September 2019 - Mark Watring Stables
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Saturday, 31 August 2019 21:54
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Expert training and a happy, family atmosphere distinguish thriving hunter/jumper program.

by Kim F. Miller

As a coach and horseman, Mark Watring brings a remarkable breadth of experience to clients at his hunter/jumper training program in the Los Angeles area’s Hidden Valley. His dossier is dotted with Olympics, Pan American Games and eight international championship medals, along with World Cup Finals and many other international competitions. And he’s far from done as a contender himself, giving his students an ever-fresh and relevant take on tackling riding, horsemanship and horse care questions in every form.

At the international level, Mark took an unconventional course. He started out as an eventer representing the United States. He was based in England for three years, a stretch that concluded in 1982 with being the top-placed American rider at the Burghley Horse Trials and earning a reserve team spot at the Eventing World Championships at Luhmühlen, Germany.

On returning to the States, Mark worked under renowned eventer Bruce Davidson. When a horse injury mid-way through the U.S. selection trials derailed his hopes to represent the States in the 1984 Olympics, Mark reached out to his birth locale, Puerto Rico, and earned the chance to represent them that year. He has ridden for the U.S. Territory ever since.

Mark & Jenny Watring with Sapphire, Saphir & Cortir. Photo: Wendy Gleason/

In 2003, Mark and his most famous mount, Sapphire, helped Puerto Rico win show jumping gold at the Pan American Games, then represented them well as individuals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

In addition to his competitive accomplishments, Mark is well known as one of the first to clone a superstar horse. In this case, it was Sapphire, whose clone, Saphir, is 9 and coming along nicely toward the upper divisions. A troop of science camp kids came to visit the handsome grey stallion recently and Mark enjoyed their excitement over meeting and interacting with a real live cloned horse. “To us, at this point, he’s a regular horse.”

Except for being slightly smaller in stature than his famous clone, Saphir is a convincing example of the technology’s ability to reproduce the appearance, athletic ability and temperament of the source horse. So much so that colleagues often comment when Mark and Saphir exit the ring: “I know that canter. That’s Sapphire’s clone, right?”

The main reason for cloning Sapphire was to preserve the gelding’s genetics. Saphir has one foal in Mark’s program, Cortir, and about 100 straws of semen frozen for the future. Out of a Cassini I mare owned by Mark’s wife Jenny, named Cortina, Cortir is owned in partnership with the Washington family, clients who include three riders: mom Jewels, and kids Austin and Bianca.

At 28, Sapphire is a celebrity around the stable. Jenny Watring, a fellow horsewoman and training partner, has trained him to work “on the wire,” and rides him with only that Foxfield Drill Team hallmark on a regular basis. “He gets worked every day and he still looks and moves great.”  

Mark and Sapphire in their heyday.

A Pleasant Place To Be

The best testimony about the vibe at Mark Watring Stables comes from the least horsey guy on the property. That is the husband of amateur jumper rider Jessica Hertzog White. “He’s always been supportive of my riding,” says Jessica, who won her first Grand Prix, at Huntington Beach, in July. Since she moved to Mark’s stable in Ventura County’s Hidden Valley 18 months ago, “now he even comes out to watch my lessons. He’s not a rider but he appreciates the welcoming environment and loves watching me do what I love to do in such a comfortable place.”

Arena action can be viewed from comfy seats on a nicely landscaped berm or from a cozy office and boarder lounge. Riders in the ring don’t have it quite so cushy. Mark is a famously nice guy, but also a challenging coach who attracts clients whose definition of fun includes taking their riding seriously.

Courtney Shattuck is an accomplished amateur rider who goes way back with Mark—back to his days as an instructor at the Foxfield Riding School in Westlake Village. She circled back to his program when she returned to the sport as an adult and has enjoyed making steady progress herself with several horses. Injuries have sidelined her of late, but she’s enjoyed watching relatively new clients advance under Mark’s direction. “He is such a good coach and trainer that they are always getting better,” she notes. “Often relatively quickly.”

Mark moved to his current location at Hidden Valley Ranch Equestrian Center four years ago. Prior to that he was based for many years nearby at Blakiston Ranch. The move enabled him to expand his clientele to what now averages 50 horses in training: a manageable number thanks to help from Jenny and assistant trainer Jackie Bogstad. A relatively even mix of juniors and amateur riders naturally staggers the lesson and riding schedules so that “things never feel too crazy crowded,” he says.

The positive vibe at Mark Watring Stables is rivaled by the setting. Bright, well-ventilated stables house big stalls and breezy, wide aisleways. Spacious tack rooms and grooming areas make for pleasant horsekeeping and an air-conditioned office and lounge area enhance non-riding time. A warm-up track around the arenas and ample trails throughout the beautifully landscaped, tree-laden property are nice extras for everybody.

Jenny & Sapphire today.

A Sane Approach To Showing

Most of Mark’s riders enjoy competing and excel on that stage. “We’re not point chasers, though,” Mark explains. “We’ve been doing one or two shows a month, and we don’t go from one show to the next. We all like our home time, then to gear up and do a show.” The itinerary is always open for discussion based on client preferences and abilities. Some like to stay near home, which is easy to do from their base at the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Some like to venture further and “make new friends,” as Courtney Shattuck says. She hopes to hit Spruce Meadows and Thunderbird, both in Western Canada, next year.  “Mark is always up for going new places and seeing new faces if enough people want to go.”

“I think I have another Olympic Games in me,” Mark says of his own competitive career. His resume includes the 1984 Games as an eventer and the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece as a show jumper, both for Puerto Rico. “I’m on a once every 20 years schedule.” That would put him on pace for 2024 in Paris. Now all he needs is a horse….or two or three. A shopping trip to Europe is probably in the cards, and with six years, there is ample time to develop a talented youngster.

Mark Watring competing at the Burghley Horse Trials

Meantime, Mark enjoys bringing Saphir and various client horses up the levels. He’s pleased about the increase in prize money for the lower height Grand Prix circuit, the 1.4 to 1.45M. “That’s been good for the sport because there’s a lot more jobs for more horses and it makes it so more horses have a chance to earn some money back, rather than always running at a negative number.”

Having Mark be an active competitor is one of his strongest points as a coach, notes Jessica. She is an experienced rider who moved to Mark 18 months ago for help with her current Grand Prix partner, Kitty, a first-timer at that level. She and Mark have competed head to head in some of these classes and getting Mark’s “real time perspective and coaching tips is a big bonus,” she explains.

Riding is a famously individual sport, but Jessica says riding with Mark and his training program make it seem more of a team endeavor. “That’s how it feels and that’s how we approach it.”

Part of that team spirit approach stems from Mark and Jenny’s family emphasis. Their own two boys, Stone and Sterling, are sophomores in high school and college, respectively. The boys both rode a little, then gravitated to their own sports and activities, Sterling going onto a collegiate opportunity for soccer. Having mastered that parental juggling act themselves while maintaining a thriving equestrian business, Mark and Jenny have a unique understanding for horses being an important part of their clients’ lives but not their only priority.  “We have a wide-ranging clientele and we know the demands of everyday life,” Mark shares.

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