Michelle began riding as an eight year old in a western saddle on a horse named Wizard. With her 4-H group, Night Riders, over the next ten years Michelle was introduced to all manner of riding disciplines and, thanks to the insistence of her 4-H leader and the local SUNY school, many vital aspects of equine science and care.
It was at Houghton College, while Michelle was working on her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing, that she was re-introduced to dressage and, more, importantly where she rode her first warmbloods. Those first rides on a sport horse redefined what power and stride could feel like. Under the direction of Jo-Anne Young and Cathy Daggett, Michelle began to understand the process of developing a horse’s athleticism by adhering to the training scale.
She also had her eyes opened to the amount of time and dedication required to gain knowledge and mileage in the very detail-oriented sport of dressage.
The Equestrian Center at Houghton College also invited in top professionals in the sport of dressage, like Walter Zettl and Molly Sivewright, who pointed out just how much there was to learn of one wanted to develop into a top class rider. Through Houghton, Michelle was also introduced to Doris Halstead, Physical Therapist and author of Release the Potential. Opportunities to work with and for Doris Halstead set Michelle on the path of understanding the biomechanics of horse and rider.
Doris’ teaching and her uncanny ability to heal have made her the single most influential person in helping Michelle understand and resolve the physical issues that hinder the success of her horses and herself in the saddle. These biomechanical details remain a hallmark of Michelle’s teaching and training and they are inseparable from proper dressage work.
After graduating from college in 2002, Michelle packed her bags for Karlsruhe, Germany jumping at an opportunity to be on the longe line for three months under the careful eye of the late great ‘Master of the Masters’ Herr Egon von Neindorff. Michelle’s very minimal knowlege of the German language and her strong pull to spend her days with horses meant that Michelle arrived at feeding time and began cleaning stalls with a German-English dictionary in tow.
With a stable full of over 40 Lipizzaner horses, Michelle’s help was welcomed by the entire staff and even von Neindorff. In her daily longe lesson and group lesson Michelle worked ferociously at developing the classically correct seat that the Spanish Riding School trained Master required. Michelle also spent substantial time watching the school’s most advanced riders and horses to help cement a classical picture in her head.
At the end of her three month stay, Michelle accepted the offer to continue on at von Neindorff’s as a working student. Her duties continued to include stall cleaning, thorough grooming of the horses and her German had improved to the point that she was able to give some lessons on the longe herself! Herr von Neindorff’s training approach involved keeping a rider on a horse until she unlocked the difficulties presented. As Michelle’s riding improved she had the opportunity to ride a great variety of horses and was schooled in some in-hand work. Looking back at her time at the Reitinstitut von Neindorff, the absolute importance of a proper riding position, the dynamic nature of contact and effective, swift and well timed aids are the most critical discoveries Michelle made while with the late master.
Michelle returned from Germany to accept a job as adjunct professor in the Houghton College Equestrian Program. It was time to share her knowledge with students and horses. Besides her work with jumping and dressage, Michelle also worked to develop a Therapeutic Riding Program at Houghton College.
She received her CHA Clinic Instructor rating for Rider’s with Disabilities and her standard CHA Clinic Instructors rating. The ever enthusiastic students and the abundance of horses available at Houghton College allowed Michelle a chance to teach and train a variety of ability levels which dramatically improved Michelle’s versatility as a trainer and a teacher. Between the lesson horses at the Reitinstitut von Neindorff and at the Houghton College Equestrian Center, Michelle was confronted with many training problems and began to develop the problem solving skills that now define her work as a professional.
While an adjunct professor at Houghton, Michelle met Carel Eijkenaar, an FEI judge and trainer from Holland. Right away she realized that Mr. Eijkenaar’s phenomenal eye for classically correct work and his willingness to help her resolve the training problems she was having was exactly what she was looking for. An opportunity to ride several schoolmasters under Carel’s eye led Michelle to the Atlantic Dressage Development Centre outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia in January of 2005. She accepted a position as trainer and coach which carried the responsibilities of developing a lesson program and training between 8 and 12 horses a day as well as personnel management. While at ADDC, Michelle had the opportunity to get some behind the scenes experience running a horse business and after one year in Nova Scotia–as the business was changing its focus–Michelle headed back to the United States and Western New York to start her own dressage training center.
In the spring of 2006, Michelle began LaBarre Dressage Training Center in East Aurora, NY. The advantages of running her own training center quickly became evident: Michelle could finally take care of and train horses in the most careful and attentive way possible.
As the business grew, Michelle remained devoted to quality over quantity, choosing to keep her training and coaching numbers at a level that meant she and her working students would not have to cut corners to provide the horses and students with exceptional care and attention.
In 2008, Michelle moved her business to its current location outside of Wilkes-Barre, PA where an excellent facility and a 200′ x 70′ indoor arena have given Michelle the chance to really improve her training.
Michelle accepts a wide variety of horses in for training, from starting youngsters to tuning up old school masters and everything in between. She is committed to the classical process and focuses on correct, straight riding that builds fitness and flexibility. Her students range in age from early teen to upper 70′s and come from a variety of backgrounds, but all benefit from her upbeat teaching style and ability to make complex principles fun and easy to understand. She is known throughout the region for her advanced longe lessons. To stay fresh and keep improving, she still trains regularly with Carel Eijkenaar (website).
Michelle continues to clinic and lecture in a variety of locations throughout Ohio, western NY, and PA.
In August of 2009, Michelle married Dave Perkins and they are living out their happily ever after every day.