January 2017 - CPHA Spotlight
Written by produced by Kim F. Miller & Alicia Anthony
Friday, 30 December 2016 01:42
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Meet the 2016 California Professional Horsemen’s Association honorees.

produced by Kim F. Miller & Alicia Anthony

For the third consecutive year, California Riding Magazine is privileged to produce these tributes to the recipients of the CPHA’s special year-end awards. Thanks to the trainers, friends and family members who give us a glimpse into the personalities and characters of these accomplished horse people and horses. The recipients will be honored at the CPHA banquet, Friday Jan. 6 in Las Vegas, during the Pacific Horse Shows Association meeting.

For more information, visit www.cpha.org.

Champ Hough - Hall of Fame
by Cindy Brooks

Being an Olympic bronze medalist might be the highlight of one’s equestrian career. But for the 18 year old Champ Hough, his Helsinki, Finland Olympic debut on the eventing team was just the beginning in 1952. His Olympic mount was a 5-year-old he had started from scratch two years earlier!

His military coaches for the Olympic Games and his Marine Corps service influenced Champ’s work ethic, character and integrity.

His understanding of a horse’s structure and disposition and how that related to each individual’s performance was another component to his lifelong successes. He has forgotten more than I will ever know about a horse.

He built an empire in the show jumping world, starting with his conformation hunter Sutton Place. His horses were always impeccably turned out and cared for, as well as his stables. Everything was always “spiff & polish.”

Pursuing other endeavors, Champ also spent time breeding horses, “pinhooking” Thoroughbred yearlings purchased at Keenland, Saratoga, etc., and starting them and reselling them in Hollywood Park’s “Two-Year-Old in training sales.” He also worked for Fasig–Tipton, appraising Thoroughbred yearlings as prospective race horses based on their conformation and breeding. Champ was offered a job in Saudi Arabia to teach Sheik Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani and his brothers to ride. He started from scratch with those kids who now compete in the Global Champions Tour and in other international events.

Champ’s knowledge and understanding of horses transcended through hunters, jumpers, racehorses and even Saddlebreds.

Horsemen like Champ are rare. I’m honored and privileged to call him my dad!

Author Cindy Brooks operates the hunter/jumper training program Northern Run, in Northern California.

Sydney Hutchins - Junior Achievement
by Jim Hagman

From Mommy and Me, Pony Finals, the National and Indoors finals to the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s hard to believe that it has been 15 years!

Sydney Hutchins, affectionately known as “Squid,” began her equestrian career at the Elvenstar Riding Academy in the Mommy and Me program at the young age of 3.   Today she has grown into a beautiful, accomplished and polished rider. I am so very proud to have shared this amazing journey.

Sydney started riding and showing in our local competitions in the Walk/Trot division.  It was obvious, even then, that she was not only adorable but had a drive to compete and succeed.  By the end of that first year she was the overall champion and she has never looked back.

Syd has an amazing ability to focus and this unrelenting focus, as well as incredible determination, is one of the things that set her apart from other riders.  Her natural ability, confidence and elegance also stand her in good stead.  What impresses me as her coach is her sweetness of spirit, her kindness to the other competitors and her teachability.

Sydney has never forgotten her roots in the local grass roots level.  When not competing herself, she can be found at the barn helping out and encouraging the up-and-coming riders.  More often than not, she is getting up early to school ponies and horses for those very same riders at a local competition, hanging out at the back gate to review their courses and give a word of encouragement.  Her sweet spirit and smile is a staple at the barn.

Family is an important component for any athlete and Sydney is blessed with her mother and father’s love and support of her passion for riding.  There has never been a competition where one, if not both, have not been at the sidelines cheering her on.  This sense of family has given Sydney her quiet sense of confidence both in and out of the arena.  As Sydney moves on to college, her adult life is just beginning and we as her Elvenstar family will be standing at the arena continuing to cheer her on.

Author Jim Hagman is founder of Elvenstar Riding Academy in Moorpark.

Ransome Rombauer - Junior Achievement
by Daniel Ighani

Ransome Rombauer stepped into our stables more than four years ago when she was just breaking into the jumpers and looking to further her equitation career. She has always had lofty goals and, with the right amount of discipline, passion, hard work and tenacity, she has managed to achieve those goals and then some.

