January 2021 - The Trainers of Peacock Hill
Written by by Kate Sanchez
Friday, 01 January 2021 20:00

Lauren Mitchell & Hayley Buckingham

by Kate Sanchez

Nestled in the heart of Orange County, CA lies the private and peaceful Peacock Hill Equestrian Center, home to both Le Cheval Sport Horses, owned and operated by Lauren Mitchell; and HBE Dressage, owned and operated by Hayley Buckingham. Although running different programs, both Mitchell and Buckingham work with one goal in mind: putting the horse’s well-being first, while creating horse and rider teams which can grow to see success together.  

Lauren Mitchell & Hayley Buckingham. Photo: Lindsey Long Photography

Le Cheval Sport Horses

Le Cheval Sport Horses is a hunter/jumper and equitation program where Lauren Mitchell emphasizes her commitment to keeping both clients and horses happy, while developing their skills to the greatest extent. “The cornerstone of Le Cheval Sport Horses is the positive environment which fosters learning, good horsemanship, and friendships,” Mitchell says, “For my riding school, I like having riders come to me ready to take the next step in riding and help them find a horse of their own to own or lease.”  Mitchell has three assistants working with her: Patty Foltz-McCarty who helps coach, Olivia Blanck who helps with riding and coaching, as well as stable manager, Jennifer Bissett, whom the trainer says keeps everyone organized and on track.

Introduced to horses by her aunt at a very young age, Mitchell has been training for fifteen years now. She describes herself as horse crazy ever since her first encounter with the animal. And coincidentally enough, on her 7th birthday, Mitchell’s parents surprised her with riding lessons with Foltz-McCarty. “It is incredibly special that I now get to train alongside her as a professional,” she comments. With a strong drive to succeed, Mitchell adds that she always worked for her trainers as a working student to cover lesson costs and spent all her free time at the barn. At 18, she got a job as a groom and began starting young horses.  Demonstrating just how big of a work ethic she has, once she turned 21, Mitchell decided to start her own small training and lesson business while continuing to work part time under other trainers, as well.  

Lauren Mitchell. Photo: Rick Osteen Photography

Lauren Mitchell coaching a student. Photo: Lindsey Long Photography

Mitchell’s philosophy at Le Cheval Sport Horses is rooted in having a specific routine for horse and rider alike. “As long as I can remember, my life has revolved around horses and helping others with their equestrian goals”, she says. With a focus on structure and consistency, the trainer emphasizes having a routine and working on specific activities such as basic dressage, cavalettis, gymnastic work and exercises you would see on the course. She also finds it important to incorporate fun activities like trail rides and a change of environment and touts the beautiful trail system at Peacock Hill in allowing for these things to happen.  Mitchell feels as though, “Cleanliness, communication, horsemanship, and proper stable management are imperative,” in her program and she’s committed to the happiness, development, and well-being of both horses and riders in her barn.     

When it comes to training numbers, Mitchell utilizes the phrase, “’quality over quantity” to describe her clientele. “I never want so many horses in my care to where I do not get to have a part of their journey and training,” she says. “I prefer one to two riders per lesson so I can focus on each individual and be attentive when a question arises. There is no substitute for one-on-one attention.” That becomes very apparent as Mitchell works to shape and create successful horse and rider teams which she can watch grow together. “I truly enjoy the balance of riding my client’s horses and then coaching them together as a team. It makes me feel like I help them communicate and succeed in their partnership,” she states. Focusing on a foundation of strong fundamentals first, Mitchell also believes each horse is an individual which has its unique strengths and learning styles.  

There is no doubt that Mitchell stays busy with her daily tasks, but she is looking to the future with high hopes, as well. Some of her goals for next year include helping one of her students work toward her goal of qualifying for the Maclay Medal Finals, as well as getting herself into the show ring next year. “I also plan on organizing and attending elite clinics at Peacock Hill Equestrian Center,” she shares, “I believe in this sport especially, that we never stop learning and that is what I love most about it.”  

