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.