Plaidcast 373: Jim Hagman by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 373 Jim Hagman


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Piper speaks with Jim Hagman of Elvenstar Farm about riding and training. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!


This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm: 
This is The Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up today on episode 373, I talk with Jim Hagman of Elvenstar Farm about riding, teaching, and training. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services.  Jim Hagman is a founder and trainer of Elvenstar in Moorpark, California. As founder, Jim not only laid the foundation, but also presented and developed each aspect of the business. Jim’s systematic teaching emphasizes the art of communication between the horse and the rider. His teaching style is very positive and enthusiastic, building confidence and poise as a top priority. Jim’s training and coaching excellence has played a role in a long list of successful riders, which include top placings and wins at the most prestigious competitions in North America. Welcome to The Plaidcast, Jim.

Jim Hagman: Thank you.

Piper Klemm: I think your business is fascinating how many different structures it has. Can you talk a little bit about how Elvenstar came about and how all the different pieces work together?

Jim Hagman: Well, I think that it’s an organic growth process. One of my favorite things to tell young people is that I taught beginner lessons for eight years before the first student, everything came out of the riding program, climbed up and went to the East Coast finals. And so it easily five years before a person bought a horse. So it was very organic with the riding club, riding school, one school pony, one school horse to start, and I just built it up. And I thought, well, I have to make it, to create a program where there was Foxfield, which was a booming enterprise, and you had well-known trainers and from the Calabasas elevator area. I was like, well, what’s the reason anybody’s gonna come? And we were beyond all that on the edge of it, all the way here. And I knew it wasn’t gonna be show clients. It would have to be people wanting to come and learn and start to take lessons. So I created a whole program focused on teaching horsemanship. And for years, I would take the student and collect the pony or the horse out of the corral and show them how to put the halter on and how to correctly lead and pick the hooves and groom and the different types of brushes. I did all of that for years. And all the things I was really truly taught by my father. And I took real pride in it. I mean, all of how you led the horse once it was tacked up and every aspect of it. And so, yeah, it was a slow and hard process, but I’m also very proud of how that came to be. So as the riding program grew, and then I started to have opportunities to have somebody that went, OK, we can go to, how do we do more? Can we go to a little show? And then we would figure out how to have a horse or a pony and all the equipment involved. And there are people from the community. And so it’s an upper middle class community in general and with pockets of more, but it didn’t matter to me. There are people like my parents. So I saw through the eyes of myself being a kid and where I would have loved to have been as a kid and learn. So the program was really founded on that premise, is where would I love to have been as a kid, which I was like, I love the horses, I love animals. I really love to learn, read all the books. There was never enough information, you know? And so I thought that is the basic premise of Elvenstar where you would want to be as I thought as a child and be able to go from the very beginning till you go to college. And so that’s how the program was basically developed.

Piper Klemm: And then tell us what it looks like today with all of that and then now all the way up. You haven’t lost any of that beginner stage in the program in its entirety.

Jim Hagman: I think that the pride points are first is certainly the riding program. I mean, that’s our soul of Elvenstar. It’s 24 acres in total now, five rings, 120 horses and ponies at the Elvenstar Farm to Place. But it’s uniquely set up where whatever program you’re part of, it’s a smaller world. So the riding program has two specific rings that are dedicated to that program. It has stables, grooming areas, everything’s really structured for that purpose. And all of this was built, there was nothing on the property. We started off with a rocky hillside, it’s been well written about and layer by layer built it. As the cashflow came in, my parents, of course, started it for me. It wasn’t the business they were into, but my dad was a cattleman’s son, so he was a horseman by his upbringing. And plan the trees and put the irrigation. So as building the facility sort of, as the business matured, as did the facility, it’s really cool to see now what it is. And you look back 44 years and go, okay, we started with the Rocky Hill site in Southern California, and now it’s a forest of 900 trees and stables and rings and all the things. So there’s the riding program, and then the riding program and then the training barn was all in one in the beginning because it was smaller. And then as it grew, the riding program had some undesignated area and rings. And then the training barn had a very nice big barn and a couple of rings and then it’s okay now. We need to carve that out and make it more specific so they can go for the riding program. If they want to take the leap to the main training program, which we call the national program, that’s a much smaller subset. And that’s where our primary focus is now, has been for many years. But between that is the regional program that focuses on the shows in Los Angeles area. Hopefully, our LA Circuit, which was very, very healthy and prosperous and extremely competitive, and I think the pandemic really took the legs off underneath of it, is going to start to bounce back. So parents, there’s no overnight stays necessary, which is nice for the parents. Oftentimes, young families, they have siblings that do other things too. So there’s got to be consideration for families that they can’t go away for overnight show down in Orange County or San Diego County. So that’s where the LA Circuit really works. So there’s a regional program that handles that. And then many years ago, I was talked into opening the annex table in Orange County. It was really not something I ever had any desire to do. So we created the same plan, a miniature version of Elvenstar. So it’s called Elvenstar R&C, and now it’s been in business, so 19 years, I think, I can’t even believe that. And one of our alumni, Rachel Walsh, she just had her third child in October. A very terrific guy, and so she’s managing partner of that. And we have a couple of our graduates that work with her and run that program. And that works so that we can have riders that want to ride with the program, but they can’t make it to Elvenstar. They live in the South Bay or the peninsula or Orange County. Many students go to college in Orange County and they’ll take their horse. And they’re part of the program down there. And then if they show, at the natural level, they join us at the shows. And if they show at the regional level, they join us at the shows. And so that aspect works very well. So my focus is very much on a small subset of, we call it the national program, as I said before, and that’s where I put my primary focus, the teacher and the horseman.

