California Riding Magazine • January, 2010

Ronnette Bowman Leja:
Harmony Farm
San Diego trainer’s talents proving themselves in the show ring.

Ronnette Bowman Leja has been surrounded by horses since the age of 3. Growing up in the little San Diego County town of Descanso, she began riding as soon as she could catch and tack up her first pony, Charlie Brown. She loved riding bareback on trails with her friends. She started jumping over hay bales and logs for fun. Her mom decided to get the kid some lessons. Joining Pony Club and getting a local trainer were just the beginning. Most of the time her horses were kept at home and her mom spent many hours hauling to lessons and shows. For her mother’s support and encouragement, Leja is eternally grateful.

Her official show career began at the age of 5. Training with Hap Hansen and Sandy Aston for two years, Leja remembers being on the ground more than she was on the horse, but that never bothered her. She next trained with Dianne Grod for eight years, which gave Leja a wide variety of experiences in hunters, jumpers and equitation. She taught her when to ride tough and when to have finesse. Grod had a wonderful eye for finding talented green horses for Leja.

Leja became known as a catch rider for troubled horses. Taking dressage lessons with Meave Hall gave her a true understanding of connection, balance and suppleness with horses. The last two junior years were with a little-known but very talented trainer named Kevin Noise. Leja helped him get known as a trainer on the West Coast and he gave her the support and guidance it took to qualify and win at shows on the East Coast, including Harrisburg, Washington and New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

These exciting years as a junior competitor brought her the Zone X Small Junior Hunter Championship in 1985 and 1986, a fifth place in the Maclay Medal Finals in New York, second in the USET Medal Finals in Los Angeles and a Junior Hunter Champion title at Canada’s Spruce Meadows, to name only a few.

Soon after her junior years, Leja started working full time at Qualcomm and gave lessons on the side. She has been married to her husband Richard for 15 years and they have two boys, Cameron and Kyle. Family means the world to her. After Cameron was born she decided to go back to what she loved so much: horses. She appreciates working for Katy Boswell at Hidden Fox Farm in Crest, where she gave lessons and trained many horses for eight years.

Ronnette Bowman Leja and her hunter, Chips Ahoy.
Photo: Rick Osteen

On Her Own

Turning her attention to teaching and training with her own barn name seemed like the next move, and so was born Harmony Farm in February of 2009. Harmony Farm is based at Hazy Meadows Ranch in the beautiful El Monte Valley of San Diego County’s Lakeside. It is Leja’s desire to have in training a small group of dedicated students who, through a combination of classical training and personal teaching strategies, will set goals to pursue their personal and competitive dreams.

Having a love and respect for horses, Leja prides herself on developing and nurturing true horsemen. There isn’t a job too small or too dirty that her students aren’t asked to do. It’s a team effort that keeps her program running smoothly. One could call her a perfectionist in regards to the expectations that she sets for her students and the horses that she trains. Her attention to detail, dedication to her sport and hard work are already producing great results.

The success of Leja’s training strategies were realized this show season when one of her students, Lily Garth, took home multiple top place ribbons on mounts Ballroom (owned by Nancy Reed), Ruby Tuesday (Leja’s talented mare) and Bohemian Rhapsody, Garth’s 6-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. Most recently at the Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Assn. year-end show, Garth earned fifth place in the Mini Medal class in a large field of 37 riders. Lo and Behold, owned by Jennifer Jones, also made his debut in the hunter ring.

Leja’s training philosophy is uncomplicated and effective: “consistency, precision, self-discipline and patience.” Each horse has its own personality, strengths and weaknesses. The trainer enjoys riding them and finding a program that works specifically for them. She believes that a well thought-out and planned program, designed for each student and their horse, is essential. The program must be one that is positive and enjoyable for the horse and rider, ultimately producing strong, confident athletes working together to be their very best at a sport they love.

For more information about a training program for hunters, jumpers or equitation at Harmony Farm, please contact Ronnette Bowman Leja at 619-807-8900, or visit