With her vibrant and friendly demeanor, Devon Gibson certainly must feel at home in the Golden State. A native West Coaster with an infectious personality and deep love of the sport, Devon emanates a true joie de vivre.  As the head hunter/jumper trainer at Seahorse Riding Club in Rolling Hills Estates, California, her zeal for all aspects of horsemanship is apparent in her training approach and lifestyle.

Devon certainly embraces the sport, but it is more than that; it is her way of life. The forging of relationships between horse and rider, the daily challenges, and the savoring of a few quiet moments in the barn are all aspects Devon relishes. For her, the thrill of the sport remains as fresh as the day she was born and laid eyes on her first horse.    

Devon riding Serendipity in the Grand Prix ring.  Photo© McCool Photography

Horse & Style: How did you get your start in the horse world?

Devon Gibson: My dad used to take me trail riding every Sunday after we visited my grandmother. That’s how I got my start. I was nine years old when I received my first horse; the rest is history. My mom rode, and she’s the one that encouraged it; my dad would have preferred me to stick with volleyball. When I was born, my mom said I was immediately in love with horses as there were horses in a pasture on the hill right outside the hospital window.

H&S: What lesson have you had to learn the hard way?

DG: I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is friendship first, business second. Friends are going to be there for you. In business, you can be good to them, and they’ll leave. You can be horrible to them, and they’ll stay for years. Do your best; be good to your friends. In the grand scheme of things, it is important to cultivate friendships, and your business will flourish as a result.

H&S: What aspects of the West Coast do you enjoy most?

DG: The weather! In my downtime, I can do other activities such as paddle boarding, waterskiing, or hiking. You can ride on the trails year round as well as participate in great horse shows year round. I truly enjoy living and working by the ocean.

H&S: Favorite downtime activity?

DG: I like hiking as well as running with my dogs every morning before I start work.  Of course, I am always ready for anything water sport-related!

H&S: Describe your teaching style.

DG: I like the person to understand why what I’m saying in that particular lesson works. I’ll say, for example, ‘Try this, hold your outside a bit higher than the inside rein because the horse will bring its shoulder up and rock back on its hind end.’  This is a more technical approach for some people, but it is essential for me to have them really understand why it all works. I also want my students to have fun and gain confidence. I try to present all aspects of horsemanship.

H&S: What are your dreams in the years to come?

DG: My short-term dream is to get my hunters to Indoors next year. In my personal life, I would like to see more of the world, the far reaches of the U.S. and Europe. I would like to alternate visiting one place in the US and then one place off the continent I’ve never been.  My favorite places in the world are Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon. I went on a horse pack trip in Yellowstone this year where we went in the more isolated areas. You encounter a different world in the wild. The Grand Canyon is like traveling through time with all the millions of years preserved in the layers of stone. Both places make you stop and catch your breath from the sheer beauty and majesty of it all.

H&S: Any last minute advice you tell riders entering the ring?

DG: I give them one thing that we were working on and try not to cloud them with too much at the last minute, and then, I always say, ‘have fun.’

H&S: What is the most difficult aspect of teaching?

DG: Getting riders to embrace their fear and use it constructively rather than use it against themselves. And it’s ok to have a little bit of fear to help with judgment. We’re asking a horse to leave the ground, jump sticks, land safely on the other side and not injure us in the process. It’s important to turn this fear into a healthy respect, and make it work for you.  Part of the reason we’re all doing this sport is because we all have some thrill-seeker in us!

H&S: Do you have a particular career highlight?

DG: In the Grand Prix world, I would say the highlight occurred when I walked out of the ring and my long time mentor, Judy Martin, looked at me and remarked ‘you have finally learned how to ride.’  In the hunter ring – I had a particularly successful show and jogged in second behind a top hunter rider.  He turned to me and said with a big smile, ‘well, you can’t win all the classes.’  It made my year!

H&S: Do you lean more traditionalist for show apparel or embrace the latest trends?

DG: I am as traditional as I can be when I show, yet I love the latest trends on non-show days.  I’ve tried lucky items, but I burn myself every time; so, I’m done with those things.  I have a sticker in my trunk that I try to read before every competition day.   The message is ‘attitude is a decision.’  Also, before I walk into that ring I ask myself the following question: ‘Who are you riding for?’ The answer is me. Those are my mantras.

H&S: How does the sport stay thrilling for you and how to you keep it a passion for others?

DG: I’ve never really had to keep it a passion for anyone – if I think hard, they all love to ride! I have kids and adults who never show, and they come religiously to ride.  As for me – I have to say – I love riding.  I love making it work with a horse, and really seeing and feeling them become something.  I love the challenge of finding a way to fix something or make it better.  So I guess it’s the constant development of a rider, a horse, or the combination that keeps me going.

Devon aboard Belafonte at the LA International Jumping Festival. (c) Flying Horse Photography

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