February 2016 - CPHA Spotlight: Jeni Brown
Written by Kim F. Miller
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 07:34
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Trainer and CPHA president achieves high level success and a low key vibe at Shadowbrook Stables.

by Kim F. Miller

Shadowbrook Stables is named after Jeni Brown’s parents’ stable in Vermont, where Jeni grew up with horses on their farm. The Vermont stable no longer exists, but its spirit does through the California counterpart Jeni has created.

Jeni with amateur riders Stacey Bacheller and Ande Murray and assistant trainer Emma Lindstrom, right. Photo: Mike Keener

Jeni with one of the foals growing up at she and Mike’s Fillmore home stable. Photo: Mike Keener

Located at the Southern California Riding Club in Moorpark, Shadowbrook’s training program has been producing winners for many years, from the Short Stirrup divisions to the 1.3M jumpers, and every level in between. The teaching and training vibe is serious, but within the context of enjoying the sport and the privilege of spending time with horses.

Jeni also runs a rehab and retirement facility at her and husband Mike Keener’s home stable 12 miles away in Fillmore. Mike is still amused that Jeni spends much of her “off day,” Monday, out in the paddocks with the retirees.

Those horses have a fulltime caretaker in Isidoro Botello and his family, but Jeni just enjoys hanging out with them and therein lies the poorly kept “secret” of her success: an unshakable passion for horses.

Jeni moved from the East Coast to California in 1993 and went right to work for Elvenstar, even back then a training ground for future professionals. “I’d never been west of the Rockies and that was my introduction to California.”

She loved it all.

Five years later, she opened Shadowbrook and hasn’t looked back. Since then, she’s especially pleased that the program’s show ring success has come hand in hand with a priority on happy horses and people. “Ribbons are not our only priority,” Jeni explains. “And it hasn’t been hard to enact that philosophy because people who have a ‘win at all costs’ mentality are probably not going to approach me. That’s not what we’re about.”

Shadowbrook does not have a beginner lesson program, so those who come to the stable already have a level of commitment to the sport. Whatever their level, clients have the common denominator of wanting to ride better. For most, that includes competing, but not always.

It’s naturally a drama free barn. “The atmosphere here is positive and it’s a fun place to be,” Jeni says. On weekends, groups of riders typically go out to lunch together or ride out on trail together.

Assistant trainer Emma Lindstrom has been a huge part of Shadowbrook’s success, both in the show ring and in the program’s ability to provide an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. With Jeni for 12 years, Emma now does a little more of the riding and showing and Jeni does more of the teaching. They are good friends and a great team, with the ability to easily swap roles as riders, horses and show schedules require.

“It’s a rarity to have someone like Emma,” Jeni acknowledges. Emma spent most of her junior years riding with nearby trainer Michele Pacyena. She added Karen Healey coaching toward the end of her junior career, then went to work for East Coast trainer Otis Brown.

Both Jeni and Emma earned college degrees thinking they would go into academic teaching. Jeni has a degree in psychology and Emma in child development. But at some point, both realized that their love of teaching could be blended with their love of horses. “If we can teach people while doing something that we love to do, rather than in a classroom, that’s more fun!”

Whether applied to a horse or a rider, “that process of teaching and training, when you see them get something and improve, that is so rewarding,” Jeni says.

She also feels lucky to have the help of veteran professional Cyndi Merritt, who helps Jeni and Emma ride and/or teach at home.  With an average of 25 horses in the training program and several students who haul in for lessons, there are times when they need to divide and conquer and Cyndi helps make that all run smoothly.

Shadowbrook’s other not-so-secret weapon in the smooth running of all things is Jeni’s husband Mike Keener. “He’s retired but he probably does more work now than he did during his career,” Jeni laughs fondly. He helps with stable upkeep, horse hauling and is a fixture at shows, looking out for Jeni and Emma. Plus, he’s an ace photographer capturing the many happy moments that arise during a life spent with horses and the people who love them.

“None of what I do would be possible without Mike,” Jeni says.

Service to the Sport

Giving back to the industry is a priority for Jeni. She began by serving on the San Fernando Valley Hunter Jumper Association’s board of directors for many years, then held a similar position on the Los Angeles Hunter Jumper Association. At the California Professional Horsemen’s Association meeting in January, Jeni embarked on her third two-year term as president of the organization.

Although Jeni doesn’t treat shows as the “be all and end all” of her training program, she enjoys competition and values it as a test of what’s been taught and learned at home. Having that level of involvement with the shows that comprise the sport’s structure, she is grateful for the chance to be involved in shaping that structure through volunteer work. “It’s nice when you feel like you can speak for exhibitors and trainers and feel that you are making a difference.”

It helps that California show managers are “quite open to what exhibitors and trainers want and how they feel,” Jeni says. “They want everybody to be happy.”

Promoting the CPHA’s role as a professional service organization is a top priority. Many members of the hunter/jumper community are aware of, and often join because of, the CPHA medal classes and finals. The association’s main role, though, is serving its member professionals – and not just trainers. That can include anyone in the region who makes at least half of their income through the horse world: farriers, show managers and officials, veterinarians, braiders, haulers, tack store employees, etc.

As she detailed in her awards banquet speech (see story, page 34), the CPHA offers educational and aid programs that benefit all. Entry fees for the CPHA medal classes support these programs, but the actual medal classes are the smallest part of CPHA’s efforts.

One of the more fun aspects of the CPHA’s work is the annual awards banquet recognizing those who have made significant contributions to the sport and/or had remarkable years in the show ring. Wonderful slideshows by CPHA’s administrative wizard Ruth Frazier and peer presentations offer special insight to the sport, its history and its long time and upcoming stars. Bringing that event to a wider audience is another of Jeni’s priorities.

Jeni estimates the CPHA presidency takes up an average of 10 hours a week. It’s conference calls, letter writing and, much of it, individual outreach. “We have a lot of great programs, like our Style of Riding class, but if you don’t talk to people personally about it, it may not happen.” The same goes for fundraising efforts and the success of other new and evolving programs. Facebook has been a big help in getting the word out, but it still often takes a personal touch to get people to read and act on what’s posted.

Like many veterans of the sport, Jeni would love to see more professionals get involved through volunteer service. “I know that everyone feels so busy running their own business and their own lives, but if more people took on a little, we could all get a lot more done than a few people trying to do a lot.”

This is the first profile in our new CPHA Spotlight, in which we’ll feature a professional member of the organization each month. The CPHA provides a forum, voice, and many valuable programs and benefits for equine industry professionals throughout the region, including those who live elsewhere but compete and/or work within it regularly. Members can be trainers and anyone else who earns at least half their income from working with horses. CPHA also hosts prestigious medal classes and finals for juniors and amateur members. For more information on the organization’s good works and getting involved, visit www.cpha.org.