Where Is The Next Generation Of Horsemen Coming From?

Jun 20, 2016 - 10:46 AM

The USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program has restored our columnist’s faith in the future.

When I was 5 years old, I announced to my mother (who got bucked off of a 3-year-old colt that she was starting when she was eight months pregnant with me) that I was going to be a horse trainer when I grew up. To which my mother replied, “That’s nice, but you will never know everything there is to know about horses.”

And so I set out on my journey to prove her wrong.

I was largely self-taught. We didn’t have the financial means for me to take formal lessons or even to compete at rated horse shows. I wouldn’t realize until later in life how fortunate I was to have a mother and father who were, and still are, amazing horsemen. I learned everything I could from reading books and magazines and experimenting on my sister and on our horses. I essentially learned from trial and error.

As a young professional, I, like many of my era, did much of the work. We drove the truck and trailer to the shows, groomed, braided, rode and competed on the horses, coached our students, longed and bathed the horses as well as rubbed down, wrapped, fed, and did the office work (all in a day’s work)!

Fifty years later I’m still learning so much every day, it’s mind-boggling. The more I know, the more I realize there is still so much more to learn. In the words of Jimmy Williams, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.”

I have to admit I was concerned about the future of our sport in terms of new blood in the professional horseman department. I see a lot of young trainers coming up through the ranks who are living from horse show to horse show, learning to compete, but not learning the nuts and bolts of running a horse business. It seems like everyone these days has professional shippers, braiders, grooms, assistant trainers and personal assistants. A lot of our new professionals are skipping the training and schooling at home, not learning the values of basics, stable management, veterinary and farrier care, securing clients, matching them with suitable partners, teaching them about horses, the history of the sport, anatomy, grooming, evaluating, purchasing, making a horse and managing that horse’s career from start to finish.

The older I get the more I realize that when you are young and starting out, all you want out of life is to be rich and famous. As you go through life and become older and wiser, you realize the most important thing is to be happy and healthy.

Recognizing And Certifying Professionals

I’m a big fan of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, which was founded as an education-based group. Two committees that I serve on are dear to my heart.

First is the Trainer Certification Program, which gives credibility to our sport by recognizing and certifying our professionals. The concept is to get everyone in the system at the ground level, requiring a simple horsemanship quiz, among other reasonable requirements.

All “horse trainers” should have some basic knowledge of horses, teaching theory, safety, rules and regulations, barn management, and horse welfare. At the entry level, this TCP certification is similar to a driver’s license. Just because you receive one doesn’t mean you are a good driver or trainer! But as a Certified Trainer you are agreeing to uphold the standards of the American Hunter/Jumper Forward Riding System.

Although there has been a lot of backlash with this program, everyone must realize that professionals in all other walks of life must obtain some sort of license or certificate to operate or work in a business. Doctors, lawyers and airline pilots are the obvious examples, but hair dressers, life guards and estheticians must be certified as well.

Becoming a Certified Trainer shows your dedication to furthering your education, not only to your peers, but to your clients as well. Certified Trainers can take advantage of the extensive Certified Trainer Directory on the USHJA website. Certified Trainers have the opportunity to promote themselves and their business, with current U.S. Equestrian Federation data displayed to highlight the trainer’s accomplishments and activities within the last year.

The TCP committee is evaluating options for different classifications for trainers geared to their individual levels of expertise. By identifying the trainers’ specialties, a potential client can make an educated choice when seeking riding lessons, horse training or sales.

The program requires a minimum of three years’ experience in the field. However, there is also a provisional license given to those with less experience, upgradeable as they obtain the additional years needed.

EAP For Education And Exposure

But the program that really hits home for me is the Emerging Athletes Program.

This program—more of an opportunity than a competition—is designed to help those kids in the trenches, those who are maybe under the radar or haven’t had the opportunity to learn from the best.

This education-based program really stresses HORSEMANSHIP! The emphasis is on the whole package: horse care, stable management, veterinary and farrier knowledge, history of our sport, flatwork, gymnastics, coursework, as well as studying the TCP manual and horsemanship quiz study guide.

These lucky, hungry equestrians get exposure to much more, such as breeding, conformation, course design and judging. The educational opportunities are endless.

The program was implemented in 2009. Originally there were 10 local level clinics offered to accepted applicants. These clinics were given throughout the country by Melanie Smith-Taylor. Riders were chosen from these clinics to advance to five regional clinics. Then the final dozen earned a trip to a national finals with Olympian Peter Wylde.

Currently there are nine to 10 regional clinics that are conducted by various elite clinicians across the country. In 2015, the EAP Committee had nearly 200 applications for the program. A maximum of 24 riders are accepted from each region. Based on feedback and report cards from regional clinicians, the EAP Committee (see sidebar) decides which 16 riders will move on to the final workshop. The finals are held at top venues each year with Wylde as lead clinician. The facility must have two to three classrooms, seating for 100 people, show quality jumps, safety cups, a liverpool, good footing, proper stabling, as well as easy access to airports, restaurants and hotels.

