For brothers Chris and Shan Wilson, horses have been a lifelong passion — one that has developed into a business and put them in the top tier of Arabian horse trainers.
Their journey, however, began at the bottom as kids in Springfield, Missouri. Their parents were not involved in the horse industry but supported them and have helped them in every way, every step of the way, from building fences to preparing customer dinners.
“When we were kids, we would go to little fun shows and play days where you took your one horse and barrel raced, pole bended and a million little events in one day,” Shan explained.
The change began when their mother stumbled upon an Arabian horse.
“She’d always wanted a white Arabian horse,” he said. “That horse was not the most beautiful horse in the world and he was kind of stubborn but we messed around with him for a couple of years and put him in training at this facility.”
The facility was then known as Pine Crest. Today, the brothers have renamed it ChriShan Park, a nationally recognized Arabian horse training and breeding facility located north of Springfield.
“This gelding turned out to be the best,” Shan said. “Chris and I started looking like we knew what we were doing pretty quick.”
Around the ages of 14- 15, people began to inquire about hiring the brothers to work their horses.
“We started taking horses in training as kids and showed a couple horses that people gave us,” Chris said. “And next thing you know, we’re getting a little more involved and we eventually had customers buy some nicer horses and started competing on the regional and national level.”
They continued doing that through high school and college and also used the resources available to them to make some extra cash.
“We had a manure pile out back behind the barn and would sell truckloads of manure for 20 bucks,” Shan said.
“We had pretty humble beginnings,” he admitted.
Eventually, their business outgrew their parents’ barn and they set their sights on Pine Crest. They made an offer to purchase the facility but it was rejected. The facility later sold at auction — for $10,000 less than their offer — and Chris worked out an agreement with the new owner to lease the barns and land. After leasing for eight years, Shan purchased the facility in 1998.
“I painfully and slowly made improvements as I could afford it.,” Shan said, “When Chris joined me in 2009, we added a new arena, office, lounge and more stalls.” They currently have 85 stalls, a large indoor arena, an indoor hot walker, breeding facilities, indoor and outdoor round pens, and two outdoor arenas.
“Our main business always has been training and showing horses,” he said, adding they show in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as in Canada and in regional shows. As time has progressed, they’ve also gotten more involved in breeding horses and standing stallions.
“We stand several stallions and we also breed some of our own mares,” Chris said, adding they also own several horses in partnerships with customers to help with cash flow.
“Breeding horses is an expensive endeavor,” he added.
ChriShan Park is not a traditional boarding stable and doesn’t have a run-of-the-mill riding program. They do board customers’ horses that are in training and give lessons to people who have horses in training and give a limited lessons to beginners who are interested in showing horses.
“We’re not a boarding stable for the general public,” Shan said. “That’s a different business. What we do is our staff takes care of the horses, people come out and take lessons on their horse, and we train them.
“We focus on English pleasure,” he continued. “That’s our forte.
“We also do hunter pleasure and have been gaining customers in that area. We hired an assistant who’s very good in the hunter arena. She’s also well versed in Western and I see some customers owning Western horses in our future.”
Shan said they may consider a full-blown riding program to get more people interested in showing horses.
He expressed his concern not as many children are showing horses because there are so many forms of entertainment vying for their attention.
“We’ve seen the numbers dwindle,” he said. “Back when we were young, you’d show at the big horse shows and the stands would be full.” Now, shows can be streamed on TV or Youtube so attendance has declined.
One of the setbacks to showing Arabians, or horses in general, he sees is the cost.
“No question about it,” he said. “Showing horses is expensive.”
Competing on a national level can get very expensive due to the increased cost of management and horse care, he said, and obviously the price of a big time show horse. Careful management is required to maintain ligaments and joints and to prevent soundness issues. He compared their horses to athletes who are constantly training for an indefinite time period.
“We start them when they’re about 2-and-a-half years old,” Shan said, “and most don’t show until they’re about 3-and-a-half years old. It takes that long to develop the form and body carriage.”
He explained what they do is different than someone who breaks horses to ride.
“It’s not necessarily a destination like it’ll be two months and they’re trained,” he said. “It’s a journey. They’re always practicing.
“If you’re going to try to go and be competitive, you’re training all the time.”
When selecting a horse, Chris looks for several traits including a lengthy, elegant, thin and flexible neck.
“One of the things we’ve always been interested in is hock action,” he said, explaining this is important because it affects how well the horse picks up its back feet off the ground and drives from behind. He also looks for laid-back shoulders — similar to what one would look for in a race horse — and tail carriage.
“Certainly, they don’t have to be beautiful to win in the performance arena but the very expensive ones usually have the beauty, athletic ability and good disposition,” he said.
And their selection and training program seems to be working.
“We’ve had well over a hundred amateurs and horses become national champions,” Shan said.
A few years ago, Chris was named English Trainer of the Year. They’ve each shown purebred English Pleasure stallions and won the Open English Pleasure Championship.
“Between the two of us, we’ve won almost every English category there is,” Shan said. “We’ve had amateurs win almost every category of national championships including the Equitation division where the rides are judged on their form and ability.
“I think it’s really special when you have a horse that you bred win a national championship with you showing it or an amateur who you’re coaching showing it,” he continued.
Despite the accomplishments and national recognition, the Wilsons never forget their humble beginnings.
“We learned everything the hard way,” Shan said.