January 2015 - Flower Hill Farms
Written by Kim F. Miller
Wednesday, 31 December 2014 21:58
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Hunter/jumper program is fulfilling a successful model.

by Kim F. Miller

Top to bottom: Molly Hutchison & Finesse; Casey Thatcher & Lolita; Dani Johnson & Gratitude; Siena Ramirez; Jenna Frakes & Mr. Smitten

Top to bottom: Ciara O'Shea & Silver Lining; Skylar Wagman & Sidekick; Mclane Peed & FDF Confetti; Jessie Rechs & FDF Confetti; Alexis Sokolov & Believe You Me; Ashley Kent & The Statesman

“Those were the days,” says trainer Hailey Flowers of her equestrian upbringing. She learned to ride with her grandmother Wanda Bacastow, whose motto was “cowgirls don’t cry” and whose modus operandi for youngsters was doing everything involved in becoming a competent and confident horseman.

In her relatively young hunter/jumper training business, Flower Hill Farms in Del Mar, Hailey strives to reproduce that horsemanship-intensive approach. Along with that, she provides an atmosphere in which everyone feels at home and a management style that is professional and well organized. Those are traits Hailey observed and learned as a student, during her junior years, with Diana Yeater at Brooktree and, later, the Newmarket team.

Along the way, Hailey has developed some very successful riders. The stable cleaned up at last fall’s Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Assn. championship. Flower Hill riders won championship and/or top ribbons in multiple divisions, from walk-trot to 3’ jumpers and equitation over fences classes.

Flower Hill has a place for everyone from beginners to show riders ready to move up on the A circuit. Beginners start in the lesson program aboard show-quality school horses, which are available for lease when the time comes.

When students are ready to step up to their own horse, Hailey has a plan for that, too. “We focus on finding a horse that can tolerate that rider’s worst habit,” she explains. “We always want the new horse to be a challenge, however they must be willing to forgive their rider’s mistakes. I truly believe that every horse wants a job. When looking at horses, I want to make sure they look and feel like they want to be doing the job that they are expected to do. Any horse with a solid mind and a willing heart can be a champion.”

Whatever their level, students are assured a safe approach, sound and well-rounded instruction and fun. It’s telling that two students are moms who were so impressed with their daughters’ experiences that they took up the sport themselves.

Amy Wagner had never ridden before when she brought her now 9 year old daughter Skylar to Flower Hill Farms for lessons. The Wagners followed a familiar progression in starting with Wanda’s beginners-oriented El Camino Riding School then searching out a more advanced program when Skylar wanted to jump and compete. Hailey’s program came highly recommended and Amy couldn’t be happier.

In Skylar’s learning and her own, Amy explains that Hailey knows when to push riders and when to back-off.  The trainer has an eye for slight changes that make big improvements and patience for everything from a challenging pony to a neophyte’s questions about horse business basics. “Plus, we all laugh a lot and have a good time!” Amy says.

Fellow mom turned beginning hunter/jumper rider Shannon Nugent has a similar report. “Hailey has a really good rapport with the children. She teaches in a way that demands the best from them, and is still very encouraging.” Shannon’s daughter Jessie Rechs started with Hailey at 6 and is now 11 and poised to excel in the Low Childrens Hunters division this year. “I like the way she instills confidence in the kids,” Shannon says. “She knows what they are capable of.” Hailey’s approach has had the same positive impact on her own riding. “I just started showing last year and I was kind of nervous, but her confidence in me made it possible to take that first step, and then the next…It’s been so fun!”

An Individualized Approach

In keeping with students’ advancing skills, Flower Hill Farms will shift its itinerary more toward the A shows in San Diego and throughout Southern California. Thanks to an “incredible assistant,” Mclane Peed, all students’ needs are nicely met, whether they are showing or staying at home. The show schedule is relatively modest: typically one weekend month.

“Between the two of us, we are at the shows and riding the horses at home,” Hailey explains. Simultaneously, she continues to be a big fan of the GSDHJA shows. “It’s a great organization and the shows enable riders to have clear goals based around their divisions and point systems.”

The emphasis on good, old-fashioned horsemanship means that the bulk of training happens at home, where horses and riders benefit from an individualized approach.

“Every horse has their own personality and their own way of communicating with their riders,” Hailey comments. “I take my time trying to figure out how each of my training horses think, how to bring them down after they get upset or what kind of positive reinforcement they respond to the best. I develop a relationship with each and every horse that is all based on trust. As soon as we earn their trust, it’s like a whole new animal arrives. You are able to push each other and accomplish goals that once seemed so far away.”

It’s the same with riders. “My goal as a trainer is to develop real riders who have the ability to approach every situation with patience and kindness,” Hailey says. “I emphasize the importance of halting and taking a breath. Letting go of all frustration and creating a plan for how to more clearly communicate with your horse.

“I remind my riders that horses don’t have words to communicate with us,” she continues. “Their actions are often a reaction to something that we are doing. So, instead of getting frustrated, let’s see if we can figure out what they are trying to tell us. It is very important to me that my riders have proper horsemanship skills. We do not have a groom at our barn. All of our riders groom, tack up, lunge, wrap, feed supplements and bathe their own horses.”

Setting For Success

Flower Hill Farms is located at Rancho El Camino Equestrian Center in Del Mar. “It’s a great family-friendly facility where kids and adults feel comfortable to come ride and spend their days,” Hailey explains. Rancho El Camino has over 40 12’ x 12’ indoor box stalls, a 90’ x 160’ sand jumping ring, a 40’ x 160’ sand dressage ring, a 60’ x 80’ all purpose arena, a 60’ x 120’ riding/turn out arena, a full trail course, riding school arena, five cross-tie areas, four wash rack stalls, tackrooms, two turn-out paddocks, 50’ and 60’ round pens, and three indoor bathrooms. “We are surrounded by lots of trails and have a wonderful ocean breeze,” the trainer adds.

She is grateful to her mother’s support and to her grandmother’s help, from her earliest riding years on through to today. Hailey also credits Diana Yeater with giving her the ideal model for a training business. “Her barn was my second family and I always wanted to have a barn just like hers where every rider felt comfortable and a part of the team.” Diana continues to be an active mentor for Hailey.

Hailey’s years riding with the Newmarket team, especially Pat Lautenbach and Gretchen Vosburgh, added another layer to Hailey’s dreams for her own stable. Riding a pony that “was not quite ready to do its job,” Hailey recalls that Pat “approached every lesson with patience, even when my pony was at her worst, I would walk out of the ring feeling accomplished.” The organizational skills Pat and Gretchen harnessed made another lasting inspiration. “Their ability to reduce the stress of the horse show and always get you to the ring on time gave me the confidence I needed to walk into the ring.”

Following in the footsteps of her mentors and inspirations, Hailey is carving out her own path of success in the hunter/jumper world.  Many years from now, today’s Flower Hill Farms clients will likely tell equally inspiring stories about Hailey’s influence on their riding and their lives.

For more information on Hailey Flowers and Flower Hill Farms, visit www.flowerhillfarms.com or call 760-420-7813.