Learning from the Masters

By Alden Corrigan and Christy Schreder

Joe Fargis at the Menlo Circus Club
On an unusually crisp December day in Atherton, California, Joe Fargis stands in the middle of the outdoor ring at the beautiful equestrian center of the Menlo Circus Club. His Paul Newman blue eyes are intently watching the students participating in the first day of his two day clinic as they execute his instructions with varying degrees of accuracy based on their ability.

Fargis, now 60, has owned and operated Sandron Farm in Middleburg, Virginia since 1978 with his partner Conrad Homfeld. He continues to compete successfully in Grand Prix at many of the top horse shows in the country, and as a testament to his contribution to the sport, has was awarded the USHJA Lifetime Achievement Award for 2009.

This double gold medal winning Olympian in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and silver medalist in the 1988 Seoul Olympics has never lost sight of two critically important facets of our sport; the welfare of the horse and education of the rider, serving on the USHJA Horse Welfare Committee, and teaching clinics around the world when he’s not attending a horse show.

Fargis began riding in Vienna, Virginia under the tutelage of Jane Dillon at her Junior Equitation School. In 1966 he went to Francis Rowe’s Foxwood Farm in Crozier, Virginia and stayed there for the next twelve years, until he began training with the legendary Bert de Nemethy. “I use tools today that I learned from my early riding teachers. They were wonderful. Everything they said thirty and forty years ago still sticks. When I grew up we were at the barn every day learning something, and the horse show would be occasional. Now the horse show is frequent, and you’re never at the barn doing your homework. It’s gotten upside down.”

The word teacher comes up frequently when talking with Joe. He recalls a certain second grade school teacher; he makes references watching trainers teach in the schooling areas at horse shows, and even admits that if horses hadn’t become a career for him he might have chosen teaching instead. It’s no wonder that Fargis is one of the most sought after clinicians today, so much so that he often gives clinics in countries where he doesn’t speak the language, and has to rely on an interpreter. “Who knows….the translator may finally get to tell them what he really thinks,” Joe says in jest.

Nathan Stiles, assistant to trainer Nicole Bloom at Round Meadow Farm, LLC had the privilege of working for Fargis in 1997 when he was only 17, and Fargis has been a mentor to him ever since. Both Nicole and Nathan felt strongly that the Menlo Circus Club Equestrian Center would be ideal venue in which to host this event.

Stiles explained, “I wanted to bring Joe to the club for many reasons. I think the Menlo Circus Club is a perfect place to host clinics and other equestrian related events. Joe is a fantastic clinician and because of my relationship with him I thought he was the perfect person to bring to the club for what I hope is a long line of clinics to follow. Lastly, I wanted to ride with him. He’s always made me better just by being around him and every time he comes and gives a clinic I make sure to reserve one spot for myself. It’s a good refresher course of all the things he has ever taught me.”

Fargis finds clinics rewarding on many levels. “I learn a lot from teaching clinics, I remind myself of what I think. For the horse and rider they get a different point of view. When they take a clinic from me they see how I think, when they take a clinic from someone else they see how they think. Then it is up to the person to form their own conclusion about what’s good for them, what’s correct, or what’s incorrect.”

He further emphasized the unique benefits for the riders. “The value of having many different approaches presented to them is so that they can arrive at their own conclusions. There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat, but at the end of the day you want the horse to be balanced, straight, happy and correct and there are going to be different ways of getting there. I’m not saying I’m right or wrong but this is my way of getting there.”

Remarkably Fargis will tell you he draws on his failures rather than his incredible successes when teaching: “I know where I went wrong. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I know when I’ve messed up, and I remember it very well… those can be more important lessons that the successful ones.” He goes on to say, “I think I know how to avoid the pitfalls… Age teaches you a lot.. the experiences you have with horses teaches you what works and what doesn’t work.”

One of the most common “bad habits” Fargis finds in his travels is that “People ride with too much emotion. Riding should be clean, well thought out, and if we make a mistake, which we all do because we’re human, it shouldn’t fluster us. We should take a deep breath and continue with riding. We inflict our agenda on the poor horse and he has no idea what’s going on up there.”

Fargis believes that people tend to forget what they learn in clinics very easily, however he says “I hope somewhere down the road, maybe a year from now some of these people say to themselves I get that or I remember that and it will click. You just have to hope that the right things come together at the right time.”

After all these years of teaching, what is it that keeps Joe Fargis coming back for more? “What I enjoy is trying to get my point of view across… that the horse is a living, breathing creature. You have to work with it… it’s not a machine… and anybody that understands that and isn’t flustered by it gives me great satisfaction.”

Photos by Alden Corrigan

EquestriSol News: November 17, 2009

Congratulations to…

Laura Teodori and Kasoar D’Uxelles on their success in the CSIO Nations Cup in Buenos Aires – they were the only double clear! Laura is now working on the east coast. We wish her the best.

$1,000 Thoroughbred Hunter Champions Classic this weekend

As a kickoff for the Thoroughbred Show Horse Association, which will take membership paid to offer prize money for classes throughout the year, the Autumn Jubilee Show at Industry Hills Equestrian Center on November 21-22 will host a $1,000 Thoroughbred Hunter Champions Classic. Call Duncan McIntosh for more information or to join at 818-943-7102.

