October 2015 - Mark Watring Stables

New digs, same focus on family-friendly success with horses.

by Kim F. Miller

Mark Watring Stables’ relocation to Hidden Valley Ranch this past April was not a big move in distance – it’s literally a mile away from Mark’s base for the last 20 years – but it’s a big move in setting and amenities. Built on 36 acres once owned by Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, Hidden Valley Ranch Equestrian Center has the first class features to support the first class training and family atmosphere Mark has always been known for.

Cover photo: Mark Watring and Balyon. Photo: Wendy Gleason / Malibu5starnaturals.com

Bright, well-ventilated stables house big stalls and breezy, wide aisleways. Spacious tack rooms and grooming areas make for pleasant horsekeeping and an air-conditioned office and lounge area enhance non-riding time. A warm-up track around the arenas and ample trails throughout the beautifully landscaped, tree-laden property are nice extras for horse and rider alike.

Mark and Balyon. Photo: Wendy Gleason / Malibu5starnaturals.com

Even on a hot summer day, though, Mark’s favorite feature is a spacious patio and lawn area overlooking the arenas. They are great gathering spots for clients and their families and are conducive to what has always been a strong family orientation for Mark Watring Stables.

Mark had been based on Blakiston Ranch for the past 20 years. It was on the rustic, low-key side with unpaved access roads and stabling in a combination of barns and clusters of stall/paddock set-ups.

When the property’s owner and well-known horseman Tom Blakiston passed away this past fall, Mark recognized it as the right time to make a move. Conveniently, Hidden Valley Ranch had an opening and, thanks to his solid reputation, Mark got the nod to move-in.

All of his clients happily came along. With an average of 35 horses, including ponies, there’s room for a few more at the new location. Offerings encompass everything from beginner kids in the pony program and novice adults up to juniors and amateurs succeeding at all levels of the A hunter/jumper circuit, including a few who give Mark a run for his money in the Grand Prix ring.

Mark with Saphir. Photo: Melissa George Photography

Clients tend to stick around. Many, Mark notes with a smile, are former students who’ve returned to get their kids started in the sport. Often, those returning moms eventually get back in the saddle themselves.

Courtney Shattuck is one such student. She was a teenage student of Mark’s when he was at the Foxfield Riding School early in his career and was happy to find Mark when she returned to riding. She now owns what she laughingly describes as “a herd” of horses and is an accomplished amateur jumper competitor.

Mark’s 35-plus years of experience make him a great teacher who prefers a low-key approach. He is positive, encouraging and serious about conveying solid horsemanship principles in an enjoyable way. “He always sees the glass as half full and always has the best interests of his clients and horses in mind,” Courtney explains.

A Family Affair

The family vibe may be a natural extension of Mark and his wife Jenny’s commitment to blending family with their passion for horses. Their youngest son, Stone, 12, rides regularly and their oldest, Sterling, 15, is comfortable with horses and enjoys time at the barn when he’s not pursuing his own intense passion and talent for soccer.

The move to Hidden Valley coincides with Jenny Watring’s ability to resume riding on a regular basis. She and Mark met during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, when Jenny was performing as a member of the Foxfield Drill Team. Jenny grew up riding at the Foxfield Riding School and went on to coach the squad that’s famous for performing “on the wire” – without bridles or saddles. She and

Mark with his wife, Jenny and their sons Stone and Sterling. Photo: Melissa George Photography

Mark became friends when Mark’s horses came to Foxfield after the Olympics Games, and they married several years later.

Motherhood has taken up most of Jenny’s time these last several years, but with the boys in middle and high school, she’s been thrilled to return to riding and to working alongside Mark. At Hidden Valley Ranch, the Watrings lease their space and handle all aspects of board and care directly. Jenny has been instrumental with the administrative side of that and helps out in many other ways.

A thriving summer camp is a great entree into the sport. Photo: Kim F. Miller

A thriving summer camp program, organized by Erin Cypers, has become a great entrée into the sport. It’s a pipeline for new Short Stirrup contenders and for families inspired to jump into the sport big time. The Allen family, for example, took their first lessons with Mark recently and shortly after that decided to buy a jumper for Mark to campaign. That horse is 18hh-er Balyon, with whom Mark recently finished third in a Huntington Beach Grand Prix.

Mark is especially pleased with the number of boys who are getting into horses. Although the United States is unique in that relatively few boys and young men participate in the english disciplines, Mark has a resume that’s inspired many young men to shoot for the stars.

An International Veteran

The show jumper’s dossier is dotted with Olympics and Pan American Games, along with World Cup Finals and many other international competitions.

At the international level, Mark took an unconventional course. He started out as an eventer representing the United States and worked under Bruce Davidson. When a horse injury mid way through the U.S. selection trials derailed his hopes to represent the States in the 1984 Olympics, Mark went on behalf of his birth locale, Puerto Rico, and has ridden for the U.S. Territory ever since.

MPhoto: Kim F. Miller

In 2003, Mark and his most famous mount, Sapphire, helped Puerto Rico win show jumping gold at the Pan American Games, then represented them well as individuals at the 2004 Olympics.

There have been some logistical ups and downs to riding for a country that lacks a strong equestrian federation. Most recently, a chance for Puerto Rico to enter a team at the Pan Am Games in Toronto this past summer, which might have helped its 2016 Olympic hopes, fizzled because the federation failed to submit the right documents in time.

Photo: Melissa George Photography

Mark is frustrated about that, but philosophical in realizing there’s not much he can do about the situation. Instead, he’s focused on helping all of his students make steady progress toward their riding goals, whatever they may be.

In addition to his competitive accomplishments, Mark is also well known as one of the first to clone a superstar horse. In this case, it was Sapphire, whose clone, Saphir, is coming along beautifully. Now 5, Saphir will likely debut in the jumper ring this season and Mark has high hopes.

In appearance, athletic ability and temperament, Saphir seems on track to demonstrate cloning’s ability to produce a horse with characteristics very similar to its source. Mark knows the industry will be watching when he brings the youngster out in competition and he’s excited about it.

And if Saphir needs any advice, Sapphire is on the scene, enjoying paddock retirement and looking healthy and happy at 22.

Rumor has it there’s another equine celebrity at Hidden Valley Ranch: Roy Rogers’ celebrity mount Trigger is said to be buried on the property. That’s fun to think about, but even if not true, the facility holds plenty of equestrian treasure with Mark’s program settled in there.

For more information on Mark Watring Training Stables, call Mark at 805-338-7824 or find the business on Facebook.

Mark is sponsored by CWD Saddles, MDC Stirrups and Equine Insurance.