California Riding Magazine • April, 2009

Jennifer Coyne-Wilhite Dressage
It was dressage at first sight.

by Erin Gilmore

It’s a rare child who rides dressage—and is enthralled. It’s a rarer child still that sticks with it, undistracted by the pull of jumping or other disciplines. At the age of 8, Jennifer Coyne-Wilhite was that child and then some.

The trainer, now in her early-30s, did try her hand at those “other” disciplines, but even at such a young age, nothing enchanted her more than dressage.

“I really liked the perfection and discipline in dressage,” she recounts. “Rather than wait in line to jump a course, I liked to work for 45 minutes and have something to show for it at the end.”

With dressage saddle in tow, she endured some teasing as other girls her age headed to their jumping lessons, but Jennifer’s drive and hunger to learn were rewarded early on. At 12, she earned her USDF bronze medal. The next year she began FEI competition, and at 13 became the youngest person (at the time) to earn her USDF silver medal.

Before moving to the Northern California city of Hollister in 1992, Jennifer learned her dressage basics from trainer Janet Curtis in Laguna Hills. Up north Jennifer rode with Hollister-based FEI competitor and ‘S’ judge Pam Nelson. She traveled back down south bi-monthly throughout high school to train with Betsy Steiner, and upon graduation moved to Westlake Village to ride full time with Betsy.

In 1998 and 1999 Jennifer rode on Young Rider teams, bringing home the team gold medal in 1998 and team bronze in 1999. In 2001, while working for Gerhard Politz at the Flintridge Riding Club, Jennifer was named Region 7 CDS Intermediare 1 Reserve Champion.

Jennifer and Thaddeus,
her flashy 2000 Dutch Warmblood gelding by Ijseelmeer.

Jennifer continued to clinic with Conrad Schumacher and others. As she progressed up the levels, she began to take in horses here and there to train. But it wasn’t until after marrying in 2003 that Jennifer officially opened her own business, JCW Dressage, back in Hollister.
“I always wanted to be a trainer. There’s an amazing feeling when you train a horse to do something,” explains Jennifer. “When it comes from you, it feels like you’re passing on a part of yourself to the horse.”

Hollister Haven

Jennifer is based at her parent’s beautiful private facility in Hollister, with a custom barn, green pastures and lighted dressage court. She maintains 10 horses in full training, and teaches many trailer-in lessons. Her prospects include Maestoso II Omegga, a 10-year-old Lipizzaner who finished fifth in the nation at Prix St. Georges for Lipizzaners last year. Jennifer has done all his under saddle and dressage work, and hopes to reach Grand Prix with him by 2010. She is two scores away from achieving her USDF gold medal, and is looking forward to those Grand Prix scores this year, as well as showing with her students. She admits that watching her students compete is harder than anything she’s done before.

Schooling Maestoso at home.

“I like seeing that connection when the rider learns to guide the horse and reach their potential, but once they’re in the show ring and I can’t help them, it always makes me so nervous!” she admits.
In addition to lessoning with Lilo Fore in Santa Rosa, Jennifer takes every chance she can to attend clinics. Last year she was thrilled to have the opportunity to clinic with Andreas Hausberger, chief rider of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.

In 2007, she saw another opportunity to further her education by earning her ‘L’ judging license. “I am always in front of the judge, so I rarely get to see things from their perspective,” she says. “I wanted to see things from that angle, learn what they learn, and watch progress happen from that viewpoint.” Jennifer also sees judging as something she can do to enjoy and stay in the sport long after she’s able to ride, and aspires to earn her ‘r’ judging card.

The 8-year-old girl with single-minded determination still lurks inside Jennifer. Now she thrives on sharing dressage with others, and her drive keeps her moving ever forward.

To learn more about Jennifer Coyne-Wilhite, go to