Piper Klemm: You’ve been known in your teaching to be very positive, very enthusiastic. This is a lot more commonplace now. But when you started doing this decades ago, way less commonplace back then. Can you talk about kind of how that’s changed and teaching has evolved? And I think on the flip side of that, both training horses and humans, I see a lot of people that get so extreme. They’re either too positive or too negative. And that balance of positivity but upholding standards I think is the key. And that’s where you’ve always excelled through both the programming and the teaching.

Jim Hagman: Thank you for saying that. The thing is about Piper is that I think I was of the last generation that was from the 70s into the 80s of what we would say would be the old school. I didn’t start competing until I was 13 years old. We had horses in the family, I rode, did everything, everything. But going to a show the summer of my 13th year and then a lot my 14th year, a little bit the 15th year and then business disasters and the economy and everything like that late 70s made it so my 15th and 16th year didn’t exist. In my last year, years when we started to build Elvenstar, I did a lot that summer before going to college. The school of everything then was really blunt, jump the middle, put your heels on, keep your eyes up, do it again. That’s not good enough and some profanity oftentimes littered through it. I was a survivor because I really just wanted to participate. I didn’t want to feel like an idiot. I just wanted to fit. We warmed up in the barn aisles with a spotlight on the rack. If you didn’t belong to a big barn, you had to warm up in a tiny space with reiners and gated horses and whatever. It wasn’t like it is now. It’s amazing what we have now. But I came from a horseman’s family, kept our horses on our property. We did everything ourselves, so it made it so. I really had the preservation in my mind that I could take care of things myself, because I am very self-reliant. My mother braided, she made my hunt coats. I learned to braid. We shipped our own horses. We would have been people who were very normal, average people if we were in the Southeast in those days, even in the Northeast. But being in California where you belonged to very big barns or you didn’t belong, we were very much outliers. I never liked the negative. I always thought it was unnecessary. I thought there’s a way to do things where you can say what to do, which is my favorite thing is don’t say don’t. Tell your students what to do. Because if you say don’t do something, then the student has turned into, well, what am I supposed to do? We really emphasize in our program, do this, do this, do this, that’s part of it. I also can say that as things have changed, people will, it’s so different now. You have to do this. I look at them and at first, I would be dumbfounded because I’m thinking, I don’t really see this being different in my opinion. Because quite frankly, it is how we are.  I don’t want to sound like a braggart, but we haven’t had to change anything. Because we were never into the other things. It just wasn’t the way we operated. I guess the last point would be, which was really significant. My parents worked really, really hard to have a family and raise three kids, and we all put us all through college and all the things. My dad said to me when I really said, okay, I’m going to really do this, because it really was not my first plan at all. He said, there are three things that matter to a family. The most important things in a family’s life. Number one, their family member safety. Number two, their time. Number three, their money. You as a professional coach and trainer are handling their three things, the most treasured things. “Treasure those, be careful, watch over them. Safety, you can’t buy time. There’s multi-billionaires that end up dying way too early in life. It doesn’t matter, their money can’t save them. And then of course, their money that they worked very hard for. And so that’s a, it’s, there’s a sort of founding principles of who we are. And it really is, it’s really weaved into the tapestry what Elvenstar is. 

Piper Klemm: I think my perception of it at least was that the sport was very obsessed with talent, for lack of a better word, also back in the day. And I feel like that’s something that, that the Elvenstar was kind of ahead of its time also on, is that spending time to teach people different, instead of obsessing over this like binary talent, not talent, like figuring out how to teach people how they want to learn and being there for anyone who wants to put the work in.

Jim Hagman: Yeah, and thank you again. It’s true that, and I think that goes to the route to the writing school, where I mean, I’m telling you the lessons were $12 an hour. And if you bought five, you got them for $11 apiece. And it really mattered that they’d come back, because it really mattered that they believed in us, and they would drive past the other places, and they could go one way or the other, but they came to Elvenstar and they kept going. So it was for us, we looked at the people as families. That’s who they are. They still are who they are. They weren’t a balance sheet. They weren’t a future blue ribbon winner. They were families with kids, mostly kids, that really, really wanted to learn, like I wanted to learn, how to be the best horse person and I was horse crazy and then rider I could be. So all of it does go back to being organic, and it really goes back to the horses. I really love the horses.  I love all kinds of breed types. I just like horses. And if I came back another life, I want to be Anheuser-Busch, because you had the Clydesdales and the saddle horses, the hunters and the baseball team. It was amazing, right? And I’m sure you’ll only live your life, because I really like horses. And I think like people, people are celebrities are super sensational, right? They’re gifted and then they get a break and the break becomes something super sensational. Their horses are the same. They’re super sensational. But they’re a huge number, the largest number, everyday people, everyday horses are giving to the world. And we need to treasure those. And so I think all together that sort of thinking leads back to what can we do together to enjoy this together and learn together and then compete together. ​​“And the 1% is the 1%. We all know what that looks like. That’s God given, you know, that genetics and opportunity. The rest is helping each other and learning.

