Conversations With Equestrians: Les Ann LeClaire

By Erin Gilmore

Trainer and New Mother Les Ann LeClaire
Since giving birth to her daughter Lydia Rose six months ago, hunter trainer Les Ann LeClaire’s life has changed dramatically. Now she balances daily life at her multi-location Rubicon Farms with motherhood, a juggling act that is hard to match. Luckily the father of her daughter, New Zealand horseman and chiropractor Dylan Harries, is also her business partner and the small family has made staying together at shows and at home a priority. With the help of a very special staff and one dedicated nanny, Les Ann marches through each day with the same sense of purpose and meticulous eye for detail that has helped her barn thrive.Dylan and Lydia Rose

EG: What time do you get up in the morning?
 Well, Lydia doesn’t really sleep; she’s up every two hours. We’re trying to break the sleep pattern I set at Thermal, when I had to get more than two hours of sleep in a row if I was going to show in the morning. So we’re working on her sleep schedule, but we’re up between 5 and 7 every morning. After I get up I email, go for a run and walk the dogs. Then I get myself and Lydia ready for the day.

EG: Does Lydia go with you to the barn?
 She goes with me to the shows, and most days she does come to the barn for a bit. I am blessed to have an outstanding nanny named Mele, who was my 96-year-old grandmother’s caregiver for more than 10 years. My grandmother passed away at about the same time I gave birth, and Mele agreed to work for me. It’s a hard job because I need someone to go to all the shows. But our priority is that we’re a family and we go everywhere together. Mele really takes care of all of us! So when I’m home she comes in at 9am and takes over for me so I can get to the barn. She brings Lydia over to the barn when the weather’s nice, which is great for me. And at the shows she brings her over in the afternoon for lunch and we ride around in the golf cart to visit friends.

EG: You chose a busy time (when you were in your second trimester of pregnancy) to open a second location of Rubicon Farms. How’s that going?
 It’s going great, and I think it will grow into something really special. Right now I go to Gilroy Gaits [the second location] on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We have about a half a dozen horses there, and are also helping out Angie and Mike Scully, who run Los Laureles Equine Rehabilitation Center with a lot of their rehab riding.

EG: Wow – that’s a lot of running around! What’s the advantage to having two locations?
At Gilroy Gaits I can take advantage of lots of turnout, an Aquapacer and a Eurocizer. It’s a great environment to bring the young horses along or give show horses a break. It’s going to be an amazing show facility, and it will be really fun to have our barn there when that starts happening. The Portola Valley Training Center is centrally located, close to San Francisco and two minutes from our house! It is the best training facility I have ever worked out of. It has everything we need to prepare our show horses. Kevin & Wendell Chambers have been very supportive and are really wonderful to do business with. So, I’ve got the best of both worlds.

EG: Tell us a little about your typical day.
 The first thing I do in the morning is schedule changes. There are always schedule changes so I start making those while driving to the barn. When I arrive I walk the barn front to back and talk to the grooms. I want to know everything. Then I go over with my team what the day’s objective is with each horse. We don’t like to lunge the horses a lot, they all get prepared with a light school in the mornings. Weather permitting, every horse gets a turnout every day. Then the clients come in; some clients have several horses so I do several lessons. That’s up and through lunch. After lunch we’ll ride the horses that didn’t have lessons, and then in the afternoons the juniors come and we go through the same routine. At the end of the day I walk the barn again to check on everyone and start formulating my plan for the next day.

EG: And the staff that helps the day go smoothly?
First and foremost, Dylan is my right hand. He does all the ground schooling on the horses and organizes routines with the grooms. He does our hauling and handles all the sales for the business. He’s also got his chiropractic business that keeps him busy. We have an excellent staff of professionals, working students and grooms working both farms daily to keep everything to our standard and everybody happy! Everyone who is working with me is playing their part in strengthening the team, and I’m still in the process of streamlining who I need where.

EG: Besides motherhood and running two locations, other goals for the year?
 We have a couple of clients going for World Champion Hunter Rider Points this year. We’re working towards that while being realistic about everyone’s personal schedules. We have a decently aggressive schedule, but all the same I try to take it month to month, if not day to day!

