Two years ago, Emily Anderson didn’t know much about horses, but she wanted to. The Alturas, California teen was just about to finish high school and trying to decide what to do next. All she knew was that it had to involve horses. “As far back as I can remember when you’re just old enough that people start to ask what do you want to be when you grow up? It was horses. From day one,” says Emily.
With graduation looming, Emily and her parents started looking at colleges around the country that offered equestrian studies programs. But, none of them really seemed like the right fit for a beginner. “They had this mile long list of supplies you needed to bring,” Emily remembers. “They wanted you to bring all the grooming stuff, everything. At the time I was like, I don’t even know what most of this stuff is!”
Emily was getting discouraged until a family friend showed her an article about Maplewood Stables in Reno. She toured the ranch with her parents and was sold right away. “I came with nothing besides myself a desire to learn,” says Emily. Today, the 20-year-old is competing, training, and foaling horses. Emily is also the most recent graduate of Maplewood’s Horse Industry Training Program – the only licensed postsecondary education equestrian program in Nevada.
Students come from all over the world to study at Maplewood, a sprawling 165-acre ranch just south of Reno. In the 40+ years since it was founded, Maplewood has become a top A-circuit hunter-jumper barn. In addition to its lesson program, Maplewood hosts shows and clinics, trains young horses, and has a breeding operation. All of this is done under the watchful eye of Julie Winkel, Maplewood’s founder and head trainer.
Julie is a big name in the hunter-jumper world. Her list of accomplishments is long: one of the first United States Hunter Jumper Association Certified Trainers, co-writer of the USHJA Trainer Certification Manual & Study Guide, USHJA Emerging Athletes Talent Scout, United States Equestrian Federation and Canadian Equestrian Federation Judge, and on and on. Julie has judged some of the most prestigious shows in the country, designed courses, trained and shown hunter-jumpers to the top levels internationally.
But long before Julie Winkel became known in the equestrian world, she was just a kid growing up in Hazen, Nevada. You’d be forgiven if you have trouble finding Hazen on a map. The once bustling railroad town in Churchill County is a veritable ghost town and has been for a long time. “It was population 36 and six of them were my family,” says Julie.
Julie came from a family of Nevada ranchers so she grew up riding. “We broke our own horses and we bred our own horses,” she says. Even so, her parents strongly discouraged their children from a career in horses. Nonetheless, Julie kept riding, training, and winning awards. “I bet my dad when I was 18 that I would make it as a horse trainer. 100 bucks!” says Julie. “But he denies we ever made this bet.”
Julie founded Maplewood in the late 1970s. “As a young professional, taking students to horse shows and getting my feet wet in the industry, I had nobody to ask advice from,” says Julie. Instead, she forged her own path. As her reputation grew so did Maplewood. Today it is one of the premier hunter-jumper barns in the West. But Julie still has big plans. “Maplewood is going to become a hub for education. Everything horses,” she says. The Horse Industry Training Program is just the latest step toward that goal.
Nevada has never been a destination for those seeking formal equestrian education. None of the state’s universities or colleges offer equestrian studies degree programs. But Maplewood, along with a handful of other barns in the state, has offered working student positions over the years. “It was an internship program, but we wanted to take it a step further,” says Tricia Booker, the administrative director at Maplewood.
The Nevada Commission on Postsecondary Education granted Maplewood a provisional license for the Horse Industry Training Program in
The Commission reviewed and approved Maplewood’s course catalog and all teaching materials. Staff underwent background checks and there were several site inspections. What the Commission ultimately approved is a two-year intensive and immersive study of all things horses. The first of its kind in the state.
Students in the Horse Industry Training Program study in four areas: horse training, barn management, horse care, as well as trailer training and safety. They must accumulate 1,000 hours in each area, for a minimum of 4,000 hours over 24 months. As with any other school, attendance, homework, quizzes, and progress reports are part of the curriculm, but the majority of time is not spent in the classroom.
