February 2018 - Wildflower Farm & Fortuna Del Charro

Excelling under new ownership, two high-end stables create their own “happy place” for horses and riders.

Photos courtesy of Erin Lane Luth and Erin Perryman Photography

Olympian Guenter Seidel’s relocation to Wildflower Farm in Encinitas is not the only hot development at the first-class training and boarding facility; since purchasing the already beautiful eight-acre property a year ago, Alan Smith has implemented physical upgrades and inspired attitude adjustments that almost seemed too good to be true when he first spoke of them.

 

Alan Smith with Vinski TT at Fortuna Del Charro/Jasmin Stair Stables. Photo courtesy of Erin Lane Luth

Alan with Vinski TT at Fortuna Del Charro

Alan comes from the high-finance world and his purchase of Wildflower Farm and its sister stable, Fortuna Del Charro (which hosts Jasmin Stair Stables), dovetailed with his dive back into a sport he loved as a boy. Rapidly accelerating as a jumping rider himself, Alan approaches stable management from the angle of what’s best for the horses, trainers and their clients. Wildflower Farm trainer meetings in which he and longtime operations manager Niki DeGraan ask “What do you need to be successful?” have resulted in significantly upgraded footing, brand new jumps and many other individual barn enhancements including additional tack and cross tie spaces.

 

The setting for Wildflower was already awe-inspiring. The quiet location in the heart of the horse-dense San Diego County’s Encinitas/Olivenhain area is surrounded by bridle paths, draped in shade trees and dressed in mature and meticulously-maintained landscaping.

Yet amidst all those physical improvements and amenities, it’s a new attitude that stands out most. “Alan has brought a new, positive energy to the place,” says Scott Taylor, partner with Mark Bone in the top hunter/jumper program Huntover. “There’s open communication between Alan, Niki and myself and Mark and many conversations about how Huntover and the other training businesses here can thrive and grow. They are open and welcoming and Mark and I have felt like we are very much a part of all the changes that have gone on here.”

Alan with Zaratina B at Fortuna Del Charro

Alan Smith with his GSDHJA Sportsmanship Trophy

Giving resident trainers and staff a sense of ownership in Wildflower’s success is a priority in the new management’s approach, along with providing what they need to be equipped for and happy in their work. “Ever seen an unhappy stall cleaner do their job?” Alan asks rhetorically. Conversely, super-service is Wildflower’s watchword. It’s expected from everyone from management to the four-person maintenance team, and from those who base their business there.

Top Trainers

Guenter Siedel & Michelle Reilly

Jill Richardson

Creating a roster of professionals whose businesses complement rather than compete against each other is one of the reasons Wildflower retains the “no drama” mantra that Alan and Niki insist on. They share common ground in an emphasis on top-notch horse care, excellent horsemanship and success on the A circuit and all have a sales, leasing and/or imports component. At the same time, each has something a little different to offer clients and that’s helped foster a collaborative spirit. Trainers helping each other with a horse or student is a common sight. If a good client isn’t the right fit for one pro’s business, that trainer is likely to refer them to a Wildflower colleague.

Guenter’s business and Huntover are just two of six top quality training programs based at Wildflower. Along with Huntover, Wendy Lee Thompson’s Coastline Hunter Jumpers, Rose Carver’s Touchstone Stable and Jill Painter Richardson’s Opus Equinus Farms cater to hunter/jumper clients targeting the upper echelons of the sport. World ranked dressage trainer and competitor Michelle Reilly has been a great addition to Wildflower, bringing this discipline to the farm at a top notch level, along with Guenter, who is also Michelle’s coach.

Wendy Thompson

Scott Taylor

With locations at Wildflower and the Los Angeles area’s Bell Canyon, Huntover is a well- known name on the A circuit nationally. Its current clientele includes riders approaching the Grand Prix jumping arena and their history includes success at the highest levels in equitation, hunters and international jumping. Opus Equinus’ niche is the education background of owner Jill Richardson. Along with extensive experience as an equestrian professional, Jill has a Masters in Education and has helped guide several students to athletic scholarships and team spots in the country’s NCEA equestrian league. Wendy Lee Thompson’s Coastline Hunter Jumpers brings out the best in every horse with her patient approach, good horsemanship and attention to detail. It’s exemplified recently by her development of top young horses and her gradual ascent to Grand Prix with Simpatica 33, a mare that came to her five years ago with a troubled past and super sensitive personality. Touchstone Stable’s Rose Carver puts a main focus on developing the relationship between horse and rider to reach each client’s goals. Rose is a popular catch rider and a big name in the open hunter divisions.

Alan with his trainer, Jasmin Stair

Rose Carver

Dressage Debuts

Dressage is new to Wildflower, which was previously owned by international show jumper Simon Nizri. FEI-ranked dressage rider Michelle Reilly came first last fall, bringing her expertise as a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. Guenter’s students are primarily professionals and Michelle is one of them. He was impressed with Wildflower while visiting to coach her.

Impressed, that is, with everything except the first rendition of the dressage arena, he notes. By the time Guenter moves his horses in, the dressage arena will have all new top quality footing, beginning with a newly-leveled and graded base. His horses will move into a 20-stall barn perched at the top of the property that received a similarly extensive refurbish. The upper barn remodel is part of management’s mission to make every stall and stable on the grounds equally desirable, Alan notes.

