A long braid swings down her back to her hips as she stops what she is doing to joyfully greet anyone who steps into the barn. Unassuming in run-of-the-mill breeches and a sweatshirt, she does not look like she just stepped out of a Dover Saddlery catalogue, which is the typical picture that comes to mind when someone says “internationally trained,” “dressage,” or “world class” horse trainer. Yet Rebekah Larimer is all of those things – she just decided her calling was here in Clark County, rather than competing across the globe. Which is fortunate for anyone, regardless of age, who wants to learn real horsemanship using positive methods.
Originally from right here in Vancouver, Rebekah started riding at just two-years-old. “My love of horses started from infancy,” she says. “My first stuffed animal was a horse, which I still have. The joke is that I would point anytime I saw horses in my car seat as a toddler and yell out ‘assy assy,’ which was my word for horse.”
Rebekah says she was fortunate in that her parents allowed her older to sister to get a horse and do 4-H, allowing her to also get her horsey-fix. When she was just three-years-old, she got her own horse, a Shetland pony named Gypsy. “The neighbors were selling their pony and I asked for us to be able to get her for me,” she remembers. “I grew up with no formal education, tearing around the field at home. I was quickly forced to learn how to have a good seat from my wonderful stinker of a pony who knew every trick in the book on how to get her rider off.”
While some deem those who grow up in a fancy show barn, taking lessons twice a week, as the lucky ones, Rebekah believe it is she, actually, who is the lucky one. “One big thing that really served me well is that horses weren’t handed to me on a silver platter,” she explains. “I had to work very hard from the time I was 11-years-old in order to have a horse and achieve my goals. My mother agreed she would pay for absolute basic expenses, but I had to pay for everything else. I cleaned many stalls for $1 a stall to pay for shows, tack, etc.”
Working and learning, Rebekah did everything she could on horses. She rode English and western, competed in pleasure shows, trail and saddle seat on a Tennessee Walker. “But I wanted to learn more,” she says.
An International (and Olympic!) Education
Rebekah started her search here in the United Stated, but could not find a riding school that fit her goals. So, for fun she expanded her search worldwide. That’s when she came upon the European Riding Academy in Belgium. Karin Donckers, an internationally licensed instructor in eventing, dressage and jumping was one of the trainers that would come and teach. She is also a six-time Olympian athlete, having competed in her first Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona.
Rebekah packed her bags. “I did 3-day eventing while in Belgium, but dressage is where I truly found my calling,” Rebekah recalls. “It truly helps all horses and riders communicate and understand each other regardless of your preferred riding discipline.”
Unfortunately, the riding school suddenly closed, but it was not the end of Rebekah’s adventure – far from. Instead, Karin Doncker offered her a working student position. “I remained with her for two-and-a-half years and was her longest working student, so I was the one who got to go be Gormely’s groom for the 2004 Olympics in Athens and was officially part of the Belgium Olympic Team. At this time, I was riding all of her best horses. Karin qualified for that Olympics on 3 horses.”
The Olympics was an experience Rebekah will never forget, even if she saw very little of Athens, or the games themselves. “Being around the best horses and riders in the world was amazing, but it is tons of work,” she exclaims. “I was there for 10 days and was able to get out to see a tiny bit of Athens for 3 hours one day and wasn’t able to see the Olympic village at all. You are basically the horses’ slave every day from sunup to sundown making sure they are happy and at their absolute best. They are treated like royalty!” She goes on to mention their daily regime of top food (and lot of it!), massages, magnetic blankets, ice packs, walks three times a day, and more. She also remembers that since it was the first Games after 9/11, there were armed guards clear around the perimeter, and security was high.
“The food when we got to get off the property was wonderful,” she adds. “The food onsite was horrible. So, horrible that I heard they got so many complaints after we left that the health inspector came and they had to get entirely new food. At least the horses were fed well!”
Although she says didn’t learn much at the Games itself, the journey leading to Athens taught her a great deal. “The most important lesson I learned was taking care of the horses and how to properly train on a day to day basis to get top happy athletes with minimal injuries,” she shares.
She returned home internationally certified to teach and train in over 20 different countries.
“I returned to Vancouver, Washington because this is my favorite area of the world,” Rebekah says, when asked why she didn’t stay overseas or become an Olympian herself. “I haven’t pursued the Olympics or international competition since I don’t want the lifestyle of being gone more than half the year. Plus, I had health issues a few years ago that has forced me to be careful with how much I do.”
Lucky us. Anyone who has taken a lesson or spoken with Rebekah sees that this down-to-earth woman knows what she is talking about when it comes to horses. Better still, she knows how to pass that knowledge on to all ages of people and equines, from youngsters getting their start to adults wanting to improve their relationship with their horse, learn a new skill, or bring up their next project. And she does it all using positive methods.
“I have an abused past the same as so many horses out there,” Rebekah confides. “I glow in positive reinforcement and shrink in negative and feel the horses do the same. I hate people feeling they need to yell, yank, crank, whip and spur their horses to get them to do what you want. It is so very unnecessary. The sad thing is that no one believes they or their trainer is being abusive. All of my life I have questioned the ideas and methods that are shown to me from various trainers. I use the methods I like and that work for the horses, such as positive reinforcement, since the results I achieve are fantastic with obtaining happy, willing athletes and partners!”
Rebekah works out of Valhalla Stables in La Center and is currently taking on horses for training as well as doing lessons for people of all ages. She also has working student positions, to help bring up the next generation of positive, knowledgeable horse trainers. To learn more, visit the Rebekah Larimer Training website.