Piper Klemm: Okay, so you know, I like take notes on everything all the time and I was just looking at my sheet and $12 is out there twice and I was like, what’s the other $12? And it’s because I picked up a horses magazine from 1990 this morning randomly and it said that it was $5. So I had looked up in the inflation calculator how much that would make that magazine today and it was $12. There you go. So yeah, it’s so that scale of how much more quickly our sport has gotten more expensive is always shocking to me. So many people feel unable to do a lesson program. They say they can’t in today’s world. And then it leads to such weird market things and then people are almost looking for their first, like learned to canter a horse at a horse show instead of doing the riding school and going in a logical order. And as you said, you know, you’re part of that generation that didn’t really show until you were 13, even though you were riding the whole time. How do we keep things under control? To me, going back to the riding school model would fix a lot of the problems we have in our sport. Is that ever going to be possible? How do you see that? 

Jim Hagman: You know, it’s a real mixed bag because we’re owning Elvenstar and believe me, it wasn’t free. It’s expensive. It costs a lot more to keep a horse now than ever, which you’re well aware. But we also have Elvenstar in the county, and we pay board there. And Rachel’s very judicious about the types of horses and ponies so they can, they’re sound enough and they’re able to do multiple levels. First of all, they need to be babysitters, right? And make it a price point where people will dabble and then some will stick. And the large majority of our students out of Orange County started a riding school. I mean, Nicole McMillan’s been a year since she graduated. And she started the riding school, and she was top 10 in the capital challenge and got top 10 in the Washington finals and the jumpers. The first FEI, I think won down last November when she went off to college and all the things. So, yes, talent. But more than anything, Nicole’s one of those kids that just is so horse crazy. She was at the barn from the time she was little. Her mother would bring her, and she was there all the time helping and working and doing. And that’s the real answer to the whole thing because there are still stables all over the place that any number of us would love kids in the barn that want to grab a brush and want to do things, want to get involved, want to go in the ring and set the jumps and do all the things. They’re still there. Now, how does a professional do it?  A professional is just, I think if we did more co-op-ing, we would do, if we would do co-op-ing, period, the industry would be so well served and our support would be hugely served. That’s hard, as you know, because it’s territorial, there are egos involved, massive economic issues, but co-op is everything that we’re about, okay? And people, I think, find me a little bit like, is this real? Yeah, it is real, very real. And so you just have to live the example. And so if we can do an Orange County with, I think she’s got nine school horses, but it’s big, start off with two, just like I started in Elvenstar with two. ​​You know, you can do two. And you can say to the colleague that is at the facility that has an arabian barn, we need to do this together. We need students. Let’s make this happen together. Let’s own it together. Let’s figure out how we’re going to get the lessons covered together. And then the kids and the adults are going to land where they land. But if we’re putting enough out there in a positive way, you know, Piper, they’re going to be there. They’re going to be there. So it is absolutely doable. It just takes innovative thinking. If I can do it in Farahata Valley, outside Thousand Oaks, before Moore Park didn’t exist, on the edge of Simi Valley, and build what I built there. Yes, it’s a lifetime. If you’re in an urban area, you know, if Serbia, would you say, or suburban area outside a major economic engine, any of the major cities of America, you absolutely can have a healthy program. It can happen. You just got to do it. Now, the hardest part is finding the horses. We don’t go for anything that’s fancy. We rescue. We get a lot of rescues. We bought during the pandemic, we bought, I don’t know, Becky bought probably between 15 and 20 rescues out of the, she would say, the sales. And there’s a crueler way to put it, I don’t want to say it, in Oklahoma. And the large majority of them worked out. Yeah, they’re 15 hands. But that’s the universal size that, you know, little kids can ride and adults can ride. And we just perish them. They’re the best. They don’t have to lead changes. They don’t have to jerk their knees like they’re going to win a short stirrup class at Thermal. They just need to be calm and quiet and go on the rail and do the things. That’s what they need to do.

Piper Klemm: I think what you’re saying about the lifetime thing is really important because so many people, I think, don’t think in a long enough timeline in this sport. And I definitely did this when I was younger very much. So many people say to young people, like, work harder. And I try to always say to people work a longer timeline or think a longer timeline because you’ll say to people, you know, a lot of these people are working as hard as they can and that’s fine. But it’s stretching it out over decades and figuring out how to handle yourself over decades to work that hard for a very sustained period of time.

Jim Hagman: Yeah, 100,000 percent. I think the common frame is like, okay, I want to go to derby finals. I want to do the Grand Prix. I want to be at Wellington going to the International Ring. I mean, the big pine in the sky things. I want to ride like, they’ll note a couple of riders that we had a role in their upbringing that are famous. And I think about being a young person, if I feel comfortable enough, I can say, look, you got to live your journey. It’s great to aspire towards being the next great baseball player, first base or whatever. But who’s to say how it’s going to come out, especially a sport where it’s 90 percent horse, right? But what control, what things do you have control over, which is number one, your approach to it, mental attitude, my dad would always say, right? Your work ethic. Okay. And then your stick-to-itiveness or grittiness. And then last of all, being adaptive, you know, learning and figuring out where your natural abilities take you. And they say, okay, well, if I had as much chance to ride around, you know, that many jumpers at that height, I’d be great, too.  Well, if you’re not getting that chance to do it, think about what you can do, what you’re able to do, and what, you know, what the universe is bringing you as opportunities. Make something of those things. And that does take years. I was talking last night driving back from Thermal with one of our ex-students, and she’s a very bright kid and going to a great university, and she’s saying how much she just really misses being with her horses. And she’s really found that she loves to teach the kids and all the things that she said, but it feels like the industry is sort of in her terms, you know, her word sketchy, which, yeah, she’s right in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways it’s a lot better than it used to be. And, you know, she wants to have a family, that’s a goal.  How do you have time? And she’s asked me a lot of these questions, you know, and I appreciate it because, you know, I’m 60 years old, and I do have a lot of wisdom, okay? And then we talked about each of those things. We picked them. I said, okay, well, first of all, I think it’s an enormous gift to our industry when you have intelligent, educated young people that say, okay, I’m not going to go take the, you know, medical whatever or the career, what not, because I’m not going to live a happy, joyful life there. But I can be a wonderful teacher and train horses for people and do all these things and have a joyful life. And the way the industry is headed, you can carve out more time than before. It’s possible. You just design it the way you want it to be. Put yourself in a place that will let you do it the way that makes sense. And you can have all those things. They’re possible. But as you said, Piper, it’s not happening in five minutes. It’s happening over a number of years. And then lo and behold, you might have that meter 50 horse or that derby horse because opportunity comes to those that are prepared.

