Riding Instructor, Karla Deacon is the busy owner of Spruce Meadow Farm, Inc. in Clarence, New York, USA. Spruce Meadow Farm teaches English horseback riding to beginners through advanced riders.
Karla Deacon also oversees Phoenix Rising Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation, Inc. – a 501(c)3 rescue program for at risk horses.
R.I.- What motivates you to teach riding?
Karla – I teach riding because I want to help promote respect, understanding and communication between people and horses. To show people how to “listen to” and be sensitive to the needs of their partner, the horse.
My goal is to give each rider a solid foundation in the basics by teaching classical riding principles. My main area of interest is dressage and I believe that dressage basics lay solid groundwork for any type of riding.
R.I. – I love to read about how instructors got their start – how did you begin teaching?
Karla – I truly enjoy learning and as I continued to learn and evolve I wanted to pass the things I had learned on to others. In 1989 my husband and I bought Spruce Meadow Farm, a small boarding & lesson stable. We were actually looking for 5-10 acres and a 2 stall barn. We weren’t sure if we could do it, but we thought that if we didn’t try we would always wonder!
R.I. – Are you a rider as well as a teacher?
Karla – My favorite discipline is dressage. I started out riding hunt seat. I got into dressage when I had a horse that rushed her fences. I had always believed that a horse won’t go any better over fences than they do on the flat. I started dressage lessons to try to get to the root of the problem. I found that I really enjoyed dressage for its own sake. Dressage has helped me to better understand the dynamics of riding. I enjoy how it will improve any horse’s way of going. It has helped make my horses better and has helped me to improve greatly as a rider. I have competed at lower levels of dressage on horses that I have trained myself, as I learned and grew through my lessons and clinics. I currently have a 25 year old schoolmaster that, along with my current trainer, Kathy Wood-Copa, is going to help me learn more. I was fortunate to be gifted with him by someone that was moving and selling their barn. I don’t have any future big show aspirations. My goal is to continue to learn and improve as a rider, pass what I learn on to students and ride and improve my horses. I feel that as an instructor you always need to keep learning and improving as a rider and horse person.
R.I – Do you have a favorite instructor or someone who mentored you?
Karla – I would say that the instructor that has had the most influence on me is Walter Zettl. I admire his calm, soft patience with both horse and rider and his adherence to the training scale. I have also watched him teach many times. It is amazing to see the change in the horse from the beginning to the end of each lesson. While I was riding with Walter on a monthly basis, I was also riding on a weekly basis with a trainer locally, that both rides and shows through Grand Prix level. I was able to watch her lessons with Walter several times. A huge thing that I learned from watching her ride with him was that her lessons began just the same way my lessons did. My biggest takeaway…no matter what level you ride at you begin each ride by re-establishing the basics before going on to school the more advanced movements. With some rides that may take a short time, other rides you may never school more advanced movements at all (with “more advanced” being relative to the level you are at.) From Walter I learned that no matter how soft you think you are riding, you can always be softer and to try my best to be in harmony with my horses and avoid impeding their balance and movement. Also, from his love of horses, I learned to value each horses strengths and ride to try to help improve their weaknesses.
R.I. – Did you choose certification?
Karla Deacon – The closest I have come to a certification was being a “student rider” in an Instructors Certification Clinic put on by the Western New York Dressage Association. It was a good experience and I wish that I could participate now as an instructor. I have not come across an opportunity for that locally since that time. I have observed, over my years here at the farm, that there were a couple of instructors that had been certified in different programs that have not taught correctly, or well. My feeling about this is that being certified does not necessarily make one a good instructor. I have seen many excellent instructors that are not certified at all. I wish there were more certification programs available because, although being certified doesn’t necessarily make for a good instructor, it is a good idea to make sure that different levels of instructors meet certain levels of criteria.
R.I. – How do you continue your equestrian education?
Karla – I continue to take weekly/ bi-weekly lessons and attend and audit clinics. I believe it is important in any profession to participate in continuing education. If you don’t keep learning you get stale and stay at the level you are at. You also do not learn new things, and ways to do things, that you can pass along to your students.
R.I. – What kind of riding program do you have at Spruce Meadow Farm?
Karla – The riding program at my farm is geared toward establishing a solid foundation for riders to build on. Spruce Meadow Farm is located in Clarence, NY, a suburb of Buffalo, and offers private and small (2-4 people) group lessons. We follow classical training principals and have students that compete in hunters, jumpers, dressage and eventing. I like teaching private lessons because I can give students more complete individual attention. I have difficulty managing my time in a group lesson because I want to feel that each student got enough personal attention and was able to learn something. We currently have 14 lesson horses. What makes our program different in our area is the friendly, family, laid back atmosphere combined with our commitment to good horsemanship and correct basic riding principles. Correct basics serve students well no matter what direction they choose to go in their riding.
R.I. – What is your teaching philosophy?
Karla – My teaching philosophy is that the rider should understand WHY they are supposed to do what we teach them to do in their lesson. I always tell them that if they ask me why I have told them to do something and I don’t have a good answer, then they shouldn’t be doing it.
R.I. – I’m all for riders understanding why they do things. It helps them to become independent.
What do you consider your best teaching quality?
Karla – I believe empathy and genuinely caring for both the horse and the rider are my strongest teaching qualities
R.I. – What is the one “best practice” that has helped your teaching business the most?
Karla – Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated yourself
R.I. – What is the best thing about teaching riding?
Karla – Seeing students learn to be better partners with, “listen to” and respect their horses as individuals
R.I. – Where do you see yourself in the future?
Karla – I would like to be doing exactly what I am doing now while continuing to learn and grow as a rider and teacher.
R.I. – What is your best single piece of advice for instructors who are just starting out?
Karla – Keep learning and improving. Keep your eyes open for different exercises, and ways to teach and practice the basics to keep the students and horses from becoming bored.
R.I. – So here are the fun questions-
I love it when students. . .encourage and build confidence in their horses
I hate it when students. . . blame the horse when things don’t go the way they want them to
If you could have instruction from anyone in the world, who would it be?
The one thing you can not do without for teaching?
A plan for the lesson
R.I. – Karla Deacon keeps busy with Spruce Meadow Farm, her family and Phoenix Rising Equine Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc., but she is also busy on the internet. I checked out all of her web pages and social media links, in order to get to know her better. I’ve discovered that creativity is one of Karla’s strengths.
You can read about her creative programs and lovely Spruce Meadow Farm at http://www.SpruceMeadowFarm.com . I have a soft spot for horse rescue and was happy to read about the horses the have joined your lesson program.
I enjoyed reading about your good work with Phoenix Rising Equine Rescue Rehabilitation, Inc. http://www.HelpSaveHorses.org Good Job, Karla.
And you can join Spruce Meadow Farm on:
You can email Karla Deacon at: SpruceMeadow@gmail.com
Karla Deacon, thank you so much for interviewing with The Riding Instructor. Your enthusiasm for teaching and your compassion for horses is evident in everything you do. Buffalo is fortunate to have Spruce Meadow Farm.
Drop by one of Karla’s web or social media sites and say hi. Thank you for reading The Riding Instructor.
Barbara Ellin Fox