By Linda White
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who give, and those who take. John and Christine Ryan are solidly in the “givers” category, as their many friends and admirers will tell you. “John and Christine always give far more than they take,” marvels Mary Trowbridge. “Johnny is one of my very dearest friends, and one of the best souls I know.”
If pressed, Johnny Ryan will concede the point. “Christine and I have been very involved in giving back to the industry, motivated by our passion for the Arabian horse and the Arabian horse industry,” he admits. “Neither of us is the type to sit around and complain. We’re dedicated professionals, proactive in addressing problems and finding solutions.
“For example, when the US Nationals was moved to Tulsa, many people complained. The appearance of the Ford Truck Arena was one specific concern. Christine serves on AHA’s Marketing, Development and Promotion Committee, so with the Show Committee’s approval, Christine solicited funds via Facebook, and raised enough money to change the arena’s appearance significantly. She then found volunteers to do the decorating each year. In the last few years, the Arabian Horse Association has assumed decorating duties.
“I have been involved with the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horse Association (APAHA), first as a member of the Board of Directors, and for the past three years, as APAHA President.”
For the past seven years, Johnny Ryan has served as one of two professional liaisons to the US National Show Commission. That means that he attends the annual show planning meeting in Denver; participates in conference calls; and attends daily trouble-shooting meetings throughout the national show.
He is vice-chair of AHA's hard-working Education and Evaluation Commission, and vice-chair of the AHA Futurity Commission that manages AHA performance and halter futurities, and the performance maturities at US Nationals. He is currently on a committee looking into shoeing regulations. If that weren’t enough, as a member of the Arabian English Performance Association (AEPA) Board of Directors, Ryan helps oversee the AEPA’s annual stallion service auction that funds the AEPA’s high incentive futurity and maturity classes.
Why shoulder so many time-consuming commitments? What created his strong sense of stewardship? It’s a long way from Houston, Texas to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he and Christine launched Ryan Show Horses in 2013.
“I’ve always loved Arabian horses.” He shrugs. “I bought an Arabian gelding when I was 13, and trained him myself. I showed him in the Houston area all through high school. Tom McNair and other good trainers came to the Houston area shows, so I always watched what they were doing. I sold my horse after high school to go on with my life … but what would come next?
“Then I read in a magazine that Al-Marah Arabians, in Tucson, Arizona had an 18-month trainers’ apprentice program. Perfect, I thought. I applied and was accepted into the program. When the 18 months were up, I stayed on as an assistant trainer for three more years, working with Harold Brite. I had discovered I could make a living training Arabian horses! I have never looked back.”
Ryan spent 18 years training Arabians and Half-Arabians at Springwater Farms, in Stockton, New Jersey. Five years in, he and Christine were married. That was 15 years ago. “I had been training at Capobianco’s Wind Kist Arabians, in North Andover, Massachusetts, for five years,” Christine explains. “Johnny and I met at shows, but it was a long distance relationship at first; at least, we were on the same show circuit.” She smiles. “I joined him at Springwater when we were married. We always accepted private clients, so when Springwater’s owners decided to discontinue outside training horses, we made the move here, and our private clients came with us.”
“Here” is the Omni Arabians facility, just east of Gettysburg, where Ryan Show Horses leases stalls. “Starting your own business is always scary,” Johnny admits, “but we love this area. There is a strong work ethic here: a mentality of earning your living. That translates into a great model for our staff:”
What about Christine? “My parents were not horse people,” says Christine, “but Mother said that from the time I was eight, the only thing I talked about was horses. I started riding hunters and jumpers, and then, a Quarter Horse mare that I jumped. I took group lessons in saddle seat from Dorothy Dukes. [Note: the late Dorothy Dukes Ford was a renowned riding instructor and member of the American Saddlebred Hall of Fame.] When I was 13, a lady in Houston wanted a junior exhibitor to show her Arabians, so Dorothy suggested me.
“The Arabians’ personality was what first attracted me to them,” she says. “They were so friendly and affectionate; so intelligent and sensitive, and so much more attuned to humans than any other breed of horse I had ridden. I think my parents always thought the horses were just a phase I would outgrow. I attended Merrimac College, in Massachusetts. I liked an eventing horse I rode there, but I didn’t like college.
“I happened to see an ad in a newspaper that said, ‘Apprentices wanted at an Arabian barn.’ The ad was for Wind Kist Farm. I went there to live and work, and within a few days, I had fallen in love with Arabians. Like Johnny, I never looked back. I stayed at Wind Kist for five years.
“Springwater Farm was a perfect place for us to develop and broaden our areas of expertise,” Christine says. “That experience included learning how to operate a business successfully. When we started our own business, I had to scale back some of my other activities, allowing me more time for managing the business and financial aspects of Ryan Show Horses.”
“Steve Dady and Linda Robinson’s daughter, Lauren Robinson, who is now 11, rides with Christine,” her husband says. “This is Lauren’s first year out of the 10-and-under, walk-and-trot division.” Lauren was undefeated as a 9-year-old rider, and won all three championships in her age group at the 2015 East Coast Championships.
“The one message we want to get across is that this is a team effort,” Johnny explains. “Between the two of us, we can come up with something the judges will like.” He and Christine both have AHA/USEF judges’ credentials.
“We have had success showing - mostly futurity horses - in halter, but performance is really our specialty. One thing we appreciate is that breeders today are breeding for horses that are trainable. That’s why most of the horses we get today are different than horses were in 1990. Nowadays, they are mentally prepared to learn, to be trained. They like it; they enjoy the work, and they think like show horses.”
“We like to train happy horses!” Christine agrees. “I love to head into a class on a happy horse that has its ears forward, is excited, and eager to be going into the show ring.”
“We, meaning most Arabian trainers today, train differently than we did then,” her husband observes. “We don’t train every horse the same way, trying to make it fit our expectations. We let the horses tell us who they are - what they want to be. That way, we end up with a happy horse, eager to do its job. That’s when the horse looks its best, and moves the best, in whatever discipline it may be performing.” Every year, a legion of open, amateur and youth horses, developed and trained at Ryan Show Horses, compete and win in any competition.
“We have 35 to 40 horses in training,” Christine explains. “We have purposely kept the numbers manageable, so that we have time to give each of them special attention. We get to know every horse very well, and this gives us time to talk to our clients, and to discover their goals and expectations.”
“Christine interacts with the horse and owners much better than I do,” Johnny admits. “Her enthusiasm, and genuine interest in each horse and each owner give us insight into what they want from this experience, so we can guide them to success as they see it. Our clients like to be here. They are very involved, hands-on, with their horses. On Saturday nights, we cook out on our deck; we even bring a grill to the shows!”
Tim Phelan is third trainer at Ryan Show Horses. “Not long after Tim Phelan joined us, he won a 2014 US National Championship for this training stable,” John says. “I believe that among the three of us, we have greater versatility and specific knowledge to offer our clients: more than do many other Arabian horse training operations.”
All John and Christine Ryan do, individually and as a team, reflects how fully they honor their commitments. “No regrets,” says Johnny. “We have great customers, and get to do what we love, with the person we love. It doesn’t get any better than that.”