In May, Teresa Visser will retire from Jamestown High School after 32 years in teaching to pursue her passion for training, showing and judging horses full time. The change will allow her to scale up her work as a national and international horse judge in competitions around the globe.
“I’m quitting a very solid career to go chase a dream,” Visser said. “But if I don’t do it now, I won’t. It’s time. You just have to find your passion and follow it.”
Visser’s passion for working with horses started very early in life.
“My family owns Benvelle Equestrian Center in Pequot Lakes, Minn., and I grew up next to two major Arabian horse farms,” Visser said. “They kind of adopted me.
“I was that kid that would be in the arena with the trainers in the middle of the night, watching what they were doing and learning.”
In the ninth grade, she acquired her first show horse through, what she called, “some shenanigans.”
“My good friend and I took a mare that we liked and bred it to one of their stallions without telling her mother,” Visser said. “We were naughty.
“That (filly) was my first show horse that I owned because I had to buy it. They sold it to me for $200 and she turned out to be a great mare. We won a lot over the years and she was a good partner.”
After years of competing in horse shows, Visser eventually became a judge.
“I judge equitation, horsemanship, showmanship, trail, western riding, western pleasure, hunter pleasure, English pleasure, show hack - all of the major rail classes, but then I also do working cow horse and roping so I have expertise that goes outside the normal,” she said.
“She’s very dedicated,” said Robin Barnes, Stutsman County 4-H program coordinator. “It’s a real hard job, but Teresa dedicates herself to learning and practicing and staying on top of the rules. She gets videos and studies video tapes, and she’s prepping before a show.”
Teresa has judged numerous horse competitions at the local, state and national levels and, in the last 15 years, she has judged international competitions in France, Germany, Holland, Canada and Mexico as well.
“She’s really well thought of and the proof is in the national and international level of competitions she judges,” said Karla Stanley, owner of Prairie Rose Training Center near Bismarck, N.D. “When there’s a national level of breed shows, it’s quite prestigious to judge those, and she gets asked quite regularly.”
Visser’s work with horses has had a significant impact on her work with students. From horses, she learned the importance of patience.
“This little mare that I have now, we’re having trouble getting on her - it takes 5 to 10 minutes to get on her without her panicking,” Visser said. “She has to just decide it’s OK.
“I have kids like that (in school), where you can’t give up on them. You just have to wait until they’re ready.”
This year, Visser started a horse group at JHS as part of the school’s FLEX enrichment program. Her group exposed students to horses and the benefits of working with them.
“Horses teach such responsibility to kids, more than probably any other animal, because of the bond and partnership,” Visser said. “You can’t do it by yourself, you have to have your partner.”
And that “partnership” is Visser’s favorite thing to witness when she is judging.
“When you see a horse, a 1,200 pound animal, working off of fingertips and invisible signals, and a true partnership going on, that’s pretty special,” Visser said. “The things that our modern horses can do, with lead changes and balance and cadence, it’s amazing. And that really makes me smile when I’m in the show ring.”
While Visser will miss her students, she is looking forward to having the extra time to dedicate to her work with horses.
“I’m going to pursue the judging full time,” she said. “And I have some young horses that I have some plans for and you can’t be in a regular job to do that.”
One of those young horses is a stallion named No Gun Dual who she calls Merle.
“He has a combination of both the genotype and phenotype,” Visser said. “He’s out of a world champion mare line - very athletic, quick footed. And his father is No Gun Play, my favorite stallion of all time.
“I haven’t had a prospect like this in quite a while so I’m very excited about him.”
After Merle is “broke,” Visser will oversee his daily conditioning, nutrition, practice with cows and training on a working ranch.
The ranch will be a new one for Visser. In June, she and her husband, John, will move from their ranch in Spiritwood, N.D., to a new ranch with “20 acres and four stalls” in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They plan to spend their retirement there.
“There’s a weather anomaly there and there’s a lot of horse activities there,” Visser said. “It’s close to the Denver airport for when I go overseas (to judge).”
Despite all of the life changes Visser will encounter beginning in May, there is one thing that won’t change.
“I am still that horse crazy youngster inside and I have the best seat in the house to cheer on these wonderful creatures,” she said.