Training Champions In and Out of the Arena

Justin and Jenn Wheeler bring horsemanship and sportsmanship back to the barn

Justin and Jenn Wheeler have horsemanship at the forefront of their minds when it comes to their training philosophy. They are willing to build a horse from the ground up, ensuring that there is a solid foundation that can withstand whatever the horse’s future career may bring. Their riders receive the same attention, creating strong horsemen that demonstrates their love and knowledge of the horse both in and out of the arena. This doesn’t happen by chance, but by training through many hours of sweat, tears, and smiles.

While a natural fit for both Justin and Jenn, training horses for the public wasn’t something either imagined doing when they first got into the horse industry. Jenn loved horses from a young age, seeking knowledge from whoever would share it. She had an insatiable desire to learn how horses worked both mentally and physically. She considered becoming a veterinarian but reconsidered after talking to a few vets. “I honestly didn’t plan on becoming a trainer, it just sort of happened.” Jenn recalled when thinking of her journey. “I had plans to go to vet school and after talking with several vets I realized I had zero desire to continue college that long. I enjoyed being outside and working hands on with the horses more anyway.” Through learning from local trainers, Jenn was introduced to the showing side of horse training. She was amazed at the things that you could teach horses to perform and was drawn to learning more. Jenn realized her niche once she began taking on a few clients, “A few local people asked me to train their problem horses and I was able to fix them. I saw such successful results and I just loved that feeling of accomplishment!

It was all over after that; I knew I wanted to keep training horses.” For Justin, being in the horse industry was a family legacy that he was honored to carry on. Justin shared the origins of his horse business by crediting his family. “My family has always had and trained horses, we grew up showing all together with my parents and siblings.” When Justin was out of high school, he decided to pursue a horse training career more seriously and took a job as an assistant trainer. “My great uncle was really excited when I became an assistant trainer and said how proud he was that someone was keeping the Wheeler name in the horse industry, so that’s what I kept doing.” He said fondly of the memory.

Bringing their passions together, Justin and Jenn created Wheeler Performance Horses. They decided to set roots in Jenn’s hometown of Hollister, California, making it a unique central location that is not only beautiful, but provides easy access to shows across the state. Jenn had already begun a thriving horse training business, making the decision to stay in town an easy one. “When Justin and I started dating he was living in Texas, and I had already established my own training program in Hollister. It just made sense to partner up and expand on the business that we already had going.” Jenn stated. “We have been very fortunate to have some amazing clients who I consider like family from the very start of our career. I could never leave them, and many are still here with us for over 15 years!” Their training facility is owned by longtime friends and customers. This partnership has proved fruitful for both parties, as together they have built top of line barns, a covered arena, and tons of pasture. The weather is also fabulous, making it an ideal spot for training horses all year round. “We love our place in Hollister. We are so very fortunate to have found our facility and thankful to the Wickham family for allowing us the opportunity to build our dream barn together. The Wickham’s own the W Ranch and they have several horses we train, and they also show with us. We couldn’t ask for better friends to work with!”

Justin and Jenn are well known for their dedication to developing young prospects. Every year, the pair has top contenders in the futurity events ranging from western pleasure to trail to western riding. What makes this so exceptional is that typically their futurity horses are ones that have raised and trained since day one. Taking on such an arduous task may seem daunting to many, but Justin and Jenn welcome it. In fact, this is Justin’s favorite part of being a horse trainer. “I love starting young horses and seeing them turn into finished products.” Justin said with a smile. “The first 30 days are super exciting, sometimes wild but usually it’s just fun to figure out what they are like once you’re on their back. The second-best part is right after a horse has their “breakthrough” period. You kind of go through this teenage stage and once they come out of that it is the coolest feeling in the world, just pure success and oh so satisfying.”

Conformation, size and breeding are big considerations for the Wheelers when deciding what events a young prospect is best suited for. When looking for a horse to take the all around path, they typically lean towards bigger strided horses, and always make sure they have a good mind. Once they have found the right path for a prospect to work towards, the hard work begins. Justin and Jenn sit down with their owners and let them know about the ups and downs that the young horse path will entail. “It takes a lot of patience, trust and understanding to develop a truly good horse.” Jenn shared, “we’ve been fortunate to have several owners that have trusted our process and have had tremendous success with their horses, and they continue to be successful after several years.” Jenn warns against rushing the process even though at times it can feel like it’s moving at a glacial pace. “It just doesn’t work like that.

The exciting part of training young horses is seeing your vision you have for them come to life, that first time you get a lead change or the first good slow lope.  It’s very rewarding to know you’ve taught a horse something that sticks with them.” In one instance, the fruits of these efforts were realized as Justin was named Reserve World Champion in Junior Western Riding with a horse that they started. Another notable achievement was when Jenn was named NSBA Bronze World Champion in Open Hunter Lunge Line.

Justin and Jenn are also just as exceptional at training their clients. Jenn’s love of coaching lights her fire to get up and go to work every day. “I love coaching. Nothing makes me more fired up than to see people really make progress and achieve their goals.” Jenn expressed joyfully. “I personally love to train horses to suit their owners, when a client wins it means more to me than if it were myself.” Through coaching, Justin and Jenn have been able to watch their clients evolve into the best versions of themselves and accomplish their wildest dreams. Jenn shared some of her fondest memories of her client’s success by saying. “I remember crying and screaming when one of our youth kids truly showed her heart out and won reserve in the western riding at the AQHYA world, seeing her confidence finally shine was so cool.” Jenn is just as proud of her students when they rise to occasion when their horses put them to the test. “Most recently my novice youth kids had some hairy moments at the Level 1 Championships, they handled it like absolute bosses and seeing them be able to really ride was so cool!”

The future looks to be a continuation of success for these two dedicated trainers. They are looking forward to the rest of the year with unbridled excitement. Justin and Jenn have two beautiful daughters that enjoy being involved with the horses as well. They feel extremely fortunate to be able to take them along to the shows and be working in an industry that allows them to be together as a family. “We love seeing our girls be really into the horses. Even though this job is extremely tough, we are so blessed to be able to spend so much time together. What other job could allow so much fun with family and friends? We wouldn’t trade it for the world!” Jenn spoke. Best of luck for the rest of the year!

By Lauren Stanley