Piper Klemm: I think this younger generation is struggling a lot with kind of saying how they feel and they have so many electronic devices to kind of hide behind. You’ve always been really good at in-person conversations and being measured and talking about tough things. Do you think that’s a personality trait? Did you develop that? You role model that. Can you talk a little bit about being honest in today’s world?

Jim Hagman: Yeah, I think it goes back to the same thing where how do you teach kids nowadays? How do you deal with parents nowadays? I used to hear that in the 90s and in the 2000s and you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s the same. For me, it’s the same. You start off your candid. You think about the person you’re talking to. You think about how they feel. It’s very important not to tell people how they should feel, but to actually hear what they’re saying to you. And, you know, as I was saying earlier, I was not a fearless rider. I was braver than I realized, for sure. Okay? So I can emphasize with fear. I can empathize with frustration, which is a huge part of when people just sort of mentally freeze or just frustrated. And I can really understand horses. I was blessed with the love and feeling of horses. So I can feel the horses are telling the rider a lot of the time. You know, I’m not a famous rider, obviously, but I think there’s a connection between our students’ results and our horsemanship. And so I think that there’s definitely a connection with genetics. Both my grandparents were teachers, and they were excellent teachers. My mother’s mother was one of the most famous foreign language teachers in the world. And so she’s the one that really said to me, you know, riding is a language. It’s a nonverbal language. She was a French instructor. And so I’ve always thought that, you know, so you learn the subconscious. When you learn as a baby how to speak languages, multiple languages, it’s in the subconscious, right? So I think patience is somewhat genetic. And then also we’re a very learned family, not like highly intellect, fall PhDs and stuff like that, but we really do read and we really do debate and we discuss politics and history and economics and sports and all kinds of things. And we can have those conversations and not be emotional, like debate. I don’t think so, except probably it’s all normal. It’s always been that way with my siblings, my parents. So I think a lot of it also is upbringing. And then the last part is study, read. I read all the time. I was studying other sports and read about other athletes and other sports and their struggles and their successes and coaches. I love to read about the people that come from nowhere and build themselves into something that now suddenly is famous. But it was a lifetime of work, as you were saying, you know, it was a long journey to the Super Bowl coach, et cetera. And, you know, Vance DeBarche is a coach at Stanford and we’ve been friends for many years. And she’s really, really, really super articulate, interesting and observant and a million things. I really respect her. And we were talking recently, she said, you know, Jim, when you hear certain people teaching and you think they’re putting things in a way that they shouldn’t be putting it, she goes, it’s just sheer, in some cases, lack of preparation, lack of thinking about how does it sound? What are you projecting? What’s the optics of that? Is that really helpful? And, you know, it’s good for me to have these conversations because she makes me think about me. You know what I mean? So I think that that’s really important.I really have people around us that don’t just go along with the horse show jargon and the slang, but say, we got to be more than that as professionals in this industry, in this sport. We have to be more than that. And we can be more than that if we help each other and encourage each other and say, hey, we got to do it. We got to read more, talk more, we got to think more.

Piper Klemm: So interesting because there’s almost like a resistance to pedagogy among many professionals.

Jim Hagman: Yes, very much so. It’s better than it used to be. As I was mentioning when I was talking to you last night, the generation coming in, they can be criticized for being less horsemen. I’m not sure. Maybe they haven’t spent the time around the horses off the racetrack and blah, blah, and the School of Hard Knocks, true. But in other ways, they’re more educated than we were coming into it. And I think that those are real pluses. And I think that that is going to change, as I said to our student last night, that in the next five years, a lot of those old ways of thinking and old modalities of doing things are going to fade away because it’s generational. And you can be a generation, you can be a change leader. We need change leaders, right? We need to be able to say, you got to do something about this. This is unsafe. And not be afraid to say, it’s unsafe, and have everybody look at you and scandalize you and talk behind your back and throw you off committees or whatever. Stand by your principles, not in a controversial way, not in a way to be, you know, promote, self promoting or narcissistic, but in a way that’s truly helpful to what the cause is, which is taking care of riders and taking care of horses and loving the process of learning and competing. In any of the sports, I don’t care what it is, we got to be smart.

Piper Klemm: When you have someone that comes in that has really big goals or maybe started in a different system, how do you kind of slow that process down a little bit if they’re too ambitious or really want it? And I think we talk so much about, so much of time seems to be spent on, oh, kids don’t want it, kids don’t want this or that or the other thing. I mean, I still like distinctly, it was burned into my soul, like being told in grad school that I was foolishly ambitious. And I think we don’t always talk about the other side. How do you keep all in check?

