Johanna Siefert; Happiness and Success in the Horse Business

The sport of Show Jumping may be the most diverse sport in the world. Men and women compete against each other in the same arena, a 16-year-old will go head to head with a 60-year-old, and professionals ride against amateurs. Add in the complexity that a riders only teammate is a 1,200-pound athletic, intelligent animal and you have a recipe for brilliance and unpredictability that is unrivaled in sport.

In the past year there have been many articles talking about how the sport of Show Jumping has changed, that only the wealthy elite can play. While this is an irrefutable fact, there are also people that are successfully living their dream of working with horses. Through hard work and exceptional character, young professionals are overcoming the financial hurdles and achieving success. One of those success stories is Johanna Siefert.

Name: Johanna Siefert

Home: Portland, Oregon

Business: Lionheart Training, based at Foxridge Farm

Jay Duke: What was your beginning in riding?

Johanna: I started riding when I was 7 years old, taking 1 lesson a week. I became involved with the 4H program, showing livestock like cows and pigs. I was definitely ‘horse crazy’, I would wear breeches to school and be with my pony from dawn til dusk. I competed in my first A rated show at 14 under the tutelage of Connie Tuor and it was that year that I met professional Kevin Freeman, the two people that were most instrumental in my riding career. He offered me the opportunity to become a working student once I was finished high school. I graduated after my junior year with straight A’s and started working with Kevin at 17. I began the season competing in the 1.10m jumpers and by the end of the season rode in the 1.45m Grand Prix at TBird, it was a dream come true.

JD: That is the definition of a meteoric rise, congratulations. What did you do next?

Johanna: I went to college for 6 years and graduated in pre-med. I was on the wait list to be a nurse practitioner when I received a phone call from Dr. Kathy Waldorf about riding for her. My husband Josh was very supportive about the opportunity, he said my eyes would light up whenever horses were mentioned, and that I should go for it. Just like that I was back in the horse business and I love it.

JD: What is the primary focus of your equestrian business?

Johanna: Definitely the relationship with the horse. My clients are all about their horses, they have a strong bond with them. We have no grooms at home, everyone does their own care with the horses, including myself.

JD: That is the opposite of many show stables in America. Why did you decide to go that route?

Johanna: I have always done everything myself, it would be foreign to have people do it for me. We do have grooms at shows like Tbird out of a necessity of schedule, and they all ride as well.

JD: If a client walked in the door with 7 horses, requesting full grooming service, what would you do?

Johanna: I only work with people that I get along with and that have similar values as me.  I would need to decide if it was the right fit. If it was a person who wanted to pop on and off, throw someone the reins, we definitely have no one like that. 

JD: How many horses do you work with? How many students? How many horse shows do you attend each year?

Johanna: 20 horses, 12 students, 15 horse shows per year.

JD: What is your #1 goal with your riding/training?

Johanna: Improving on what we need to improve on. I tend to go slow with my horses and riders. Winning is never the goal, it’s about the daily improvement. 

JD: Who is your mentor? Idol?

Johanna: Rich and Shelley Fellers.

JD: As a young professional, what is your opinion of the current state of affairs within USE and USHJA?

Johanna: I definitely have some frustrations. I follow the rules. I do not drug the horses,  I always put the horse first. I commend them for trying to put the welfare of the horse first. However, the rules need to be clear so people can follow them. The welfare notice was very confusing, very open-ended for what the trainer is responsible for. It could end the career of a young professional. The right people need to be getting in trouble, not the wrong people. 

JD: Have you ever contacted either the USE or the USHJA for assistance?

Johanna: Thats a good question. No. When I have needed clarity on a matter I have gone to a steward or a board member. I like to speak with someone face to face, as opposed to phone or email. 

JD: Do you feel your federation supports you with your business?

Johanna: No. I’m sure I could be more involved, but it’s a bit out of my reach. 

JD: What could the USE or USHJA do that would directly benefit your business?

Johanna: They could enforce that horse shows are run properly and get rid of the mileage rule. There are AA rated shows being run with 60 horses. As a result,  I rarely show in my home state. When a business has a monopoly there is no incentive to get better.

JD: What do you envision for your business in 10 years? What do you think Show Jumping in North America will look like at that time?

Johanna: I take it day by day. I’ve hit my goals, haven’t set new ones yet. I have wonderful horses, wonderful people, wonderful customers. I hope that things in the horse show world go in the direction of becoming more affordable for more people. It’s such a wonderful sport. Everything gets more expensive every year and I worry that the good people that do it for the right reasons will have to stop due to the expense.  

Note: It is because of people like Johanna Siefert that I remain active in the sport, participating in committees such as the TCP (Trainer Certification Program) with the USHJA. She brings true integrity and honest values to Show Jumping and is a positive influence to all of those around her. I would like to thank her for taking the time to do this interview and for reminding me that there are still wonderful people in the horse world. 

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