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Family, Faith and Perseverance are Shiflet Family Hallmarks

by Ann Bullard


A son who will follow in your footsteps: that’s many a father’s dream. Dyche Shiflet may have had such an idea, but there’s no way he could have imagined the impact four generations of Shiflets would have on the Saddle Horse industry.


At a Carolina or Virginia horse show, you can toss a proverbial pebble and come close to hitting a Shiflet. If you have any questions about their numbers and importance, just search for the name on the Saddle Horse Report Web site. You’ll find Claude, Harrison, Matthew, Grant, Taylor, Kristen, Suzy and Jill as well as Claude’s brother Riley and nephew Bill. Add the Shiflet photographers, Doug and Shane, to the mix and you have a clan whose influence will be felt on the Saddle Horse industry for decades to come.


It all started on a farm near Churchville, Va. Dyche was a farmer and horse trader; Claude and Riley worked by his side.


“We were sheep and cattle farmers, and fed a lot of cattle in the winter,” Claude explained. “We raised corn, wheat, hay and oats [as well as a few other crops]. We didn’t even have a tractor until I was 12 but used mules to plow the corn.


“Our dad dealt in horses, broke them to drive and sold many to the Mennonites about 15 to 20 miles down the road. We kept draft and Saddlebred-type horses and a lot of ponies that we learned to ride on.”


A physician who lived about 20 miles from the Shiflet farm bought a pair of Saddlebred stallions in Kentucky. His bringing Playmor King (by Edna May King) and Sport’s Glory back to Virginia opened windows into the Saddlebred world for the Shiflet family.


“I’m sure that doctor had a lot of influence on our being in the Saddlebred business,” Claude said. “We bred a couple of mares to Playmor King. We got a really pretty gray filly that we broke to ride. Jimmy Hamilton, a Saddlebred trainer, was in Lexington, Va., about 20 miles from us. We sent her to him and took him hay and grain to work her for a few months.


“He couldn’t get her to rack so we brought her home. She was one of the first horses I racked and I beat him with her at the horse show that summer,” Claude recalled with a smile in his voice. “That really was the way we got started in Saddlebreds.”


The veteran trainer talked about those days. “Riley and I taught the horses manners for the trail [doing such things as opening gates.] We would go through the gate into the field and race. On horse show days, we’d bring a horse up out of the field, trim and wash it and go to shows. Dad never really showed any but would go to them when we did. They put a rope around a high school ball field and that’s where we rode. The school had a big supper between the afternoon and night sessions; we had a big time.”


Claude knew what he wanted and learned the hard way. As a teenager, he worked the farm during the day. At night, he trained horses. The Korean War was at its height when Claude graduated from high school. The government deemed his farm work essential, granting him a deferment. His plans to study veterinary medicine took a back seat to farming and working horses.


Alice Campbell was a high school girl when she met the young man she calls ‘Claudie.’ “He had planned on going out with my girl friend, who he thought was very attractive. She wouldn’t go out with him, so he called me.”


The Homestead, nestled among the Allegheny Mountains in Hot Springs, Va., has been a favored destination for travelers and romantics since 1776. Alice had a friend working there for the summer. She reminisced about that first date on which Claude took her to the famed resort.


“We went into the restaurant and Claude had a big piece of lemon meringue pie. On the way home, he ended up in the back seat while I sat up front with my friend. I figured I’d never see him again.”


Despite that inauspicious beginning, Alice told her parents that night that Claude was the boy she was going to marry. Obviously, he called again. She finished high school and enrolled at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. He visited as often as he could.


“Claude told me, ‘I’m tired of driving all the way over here. Why don’t you come home and we’ll get married’,” she said. “My plans to be a physical education teacher went out the window. When I showed Mother and Daddy my engagement ring, Daddy said, ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’ ”


Doubts or not, Alice’s father walked her down the aisle on Dec. 6, 1952. After a New York City honeymoon, she and Claude returned to the farm, living with his parents almost a year.


During their early show career, the Shiflets had met the late Ray Harney of Asheboro, N.C. They purchased the stallion Warlord from Harney and took him back to Virginia.