Clinics Coming to Town

Before Santa comes you can give yourself an early Christmas present by participating in and/or auditing at some upcoming clinics. Names synonymous with the world’s best in the sport – Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Joe Fargis and George Morris – will be in sunny California hosting clinics at three beautiful locations. Clinic sessions are filling fast but auditing is the next best thing to riding…

November 20-22: Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum at El Campeon Farms
Contact Kasey Ament: 805-794-6107

December 2-3: Joe Fargis at Menlo Circus Club
Contact Nathan Stiles: 209-765-7755

December 11-13: George Morris at Shelburne Farms – clinic space is full.
Auditing available at $75 p/day. No auditing reservations needed.
Contact Melissa Jones: 805-370-1941

Save The Date! December 10th – 7-10 pm: Anthropologie Holiday Shopping Soiree to Benefit the Equestrian Aid Foundation

Enjoy fabulous hors d’oeuvres and Stephen Vincent sauvignon blanc while shopping and benefitting a great cause. All attendees receive a 15% discount. Click here for details.

2010 Horse Mastership

Already looking forward to 2010, riders invited to participate in the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session January 5-9, 2010 in Wellington, Florida were just announced. Invited west coast riders include Zazou Hoffman, Tina Dilandri and Theodore Boris. If you happen to be in Wellington in January, auditing the training session is free.

USHJA’S Emerging Athletes Program Level 3 is coming

The inaugural EAP National Training Session is also coming in 2010. On January 8-10, 2010 the top 12 finalists will spend three days on their riding, horsemanship and stable management skills. The 12 riders selected to participate will be announced at the end of November. Auditors are welcome at $75 per day.

Host Facility: Maplewood Stables
Location: Reno, Nevada
Main Clinician: Peter Wylde
Veterinarian Seminar/Asst Stable Mgr: Dr. Midge Leitch
Horsemanship Seminar: Mindy Bower
Course Designer: Chrystine Tauber
Judge: Melanie Smith Taylor
Host Hotel: Peppermill Resort

EAP Level 2 clinician Bernie Traurig had some encouraging words to share. “I was extremely impressed with the level of riding. There were eighteen kids there, some who showed a high level of talent. I think that directly reflects on the quality of our west coast trainers. They are doing their job– these kids are getting a high level of training.”

For more EAP information, visit: www.ushja.org.

E-news Announcement

Our last e-news had tremendous response – thank you! Unfortunately, the email list server went down for several hours so for anyone that got an error when trying to view it, here is the enews link again


Conversations With Equestrians: Kevin Winkel

By Zazou Hoffman

Up and coming Grand Prix rider and trainer Kevin Winkel spent two years apprenticing with legendary Olympian Joe Fargis before embarking on his professional career. Kevin trains out of family-owned Maplewood Stables, located ten miles south of Reno, Nevada and got his start through his mother Julie Winkel.

I met Julie when I admired her unique and talented jumper stallion, Osilvis, at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. Julie is a respected Horse Show Judge and serves on several Hunter Seat Equitation committees. Among the prestigious shows to which she has applied her judging skills is the Devon Horse Show (three times), the Hampton Classic (twice), the Capital Challenge (three times), Upperville (three times), Harrisburg, Palm Beach, and the Maclay Finals in New York.

I was curious about the impact that Joe Fargis had on Kevin’s career and training methods.

Zazou Hoffman: Kevin, please tell us how you came to work with Joe Fargis and a few of the more memorable things that you learned from him.
Kevin Winkel: I met Joe Fargis about ten years ago, when he began giving annual clinics at my mom’s stable. That was about three years before I started riding. In 2003, while my mom was back east at the Upperville Horse Show, Joe asked if I would be interested in working for him.

I’ve picked up a great many pointers from working for Joe that have helped me both on and off a horse. There was a lot to learn just by observing his attention to detail, whether it was applied to teaching, riding, or day-to-day life. Joe has accomplished so much, yet his philosophy is simple. Solid basics, common sense and good horsemanship prevail. There are no shortcuts, just doing a quality job day in and day out.

ZH: What advice do you have for an aspiring junior rider who wants to compete in the jumpers?
KW: My advice for an ambitious junior rider is:

Ride and jump a variety of different types of horses.

Think about the horse, and learn how to achieve what you want while working with instead of against your horse.

Have long and short-term goals, make the most out of each ride, and work hard at home. Watch the great riders in the ring, and in the schooling area.

ZH: Do you have any exercises that you use to improve a horse’s adjustability
KW: One exercise I like to do to improve adjustability and form is a simple trot in-canter out three-stride line continuing to a combination.

First, trot in over three raised cavalletti poles, spaced 4’ apart. Next, trot a crossrail set approx. 8’ from the cavalletti poles. After trotting the crossrail, canter straight away in 3 strides (approx. 42’), to a one stride (approx. 22’). It is simple to adjust this exercise for many different types of horses and their needs.

The cavalletti poles should get your horse’s hind end up underneath himself, the crossrail encourages straightness, and trotting magnifies your horse’s jump as well as the rider’s balance. After landing off of the crossrail, your horse needs to respond to your leg by going up into your hand. Having the distance already set up to the combination makes it easier.

With the combination, depending on your horse and its needs, you may set a vertical to vertical to back your horse up and keep its front end light, or an oxer to oxer to make your horse keep its hind end engaged. You can also change the distance of the three-stride to work on adjusting, whether you set it shorter to encourage your horse to collect, or move it out to get your horse to come off of your leg and go forward.

ZH: Is one of your goals to compete internationally and if so, what is your strategy to accomplish this from the West Coast?
KW: This year my main focus is to have a successful Spruce Meadows, as well as continuing to gain experience in the bigger Grand Prix. I want to spend the early part of the year gradually building my horses’ fitness. Our horses have had about two months off and there is no rush, I’d like my horses to peak at Spruce Meadows.
ZH: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Best of luck to you and your mother this year.

Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ’07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.