January 2021 - The Trainers of Peacock Hill
Written by by Kate Sanchez
Friday, 01 January 2021 20:00

Lauren Mitchell & Hayley Buckingham

by Kate Sanchez

Nestled in the heart of Orange County, CA lies the private and peaceful Peacock Hill Equestrian Center, home to both Le Cheval Sport Horses, owned and operated by Lauren Mitchell; and HBE Dressage, owned and operated by Hayley Buckingham. Although running different programs, both Mitchell and Buckingham work with one goal in mind: putting the horse’s well-being first, while creating horse and rider teams which can grow to see success together.  

Lauren Mitchell & Hayley Buckingham. Photo: Lindsey Long Photography

Le Cheval Sport Horses

Le Cheval Sport Horses is a hunter/jumper and equitation program where Lauren Mitchell emphasizes her commitment to keeping both clients and horses happy, while developing their skills to the greatest extent. “The cornerstone of Le Cheval Sport Horses is the positive environment which fosters learning, good horsemanship, and friendships,” Mitchell says, “For my riding school, I like having riders come to me ready to take the next step in riding and help them find a horse of their own to own or lease.”  Mitchell has three assistants working with her: Patty Foltz-McCarty who helps coach, Olivia Blanck who helps with riding and coaching, as well as stable manager, Jennifer Bissett, whom the trainer says keeps everyone organized and on track.

Introduced to horses by her aunt at a very young age, Mitchell has been training for fifteen years now. She describes herself as horse crazy ever since her first encounter with the animal. And coincidentally enough, on her 7th birthday, Mitchell’s parents surprised her with riding lessons with Foltz-McCarty. “It is incredibly special that I now get to train alongside her as a professional,” she comments. With a strong drive to succeed, Mitchell adds that she always worked for her trainers as a working student to cover lesson costs and spent all her free time at the barn. At 18, she got a job as a groom and began starting young horses.  Demonstrating just how big of a work ethic she has, once she turned 21, Mitchell decided to start her own small training and lesson business while continuing to work part time under other trainers, as well.  

Lauren Mitchell. Photo: Rick Osteen Photography

Lauren Mitchell coaching a student. Photo: Lindsey Long Photography

Mitchell’s philosophy at Le Cheval Sport Horses is rooted in having a specific routine for horse and rider alike. “As long as I can remember, my life has revolved around horses and helping others with their equestrian goals”, she says. With a focus on structure and consistency, the trainer emphasizes having a routine and working on specific activities such as basic dressage, cavalettis, gymnastic work and exercises you would see on the course. She also finds it important to incorporate fun activities like trail rides and a change of environment and touts the beautiful trail system at Peacock Hill in allowing for these things to happen.  Mitchell feels as though, “Cleanliness, communication, horsemanship, and proper stable management are imperative,” in her program and she’s committed to the happiness, development, and well-being of both horses and riders in her barn.     

When it comes to training numbers, Mitchell utilizes the phrase, “’quality over quantity” to describe her clientele. “I never want so many horses in my care to where I do not get to have a part of their journey and training,” she says. “I prefer one to two riders per lesson so I can focus on each individual and be attentive when a question arises. There is no substitute for one-on-one attention.” That becomes very apparent as Mitchell works to shape and create successful horse and rider teams which she can watch grow together. “I truly enjoy the balance of riding my client’s horses and then coaching them together as a team. It makes me feel like I help them communicate and succeed in their partnership,” she states. Focusing on a foundation of strong fundamentals first, Mitchell also believes each horse is an individual which has its unique strengths and learning styles.  

There is no doubt that Mitchell stays busy with her daily tasks, but she is looking to the future with high hopes, as well. Some of her goals for next year include helping one of her students work toward her goal of qualifying for the Maclay Medal Finals, as well as getting herself into the show ring next year. “I also plan on organizing and attending elite clinics at Peacock Hill Equestrian Center,” she shares, “I believe in this sport especially, that we never stop learning and that is what I love most about it.”  