The late Dan Mize had heard of Warlord, and when Mize was on his way to New York, he called the Shiflets asking to see the stallion. That sale and delivering the horse to Dixiana Stables brought Claude to Lexington, Ky., for the first time. He took the opportunity to buy two horses at the spring sale. One of those opened the door to the young Shiflets’ moving away from home.


“I finished gaiting one mare and sold her to Sen. John E. Amos during the West Virginia State Fair,” Claude said. “We were second in the stake there and he paid what then was a big sum of $1,500 for her. When we got home, I had a letter from him asking me come to work for him.”


Decision time! Claude had to choose among farming, training horses or going back to school. The horses won and on Jan. 1, 1956, he and Alice moved to Amos’s Highland Green Farm in West Virginia. They remained there for four years.


Alice quickly went from sweetheart to bride to young mother. Harrison was born 11 months after she and Claude married. Doug joined the family before they moved back to Virginia. Operating a Saddle Horse barn in the middle of the Virginia hunt country proved unprofitable. When Dr. W.L. McLeod offered them a job at his Lou Mar Farm in Norwood, N.C., the family moved on.


A.E. Knowlton of the famed Emerald View Farm brought the Shiflet family to Ohio. Tinsel Wings, a two-year-old mare, showed great promise. A year after Claude first started gaiting her, she won the Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Championship. The family remained in Ohio until the Knowltons closed the farm. When it was time to move, Harrison was a teenager, Mark an infant.


“Mark’s birth was the only highlight of that final year,” Alice said frankly. “Things were tough. Claude moved to Kentucky to help the late Jim B. Robertson and work with the late George Gwinn in getting horses ready for a sale. I moved in with another family so the children could finish the school year.”


The move in the middle of his sophomore year was tough on Harrison. “I really liked Ohio. I had a lot of good friends and things were really good. But we had to do it and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”


When one of the industry’s most important people called, Claude listened. He joined the late Earl Teater’s staff at Dodge Stables in Lexington. Not only was it a grand opportunity for Claude, Mrs. Frances Dodge Van Lennep, who owned the farm, gave Doug a Christmas gift that helped put him on his successful career path. He still has that first simple camera she gave him.


With their father again working on private jobs, the Shiflet boys focused on other athletics. In Ohio, Harrison played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. At the larger, 2,500 student Lexington school, he concentrated on football.


Doug played all sports as well. However, living in Kentucky, basketball was king. While he played varsity ball, he truly shone on the regional ball-handling team, perfecting some of the moves that made the Harlem Globetrotters famous.


“We won the state championship,” Doug said, smiling at the thought of twirling a ball on one finger.


Shane, the last of the four Shiflet boys, was born during the Dodge Stables years.


“We’d been in Kentucky about three years when somebody told us about a barn that was available in Asheboro, N.C.,” Alice recalled. “We knew if we ever were going to get out on our own, we’d better do it then. We packed up and came to Asheboro.”


That barn, where Claude still trains, had a special meaning to him. Ray Harney had worked here and it was the place he came to find Warlord.


Of Alice and Claude’s four sons, only Harrison dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps. He had been a student at Morehead State when the family moved to North Carolina. That summer he had the opportunity he had been waiting for. He quit school and became his father’s first assistant trainer.


“I hadn’t been able to participate much until we moved [to North Carolina.] It was great to get involved and Daddy needed the help,” Harrison said. “Daddy came from the old school where you worked for what you got. He taught us how to work hard and how to persevere. If you went to the barn, it was all business. You went to work, not play. He wanted things done his way. It wasn’t like he gave you a horse and then turned you loose.”


Still, Claude let his sons determine their own futures. Doug, Shane and Mark found other sports more compelling than horses.


“I was never that interested but was more involved in other sports. I found ways to stay away from barn, cleaning stalls and doing all that stuff my dad wanted me to do if I were out there,” Mark said candidly. “He raised his help and then his competition. I do remember showing one time at a little show in North Carolina but I think Shane and Doug showed more than I did.”


Like his brothers, Mark played high school basketball. Alice and Claude supported them in these endeavors, rarely missing a game. Mark calls himself ‘the black sheep of the family’ as he’s not in the horse business. Instead, he graduated from Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer, N.C., playing point guard for four years. He worked in computer sales for Calvert Ray, one of his dad’s long-time clients, before moving to Shelbyville, Ky., where he worked for Richfield Video and Revue, their video magazine until it folded.


