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California, Here We Come!

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what is in our latest issue, please click here.
Steffen Peters riding Legolas 92 ©FEI

Steffen Peters riding Legolas 92.

Australian dressage rider, Nicole Magoffin, has experienced what she called the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to train under the great Steffen Peters at his equine spa in California. Here is her story of life at Arroyo Del Mar... 
steffen peter's property in california
ON BEING OFFERED the opportunity by my idol Steffen Peters and my fairy godmother Tricia Osborne, I was on my way with "the world's greatest horse", Jaybee Anzac, to California, without hesitation. It was to be six months of dressage heaven, the chance to train Jaybee Anzac at Arroyo Del Mar, the barn of one of the world's greatest trainers, Steffen Peters.
This 15-acre equine spa is nestled in the affluent San Diego suburb of Del Mar (Janet Jackson is a neighbour). Steffen and his wife, Shannon, pride themselves on the training and care they lavish on the 60 horses entrusted to them. Let me walk you through a typical day in the life of Steffen Peters and his famous barn.
The prestige facilities would please even the fussiest of horses and owners. All stables are timber-lined with non-slip pavers throughout. There are walk-in-and-out yards from the boxes, turnout paddocks, solarium, heated wash bays, state-of-the-art treadmill, full ice-boot machines for after-schooling, a shaker stable to promote good circulation, indoor arena, three outdoor arenas and a showjumping arena as part of the specialist infrastructure. Combine these with beautiful trails, and how could the horses not be happy?
steffen peter's property in california

Surrounded by rolling hills, the horses enjoy a stretch in the yards.
Arroyo Del Mar awakens each day with feeding and stable cleaning at 6am. Two full-time stable hands make their way through the barn four times a day, repeating this process. All horses get four meals a day, two grain and four hay feeds using a mixture of lucerne and grassy hay and pre-extruded grains, and there is also a weekend bonus wet feed.
The barn operates Monday to Friday with all riding ceasing on the weekend, except for shows and presenting horses to potential clients. It is important to the Peters that the horses have two days of quiet time. They want to produce horses that are elite in mind and body, and weekends allow them to relax and enjoy their rest time. 
Shannon is the first one down from the house of a morning with freshly baked cookies for the grooms (Yes, I know – every day, freshly baked). Steffen's assistant trainer, Lientje Schueler, is the first into action training-wise. She has around eight horses to ride and five lessons each day. Shannon also fills her days with four or five morning rides and an afternoon jammed with lessons. One of our Aussie riders, Emma Weinert, has trained with Shannon and Steffen for years and is looking like a WEG hopeful for us with her lovely mare, Velvet. She trains several horses a day with Shannon.
steffen peter's property in california

The indoor arena.
Steffen begins riding at 7am, usually starting with his star, which was then Ravel and now, of course, is Legolas. He trains with basic principles. We have three aids: our leg, seat, and hand. These aids will train a horse from preliminary to GP, we just have to make them work effectively and thoughtfully each and every ride – easy, right? Steffen follows the training scale with finesse and dedication. His ability to spend every moment in the saddle as an effective rider and trainer is mind-blowing. However, it just isn't his ability to be effective, it is his ability to put the horse first. Not once in the time I was at Arroyo did a horse leave the arena marked from bullying or stressed. This is the point of difference with so many other trainers. Steffen trains with a kind and effective manner.
Steffen makes his way through five or six mounts before lunch, each getting undivided attention and often earning cookies as treats. After being worked, the horses are washed, dried in the solariums, have their legs iced then are turned out into paddocks for a stretch and a chomp on more hay.
Steffen begins training after lunch and normally there are two or three lucky people who get to soak up his brilliance. He coaches with such clarity and understanding that you leave the arena beaming. Steffen is gifted as a rider and as a coach; he is well spoken and well mannered with a soft nature, so there is no shouting or cursing. His empathy with and understanding of the horse's mental capacity is always present and teaching his students to read the horse becomes part of everyday riding. He continually reinforces the use of light aids for all work, teaching both horse and rider. After work, Steffen unwinds by riding motorbikes and playing with remote-controlled model helicopters and planes.
steffen peter's property in california
The outdoor arena.
There are a few other trainers who work out of Arroyo. Lientje Schueler is one who has been there for eight years, and runs her own training business. Gary Lung, another Aussie, is one of her daily line-ups with his amazing Chester. David Blake and Rebecca Rigdon also hire boxes and train their own horses and clients. Each rider has a groom who provides full care for their horses, including saddling, washing, turning-out, hand-walking, gear cleaning, treadmill work, organising shoeing, and full show preparations. Dawn White O'Conner has been Steffen's groom for six years, having risen through the ranks to become his right-hand woman. Dawn completes all nominations for shows, clinic timetables, as well as all the above care for each of Steffen's horses. All the grooms live off site, leaving the barn manager on site 24 hours. The manager is in charge of horses coming and going, ordering feed, hay, sawdust, and supervising the grooms. Arroyo has three full-time ground staff to keep the complex in its immaculate condition.
The day draws to an end with all horses being rugged and fed and tucked into bed and Steffen making his last cookie rounds around 8pm. Arroyo is a place where you know all horses are cared for individually, with all their own little needs and special requirements met.
steffen peter's property in california
The time I shared at Arroyo back in 2009 was a dream come true. On coming home to Queensland, I have brought as much as I can with me – the training principles, work ethics, horse management and, of course, great friendships. I travel back and forth as often as possible, and have taken up-and-coming dressage talents Harvey Besley and Kody McAvoy over there too. Sharing Steffen's training and implementing what he taught me is my mission. I am lucky to have a sensational team under me now, thanks to owners Dianne Brown and Bev Edwards. The branding of NM Dressage is another take-home idea from Steffen, as I like to create a feeling of support and belonging among my students and clients. I must thank my sponsors Mitavite and Horseland, my incredible students Australia-wide, and my family – Blake, Emily, Teah, and Jack, who continue to endure this passion for dressage that defines and sustains me.
Since writing this, it is with the saddest of hearts that we said goodbye to Tricia Osborne. I owe so much to her. Tricia enabled my dreams to come true. Sending me to Steffen’s with my horse is by far the greatest experience in my equine life. No words can thank her or express the pain I have without her. Tricia was arena-side every day with me, now she watches from above.
Nicole Magoffin and trisha

Trisha and Nicole.
Nicole Magoffin
Nicole and Jaybee Anzac.
This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what is in our latest issue, please click here.
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