Photos © Flying Horse Photography

Fremont Hills: A Sanctuary for Riders in Portola Valley

By Erna Adelson & Jackie McFarland

Located in pastoral Portola Valley, Fremont Hills is an equestrian haven with a grounded nature. Each of the core team – Wendy Carter, Debbi Sereni and Missy Froley – has a distinctive background in equitation, hunters, and jumpers, so they can draw from their varied experiences for teaching all levels. “When we arrive in the morning, our goal each day is to make this day better than the last. We don’t say we specialize in one discipline, better said that every one of us contributes in many ways,” Wendy explains. So students at Fremont Hills benefit from not only a fabulous facility but also get to ride with three trainers at the same location—a prime opportunity for a diverse riding education, offering riders a library of experience to attain their equestrian goals.

Nestled between San Francisco and San Jose, Fremont Hills borders Woodside and Palo Alto and is easily accessible from Santa Cruz and Monterey. The group has 25 horses in training at the Portola Valley Training Center and eight others at nearby Bay Rose, where Wendy and Missy also train. They compete at prominent west coast ‘AA’ shows, including HITS, Blenheim, LAEC and Del Mar down south, as well as closer to home Menlo, Pebble Beach, Golden State, Brookside and Woodside. The team at Fremont Hills sees that each rider gets personal attention, providing a diverse program where each client progresses at his or her own pace. Missy commented, “We have ponies, 3’ hunters, 3’6” hunters, open horses and Grand Prix jumpers. Each of us have pieces that we’re good at, so we make a solid team.”

The three collectively agree that as the business manager, the communication hub between trainers and management, and the one who manages the pre-show details from schedule to entries, Debbi is the glue that holds it all together. More active in horse shows in previous years, (her son Matt Sereni won the 2003 ASPCA Medal Maclay Finals), Debbi knew she wanted to be able to spend more time with family when she adopted daughter Mia, now four years old. She contacted Wendy, who was working privately at Bay Rose, and convinced Wendy and Missy to take on a big piece of the training and traveling so Debbi could stay closer to home.

 By then, Missy and Wendy had been working together for several years, moving north from Coto de Caza in 2004, and already had a successful team dynamic—they have, in fact, spent the last seven years in working partnership. Missy started riding at the age of 6 with Jerry Daniels, then rode for a while with Michael Croopnick before she found her way to Caroline Bonham. She spent her junior career with Caroline where she excelled in equitation. Graduating from the junior ranks, Missy worked for Caroline until she met Wendy at Coto De Caza Training Center. Now, “We come as a unit,” Missy jokes, referring to her professional relationship with Wendy.

Wendy Carter grew up in Beverly Hills and also began riding at age 6, where she went on pony rides every weekend. That progressed into lessons at Foxfield Riding Academy where she credits Nancy Turrill and Joanne Postel for teaching her about the love of horses and the passion of riding, not just about winning ribbons. Wendy was lucky enough to ride with a variety of trainers through out her Junior and Amateur career, including Mike and Lolly Edrick, Bennett Kurtze, Jimmy Williams, Susie Hutchinson and Lucy Stewart, who collectively brought her success in the show ring as well as taught her how to be successful as a professional. She feels most indebted to three well-established professionals: Leslie Steele, Carleton Brooks and Scott Wilson.

At home in Portola, work starts at a reasonable 8:00 a.m. every day with lessons from morning until late afternoon. Everyone works together sharing in the duty of daily Starbucks runs. With such a busy competition schedule, an important part of the agenda is reaching goals and making time for fun. “At horse shows clients take what they’ve learned at home to the show ring. When they come out of the ring it’s about accomplishing their goals not necessarily the ribbon.” says Missy. “Having fun is also part of it. We try to do at least one night out with everyone since there are usually around 10-15 riders with us from Fremont Hills.”

Last year, the Fremont Hills team completed 145 days on the road, traveling to sixteen away shows, spanning northern and southern California. While they will stay closer to home in 2009, they always spend at least two weeks every year at Pebble Beach and Menlo. Past accolades include medal final champions, trips to indoors and grand prix placings, with several riders enjoying success in the show ring already this year. Missy Froley and Plein Air © Deb Dawson, other photos courtesy of Gail Morey.