“My good friend Billy Becker introduced me to Jill Sando, who was attending UK at the time,” Mark said. “We hit it off right away. When things at Revue didn’t work out, I decided I wanted to stay in Kentucky.”


Mark may not have wanted to be in the show horse world, but he married one of its stars. Jill is best-known for her many championship rides on CH Gypsy Supreme. From 1993 through 1995, the pretty blond and her chestnut gelding lit up arenas from Kentucky to Missouri. They won three Ladies Five-Gaited Gelding World’s Champion of Champions, wore championship roses from a Ladies Five-Gaited World’s Championship and carried a red- and yellow-dominated tricolor streamers from two others.


“I sold Gypsy right before we married,” Jill said. “It’s nice to have him [retired] at the Horse Park where we can see him.”


“We’re out of the loop a little, so to speak,” Mark said. “I still enjoy going to shows and watching good horses. I love seeing so many friends and family. I still love the business and have a lot of respect for it. Hopefully, we’ll be involved in the future in some way. Our lives now revolve around three children [Piper, Stone and Grady.] We raise them and do the best job we can.”


Like the senior Shiflets and his siblings, Mark is very much involved in church. He serves on the board of United Crescent Hill Ministries, a local group supporting Louisville-area needy and working with kids-at-risk. Like his brothers, he also is an avid golfer.


As for Jill, for now she enjoys riding her Friesian in dressage and, on occasion, taking lessons at Rock Creek. The children get on the Friesian at home, and she rarely misses a nearby Saddlebred show.


“I’m really bitten with the dressage bug at the moment. It’s all a new thing for me, kind of fun and definitely different than Gypsy. I’m just at the training level and am getting ready to show,” she said. “And it works for the kids to play with him.”


Claude and Alice are the seniors now. He has cut back on the number of horses he trains at his Asheboro, N.C., barn. Part of it is leased, part sits empty. Yet he only has slowed down, still going to the barn to work horses each morning. And he remains successful in the show ring. At Blowing Rock the second weekend in August, he rode long-time client Melody Murphy’s Midnight Senor to win the Junior/Novice Five-Gaited title and Five-Gaited Reserve Grand Championship. He drove the homebred Spanish Tap to the top of the Fine Harness Open class and claimed the reserve grand championship. While he didn’t bring horses to Louisville, he and Alice entertained grandchildren and visited friends in Kentucky.


Harrison says he learned the horse business the hard way. “My dad didn’t hand me a pair of gloves and a whip and say, ‘Here, you’re a horse trainer.’ He made me start from the ground up. He told me, ‘One day, you’ll have to do this on your own.’ ”


Beverly Oleen had grown up fox hunting and trail riding with her physician-father, as well as competing. Harrison was working with his dad when she came to visit Shiflet Stables with a college friend. Holly Ryals had horses with Claude and introduced Beverly to Saddlebreds and to Harrison. Unlike her husband-to-be, she had enjoyed the sport as a pure hobby. Not long after they met, she and Harrison realized they had something special.


Harrison hurried me along. I finished school, got married and had Matt in three years,” she said.


Harrison’s initial head-trainer opportunity came from the late Jim Bray in Celina, just outside Dallas, Texas. Wildwood Farm had been an established breeding operation for decades. They showed futurity colts, selling many and bringing others along in harness or under saddle. At the time, Bray had horses and cattle running all over the 1,000-acre farm.

“We had to herd them to the barn to get them in,” Harrison recalled. “Only two horses in the 15-stall barn were broke. The others I started from scratch.”


Matt was an infant when they moved to Texas. It was a rough time for the young family, particularly for Beverly. She had to deal with scorpions and other insects as well as caring for a young child. She wanted to go home. After a year, they returned to Asheboro where their daughter, Taylor, was born.


Harrison concedes he moved more than he might have wanted in developing his career. He worked a year for Tom Galbreath at Castle Hills and then moved to work with Larry Hodge at Kalarama. He and Beverly loved Kalarama and the town of Springfield, Ky.