Guenter is coming from one of the most beautiful facilities in the country, Albert Court in Rancho Santa Fe, where he’d been based for close to 20 years. It’s hard to leave that behind, he acknowledges, but he’s also excited about what Wildflower has to offer. The design and layout are highly functional for training purposes and the visual appeal and peaceful nature are strong bonuses for clients and horses. Plus, “I really get the feeling that Alan and Niki are on board to do things right,” he notes. Guenter already had a good vibe from Alan after initially getting to know him through his partner, Sean Caddell, the realtor for Alan’s purchase of his other equestrian property, Fortuna Del Charro. (Caren Kelley was Wildflower’s agent.)

There are currently eight stalls open at Wildflower, but Alan isn’t in a hurry to fill them. He’s working with the trainers, asking, “How many more horses would you like to have in the program and what is your plan to get them?” He’d rather fill the stalls by helping each trainer fulfill their program-size goals than bring on another professional. The high level of horsemanship that takes place at Wildflower goes along with an ebb and flow of horses coming to and from show circuits throughout the country, so some extra stabling is handy. Openings also motivate trainers to keep their businesses in growth mindset, adds Alan in his business mentor mode.

Fortuna Del Charro and Jasmin Stair Stables Arena

Along with supporting their own trainers, Alan and Niki want Wildflower to be a hub of the area’s equestrian community. Sharing knowledge and resources and holding occasional open houses is part of that plan. Alan’s receipt of the Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association’s coveted Sportsmanship Award for 2017 reflects recognition of his efforts well beyond Wildflower.

Alan’s own trainer Jasmin Stair sheds light on his receipt of the award: “I have never trained someone with such a passion to learn, to support others and be a positive influence on everyone he meets. He truly is a positivity magnet that pulls the best out of each of us. He makes me excited to teach everyday.”

Fortuna Del Charro

Along with Wildflower, Alan owns Fortuna Del Charro in Rancho Santa Fe. Formerly known as Leatherdale West and the home of international dressage rider Sue Blinks, Fortuna Del Charro is on Alan’s personal property, where he lives with his wife and two children. He keeps his own three jumpers there and hosts his coach Jasmin Stair’s hunter/jumper training program - Jasmin Stair Stables. Because it’s his home, Alan was very selective about who Fortuna Del Charro’s trainer would be, and he is a walking billboard for Jasmin’s ability to develop talented and solid riders. Jasmin grew up only a few miles from Fortuna and has been a familiar face in the San Diego show ring since she was very young. Her passion for the sport along with her dedication, hard work, and love of horses has brought her to where she is today, with clients excelling on the GSDHJA and A circuits in the hunter, jumper and equitation rings. Jasmin believes that a barn needs to be built around good horsemanship and individualized attention and, from there, success will be found. Alongside Alan, Jasmin and her team have built a carefully crafted boutique environment that is as customized and detail oriented as it is enjoyable.

JSS and Fortuna are known around the circuits as the “fun and positive barn” where a welcoming atmosphere is a constant and clients feel supported by staff and the “family” of peers who cheer each other on rain or shine. This well-rounded approach to teaching, training and camaraderie continues to produce riders who consistently exceed their goals and fall in love with the sport more and more everyday - just like Alan.

Wildflower Arena

After riding a little as a kid, Alan returned to the sport less than two years ago. Today, he rides three horses, in three lessons, six days a week. That 18 hours of weekly instruction has fast-tracked his learning to the point where he’s successfully showing in the modified Jr/Am jumpers on the county level, and gearing up to tackle at the highly competitive 1.10M jumper division this season at HITS Coachella. Great horses have been helpful, but Alan gives most of the credit to Jasmin. “She has a true interest in developing each rider,” Alan explains. “She’s able to take my skill set to my fullest potential, then turn around and do the same with someone with a different skill set and goals.”

There are currently openings for three horses at Fortuna Del Charro and within the Jasmin Stair Stables program. The facility has been completely outfitted for jumping, including making the ring substantially larger, purchasing show quality hunter and jumper style jumps, and re-doing the footing with the same care and considerable investment put into Wildflower’s arenas.

Plus, it’s a fun place to be. Jasmin’s current clients are mostly amateur adult riders, all of them serious about the sport but not stuffy. Saturday barbecues and practice shows with mimosa prizes are regular occurrences, says Alan. He’s always a fierce contender in those “shows” and, on both the county and A circuits, has racked up many top ribbons in various jumper divisions. He notes, “We have a great group of people and we all love what we’re doing.”

As a rider and horse owner, Alan understands that people want their stable to be their “happy place.” That’s why it’s so important that team members at every level, at both of his properties, have what they need to be successful and content in their work. Wildflower Operations Manager Niki DeGraan describes Alan’s approach as positive, proactive and inspiring. Micromanagement is not his style and with Niki, there’s no need for it. “Her staying on board was a prerequisite of my purchasing Wildflower,” says Alan, joking a little but not entirely.

The good effects of the “happy place” management goal extends to horses, notes Wildflower trainer Wendy Thompson. “My horses love it here,” she enthuses. Taylor Goni, a student at Fortuna Del Charro, expresses a similar sentiment: “Our horses could not be more content - and neither could we.”

Whether it’s felt by the horses or their humans, that growing sentiment makes Wildflower Farm and its sister stable, Fortuna Del Charro, new models of success for high-end training and boarding properties everywhere.