BY SISSY WICKES
The story is not unusual. Kendall Meijer’s family planned a summer vacation at a dude ranch out west and decided that she should take a few riding lessons to prepare. At the age of 8, Kendall walked into the barn at Meadowview Farm in Lowell, Michigan, and met the Johnson family. Cathy Johnson gave Kendall her first leg up onto a horse and nineteen years later, she is still standing by her side. Kendall soon met Cathy’s daughter, Hillary, and the partnership that still binds them today was launched. In a business where changing trainers is a familiar exchange, the longevity and success of the relationship between these equestrians is unusual and commendable. Working in collaboration, they have found, trained, and produced a number of fabulous hunters for both the amateur and professional rings. What are the attributes of a successful relationship in the horse show world? Words like trust, positivity, and patience are intrinsic to the conversation. Cathy and Hillary Johnson of Meadowview and Kendall Meijer with her Copper Fox LLC form the cornerstones of a productive partnership espousing the importance of horsemanship and sportsmanship.
The Johnson Family is all about horses as their beautiful facility demonstrates. On eighty acres, the farm offers large turnouts, a polo field, jumping field, indoor ring, five outdoor arenas, and an exercise track. From polo to beginner lessons to top show riders, Meadowview offers a diverse palate to suit any rider’s interest. Patriarch Les Johnson has been playing polo professionally for over 35 years throughout the United States and Canada as well as in Mexico and Zambia. Les has trained hundreds of polo horses for all levels of polo and for all types of players. He also has coached Women’s Interscholastic Teams, club players, and manages the Meadowview Farm Polo Club. Daughter Katie is also a professional polo player and coach, teaching beginning players the skills of riding and the game of polo. Katie plays throughout the Midwest and Canada and assists in the management of events for the Meadowview Farm Polo Club as well as the Club’s social events. The Meadowview Farm Polo Club offers the opportunity to play on wide, grass fields, a new regulation arena, and an indoor ring in case of inclement weather.
Cathy Johnson and youngest daughter, Hillary, are focused on the horse show aspect of the business. Like the polo school, the riding school offers lessons for beginners up to more advanced riders, an unusual spectrum of opportunity in the 21st century. Meadowview owns approximately fifteen lesson horses and qualified instructors for all levels. From the once a week lesson person to those who graduate on to leasing or purchasing and competing, the program provides safe, quality horses and instruction. Many of the clients at Meadowview started with the most basic program and progressed to become dedicated riders and competitors. As Cathy explains, “We have been at our farm for 34 years and still offer the riding school. I don’t want to do the math on it, but It is a big part of our client base and we enjoy it. Everyone has to start somewhere! And we have some really great clients who came up through it.”
Meadowview clients participate in shows from the local Michigan circuit all the way up to the elite level. Under the able guidance of assistant trainer, Heather Camp, clients who desire to compete within the zone are able to do so. With Cathy and Hillary, clients have the option of competing in Ocala in the winter months and at a circuit of high- level shows in the other months, including Lexington, KY, Tryon, NC, Traverse City, MI and Wilmington, OH. Hillary states, “Our schedule is flexible and depends on what our clients would like to do. We show most of the year and try to take November and December off to give the horses a break.”
At age 35, Hillary Johnson has spent her entire life surrounded by horses. “I think I had some magic horses when I was a tiny toddler,” she remembers fondly. “And then I grew up to ride all kinds of ponies- rotten little ones and some that were pretty great and went to the bigger shows. They all taught me how to ride.” With her foundation established firmly inside the barn and the family business, Hillary brings a high level of horsemanship to her job as rider and trainer. She understands how horses work and how they think. “I am very patient,” she states. “I know we get more out of the horses when they are happy and enjoy their jobs. I love to bring along young horses, especially young hunters. Some people may believe that I am too patient and don’t push my horses enough. But, I always would rather go slow and stay positive.” It takes a special skill and mindset to handle the challenges of a young show horse. The Johnson’s thrive on the experience.
Kendall Meijer is the principal at Copper Fox LLC, a company named after her adorable copper colored dog who has a loyal social media following. Meijer, 27, is a successful competitor in the Adult and Amateur Owner Hunter rings, most famously on her beautiful grey, Moonwalk. Having graduated from Rollins College, she is currently concentrating on her riding career and philanthropic board work. Meijer credits her success to the team at Meadowview. “From the grooms to Cathy and Hillary, everyone is thinking about the best interest of the horse. I trust my coaches to never ask me to do more than what I am capable of.” The formula for success for Meijer and Copper Fox LLC begins with purchasing young horses from Europe and making them up as amateur horses for Kendall. She explains, “Hillary does a great job choosing horses that she thinks will suit me.” The criteria are fairly specific: 16.2h or taller, attractive, quiet, and a great jump. Movement is an extra. With this check list, the Johnson’s have found Moonwalk, Sorrento, and Balsamic- horses all shown successfully by Kendall. The apex of her career so far has been the 2017 Championship in the 3’3” Amateur Owner Younger division at the National Horse Show on Moonwalk. “It all came together that weekend,” she remembers with a smile.
Currently, Meijer has two young greys competing in the Green Hunter 3’3” division, Chimney Rock and Lonesome Dove. Hillary is carefully bringing them up through the hunter ranks with an eye on handing the reins over to Kendall when they are ready. If the horses do not end up suiting, they will be sold and new prospects sourced in Europe. “Right now, I am concentrating on bringing over horses for me to ride. But, if they don’t work out, I am willing to sell them and go again. Not every one can work for me, but they are great young horses,” Meijer explains.
How do amateur nerves affect Kendall Meijer? The same as most other amateurs. “I get nervous at the in-gate and have worked on alleviating pressure on myself. Cathy and Hillary do a great job to lighten things up like joking with me at the gate.” Cathy adds, “We do whatever it takes for this sport to be fun and successful!” Meijer is hard on herself, as are most amateurs, and has worked to become more positive. “I try to give myself a break and not be so critical. I try to trust in my horses and my abilities. That’s the objective.”
With a deep love of the hunter discipline, Kendall plans a long career in the adult and the amateur rings. “My goals are always to have success and qualify for Devon and indoors. But, this sport is a lifelong commitment for me. My plans are somewhat volatile. Someday, I would love to have a family and have ponies. I never did ponies, so that would be a great experience. But, for now, I will continue to compete and be involved with my horses.”
The relationship between coach and student, owner and trainer, can be tenuous and difficult. For Kendall Meijer’s Copper Fox LLC and the Johnson’s Meadowview Farm, a partnership built on trust, patience, horsemanship, and sportsmanship is the key to success.
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