Hunter/jumper trainer Lisa Westin admits it was the AC/DC rock 'n roll anthem Thunderstruck that inspired the name for her stable, which is based at the El Sueno Equestrian Center in Ventura County's Somis. But that's only part of the story. "I like the definition of the word: to be struck by awe and amazement," she says. "I'd like to think that's how people feel when they see our horses go."
Simultaneous with operating her thriving jumper-oriented training business, Lisa has been instrumental in making it easier for people to be thunderstruck by her horses and riders and by the horses for sale in the consignment aspect of her enterprise. In her role as a co-founder of the Benchmark Program and as an organizer of the Fiesta Del Sueno series of derby and hunter/jumper shows at El Sueno, Lisa is helping create an affordable development layer for the sport in Southern California.
Located in a hub of hunter/jumper and dressage activity, Lisa has a great reputation for bringing out the best in horses of various abilities and setting them up to excel. Sometimes that means making a great hunter out of a horse that wasn't well suited for dressage. And sometimes it means returning to basics with a veteran hunter, jumper or equitation horse to restart them on a better track in the
"I like to focus on a solid foundation and making sure that the horses are well broke on the flat and started correctly," Lisa explains. "So many times we get horses that show some talent and they are rushed through the stages. We are quick to advance up the ladder and are doing a disservice to so many young horses. My main goal is to take the time to develop a well-rounded horse. One that is properly prepared to go on whatever career path it ends up with."
She applies the same ideas to the patient development of riders by giving them a strong horsemanship foundation and making sure they've mastered one level before progressing to the next.
Baby Steps To Lasting Success
Created by international course designer Linda Allen, the Benchmark Program is a perfect fit for Lisa's philosophy on the right way to develop horses and riders. It's not a horse show, Lisa emphasizes, but instead a series of one-day rallies of jumper classes at fence heights stagger-stepped from .75M to 1.30M.
Lisa aboard Cattitude, in the 5 year old Young Jumper Championship classes
"All of the courses are designed by Linda and the arena is 'dressed' like a show ring," Lisa explains. "It's great for horses in my program and for young horses everywhere. If you've been doing the 1.10M and you want to see if your horse is ready to do the 1.20M, you can start in the 1.20M, and then can drop back down to 1.15M or lower and do the same track to iron out the kinks and solidify a horse's confidence. That way your horse ends on a positive note and you end feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do."
The Benchmark Rallies have the same effect for riders, and all at a reasonable cost: just a little over $100 to haul into the El Sueno Benchmarks and enter two or three rounds.
Lisa encourages participants to view it as a training opportunity, rather than a competition and the pressure that comes with it. As the Benchmark name implies, however, there is a nice way to measure progress for program members who enter their Rally results into www.thebenchmarkprogram.com. The performance log is a good sales tool and considerably less expensive to accrue than show results.
The Benchmark Organization (from left to right)
Lisa Westin, Linda Allen, Kevin McGinn, Samantha Valla
The Benchmark series has been a big hit in its two years at El Sueno and Lisa and Linda look forward to the program finding equal success at additional venues.
Meanwhile, the Fiesta Del Sueno Derbies and Hunter/Jumper show series is developing as a great complement to the Benchmark program. These weekend events begin with a Saturday derby competition on the facility's huge field, with courses set at three heights, from cross rails up
Lisa is gratified to be helping the industry move forward in difficult economic times. "We see a lot of amateurs and local trainers who need mileage and are choosing to spend their money differently," she observes. She serves as course designer and judge in the jumper ring during the Sunday hunter/jumper competitions and enjoys watching both horses and riders advance throughout the year. Staged over two courses' worth of new jumps and on top-flight Nike footing from Footings Unlimited, the shows have become very popular.
As organizer, Lisa has incorporated the Benchmark idea of schooling rounds in some of the jumper classes. "We allow riders to return for a schooling round," she explains. "Obviously they are not eligible for a prize, but if they had a problem in their judged round, they can come back in and practice. That way they go home having gone in the ring and accomplished something."
Lisa riding Erin Murphy's Tornado
Meanwhile in her own training program, Lisa is targeting her young horses and clients toward steady, upward progress on the A circuit. One of her top priorities is to maintain a highly individualized training program. To accomplish that, she caps her clientele at approximately 15 horses. "I think that's one of the reasons we've been so effective," she says. A group lesson, for example, is two riders. "We are very tailored to the needs of our horses and riders."
Lisa brings lots of experience to her work. A lifelong equestrian, she has 20-plus years of show ring mileage, four of them spent in Europe.
The next Benchmark Rally at El Sueno is Aug. 12 and the next Derby & Hunter/Jumper show weekend is slated for Aug. 18-19.
For more information on Thunderstruck Farm, visit www.thunderstruckfarm.com or call Lisa Westin at 818 426 8668. For more information on the Benchmark Program, visit www.thebenchmarkprogram.com.