“If I could turn back the hands of time, I’d have stayed with Hodge longer. I didn’t realize the opportunities I had there,” he told Horse World in an earlier interview.


What looked like a golden opportunity at a new facility in Charlotte, N.C., faded as the owner declared bankruptcy. He continued his own operation in Charlotte before going to work for Gwen Frangias at Omega Farm. A slowing economy when he and Beverly had their own place in Greenville, S.C., sent them back to Asheboro. Alice and Claude welcomed them home.


Watching their grandchildren, Matthew, Taylor and Grant, grow and become proficient with Saddle Horses has been a thrill for Alice and Claude. They enjoyed many humorous as well as serious moments together.


Matthew’s success has provided his parents and grandparents with many thrills. Beverly says she knew that was inevitable from the time he was a youngster.


“I knew it was going to happen,” she said with a laugh, telling of days when she was the Shiflet Stables instructor. “He was under the impression [from his father and grandfather] that a horse had to do something right before he put it up. We had a Morgan school horse that was a great pony but ornery as could be. He was one of Matthew’s first training horses. I had him work on the pony for me to be sure he would be right. One day, the pony did everything possible wrong. Matthew got off, looked at him and picked up his whip. He then turned back, looked at him again and got him to park with his ears up. Matthew walked down the aisle with the whip in that pony’s face, making sure its ears were up all the time.


“He had to do one thing right. We laughed, but we’ve all had days like that. Do anything – just do it right,” Matthew’s mom said.


“I did have a choice,” Matt said quietly. “They didn’t make me ride but left it up to me, the same as they’ve done with Taylor and Grant. They wanted us to do something, a sport, music. I was blessed with riding skills.


“The first thing I remember riding was a white pony named Jubilee that I showed in lead line when I was about four or five,” Matt continued. “Dad and I dressed up in riding suits at Raleigh. We had to sell him when we moved to Castle Hills.”


Matt was about five when the family moved to Kalarama. “Springfield was a neat place to live. I could ride my bike up and down the road and I remember walking Dad’s lunch to the barn.”


He was six or seven when “I first started pretty serious. We had moved back home where Mom taught me riding.”


Matthew started his training career with Breyer horses. “I had some in training from Wesley and Erin Hall,” he said with a smile. “I remember the first phone call I had to make when I broke Erin’s horse’s leg. It wasn’t easy.”


Matthew admits training horses is all he ever wanted to do. Unlike many whose goal is to be trainers, Matt paid his proverbial dues at a very early age.


“I was so lucky. I really can’t ever tell anyone how lucky I was to live with and watch two different horse trainers my whole life. I saw the extreme ups, the extreme downs and everything in the middle. I learned so much and didn’t even mean to do so. It wasn’t necessarily what to do but what not to do. Between Dad and Granddad, I’ve been there, seen and done it. They taught me everything. If I couldn’t learn something between the two of them, I was in trouble.”


As is typical with any trainer’s child, Matthew seldom had the opportunity to show one horse very long. He either helped prepare it for a customer or it was sold. When he and Kristen (Bagdasarian) became a couple, all that changed. The many-times world’s champion rider, best remembered for her many wins with the five-gaited pony CH Dixie Jewel, began spending as much time with the Shiflets as at her Connecticut home.


Kristen gave Matthew the opportunity many young trainers dream of. In 2001, she purchased the exciting mare, Glider’s Star, for Matthew to train. At Lexington, Matthew won his first Kentucky blue, winning the mare class and tying reserve to CH Wild Eyed And Wicked in the stake. At Louisville, they tied reserve to My Chanel in the mare stake.


The few who might have doubted Matthew’s talents quickly became believers. He and Kristen moved into their Diamond View Farm Jan. 1, 2002. They married that fall. As might be expected, many successes followed. In 2003, he won his first world’s championship as a professional aboard the then three-year-old Freaky Links. Two years later, he rode Glider’s Star to the Five-Gaited Mare World’s Championship.


Kristen has adjusted well, both to being a trainer’s wife and to being part of a deep Southern family.


“I guess opposites attract,” Matt said. “She fit right in and ended up moving to Asheboro. When I first met her and told her the things we did, she’d say, ‘Me too, me too.’ Our families are so much alike. Everybody gets together for Christmas and Thanksgiving. In Asheboro, everyone goes to my grandparents’ on Sunday night to eat pizza. It was real easy to fall into each other’s lives.”


