California Riding Magazine • May, 2013

A Perfect Match
LionHeart Ranch welcomes Kim Elsner as resident trainer.

Kim Elsner riding Destinado, owned by Lisa Guerrin.
Photo by: Synergy Impressions Photography

Dressage trainer and Grand Prix rider Kim Elsner puts a priority on developing partnerships between horse and rider and she believes that the best horses are happy horses who enjoy their jobs. It's a philosophy that's helped her develop horses up to the FEI levels and one that's made her a perfect fit as the new resident trainer at LionHeart Ranch in the Los Angeles area's Agoura Hills.

Kim grew up with horses and has been training them for the last 18 years. Most recently, she worked with renowned breeder, judge and 1974 Olympian Hilda Gurney, with whom she specialized in bringing young horses along.

When Kim got a call about the opening at LionHeart, she went to take a look at the lovely facility nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains. "What really sold me is the way LionHeart cares for its horses," she says. The facility is known for putting the horses' best interest first at every turn and that concept aligned well with Kim's approach to training. She was happy to move her business, Autumn Breeze Dressage, to LionHeart.

A USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist, Kim has an impressive resume in competitive dressage and a track record of helping horses and riders move up through the levels. Her many 2012 show ring accomplishments include earning the USDF All Breeds Intermediare II Third Place and the American Trakehner Association Grand Prix and Intermediare II Horse of the Year. Taking Love Potion to the California Dressage Society 4 Year Old Futurity Championship is another of many coups that reflect her abilities with horses at every stage of training.

Most of the horses and students in her program are focused on show ring success, but Kim draws on a broad-minded horsemanship approach to help them all get there. She has experience with many breeds, including Spanish horses, gaited horses and American and European Warmbloods. She adores and has a special knack for developing young horses and is comfortable working with stallions, too.

Growing up in Colorado, Kim trained wild Mustangs and horses who others had given up on as too problematic. Her own brand of natural horsemanship evolved during that time. "It involves working with the horses' minds, keeping them engaged and understanding that every horse has a different personality," she explains.

Confidence Is Key

Helping horses with the mental aspects of growing up in general and dressage in particular is a big part of her program. Building confidence is key for horses in any training stage or challenge. "I never force a horse into a situation in which they won't do well or won't be good for them," she says. The same approach is true with her students and is particularly applicable with amateur riders who often have fears and/or the baggage of past bad experiences to work through. Kim's lessons are open to riders of all levels, from Training Level to Grand Prix.

Kim augmented her equestrian education by earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Colorado State University and also became certified as a veterinary technician. Both have been a tremendous help in her work with horses. "They have helped me have a more well-rounded approach and, when there is a medical problem, I usually know the background involved." It's knowledge that truly complements the process of creating the correct training foundation in all the horses she works with.

Serving as assistant trainer to Hilda Gurney was another contribution to Kim's horsemanship. "She opened a lot of doors for me and I was able to start many nice horses, most of which were bred in her program."

Kim's mix of horses in training is about evenly divided between those she is preparing for their owners to ride and compete and horses she is campaigning for sponsors. Her own coming 6-year-old, Florrio, by Florencio and out of Hilda's mare Livadia, is ready to begin competing this season.

The move to LionHeart this past December has been great, Kim enthuses. In addition to being a gorgeous, serene setting, the facility has everything a trainer could want. The footing is excellent for normal training and especially for horses coming back from an injury. The full-care facility has a 200' by 80' indoor arena, large turn-outs and an outdoor arena, on-site trails and a care program that revolves around individualized nutrition and bodywork.

For more information, visit or call 818-865-0118.