February 2019 - “An Incredible Joy”
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 01 February 2019 02:29
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hunterjumper

Belmont Training grows in prominence and prowess on the hunter/jumper circuit.

by Kim F. Miller

There’s only one problem with coaching juniors: they don’t stay juniors forever. Belmont Training Stables chief Cassie Belmont knows that all to well. With 11 years under her belt, the trainer based in the Santa Cruz area’s Watsonville has already nurtured a few crops of riders that have flown off onto their adult lives.

“It’s kind of sad,” acknowledges Cassie. “I have a lot of kids who started with me in our summer camp, some of whom went off to college after reaching the 1.2M jumper division.”

The Belmont IEA team.

There’s a big upside, too. “I’ve worked with so many great kids and it’s so nice to have been able to touch their lives, to influence their work ethic and help with life skills,” Cassie continues. Many of Belmont’s young adult graduates return to help out with summer camps, ride during school breaks or simply hang out with friends – horses and humans – reconnecting to a touchstone of their happy youth.

Belmont Training is based on the campus of the Monte Vista Christian School and many of its riders start as PE students. Some maintain their involvement with Belmont’s school horses and some progress to major circuit successes on their own horses. All levels of instruction include ample hands-on horsemanship. Full-time grooms are not an option and lessons in care, hauling and tack are all part of the daily curriculum.

Lots of success at NorCal year-end banquet.

A thriving Interscholastic Equestrian Association team is a fun, horsemanship-immersive opportunity for riders at both ends of the intensity spectrum and in between. Cassie also has a lifeline to college-aged equestrians in her role as coach of the UC Santa Cruz Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Hunt Seat Team.

Belmont regularly hosts IEA and IHSA competition, giving students experience with the big undertaking of staging competitions. This includes preparing and providing horses for visiting teams and helping the shows run smoothly for all involved, especially the horses.

The range of activities and responsibilities Belmont students are immersed in is one of many things parent Constance Broz loves about having her daughter in Cassie’s program. What really hooked her, however, was “a quality of joy she saw in Cassie.”

The crew after hosting an IEA show at Belmont.

Early in the Broz family’s seven years at Belmont, Cassie was leading Constance’s daughter Elisa around on a pony. “Elisa was beaming!” says Constance. “And I saw the same quality of incredible joy in Cassie.” An experienced horsewoman herself and an active dressage rider, Constance is also drawn to the safety aspect. “Cassie is excellent in reading horse and rider, which results in a very safe program.”

Iron Sharpens Iron

Cassie is currently in a preferred part of Belmont’s student life cycle as it relates to those targeting the top end of the hunter/jumper sport. Her daughter Grace Belmont, a sophomore at Monte Vista, is fast friends with two Monte Vista freshmen: Elisa Broz and Bella Primavera.

These three amigas are familiar to anyone who’s competed against them in their equitation, hunter and jumper divisions these last few years. If one isn’t taking top honors, another typically is. First, second and third place finishes are regular occurrences.

Grace Belmont and Elisa Broz at the USHJA Gold Star clinic last month with Katie Prudent, DiAnn Langer, Kirsten Coe, and the USHJA’s Diane Carney and Erin Keating.

Grace and Colt 45’s 2018 highlights included 1.10M Childrens Champ and Child Adult Classic winner at West Palms’ Silicon Valley Classic; NorCal 1.10 Champ, and winner of the USHJA’s Childrens Jumper Individual qualifier at Thermal in November.

Eliza and Colorado were Childrens Jumper Champion at the USHJA National Finals in Las Vegas, winners of the $10,000 1.15M Childrens Grand Prix of Las Vegas and winners of the Menlo Child Adult Amateur Jumper Classic.

Bella nipped at their heels in the jumper ring with Capron, her partner in Childrens Jumper Championship titles at Woodside and in Bend, Oregon. With her hunter and equitation partner, Tattletale, Bella was the NorCal 12-14 Year End Equitation Champion, plus PCHA and NorCal Year End Childrens Hunter Reserve champion. (Tattletale was recently purchased by Sadie Willoughby.)

“Iron sharpens iron,” Cassie says of the trio’s effect on each other and as role models for their barnmates.  “They are best friends and fierce competitors riding against each other at every single show, in every division, and they had to learn to be nice to the kid that just beat them!”

“They ride together every day at home and have plenty of school classes together and juggle their lives together,” Cassie continues. “For example, they will not be doing the second week of Thermal because it’s the school’s winter ball.”

They won’t be competing the first week of Thermal either, in this case because Grace and Elisa were participating in the United States Hunter Jumper Association’s Gold Star clinic with Katie Prudent.

Cassie is thrilled about the educational opportunities unfurling from the USHJA with increasing frequency. “Between this and the Emerging Athletes Program, it seems like they are really growing their educational efforts.” Although it was challenging to gather every item on the USHJA’s long list of equipment required for the intense barn management phase of the Gold Star clinic, Cassie couldn’t be happier to have her students soak up knowledge from Katie Prudent and the rest of the clinicians.

She is particularly excited about an opening day talk on “the importance of training versus competing.”

Schooling Show riders.

“I’m always telling my kids that if I ever write an article on something, it’s going to be about fitness versus soundness: about how much do you really need to jump at home, for example. It’s less than you think! Not over-schooling is a really important part of managing your horse if you want him to be happy and last a long time.”

As much as she’d love to watch her riders through all four days of the Gold Star clinic, Cassie had to high-tail it home because Belmont Training was set to host the final IEA show of the year—on a weekend forecasted for heavy rain. It would be no small feat, but the show must go on. Every point counts in the hunt for regional and, hopefully, national finals, competitions at which Belmont team middle and high school riders have increasingly made their presence known.

Summer Camp.

Juggling Act

Managing an equestrian program with so many facets is a juggling act, Cassie acknowledges. “It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come from our early days of offering summer camps and western riding lessons,” she laughs. “We have a lot of nice horses and riders in the barn who aspire to excel on the bigger stage. As a NorCal barn it feels like we are venturing out of our happy place and it’s been great to be able to provide the education of different experiences and show venues that our students want.”

Assistant Allison Sherred is a big help in making it all work, Cassie notes. “She rides really well and is great with the kids.” Cassie’s secret weapon is her husband of 28 years Perry Belmont. A lifelong horseman, he shoes the Belmont horses and is the “voice in my head all day talking about the horse care and organization of the stable,” Cassie shares.

Having a nice facility also helps.  The approximately 35 horses who live at Belmont Training work in a large arena with GGT footing. Downtime is spent in pastures, a round pen, a VitaFloor vibration plate or in nicely maintained barns.

Belmont Team members at Interscholastic Equestrian Association National Finals. Back row: Bella Primavera, Connor Biggs & Lexi Giblin. Front row: Elisa Broz and Carmen Gonzales.

Being located on Monte Vista Christian School’s campus makes it easy to attract a steady flow of newcomers and Belmont Training’s wide range of levels enables all to find the right niche and either stay there or advance in one of many directions.

In many cases, the academic school leads riders to the stable through its PE classes. In the Brozes case, however, Belmont Training led Elisa to Monte Vista Christian School. Mom Constance explains that she had Elisa lined up to attend a different elementary school, but the fun and great instruction she saw her daughter having at the barn led her to change plans.

An equestrian education is a big family investment in every way, notes Constance. At Belmont Training Stables, it’s worth it because the students are expected to make equivalent investments of time, effort and commitment. As with most things, the more invested, the more good things there are to withdraw through life.