Conversations With Course Designers: Scott Starnes

By Erna Adelson and Jackie McFarland

A name we have seen printed in prize lists for many years, we caught up with Scott while he was designing courses in Parker, Colorado for the series of ‘A’ shows at the Colorado Horse Park.

“It’s been a long, strange, trip,” says Starnes of his ascent to his current status as one of California’s well-known course designers. Not a competitive rider but rather a former collegiate defensive back, Starnes’ experience in the elite equine world was hard to come by, and is a testament to his work ethic, determination, and skill as a technical designer.

It all began with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when Coto de Caza was host to the Olympic pentathlon show jumping events. Starnes took what was supposed to be just a summer job as part of the set up crew and ended up having a knack for the assignment. Shortly afterward, he met the legendary Pamela Carruthers and upon her encouragement traveled to Spruce Meadows where he crewed and assisted with course design. During the next decade Starnes observed and drew inspiration from some of the finest in the field from Equitation Finals to Grand Prix, including Jon Doney, David Ballard, Richard Jeffrey, Leopoldo Palacios and Linda Allen. While assisting abroad, Starnes was also working his way up as a course designer in his own backyard, learning from Tommy Dendiu, Richard Keller and Michael Curtis about designing for hunters and equitation as well as jumpers. As the horse show schedule in southern California expanded, Starnes was gainfully employed and no longer
had time to spend summers in Spruce Meadows.

We asked about designing courses for the new USHJA Hunter Derby, a more recent addition to our ‘A’ rated shows that requires a designer’s imagination to create a demanding yet inviting course for hunters. Whereas an equitation medal final or grand prix have many of the same technical questions and distance challenges, the Hunter Derby has its own requirements. “It is supposed to be more like an actual foxhunt while maintaining traditional hunter style,” Starnes commented. “The class requires a completely different build, at least four height option jumps, 3’6” and 4’, plus handy options.” Only in its first year and growing in popularity, this class requires the skill of an experienced course designer and when done well is as awesome to watch as a great Grand Prix.

Certainly steeped in the system, Starnes is the first person to admit that his career path would be considered unconventional. “Nowadays course designing is regulated more strictly,” he says. “You need to apply for a license, attend a certain number of clinics, and design at least three grand prix courses every two years to maintain your certification.” He notes that the new guidelines require all course designers to get licensed which he feels helps to ensure the safety of both horses and riders and improves the sport for all involved.

Though Starnes says that his most memorable assignments have been while crewing high-end events like the Olympics, World Cup and the Masters at Spruce Meadows because of the caliber of the designers and the athletes involved, he reveals that designing local and regional Medal Finals make him most happy. “I love designing at the Oaks because it’s home,” he says. Starnes is far from settled, though. With his FEI license pending, he may very well be back at the Olympics in London 2012, this time at the helm.

EquestriSol News: April 10, 2008

We heard there was room for some high jumpers in the $10,000 High Jump at the Night of the Horse, Saturday April 19th at 7pm in Del Mar. Limited to only 8 entries, no entry fee. Interested?

WCAR Spruce Team Trials are underway. Good luck to all trial participants! Congratulations to those 1.20m riders who were clean in their first trials.

Get ready for the party of all parties… The Endicotts want us to Party Like Rock Stars onFriday, May 9th during Ranch & Coast to benefit both WCAR and the Child Need Foundation, Inc. If you were there last year you know (if you weren’t, you heard about it), so don’t miss this bash.

We are pleased to announce the launch of a new e-newsletter for Dr. Jenny Johnson of Oakhill Shockwave.

Want to be a part of the EquestriSol newsletter? Now is the time – we are planning our next series and Tammy would love to hear how we can include you. Call 818.472.5930today!

Conversations With Equestrians: Mavis Spencer

By Laura Ware

One of the many important classes at The Oaks Spring Tournament was the $5,000 Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic, also the first North American Young Rider Trial. The North American Young Rider Championships is a competition consisting of two teams: an “A” team with 1.50 meter fences for riders ages 16-21, and a “B” or “junior” team with 1.40 meter fences for riders ages 14-18. Both teams consist of four riders and an alternate from each US Zone, each Canadian Province, Mexico and the Caribbean. This competition includes Eventing and Dressage along with Show Jumping, and is run under F.E.I. rules.

Making either of the teams is an honor, and is a highly sought after goal for many riders. Southern California rider Mavis Spencer, the winner of the first trial, was kind enough to speak with us.

Laura: When did you start doing the 1.40 meter classes?
Mavis: I started doing the 1.40m with my mare early last year but unfortunately she was off for a bit after. I was only able to ride her at Spruce and at the November LAEC show, in the 1.30m. At Pebble Beach last summer, though, I got to ride Paris Sellon’s junior jumper Syndication in the 1.40m and I was also given the ride aboard Francie Steinwedell’s horse Naranco. It was very helpful riding those two horses because they were both really experienced in the larger classes and it boosted my confidence a lot. I am so grateful to both those owners for allowing me to ride and show their horses.

Laura: Please tell us a bit about your horse.
Mavis: My horse’s name is Winea Van’t Vennehof. I bought her almost two years ago. and she had never shown before. We shipped her straight to Spruce, and started her in the 1.20m. As my trainer, Dick Carvin said, she was either going to crack or jump and never look back. I guess she really jumped into it! When I first bought her, she was very skittish and head-shy and also kind of point and shoot. Thanks to all the help I’ve gotten from my trainers, though, she is now awesome and really ride-able. She is very headstrong and mare-ish but she fights for me and I can always trust her to leave the ground and not have a second thought about it.