“I didn’t learn by going to school and reading books about horses,” says Julie. “I learned by experiencing a horse that was colicking, a mare that needed help foaling, a young horse that needed help dealing with a bad rider. Those experiences you cannot replicate in a classroom.” Students are involved in all aspects of the barn’s operations and it is a rigorous schedule. The program’s formal hours are six days a week, from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm. “They get Mondays off… sometimes,” Julie says with a chuckle.
Tuition (which totals $24,000 for two years) includes supplies and access to all of Maplewood’s facilities – four outdoor arenas, one indoor arena, outdoor Grand Prix field, clubhouse, and library. Not to mention, the ranch’s 75 horses. It also covers housing, which is onsite. There are three apartments for male students. The women’s dorm can house six and is upstairs in Julie’s house. “I can hear them coming and going,” says Julie. “But they’re too tired at the end of the day to have parties or anything.”
Students who are interested in the Horse Industry Training Program have to apply and be accepted. Julie is very particular about the type of person she wants. “We vet them for sure,” she says. “I’m looking for ambition. I’m looking for desire. I’m looking for somebody that isn’t doing this just because they don’t want to go to school and this is a free ride. Because it’s not a free ride. It is a lot of hard work.”
What she doesn’t necessarily look for is experience. The program is entry-level and no prior experience with horses is necessary. Julie has had students with a range of skills – from total beginners to accomplished Grand Prix riders. Julie admits she prefers the novices. “Just like a horse, they’re a clean slate. There’s no bad habits. There’s no wrong information.”
Once they are accepted into the program, new students complete a goal sheet to help guide their studies. “It’s very interesting for me to read their goal sheet, then to look back after they’ve been here for a year,” says Julie. “I sit down with them and say, ‘let’s look at your goals from last year and see where we are now and see if we want to reassess these goals.’ It’s important to have goals – short term and long term – and to be reassessing them and be realistic about them.”
Because she spends so much time with the students, Julie is not only their trainer, she’s like a den mother. It’s a role she takes seriously. “It’s my same philosophy bringing them along as it is bringing a young horse along,” says Julie. “You’ve got to give them the rules, give them the parameters, but then let them learn. Don’t strangle them and don’t just turn them loose.”
But her goal is not to just graduate students. Julie has a vested interest in each student reaching their full potential. Sometimes that means being blunt with them. “I had one girl who was here for a year and I was honest with her. I said, ‘You’re not going to make it as a professional in this business. You’re too nervous, too scared, too mistrusting’,” says Julie. The student left to pursue a different career instead.
Those who stick it out will gain invaluable experience in the horse industry. When they finish, Julie is there to help each emerging equestrian find the next step in their career. She has sent students to work with some big names in the hunter-jumper world. “Because of all my connections now in the industry, I have a limitless resource of professionals that are willing to help these young professionals,” she says.
Even after students leave her, Julie still stays in touch with them. “I continue to be their mentor. These kids call me all the time,” she says. Julie is eager to give advice or suggestions when her former students need it. “I want these kids to succeed. I want to send them off on to bigger and better things. To be more than I am.”
“I had googled how to post the trot before I got here,” Emily says with a laugh. As one of the students who came with no previous horse experience, Emily is a Maplewood success story. Over the past two years, she has learned the ins and outs of horse care, become a skilled rider and trainer, competed at premier West Coast shows, and helped birth out foals. “It is overwhelming how much I’ve learned,” she says.
When Emily first arrived at Maplewood she kept a journal to document her experiences. “The other night when I was starting to pack, I found it and started reading through it,” she says. “The things I was writing down that I learned are like so common sense now. How would I not have known that!” Emily doesn’t plan to stop learning now that she’s graduated. She says her goal is to study as much as she can so that someday she can have her own training and breeding barn.
But first, Emily is heading to South Carolina where Julie secured her a three-month position at a breeding farm. “I’m more than proud of Emily and this is why she better come back here in three months because she has a job here,” says Julie. Leaving Maplewood comes with mixed emotions. “I don’t know whether to be jumping with joy or crying or both,” says Emily. “It’s definitely bittersweet. But, I’ll be back. I keep reminding myself of that. This is home now.”
Maplewood Stables hopes to eventually make the Horse Industry Training Program the first equestrian studies associate degree program in the state of Nevada. For more information visit www.maplewoodstables.com.