Because of the logistics, as well as the opportunity to advance their horsemanship skills, riders don’t bring their own horses to the finals. Organizers supply 18 suitable horses, comparable in size and experience.

I was somehow asked to be the clinician at the first regional clinic in 2009 at Gladstone, N.J. Are you kidding me? The iconic national training center of the United States Equestrian Team. I was freaked out, overwhelmed and psyched all at the same time!

I wasn’t yet on the committee and didn’t know what to expect. So I came armed with my gymnastics, horsemanship quizzes and other ideas I thought would be good for these riders. I was in for a pleasant surprise and an extraordinary experience. First, I got to meet Melanie and collaborate with her, as we graded the quizzes, watched the drama unfold in the barn, and judged the final course competition. Sharing my experience with these hard-working kids restored my faith in the future of horsemanship in our country! Although I had taught hundreds of people and many clinics in my career, I had never encountered this breed of hungry, hard-working, grateful rider. I was hooked! I got to meet and listen to Dr. Mark Baus lecture and answer great questions, so I was able to continue my education as well.

The inaugural EAP Finals was held at my farm, Maplewood Stables in Reno, Nev., in January of 2010. The panel of expert clinicians included Wylde, Smith-Taylor, Sally Ike and Dr. Midge Leitch. I happened to have a dozen horses at the time that were proficient at 1.20 meters and above in my stable as sale horses, client horses or my personal horses. Since it wasn’t financially feasible to ship the riders’ horses to Reno, we decided to have them draw horses and see what happened. Those first finals were amazing with so much talent and desire. The riders completely cared for the horses, including feeding, stall cleaning, hand walking and/or turnouts, grooming, tacking up, riding, cooling out, rubdown and wrapping, and night checks, and this routine is continued for regional and finals events. A lot of ideas that started at the first finals still continue today.

One of the first EAP finalists, Matt Wildung from Minnesota, said he decided once he came through the gates at Maplewood, he wasn’t leaving! This was the beginning of my idea to create an “intern program” for young aspiring professionals. And so was borne the Maplewood Intern Program. My two-year program gives young want-to-be professionals a chance to learn the business in a hands-on approach. They live on the property and ride and work in the business six days a week. They learn all aspects of the business, including but not limited to riding, training, teaching, client relations, marketing, sales, course design, judging, stable management, event production, colt starting, breeding, conformation, feeds and feeding, work ethic, and, most importantly, horse care!

If they make it the full two years, I can almost guarantee them a job in the industry. In fact, I usually have at least 10 professionals on a list, waiting to hire assistant trainers or barn managers from these graduates.

This past year I was the clinician for the Whip n’ Spur EAP Clinic in Oregon, as well as the Bedford, N.Y., clinic at Judy Richter’s beautiful Coker Farm. Side trips for the Oregon clinic included a field trip to Barb Ellison’s Wild Turkey Farm to view her top-notch breeding facility. In New York we got tours of McLain Ward’s farm from the man himself; Heritage Farm, led by Michael Dignelli; and Old Salem Farm, with Frank Madden. I felt like a kid in a candy shop! I learned a ton. The educational opportunities are endless with this program.

Amazing clinicians like Joe Fargis, Candice King, Chris Kappler, Anne Kursinski, Kip Rosenthal, Bernie Traurig, Karen Healey, Geoff Teall and myself continue to give time and expertise for the EAP Clinics. The awesome barn managers include Anne Thornbury, Nanci Snyder, Karen Golding and Colleen Reed.

Sally Ike, USEF Director of Education, is our EAP co-chair along with Wylde, who continues to be the expert clinician at the finals each year.

This is where I hope the future trainers are coming from. Because this program is what produces HORSEMEN, not just riders and trainers.

And of course my mom was right: I’ll never know all there is to know about horses. Continued education is the constant pursuit of excellence in knowledge of the wonderful horse that affords us a wonderful career and life, if we are lucky enough to be in the mix.


Julie Winkel has been a licensed hunter, equitation, hunter breeding and jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at events such as Devon (Pa.), the Pennsylvania National, Washington International (D.C.), Capital Challenge (Md.), the Hampton Classic (N.Y.) and Upperville (Va.). She has designed courses and judged equitation finals.

She has trained and shown hunters and jumpers to the top level and was a winner of multiple grand prix competitions and many hunter championships.

Winkel serves as co-chair of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Licensed Officials Committee and chairman of the USEF Continuing Education Committee, chairman of the USHJA Judges Task Force and the USHJA Officials Education Committee. She serves on the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program committee, Trainer Certification and Zone 10 Jumper Committee. She also sits on the Young Jumper Championship board of directors.

Winkel owns and operates Maplewood Inc., a 150-acre training, sales and breeding facility, standing grand prix jumpers Osilvis and Cartouche Z in Reno, Nev. Maplewood Inc. also offers a year-round internship program for aspiring horse industry professionals.

She writes a monthly column for Practical Horseman’s “Conformation Clinic” and is a contributing columnist to Warmbloods Today magazine as well as an EquestrianCoach.com blogger.

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