Getting Started in Grand Prix: Rachel Fields of Sandhaven Farm Offers Advice for New Riders

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Getting Started in Grand Prix: Rachel Fields of Sandhaven Farm Offers Advice for New Riders

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Aug. 24,2020
ProEquest

Rachel Fields grew up in New Zealand with her equestrian parents, Joe and Karen Yorke, at their Sandhaven Stables. Joe was a member of the New Zealand show jumping team at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Both her parents are accomplished riders, so it was only natural for Rachel to start riding as well.

Rachel and Chakira compete at Thunderbird in 2017. Photo: Totem Photography

Rachel and Chakira compete at Thunderbird in 2017. Photo: Totem Photography

The first horse show or Grand Prix horse or pony can be daunting for new riders. Rachel reflected on her vast experiences as a show jumping rider and trainer to offer advice for new riders getting started in their Grand Prix jumping career.

“I had jumping ponies in New Zealand,” Rachel recalls. “My first Grand Prix mount was a pony – yes, that’s an actual thing, 1.30m’s on ponies! Looking back now that was completely nuts. At that age it really was just about surviving.”

Rachel trained her own ponies, and although she was under the direction of her parents, did the work herself. While not all equestrians are training their first Grand Prix horse or pony, the experiences gave Rachel valuable insights that can help a rider on their journey to their first Grand Prix.

“Honestly, I had to make my own Grand Prix pony. I think looking back on that now in retrospect, I realize that was a huge achievement. Thank goodness I have the most amazing Mum who’s a phenomenal horsewoman and she guided me.” Her first really good Grand Prix pony was Cloudy Bay, a paint named after the famed New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine.

Cloudy Bay and Rachel compete at the Hawkes Bay Royal Show in New Zealand. Photo Barbara Thompson

Cloudy Bay and Rachel compete at the Hawkes Bay Royal Show in New Zealand. Photo Barbara Thompson

Rachel competed in the Pony Grand Prix, young riders and lady rider of the year in New Zealand. She studied many disciplines, including dressage, eventing, working in the racehorse industry, and did her fair share of field hunting with her mother as a deputy master of the local hunt club. All of this was before she focused on show jumping. Then, she moved to the United States to work for Willow Tree Farm as a groom and has been based in California for the last 23 years.

“It’s safe to say that my career really didn’t start until I worked for the Mendez family of Maple Leaf Farm in Los Altos Hills, California,” Rachel continues. “They allowed me to ride Millennium (aka Freak), who was John French’s past Grand Prix horse. John and Millennium had competed at the World Cup finals, so Millennium was an amazing teacher as he was so brave with endless amounts of scope.”

Rachel was working a young horse, Karl du Chateau (aka Smarty) at the same time she had Millennium. Smarty came from Paul and Emile Hendrix. “He was young and green but so brave and careful, fast and loads of scope, everything you want in a good horse,” Rachel says. Her philosophy as a trainer and horsewoman has always been to treat each horse as an individual, and this helped lead to her success with both horses.

Karl du Chateau and Rachel with Cathy and Alex Mendez. Photo: Dirk Menlo

Karl du Chateau and Rachel with Cathy and Alex Mendez. Photo: Dirk Menlo

“Freak and Smarty were both very different horses from each other, but having the two of them at the same time was a tremendous gift to me as a rider. Freak showed me the way and made me believe I could do it. With that, I could show Smarty what he needed to know. My first big win was on Smarty at Thermal.”

Rachel and Karl du Chateau won the $30,000 Grand Prix of the Desert in Thermal, California in February 2007 against 66 other horses, and they were the only pair without any faults at the competition. Both Rachel and Smarty overcame their own incredible challenges before that event that could have been career-ending. Competing and winning at the Grand Prix level takes talent, integrity, hard work, and a support network.

Those around us form whom we become as equestrians and can teach the early Grand Prix rider and help them learn as they progress through the levels. Rachel credits her parents as being amazing horse people, and says her Dad was a brilliant rider and mother was a superb horsewoman. Many others influenced her equestrian career, including Butch Thomas, John French, Jill Henselwood, and Emile Hendrix.

“They are all very different people, but all masters of their crafts,” she says. “They all taught me that you have to work hard, there are no short cuts in this business and if you choose to take short cuts, it’ll always find a way to catch up to you.” Rachel believes in being a horse person first, and being honest and true to yourself in business, the same integrity she saw in her parents and mentors.

Rachel and Chakira. Photo: Alden Corrigan Media

Rachel and Chakira. Photo: Alden Corrigan Media

The path to Grand Prix is not easy, but the journey and rewards once a rider reaches that level are worthwhile. Rachel had the opportunity to explore her options growing up in New Zealand and was never forced into the equestrian path. She recommends that young riders stay in school and get a degree before deciding to train and ride horses for a living.

Jeff on Kiwi Iron Mark in the $1 Million at Thermal in 2016. Photo: ESI Photography

Jeff on Kiwi Iron Mark in the $1 Million at Thermal in 2016. Photo: ESI Photography

Rachel and her husband, equestrian Jeff Fields, own and operate Sandhaven Farm, based at Portola Farms in Woodside, California. Their team mentality is to treat every horse as an individual has led to continuous growth of their farm, and victories for riders at all levels. Rachel and Jeff want their horses and riders to be confident and fulfill their potential, but to also have fun along the way.

Rachel and Jeff Fields. Photo: Gail Morey

Rachel and Jeff Fields. Photo: Gail Morey

“Work hard, save your money, be kind to everyone and the horses, enjoy life to the fullest,” Rachel concludes. “And, don’t forget why you started riding in the first place.”

Visit Rachel and Jeff at ProEquest! Sandhaven Farm

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