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Go East, Young Man

An opportunity to grow the sport he loves in a new world takes Tim Shelley to Japan

From Horsetrader staff reports - January 6th, 2011 - Feature Article
Tim Shelley

Horsetrader photo

Tim Shelley

TEMECULA – Trainer Tim Shelley has always enjoyed the bringing along of a horse or rider. Now he is in Japan, bringing along a new culture into the world of Western riding.

Shelley, who left behind him last fall a legacy of good riders he taught across the Southern California landscape he has called home for three decades, now resides at the doorstep of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi, Japan, at the Paddyfield Riding Club. He accepted the position to direct it for owner Chihiro Niwata, whom Shelley met when the Japanese horsewoman came to the U.S. more than a year ago looking for a good reining horse.

That horse turned out to be Hollywood Downtown, who Shelley took to the 2010 NRHA North American Affiliate Intermediate Open Reserve Championship in Oklahoma City after they had taken the championship of the same class at the regional affiliate in Scottsdale in October.

“For me, I really enjoy watching people get better, just like I enjoy watching a horse get better,” Shelley said during a stop-over in Temecula before heading home from the Futurity to Japan. He has been greeted with open arms in the American-West crazy Japanese culture.

“It feels like a frontier,” said Shelley, who hasn’t crossed paths with another American trainer there yet. “There have been American trainers in Japan before and they’ve been doing reining for 20 years, so it’s not like it’s new. But the American help is so intermittent and appreciated that it still feels like a new thing to me.”

Like so many details of life in Japan, the horse facility differs from the typical American version. It’s technically one of 23 “riding clubs” –- the Japanese type of horse ranch. This one includes a restaurant, a spa, a gift store, a small hotel, an arena and the stabling of 30 horses — all on about two acres on a busy stretch of popular scenic road.

But beside the differences are some similarities. The American flag hangs in front, the restaurant serves up burgers and tacos, and the log-cabin buildings appear to be lifted right off the Ponderosa of a Bonanza episode.

“It’s great – I’ve been trying to fit in and help where I can — I guess that’s the best way to put it,” said Shelley, who hopes to coach not just riding techniques, but also show organization and the promotion of the sport. He was just appointed to the board of directors for the Japan Quarter Horse Association, and is working to develop a tack store here in order to bring the same quality of show equipment to Japan that he was accustomed to in the states.

He clearly sees a motivated culture ready to seriously embrace a new discipline with sights on an eventual World Equestrian Games reining team.

“They want to join the WEG and show in France in four years, and they are a little behind to get to that level,” he said. “They need a lot of help, and I’m trying to give it to them.”

The combination of Shelley’s highly-regarded teaching skills with such a fervent, disciplined group of students seems like a perfect fit.

“I’ve always got a charge out of watching people get better,” he said. “So I always enjoy watching somebody start in the green as grass and end up in the higher levels — the way they improve and the way they understand the technique involved. It’s always been fun for me. I still find that interesting to watch the progression in the rider, just as you watch the progression of a young horse getting better. I still get a charge out of it.”

The progression of Western riding in general and reining in particular could really charge up international competition if Shelley’s efforts take root. It will be a challenge for a people adept at facing challenges.

“They crave the American help,” said Shelley, whose understated success has steered clear of the limelight during his career. “They just crave it. It was something to get used to – I had to get used to being stared at a lot. And I still get stared at. There aren’t very many American “gaikoku-jins” – foreigners – especially ones that wear cowboy hats and spurs. In fact, right now I’m the only one there. It’s all right – as long as you don’t let it go to your head.”

* MORE PHOTOS: See slideshow

7 comments have been made on “Go East, Young Man”

  1. Tim Shelley Says:

    Really good article Warren. You have pretty much captured the picture of Japan western interest in your words. We enjoyed everything about the article, well written by you. Thanks again, Tim Shelley and Chihiro Niwata.

  2. Warren Says:

    Thanks for the kind comments, Tim. I was honored to do this story. All the best to you and your horses…

  3. Arielle Hacking Says:

    As someone who had the privilege of being one of Tim’s students, I am confident that he will have a profound impact in Japan. He is an amazing trainer, teacher and man. Good luck and congratulations!

  4. Jim Johnson Says:

    It’s nice to see you make such impact and sharing your abilities abroad. I am delighted for your success and wish you well.

  5. Mike Stephenson Says:

    Hope this gets to you, Tim. Sharon and I have been looking for you since last year. (We owned the Circle S Ranch in So Cal, shutting down in 2003 and selling all in 2005 due to health problems.) Tim started a lot of our new colts and promising yearlings. An excellent trainer with knowledge, skill and the patience needed to be successful. Also an excellent competitor. Good luck in your new endeavors. Our best to Kirstin also. Mike & Sharon Stephenson

    Hello to the Horsetrader also, we did much business with advertising in your pages. Thanks for an excellent, informative article. Mike

  6. Teri Hutchison (Lambert) Says:

    Hello Tim

    I hope this gets to you. I am so proud of you. I know you always wanted to be someone special in the horse world. After stumbling on this article about you, all I can remember is the guy I knew many years ago.

  7. Teri Hutchison (Lambert) Says:

    Hello Tim! I hope this gets to you. I am so proud of you. I know you always wanted to be someone special in the horse world. After stumbling on this article about you all I can remember is the guy I knew many years ago dreaming of the cutting horse world.

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