July 2015 - Michael León's Windsor Stables
Written by Kim F. Miller
Thursday, 02 July 2015 00:00
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Horsemanship, challenging coaching and fun are trademarks for Los Angeles hunter/jumper program.

by Kim F. Miller

Windsor Stables’ Michael León & C Coast Z at the Showpark International Derby. Photo: ©Captured Moment Photography

It’s 6:30 a.m. at the Lotman family’s home stable in Sullivan Canyon. It’s foggy, quiet, beautiful and downright cold on a winter morning in the Santa Monica neighborhood. Trainer Michael León is wrapped in a horse blanket and student Anna Sophia Lotman would be wearing Ugg riding boots if such a thing existed. They don’t and nor do the warmer afternoon hours as a time when trainer and student can work together. And so it is that the pair can be found in the wee hours, six days a week, pursuing shared goals and priorities.

Anna Sophia Lotman and C Coast Z, at Devon. Photo: Kaitlyn Van Konynenburg

Anna Sophia is 13 going on 25, and a mature 25 at that, with a long list of Junior Hunter accomplishments aboard C Coast Z and Freedom to her credit. But it’s the bigger picture horsemanship goals that drive her and in that way she resembles her trainer and is an ideal recipient of the riding and life lessons he offers.

Michael & Copado, owned by Annette Peterfy’s Piñon West LLC. Photo: Captured Moment Photography

Michael León is a familiar face on the Southern California hunter/jumper circuit. He’s been based in the Los Angeles area for many years and 18 months ago moved his Windsor Stables from Malibu to the more centrally located Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. There he gives equal attention to the typically 25 horses in his training program, and their riders, but Anna Sophia holds a special place in his heart for several reasons.

Anna Sophia & Michael.

Anna Sophia had done a little summer camp riding, but began her equestrian education in earnest with Michael as a 7-year-old. He’s taken her from learning her diagonals and excelling in the pony world to finishing sixth in the Junior Hunter Classic, with C Coast Z, in her debut at the Devon National Horse Show in Pennsylvania this past May.

Throughout that impressive trajectory, Michael has seen something of himself in Anna Sophia. “Even when she was a young child, I could see her passion for riding and her drive,” the trainer reflects. “She never wanted to be treated like a kid. She wanted to lesson with the older kids and be hands-on with the horses.” As a coach, Michael is a tough taskmaster. “She saw how tough and strict I am in the arena and she wanted that discipline.”

Anna Sophia & Michael.

Bringing Out The Best

Challenging riders to be their best, whatever their level, is one of Michael’s trademarks. As a mature rider, Annette Peterfy has stepped down in fence heights but not in her desire to progress and excel in the sport. “He doesn’t just let you roll along,” says Annette. “If you mess up, he’s not shy about letting you know and telling you what you can do about it so it doesn’t happen again.” Annette is a lawyer and, in her many years of competing, has seen some scary scenarios, from a liability standpoint, on the hunter/jumper circuit. But never in Michael’s program. “He pushes you to be the best you can be, but never to the point of asking you to do something you shouldn’t be doing.”

Anna Sophia & her first pony, White Satin.

First-rate horse care and management are more Windsor Stables trademarks and that’s what initially caught Annette’s attention. She got to know Michael when he was based at Saddle Rock Ranch in Malibu, where she was an in-house attorney. Three or so years ago, she was preparing for a relocation to New Mexico and “in a quandary about what to do with my show horses,” she explains. “I’m finicky about how my horses are cared for and not real comfortable when they are not in my supervision.” She liked what she saw of Michael’s management approach and decided his standards mirrored her own. ”He oversees everything personally,” she says. “Nothing is abandoned to the grooms.” She now owns 17 horses and maintains several with Michael at all times. She campaigns some herself, others are purchased for Michael to bring along and those assignments shift as each horse develops.

Michael & Celano, owned by Robert Peters II. Photo: Deb Dawson Photography

One of many testaments to Michael’s program is his effect on just about any horse. Annette likes to describe her string as “a barn full of formerly expensive horses.” In most cases, they are steeds that once commanded top dollar but became available at “deep discounts,” she says, because “there was something a little odd about them.” Maybe a minor soundness issue, a “difficult” label or one stamped for a different job.

Michael & assistant trainer, Megan Todd.

