In My Boot: The O’Connors, cross-training

Our in-house cowgirl Kristen Kovatch takes a look back at Karen and David O’Connors’ infamous discipline switch-up at Rolex in 2011.

From Kristen:

The O’Connors, Crossdressingtraining

In our neck of the woods in the university equestrian program, we jokingly call cross-training “cross dressing,” reminding ourselves and our students that trying a new discipline should be fun. As it turns out, we’re not the only people with that really great idea. David and Karen O’Connor gave reining a try at Rolex 2011, where the International Reining and World Championship Freestyle was held concurrently with the event.

Ultimately, the O’Connors put on a pretty good show. No one grabs the saddle horn, uses two hands or does anything to embarrass the eventing community. David even removes his horse’s bridle for a set of turnarounds—fancy indeed. There are a few “oh crap!” moments—the horses are a little hot on the rundowns and there’s a little bit of creative arm-paddling going on as the riders try to stay with the motion (but we’ve all been there: no worries, O’Connors.)

I smile when I watch those sliding stops—not only because I think it’s great that the top riders from one discipline are trying something new (and in front of a huge crowd!) but because so many of my students start the same way. No matter what kind of foundation my riders have—dressage, eventing, hunters, western horsemanship—everyone always sits their first sliding stop the same way. Run down—run faster—and stop! Throw on the brakes and throw your body back!

Normally at this point I stop my students, talk them through the stop, explain to them why it only looks like the pros are throwing their weight back in the tack (take a rider sitting balanced on the motion and then tilt the horse upwards into the same angle he makes in a stop—it will make sense to you too.)

Still, I can’t be too critical—I find myself doing the same things when I’m hacking a hunt seat horse or, heaven forbid, actually being allowed to jump something. I overexaggerate what I think I’ve observed, for better or worse. Most of the time, like my own reining students, what I’m doing isn’t exactly wrong, just in need of a little adjustment and polish to get the best out of both rider and horse.

While it doesn’t seem likely that either David or Karen is going to “pull an Anky” and switch full-time, they’d probably be pretty good it. After all, we all want the same things—a light, responsive athlete who can perform his job with panache.

Now all we need to do is get Sean Flarida out on the cross-country course.

About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian and Take the Reins.

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