Jodie Kelly Dressage
Jodie Kelly Dressage is a family operation. While it has grown exponentially over the years, the Kelly’s still make a point of keeping the family “feel”. And your last name doesn’t have to be Kelly to be a part of this family. Whether a client or an employee, if you are in town in Destin, Florida on a Sunday night, there is a place for you at the Kelly dinner table. “We jokingly call it FFF (Forced Family Fun) but, there is certainly no force required. For our family of 3, it is rare that there is ever less than 10 people for FFF.” This same feel is carried out in the everyday operations of JKD and with the care of the horses. “I realize that while this is my business, this is what all of my clients do for fun. This sport is where their extra time, money and energy goes, so I try to make it as welcoming and fun as possible. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean I take it easy on them when they are on their horses,” Jodie says with a laugh, “tough love!”
With clients that love her and a show team always ready to go, that side of JKD could not be thriving more. But, Jodie is careful to not lose sight of her own, personal goals. “I feel like I have two very clear ‘compartments’, if you will, by which I gage my own personal success. My clients’ riding goals and successes,” Jodie says holding her hands to her left as if holding an imaginary box, “and my own personal riding goals and successes,” she said, holding that same imaginary box to her right. She explains, “In order for me to feel accomplished, both of those compartments need to be thriving. As a young, emerging professional a few years back, Jodie came onto the scene with what seemed to be a solid “string”. She has learned the highs and lows of owning, loving and losing some of her most beloved horses, and knows how to keep it in perspective while using her experiences to guide her students.
Jodie spent her summers as a kid, on up through her young rider years, living in Holland with Toine and Ingrid Hoefs. She was a working student at the barn of Olympic and World Cup champion, Anky Van Grunsven in the mornings and would ride young horses at Toine’s in the afternoon. It was during this time that she got both the hunger for the International competition and the taste for developing young horses. “I got bucked off A LOT during those years. From getting launched off of Anky’s Olympic mount, Bonfire, to eating dirt off the young ones on a regular basis. I really feel that it was those horses that taught me to truly ‘read’ a horse.” She claimed, “Being able to feel and predict their next reaction and if they are afraid or just full of themselves are invaluable tools to have in your tool box.”
Among one of those young horses that caused her to “eat dirt,” the one that landed her there most often was a handsome, grey, coming 3 year old, named Manhattan. Jodie was 14 at the time and after 3 summers in Holland, it was only a matter of time before one would capture her heart. “Of course it was the one that bucked me off the most!!” This boy was the one and would later prove to be her first Grand Prix horse. “Manhattan and I have done it all! From chasing him down the road after he bucked me off and left me, to Grand Prix Freestyles under the lights at Global, to bare back rides through the water, to demo rides at shopping centers and football stadiums. To say this horse is the horse of a lifetime would be an understatement. He is my best friend.” While Manhattan is healthy, strong and still very fit (and naughty, according to Jodie) he did just celebrate his 20th birthday during season this year. His show career has wound down, but his life as a demo horse and king of the barn still remains in full swing.
With client horses and one promising one of her own, Jodie is certainly not sitting idle on the side lines. During season she trains with Anne Gribbons, Scott Hassler and Debbie McDonald and maintains a regular travel schedule to Anne’s throughout the rest of the year. “It is 7 hours, almost to the minute, from my drive way to hers. I always take 2 horses when I go. I leave here at 6, arrive in time for 2 lessons that afternoon, spend the night, have 2 lessons in the am, 2 lessons the next am, then back on the road. With the time change, I can usually be home by 7:00 that night. I have it down to a science.” When Jodie started this regular trip, she was concerned about upsetting her client’s with the disruption in schedule, but they all actually had the opposite reaction. “They are unbelievably supportive in anything I do for myself and to improve my education. Plus, what I learn, I bring back to them, so it is a win for everyone.”