Jim Hagman: Until really until a few years ago, we’ve rarely got a student from the outside. I mean, really rarely, Piper. They were all organically grown. And I didn’t really think about it because I would get students that when they started to come, and it’s like, okay, this is different. I don’t have a relationship that’s been built over years. I know the parents really well, I know them really well, I know their history of their ups and downs and their growth patterns, everybody learns at a different pace and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So it was a little weird for me to say the least, it was hard. And I had to again, dig in and think about it and think about, okay, don’t take anything for granted, learn about them, learn how they learn. They’re visual learners, auditory learners, right?  All the different things are very, very educated. And that’s really important to learn how your students learn. And horses learn in different ways also as we know, right? They’re similar, but there’s some very basic differences between very nice horses, very capable horses, they’re all nice, but very capable horses. So it’s kind of a mix. So I like to give examples through stories, okay? So about a year ago, a student did some out of state, and she was still talking to her, but she was this great kid, blah, blah, blah. Many people, Piper, that can really teach and really train and really do, really. I’m in admiration of so many people, but to watch her do a very difficult course, there were a lot of bad rounds. I mean, I don’t watch a lot of those classes because they get a little bit stressed. And she goes, oh my gosh, Jim, it’s a poopy show. How do you feel? She goes, I feel fine. I felt good about that because I knew in her heart she did, that she knew she had the core ability with her horse to go do it, and it was super. So those are hard conversations, but we have to learn how to have those conversations. Am I as good at this? Was I as capable of those conversations 20 years ago, Piper, 25 years ago, 30 years ago, 10 years ago? No, I was good because I had a natural knack for listening to people and trying to really help them. But the depth of experience and wisdom comes in life. And so you have them and people talk to me, trainers will talk to other coaches. I talk to them, say, Jim, this is going on, you know, I’ll say, oh, my gosh, whatever. And that’s again, what we need to feel that we can have, we can be safe with our colleagues, right? And I think that’s just vital. And in so many professions, that’s the case. Ours, it’s not normal, but I’m hopeful that the next generation is much more that way. And from that, we will do way, way better as an industry and thereby a sport.

Piper Klemm: How much of that, like, lack of communication do you think, you know, is it? I’ve always kind of thought it’s, like, almost out of a desperation. Is it ego? Is it the combination of all these things? It is so odd how we have evolved to be so siloed and so private.

Jim Hagman:  somebody earlier today said, you know, what other profession that’s a competitive profession, sports, sporting industry, do you share oftentimes really the same workspace? You know, the NFL teams don’t practice next to each other weekly. Right. And they have security fences and, you know, my gosh, all the things. Our every day. I mean, the beauty of Elvenstar is it’s our place. I know people can visit anytime they want. There’s nothing going on that we can be worried about. I mean, we’re imperfect, but, you know, we love horses, we love people, but it’s my place. And so that’s wonderful because I can change things I want. Orange County, it’s a very nice multiple ring all next to each other facility. Everybody can see what’s going on. They can see if a kid’s struggling or an adult. They can see if a horse is misbehaving. And everybody can see each other’s business. So there’s a level of embarrassment, because that’s human nature, right? There’s a level of, oof, that customer’s having a bad day. You see how they came out of the ring. And that all feeds into insecurity, which is natural. We all feel that way. It also goes towards egos, because we don’t want to look bad, right? So it touches on ego. And then it goes to a 19th century thought, which is social Darwinism. And I think it’s really, it was widely panned by the 1970s. And I think it’s really obvious it’s factual. If there’s not enough, people struggle to survive. And I think that that’s where we’re in trouble. I think there are a lot of people trying to do the same one thing with the same level of customer. And not everybody gets that shot. There are what, 32 NFL teams, approximately, there are 32 NFL coaching jobs. Well, if you’re only going to take the top coaching job, you’re not making a living. You’re not willing to be the assistant coach or whatever. You’re not doing it. And that is something that we need to be very aware of. And so there is fear. And I do think it goes back to all those factors. And one of them, especially, I’ll say, in 19th century term, thought, social Darwinism.

Piper Klemm: You used the word adaptive earlier in the conversation. What does that mean to you? And what does that look like in your program? You know, I kind of think about how you were very early to embrace a lot of these new programs and new systems, like emerging athletes program, you know, when other trainers were not quite ready to embrace new things yet.

