Joie Gatlin & Morley Abey Show Jumping come “home” to San Juan Capistrano set to soar higher than ever.
by Kim F. Miller
Show jumper Joie Gatlin got an unusually nice birthday gift this past November. That’s when she and her husband and partner Morley Abey got the call from two longtime clients to say they had just closed their purchase of the equestrian property and facilities at The Oaks in San Juan Capistrano.
Across the creek from the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park venue, The Oaks site was long a hub of Southern California equestrian activity as the home of Joan Irvine Smith’s breeding program, a training operation, hunter/jumper shows and big Grand Prix classes. As a young professional, Joie actually started her business there in 1992 and Morley worked for Mrs. Smith when he first moved to the States from Canada.
The move is a sentimental homecoming for Joie and Morley and much more. The refurbished stables and training amenities are the perfect place to prepare for highest-level competition, primarily in the jumper arena for Joie, a veteran international rider, and clients who aspire to follow in her footsteps.
While jumpers is the emphasis, Joie Gatlin & Morley Abey Show Jumping also campaigns on the hunter and “Big Eq” circuits when a student wants to pursue that path. In short, the top tier of any discipline is what Joie and Morley want to prepare their clients for.
They have done the mega show barn in the past “and that’s not the way we are going,” Morley explains. They’ll be moving into The Oaks’ 26-stall main barn and predict that will be about the maximum number of horses they’d ever want to take on. Most of those stalls will be occupied by the horses of longtime clients moving with them from their headquarters of the last three years, Giracci Farms & Vineyards in East Orange County’s Silverado, with a few openings for new customers.
“We want to keep it very boutique,” says Morley. “If you train with Joie and Morley, that’s who you get.” Prospective clients are those ready to travel. “We want to stay mobile because we have a lot of goals,” he continues. “For Joie, that’s the World Equestrian Games and the World Cup Finals, etc. For most of our customer base, going to those same shows with Joie is want they want to do to reach their own goals.”
Spruce Meadows and Thunderbird in Canada will continue to be on JGMA’s itinerary because the high level of competition there enables all horses and riders to raise their game. For Joie, goals include being a 2017 World Cup Finals or 2018 WEG contender, while young riders may target the North American Junior Young Riders championship. Twenty-one-year-old Chandler Meadows was part of Zone 10’s bronze medal winning Young Rider team last summer, with Morley as chef d’equipe. A European tour is in the planning stages for the stable’s jumping clients.
Although the JGMA team will be in road warrior mode much of the season, having the right home base is critical to their game plan. Two refurbished arenas with ideal jumping footing are set for their hopeful early-January move-in and plans include returning the grass field to use and building some natural derby obstacles. Turn-outs, a Eurociser and a quiet, beautiful setting with trails along San Juan Creek are among The Oaks’ unique amenities.
People and attitude are as important as location and amenities in creating the right home base, and they’ll have all of that at The Oaks.
The fact that the property was purchased by the Meadows and Smith families for Joie and Morley speaks to the nature of the barn culture they’ve developed over the past 20 years. “There’s a chemistry between all of our clients and that’s important,” Morley says. Horsemanship goals are high and the work to attain them is hard, but they also promote joy in the journey. “There’s a lot of laughter. The sport is expensive and it can be stressful, but it’s also fun and there is no reason not to find ways to enjoy it.”
Christina Smith was relieved to find the JGMA vibe intact after a 16-year hiatus from the sport. She trained with Joie and Morley as a junior, then stopped riding in early adulthood. She’s now the married mom of three and when her 6 year old daughter, Sienna, wanted to ride a pony, she knew who to call. “The minute I reconnected with them, I could tell that they hadn’t changed. They’re still great people,” Christina says. “When I met everyone in the barn, they were different people, of course, but there was this same family vibe.”
She lasted about five months visiting the stable with her daughter before the urge to resume riding herself overtook her. She bought her own horse, Chancelor, in July and hit the fall circuit big time, doing well in the Adult Amateur Hunter ranks at the Thermal Sunshine shows and the Las Vegas National.
Christina and her husband Jeremy Smith partnered with fellow clients, Rob and Sandy Meadows, in purchasing The Oaks. “We wanted a nice place where everybody can have fun and where our kids will be safe,” she explains. Returning to the property brings back great memories of her junior days. “I’m really excited for my kids to have those same memories.”
The Smiths and the Meadows epitomize Joie and Morley’s ideal clients because they are interested in investing in their own success, that of Joie and Morley’s program and, often, the sport at large. At any level of investment, it’s a mindset of striving to be the best that is a common denominator among clients, whether they’re chasing Joie in the Grand Prix ring or targeting the equivalent on hunter or equitation tracks.
A team approach to supporting Joie’s Grand Prix career pays nice dividends. “Whenever you get the experience of competing against the world’s top riders and horses, it makes you better,” Joie explains. “It keeps us fresh and I’m always learning new things to bring back to our horses and riders. There’s a real trickle down effect.”
She has ample elite experience already. A USET Medals Finals winner as a junior, Joie went on to represent the States in World Cup, Olympic selection trials and in Europe as a member of West Coast Active Riders tour. Yet, she remains hungry for more and is currently developing a string of horses capable of taking her to new heights.
Contemporaries and clients praise the JGMA program on many fronts, and it’s their horsemanship that stands out above all to Alexis Meadows. The young amateur had ridden with others before she and her sister Chandler came to Joie and Morley in 2012. “You see a lot of people using this sport as an opportunity to make money and not necessarily putting the welfare of the horses first,” observes the accomplished Amateur Owner hunter competitor. “That’s something that was made very clear to me at the outset and I really appreciate that how they train their riders and manage their horses is all driven by what’s best for the horses and their happiness.”
Competing on the Indoors circuit in 2014 with her top hunter Lugano, Alexis was initially disappointed when Morley advised her to skip the fourth show of the circuit. Lugano had been “absolutely phenomenal” at the first three, Washington, Capital Challenge and Harrisburg, and was perfectly sound, she explains. “Morley said, ‘There’s no doubt you could do amazing things at Kentucky, but he’s already done a lot so let’s skip it.’” That proactive decision to protect her horse “was a good life lesson,” Alexis notes, and one that exemplifies the source of Joie and Morley’s success.
In returning to their geographic roots, with all the modern training amenities and many more years of experience, Joie and Morley look forward to leading their clients to the top of the sport while maintaining the horsemanship traditions that have propelled their success thus far. Like-minded students and owners are welcome as partners in the next phase of their journey.
For more information, visit www.joiegatlin.com.
Written by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 30 December 2016 02:14