About Shawna & Jessie
Shawna is a pioneer in the use of Positive Reinforcement Training with horses. Her powerful and humane behavioral training techniques are an eye-opening experience for equine professionals, competitors, and amateurs alike. She has produced books and videos, and traveled worldwide to teach the concepts of bridge conditioning and positive reinforcement for horses.
Shawna began her training career far outside the equestrian world, working with large marine mammals. Animals such as dolphins, sea lions and orcas cannot be coerced. Only positive reinforcement methods can be used to ask these magnificent creatures to participate voluntarily in activities with human trainers. (You may be able to force a horse onto a trailer, but just try it with a walrus!)
When introduced to the world of top equestrian competition, Shawna saw immediately how reward-based training could be used to engage the horse’s willingness in equestrian pursuits. A number of years ago, top trainer John Madden was so impressed with Shawna’s early results that the world-renowned training facility at the Madden farm became the testing ground for adapting Positive Reinforcement Training for horses.
By using Shawna’s Positive Reinforcement Training methods, Olympian Beezie Madden taught her famous show jumper Judgment (now Judgment ISF) to overcome his fear of water and go on to win the $1,000,000 CN International at Spruce Meadows, among many other international show-jumping victories. Beezie’s spectacular success over decades as a top international competitor on a series of great horses is a testament not only to her extraordinary talent and skill as a rider and trainer, but also in part to the reward-based training system that Shawna first developed on the Madden farm.
Shawna’s infectious enthusiasm, sense of humor, years of training experience and rapport with animals and humans makes her one of the finest positive-reinforcement trainers in North America.
Jessie Hillegas started riding traditionally as a child and continued through adulthood learning from some of the top hunter and jumper trainers in the industry. She worked for large A show hunter/jumper barns on the east coast where duties included training young horses from the ground up, coaching Bucknell University's Equestrian Team, teaching their regular lesson program beginner through advanced, riding/preparing the made show horses for competition, and catch riding.
After 20 years of total immersion in the show world, Jessie started her own Warmblood breeding and training business out of her home in Pennsylvania. She has bred top hunters who have won prizes at venues such as Warrenton, Upperville and the Devon Horse Show.
Jessie became disenchanted with the show world when one of the foals she bred was sold and went on to a show program that caused the filly to become seemingly unhappy and angry with the world. Unintentional mishandling of this young and talented filly caused great distress and created dangerous and unpredictable behavior. It is important to recognize that while horses endure these situations frequently, many times, owners/trainers are doing the best they can. Thankfully there is another way...
The owners sent her back to Jessie and desperate to bring her back to her sweet self, Jessie started to implement positive reinforcement after other training methods were exhausted. With Shawna's help, Jessie was able to take the filly who had PTSD-like behavior and change her neural pathways so that she is back to being pleasant and loving again.
After this, Jessie understood positive reinforcement was going to be a mainstay in her training business. This young filly represents those horses who are labeled as hopeless and dangerous and we now know there can often be a path forward with these horses.