HBE Dressage

HBE (Hayley Buckingham Elite) Dressage is a training and sales business in which Hayley Buckingham has been instructing and riding professionally for six years.  With the help of groom, Guillermo Rocha, HBE Dressage focuses on each horse getting one-on-one attention daily, as well as training that’s personalized to meet the needs of each horse and its owner.

Buckingham credits her mom with first sparking her love for horses, and she’s been riding since she could sit up. “My parents leased a Shetland pony for me when I turned four. ‘Rowdy’ was very naughty and would toss me off daily,” she recalls, “Obviously that encouraged me more than scared me!” Buckingham then took lessons at the riding school at the Huntington Beach Equestrian Center and never looked back. At age nine, she started riding her mom’s retired FEI horse, Angelo, with Colleen Walker, and her dressage career began. Soon, she found herself moving up to her horse, Hayley’s Comet, who helped her earn a bronze medal as well as CDS Junior Championship and Equitation Championship titles. Buckingham had the opportunity to work with several individuals, including Carol Robertson whom she credits with giving her confidence and helping her earn a silver medal and the DASC Prix St. George’s Championship; as well as Amy Miller whom she says has been an “amazing influence” on her riding career.  In 2016, she was offered a job by Sarah Lockman at her barn operated out of Peacock Hill Equestrian Center. “I was elated that she asked me to be part of her team,” the trainer recalls, “She helped me grow as a rider and businesswoman and encouraged me to build my own business when the time was right.” Buckingham touts Lockman’s work ethic and adds that she modeled her full-service barn on how she taught her, “…to keep clients very happy and keep the horses in great health and top shape.”  

Hayley Buckingham & Donna Rubina. Photo: Terri Miller Photography

Hayley Buckingham with her client, Svetlana Fomina, and her horse, Ragnar.

A classically trained FEI Dressage rider, Buckingham has a knack for young horses and says that no matter what level, the animals always come first. “My clients tell me often how much they appreciate how kind I am with their animals and I try to be as patient and understanding with my clients as well. I move at a pace that is comfortable for both horse and rider and take time to solidify each concept before moving on to the next. I think the training scale is very important along with understanding the horse’s needs,” she says. Buckingham likes to keep a full barn, working with horses of all shapes and sizes. Like Mitchell, she teaches lessons individually to devote as much attention to detail as she can. “I enjoy teaching and riding full time,” she adds, “…from the crack of dawn to after sunset.”   

When asked what she loves most about her job, it’s simple: seeing her hard work and dedication play into the development of the horses and their riders. Instilling confidence in her equine and human clients is essential, and she tends to enjoy a challenge from time to time as well. “Making horses amateur-friendly is my specialty!” she shares. Taking a difficult horse that no one wants to ride isn’t a chore for the trainer, but rather seen as an opportunity to help build their confidence and show them how to love their job. Similarly, Buckingham enjoys starting from scratch with riders who may be timid or frightened by their horse. “Teaching horses to trust and love their job is a staple in my program, as well as teaching my clients to be confident in the aids they’re giving,” she adds.     

Buckingham heads into next year with big goals, the main one being to continue to operate her business with happy clients and even happier horses. “I plan to develop aspiring young horses in my program into successful FEI horses,” she says. Meanwhile, personally, her biggest goal is to earn her Gold Medal on Donna Rubina, a horse she started and brought up the levels, owned by Susan Ortiz. Buckingham will continue to participate in clinics to further her riding education and expand her knowledge in dressage. She looks forward to welcoming new horses and riders into her program.  

Both Mitchell and Buckingham praise the beauty and serenity at the Peacock Hill Equestrian Center and say it’s unlike any facility they have ever seen. The two trainers run their businesses in a first-class manner, always putting the horse’s wellbeing, and clientele communication at the forefront, while remaining dedicated to horse and rider success both in and out of the show pen.