Why West Virginia? “I always thought if a man could get close to, but not in Kentucky, he could have a good business,” Matt said. “We’re between Charleston and Huntington, W.Va. There are a ton of Saddlebreds here. Todd Graham is the exit before me. Jimmy Morrison is two exits after me and Lewis Meadows, Johnny Scott and Smith Lilly all are close. We’ve all worked together. When someone comes through here looking at horses, we send them to each other. We’re two hours from Lexington. Someone can come here, visit four barns and be back in Lexington in one day. We’re a quarter mile off I-64 and centrally located to all shows.”


Business is good. Matt and his assistant work 36 to 38 head, including a lot of young horses that won’t be seen for a while. Kristen virtually has been absent from the show ring for several years. At the time this article was written, Matt hoped to have her back at Louisville aboard a Sultan’s Great Day/Rejoice daughter, Day To Rejoice.


“Kristen has been so patient it’s unbelievable,” Matt said. “She has been incredible to do what she did in the ring and then never push me to ride or anything since we moved here. She steps back and lets other amateurs have the spotlight. That says lot about her. It would be hard for anyone to do, but especially when you go from winning the juvenile stake at Louisville to not showing at all.”


“I’ve learned how to cook,” Kristen said. “I’ve figured that out. And I’m involved in everything. It all has been a little different angle for me with getting the kids new horses. But they all have really been successful. That’s rewarding, even though I’m not the one showing. And I enjoy watching Matt show.”


The couple moved into their new home in April. Kristen still has an office at the barn. Some days she goes to their barn and then comes home early to do book work, or she doesn’t go until after lunch. She teaches customer lessons, but the two determined early on not to have an academy program. And she works a few of their own horses.


“Matt and I can work well together,” she said candidly. “Matt is too hard on himself. He is the trainer and I don’t have a problem letting everybody know that.”


The youngest Shiflet training team stays close to home. They try to see a Saturday night movie and spend time with friends who live nearby. They go out with others at shows, but their home life is really quiet.


“Relaxation for me is to come home by five, if I’m lucky. I like to sit out on the porch, watch TV and not be bothered. That’s peace enough to keep me sane right now,” Matt said. “We do take a vacation every winter with Clark [Clouse,] Mark [Webster] and their wives.”


The couple is part of a group of successful, young trainers. Clark Clouse, Tre Lee, Todd Graham, Chad Cole, Tom Lowry and Matt may battle it out in the show ring, but they remain close friends. Mark Webster was an integral part of that group until an accident caused him to retire from training horses. Their friendships helped Webster make it through the darkest of times.


In September 2005, Webster had a two-year-old colt throw him when he was trying to dismount. He spent weeks in the hospital. Doctors gave him less than a 20 percent opportunity of ever being able to walk again. Rather than being paralyzed, he is able to walk, although he lacks feeling on one side. The popular young trainer closed his barn and entered into a partnership in a hauling business.


“Mark’s situation emphasized how essential it is to know what’s important to you,” Kristen said. “It could have happened to any one of us. We’ve all been there and had scary moments.”


Three years ago, Harrison and Beverly realized they needed to make another move.


“Things were slowing down around Asheboro,” Harrison said. “I spent 32 years with Dad and had a really good run. The move wasn’t in the plans but that’s the way it is sometimes, life doesn’t always go by the book. I couldn’t slow down but had to keep moving forward. I felt like we needed a new territory.”


Anna Drew, Rene Kilburn and others who had been Harrison’s clients for years made the move to Joan Sonnabend’s farm in Mooresboro, N.C. Several newcomers have joined them. Sue Nifong and Riley Shiflet have horses that move in and out during the season.


“Joan owns the farm and has several mares,” Harrison said. “We have semi-adopted her granddaughter, Jenna [Norton], who lives with us. They have two horses in the barn for Jenna and a pair of prospects.”


While Matthew has stepped out on his own, two other Shiflet ‘home-growns’ still are in the picture. Taylor just graduated from college and has been helping at the barn until she decides what direction she wants to pursue.