Jim Hagman: Many years ago, somebody actually really respect and I think it’s a friend at the time. I don’t think she thought of me this way, but it was okay, you know, for my feelings at that moment. But, you know, life goes on. Said to a group of a couple of clients we had, they came from, you know, the area circuit and then they grew to be, you know, clients everybody, you know, really coveted. And how can you ride in a barn that’s a riding school? And it really hurt my feelings, because I was so proud of a riding school, I thought, you know, other people should look at it and be, that’s a good thing, you know, it’s like this is great for their industry and look at these kids that you’re developing that are going to competing in, you know, you know, it’s a little league or it’s going to the baseball game, right? But it wasn’t thought that way. So the premise of, okay, Elvenstar’s found out where I want to grow up as a child makes it really easy to say, well, I would have loved to have done a EAP. I would have loved to have done horsemanship quiz challenge. I would have loved to have done gold star clinic. I mean, on and on and on it goes. So for owning a property or we’re the king of our kingdom or, you know, our realm, all of us colleagues, okay, it’s there for learning. It’s there for training and that in mind, I can say, of course, you want to do these things because of course, I would have loved to have done them as a child, okay. Then there’s the next part of it, adaptive. We need to adapt quick. As the founder of Elvenstar, I am in that process quick because we are headed in an immediate way towards the jumper ring in the West throughout the United States, especially in the West. And so, if we don’t become something that’s seen as being able to offer those services in the real way, then we can easily become yesterday’s news. And that I don’t want. And it’s also economically doable for many, many people to do the meter 30 and under, where as you well know, to do the hunters and the equitation, it takes such special horses, it takes such special amount of horse shows and is one of them. Kayla Lott, who was a great kid for our program, her mother, Michelle Blenish, takes care of by Corgi and she’s a great friend and Kayla’s graduated from college, lives in Arkansas, doing things there. And so, I just, you know, I just like to track what’s going on with the program. And she talked to me the other day and she said, you know, Jim, even when Kayla was a kid, it was usually those same five kids who were carrying off the blue ribbons. Okay, well, Kayla, her mom is a, you know, normal income, raising Kayla. She would go to, you know, 435 o’clock in the morning to the Cryo Valley shows and meet Barbara and Kayla would sit on every pony and horse and get them ready and get them quiet. And they worked so hard. And Michelle managed the IEA team and worked the home shows of the secretary and they did everything. So, these are the horses that Kayla Law got to ride. She got to ride Andrew Keeney, Abigail Friedman’s one, Abigail Steller, don’t get mad at me, Abigail, I think you can still refer to Mary. She got to ride them off the plane from Europe as a super horse. She got to ride Vancouver, a great equitation horse as there’s ever been, and had him as her main horse. And then she got to ride Caracas, 89. Well, how’s that possible? It’s possible because I really so particularly value who they are as horse people, as workers, as givers. I mean, they gave so much towards Elvenstar. Elvenstar being the community, not me. And I own those horses.I get to decide. And I said, and she was a wonderful rider, don’t get me wrong. But she wasn’t a Blue Ribbon winner before she was getting these opportunities. She earned the opportunities. And then when she was ready, I thought, she said, I have my best horses. There’s no question they’ve earned it. So that’s adaptive, you know, looking at what Michelle said to me, she said, you know, it’s hard. That’s like kind of got off track. Her point being is, Kayla got to do all these things because of the unique relationship, right? And the timing of all the things. And so she could participate in these ways. And she could get the opportunity because I had those horses at Elvenstar. But for most people, if they’re not in a position to really go for it, it’s really, really hard, unless you’re particularly gifted and end up in a unique situation to compete and do the equitation. That really feel like you should stick to it. And I think that’s what the jumper programs at the USHJA are vital, because it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ride. They could be wonderful riders. They can still compete. They can still do things. But we have to teach properly. They have to ride the system of equitation so that they’re not just running around the ring out of control, which is my huge concern of all right now.

Piper Klemm: It was really amazing to me. I don’t tend to watch a ton of jumpers inside, because I’m either at the big shows and we’re in these big rings and going to the World Cup last year in Omaha, which is a very small World Cup ring. The course could have been a medal finals or a Maclay  final. It was so impressive to me how consistent the course design was with obviously much bigger and wider and more intense jumps. But the questions being asked were the exact same things that we see in the equitation finals year after year.

Jim Hagman: Yes. Years ago is when we spent three winners in doing Wellington before the Hankin Group bought the horse park and have done a sensational job in remodeling it. And it was an international ring walking and Erynn Ballard, who is a phenomenal, phenomenal rider, horse person, I really like her, walking this big bending line, she walks over to me and she said, you know, Jim, what the difference is between the top 2% and the next group are really great. This is Erynn Ballard, really got no ego, soft spoken Canadian, fabulous. So no, but I love to learn. He said, for me, it was the equitation, I think most of us equitation, she rattled off obvious names. So, okay. And she said, because you’re a little too in on the track, off the track wide, you’re not there. A little bit too forward, you’re a little bit too slow, you’re not there. She said, it’s track and it’s pace and when you’re jumping meter 40, 50, 60, wow, does it come in big. It is so true. So, there’s to your point about watching these massive Grand Prix, wow, those horses are unreal and the world rides like Americans now. They really do. It’s the international style, like there’s international style architecture, which I’m building the house of that. There is a riding and it was founded really here. And it’s super to watch now, is that going to be taught as fewer and fewer youths do any equitation? I’m fearful it’s not. Very fearful, very concerned, fearful is very not the right word, very, very concerned. We’ll see.

Piper Klemm: But it’s hard to say that fewer people are doing equitation when like the three three medals are exploding and the three medals are exploding and yeah, I don’t know what to make of the equitation in a weird way because you’ll have 200 in some of these three three finals and then another 200 of different enough kids in the three six final the same weekend.

Jim Hagman: Yeah, I think that I feel that way because I see less of the young professionals wanting to do and coach the equitation. That’s why I’m aware of it. The three foot three nationals, it’s one of I think the pride points of my career and really pushing for that and getting the right people behind it and then it happening. I just it’s it’s amazing. Now we’ll have to see how many of the younger professionals coming in will own that and they may get their thing. I have concern over time. We’ll see.

Piper Klemm: There’s a quote I share frequently that’s like now that we’ve know how it turned out, it’s easy to be calm, but it doesn’t kind of represent how stressful it was at the time. I mean, when you said that, if people thought that the three three divisions and the hunters and the equitation, we’re going to literally ruin our sport. I mean, we went to so many meetings where people thought that the three three was doomsday and the end of our like sport existing and, and by the numbers, I mean, they’ve both built the three three junior hunters and amateurs. 

Jim Hagman: They saved the sport.

