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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Valley Brook Equestrian Center Celebrates 10 Years in Napa

By Kathleen Reynolds

“My mother has always been horse crazy,” says Devon Day, owner of Valley Brook Equestrian Center (VBEC), which is celebrating 10 years at its El Centro Avenue location in Napa. “She was a trainer and I was born into the horse business. I’ve always been enamored by the passion people have for horses. It’s about love, time and appreciation for these animals.”

Raised in Dallas, Texas, Devon came to Napa in 1995 by way of Colorado, where she taught riding for five years. After living in Calistoga, she relocated to Napa in 2010 and taught at Rapp Ranch. Three years later, she jumped at the chance to buy VBEC (then Napa Valley Equestrian Center) and moved there with 26 horses.

“Napa has been good to me,” Devon says. “We’ve grown and grown. There’re never fewer than 40 horses here.”

VBEC offers English hunter/jumper boarding, training, showing, lessons and sales on their 10-acre parcel in Napa. They compete all over Northern California and have on-site competitions the first Sunday of every month from April through October. With the addition of a grand prix-sized outdoor covered arena, their own competitions will soon expand to include more winter months. The covered arena is in addition to the large outside arena already on the property. Both arenas have excellent footing for all weather conditions.

“The large, steel constructed, covered outdoor arena is 125 feet wide and 225 feet long,” says Devon. “It will be the largest covered arena in Napa Valley and enable us to have shows year-round, out of rain and sun. It’s also lit, so we can teach groups after school or work. It will allow for greater dust control for our neighbors since we can keep the ground damp.”

“This arena is a dream of mine and has been in the works since 2013. We were ready to go when COVID hit and halted plans. Of course, 18 months later, the cost was twice as much and took longer. It’s a beautiful building.”

On average, students are under 18 years old and there is also a large population of adult riders.

“We have about 130 students weekly. About half don’t personally own a horse; they lease or ride school horses for lessons. We have 16 school horses.”

“Lessons are adapted to skill levels. All students start out with one-on-one training to give full attention to a new rider and their mount. We are accepting new students and have suitable horses for all levels of riding.”

School horse lessons are $80 per student for a one-hour private or group lesson. Half-hour lessons are available for students ages 6 to 8 at $60 per student. Lessons are given Tuesday through Saturday. Credit cards are accepted, along with Venmo and PayPal, and lesson packages are available.

VBEC Summer Camps are now accepting applications. Camps run one week from Tuesday through Friday and students ride every day. Beginner classes are offered for younger students at $400; novice VBEC riders are $450 per week. Various clinics are offered throughout the year.

The Center takes pride in its cleanliness. The stalls, paddocks and pastures are cleaned daily and visitors often comment on the orderly appearance.

“We have a dedicated staff and people are surprised that there are only two employees and me. Martin Castro has been a ranch hand here for 23 years and our assistant trainer, Laura Cameron, has taught here since 2007. We also have an assortment of high school students and adults who help.”

VBEC is a member of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA). According to its website, “The IEA was established to provide competitive and educational opportunities through equestrian athletics. Good horsemanship and honorable participation are priorities at every event. It is the responsibility of all attendees to foster a spirit of belongingness, an atmosphere of community enjoyment, and a mutual respect for all participants and their equine partners.”

“We have had an IEA team since 2014, which is not associated with a school, as some are,” says Devon. “Competitors are eligible from the 4th grade through 12th grade.

Hunt Seat Equitation is the largest discipline of the IEA, and their competitions have over-fences opportunities at every event. Modern day hunt seat riding has a history based in foxhunting. It has a forward seat style to allow the rider to stay in balance with the horse on the flat or over a course of fences. Judges grade in equitation (the art and practice of horsemanship), and a rider’s position, ability to clearly communicate with the horse and overall performance.

Each ride is performed on an unknown mount determined by a draw-based format.

“Our teams have done extremely well in competitions,” says Devon. “Teams are divided by zone. We are Zone 10, which includes all of California, Nevada and Hawaii, and regions. We are Region 4. Coaches pick the level at which riders compete. Riders are allowed to do five competitions and must get 18 points in the regular season to qualify for the Region Finals. In the 2022-2023 competition year, we have 12 riders qualified in the Middle School and High School competition. Our High School team is the top team in our Zone, out of 120 teams; and ours is one of the smallest teams.” Laura Cameron coaches the High School team.

What do riding lessons provide students and their parents?

“Riding builds confidence and camaraderie. It takes time and hard work to gain the strength for the physical part of riding. Most people don’t understand the strength it takes to ride.”

“Parents know their kids are safe, they build friendships through having something in common and parents often comment that they’re child would rather clean a stall than their room.”

Horse care is an important component of lessons.

“Students see the value of the work they put into it. From the beginning, we teach horse care, how to keep the horses in control out of the paddock, grooming, brushing, getting and setting up the equipment for riding. It’s under supervision at first. As riders move into group lessons, they begin to arrive a half hour early so they can be ready to go into the ring for the full hour lesson. They stay half an hour afterwards to take care of the animal. That’s how I was brought up, never with grooms. Students learn what’s needed and can do everything. In summer, some riders come all day.”

“One of the big misconceptions about riding is that people don’t see it as work, that it’s physically demanding, or they might think it’s made up of exclusively wealthy people. It’s not just for the elite.”

“Riding starts at affordable rates, but as students get serious and enter competitions, you have to figure in longer days, transportation and lodging out of town for themselves and their horses. I keep my rates at industry levels. There’s the cost of hay, grain, wood shavings, land in Napa, employees and Workers’ Comp. When the husband of one of my adult clients once saw my numbers, he said he’d never complain about the cost again,” Devon says and laughs.

“We love new riders coming in and learning about our program. Our center is open to the public seven days a week. Come and watch a show, usually the first Sunday of the month, except this July, when it’s July 9. If you want to schedule a lesson, we’ll need a week’s advance notice.”

VBEC’s Facebook slogan seems appropriate: “Happy horses in the Napa Valley.”


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