Some of her biggest accomplishments have included winning the USET Talent Search Finals, PCHA Medal Finals and the CPHA Junior Medal Finals. Most recently she has stepped up into the Grand Prixs with great placings.

The beauty of Ransome is not just in her riding, but in her horsemanship, her competitive attitude and her tremendous love for her horses. Whether she is rescuing a horse from slaughter, adopting a Mini or just putting her competition horses’ heath and well-being first, she truly has a passion for horses and wants nothing but the best for them. When you combine that with a well thought out program and the hard work behind it, those goals become a reality and a successful one.

Ransome has such a happy spirit about her and always lends a hand to a friend or teammate. I believe she is a good model to other young riders and a motivation to all. She juggles many activities and programs, including riding on an IEA team, balancing a strong academic workload, rescuing and caring for horses and Mini ponies, and recently has become an ambassador for The Brooke.

We are thrilled and excited that that hard work has paid off and she will be headed to Southern Methodist University in Texas next fall for her freshman year of college and will be a part of their riding team. I know she will continue to be the great horseman she is in her new environment.

On our end it’s a real pleasure to have her as a student and we look forward to seeing where she takes her riding career because her future is beyond bright.

Author Daniel Ighani and his wife Susan operate Ighani Sporthorses in Napa.

Eve Jobs - Junior Achievement

Karen Healey - Lifetime Achievement
by Melissa Jones

In many ways you could say I spent my formative years working for Karen. I was still in my 20s when I began what was to be an incredible journey.

A year or so before I went to work for her, Mickey Hayden, my current boss, and I were at another barn looking at horses. We had gone to lunch with one of the trainers from this barn, who will remain nameless. He asked Mickey, “What are we going to do about this Karen problem? She is ruining everything here on the West Coast. She’s out there at 6 a.m. teaching lessons, then still out there schooling horses at the end of the day. What now?

We’ll all have to do this??”

My thought at the time, and Mickey’s, was, “What’s wrong with that?” Now in my (oh God) 50s, I still say, “Works for me.”

That drive, work ethic and willingness to go the extra mile are part of what makes Karen great at what she does. We joke all the time, on her tombstone -- hopefully not for a long time -- it will say “Why couldn’t Rome be built in a day? Would have been if I was there!”

I remember her telling one of the kids, getting ready for USET Finals, who couldn’t get past the first gymnastic line Karen had set. “I can stay here all night, I have no life.” Obviously this was pre-Fred. But she’d still be out there now, however long it takes.

I think her greatest legacy, even more so than the wins, is the horsemen she has helped to create. From Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum to Jill Prieto, Nina Alario, Lindsay Archer and Kasey Ament, to name just a few. These are not just riders, but horsemen, and there are dozens more. Those of us who have worked for her will tell you how lucky we’ve been to learn that system. I know Archie Cox and Tasha Visokay would agree with me, that we would not be half the teachers we are without her, nor, in my case, half the person.

No one cares more about this business than Karen, No one is more honest, more hands-on, and yes, more stubborn than Karen. She is my hero. I hope when I grow up, I can become even half the teacher and horseman she is.

Melissa Jones was Karen’s assistant throughout most of her 34 years in California with Karen Healey Stables.

Neil Gray, DVM - Special Achievement
by Kevan Husky

My daughter Nikki and I have known Dr. Neil Gray for 20 years now.

When I think of Neil, the very first thing that comes to my mind is that he is the very hardest working person I know. The second thing that jumps out is his unbelievable compassion for the animals he cares for. Neil has always taken the time to explain every thing he is thinking about doing for a particular horse and in the most difficult of times remains kind and gentle.

Through the years we have had to say goodbye to several of our treasured horses and Neil has always been there to make that difficult time just a bit easier. His bedside manner with late night colics and emergency stitches for an open wound are so incredibly reassuring, as is his wonderful communication with clients who need extra explanations.

When we first met Neil, we watched him in the jumper ring. I think that part of his history gives him an advantage in the understanding of the needs of the high performance horses.

