Maplewood Stables: Educating The Next Generation

The Maplewood Horse Industry Training Program is schooling future horsemen one day at a time through its two-year course.
Elena Sedlock rides in a lesson with Julie Winkel as she schools a client’s horse. Their focus is to prepare the horse for the owner’s lesson the following day. Together they talk about where improvements can be made and how Elena’s ride can help the client and her horse tomorrow. Tricia Booker

As 18-year-old Elena Sedlock cooled out a horse she’d just finished riding on a sunny afternoon at Maplewood Stables, she reflected on what she’d learned while walking a familiar path around the barn’s tree-lined courtyard.

The steps she took, literally and figuratively, that day, from feeding to turnout to assisting the veterinarian and farrier to schooling that horse in a jumping lesson, were all leading her on a path she’d decided to follow when she enrolled in Maplewood’s Horse Industry Training Program.

Established by trainer, rider and judge Julie Winkel, of Reno, Nevada, the two-year course has evolved over the years from an internship to one that fills an expanded educational niche within the equine industry. In 2016 the program received a provisional postsecondary education license by the state of Nevada’s Commission on Postsecondary Education and is expected to earn its full license this fall after which students will be able to apply for government grants and other loans and eventually receive academic credit.

Julie’s successful internship program, which had been in place for more than a decade, was the catalyst for the HITP. “It was a natural next step to work toward achieving the license,” said Julie, who has been in business since 1977. “This required us to follow certain protocols to fulfill the requirements. For example, we developed classroom space and learning centers that were up to standard and created a detailed curriculum, including course descriptions, like any other postsecondary educational institution. We submitted copies of the textbooks we use, such as the USHJA Trainer Certification Program Manual and the student manual we developed early in the program which takes the kids through a quarter-by-quarter synopsis of what to expect.”

To receive licensing, Julie and her faculty, which includes her son, Kevin, an assistant trainer, as well as assistant trainers Andrew Teer Jayne and Corrine Shaw had background checks and were fingerprinted. Julie had to establish a bond and acquire notarized letters from other trainers stating the HITP curriculum was up to national standards as well as release business financials and have a facility review and walk-through by representatives of the State of Nevada Commission on Post Secondary Education.

“We actually see this program as a new way of educating future equine professionals—merging the hands-on daily activities of a successful equestrian facility with the more formal academics of college,” Julie says. “This program creates a linear path for students to acquire the knowledge, practice it as they learn and finish the program prepared for a successful career and life in the horse industry.”

Real-Life Experiences

Maplewood’s HITP differs from a typical working-student position because of the scope of the opportunities available. With 60-plus horses, Maplewood is a top A-circuit hunter/jumper show barn that has a successful lesson program; hosts shows, U.S. Equestrian Federation/U.S. Hunter Jumper Association-approved clinics and other educational events; stands three stallions; has a full breeding operation; breaks and trains young horses and includes an on-site tack shop.

“We give the students a lot of opportunities so they can go as far as they want if they’re motivated,” says Kevin, an experienced and winning West Coast grand prix rider. “They can come here and work with young horses, teach in the lesson program, attend the clinics, go to shows and try each part of the business until they discover what they like best.”

At least six days a week, from 8 a.m. until at least 6 p.m. (longer if at a show), students are immersed in the real-life experiences and intricacies of an A-circuit barn, such as caring for and schooling horses for clients, managing entries, paperwork and transportation to shows and working with veterinarians, farriers, show staff, braiders and other caregivers, to name just a few.

Students also participate in Maplewood’s on-site programs, including USHJA Trainer Certification Clinics, adult and children’s riding camps, Young Horse Trainer School (with three international clinicians), sporthorse conformation seminars, course-design school, judges’ clinics and First Responders Horse Handling and Safety Clinics.

They regularly attend horse shows in the United States and Canada, often with Julie and Kevin, where they experience the many roles that need to be filled, from transporting horses to grooming to training, riding and showing. They observe U.S. Hunter Jumper Association International Hunter Derbies, World Cup qualifying grand prix events and other competitions that they wouldn’t see at the local or regional levels.

Because of Julie’s connections, she can place interested students with other industry leaders for more intensive education. “I always have other professionals willing to take students for a week to a month to experience other professional systems as well as explore different parts of the country and different methods,” she says. “For example, one year, trainer Geoff Teall took four of my students and placed them with different professionals at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida. They worked with Scott Stewart, Mindy Darst, Louise Serio and Stacia Madden. A fifth student was interested in course design and went to Monterrey, Mexico, to work with Linda Allen to design for a week.”

The program has graduates working in a variety of equine fields as riders, trainers, barn managers, massage therapists and other related professions all across the United States.

