Harley Brown Equestrian – Top trainers settle in Bay Area hunter/jumper hub

Article reprinted with permission, California Riding Magazine, December, 2012.

Australians Harley and Olivia Brown are not afraid of change. Harley first came to the United States in 2003, with a horse to sell and plans to head home after he’d done so. But he liked the horse, Blue Diamond, and the weather also, so he changed plans, kept the horse and set up shop in California! Olivia followed with their then-infant daughter Zoe a few months later.

Zoe is eight now, the Browns are regulars on the West Coast show circuit, and Harley and his top Grand Prix horse, Cassiato, are frequent contenders and winners at international level Grand Prix. The pair just missed out on their bid to represent Australia at the London Olympics.

This past September brought about another change: their move from San Luis Obispo to the Portola Valley Equestrian Center in the Bay Area’s Menlo Park. They sold their thriving Central California business to their capable former assistant Amanda Garcia and headed north. The Browns were attracted to the Peninsula because it’s dense with hunter/jumper activity as well as non-horse attributes that will benefit their family, which includes 18-month-old Dexter.

Cassiato and a few up and coming Grand Prix prospects, including Cozmoz and Cash, came along, but the Browns are mostly starting from scratch in building their clientele. Given the professional couple’s talents and straight-forward and down- to-earth appeal, it’s likely they’ll hit their desired 25-30 horse head count very soon.

Harley and Olivia welcome hunter, jumper and equitation riders of all ages and abilities. Their only criterion is that students be genuinely interested in and passionate about their horses and the sport. “We can take people all the way to riding at the international Grand Prix level,” Olivia explains. “But what we are most interested in is people who have a desire to learn.”

They look forward to becoming regulars on the Northern California show scene, along with regular jaunts to HITS Thermal, Spruce Meadows and Florida as suits the needs of both their clients and Harley’s jumpers.

Harley and Olivia grew up developing their own horses. “In Australia, you don’t grow up buying made horses,” Olivia explains. “You get a 4-year-old off the track and make it yourself and Harley and I both have that ability.” Applying that mentality to their clients’ horses, the Browns make every effort to work with the horses their new clients arrive with. It’s not possible to make a champion of every horse, Olivia acknowledges, but the couple has often turned around a horse that others have written off or over-looked and they take pride in that. Using an individualized approach to each horse, the Browns apply their considerable collective experience and usually find a way to get the best from each.

The Browns’ approach to coaching riders is similar. “Each horse and rider has their own way of going and we try to incorporate that into our teaching,” Olivia says. “If someone has a natural ability, we don’t want to change it too much. We want to give them the tools to get better, without taking away their natural flair.”

Harley came to the United States with a will to win at the highest level and has been pulling that off consistently. He is a World Cup Finalist and has represented Australia in multiple FEI Nations Cup classes. Olivia is a former Australian Young Rider Champion who has her own impressive Grand Prix resume.

A Good Team
As a trainer, Olivia specializes in the flat work she and Harley consider critical to successful jumping at any level. In training and coaching stride compression and lengthening and other skills, Olivia likes to think of it as giving her horses and riders several “gears” to work with in addressing various situations on course. “Teaching people to ride on the flat properly is a big focus in our program,” she explains. “We strive to make horses more educated and broke so they are easier to ride.”

Harley tends to work with riders tackling the higher jumping levels and Olivia works more with kids and beginning riders, but there is a lot of overlap. In addition to their show-oriented training barn, Harley Brown Equestrian includes a riding school and an active sale horse business.

Amateur jumper rider Tara Couch is understandably thrilled with her progress as a Harley Brown Equestrian student. “I came to Harley as a show jumper barely getting around the 1.10m. Within three months, Harley had me in the 1.30m, successful, confident and competitive.” Tara’s most recent wins came in the Modified Junior/Amateur classes at the Sacramento International in early October.

“It is rare to find a trainer that can both ride well and teach well,” Tara continues. “Most trainers only have one of these skills. Harley is both an exceptional teacher and horseman. Olivia is a fantastic teacher and rider as well, and they are a great team. If you are truly interested in learning how to be a successful rider, then this is the barn for you.”

Top-notch care is a priority for every horse in the barn. “Whether it’s Cassiato or a student’s new horse, they all get the same care and Harley and I are both very hands-on.” They would like Harley Brown Equestrian to maintain an average of 25 to 30 horses so that they can continue to be hands-on in all aspects of the business.

Ensconced since September at the Portola Valley Training Center, on the Peninsula near Stanford University, the Browns are enjoying being in a hub of the Bay Area equestrian scene. The 60-acre Center has eight arenas, a 5/8-mile conditioning track and first class amenities that have made it a Mecca for the area’s top trainers. As such it’s a perfect fit for Harley Brown Equestrian.