Visit www.peacockhillequestrian.comfor more information.

Lauren Mitchell can be reached at 949-584-4393 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Hayley Buckingham at 562-217-0981 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Hayley Buckingham & Lauren Mitchell. Photo: Lindsey long Photography


December 2020 - Courses for Horses
Written by by Alice Chan
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 03:06


The importance of staying curious.

by Alice Chan

As a relatively new horse-owner—three years and counting—I knew early on in the journey that there was an entire library of equine knowledge that I’d likely never acquire, but I sure was going to try. On my quest to becoming better informed, I’ve attended many a riding clinic, have consistently had my horses in training, and exhausted my poor vets’ (yes, plural) patience with my never-ending questions.


Imagine my delight when one of our wonderful vets, Dr Carrie Schlachter, together with veterinary colleagues from her newly established practice, Animals In Motion, announced she would be hosting a four-week-long educational series entitled: The Horse Course. Totaling 12 hours, the course includes lectures and hands-on experience with AIM’s herd of horses who are there expressly to support the practice’s teaching efforts.


We recently moved our two horses home to live with us, so acquiring some basic health management techniques seemed like a good idea. The course covered fundamentals such as taking vitals, spotting colic, better understanding nutrition, recognizing lameness, worming and vaccinations.

Each class starts with a detailed lecture, with plenty of opportunities for Q&A with the presenting veterinary, and lots of laughs along the way. I discovered that most of my equine medical knowledge dates from the 1950s (don’t ask me why). Once our classroom time was done, we would head on over to the barn to apply what we learned. If you haven’t figured out how to listen to a horse’s heartbeat, here’s your chance - and spoiler alert, it’s not quite as easy to find the right spot as you’d think.

Likewise, we learned how to apply standing wraps correctly, as well as six-layered pressure bandages in the event of an injury. And we heard that today, a broken leg isn’t necessarily a death sentence, and you may want to use drain pipe material as a temporary splint in the event of a nasty break.

We became skilled at identifying common parasites, and how to avoid picking them up (e.g. at shared water troughs and grazing spots at trailheads and showgrounds) and were invited to bring in a poop sample which we then analyzed under a microscope to assess for parasites and how to count them.

During the nutrition class we were taught how to read the labels on feed bags, as well as understanding the importance of a forage-heavy diet. We were shown how to assess a horse’s body condition score—which we then practiced on the AIM herd. Looks can often be deceiving: a large barrel doesn’t necessarily mean the horse is carrying fat, and vice versa.

Perhaps my favorite class was about lameness, having had all too many experiences. We got to evaluate a number of videos of different horses to see if we could spot where the lameness was originating from, and heard about the preventative and curative treatment options that are available for the modern sport horse.

All in all, this was a highly educational and engaging experience and I look forward to taking the Horse Course 2 in the future.

If you’d like to attend the next Horse Course, the clinic’s Wednesday night lectures, you can visit the website below. The in-person classes take place in Penngrove, Sonoma County, and there are often opportunities to join remotely.

For more information, visit www.animalsinmotionvet.com.

December 2020 - Got Game?
Written by by Scott Lico
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 03:28


It starts with having a game plan.

by Scott Lico

“Proper planning prevents poor performance.”

I heard this quote years ago and never forgot it. I think this holds true for everything in life. From dieting to starting a business, if something is not properly thought out and planned, the likelihood of success is much smaller.

This certainly holds true for the competitive show jumper. Listen to someone such as McLain Ward speak about his horses’ program, and you will see not only does he have a plan for tomorrow, he has a plan for the next two years!


I’d like to be a bit more specific and talk about having a game plan. A game plan that will give you the best chance possible to have a successful performance at your next competition.

To start, you need a clear idea of what your goals are for you and your horse at the show. Is it to win a championship or a classic, or perhaps move up a division? Maybe it’s just to ride as confidently and accurately as you know you’re capable of. Whatever it may be, you need to have some idea of what you are looking to achieve. This will determine the strategy for the week.

