San Diego professional operates an idyllic environment in Bonsall, and has a hand in growth of hunter/jumper sport in the area.
by Kim F. Miller
In Chestnut Hills Equestrian Center, Shayne Berridge Wireman has established the kind of training program that everybody wishes they or their children had grown up in. Located on her own property in San Diego County’s Bonsall, Chestnut Hills offers the gamut of riding opportunities, from beginner lessons to showing on the A hunter/jumper circuit. It’s what’s between those bookends that makes Chestnut Hills really stand out: summer camp sleepovers, beach rides, horse camping trips and, most importantly, an emphasis on having fun in the sport while taking the horsemanship side of it very seriously.
Since Chestnut Hills started nearly 30 years ago, the clientele mix has shifted with the economy’s ups and downs. In flush times, the program has been busy with sales and imports and the majority of students owned and campaigned their own horses. At other times the mix leans more toward students advancing on Shayne’s school horses, of which she currently owns 10. Wherever things are in that spectrum, horsemanship is always the number one priority.
“Every one of my kids knows how to poultice or wrap a leg, take a temperature and has a good grasp of overall horsemanship,” she explains. “Competition is a part of our program, but building that bond with a horse is the really important part.”
And then there’s the fun factor. She laughs about how the show horses typically react on camping trips to Cuyamaca State Park in San Diego County and Casper’s Wilderness Park in Orange County. “On the first day they spook at every rock, and by the second day they’re fine!”
Beach rides on Fiesta Island, in San Diego’s Mission Bay, are another favorite outing. So are field trips to Rider’s Field in Fallbrook, where students test their skills outside the arena on the cross-country course.
She is proud of having a multi-level program, with affordable entry points in the lesson program and for those who want to move on to the county shows. Chestnut Hills typically attends six to eight A circuit shows, including Week VIII of HITS Coachella this month. “At every level, there’s a place where students can test the waters of the next level,” Shayne explains.
Creating an Interscholastic Equestrian League team is the latest addition. The prompt was students wanting experience with the collegiate competition format of riding unfamiliar horses. Shayne teamed up with a few other barns and hosted their first San Diego show Feb. 11-12, at Heartland Ranch in Lakeside. “The response is tremendous,” says Shayne. Chestnut Hills’ team already numbers 17 high school and middle school members, most of whom are current students.
The IEA is a good complement to the San Diego’s Scholastic Equestrian League, which Shayne helped launch. In this league, middle and high schoolers compete for their schools, but on their own horses and at regular GSDHJA shows and classes.
Chestnut Hills’ breadth of activities keep Shayne busy, and she’s grateful for a talented and reliable staff. Shayne has approximately 25 to 30 students in regular training and assistant Sally Haddon teaches another 15 beginners. Ally Meeks is Shayne’s assistant trainer, doing the riding and coaching students when Shayne is on the road. Head groom Armando Castro doubles as facility manager. “He’s been with me for years. He takes such good care of the horses that I never worry when I’m out of town.”
A Parent’s Perspective
Shayne brings a parent’s perspective to her profession. Twelve-year-old Skylar Wireman is one of Chestnut Hills’ most successful students. This year, Shayne and Skylar ventured to Kentucky for their first US Pony Finals with Whispering Mikado. Based on Skylar’s good track record with previous ponies, fellow San Diego trainer Kelly Covey gave a then 9 year old Skylar the ride on the then 4 year old “Miki.”
“Not having had any experience with Pony Finals, it was a learning experience about how immensely huge the pony business is, especially on the East Coast,” Shayne shares. Skylar and Miki ended up 26 out of a huge field of the country’s top pairs. That’s impressive unto itself and even more so because she brought Miki along herself and did well amidst some pricey ponies carefully prepared by pros.
At an age when many kids are clueless about the cost of their activities, Skylar is well aware what it means to develop an “investment” pony. “It’s always hard because you get so attached to them, but she recognizes that it’s a job, a privilege and a way to get show mileage. She knows that, at some point, the pony will be sold, but she still loves them just as much.”
Skylar is already a green pony rider veteran. In 2014, at 9, she rode Bumble Bee to the West Coast Pony Finals championship. Since then, she brought along several green ponies and has catch ridden a few. She showed three green ponies to ribbons in the 2016 West Coast Pony Challenge.
Remarkably, Skylar is also an accomplished gymnast. Shayne admits it’s getting harder to juggle both sports, for both mother and daughter. However, as with the ponies, the rewards of Skylar’s hard work make it tough to give it up. In the long term, Shayne predicts Skylar will focus on horses. In the gym setting, when people ask Skylar about Olympic aspirations, she surprises many by saying, “Yes, I want to go to the Olympics, but on a horse.”
“She’s a hard worker,” says mother of daughter. “And she loves to be active.” The natural athleticism may come more from Skylar’s dad, Shayne says. She sees her own focus and competitive drive in her daughter, too.
Shayne is grateful that she sought advice on how to parent a talented, driven athlete. Other trainer/parents advised her to “Don’t push it, let her play and ride around and yee-haw. Don’t pick at her, just let her ride. They all said that, when doing things correctly becomes important to her, she’ll work on it. They were right. I never tried to make it something that she had to do. I wanted her to ride because she loves it and she does.”
Along with running a sizable training program and being the mom of a two-sport athlete, Shayne is also longtime president of the Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association. She took the reins in the late 90s and has enjoyed helping the organization grow to about 800 members and into a unique association led mostly by trainers motivated to grow the sport and provide opportunities for their students.
“I enjoy making sure that the sport grows in a way that I think is positive and beneficial,” Shayne explains. “I came from a family without much money but with a strong work ethic and the idea that you can achieve anything you want to. I like that, with GSDHJA, we have a place where kids can compete in a relatively affordable way and get good rewards for it.
“The Greater San Diego trainers really work well together and have a mutual respect and camaraderie between us,” she continues. “That’s fostered an environment in our county shows of real community. We know we can ask each other for help, when needed, and we will be there for each other.”
It’s a cooperative, positive vibe that’s caught the notice of out-of-area trainers competing at GSDHJA shows. “I think we sometimes don’t realize how good we have it,” Shayne says. “We’ve had USEF large-R judges come to our Championship show and tell us how impressed they are by the size and the quality of our show, even though it’s not a USEF-rated competition.”
Board members including James Waldman, Cathy Robinson and Amy Drinco are among many San Diego professionals who have helped make the association what it is. Shayne appreciates the good work of the California Professional Horsemen’s Association, the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association and the United States Hunter Jumper Association. Getting involved in these regional and national organizations is something she’d like to consider later on, but for right now her plate is full and happily so.