you. The best advice she says she has taken is when Phillip Dutton told her, “Never underestimate how long it took me to get mentally tough enough to be this good.” Cousins explained that she had asked Dutton what she could do to be more successful and he told her, “You don’t need more lessons, different horses, or more money, not that any of that hurts, but that takes a long time to change…you can start working on your mental aspect immediately.” And that’s exactly what Cousins did.
Cousins gave us a peek into her life outside horses as well. She shared that she enjoys classical music, opera, and she is an avid reader of mysteries. The most recent book she read was “The Tuscan Child” by Phys Brown which is about a woman who travels to Tuscany to learn about her late father’s life as a British bomber pilot in the 1940s.
We are very excited to have been able to interview Cousins and get a glimpse into her life as a rider and clinician. Cousins teaches lessons and clinics as well as takes horses in for training in both Oxford, Pennsylvnia (in the summer months) and Aiken, South Carolina (in the winter months.) Keep an eye out for clinic opportunities with Sally Cousins on Event Clinics.