For example, my aim with my current horse is to take the first day or two as training days, and then look to be competitive in the Grand Prix that weekend. I use training rounds to develop confidence in the horse with the jumps and atmosphere they will be facing. I plan to really use the ring and give my horse plenty of time on the approaches to the fences. Of course, I will usually end up with some time faults, but for me, the first goal is that my horse is confident in her new environment. Not to be competitive. Your goals may be different than mine. Regardless, having a clear idea of what you are looking to achieve is crucial.

Establishing the right frame of mind going into the competition begins the night before your class. First, I like to spend time reading, preferably something that will get me focused, such as a book on riding or sports psychology.

A great book that I recommend every rider read is The Golfer’s Mind by Dr. Bob Rotella. Dr. Rotella works with McLain Ward and pretty much everything in his book can be applied to the rider’s mind. After reading, you should spend some time watching videos of yourself riding well. These videos will bring back positive memories in the saddle and give you confidence in the capabilities of yourself and your horse.

This serves to help with the positive thinking every rider should be striving to have. I believe many riders make the error of only working on their physical riding skills while neglecting their mental skills. Spend some time working on your thinking game and I promise you your riding will improve.

Photo: Kim F Miller


This may sound silly, but on the morning of your competition, make sure you eat! Many of my students over the years have struggled to feed their mind and body the nutrients they need to put on a good performance. I am convinced this is due to nerves. I know when I get nervous, I tend to lose my appetite but I always make sure to start the day with something nutritious to get me going. I like a protein shake and some orange juice along with a multivitamin and mineral. Find something that works for you. You wouldn’t not feed your horse, would you?!

Make sure to arrive at the show nice and early. This will prevent you from feeling rushed.  Just like rushing your horse, rushing yourself is the kiss of death. Following your arrival, and after checking in on your horse and possibly giving them a light flat session or lunge, a good game plan always includes a thorough course walk.

When walking a course, pay special attention to details: the locations of the start and finish timers, distances between fences, turns, time allowed, spooky fences, scope tests and jump-offs. During this time, I also make a plan of what jumps or turns I will tour in the arena with my horse when we enter the ring. The strategy for your course will ultimately be determined by you and your trainer, tailored to fit both horse and rider’s strengths and preferences for the day. Take the time to go over this plan in your head; memorize it and visualize riding it. It must be clear in your mind.

Embrace The Nerves

Now that you have your plan for riding the course, it’s time to mount up. You may be quite nervous and that’s okay. Try to relax by taking deep breaths and reviewing your plan. Aim to be loose, free and confident.

Remember that every top athlete gets nervous and learns to welcome it. Accept the butterflies, and you will actually ride better! I personally used to struggle with being intimidated by other competitors in my class as I moved up the ranks. Top riders I looked up to, or even were taught by, would be in the same division and, at first, I wouldn’t think I had a chance. But I learned to cherish these competitors. Having them is good for my riding, and if I believe in myself, I can beat them!

When on course, be sure to stay in the present with your mind sharply focused on the jump or turn ahead of you. A lot of riders let their minds wander or become even blank during their round. As you can imagine, that will hinder you from riding to the best of your ability. Also, have a trusting and decisive attitude with how you approach your course and fences. Believe fully in your horse, yourself, and your plan.

Following your round, spend time reviewing your ride in your head or with your trainer. I usually walk for around 10 minutes after exiting the ring to cool down my horse, providing me with the perfect opportunity to do so. I will also spend some time watching video footage and critiquing myself when I have free time that day. Hopefully, everything went perfectly but if you happen to have made a mistake, allow yourself to spend 10 to 15 minutes thinking about it. Your best teacher is, of course, your last mistake. After you figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, accept it and then forget about it! As hard as it may be not to, do not sit around and dwell on it. A rider needs to be able to forget the bad rides and remember the good ones.

