Kelly Van Vleck

Rancho Murieta CA 95683 United States
Kelly Van Vleck

She is up by 4:30am every morning and often on a horse by 6:30. She believes we are so lucky to be able to ride horses, and her passion for horses and teaching is why she wouldn’t be caught doing any other job.

Kelly Van Vleck is widely recognized for developing confident, elegantly precise riders and for bringing out the best performance in her horses. As owner of Van Vleck Sporthorses at the Murieta Equestrian Center, Van Vleck has professionally trained horses and riders for more than 20 years.

In addition to competing regularly at horse shows throughout Northern and Southern California, Van Vleck’s students have earned both team and individual medals as members of the United States Junior and Young Riders Teams. In 2011, Kelly was the chef d’equipe for the Silver Medal winning the Zone 10 Young Riders and Junior Young Riders team at the North American Young Riders Championships in Lexington, Kentucky.

ProEquest: What do you value most when training a horse and/or a rider?
Kelly Van Vleck: It is very important to me when I am coaching someone that they have passion for the animal and it’s not all about them. I value the desire of learning to ride a horse, the passion for horses, and compassion for animals. I am huge on discipline, respect for the horse, me, and others. That goal never ends. We are so lucky to be able to do this sport. When you think about it: how many people will never feel the things we feel? We are lucky to ride horses. Many never get to have that connection with a horse.

PE: What’s new and exciting around the barn? What kept you busiest during 2012? What are your goals for 2013?
KVV: We are an ever changing barn. The group of people I have right now is the best and it is a fun and happy place to be. I have a great group of fabulous girls working for me which make things gel together and run smoothly. I have been in the business a long time and know that it goes in cycles, and the year 2012 was a growth year for our barn. Last year I got to take a step back and get back to the basics. I have a lot of little kids coming up… really cute ones. When they are young, it’s ever changing, because they grow so fast.

Medal finals are huge for our barn. I have students whose goal is moving up to the Norcal 3’6” finals. I have one rider that is hoping to do the North American Young Riders trials. We have some great horses and their riders want to do some hunter derbies. 

PE: What’s the hardest part of being a professional, and creating a business in the horse industry? What education and experience did you have that helped open doors for you?
KVV: The business aspect is very difficult and Sacramento is a tough market. It is challenging to balance managing people, employees, and the books which I do myself. At the same time I try to give quality lessons and provide assistant trainers that people love. Finding good hired help is unbelievably difficult. I love my grooms who have worked for me for almost twenty years now and are family to me. But the revolving door of assistant trainers is hard to manage. Maintaining a business and keeping your competitive edge at the same time is hard. I’m a coach, cheerleader, and psychologist and, at the end of the day, you have to be a business person. The most difficult part is that you are friends with everyone and I sometimes spend 24 hours a day with my clients. In the end you have to remove yourself and say that it is still business.

Van Vleck in the show ring. Photo ©Ryan Anne Polli

PE: What’s been a high point of your coaching career, thus far? What do you enjoy most about coaching? What are obstacles you have to overcome?
KVV: In 2011 I was named Chef d’Equipe of the Young Rider’s Zone 10 team at the NAYRJC in Lexington, Kentucky. My student Kendall Skreden and horse Esperanto were on the team which earned team silver, and she was fifth place over all.

I love the coaching process— it’s hard, you work and work and work and then you finally get there. But I never care how hard it is to get there as long as the person I’m working with never gives up. I find that the process is more fun than the reward… but we all like to win. Although I’m not against that, I enjoy the process of coaching most.

A huge obstacle I come across is self-doubt. When you’re dealing with horses, right when you think you have it, they push you right back down to reality. You have to understand that a horse is an animal and take a step back and look at the big picture. You can’t get lost in the day to day successes and failures. I stress when someone has a bad day, and I have to remind myself to look at the big picture—remember where you started and were you are now.

PE: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and early influences?
KVV: I had a rough and tough beginning. I rode with Barbara Worth when I was a kid. She taught me to never give up. I remember the day I learned to canter and I think I fell off nine times but just kept crawling on again. It was good but I didn’t have formal training until I went to college. I rode with Rusty Stewart and he is one of the most phenomenal horsemen in the world and I learned a lot about balance and really good horsemanship. He helped refine my natural feel. I have learned so much from watching others and copying what works. It helped me come up with my own sort of system and it is a little bit of every trainer that I have worked with. You’re never done learning as long as you open your ears and your eyes so you can work with the horse as one.

PE: How would you describe the day-to-day pace of Van Vleck Sporthorses?
KVV: I’m a morning girl and it seems like every year I’m up an hour earlier. The latest I get up is 4:30am! I do bookkeeping and emails for about two hours. In the winter I stay inside longer because I hate being cold. In the summer, I’m on a horse by 6:30. I ride as many as I can. It is a busy hustling place in the morning. Lessons start and we don’t stop till about 1:00pm. I’m super on time, efficient, and organized. Afternoons are typically lighter with more book work. Then kids come after school for their lessons. Six days a week we are doing 35 horses, five days a week. Monday is our one day off.

PE: Was there a moment that you knew you wanted to be a horse trainer?
KVV: No, there was never a moment that I did not want to be a horse trainer. The weird thing is that it is all I have ever wanted to do and I wouldn’t trade my job for anything. The main thing I learned from college was all the jobs I didn’t want to do. It was a great to get an education from USC and follow through on my parents desire for me to be a well-rounded person. I never showed that much in my junior years of riding. My senior year of high school I showed six shows and thought I hit the jackpot. Now, I live vicariously through the kids at the barn.