HBE Dressage

HBE (Hayley Buckingham Elite) Dressage is a training and sales business in which Hayley Buckingham has been instructing and riding professionally for six years.  With the help of groom, Guillermo Rocha, HBE Dressage focuses on each horse getting one-on-one attention daily, as well as training that’s personalized to meet the needs of each horse and its owner.

Buckingham credits her mom with first sparking her love for horses, and she’s been riding since she could sit up. “My parents leased a Shetland pony for me when I turned four. ‘Rowdy’ was very naughty and would toss me off daily,” she recalls, “Obviously that encouraged me more than scared me!” Buckingham then took lessons at the riding school at the Huntington Beach Equestrian Center and never looked back. At age nine, she started riding her mom’s retired FEI horse, Angelo, with Colleen Walker, and her dressage career began. Soon, she found herself moving up to her horse, Hayley’s Comet, who helped her earn a bronze medal as well as CDS Junior Championship and Equitation Championship titles. Buckingham had the opportunity to work with several individuals, including Carol Robertson whom she credits with giving her confidence and helping her earn a silver medal and the DASC Prix St. George’s Championship; as well as Amy Miller whom she says has been an “amazing influence” on her riding career.  In 2016, she was offered a job by Sarah Lockman at her barn operated out of Peacock Hill Equestrian Center. “I was elated that she asked me to be part of her team,” the trainer recalls, “She helped me grow as a rider and businesswoman and encouraged me to build my own business when the time was right.” Buckingham touts Lockman’s work ethic and adds that she modeled her full-service barn on how she taught her, “…to keep clients very happy and keep the horses in great health and top shape.”  

Hayley Buckingham & Donna Rubina. Photo: Terri Miller Photography

Hayley Buckingham with her client, Svetlana Fomina, and her horse, Ragnar.

A classically trained FEI Dressage rider, Buckingham has a knack for young horses and says that no matter what level, the animals always come first. “My clients tell me often how much they appreciate how kind I am with their animals and I try to be as patient and understanding with my clients as well. I move at a pace that is comfortable for both horse and rider and take time to solidify each concept before moving on to the next. I think the training scale is very important along with understanding the horse’s needs,” she says. Buckingham likes to keep a full barn, working with horses of all shapes and sizes. Like Mitchell, she teaches lessons individually to devote as much attention to detail as she can. “I enjoy teaching and riding full time,” she adds, “…from the crack of dawn to after sunset.”   

When asked what she loves most about her job, it’s simple: seeing her hard work and dedication play into the development of the horses and their riders. Instilling confidence in her equine and human clients is essential, and she tends to enjoy a challenge from time to time as well. “Making horses amateur-friendly is my specialty!” she shares. Taking a difficult horse that no one wants to ride isn’t a chore for the trainer, but rather seen as an opportunity to help build their confidence and show them how to love their job. Similarly, Buckingham enjoys starting from scratch with riders who may be timid or frightened by their horse. “Teaching horses to trust and love their job is a staple in my program, as well as teaching my clients to be confident in the aids they’re giving,” she adds.     

Buckingham heads into next year with big goals, the main one being to continue to operate her business with happy clients and even happier horses. “I plan to develop aspiring young horses in my program into successful FEI horses,” she says. Meanwhile, personally, her biggest goal is to earn her Gold Medal on Donna Rubina, a horse she started and brought up the levels, owned by Susan Ortiz. Buckingham will continue to participate in clinics to further her riding education and expand her knowledge in dressage. She looks forward to welcoming new horses and riders into her program.  

Both Mitchell and Buckingham praise the beauty and serenity at the Peacock Hill Equestrian Center and say it’s unlike any facility they have ever seen. The two trainers run their businesses in a first-class manner, always putting the horse’s wellbeing, and clientele communication at the forefront, while remaining dedicated to horse and rider success both in and out of the show pen.

Visit www.peacockhillequestrian.comfor more information.

Lauren Mitchell can be reached at 949-584-4393 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Hayley Buckingham at 562-217-0981 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Hayley Buckingham & Lauren Mitchell. Photo: Lindsey long Photography