His present work with the Equitarian Intitiative, a non-profit endeavor begun in 2009 to serve working animals in poor countries, is an excellent example of what a wonderful spirit Neil exhibits in his care of animals. His generosity towards animals and humans alike is unparalleled. He is extremely giving of his time and never makes anyone feel rushed or short-changed. The treks he makes for this charity to Costa Rica and other far-flung locations are not for the weak of spirit as much of the work is done in very remote areas accessible only on foot. (See story, California Riding Magazine, October 2016.)

Neil’s adventurous spirit is also contagious as he loves to scuba dive and has shared unbelievable pictures of his many dives in far-off exotic locales. We always hold our breath when he goes on these jaunts hoping that we will not have any need for his expertise while he is away and that we will all survive until we see his friendly smile again.

We cannot think of anyone more deserving of a special achievement award than Neil Gray. When Neil arrives on site with his two canine rescue pals, Bixby and Betty, our own pup cannot hold back his joy. We feel the same way about Neil as we see his vet truck pull up, we relax and let out a huge sigh of relief knowing our animals will be in the very best of care with a heavy dose of compassion and kindness thrown in for good measure.
Author Kevan Husky works with her daughter Nikki Husky’s Husky Stables in Los Angeles.

Mike Edrick - Horseman Of The Year
by Lulu Platt

I have the distinct pleasure of being Mike Edrick’s sister-in-law. I am very excited to share my knowledge of Mike, both personal and professional.

Professionally, he has successfully trained hunters and jumpers for 47 years on the West Coast. During his career he has produced numerous year-end champions (hunter, jumper and equitation divisions) in both the PCHA and USEF venues. He has been an integral part of training some of today’s professionals, e.g. Dick Carvin, Lise Quintero, Cassandra and Nick Karazissis, as well as Jamie Sailor. Megan (Edrick) Wexler is a perfect example of Mike’s work and she continues the family tradition in Florida as one of the top professionals.

He has served on the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association (currently holding the office of President) and the Los Angeles Horse Show Association boards concurrently, as well as serving on the CPHA Board and USEF Zone 10 Committee.

He has bought and sold horses both nationally and internationally for 45 years and continues to do so as a part of his daily business. He has successfully trained top horses and riders and continues to do so.

I met Mike when I was 16 years old and began riding with him, both as a junior and an amateur. When he married my sister, then Lolly Miller, I didn’t gain a brother-in-law, I truly gained another brother.

Today, Mike continues to run a successful training facility and is joined by Jamie Sailor, who started training with Mike when she was 9 years old. She has grown to be one of the top riders in the horse show industry and continues to dominate in both the hunter and jumper rings.

I know I have been personally impacted by Mike’s passion and have managed his business for a few years now. I began working with him truly because his passion is contagious.

Mike genuinely cares for this industry and the people that make it so great. Some years back, I remember Malcolm Rossoll was in a time and place where he could no longer handle his affairs. Mike and others raised funds to be held in a bank account and Mike handled necessary payments to assure Malcolm was well cared for, as Malcolm deserved. Malcolm was, and still is, a name that is synonymous with the great announcers in the history of this sport.

I remember Eddie Connor needing assistance when he was so ill and I saw Mike act immediately without hesitation. This is the brother (in-law) I am so proud to have this opportunity to share my stories and knowledge of his accomplishments with you.

I’ve seen the challenges Mike has faced in order to remain in this industry. After over 20 years at Bell Canyon Equestrian Center, years at Malibu Riding and Tennis Club, and with equestrian facilities becoming more extinct, he took on the monumental task of turning 30 acres of dry brush and tumble weeds into the beautiful home now known as Mike Edrick Stables.

One of Mike’s favorite sayings is that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” and he lives by that.

Thank you for this recognition and validation of the man I call my brother. I couldn’t be more proud of Mike.

Author Lulu Platt is Mike Edrick’s sister-in-law.

Nina Vogel - Sportsmanship Award
by Nick Karazissis for the Far West Team

We have had the honor and pleasure of working with many students. Nina Vogel exemplifies the qualities a teacher hopes for in a student - a desire to learn, respect for her instructors and peers, a strong work ethic and the ability to build upon newfound knowledge. Through daily interactions, watching her experience adolescence, and helping her prepare for major regional and national competitions, we have come to know Nina well. She is passionate, driven, curious, thoughtful and generous. It has truly been our pleasure to work with her for the past seven years.

