Team Players Join Forces

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Sportsmanship: Equestrian sport involves courtesy to fellow horsemen. That from the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Sportsman’s Charter, which also lists the importance of “good manners of sport.” As you operate your equine business, this same spirit can influence the success of your local equestrian community.

In a competitive field, where equine professionals seek new clients, sometimes working together to promote the industry can work to everyone’s benefit. Indeed, everyone can profit through working together, in place of competition.

In Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, three hunter-jumper trainers share resources. Wendy Dean Johnson, Debbie Jamsa, and Renae Coates each run active barns for lessons and shows. They tell how they team to build the sport in the Phoenix metro area.

How They Connected

Arizona has three active show seasons: winter, spring, and fall (avoiding intense summer heat), so professionals meet at shows. They also come together through the Arizona Hunter-Jumper Association (AHJA), an affiliate association of the USHJA with 190 members statewide. Johnson is president, and she invited Jamsa to be vice president.

“I looked at being on the board of AHJA as a huge learning opportunity,” says Jamsa of Happy Dreams Ranch. “It’s our way to trying to support the sport in our state.”

Coates of RCR?Farms first contacted Jamsa about pasturing three broodmares and foals. “I wanted to get them out of the summer heat,” she says.

Jamsa recalls, “She brought them up and left them there for the summer. She trusted me to care for them and raise them. That’s how our relationship started.”

“We went from being peers and colleagues to being best friends,” says Jamsa. “We stable together at all the shows. We go to each other’s barn Christmas parties.”

These friends maintain contact through Facebook, texting, e-mail, and the telephone.

Respect: Support Your Colleagues

One of the biggest ways these three trainers support each other is through horse shows, training and through their clients. About Johnson, Jamsa says, “All my clients and all of hers are supportive of each other. We’ve really pulled together the groups in her barn and our barn.”

Johnson runs Rancho Decano in Scottsdale. She says, “One time, Debbie was without help, and I went up to her barn and spent the night, riding her horses.”

Coates adds, “We help each other at the shows. It’s good to have another set of eyes. We work on the same things. For example, Debbie will watch one of my kids and say, ‘Her feet are too far forward in the stirrups.’”

Because they respect each other, they welcome comments from colleagues. “In Arizona, there were just a few trainers for a long time,” says Coates. “Now there are a lot of newer, younger trainers. I think the younger generation works together better than the older generation did.” She’s observed similar cooperation among professionals in California and Colorado. “When we see the Colorado trainers at the Tucson circuit, it seems like they work together and are friends.”

Trust: Exchange Services

Coates trains and shows young horses owned by Jamsa. For example, she helped Jamsa out at a big California show, with a first year green hunter. Jamsa wanted to have the horse shown at The Oaks, San Juan Capistrano. “Renae drove all the way to The Oaks by herself, showed my one horse, stayed the three nights with me, and then drove home by herself. Not many trainers would do that.”

Jamsa recalled helping Johnson during the Tucson shows. “Wendy was at the show, and I was on my way there. She asked if I could stop at her barn and give a student a lesson. So I did that, gave the lesson, and went on to the show.”

Last October at a USEF A-rated show in Queen Creek, Johnson told how she collaborated with a dressage trainer at her barn, Joanna Sloan. “She and I work together with crossovers when I’m down at this show. One client went to her last week about help with lead changes. She has some riders who like to jump every now and then, and they come to me.”

Jamsa has sent students to Johnson’s barn for lessons. “A lot of times riders get in a box. They have blinders on. You say the same thing over and over. Although Wendy probably says the same thing, when she says it, a light bulb comes on.

“That’s sportsmanship—it’s working together, it’s an equal respect for one another and each other’s clients. We’re there for each other.”

Learn: Never Stop Learning

Johnson recalls how she helped the daughter of another professional, Pam Stedman. “She wanted to bring her junior daughter up to me for a weekend. Pam and I got together ahead of time. Like Debbie says, it wasn’t different from what Pam said, but it was someone different saying it. Especially with kids, all of a sudden they will pay attention. They get used to the trainer saying the same thing, and it kind of goes in one ear and out the other. But then you go to somebody new, and it’s, ‘Oh I’d better listen.’”

These trainers realize that horsemanship means lifetime learning, and they’ve committed to that education.

“Debbie and I were the first two USHJA [U.S. Hunter Jumper Association] certified trainers in the state,” says Johnson. “Now several more trainers in the valley have gotten their certification. Others have come to me to ask, ‘What do we need to do?’”

Jamsa sees schooling arenas as a learning opportunity. “Part of growing is experiencing all aspects of riding at different barns and different techniques. I may be able to see some schooling technique from other trainers that I can bring back to my barn or share with Wendy.”

Both are also USEF-recorded (“r”) judges. “Judging makes you more of a well-rounded person,” says Jamsa. “What we see with horses from the judges’ booth, I take home to my clients.”

Both she and Johnson serve on the USHJA Zone 8 Hunter Committee. Every year they participate in the USHJA annual meeting.

Accept: Understand Dissatisfied Clients

These trainers realize that barnhopping will always be an issue. “Some clients like to make a change,” says Jamsa. “That’s a fact of life. They come and go, and you have to be okay with that.”

Johnson adds, “You’ve always got people who are not satisfied with where they are. We all know who those people are, and they’ve been with every trainer in town. Sometimes they end up going back to the original trainer.”

The valley has 15 trainers who are AHJA members, and 20 or so other barns. What about other professionals “poaching” clients, especially those riders who focus on year-end awards? “That’s not sportsmanship or good ethics,” says Jamsa. “And you can tell the difference between barns where the horses are a priority, versus chasing points.”

She adds, “I think that when all we think about is the business of making money—we neglect to remember that we do this for the sport, and the love of the sport. We stop learning.”

Each barn thrives, with these professional friends committed to a common goal of growing the sport. “There’s a camaraderie among us,” says Jamsa.

Coates says, “The collection of resources is beneficial for everybody. It makes for a more pleasant environment. And it makes the shows way more fun.”