Debbi Long grew up peeking into the Flintridge Riding Club every chance she had, some 40 years ago. Trotting her backyard pony along the perimeter of the private Southern California equestrian center, she hoped to glimpse Susie Hutchison or Hap Hansen, contemporaries who trained there and went on to international show-jumping careers.
In April, Debbi returned to Flintridge for the first time in decades and under circumstances both different and familiar. This time she brought her three granddaughters, Rachel, 17, Kayla, 15, and Isabell, 13, all of them very much ribbon contenders at the Flintridge Horse Show. That’s the different circumstance. The familiar relates to the Long family’s modus operandi with horses. “The satisfaction of winning is second to the joy of hard work and process,” Debbi explains.
As a kid, Debbi made her mark in the hunter/jumper world as a do-it-yourselfer. She found young or inexpensive horses, trained and sold them, and from the profits learned to maximize modest funds. She then took a break from horses for college and returned to them in her 30s.
Her passion for horses was matched by her husband Tom’s passion for whitewater sports. Easier access to both led them from Northern California to Idaho in 1990. They started a rafting business and Debbi established a small training business at a boarding facility while also raising their three sons.
Debbi scaled down her Boise, Idaho-area training business in 2011 to focus on guiding her granddaughters’ passion for horses. “I wanted to give the girls the experience of putting into practice the values that horsemanship is all about,” she shares. The girls’ parents, Kenneth and Annie Long, were on board. They purchased land in the Boise area’s Horseshoe Bend and built simple stabling and an arena. With Debbi’s guidance, the home-schooled young riders oversee the daily care of 11 horses and their training as the girls’ abilities allow. Along the way, they’ve had many competitive victories, but it’s daily wins that matter most. “The first time a horse gets the correct lead is a victory,” Debbi says.
Rachel and Kayla came to national notice as team silver medalists at the U.S. Equestrian Federation Pony Jumper Championships in 2015 and 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. They continued an upward trek through the jumper ranks as they moved on to horses, with Isabell following in their footsteps.
Deciding to make the long haul to Flintridge for one show was unusual and much influenced by Rachel’s receipt of a show-fee scholarship from organizer West Palm Events that she earned with an essay and recommendations. She and Kayla also merited the notice of Marnye Langer of LEGIS Equine, an equine insurance company. Marnye, a jumper competitor herself, offered to sponsor them with
logoed swag and funds. “I can happily say the girls’ hard work and passion are being appreciated,” says Debbi.
Marnye was struck by Rachel’s and Kayla’s budding abilities while judging a few years ago in Tucson, Arizona. She was impressed by the family’s hands-on horsekeeping and entrepreneurial endeavors that included building and selling water jumps out of materials used in the Longs’ whitewater rafting and kayaking business. Seeing Rachel compete at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Zone Jumper Championships last November, Marnye was further impressed and made a sponsorship offer.
Today, horse-shopping side trips include finding prospects that are part of the girls’ horsemanship education and then sold to help fund its continuation.
Canek, a Selle Français whom Rachel rode in the 1.35-meter jumpers through 2017, originally was such a handful, it took three people to saddle and bridle him. When he “completely relaxed” after clear instructions from the saddle, Debbi realized “he had a mind” and would be safe for Rachel once they instilled ground manners. With patience and persistence, Debbi and Rachel practiced lifting and holding his feet so he’d be at ease for the farrier. In the cross-ties, one groomed while the other stood at his head to reassure him. “We did that two or three times a day,” Debbie said. “We hung out with him. He’s a puppy dog now. Rachel gallops him bareback in a hackamore.”
That’s one of the Long family’s many wins and it reflects “that old-fashioned value of caring for horses and meeting their needs. I don’t know what the end of the road is for the girls,” Debbi says, “but imparting that value to them is our top priority.”
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of Practical Horseman.