Improving one’s chances of a successful performance starts with having a solid game plan. A plan that you are confident in and that will ultimately bring out you and your horses’ true capability. Whether it’s for your class tomorrow, a weekly training program, or the year ahead, put the time and energy into creating a plan that will help you succeed at whatever goals you may have.

Author Scott Lico is a USHJA Certified trainer and Grand Prix rider based at Hacienda Del Valle in the Los Angeles area’s Sylmar. For more information, visit www.scottlicostables.com.

April 2020 - Blackjack Farm
Written by CRM
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 23:25


Hunter/jumper program caters to adults and their unique learning preferences.

Loving horses aside, adults are at the barn for very different reasons than their junior counterparts. At Blackjack Farm in San Diego County’s Vista, they specialize in catering to just those reasons.  

The most prominent characteristic for adult learners is that they are internally motivated. That means they are doing something because of their own values or interests. They simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn and actualize their own potential.  


When Blackjack Farm owner Robin Martinez came back to riding as an adult, she was about 30 years old, ready to buy a horse and start competing again. She was certainly internally motivated.


But right off the bat, her experience back in the horse world wasn’t very good. She didn’t feel like she fit in a group lesson with a bunch of teenagers and private lessons were few and far between. As an adult, working in a corporate structure for years at that point, the communication style she was accustomed to was a 180-degree change from what she experienced at the stable. Direction was given as an order rather than an explanation, with the most common direction being the phrase, “Do it again!” It seemed to her that the focus was much more on style than on substance and the communication methods left a lot to be desired.   

Robin knew from her own experience as a corporate trainer/facilitator that teaching adults is about a partnership between the student and the instructor. Adults learn much differently than their younger counterparts and therefore must be taught differently. Adults need to understand the why of things and how ideas fit together. This characteristic drives many trainers crazy, but this is who adults are and how they learn. “I know this is how I wanted to be taught when I was the client and it’s exactly how I teach now,” says Robin.

Robin and Dionicio Martinez.

“It has been my experience that the American method of teaching is focused mostly on replicating a style rather than on principles that lead to a consistently reproducible outcome of an effective rider and a rideable horse,” says Robin. “This lack of a system in teaching jumping riders is problematic in general but especially problematic for adult learners. I really believe it is the cause of so many adult amateur riders finding themselves frustrated and without any real progress to their riding. It’s what stood in my way as a horsewoman and a rider. It was the basis of my frustration that eventually inspired me to do things differently.”

Robin’s teaching style is one of well thought-out communication, with the goal always being that the rider understands the theory behind what they are learning. After 20 years of experience with adult learners, Robin knows that you can’t just say “do it again” and expect that the person is going to learn something that will affect lasting change or improvement.  

At Blackjack Farm, horsemanship comes first, and the principals of riding are an integral part of that. “To me, good riding is a part of good horsemanship. It’s not a separate thing. Learning the foundational flatwork that is the basis of how all horses are taught, mastering how to put the horse on the bit, understanding proper use of the horse’s body and the rider’s position, really understanding the aids and what you are actually saying to the horse with each thing you do, these are essential parts of good horsemanship.”

Blackjack Farm at sunset.

The focus at Blackjack is on teaching adult amateurs and young people who want to be in a more adult atmosphere. Full and half training programs are available as well as in-barn lease options. Robin teaches out of her beautiful North County facility that she owns and manages with her husband Dionicio Martinez. Together, they eat, sleep and breathe horses. Life is full and the future is bright.  

The vibe at the five-acre facility is “peaceful, productive and positive,” and the training emphasis is jumpers and adult amateur riders. Blackjack Farm has a 12-stall barn, nine oversized in-and-out stalls, premiere all-weather footing, show quality jumps, large turn-outs, a groomed track and a Eurociser.

For more information on Blackjack Farm please visit www.blackjackfarmsandiego.com.

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