We think horseback riding is a mirror for life. How you handle yourself, how you treat others, and how you deal with diverse situations is all reflected back to you through your horse. Nina never fails to stay connected to her horses and understands her role in the team relationship. She consistently treats her horses with kindness, patience and the appropriate amount of strength and leadership to make the horses think that their actions are their idea. Because of her dedication and consistency, her horses trust her and perform better and better over time.

To ride at Nina’s level takes many hours of difficult training and, of course, one never fully masters it. Each day and each horse bring new challenges. At Far West Farms, we believe in progress, not perfection. Nina has embraced this philosophy, and her passion for the process of learning is a gift that will pay dividends throughout her life. Nina’s riding abilities have been tested on an assortment of horses and she’s risen to the occasion on all, unwavering in her commitment, even during moments of frustration. She’s demonstrated an innate understanding of adaptability and perseverance.

Nina has won a number of major competitions and placed top 10 or higher in numerous others, but horseback riding is a humbling sport. As much success as Nina has had, like everyone she has experienced disappointment and failure. It would be impossible to ride and not have this be true, which is another reason horseback riding is such a wonderful life teacher. We admire Nina’s attitude toward failure and setbacks. When she makes a mistake or has bad luck, her instinct is not to complain or to look for blame, but to get tougher and problem solve. What did I do wrong and how can I fix it the next time? Nina is optimistic and forward-looking, yet able to use the past constructively.

Nina’s consistency and versatility in the show ring through the years garnered the respect of professionals in the industry, earning her ample opportunities to catch ride. Her talents and abilities help her bring out the best in every mount, but it’s her caring treatment of each horse, and esteem for every trainer that make her a joy to work with.

Nina’s ability to balance her intense competitive drive with a genuinely collaborative and generous spirit is a wonderful quality. She has been an integral member of a special generation of riders at our barn. As she has grown, it has been a pleasure to watch her become a role model to our younger riders. Her dedication and commitment to working hard, her willingness to arrive early, stay late and push through the hard times is something our younger riders notice and look up to.

Her strong will and competitive nature propel her forward. Nina may “have ice in her veins” in the show ring, but outside the ring she’s genuinely good-natured and fun to be around. She strives to succeed, and has worked hard for all her achievements, but never at the expense of others. Even if she’s had a bad round, she’s still ringside rooting for her friends, hoping they do well. In group lessons, she’s supportive when other students are struggling, offering understanding and kind words of encouragement. She loves to ride, and her passion and motivation are contagious.

This fall, instead of traveling east to ride out her junior equitation days at Indoors, Nina opted to venture into radically new territory. Taking a gap year before starting her studies at Dartmouth College next year, Nina chose to spend three months immersed in the culture of Central America, broadening her horizons as a student and member of society. In a conversation we had upon her return, she spoke of how the distance from riding showed her all the ways the horse world has shaped her. She expressed gratitude for the lessons each horse, trainer, peer and event have taught her.

It may sound odd to say this as trainers of someone with such talent, but we truly respect Nina’s brave decision to travel instead of staying the course to compete Indoors. Our job as teachers is not just to make better riders, but to help mold our students into better people. Horses can teach us all so much if we’re willing to learn. Nina has an unwavering passion for horses, but also a sincere desire to be a citizen of the world, and this in an inspiration to us, and, we hope, to others.

We all are proud that the CPHA board has chosen Nina for their annual Sportsmanship Award.

Author Nick Karazissis, Sr., is a founding partner of Far West Farms in Calabasas.

Jenny Karazissis - Special Achievement
by Lisa Hankin

Widely known as California’s “Derby Queen,” hunter rider and trainer Jenny Karazissis enjoyed a particularly memorable year in 2016. A prior recipient of CPHA’s Horseperson of the Year award (2005) and a special achievement award (2006, as a member of Far West Farms’ team of trainers), Jenny set her sights in a different direction in 2016, piling up an impressive array of accolades in the process.

