Saturday, May. 27, 2023

Janice Holmes Lives And Breathes Horses To Her Heart’s Content

This Midwestern trainer survived a major health scare to come back stronger than ever.

As sole proprietor of Holmestead Stables in Milford, Ohio, Janice Holmes moves fast and gets the job done, whether that means riding several horses a day or teaching upwards of 60 lessons a week. She’s well known throughout Midwest eventing, dressage and hunter/jumper circles as a woman of upbeat, abundant energy, so her friends worried during the summer of 2007 when Holmes seemed to be running out of gas.



This Midwestern trainer survived a major health scare to come back stronger than ever.

As sole proprietor of Holmestead Stables in Milford, Ohio, Janice Holmes moves fast and gets the job done, whether that means riding several horses a day or teaching upwards of 60 lessons a week. She’s well known throughout Midwest eventing, dressage and hunter/jumper circles as a woman of upbeat, abundant energy, so her friends worried during the summer of 2007 when Holmes seemed to be running out of gas.

“Anyone who knows Janice knows she can do a course walk pretty fast, but we noticed the summer of 2007 that she was slowing down,” said long-time friend Cheryl Steele, who started riding with Holmes in 1996. “We didn’t think it was a health issue. We thought, ‘She’s just getting up there in age.’ ”

Holmes, 48, also tried to shrug it off.

“I started not feeling good on cross-country course walks,” said Holmes, who might have a dozen or more clients trailing her. “I’d have to stop and rest, and I couldn’t walk up hills. My heart was pounding all the time.”

To someone who had ridden to the two-star level, a pounding heart seemed like nothing: “I thought it was stress. Of course your heart always pounds in the start box!”

Then, in September 2007, on the way home from Flying Cross Horse Trials (Ky.), she had to pull over while driving the horse trailer, afraid she might pass out. Later that month, a friend’s husband died of a heart attack in his sleep. Holmes hadn’t had a physical since 1996, although she’d known since age 16 she had a heart murmur. Since she’d recently obtained health insurance, she made an appointment for November.

“They said the heart murmur was really bad, that there was blood sloshing back and forth,” she said. But they couldn’t figure out why she was short of breath, so they told her to try eating a healthy diet and scheduled her for more tests. During the echocardiogram in December, even Holmes could see that it wasn’t normal. “They diagnosed me with a hole in the heart,” she said.

Properly called an atrial septal defect, hers was among the biggest they’d seen in someone her age.

All About Horses

All her life, Holmes has lived and breathed horses. “I started riding when I was 8 and dabbled in a lot of things as a kid: reining, cutting, western pleasure, a lot of rodeo contesting,” she said.

Raised on a farm in the “typical farming community” of Wakeman in northern Ohio, she said, “There were 89 students in my graduating class, and my mother drove the school bus. I couldn’t get in trouble because she saw the principal every day.”

Holmes’ interest in western riding stemmed from her older brother’s rodeo habit and her involvement in 4-H. “I also did saddle seat equitation and galloped race horses. It was a little bit of everything,” she said.

Although her first pony bucked her off, Holmes persisted. Her father, who loved Arabians, bought mares that they bred to Quarter Horses. Holmes would start the babies and sell them to saddleseat riders. By age 14, she was also walking to a nearby Thoroughbred farm and starting their race horses; later, she retrained those who failed at racing for new careers.


“That’s how I paid for college,” she said, “training ex-race horses as hunters and raising my own horses, cows and chickens. I also had a one-acre garden and sold veggies out of the garden.”

Holmes paid her college bills without grants or loans, graduating from Ohio State University in Columbus in 1983 with a dual major in animal science and agricultural education. She earned her M.Ed. in 1994 from Xavier University in Cincinnati.

After college, Holmes moved to southern Ohio and taught animal science for 13 years at Live Oaks Vocational School near Cincinnati. She also taught riding at Childress Rodgers Stables, a hunter/ jumper barn in Milford.

Eventing caught her eye when she jump judged at Rolex Kentucky in the early 1990s. “I thought it’d be really cool to ride like that,” she said.

Turning Tragedy Into A Future

Holmes’ brother died in 1979, and her father suffered a fatal heart attack in 1988. When her mother succumbed to lung cancer in 1992, she was alone.

But the tragic loss of her family eventually turned into a chance to make a dream come true. “My parents left me some money, and the taxes were killing me, so my financial advisor said, ‘It’s time to do what you want.’ I said, ‘I want to have my own farm.’ ”

Holmes established Holmestead Stables on 15 acres and built the white, blue-trimmed 18-stall barn, an attached 80′ x 150′ indoor and a 150′ x 250′ outdoor arena, bank jump included. She has a water complex, and other cross-country jumps are integrated along pasture fencelines.

