By Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the November 2022 Equiery)

There is a quiet calm while standing rail side at Rising Star Farm in Woodbine. Several horses are being schooled in the arena while trainer and coach Dutch Chapman looks on. Although very little is said, it is clear that Chapman’s eyes are on each horse and rider at all times and each rider is listening to Chapman.

Over the last 29 years, Chapman has been training horses and coaching riders to the pinnacle of reining sport. He has coached riders to 39 National Reining Horse Association World Titles and he himself has been a World Champion twice. His Chapman Reining program has produced youth, non pro and professional champions including NRHA Four Million Dollar Rider Craig Schmersal and NRHA Two Million Dollar Rider Brian Bell.

This year, Chapman’s successes have landed him in the NRHA Hall of Fame. But when speaking to Chapman, you quickly realize that it is not his personal accomplishments he is most proud of, it is the success of his clients.

A Youthful Touch
Chapman, who grew up in Westminster, got his first horse when he was nine and his parents traded a few of their homebred dogs for a little pinto mare named Trudy. Right from the start, Chapman’s riding began to produce income. At just age 10, a local Ford dealership paid him $50 a day to ride his pinto around the front of the dealership to promote the newly released Ford Pinto.

Chapman taught himself to ride and in 1972, at the age of 12, he entered his first horse show, at the Howard County Fairgrounds, with the Maryland Western Horse Association. He competed in several classes from halter to pleasure to horsemanship and… reining. “I really don’t know what it is about reining but I just liked that class the best,” he said. One comment from the judge however, changed the trajectory of his youth riding career. “The judge said I was pretty good but I was on the wrong lead,” Chapman said, adding, “but I didn’t know what a lead was at the time.”

Shortly after this show, Chapman met another local rider, Charlie Smith, who is also a recent NRHA Hall of Fame inductee. Smith began to teach Chapman the finer art of reining and shortly after, Chapman began winning… and winning… and winning. Often Chapman would win the youth classes while Smith would win the senior classes at the same show.

In 1985 Smith invited Chapman to work for him, and together they began competing in NRHA events and won several year-end championships including Chapman’s two World Titles as a rider. In 1990 he won the Limited Open World Championship aboard Smoke And Lightning and in 1992 he won the Novice Horse Open World Championship riding Tiny Money Miss. Chapman and Smith continued to work together until Chapman branched out on his own in 1993 and moved his operation to Summerwind Farm in Damascus.

Training & Coaching
Chapman briefly moved to Pennsylvania in 2004, until clients Don and Evelyn Burgy transformed their Woodbine Rising Star Farm into a boarding and training facility. “I met Dutch in 2002 when my son was in high school and we were looking for a training spot for a yearling we had purchased out West,” Don Burgy said. “My son rode with Dutch for six years and then my wife rode his champion horse!”

The Burgy family fell in love with the sport of reining because of Chapman and quickly became not only riders, but owners and breeders of champion Quarter Horses. “My daughter rides dressage but I just found reining more exciting,” Burgy said. “The two sports are very similar but there is something about the performance aspect of reining that I enjoy more.”

Chapman’s keen eye for quality horses and immense knowledge of champion bloodlines have helped the Burgys produce several top quality horses. “He has an excellent eye for horses and he’s honest. It’s why we have stayed with him in terms of business,” Burgy added.

Chapman also has a good eye for riders and does not just teach how to ride, but builds a rider’s sense of work ethic and horsemanship. “We have all different levels of riders here and it is seeing people do things they didn’t think they could do that I like most about coaching,” Chapman stated. “The key thing about Dutch is that he is 100% dedicated to everyone who rides with him… trainers, youth and non pros, we are all given the same amount of dedication and time,” Burgy added.

“Dutch has done a lot for my two children,” said client Rosanne Richards, who has been at Chapman Reining for seven years. “It is because of him that my daughter Maria was able to secure a starting spot on the SMU Equestrian Team and get a scholarship.” Maria Richards made the 2021 Non Pro Futurity Finals in Oklahoma City as well as winning several shows along the way. “And then there is my son Johnny… who is a testament to Dutch’s immense patience. If Johnny couldn’t crack him, no one could!” Richards said with a laugh.

Fellow “barn mom” Christina Villegas agrees says that Chapman has a way of teaching youth life lessons as well as how to ride. “They learn how to think on their own. He teaches them horsemanship and how to put the time and hours into the sport,” she said. Her daughter Brianna first started riding with Chapman when she was nine years old and running barrels. Now 16, Brianna stated, “We came here to look at a horse and I saw all these people doing [sliding] stops and I just knew I wanted to learn how.” Now, she said that the lessons learned at home she applies at the shows under Chapman’s quiet eye. “He asks me to tell him my warm up plan and then helps me do it,” she said.

Burgy calls Chapman a “trainer’s trainer” as he has produced countless top trainers that have gone on to build their own careers. “People call here to get a spot with him because they know he will help them become trainers,” Burgy said, adding, “plus here, our trainers get to show our horses, and that is very important.”

Chapman Reining at Rising Star Farm
Chapman has been operating out of Rising Star Farm now for 10 years. The barn can have anywhere from 30 to 40 horses in training. They travel to 10 to 15 shows a year spreading, out as far west as Oklahoma and from New York to Florida along the coast. “More locally at the Eastern Pennsylvania Reining Horse Association shows we will send 25 to 30 horses,” Chapman explained. When traveling farther, that number may drop to 10 to 12 horses. “I don’t have a favorite show. I like them all,” he commented.

At Rising Star there are foals through older reining horses as well as horses being started for other disciplines. “We have two young dressage horses here right now,” Burgy said, adding, “Dutch gives them all the same great start.”

“Our training program has horses working an average of five days a week,” Chapman explained. “But what we do with them depends on the competition schedule. We work on slow and easy basics farther from the show day and then amp up as we get closer to competition.” The intensity of these rides varies from horse to horse with each horse and rider receiving the individual workout they need at that particular moment of the competition season.

At the time of this interview, Chapman’s team still had three more competitions on the calendar, including the NRHA Futurity Show in Oklahoma City (November 24-December 3). “That’s a big show that we’ll end the year with,” he said.

Thankfully for all those involved with the sport, the end of 2022 is not the end of Chapman Reining, as Chapman has no plans to retire any time soon. “Dutch Chapman has been around forever and is an institution on the East Coast, both as a showman himself and as a coach known for pairing horses and riders, at which he is second to none,” said NRHA Hall of Fame chairman Mike Hancock.

“It is a great honor to be inducted,” Chapman said quietly. “There are a lot of great people in there… to be put in there among our peers… it’s an honor.”