After coming off a stellar 2015, where she won the coveted World Champion Hunter Rider professional title for the Southwest Region and finished third in the demanding Pro Finals at the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland, Jenny directed her focus toward USHJA’s championship week at the Kentucky Horse Park in August.

Jenny is no stranger to national championship competition (as a junior she finished 5th in the ASPCA Maclay finals at Madison Square Garden in her first and only attempt), but she hadn’t competed at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals since its inaugural year in 2009. And although she had sat on the USHJA committee that conceived of the national Pre-Green Incentive program, she hadn’t yet had an opportunity to ride in the finals. So -- with the backing of the owners and trainers of the horses she rides -- she penciled in a trip to the Kentucky Horse Park for the third week in August.

During the first half of California’s show season, Jenny racked up a list of notable wins. In addition to two top finishes on Briana Sukert’s Felix in the USHJA National Hunter Derbies at Blenheim March and May, Jenny saddled up Nina Vogel’s Jamestown and showcased her elegant style to win the $5,000 Del Mar Equitation Championship, besting an extremely competitive group of professionals and top juniors in the process. Also in May, Jenny and Emily Sukert’s Legacy topped the $10,000 Showpark Ranch and Coast Classic International Hunter Derby, while June brought a win on Briana Sukert’s Nonchalant on the beautiful grass field at the Franktown Meadows $30,000 International Hunter Derby. She followed that up with another win on Legacy at the $15,000 Showpark Racing Festival International Derby in July.

As August rolled around, Ivy Gate Farm trainer Mary Morrison and owners Emily and Briana Sukert generously agreed to send Legacy and Nonchalant to compete at Derby Finals in Kentucky.  These two stars were joined by my Puissance R, a mare that Jenny had been bringing along in the Pre-Green Hunters under the guidance of Kost Karazissis and the team at Far West Farms.

Anyone who has seen Jenny on a horse knows that she is one of the smoothest and most elegant riders out there. But there is serious money and prestige on the line during finals week, and the top riders from across the country bring their “A” games and their “A” horses to Kentucky in August. This makes for intense competition, both in terms of sheer numbers and the quality of performances. Starting off the week, Jenny and Puissance R topped a field of 136 lovely Pre-Green horses to win Round One of the Pre-Green Incentive Championship – a marathon, which started at 8:30 in the morning and didn’t end until after 5 in the afternoon. By the end of three days of competition, Jenny had ridden the relatively inexperienced “Pui” to the overall reserve championship, winning nearly $30,000 and missing the top spot by just one-half a point.

Later in the week, 67 of the country’s top hunters entered the first round of the International Hunter Derby championship to vie for a piece of over $280,000 in prize money. Jenny put in strong trips on both Nonchalant and Legacy, placing them in good positions to come back in the Handy round the next day. With an enormous final high option fence -- a log wall set at 5’1 ½” -- combined with tight turns and rollbacks, the Handy course was generally acknowledged to be among the toughest ever set for a hunter competition. The course caused problems for some top contenders (and kept spectators holding their breath), but Jenny put in bold and elegant rounds on both her entries to finish the round in third (Legacy) and fourth (Nonchalant). Her strong showing vaulted both horses to the top of the standings, and she concluded the championship by winning overall fourth place with Legacy and fifth with Nonchalant.

Once back to the West Coast, Jenny topped off her season by pulling off a derby “sweep” – taking the top three places at the USHJA National Derby at Blenheim Fall Tournament in September (aboard Hope Town Farms’ Undeniable, Gail Haft’s Tip Top, and Puissance R), and winning two more national derbies at Del Mar in September and October (with Undeniable and Nonchalant).

Jenny’s year-end tallies for 2016 included topping the national rider standings for money won in USHJA National Hunter Derbies, finishing fourth in the standings for money won in International Hunter Derbies, and third in the national rider standings for USHJA’s Pre-Green Incentive Program.

Anyone who knows Jenny understands that she richly deserves CPHA’s Special Achievement award, and that they should stay tuned for her accomplishments in 2017!

Author Lisa Hankin is an owner with Far West Farms.

John French - Special Achievement