Piper Klemm: Yeah, exactly. Because there are just simply way more horses that can do the three three comfortably and they’re simply way more athletes and riders who can do the three three comfortably.

Jim Hagman: So as a little side story, and I don’t want to sound like a braggart because it’s really really not my intention, but you know, a lot of ideas come through certain people or certain programs or certain periods of time. So in the early 2000s, I really thought we’ve got to do something to save the older horses that could step down and do the hunters in sledgehog and all the things, you know, and was very obvious. Not everybody could move up because Ed students had horses that could do 3’3″ really well, but they weren’t going to be there in 3’6″ because they came off the racetrack, all the things that were limiting factors. So what are, what doors can be open? We talked about it. Cindy Merritt and I did a little analysis where in the LA Horseshow Association Board of Directors, and we presented a rule change to have 3’3″ junior hunters. And we really thought it was going to go through. We were really proud of what we had done. We solicited the math back, that it was definitely a necessary thing. And the master of the domain came to the meeting and said, as long as there is, as long as I’m in charge of that domain, which is Los Angeles Question and Answer Time, there will be no horses, horses, jumping less than 3’6″, jogging on this property. So that ended that. So the next morning, I had a client, student, great friend, great friend of our sport, Gail Horrigan, and she knew about the effort on this because we had worked on it for probably two years. And I was really, I really like to be, you know, a kingmaker, not a king. And she said how’d it go and she got up on her face. She really, and I told her what happened. And she said, do you want me to take it to Pacific Coast? Because in the Pacific Coast sport, I go, yes, it’s got to happen, Gail. It’s just got to happen. So she, and I believe Gail Morney, got it passed at Pacific Coast right away. And she called Tom Scherzari and she said, Tom, we need this and you to host this. He goes, Gail, I’ll do it if you have sponsored it. And she gave him a lot of money and he sponsored, you know, and she sponsored it. And they ran it. It hits Pacific Coast Division and what, two, maybe three years later, it became nationwide. That’s a true story. I didn’t invent it. Lots of people had the idea. What I did is I created the motion, the momentum, and, you know, behind it, and then the right people, Gail and Gail, got behind the Pacific Coast and the wisdom. I do believe Diane Langer was the president at the time, said, we’ve got to do this and now look at us. Amazing, right? We’ve got to be ready to change. We got to be ready to look past the old ways and say, you know what, what do we need now?

Piper Klemm: And looking at the data is such a key part to that story. Last year, when people started talking about changing the size for small juniors, I of course, with everyone else had the gut reaction, I think from spending so much time in California where there are so many small juniors frequently, I was like, that can’t be right. And you know, nationwide, looked at the data, pulled the analysis and over 75% of the horses were large juniors and changing that height, you know, averaged the numbers out way better for the junior hunters. And it was not what my gut feeling was from going to the horse shows, it was actually looking at the data.

Jim Hagman: Well, if it can be met, if it can, if you can’t measure, you can’t really know it, right? And that’s science. And when there’s science, so often as an applying or sport, or it can be applied, we need to look for it.And because we’re not used to using it, it’s alien to our industry, right? And that’s what makes things a little complicated, but we’re getting better at it. I really believe that.

Piper Klemm: Switching gears a little bit. You’ve had staff at Elvenstar that have been with you for decades and decades. Can you talk about kind of that environment and being a place where people want to be long term and those relationships?

Jim Hagman: So I always knew it was very vital. First of all, I’m a colleague guy. I like a team. And nothing says my name. It’s Elvenstar. And as far as the program. And I’ve always believed that if they could do better, if they could do as well in a system as they could do alone in economics, then it makes it so that why would they want to go do something different? You know, like do their own barn and tailing equestrian center rent someplace down the street because the moat of Elvenstar, so castles have a moat, right, to protect them. One is our riding program. Two is its own. It’s ours. So we can control every dime that property earns goes back into it, for example. So a couple of things is one, recognize that what do they need? Osloff’s Hierarchy of Needs, also widely panned in the 1980s, now back. The basic need is safety, roof over your head, food. And then the last one really is a, you know, awards, winning things, championships. The main one after the safety ones is feeling the purpose of what you’re doing. So all, most of our senior team have been with us many, many years, decades. They’re compensated like owners. That’s P. They’re, I try to understand what their needs are for their personal life. So they all get a winter week off, they all get a summer week off, they all get wraparound weekends. We don’t, they don’t work on Sundays and Mondays when they’re on the road, unless there’s some unusual circumstances. I really think about them if they had a regular career, what would they be, what would be the benefits of regular career? It’s very hard to do in a 24-7 business, right? But I think it’s super important. It is probably the two things, one, treat them like owners, give them the authority like owners, okay, and pay attention to their needs.

Piper Klemm: This, can you talk a little bit about how you’ve kind of scheduled and balanced this winter? This seems like something new for you to be kind of everywhere and do everything and, you know, having great success, but I just see from the logistic side, how much you have going on and that it’s fascinating.