Make Learning Fun

Elena, of Mercer Island, Washington, was a working student at a local hunter/jumper barn in the Seattle area when one of Maplewood’s graduates, trainer Amelia Cuevas, noticed her enthusiasm for learning and suggested Maplewood.

“Since being here my riding and overall understanding of horses has changed tremendously,” Elena says. “I learned I can’t make a horse conform to what I want. I have to conform to what they do while in the saddle and on the ground. My biggest goal is that I want to be able to ride any horse well and improve my knowledge in caring for them. Being in the barn, knowing my horses and knowing everything about them is vitally important to me.”

The HITP course includes classroom lectures, homework, quizzes and tests. Julie is the director and lead instructor of the program with Kevin, Corinne and Andrew as the assistants. They meet with students each day at 8:30 a.m. in the clubhouse to go over the assignments which are listed on the farm’s white board.

Each day, the students then fill out mandatory sheets, which are kept in their files. These papers record projects they completed that day, horses they rode, lessons taught or participated in and other horse care-related activities.

“The sheets document the horses in detail, so they become a permanent record and are useful to owners as well as the trainers, who can review the horse’s training progress and investigate if there are problems down the road,” says Julie.

The students also keep a mandatory journal in which they document what they learn on a daily basis, and they are expected to take notes on lessons, lectures and other projects. Each day Elena fills out her day sheet and writes in her journal, documenting all that she accomplished as well as what she learned, questions that remain and areas she might want to focus on in the future.

Each week, she takes a 20-question quiz based on what she learned as well as from assigned reading. At the end of each six-month term, she’ll have a written exam and practicum where she’ll use her day sheets and journal entries as well as the textbooks to prepare.

“These written documents also encourage the students to have a plan and goal for each horse when they ride,” says Julie. “Every Wednesday we have a working dinner, which last two to three hours, where we discuss upcoming events, projects, homework assignments and have a test or quiz from past homework assignments. Typically, we pass the quizzes and tests to the next person in line so we grade each other. Sometimes there’s also a prize. We try to make learning fun.”

Quiz and test results are kept in a student’s file. There’s no pass or fail grade, but instead students are allowed to work and improve until they receive a passing mark. Julie evaluates each student’s progress based on aptitude, work ethic, desire, grasp of information given and personality. These traits also determine where and with whom she places them at the end of the two-year program. Through this process she believes she’s better able to match a student with a prospective employer.

Each Friday, Julie, an assistant or a guest speaker presents a lecture in the clubhouse. Typically, the focus is on a current event, such as preparing to use studs for an upcoming show on grass footing. The lecture would include basic information on studs, the different types, how to put them in and which types to use in different footing circumstances, the physical effects on the horse’s legs (perhaps using the in-house skeleton) and why it’s important to remove them promptly after the class.

During foaling season, Julie might take the students to the mare barn for a lecture, where they would review the mares coming to term and discuss the signs to look for when a mare is close to foaling. Julie would also discuss a normal birthing process, when to intervene, when to call the veterinarian and how to check the afterbirth and treat the umbilical cord.

Julie and the assistants also bring different strengths to the program, which is a win–win for the students. Kevin travels less often than Julie and he focuses on training and showing Maplewood’s homebreds. He enjoys teaching students how to work with young horses, which, as many say, is quickly becoming a lost art in the United States.

“I think people underestimate how hard it is to develop a young horse—the ground work, flatwork and gymnastics,” Kevin says. “It doesn’t take much to confuse a young horse in the early stages, and a lot of kids in our sport are lucky because they had older, made horses to ride and show. They don’t always understand how difficult it is to make one up, and I often see that they grow to appreciate that fact as they learn.”

The Business Side

While many young professionals hang out their shingles before acquiring business experience, the Maplewood staff emphasizes that aspect of the industry.

“You can be the best rider in the country and a great trainer, but if you don’t have a handle on the business end of your career you won’t last long,” says Julie. “We prepare our students to think economically. They need to learn and understand the costs involved, from the basics of feeding and boarding a horse to the intricacies of choosing the proper number and types of rigs to drive them to the shows. We talk a lot about running a business, from the costs of repairing vehicles to fences and maintaining property. Owning a stable isn’t all glory—it’s a lot of work, too, and expensive to replace a backhoe tire or purchase a new tractor.”

Students are also able to work in the Hilltopper, Maplewood’s on-site tack store, where they order supplies, learn more about tack and equipment, maintain records, do inventory and learn to use accounting software.

“When I leave to teach a clinic or attend a show, I’ll assign a student to do Maplewood’s banking, check the mail, manage the phone calls and follow up messages. Customer service is one of the most important aspects of our business, and that’s not always emphasized enough. In addition, we teach students about the legalities of running a business, the importance of proper releases, liability insurance, boarding agreements, consignment forms, etc.”