Taylor majored in art administration, but is not sure how she can use that. She’s feeling her way along and has been fortunate enough to have something here until she finds it,” her father said. “She runs errands and rides her barrel-racing Saddlebred and trail pony.”


Grant, on the other hand, is about to finish high school. He may be the next Shiflet to pick up his whip and gloves on a professional level.


“He comes to the barn every day and helps a lot,” Harrison said. “He’s honing his skills and plans to go in the business. We hope to keep this one around a while.”


As for Beverly … “We call her ‘Super Mom,’ ” Harrison said. “She teaches lessons, handles the bookwork and still takes care of her 91-year-old mother who is in an extended care facility in Asheboro. She’s a mother and wife and does it all.”


Doug and Shane have taken a different career track. When Mrs. Van Lennep gave the Shiflets’ second son that small camera so many years ago, she set the tone for his future. The lady he married has helped that along.


Doug was in high school when his family moved from Kentucky to Asheboro. His basketball-handling skills helped him make the transition to a new school and a young lady he met there.


“I was 15 and he was 16 when he moved here. We just hit it off. He was just a neat guy and I had a feeling.” Debbie paused briefly. “We had a few rocky times as teenagers do. We started dreaming and making goals and it went from there.”


Western Carolina University recruited Doug to play basketball. His enrollment didn’t last long.


“Doug’s college career is a funny story,” Alice said. “He went up to Western and came home the next day, bringing all his stuff with him. At first he told me classes didn’t start until Friday and he didn’t want to leave his things up there. Then he confessed he didn’t want to go, it was too far from home and from Debbie.”


Instead, he attended Elon College for a semester and then Randolph Community College and Davidson Community College in Asheboro. It was there he began developing his photography skills.


“He was interested in doing wildlife photography,” Alice said. “His daddy told him if he wanted to get in the photography business, why not try shooting horses. He went to the barn and started practicing.”


“We began making goals and it all went from there. I stayed home, spent two years at a local college and graduated as a dental assistant. I worked and he did odd jobs as he started getting into photography. We decided that was what we were going to do,” Debbie said.


For a while, Debbie caught a plane to meet Doug on weekends. Then she began traveling with him.


“We drove a little Volkswagen and pulled a trailer behind us. It looked like the thing McDonald’s hamburgers come in,” she said with a laugh. “There was a question whether I should keep on working. Winters were rough with no money coming in. Then I got pregnant and wanted to stay home with the children.”


The family grew quickly. Brad, the oldest, is now 25. Daniel followed three years later and Andrew 11 months after that. Debbie had her hands full as a stay-at-home mom. She had no horse experience before dating Doug. She took a few lessons from Jacquelyn Leon when Leon taught for Claude.


“Jackie taught me how to ride and taught the boys, too. I showed academy outdoors in South Carolina. The boys showed leadline and academy. We wanted them to experience this,” Debbie said. “Paw Paw would stand on the rail yelling at me to do this and do that. I told him, ‘Paw Paw, this is supposed to be fun! Leave me alone.’ We knew we were in this end, not the competition end of the business.”


Once the boys were grown and had moved from home, Doug and Debbie found themselves at another crossroads in their lives. She travels with him to many shows. However, since he has switched to the digital format rather than using a film camera, Debbie has been able to remain at home, except for shows like Louisville. She produces final prints; Doug now handles his own retouching.


All the Shiflet family stand firm on their Christian faith. More than something handed down from their parents, that faith helps them all through tough and good times.


Doug and Debbie may be more outspoken than his other siblings and their families. If you get their home or office voice mail, you’ll hear Doug’s quiet message: “God bless you and God bless America.” He is an elder at his Presbyterian church which he attends as often as his horse show schedule allows. Debbie says she is seeking a meaningful place of service.


Being on the road for 18 horse shows, beginning with Atlanta’s Pro-Am in April and ending with Harvest Days in Tampa in November, is a rough job. Another way Doug gets his spiritual batteries recharged is as a volunteer with several different projects.


“Richard Petty’s son, Kyle, sponsors Victory Junction Gang Camp for kids with terminal illnesses,” Doug said, explaining that one of his favorite projects is a spin-off from a program begun by Paul Newman. “During the winter, I’ve gone up and volunteered there and loved every minute of it.