Holmes is renowned for her dedication to her students and their horse sports. She’s at nearly every eventing competition in Area 8, and she is on the professional staff for northern Kentucky’s Camargo Hunt, helping to welcome guests, explain the rules and traditions and ensure that they’re safe. She also has a long-standing relationship with the Miami Valley Pony Club and is involved with the local dressage community. Holmes has her MidSouth Eventing and Dressage Association judge’s license for local events and earned her U.S. Eventing Association ICP Level II certification in 2007.

About 75 percent of her students are adult amateur riders. One of her students, age 63, earned her U.S. Dressage Federation bronze medal in 2008 on an ex-race horse. Adult riders are drawn to Holmes, said Morley Thompson, jt.-MFH for the Camargo Hunt and B-rated Pony Club graduate. Thompson has ridden with Holmes since 2002, after meeting her through foxhunting.

“She is very tolerant of people like me with ingrained old bad habits,” said Thompson. “She uses lots of repetition and is very positive any time she sees anything that looks like progress.”

For Holmes, it’s a win-win situation. Adult amateurs are fun to teach, she said. “They’re really motivated,” she said. “They want value in instruction. The adults really appreciate that I put a lot into the lesson, and they give a lot back.”

“It sounds corny, but she’s always pushing for excellence,” said Thompson, “whether for herself or her students.”
Soon after she started eventing in 1994, Holmes discovered an ex-race horse named Harry Holmes, whom she competed through 1998. With a name like that, she said, “I had to buy him! He was my first prelim horse.”

Eventing, History And Roller Coasters


Holmes is proud that she has always made her own horses. In 2000, the Irish Sport Horse Just Charlie came along. They competed at preliminary, and then international rider Cathy Wieschhoff took “Charlie” to the upper levels in 2006 and 2007. Holmes plans to ride her new horse, Absolute Jack, at the training level in 2009.

One tradition at Holmestead Stables is for newcomers to eventing to groom for another rider from the barn or jump judge at an event. “I have some riders who come from other disciplines, and it’s a different mentality,” said Holmes. “I want them to come to a horse trials so they know what’s involved.”

She believes that people are more tolerant of such things as bad handwriting by dressage scribes and odd rulings by jump judges when they have been in their shoes. “I think that really puts a whole new light on things,” she said. “You’re more courteous to the volunteers if you have volunteered—and our sport needs volunteers.”

When Holmes is competing, long-time friend Chris Hayner grooms her mounts. They met at Childress Rodgers Stables in the mid-80s, and Hayner moved with Holmes when she established Holmestead Farm. According to Hayner, tradition dictates that anyone in Holmes’ truck gets a Reese’s Cup when crossing a state line. And a big bag of Holmes’ biggest weakness (peanut M&Ms) is usually close at hand.

Hayner is that friend who gets tickets to Broadway theater shows in Cincinnati in the winter and tags along to historical sites such as the war memorial they visited on the way to the 2008 USEA convention in New Orleans. A history buff, Holmes loves museums and battlefields and reading history books. She likes learning about anything.

“She’s always reading different things,” said Steele. “She likes to keep up on the news, and it’s not all just horse stuff. She loves to read.”

Holmes also loves amusement parks: “Roller coasters are my favorite—the higher, faster, scarier, the better! There’s a perception of risk and danger. It’s like eventing, but you’re strapped in.” This, from a woman who admits to a fear of heights: “I won’t go up in the hay loft. I will do anything to avoid going up there.”

At competitions, Hayner is in charge of making sure Holmes is on time. “I move her in the golf cart,” she said. A notoriously enthusiastic talker when explaining how to set up for a jump or answer the course designer’s question, Holmes sometimes lingers. “If she’s talking too long, I gun the engine on the golf cart,” said Hayner.

Holmes underwent surgery on Feb. 5, 2008. Because he’d never seen such a large ASD, her cardiologist invited a pediatric surgeon to assist (“So, you see,” said Holmes, “I really am young at heart!”) The patch—a clamshell device threaded through her femoral artery—needed enough cardiac tissue to seat itself and plug the hole, or she would be facing open heart surgery. As it turned out, the surgery took just 45 minutes, and the patch held. As a bonus, the repair also eliminated the longstanding heart murmur and the specter of additional cardiac surgery.

“When I woke up,” said Holmes, “I felt immediately better. It was Super Tuesday night. I was reading The Chronicle of the Horse, and I finished it, got up the next morning, took a shower and went home. The difference is phenomenal.” She fed the horses that afternoon and resumed teaching the next day.

In the aftermath, admitted Thompson, “We were going to call her cardiologist and ask if we thumped her on her chest if it would knock it out. She was going at full speed, too fast for everyone else. She’s more animated than ever.”

It is a busy life, Holmes readily admits. “But I really like it. My heart doesn’t pound anymore, I’m surrounded by really good people, and I’m doing exactly what I want to do.” 




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