Dusty Blackwood

There’s no week quite like show week at Full Circle Farm in Sonoma, CA during the spring and summer months. With over 30 horses in the barn and a full-fledged A-circuit competition often underway just steps from their home base, the team at this busy operation has the job of coordinating so many schedules that their office resembles air traffic control.

But for head trainer Dusty Blackwood, the long mornings and longer days are simply par for the course. And with the skill of multitasking deftly mastered, more often than not it’s smooth sailing.

Blackwood’s Full Circle Farm, which she started over 15 years ago in the Sacramento area, moved in 2011 to the Riverside Equestrian Center, which is adjacent to the Sonoma Horse Park competition venue. For seven weeks of the year, Sonoma Horse Park hosts top class hunter/jumper shows, making for busy double days out of one location for Blackwood and her training team of Chelsea Jones and Giana Roberge.

“I’ll run over to teach a riding lesson at the barn, then run back over to the show and walk the grand prix,” Blackwood describes. “You have to be very very organized to get everyone taken care of, and coordinate all the schedules.”

But it’s the kind of busy that Blackwood thrives on, and this year has been more exciting than most. In recent months 25-year-old Jones has stepped up in a big way in the grand prix ring aboard sale horses that Blackwood imported early this summer.

Back to back wins in the welcome and grand prix on home turf at Sonoma Horse Park in June turned many heads in Jones’ direction, and the talented rider who represents her native Canada has continued to place well throughout the season.

Blackwood, who has plenty of miles in the grand prix ring herself, has turned her focus toward supporting Jones’ rise up the ranks. After a slow comeback from a shoulder injury two years ago, Blackwood recognized that perhaps it was time to give an up and coming professional the opportunity to move up. She hasn’t written off her own competition goals entirely, and actively rides four or so horses every day.

Blackwood in the jumper ring.

All the same, Blackwood admirably allowed Jones the opportunity to make her own way to the spotlight, a move that is becoming more rarified in the intense environment that the modern day show jumping circuit creates.

“I feel like I’ve been really blessed in my life to work with some very talented riders,” Blackwood explains. “Chelsea has a God-given talent, and I’ve really tried to help her get to her goals. I’m certainly mature enough to know that it’s got a lot of upsides. The clients really look up to Chelsea, it gives them goals and inspires them to jump bigger and better. And it’s great for our sales business, it gets the horses in the ring and winning, and gets them seen.”

This year in particular, those sale horses have helped to lift Jones’ profile in the grand prix ring. Nickel de Marsay and Charmeur Van De Begijnakker (better known as “Peter”) arrived at Full Circle Farm in the late spring. “Nickel” was imported from Mexico via Blackwood’s business partner, Olympic veteran Antonio Mauer, and Blackwood found Peter through Penelope Strait in Wellington, Florida.

Jones immediately clicked with the two jumpers, and on June 16th took first and second place in the $15,000 Stubben Grand Prix at Sonoma Horse park. Since that exciting win, she’s put in solid finishes on the West Coast circuit with both horses. Jones has also picked up some experience riding in Mexico on trips there to try horses, and like most professionals her age, a future bid at the international level of show jumping is high on her priority list.

Sweet success: Jones and Nickel pose for the win shot after the Stubben Grand Prix with Blackwood (blue jacket) and SHP representatives.

Amid all the busy days, Blackwood continues to be the nexus around which all activity rotates at Full Circle Farm. Her clients are her friends, and some have been training with her for 10, 15 years. With a lot of young adults who are re-entering the sport, and riders of all levels really, Blackwood reveals that it’s all of them and the horses who keep her motivation fresh and looking forward to another day at the barn.

“I’m lucky to have great horses coming up, and doing a job that’s different every day,” she says. “It makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing, be good at it, be better every year and keep finding great horses. That’s all you can do in this sport really: give it your best every single day.”