California Riding Magazine • September, 2012

Hayden Show Jumping
Developing Rising Stars

by Kim F. Miller

Photo: Bonnie Gainer

They say that every Olympic sport needs a personality to propel it into the mainstream. So it's good that Charlotte Gadbois wants to become a sportscaster. A team bronze medalist in this summer's North American Young Rider Championships, the beautiful blond Chapman University sophomore has the pizzazz needed to turn the public's eye to our sport.

More importantly, Charlotte has the riding talent and the horsemanship immersion needed to represent the sport as the unique horse/human partnership that it is. For that, she can thank Mickey Hayden and his team at Hayden Show Jumping & Riding School at the Nellie Gail Equestrian Center in Orange County's Laguna Hills.

Charlotte is the second Hayden rider in the last three years to make it to the NAJYRC, where, in her division, the jumps are a huge 1.5M (maximum Grand Prix height is 1.6M) and the tracks are notoriously tough. She did the program proud by contributing to team bronze and finishing fourth as an individual. In 2010, stablemate Lindsay
Douglass helped the Zone 10 Junior squad to silver.

Charlotte began in the Riding School when she was in seventh grade and rapidly entered the training program. Mickey's hunter, jumper and equitation training program has now been producing top riders and much more for 30 years. The hard work of horsemanship is part of every day's agenda at Mickey's barn. Even on rain-out days, students show up in the Equestrian Center's clubhouse for "in-house lessons." Some days are spent reviewing video of riders' recent show rounds and other days' discussions cover care and training topics.

Charlotte Gadbois and Semira de Saulieu. Photo by Gail Morey

Whatever is on the agenda, "Everybody wants to be here," Charlotte explains. "It's typical that we all hang around for a few hours after riding whenever we can." Responsibility and respect are watchwords in all relationships between students, coaches, staff and their horses. The result is a barn environment that contributes greatly to the character of its charges, and that is just what Mickey had in mind when he established the business.

Charlotte is one of five current college sophomores from the barn who credit their equestrian accomplishments with helping them gain scholarships and admittance to some of the country's top colleges: Stanford, Duke and Chapman among them. Helping college-bound riders present their commitment to the sport as an asset in the admissions game exemplifies the Hayden team's belief that horsemanship is enriching unto itself and a path to personal development.

Team Effort at Every Tier

Low-key, down to earth and a father figure, Mickey is quick to credit the stable's long-running success to his staff. That includes Katie King and former students April Branson and Lane Clarke (who is currently winning on the Grand Prix circuit). All three carry on Mickey's ways when coaching riders and training horses. Mickey works with the upper level jumper riders, like Charlotte, but he usually weighs in on everybody's learning from inside the arena or his "other office," a shaded ringside box. And he always has an eye out for the next rising star.

The program is unique in its ability to offer horsemanship instruction at every level. Eleven weeks of summer camp and a year-round lesson program give youngsters and beginners an entry into the sport. At-home horse shows provide all students an affordable means of evaluating their progress and advancing to new levels. Show jumping exhibitions from Lane, April, Charlotte and others reveal the thrill of what's ahead for those interested and able to pursue the sport at its highest levels.

Charlotte Gadbois and Mickey Hayden

Mickey appreciates the trust his clients invest in his program and staff. Charlotte's European horse shopping trip in December 2010 is a great example of the rapport that supports that trust. In the market for a horse to fulfill her Grand Prix ambitions, Charlotte and Lane headed to Europe, where they visited two or three barns every day. Savvy enough to hold out for the horses that are not always shown to Americans, Charlotte and Lane zeroed in on two horses among the many they tried. One of those was the then 8-year-old Semira de Saulieu, Charlotte's eventual NAYRC partner. "Mickey said I would know when I sat on a horse whether it was the right one or not," Charlotte says. Although Semira was "quick and catty: just the way I like my horses," Charlotte was leaning toward another prospect later in her trip. But after insightful conversations and video evaluations, Mickey led her to the mare instead.

It turned out to be a wise decision. After a few months to get to know each other, starting right away with Thermal in 2011, Charlotte and Semira began a winning trajectory. "Her age and the fact that she had only been ridden by professionals before came out in various ways at first," Charlotte recalls. "I had hoped to do the Young Riders Championships last year, but we just weren't there yet."

Like any good horseman, Charlotte stepped the mare down a bit in fence height, experimented with bits, worked on basics and had a few breakthrough lessons with Mickey and Lane. "She really didn't know how to move laterally when we got her," Charlotte laughs. By the summer of 2011, however, things were coming together. Success in the high amateur divisions set the stage for success in the very demanding Zone 10 Young Riders trials and, in April, to a runner-up finish in the Flintridge $25,000 Grand Prix. (Lane finished first and third on Mickey's McLord's First John and Granville Equine's Casseur de Prix, respectively). Earning a spot on the Young Riders team came even with Semira being temporarily sidelined and losing out on valuable prep time.

Throughout this time, Mickey did what Mickey does: give his students what they need. "Charlotte is a confident, forward, brave rider. She and Lane are two peas in a pod that way," the trainer explains. "The hardest part with a rider like that is helping them maintain some structure in their ride without taking away their heart. You never want to take away their heart."

Given the victories that Lane, Charlotte and many others have logged, it's obvious Mickey has mastered the fine art of proper pacing in his
rider's progress.

Along with maintaining a rigorous academic track at Chapman University in Orange, Charlotte plans to continue her Grand Prix trek. World Cup qualifiers are in her sights. Even though school cuts deeply into her riding time, she hopes to spend as much time at the barn as possible.

Photo: Bonnie Gainer

Lovely Setting For Success

And who wouldn't? The Nellie Gail Equestrian Center is a beautiful facility in a beautiful setting. The public stable is tucked within the Nellie Gail residential area, which still includes many homes with backyard paddocks and horse set-ups. Twenty-three miles of well-groomed trails weave throughout the neighborhood. There's an easy loop and then there's convoluted crisscrossing trails where Charlotte recalls the fun of "challenging ourselves to get lost" with her "best barn friends" before they all went to college last fall.

Mickey's clients account for about half of the 98 horses stabled at the Equestrian Center. His students enjoy a dedicated arena with high-tech footing and colorful, A show quality jumps. The learning is always serious, but Mickey and his staff are equally serious about people having fun and providing a family atmosphere. Holiday barn parties are the stuff of lore and monthly birthday celebrations include everybody from newbies to veterans.

While the program hums along like a well-oiled machine, Mickey is not one to take anything for granted. He maintains a fresh perspective by constantly finding ways to improve every aspect of the business. "I am a bit of a perfectionist," he smiles.

The late-July day of our visit, the ship-shape barn aisles of Hayden Show Jumping were filled with cheerful summer campers. They were supervised by calm counselors, many of them older students in the training program. Charlotte strolled through to warm congratulations on her Young Rider accomplishments, while the young campers looked up at the budding jumping star in awe.

All in all, a perfect depiction of a perfectionist's ideal realized.

For more information, visit www.mickeyhayden.com or call 949-448-0823.