It's an idea that has been years in the making. Olympic show jumping gold medalist Melanie Smith Taylor is starting her own "immersion" program of TaylorMade Horsemanship in conjunction with groundwork expert Mindy Bower, giving riders an education that involves stable management, veterinary and other insights, as well as riding, over an intense four days.
"I appreciate the horse and I've been exposed to the best horsemen. It's something I can give to the industry, one horse at a time and one person at a time," said Melanie about TaylorMade.
"Nowadays, everything's a quick fix: If a horse's mouth is open, tighten his noseband. If his head comes up, tighten the martingale," she observed, explaining "we want to help with the source of the problem from the ground up."
Participants will learn principles of groundwork to help them establish a new and stronger relationship with their mounts, and then use that as a basis for what they do while riding on the flat, through gymnastics and over jumps.
She noted, "I feel passionate about wanting the kids to have the kind of upbringing our generation had; we knew our horses inside and out because we were with them all day long. In this day and age, these kids don't have that opportunity.? I want to help them find a way to develop being as good as horsemen they can be with their limited time."
Melanie and her late husband, Lee, had talked about doing a program along these lines. They held clinics at their Tennessee farm with Buck Brannaman and his mentor, Ray Hunt, and wanted to offer opportunities for more people to "really get a connection with the horse."
George Morris, now U.S. show jumping coach, worked with Melanie during her outstanding career, which included a victory in the World Cup finals, the American Grand Prix Association Horse and Rider of the Year honors, victories in dozens of major competitions and the team gold medal at the 1984 Game in Los Angeles. Melanie's horses included such stellar names as
Calypso, with whom she is most closely identified; Radnor II and Val de Loire. These days, many people know her as an Olympic television commentator for NBC, a role she will be filling again this summer for the London Games.
The addition of groundwork to Melanie's repertoire gave a new dimension to her riding and relationship with horses that she is eager to pass on to others. Melanie and Mindy, who is Buck's sister-in-law, honed their formula working with the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association's Emerging Athletes Program before going out on their own with a series? of? five clinics that begins in June.
"It's been incubating? we know it's something people really want -- it works," said Melanie. She and Mindy resigned from EAP at the end of the 2011 season "when EAP wanted to go in a different direction."
"That's fine," she said. "We are not in any way trying to compete."
Two sessions will be held in Knoxville, Tenn.; two in California and one in the Midwest. Riders will apply on a first-come, first-served basis, with the June clinics open to 20 riders age 25 and under who are competent jumping 3-feet, 3-inches.
On the first day of the clinic, riders will be evaluated and put into groups "so we can really personalize it," Melanie explained. They are hoping to have mentors, such as EAP graduates, also take part so they can learn how to teach.
"That would be a valuable thing for them, almost like a graduate program," she said.
TaylorMade will continue to evolve.
"I want to get it up and running the first year and then develop it into nonprofit status so people could donate and offer scholarships," commented Melanie, who also has a book coming out explaining groundwork and showing how to link it with riding.
A sixth clinic will be offered in August for all ages 26 and up, to include both amateurs and trainers. Like the sessions for younger riders, "We will give them all of us all day," said Melanie, who also is planning on having videos with commentary in the evenings to make the most of participants' time.
This year's program will be considered Horsemanship I; Melanie hopes to present Horsemanship II next year.
"I am doing it because it's the vision Lee and I had years ago and I just feel like it's something I can enjoy giving back," she said.
"In life, all of us want to be able to make a difference in some way. At this point in my life, I don't need fame and fortune.? It's something I feel passionate about."
For more information, go to the program's website, taylormadehorsemanship.com.