February 2017 - CPHA Spotlight: Jill & Jan Humphrey
Written by Kim F. Miller
Tuesday, 31 January 2017 21:14
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by Kim F. Miller

USET Talent Search wins highlight a strong start for JH Sporthorses hunter/jumper training program.

January 1 of this year marked the start of Jill and Jan Humphrey’s third year with their JH Sporthorses program, but Sept. 24, 2016 was a more significant day for the young yet experienced hunter/jumper trainers.

That’s when their longtime student Peyton Warren won the USET Show Jumping Talent Search West and Serena Anand finished as reserve champion. Serena is a longtime student of one of Jill and Jan’s early trainers, Alison Sherred, who had recently joined the JH team. The horses Peyton and Serena rode, Casmir Z and Itteville, respectively, are representatives of JH Sporthorse’s sales and investment program.

Jill Humphrey and Zanzibar. Photo: Wendy Gleason/Malibu5starnaturals.com

Jan Humphrey. Photo: Wendy Gleason/Malibu5starnaturals.com

“The Talent Search wins were a new threshold of success, reflecting our team coming together at the same time,” says Jill.

Jill joined Rudy Leone’s Leone Equestrian in Sacramento in 2005 and became his main Grand Prix rider and training partner. Jan also worked for Rudy, during college, then spent a few years exploring and working in the European horse sales and importing business, based in Germany and Holland.

Jan’s return to the States came around the same time that Rudy wanted to shift from training to spending more time on his footing business and on managing the boarding/training facility, shows and other endeavors. Early in their new partnership, Jill and Jan brought on Karen Healey’s longtime assistant Melissa Jones as an assistant. More recently, they made arrangements with Alison Sherred to run a satellite branch of JH Sporthorses at the refurbished Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. Alison was based in Southern California for many years, much of them at the Coto de Caza Equestrian Center.

Peyton and Serena’s one-two finish at the Talent Search Finals reflected a coming together of the full JH team. “It was a very special experience,” the sisters agree.

The Humphreys emphasize that their success is the result of a team effort. The trainers, riders, grooms and maintenance staff, plus Rudy’s ongoing guidance, enable them to operate a training program with unusually broad scope.

Students range from absolute beginners to riders like Peyton, who are filtering into the Grand Prix ranks. In between those levels, their students are serious contenders at Pony Finals and 3’6” Big Eq medal classes and finals, as well as current or close-to-it contenders in North American Junior Young Riders Championships and the 12-14 Childrens Jumper Championship that will be added to that FEI-sanctioned competition this summer. Peyton and Serena are taking on the U25 Developing Rider Grand Prix division.

Head groom Candido has been with the Humphreys for several years.

Members of the JH Sporthorse team.

“We love our clients and our client mix,” says Jan. “We have everything from walk/trotters to a 70 year old woman who rides her 30 year old horse.” They make a point of not getting compartmentalized into a particular corner of the sport. A two-time World Cup Finalist (2007 & 2009) Jill has extensive show jumping mileage, and Jan is at home in the big ring, too.

When it comes to coaching, “It’s never like, ‘You take the Big Eq kids and I take the jumpers,’” Jill explains. “We really share the joy of that variety. We each have big jumpers to ride, along with a pony or two and a couple of young horses.”

JH’s ample staff gives clients plenty of attention and opportunity to show at various levels. During one week last fall, Jill was with junior riders back east at the Maclay Finals, Jan was with other clients at a show in Paso Robles and Melissa stayed close to home coaching students contesting the Horse & Hound Medal Finals at the Sonoma Horse Park.

“Nobody gets left behind,” Jan notes. Inspiration is built into the stair-step structure of their program. Peyton and Serena’s success at the Talent Search lit a new fire for ambitious young riders. “We have six juniors that competed in the 14 & Under medals last year and all of them are looking forward to competing in the Talent Search next year,” Jill says. “It’s a big goal, but that’s what we want to set up for.”

Never A Dull Moment

At 34 and 28, Jill and Jan have accomplished a lot early in their careers. The most impressive of those may be simply managing a program that averages 60 horses in Sacramento and another 10 in Carmel.

In addition to good horsemanship and management, communication is the key, says Jill, who graduated from UC Davis in 2004 with a degree in communications. “In the day-in and day-out running of the business, when we have a little bobble, it’s tempting to just fix it and keep going. But you have to take time to sit down and explain to each client what happened and what the solution is. It takes time, but it’s worth it.”

JH Sporthorses student Peyton Warren & investment horse Casmir Z take top honors at the 2016 USET Talent Search Finals. Photo: Kim F. Miller

Jan & Jill scoping out a Grand Prix course

Running their own business, “The work never ends,” adds Jan, who graduated from UC Davis in 2009 with a degree in biological anthropology and was 2008 Miss California. “At the same time it’s very rewarding. There’s always a lot of little things going on. Never a dull moment!”

The Humphreys are thrilled to have Alison on board. Growing up in Bakersfield, Jill and Jan rode with several trainers and worked on their own much of the time, but Alison was their main meet-at-the-shows coach throughout that time. “Alison was always a role model and inspiration for us in this sport,” Jan says. Their relationship with Alison has parallels to their relationship with Peyton, who started with Jill and Rudy as a beginner and stayed. The relationship was not limited to horses. “I helped her with her homework and we talked about relationships and other things,” Jan remembers.

Peyton began training with Jill when she was 4 and has admired her commitment to the sport ever since. “The program at JH Sporthorses caters to the horse and rider rather than catering the horse to its rider,” Peyton explains. “Jill and Jan help both horse and rider reach their highest potential. When they see talent in a rider they will go above and beyond to make sure the rider can achieve her goals. I consider myself lucky to ride with them because I’ve only been able to own one horse at a time and they always made sure I had catch rides in the jumpers and equitation, which gave me a huge leg up in winning the Talent Search Finals in 2016.”

Of all that Peyton has accomplished, Jill is most proud of Peyton’s horsemanship. That’s a big emphasis throughout their program and something that translates to their clients’ success in the show ring. “We believe we are developing well-rounded athletes and horsemen who will go out and further the industry,” Jan reflects. “They all know a lot about the industry and we offer more than just riding lessons here. They all know the horsemanship behind riding and understand the veterinary, dentistry, chiropractic care and other things to go into it.”

Rudy maintains a few broodmares and foals at Leone Equestrian, giving students daily exposure to the breeding side of the sport.

It’s a good time to be coaching young riders. Equitation and medal classes that promote independent decision-making, like the Ronnie Mutch Equitation Challenge, are favorites of the Humphreys. That class requires participants to walk the course and warm-up their horse without input from their trainers. “That’s great because it helps kids realize that setting the right jumps for your warm-up sets your horse up for the class,” Jan says.

“That’s really teaching those kids to give more thought to what’s going on, versus just going through the motions.”

Jan and Jill are looking at an exciting 2017. They hope that a return to the medal finals back East and Spruce Meadows jumping competition will be among the highlights. In their own riding, both aspire to the international ranks in the jumper division and they love the Hunter Derby division that is growing throughout the United States.

Their own riding ambitions hinge on what horses are coming through the sales and investment program, for which Jan travels to Europe four or five times a year. When shopping for investment horses, her focus is “something where the price and the quality make it very marketable in the American market.” That can range from sporthorse ponies to Grand Prix prospects, and anything in between.

Jan and Jill seem poised to produce more solid young horsemen, top horses and returnees to the winners circle in every division.