Michael has a special skill for bringing out the best in any horse and for matching horse and rider, Annette continues. He insisted she make a special trip out to Los Angeles to try out Kirkland, and the pair have since gone on to many successes including solid rounds at Devon this year. In another case, Annette thought she might like to return to the high jumper ring, so she bought Copado from Markus Beerbaum. She was wrong about wanting a jumper comeback, but she was right about the horse and about Michael’s ability to convert him to a hunter. Initially, Michael campaigned him in the Derby division. “Then, I got selfish and I now show him in the 3’6” Hunters.”

Annette’s decision to train with and put her horses in Michael’s care was also influenced by her age. “I’m starting to be more cognizant that time is moving on and I want to make the most of the time I have left able to ride and compete.”

Michael & Celano, owned by Robert Peters II. Photo: Deb Dawson Photography

Attitude Is Everything

It’s often said that “attitude is everything” and Michael’s attitude is another draw for clients. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with him,” Annette jokes, “But he’s in a good mood all the time. He’s a really nice guy, happy and outgoing. He’s strict when you’re in the ring, but overall he’s a pleasure to be around and he genuinely likes the horses. He spoils them rotten, actually!”

Robert Peters II & Celano. Photo: McCool Photography

As a former professional trainer, amateur hunter competitor Robb Peters says that what stands out most about Michael are his strong work ethic, commitment to the horses and the sport and his riding abilities. “The work ethic is really important because you have so many factors beyond the horses -- the clients, shows, grooms and staff, ” Robb observes. As a rider, Robb describes Michael as that rare equestrian who can do well with the difficult horses. “A lot of people can do well with the nice horses, but when you can make the difficult horses work that’s really impressive to me and I’ve seen him do that time and again.”

Robb echoes Annette’s comments about the peace of mind and fun factor provided at Windsor Stables. A registered nurse, he works with an average of 50 patients a day and manages a large staff. “It’s important for me to have a good time when I’m at the barn and not having to worry about my horse when I’m not there is a huge relief.”

Michael says his assistant Megan Todd is critical to running such a praise-worthy program. The horse head count is kept at or near 25 to ensure individual attention can be paid to each. Group lessons rarely have more than three riders, and the barn is open for business Tuesday through Sunday, with Megan maintaining training continuity for homebound horses when Michael is away competing. Windsor Stables’ base at LAEC also means many high quality competitions without having to leave home.

Annette Peterfy & Kirkland jumping at Devon Horse Show.

“Our riding and training program is very structured and I think that’s why we’ve had so much success,” Michael says. “We’ve had a lot of problem horses come in and our focus on every aspect of their care is a big reason why we’ve been able to do so well with them.”

With oodles of championships in various Hunter and Hunter Derby divisions and year-end awards, for Michael, his clients and their horses, Windsor Stables is humming along. The Indoors Circuit, including Capital Challenge, Washington and Harrisburg, are on the show itinerary this year as Michael’s clients reach for more challenges.

Regardless how crowded the ribbon rack gets, competitive success is only part of the program at Windsor Stables. “Riding in general has taught me a lot about sportsmanship and the idea that you win some, you lose some,” Anna Sophia reflects. It’s helped her on the court, too, as a member of her school’s volleyball team, an activity Michael fully endorses as part of a balanced life. Riding with Michael has helped her with life. “I guess you could say he’s helped me learn when to be serious and when it’s OK to mess around. He’s a really happy person and his whole attitude and way of looking at life has rubbed off on me.”

 


Michael León

2013 & 2014 USHJA Leading Hunter Derby Rider (winning over 25 Hunter Derbies and Hunter Prixs to date)

Anna Sophia Lotman

2014 LAHJA, SFVHJA High Point Junior Hunter Rider on Freedom.

2014 PCHA Region 1 Champion 3’3 Junior Hunter on Freedom.

Qualified for 2015 Junior Hunter Finals with C Coast Z & Carrera. (Carrera is owned by Piñon West LLC)

Robert Peters II

AO Champion Blenheim Spring Classic, Flintridge Spring Classic, Memorial Day Classic and Oaks Summer II, with Celano

Annette Peterfy

Champion AO Hunter Classic Hits Thermal III, Low AO Champion National Sunshine, Blenheim Spring Fling, all on Kirkland

Top 10 placings in all classes at Devon

Kathryn Martin

AO Hunter Reserve Champion at Blenheim Spring Fling on Roxanne and AO/Junior Hunter Champion at Gold Coast in February.

 


For more information on Michael León’s Windsor Stables, call 323-404-7488 or e-mail michaelLeó This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .