“What is THIS?!” I said to myself the first time I spotted the giant unicorn on Amy Kelly’s Instagram profile.
I was mindlessly scrolling through the Instagram app looking for cool horse people to follow when a colorful shot of Amy’s 6-foot tall unicorn, Sprinkles, caught my eye.
Being a horse owner for the past 16+ years, I’ve done my fair share of training to desensitize a horse. This often involved a variety of items that one could find around the house or the farm; you know…plastic bags, tarps, umbrellas, and the like.
I thought I’d been pretty diverse in my use of training aids, yet I sat staring at my phone in awe, wondering why the heck I’d never once considered taking an inflatable alien to the barn. This woman was a genius!
I had to get the deets and reached out to Amy for an interview to learn more about her creative training methods.
HF: Tell me a bit about your background as a horsewoman.
Amy Kelly: Horses are my entire life. I was around 7 years old when I suckered my mom into taking me to her friend’s house for a pony ride and after that, I was hooked. My late grandfather, Pop, called horseback riding a habit and not a hobby for good reason. I started taking lessons once a week, which soon planted a crazy dream in my 8-year-old mind: I wanted to be a barrel racer.
Pop and I began the search for the perfect facility and finally found the barn and instructor that I needed in 2009. I started training barrel horses at 14 years old and teaching lessons at 15. At the end of 2011, Pop fell ill very unexpectedly and passed away in May 2012. With his passing, I couldn’t financially afford lessons or my horse, Doofus, so I became a working student.
To date, I’ve now trained over 50 horses to compete in youth poles and barrels and ridden well over 300. I was the 1D youth champion of my NBHA district two years in a row, 2014 Miss Florida Gateway Pro Rodeo, and held highpoint at our local county club. Long story short, Doofus and I won everything we competed in for a few years straight.
In 2018, I started dating my partner and future husband, Kyle, and he listened to my crazy dreams about wanting to go to the NFR one day and have a training facility of my own. In August of 2019, we made a leap of faith to move together to middle-of-nowhere Kentucky to start chasing my dreams of being one of the best barrel racers in the world. I’ve learned from everything I’ve gone through that when bad things happen, they’re simply preparing you for what’s to come. Better is coming!
HF: What are your horses’ names, breeds, and ages?
Amy Kelly: I currently own two Quarter Horse mares. Honeydew is 2 and Covergirl is 6. I’d love to own more one day, but their personalities are big enough for a whole barn full of horses!
HF: When did you first decide to desensitize your horse with pool inflatables?
Amy Kelly: When we were spring cleaning our barn, we found a tube that we had used to float down some of Florida’s rivers. It was the silliest-looking thing, a huge cat head. I jokingly said we should use it with the horses. That afternoon we had it in the arena and later that night we were ordering more inflatables to play with!
HF: What benefits do you believe this type of groundwork has for your horses?
Amy Kelly: This type of groundwork is so good to desensitize your horse. Not only is working with inflatables fun, but exposing your horse to something so different in a controlled environment can likely save you if something takes a turn for the worse in the future. The horse is programmed to do only two things: be brave or be scared. Exposing your horse to scary things and showing them it’s not as scary as they think builds their confidence in themselves and their trainer. Trust is the key to a successful relationship with your horse. You don’t train your horse to be ridden, you train the horse to trust you.
Also, it’s pretty hard to not have fun when you’re playing with your horse with a giant pool floaty. Fun is the secret ingredient to being the best horseman or woman you can be.
HF: Do you have any specific end goal in mind with this kind of desensitizing work?
Amy Kelly: When I’m competing in rodeos or I’m at an arena with a lot going on, I can only hope that my horse is completely relaxed and has it’s full attention on me, no matter what’s around us. My end goal with this kind of desensitizing work is to have that extra insurance in my and my horses’ career. Keeping our composure in any kind of situation is what we are aiming for!
HF: Which inflatable is your personal favorite and why?
Amy Kelly: My favorite inflatable we’ve used with the horses so far is our giant 6ft unicorn that we named Sprinkles. Sprinkles the Unicorn is awesome because she is just as big as my horses and she doubles as a sprinkler too! On hot days, it’s fun to ride bareback through the water. I also just taught my two-year-old to stand with Sprinkles the Unicorn on her back, and we are currently working on me holding it while walking on her bareback.
HF: What are some safety precautions one should take with inflatables around their horse?
Amy Kelly: When working to desensitize your horse, slow and steady wins the race. Patience is truly the key to success with horsemanship. Horses are like elephants; their memory is incredible, and they will always remember how something made them feel. People can unknowingly create issues with horses because they get frustrated or angry. It’s always best to approach new things with lots of time, patience, and understanding.
Also keep in mind that not every horse is the same, just like people. Honeydew loves the inflatables. Covergirl is more anxious and still getting used to the floaties. That’s totally okay and understandable. They are different horses. Different strokes for different folks, whatever floats your boat, all the colloquial sayings. It’s normal to do something with one horse but receive a different response when you do it with another. Horses are unique individuals just like humans. It could take 2 days to desensitize one horse. Another may take 30 days. Go with the flow and remember, when in doubt, slow your roll.
Follow Amy on Instagram at @crownequine and leave us a comment telling us which inflatable YOU would want to play with at the barn!