Les Ann LeClaire takes some teasing about her barn habits. At both her Rubicon Farms locations, the Portola Valley Training Center and, as of January 2010, Gilroy Gaits, “my number one priority is horse care,” she states. “I am meticulous about that to the point that some people make fun of me, but I don’t care.”
Show ring results, the veteran Northern California hunter/jumper trainer continues, are all the result of the day-to-day program at home. “Our horses do well because they feel well and they’re well cared for.” It’s old school horsemanship that LeClaire carries forward from her equestrian upbringing, primarily years spent as a Pony Clubber, then with top trainers and horsemen Carleton and Cindy Brooks, who remain friends
LeClaire started Rubicon Farms roughly 10 years ago and made a niche for herself with elite hunters. She’d kept the business at boutique size to accommodate her personal life until a divorce two years ago removed that restriction. The trainer now happily spends many hours at both barns working with an ever-growing clientele. In that time, she met and became personal and professional partners with equine chiropractor Dylan Harries, a New Zealander with a racing and show horse background. Their daughter Lydia Rose signed on for the ride two months ago.
When she was ready to expand, LeClaire first took on more students at Portola Valley Training Center, then established a second Rubicon branch at nearby Gilroy Gaits. She originally had eight horses in training, a few of which were her own. She and Harries now have 25 and growing.
To maintain her high horse care and training standards, LeClaire has carefully grown her staff. In addition to top-notch grooms and working students at both locations, the talented young trainer Jill Prieto joined Rubicon last October as assistant trainer. A big winner in all divisions during her junior years, Prieto continued on a jumper path successfully as she entered the professional ranks. Most recently, she worked for Sonoma Valley Stables. “With Jill we can offer the same standards of excellence for the Jumper division as we have been in the Hunter and Equitation divisions,” LeClaire notes.
Jill Prieto on Calmo, Menlo 2009. Photo: JumpShot 2009
Wherever Rubicon clients stable their horses, they can count on getting all the benefits of LeClaire’s high quality, consistent training routine. The 60-acre Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park is synonymous with the best in boarding and training and has been a hub of the Bay Area equestrian scene for many years. Gilroy Gaits is newer, but, developed by the Training Center’s managers, Kevin and Wendell Chambers, the facility is on track to offer similarly stellar riding and stabling arrangements.
Rubicon Farms’ clients get the straight scoop from LeClaire, even before they’re clients. Prospective students are first asked their goals. “We work it backwards from there in terms of what they’ll need to do to achieve those goals,” LeClaire explains. “I am always very up front about what it takes in terms of time and money. I want it to be a good match. When we get people, they usually stay with us. There’s no rude awakening after they’ve bought all the equipment, etc.”
Les Ann LeClaire on Ladylike.
For the past several years, the majority of Rubicon’s students were juniors. Most of those went off to college recently, triggering a shift toward amateurs. Although she misses “her girls” and loves having them return on holidays, she is greatly enjoying the amateurs, many of whom are fellow moms. Several are targeting World Championship Hunter Rider titles this year, and some own horses who will do double duty with LeClaire in the Open Hunters.
“A” Level Horsemanship For All
Regardless of their age, budgets or competitive goals, all students get a thorough indoctrination in old-fashioned horsemanship. Having grown up as a do-it-yourself Pony Clubber who kept horses in her backyard, LeClaire blends the lessons of her upbringing with “good stuff” picked up from mentors along the way. “I have always believed that horses are athletes and that they should be treated the same way I treat myself as an athlete,” she says. “Eating right, practicing right, studying for your tests and having time to rest and play
LeClaire and her team have regular strategy sessions about each horse in their program. As with a prospective client, they start with what the horse is expected to do, then decide how to prepare him and/or maintain him at that level of work. “We decide how we’re going to shoe him, train him, how many days off he’ll get and everything else to make sure his program revolves around what he’s going to be doing.”
In short, “It’s A level horsemanship all the time,” LeClaire concludes. The regimen requires long hours at the barn, which is fine by the trainer. She and Harries thrive on their time together with the horses. The turnaround of a traumatized Thoroughbred racing rescue, brought to their attention by friend and fellow trainer Kristin Hardin, has been a particularly gratifying project for the couple. Renamed after the football player Chad Ocho Cinco, the roughly 7-year-old horse did well in the Baby Green Hunters last year and is poised for continued success in Pre Green this year. “He’s a wicked athlete and is not afraid of anything,” LeClaire notes. “But he has his share of issues. It took three guys to handle him when he arrived and I sometimes liken him to a feral cat!”
With students, LeClaire has a knack for developing confident and capable riders who wind up in the winners circle more often than not. In addition to her students’ successes, the trainer is known for her effectiveness with young horses and investment prospects and as a trustworthy source for sale and lease horses.
Although Rubicon Farms shed the boutique nature of its original incarnation, the quality emphasis has stayed the same, a boon for those who want the best in a Bay Area hunter/jumper training program.
For more information on Les Ann LeClaire and Rubicon Farms, visit www.rubiconfarms.com or call 415-269-5377.
Photo: Rick Osteen