Could anything possibly be more difficult than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack? Try locating the perfect horse farm for purchase. Fortunately for Amber Kimball and husband Brian, their persistence paid off. While their recently acquired property in Morriston, Florida may not have been ideal in the beginning, Amber’s eye for possibility has been rewarded. The new Southern Lights Dressage Farm now sports pristine arenas and a TheraPlate therapy system, and they’re open for business! Check out the interview below!
What key criteria did you have in mind when you selected your new farm?
Farm shopping was difficult. Location was our biggest challenge. We needed to find a farm close enough to Ocala to be accessible to our clients but also within commuting distance to Crystal River for my husband, Brian. Next on the list was finding a property with enough acreage to be able to devote a large area to riding space without sacrificing turnout area.
What features about your new place do you enjoy most?
Definitely our favorite features are our arenas. Shortly after we purchased the property, we had Longwood Arenas install a 70 x 200 GGT arena surface and a 180 x 200 turf arena. The grass is still taking root in the turf arena, but we are excited to have such a large space to school the horses outside of the dressage court. We also keep a wide path around the entire perimeter of the farm mowed for hacking. Much of it is shaded by old oak trees. It’s perfect for hot days.
How many acres make up Southern Lights and how many stalls do you have?
We have 20 acres and 10 stalls.
What kinds of services do you offer?
We do boarding and training, boarding and lesson packages, and trailer in lessons.
Do you work alone, or do you have a protégé or team?
Currently, just my husband Brian and I run the farm. As we grow, a working student or employee will be necessary.
What do you enjoy most about operating your own facility? What is the greatest challenge?
Brian and I live in an apartment above our barn so it’s easy to keep tabs on the well-being of all the horses in our care. Because of this proximity, the horses are almost like house pets. We keep their hay nets full 24/7 and feed grain every eight hours; 6am, 2pm and 10pm. There’s nothing like tucking your horses in for the night and having them nicker to you at breakfast.
Currently, our biggest challenge is developing our property. Like many farm owners, we have a long list of projects we would like to accomplish. Poor Brian, I’m always coming up with work more for him on the weekends.
I understand you have a TheraPlate System. What is it? Could you describe it?
The TheraPlate is a vibrating platform that we stand the horses on. It basically acts like a massage chair for the horse. (Or for us riders. I think we use it as much as the horses).
How can horses benefit from the TheraPlate System?
I find the horses looser over their backs and in their necks if they stand on the plate before a ride. We also use it after a strenuous ride to jiggle out the tight spots.
How do horses react to the machine?
Most horses love it. We have a couple horses who will climb on it unprompted if they’re in its vicinity. They’ll just stand there and look at us as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to turn it on?”
How often and for how long does a horse need to use the system before he reaps benefits?
Just 10 minutes or so before a ride is enough to feel a difference in the horse. Frequent sessions keep the horses looser but just one session can make a difference.
Why did you decide to invest in the machine? Why do you feel passionately about it?
Brian and I went to watch the World Cup the last time it was in Las Vegas. Our backs were really sore from sitting so much in the stands. We found ourselves hopping on the TheraPlates at the demo booth every chance we got. We could stand for 10 minutes and walk off pain free. We didn’t see a plate again until the World Cup in Omaha. Again, we stood on them every chance we got for our sore backs, but this time the rep offered a three-week free trial. The horses liked the TheraPlate too much to send it back after the trial was over.
You’re obviously passionate about dressage. Have you always been a dressage rider? If not, tell us about your evolution.
Like most kids, I did a little bit of everything as a teenager. But as soon as I finished high school in 1997, I became a working student in a dressage stable and continued my dressage education as a working student in top dressage stables for the next 13 years.
Given the responsibilities of running your farm, is it difficult to squeeze in time to ride your own horse?
Yes, definitely. I’ve ridden my own horse four times since we bought our farm. He suffers from anhidrosis, so by the time my lessons and training rides are done, it’s too hot to ride him or it’s raining. He’ll go back on the schedule when winter comes.
Tell us about your competition mount (name, age, sex, breed, competition level).
Currently I have two horses on the show schedule, both owned by Nancy Bolton. The first is Kellen, a 10-year-old Dutch Harness x Belgian draft gelding. We bought Kellen to be Nancy’s training level and trail horse when he was seven years old. He knew how to drive and trail ride, but he was really green and a little grumpy under saddle. He took to dressage better than we could have imagined. I’ve qualified him at Prix St Georges for the 2018 USDF Region 3 Championships.
Nancy’s other horse is Ive Blue Hill (Negro x Jazz), a five-year-old KWPN gelding that Belinda Nairn-Wertman found for us on one of her shopping trips overseas. I’ll be showing him training and first level this season.
Who have been your greatest equestrian influences?
My two most significant mentors have been Canadian Olympic bronze medalist, Gina Smith and US Olympian, Belinda Nairn-Wertman.
I started my serious dressage education in Gina’s barn and was there for three and a half years. She is meticulous about horse care and equitation. I really got a feel for the top of the sport at her farm and was lucky to travel to Holland with her in 2000 to groom for Gina and Fledermaus at the World Cup. Gina was always generous with her horses and I was able to sit on many FEI competition horses, including Fledermaus, and get a feel for the collection and movements of the upper levels. That education was priceless.
Later, I moved to Belinda’s farm and worked for her for eight years as a working student. Belinda’s business is based on importing and selling Dutch horses. It really was every young dressage rider’s dream job. I had 8-10 (or 12…or 13) talented warmbloods and Friesians of all ages and levels to ride daily to prepare for sale and shows. The time at Belinda’s taught me how to be an independent trainer.
How do you continue to improve your skills?
I still take lessons with Belinda when I can catch her between her horse shows and overseas shopping trips. I also ride with Ilse Schwarz when she comes for clinics in Ocala.
What advice would you give to riders aspiring to improve their dressage skills?
It’s important to remember that your dressage journey is between you and your horse. You have to remember to look back and see how much progress you’ve already made. It’s too easy to compare yourself to others. If you are trying to catch up to someone else’s success, how can you enjoy your own?
Do you have a personal motto, mantra, or words of inspiration that keep you going?
I just try to be nice and I work hard to surround myself with a fun, supportive group of people. I’ve met a lot of great people in our sport, but unfortunately, there are always a few out there who aren’t so friendly. Brian and I do our best to be happy every day and we run our business in a way to ensure our clients enjoy their time with us.
What is your favorite “go to” book or video relating to horses?
When I was a teenager, I spent every Sunday afternoon on the couch reading horse books. I read the spine off my Pony Club manual, I dragged myself through a lot of really dry dressage theory books, I read Centered Riding front to back at least 10 times. Now we live in the age of YouTube. I love to watch the big competitions on FEI TV and any snippets of top trainers giving clinics I can find. We are so lucky to have the dressage world’s best trainers at the touch of a smart phone.
Approachable and friendly with an unparalleled work ethic, it’s clear to see that Amber is the light of Southern Lights Dressage Farm.
Article by Dale Sue Wade