“They have different weekends for kids with different types of illnesses such as cancer, spina bifida, heart, lung and kidney disease,” he said, adding that all campers’ expenses are paid by donations. “The place has a race car theme and it is unreal. When the kids come there, it is their place! They have all kinds of stuff for them: a gym, a place to do woodworking, stables and an outdoor lake for fishing.


“I do photos and help at the stable. And I really enjoy helping the kids catch fish,” he said. “They get to be kids and forget about their problems for a weekend.”


Fishing and golf are two other pastimes that help Doug relax. Getting to the links is more convenient than getting to the lake, however, whenever possible Doug likes to chase striped bass and other game fish.


The youngest of the Shiflet sons, Shane, wanted to be a trainer until he was about 10 years old. Then basketball, baseball and football took precedence.


“I studied accounting and played two years of college baseball at Elon College and decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Shane said in his quiet way. “I worked with banks in downtown Baltimore, Md., but didn’t enjoy being in an office all day.”


In his search for his role in life, Shane spent 15 months working with emotionally-disturbed teenagers in Virginia. “That was the greatest experience I ever could have had. I lived in the woods with the kids five days a week with two days off. It was the most stressful job you could ever imagine.”


Dealing with teens, many of whom were sexually abused, taught Shane a lot about people. Like many who spend time in that setting, he became burned out.


“I hiked the Appalachian Trail for 21 days straight and then went to Lake Tahoe where I skied and goofed off for a year. Then I came home and went to work for Doug. I had never done photography as a kid. Doug helped me, let me borrow equipment and taught me how to do everything,” he said.


Shane spent four years working Doug’s table at horse shows. More recently, he has helped Howie Schatzberg and some other equine photographers. He also became proficient in digital photography and digital darkroom work. Today he works a number of major shows alone and as part of another professional team. He and veteran photographer Jack Greene share duties at the 10-day Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.


He met his wife, Suzy (Zarin), through the Deerfield (N.H.) Horse Show. Suzy had a successful riding program at her Sherwood Stables.


“I grew up with hunters and jumpers,” she said. “A friend of mine owned an untrained Arabian and asked me to help her. A bunch of people at the boarding barn asked me to work their horses or teach lessons.”


Suzy’s horse was a Saddlebred/Morgan cross. After the horse was injured, Suzy showed it Saddle Seat in open shows. Her next purchase was a registered Saddlebred.


She and Shane worked through several photography orders by telephone; the conversations didn’t end there. Things progressed and when Claude was looking for someone to teach riding, Suzy joined the Shiflet team. After she and Shane married in February 2000, she got back into training. In 2004, they built their own barn a little more than two miles from Claude’s place.


Shane’s life revolves around his work and his family. He’s captivated by their two daughters, Payton Nicole, born in December 2003, and Coley Lane, born in April of this year. As Suzy put it, “Life is a little crazier than I planned.”


“Payton is hilarious, the best. She is the funniest little girl. She makes me laugh every day. Mom and Dad and Suzy’s mom have been a huge help. We need all the help we can get,” Shane said, calling his wife “amazing” in the way she juggles running a barn, taking care of children and their home.


“I owe a lot to Claude,” Suzy said. “I learned a lot from him: how to juggle family, personal life, business and I learned a lot about training. He put me on a lot of really nice horses and let me show them. I give him a lot of thank yous.”


Four generations: Dyche, Claude and Alice, their four sons and 11 grandchildren. Seventeen Shiflets already have made a lasting mark on the show horse world. Claude’s work has been recognized by his fellow UPHA members, who elected him to the Hall of Fame. The American Saddlebred Association of the Carolinas and Roanoke Valley Horse Show inducted Claude in their halls of fame as well.


As effective as the Shiflets have been professionally, it’s been their character that has earned them the most respect.


A bunch of that comes from Mom,” Doug said. “We are a lot alike in that respect. We were blessed with mighty fine parents who taught us a lot of values. We are big family people. I’ve always told people, ‘If you haven’t got the Lord, your family and your health in your life, you don’t have much of anything.’”


That one simple statement sums up the Shiflet family.


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