California Riding Magazine • June, 2014

Donatoni-Frost Training Stable
Open-minded horsemanship approach distinguishes Ventura County hunter/jumper program.

by Kim F. Miller

People who want to ride around in the same circles every day, literally and figuratively, need not inquire at Donatoni-Frost Training Stable. Although the program is geared for success on the hunter/jumper show circuit, the route to get there is circuitous. There's going to be some dressage. There's going to be a little trail riding. There may even be – don't look now! – a bit of insight from natural horsemanship advocates like Chris Cox.

Veteran trainer Tina Donatoni-Frost moved from her longtime Moorpark base to Stradivarius Equestrian Center in Ventura County's Santa Paula and is ready to build up a clientele that welcomes and appreciates an open-minded approach to horsemanship.

She grew up as an eventer in Corey Walkey's Mill Creek Equestrian Center program and competed successfully up to Intermediate level. She's the proud owner of a U.S. Dressage Federation silver medal for her accomplishments at Prix St. Georges and has worked with Chris Cox enough to share his belief that horses are "athletes who can do anything we set our minds to so long as we've earned their trust and we give them the right guidance."

Drawing on different disciplines and training approaches enables Tina to get the best from her horses and to teach students to do the same. And the variety is good for everybody.

"Horses get bored," Tina says. "They need to do different things." She first noticed this with Nilssan, the horse with whom she earned the USDF medal. After spending some time working with Chris Cox at his ranch in Texas, Nilssan "came back so much happier to do different things and he got back his enthusiasm for his regular work, too."

Past clients have been receptive to such ventures beyond their discipline's conventional borders. When Tina first hosted Chris for a clinic at her former location, "my clients all agreed to participate, but they said, 'If we don't like what this guy in the cowboy hat does, we won't do it again'." All went well and Chris returned for many more sessions.

Tina sees acceptance of natural horsemanship techniques growing within the hunter/jumper world. "My horses are happy," she explains. "They come to work everyday never knowing what they are going to do, but they are happy to do it." Safe handling techniques are another natural horsemanship advantage. All students in Tina's program learn enough groundwork to handle their horses safely and enjoyably.

The show agenda for Donatoni-Frost Stable varies depending on clients' readiness and goals, but typically includes at least one hunter/jumper show a month. Tina also encourages students to compete in Training Level dressage because the fundamentals that requires are a big help in jumping. The circuit welcomes dressage dabblers, she notes and, at the lower levels, regular show attire works fine.

Tina keeps her own knowledge fresh by clinicing regularly with fellow pros. Show jumping Olympian Anne Kursinski, international dressage star Leslie Morse and her former eventing coach Corey Walkey are among her favorites.

All Ages, Experiences & Budgets Welcome

Past students during Tina's 16 years as a professional have included winners in the hunter, jumper and equitation rings, plus several students who have gone on to become professionals themselves. Tina enjoys working with students of all ages and experience levels. She has three school horses for those new to the sport and the experience to take riders as far as they chose to go in the sport. "Every one is treated equally," Tina emphasizes. "Whether you are riding a school horse or a $50,000 horse of your own, there's no class system in my barn.

"The greatest riders can ride any horse," she continues. "It's about finding the strengths in each horse and making the most of them."
"Boutique" is how Tina describes the size of her program. There's not a specific head count attached to that: it's whatever number of horses and riders enables her to interact daily, one-on-one, with each. "About 10 years ago, my program was very large. It was great from a business perspective, but I could not give everybody the individualized attention I wanted to. So, that was too big and now I am going to stay on the smaller side."

Tina is thrilled to be based at the newly revamped Stradivarius Equestrian Center in Santa Paula, about 10 minutes from Ventura and 20 from Camarillo. It had long been geared for ropers, but recent upgrades have made it ideal for hunter/jumpers enthusiasts. Five big outdoor arenas have good sand footing and, along with extensive trails throughout the 500-acre property, provide plenty of space to train, condition and relax.

A petting zoo, boarder lounge and a Kids Club playhouse are a few of Stradivarius' many family-friendly amenities. "It's one of the best kept secrets in Ventura County," Tina reports. That may not be the case for long. She and the owners are staging a series of hunter/jumper schooling shows. They are currently attracting riders from Ventura County and into Santa Barbara and Tina expects them to gain popularity going forward.

For more information on Donatoni-Frost Training Stables, call 805-340-9633 or visit www.donatonifrost.com.