Laura: How did the course ride in the trial? What was the jump-off like?
Mavis: The course was designed by Leopoldo Palacios so there were some obvious challenges, but I thought it was a very fair. Seven in the jump-off, all good riders. Saer Coulter and Paris Sellon were both coming off of some big wins during the winter circuits, Brenna Riddel I’d seen during Spruce and she is a great rider, as is Alicia Jonsson who I had seen go in the Grand Prix the night before and in the Olympic Trials so I knew she would have experience jumping tougher tracks. Taylor Coe and Katie Gardner are both fast riders so my plan going in was to try for a clean round while leaving out strides in some places. The rounds went so quickly in the jump-off that when I went in to the ring I didn’t know what time or how many faults were leading. I saw the long galloping option to the first jump and just went with it. After the last jump I wasn’t sure where my round put me but I knew I was clean and fast. Of course, I was thrilled to hear that I was leading! My horse has just been amazing and kept improving all through Florida. We were both really confident together after having some solid rounds in the bigger classes there so it’s nice to come home and see our hard work translate here.

Laura: How do you manage riding and school work?
Mavis: My school has been wonderfully supportive of my riding. This year they allowed me to take a two month leave and ride in Florida. I also get out of school at 1:00 every day which gives me have plenty of time to ride.

Laura: What do you do to keep your horse prepared for these big classes?
Mavis: To keep my horse ready I hack her and sometimes lunge her with the Pessoa rig. Dick gets up there sometimes to help make her really work and think hard. Then she also hand walks a few times throughout the day. As many people have noticed, she doesn’t have much of a tail, and while we are always trying to make it grow, I guess a certain amount of prep is just keeping her the way she is and happy.

Laura: What are your riding goals and plans for this year?
Mavis: To be honest I haven’t thought that much about riding goals. I’d like to make the Young Rider team and I’d like to do well at Spruce, but for right now I’m just concerned with learning, riding consistently and keeping my horse happy and healthy. In my eyes once you have all that, the rest will follow.

Congratulations, Mavis, and good luck at the rest of the Young Rider Trials and Spruce Meadows!

Laura Listens is brought to you by Laura Ware. Winner of the 2007 LAHSA Junior Medal Finals and a recipient of the 2008 WCAR Jumper Rider Grant, Laura rides with First Field Farm and often trains with Archie Cox. She is very successful in the all three disciplines on her own mounts as well as catch riding other horses.

EquestriSol News: January 25, 2008

Hello 2008!

Looking forward to a fabulous year. We are so happy to have Tammy Chipko, Zazou Hoffman and other special guests participate in the newsletter this season. We also welcome Lorri Quiett to our team as Account Executive.

WCAR welcomes Kathy Hobstetter to its team and while EquestriSol will still assist, Kathy will take over the management reins during the next few months. Super things are happening for WCAR from raffles to parties to European Tours, Rider Grants & Spruce Teams.

We will be launching a list of new logos, ad campaigns and web sites this winter so stay tuned. With a growing team that many of you will meet in the upcoming months, we are rarin’ to go!

If you are looking for fabulous marketing, contact us at our new toll-free number (877) 538-9508 or contact Tammy directly at (818) 472-5930.

EquestriSol News: September 28, 2007

SHOW MOM is pleased to announce a new feature article, “Being a Horse Show Mom.” Plus, don’t miss the blog – read & participate – the hot topic this month is Indoors. If you are there, jump online and share stories! See more at

IPPOS International is jumping into the spotlight. After sponsoring the WCAR Spruce Teams and making the trip to the Pan Am Games with Jill Humphrey, the show duffle bag will also be seen at Indoors this fall. More on the fabulous On The Circuit Collection at

EquestriSol News: February 8, 2006

EquestriSol Offers Fabulous Marketing Opportunities at 2006 HITS Indio Desert Circuit
This year, through our sponsorship with HITS, we are able to combine web, print and display options never offered before at HITS Indio Desert Circuit. EquestriSol is now offering marketing packages as well as a la carte options that can be customized according to your business’s goals. For more information, call 310.930.2744. We look forward to enhancing your market reach at the HITS Desert Circuit.

West Coast Active Riders
The mission of West Coast Active Riders is to support and promote the riding abilities of show-jumping riders of all levels who compete primarily in the western United States. Become a member of WCAR today!

Spruce Meadows Applications are now posted!

Mark your calendars for the WCAR Indio Party & Fundraiser on Friday, March 10, 2006 at the beautiful La Quinta Resort. More information coming soon!

Ad Campaigns
Now Available! The 2006 winter issue of Show Circuit Magazine features impressive ads designed by the EquestriSol team. It was a pleasure working with Arwen Stables, Highland Farm, Sunnybrook Farm & Ranch and Susan Artes Stables and we look forward to new opportunities in 2006.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a fabulous ad in the Chronicle of the Horse? The annual Horse Show Issue will be available on March 10th. Deadline for ads is February 24th. Contact EquestriSol today about ad design for your champion horse, sale horse or business.

To view current and past clients and our portfolio, go to
Celebrating their 10th Anniversary online, is hosting a great giveaway. Beginning in March check out the site for the 10-A-Day-Giveaway where ten prizes will be awarded daily and a special Grand Prize will be awarded each month.