Tuition for the two-year program is $24,000, payable in six-month increments, and covers housing, books, materials, some meals, entries at local horse shows and housing at shows. If a student chooses to bring a horse, she isn’t charged grooming or day care at shows. Students often audit or participate in Maplewood in-house clinics for free or have a discounted rate. Often, more experienced students are able to show client horses at the owner’s expense.

“As a young professional, I, like many of my era, did much of the work,” Julie recalls. “Forty years later, I’m still learning so much every day, it’s mind-boggling. The more I know, the more I realize there’s still so much more to learn and that’s the lesson I hope to pass on to our students. You may graduate, start your own business and be successful, but you should never stop learning.”  

Lost and Found: A Graduate’s Story

When Andrew Teer Jayne arrived at Maplewood as a teenager in 2010, in the then-called Maplewood Internship Program, his first experience was to immediately jump into a pickup truck heading to the HITS Thermal circuit in California. Andrew wasn’t exactly sure where his time at Maplewood would lead, but his job was to assist young professional Kevin Winkel, Julie Winkel’s son, with Maplewood’s jumpers and see if a career with horses was in his own future.

It didn’t take Andrew long to decide that Maplewood’s program would be the perfect next step to launch his professional career after he decided to detour from the traditional path from high school to college.

“I didn’t really know anything when I started,” says Andrew, who had competed in modern pentathlon and foxhunted but wasn’t familiar with top-level horse shows. “I was young and hadn’t been around much. Being here, I got the feel for what it takes to be a professional and I fell in love with all of it, the horses, going to the shows and everything about it.”

After he concluded the program, Andrew joined the Maplewood staff as an assistant trainer and rider. In addition to training and showing Maplewood’s horses, Andrew, now 23, plays an integral role in the Horse Industry Training Program, teaching lessons and offering assistance and advice to those who are following in his footsteps.

“It’s a very cool program, especially since they get to work with the young horses and do a little bit of everything,” he says. “Riding the young ones is when you learn the most, and they have the opportunity to work with the foals, ride the 4-year-olds and do all of the clinics that come through here, including the Young Horse Trainer School, which is the experience of a lifetime.”

When Andrew isn’t on a horse or at a show, he’s probably at Maplewood driving the water truck, fixing fences, setting new jump courses, pouring concrete for a new horse walker or a myriad of other roles he plays around the farm. In the course of his daily activities, it’s not unusual to see Andrew flash an encouraging smile to a student shadowing him.

“I really enjoy helping them and giving them tips. Usually, it’s just simple things that make tasks easier,” he says. “If I see them doing something and I would do it differently or if there’s an easier way to do it, I’ll point it out.”

One such tidbit of information he provided to student Elena Sedlock during a lesson has become one of her mantras as she seeks to improve her skills aboard the green horses. “Andrew told me, ‘When you’re riding the young ones, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable,’” Elena recalls. “That was a huge breakthrough for me and has helped me so much.”

Andrew adds, “The young horses don’t steer, they’re not going to move off your leg and they don’t listen like the broke horses do. You have to learn to just go with it, not fix it in one ride. It takes years, and if you try to fix it in one ride you fight with them. You have to have patience. It’s a learning process for us all, young horses and young professionals, and that’s why we’re here.”

An Education Full Circle

Julie Winkel (right) grew up immersed in horses and knew from age 5 that she wanted to be a horse trainer. Although her family didn’t have the means for Julie to take formal lessons or show at top-rated competitions, her parents had a passion for horses and education that they passed on to her. And when those traits were combined with her work ethic, the end result is a successful and fulfilling career that she now shares with her son Kevin, 31, also a professional rider and trainer at Maplewood.

Julie, 57, owns and operates the 150-acre facility in Reno, Nevada, and is a judge, clinician, trainer and industry leader who is rarely in one place for long, logging tens of thousands of air miles traveling the country to teach and judge. Her friends on Facebook nicknamed her “The Energizer Bunny” for her frequent travel updates.

In addition to her business interests, Julie is a dedicated volunteer for the U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Hunter Jumper Association with a particular focus on education. She was instrumental in establishing the USHJA Trainer Certification Program (and helped to write the TCP manual), and she’s been involved with the Emerging Athletes Program since its inception.

“It’s so important to me that our younger generation understands horses, how to train them correctly and compassionately and know that each horse is an individual with different traits, personalities and needs,” she says. “If we can learn to think more like a horse, we can better understand how to communicate with them and work together as partners.”

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of Practical Horseman. 

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