Why You Should Attend a USDF Sport Horse Prospect Development Forum

Fortunato H2O at the Sport Horse Prospect Development Forum, Lehua Custer in the saddle

The 2023 USDF Sport Horse Prospect Development Forum is right around the corner.  If you are interested in learning about starting and working with young sport horse prospects, this is the event for you. Here, Grand Prix rider and trainer Lehua Custer shares her experience with the forum.  We also check out a then-and-now of her mounts from the forum, FJ Ramzes and Fortunato H2O, to see how they’ve developed through the years into top-rated Grand Prix mounts.

How many forums have you attended?

I have attended two USDF Sport Horse Prospect Development Forums as a rider. I believe I have audited one additional forum.

What should attendees expect from a typical forum?

The forums show horses from very basics (sometimes including saddle familiarization stage) up through lower level dressage. 

What did you find most valuable about attending the forum?

What I found most valuable about attending was seeing that every single horse is at a very different stage of development at each age. There is no cookie cutter style or way to start and train young horses. The instructors really adjusted each session to fully match the horse’s level of training and confidence in a novel environment. What I really appreciated as a demo rider was the opportunity to introduce my young horses to a busy environment with crowds, but in a very kind way. The attendees are very cognizant of the greenness of the horses and are quiet if needed. 

What is a valuable piece of advice or memorable quote you’ve heard at a past forum?

The biggest piece of advice was to trust your process, and allow your horse to gain confidence in you as a rider and in the environment. It’s much better to build a solid foundation than to just show off fancy gaits but with tension.  The best exercise I learned was to school different canters on a large circle. Assign a number to each size of canter and teach the horse to hold each canter on their own. This helps you not to chase for extension or grab backwards and shut them down for collection. Scott Hassler taught me that. 

If you were going to give some advice to someone considering registering, what would it be?

Advice I’d give for someone registering is to be very open in the application with what the horse’s strengths and weaknesses are. The attendees want to see a wide range of horses and get the most out of watching change occur. Don’t be deterred if you think your horse isn’t “perfect”. That being said, make sure you’re comfortable and would feel safe in a busy and new environment. Also be open with yourself. If your horse has a head tilt or a lateral walk, for example, the instructors aren’t trying to knock your horse down by pointing these things out. 

What else would you like to share about the forum?

I’ve been lucky enough to participate twice in the forum. The first time was when FJ Ramzes was 4 years old, and we’d never had any clinic experience together. We drove from Los Angeles to DG Bar and I kept telling the owner, Wendy Sasser, that I just didn’t want to be the example of what not to do!!! It went great, and they ended up using footage from that forum for USDF ads at World Cup and WEG! We had no idea until we were in Las Vegas to watch the competition, and we saw Ramzes and I on the Jumbotron! It was so exciting. Ramzes is now competing at Grand Prix and ranked in the top 10 in the USA. 

The second time I attended was on my stallion, Fortunato H2O, right after he moved to Florida as a 4-year-old. I had purchased him as a foal to be a stallion prospect. I was lucky to ride again with Scott Hassler, and he gave great remarks about having good quality US-bred horses moving up the levels. Willy Arts helped us work on throughness and straightness, and gave positive feedback about his prospects as a stallion. Since then, Tuna has gone on to win Grand Champion at Dressage at Devon, Team Bronze at World Championships in 2022 for para dressage, and has been fully approved as a breeding stallion with now 3 crops of fantastic foals on the ground. 

These forums are such a great way to gain training experience as an auditor, and to expose young horses to new environments and crowds without show pressure. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to attend and participate multiple times. 

Lehua Custer began training horses as an assistant to Hilda Gurney. During that 10 year period, she trained many horses from beginning under saddle to the FEI Levels, starting roughly 100 horses while under Hilda’s watchful eye. Lehua has been through the USDF L Education Program, where she graduated with Distinction, and is a Certified Instructor through Second Level. Lehua has earned her USDF Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals. She has been a member of the USEF Dressage Development Program, and is currently on the pre-elite list with her top horse, FJ Ramzes owned by Wendy Sasser. This pair is currently in the top 10 on the USEF Grand Prix 12 month ranking list. Lehua had the pleasure of riding in the USDF Sport Horse Prospect  Development Forum aboard Ramzes and Fortunato H2O when they were both four. Fortunato is now 7 years old and is an active breeding stallion, 2022 team medalist at the Para Dressage World Championships in Herning, Denmark with Roxanne Trunnell, and is currently competing at Fourth Level with Lehua. Lehua focuses on the development of young horses to top sport in dressage. 

Are you interested in joining us for the upcoming forum?  This year’s event will be held October 21-22 at Sonnenberg Farm, LLC, (with stabling available) in Sherwood, Oregon, and will feature Scott Hassler and Willy Arts.

These forums are designed to provide a correct, fundamental system for starting sport horse prospects. They are intended to bridge the current educational gap related to the training of sport horse prospects as they progress from in-hand to under saddle, and eventual competition. They are also a wonderful place for owners and trainers to meet and network with each other.

Apply to ride by September 15, or to audit by October 1. Learn more and register on the USDF website.

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