Jim Hagman: Well, first, it’s to be able to trust the people you have around you, right? They’re capable. And that’s first.Second of all, it’s being really very clear about what the needs are of your athletes, which your clients also, but I really think of as athletes, and make sure that you’re able to do the things by their needs or have them go somewhere else, which I’m not bashful about saying at all. And so for me, it was really kind of clear. And this is, you know, on a more of a gym basis, you know, myself and where I am in my career now and my age and what I want to do going forward and stuff. And, you know, we got done with Vegas and Paige Walkenbach has done very well. And maybe a year ahead of everything, you know, champion all these indoors and all the different things. And we all did these things. I thought, what is it that she needs or she really needs is she needs to spend the next two years really in East Coast, if they want to. Okay. Well, that’s not that’s not a new thing for Elvenstar. I mean, I can rattle off the list of names of the students. And if I didn’t take them East, you know, before and all that, I would send them. And so I said to Pam, I said, you know, I need to have a conversation tomorrow. And so that’s your day off? I’m like, no, I need to get ahead on next year’s planning. I got to start to do things. I told her that I said, this is, you know, this is very much standard. She understood that. This is time. California is the best place in the world to create riders. No question about it. But now we need new challenges. And she said, we’re up for it, but how do we do this with you? I said, I’m good. You know, you we have Babylon, you know, with John French and you know, he’s in charge of that. It’s their barn and their program. Of course, I’m there. But, you know, you have wonderful hunters, they were all acquired when they were eight. So none of them were made and famous, you know, she and the Elvenstar team, Javi and Katie Taylor and Jacob Pope and, you know, writing them into doing them and all the things and Henley and on and on. It’s a wonderful job. I said, you know, you got here’s a top hunter person in the world. And it’s easy if I neck jumper trainer from- no i’m not doing that now, not doing that. So how do we do this? I said, Well, now it’s an opportunity for Javi. And he’s been doing this nine years, and it’s his thing if he wants to do it. And he I more than know that he can do it. And he’s got Kay, who’s been with me 25 years, who’s a phenomenal horse woman. And but nobody’s you know, she’s not a person that stands out there to go. She’s making herself noticed. She’s just a secret. She’s a quiet giant. And Henley’s going to starting, she’s going to apply at school. So she made it really clear she wants to start taking some class. She needs to fill some blanks on her, on her resume for the, you know, applying to Costco Davis, she probably, I’m sure, will get in. She’s amazing. And I thought, okay, so we’re going to do. And, and there are a lot of good people around, you know. Years ago, Lesley Steelstepped didn’t help me a lot. She’s a real friend. And Emily Esau-Williams, same thing. So we have real great resources around us. I’m willing to, I’m not only willing, I love to bring people in, work with us. So it’s worked so far. It’s worked really well. I’m proud.

Piper Klemm: You said that California is the best place in the world to create riders. What makes the environment or the ecosystem great to create riders?

Jim Hagman: It’s the system of equitation championships from knee-high up with real courses and real championships, and multiple rounds and under the pressure, and that doesn’t exist anywhere else. They have a little bit of New England and that’s it. Like it would have done nothing for Paige to do the previous four years in Wellington and a couple of other kids. There’s not enough to do there for kids learning, which isn’t. So it is absolutely the best place. I mean, it’s proofs in a pudding with Skylar wireman, Augusta Iwasaki I mean, we got Avery Glynn of Pro kids. And then just go down the list, Nicole McMillan I mean, kids, Nick, Haley, Katie Gardner now from generations ago, and maybe Taylor, Katie Taylor. I mean, I’m leaving names out. The list is giant. Nobody has a system like we do. We need to guard it, baby it, watch it, take care of it. Very, very much so. Not water down, not dilute it, not make it easier at all. It is the best. I mean, just walking out in our field at Blenheim  and trying to do a CPHA championship, PCA Foundation Championships, USET. Good luck.  I can tell you that a huge part of the horses in the East Coast would not jump around that field like they do in their championships. And they’re great horses. They’re just not used to it. It’s hard. It is really hard what we do. Another level of hard or difficult.

Piper Klemm: Oh, I was at dinner the other night and I was telling someone about the greater San Diego like flat championship for the Green Rider Hunter and how they ask like harder questions sometimes than I see like in Maclays  around the country. 

Jim Hagman: Yeah. What I’m doing is going back to the question about how we’re doing the multiple circuits. It’s working out well because, you know, we’re two weeks on, we’re one week off. I come home and, you know, the Walkenbachs are fabulous about making sure that, you know, things work well. Paige goes to school. She’s a excellent student. She’s academically oriented and she is very important to her and it’s very important to our program. We really, really like the kids who do school. Some programs want them all in online school. I’m not going to say no to it, but I prefer if they’re going to school. I think it’s important. And so they’re really making it a delightful, positive experience.

Piper Klemm: Finally, how can we support the next generation better and how can we support them to grow as holistic horse people?

Jim Hagman: I think that one thing we need to really focus on is bring youth into leadership roles. I’ve been chair of the zone for one year and it was not something I raised my hand so can I be chair and it was beginning with very rough. I think it’s gone into a nice rhythm and we need to really get young people into the committees and getting them involved in governance. It’s vital and we need to get them system set up so they can start to get their judges cards because they can have more respect for the judges if they saw how difficult it is to figure it all out because most of the judges really work their tail off, do a great job. It’s hard to do, Piper. It really is. I think we need to be mindful of the fact there’s somebody there with a pencil or pen and a piece of paper and it’s exhausting and you get bleary-eyed and you’re working your tail off and they’re trying to do really good work and not make it into a personal thing, not making it into us against them, but really respect and have sympathy towards their efforts. It’s really, really important. I think those two things are things I’d really like to emphasize. Governance and get the young people getting involved, learning how to be judges and have real respect for the judges.

Piper Klemm: Thank you so much. I really appreciate this.

Jim Hagman: Thank you, bye-bye.

Piper Klemm: To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit You can find show notes at Follow The Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of The Plaid Horse Magazine at Please rate and review The PlaidCast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends. I will see you at the ring!