January 2019 - Tribute Time
Written by produced by Kim F. Miller & Alicia Anthony
Friday, 28 December 2018 03:46
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cpha spotlight

Close friends go beyond the winners circle to shed light on the recipients of the CPHA’s Special Awards.

produced by Kim F. Miller & Alicia Anthony

For the fifth consecutive year, California Riding Magazine is privileged to produce these tributes to the recipients of the California Professional Horsemen’s Association’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. 4 in San Diego, during the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association meeting weekend.




Ruby Begonia

by Katie Taylor

It was 1998 when Rich Fellers showed up to the Indio Desert Circuit with a beautiful 7 year old American Warmblood named Ruby Begonia. She was winning the High Preliminary and Open Jumper divisions with him, but like an equitation horse, with grace and elegance. At the time, my sister Jamie was 13 years old and looking for her future 3’6” equitation star. After trying many experienced equitation horses, and watching Ruby on several occasions, Jamie finally got the chance to try her later that week.

The trial happened in the evening, under the lights, in the Grand Prix warm-up arena; a little intimidating for a 13 year old girl. However, as my mom recalled, that didn’t stop her trainer, Nick Karazissis, from putting the jumps up. As soon as the two cleared their first 4’ jump together, Jamie had made her decision. A few days later, Ruby Begonia was officially a Taylor.

Ruby was definitely a different ride for Jamie, especially in comparison to her off-the-track Thoroughbred, Buttons, that she was coming off of. The change of horses definitely went through its ups and downs and at times would result in Jamie reminding everyone that “Buttons would never do such a thing.”

What Jamie soon realized was that Ruby would highlight her mistakes only to teach her and make her that much better of a rider. Throughout Jamie’s junior career, Ruby came out every single day to compete. Not only did she win multiple classes in the equitation ring, but also in the jumpers and the junior hunters.

Their biggest accomplishments together included winning WIHS Equitation and CPHA Foundation Finals. They also grabbed third at USET West Finals, fifth at ASPCA Nationals and sixth in AHSA Nationals at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. Unfortunately, going into Jamie’s last junior year, Ruby sustained a suspensory injury and was sidelined for the full year. But, before my sister went on to become a professional, she and Ruby got the opportunity to jump over Kost Karazissis, who laid himself down as part of a cross-rail jump. It’s a unique memory that will never be forgotten.

Because Jamie was no longer a junior in 2003, Ruby officially became my other equitation horse. Showing as a 15-year-old, I couldn’t ask for a better teammate to compete with. However, my partnership with Ruby took lots of time and patience. I had previously been mounted on rides that were easier to navigate for a soft rider like myself, and Ruby took way more strength and energy than I could muster.

Our first horse show together didn’t go as well as planned, as I found myself stopping at a jump in every round. “Disappointed,” “frustrated,” and “exhausted” were just a few words to describe that show week. But it was a week that, to this day, I don’t forget and I use when my current juniors are struggling themselves. Ruby was now highlighting my mistakes and teaching me what it took to succeed in this sport.

In time, Ruby and I became a winning team. I won my first USET jumping class with her along with a few others, and won tons of WIHS qualifiers to put me into the top 25. She would even come away with a win in an Indio USEF class with 60-plus contenders, but only the weeks my dad showed up to watch! Ruby taught me the importance of building a relationship and reminded me tons of times that we both equally needed to give 110% every time we walked into the ring.

Throughout her time as a Taylor, Ruby didn’t think she was a horse, but rather part of the family. Ruby would equally whinny across the barn aisle to my mom, my sister or me when we walked in. However, her favorite family member was definitely my mom, Beth, because no matter what time of the day it was, she always showed up with the goodies (carrots, apples, and her favorite, bran mash).  At the shows we would have to force my mom to hide, so Ruby wouldn’t stop in the ring to say “hi” half way through a class.

Although she loved people, she truly hated all other animals, especially dogs and ponies. Whether standing in her stall, walking, trotting, or even cantering, all the horses and our dogs became very aware that she was the queen and her space needed respect.

Besides having a huge personality, Ruby was also extremely brave. She walked into any ring as if she had been there a million times. She would drag me to every open water we had to jump and cantered up and down banks like it was another stride on course. She was similar to Superman, however, and had one weakness; trot jumps. To this day we laugh about how hard she would make trot jumps, and never figured out why she disliked them so much.

To only have one weakness is pretty incredible, and incredible is what Ruby Begonia was.

Jeff Katz

by Kathy Hobstetter

The innate nature of Jeff Katz is an intense devotion to other people and how they feel and think and how can he help. It is impossible to have any conversation with him in which his sincere interest in you does not jump to the forefront. It follows that he is the person responsible for assisting many of our professionals in a time of need, and probably most of you don’t even know he has done that.

He is like a very closed and locked open book. While that sounds contradictory, it is not. He rarely speaks about himself but will tell you anything you ask about horses and the sport. His memory is like a steel trap and he never forgets any horse he has ever watched in the show ring, any rider, any parent or anyone passing through. Just ask him!

He has an intense ability to forgive like no other. He, like the rest of us, has been kicked a few times, but he forgives quickly and quietly. “My parents taught me that above all. Forgive even when it is not deserved, it’s the best gift you give yourself and it certainly helps others.”

By far the most intense part of Jeff is his kindness and commitment to loyalty and appreciation. He never forgets a kindness or a kind word and is always the first to step up and pass those out.
Jeff is still one of those wide-eyed, excited, energetic horsemen that was prevalent in the West Coast early days. The love of his choice of career path has never dimmed. “Everyday is like Christmas to me,” says Jeff. “Every time I step foot near the horses I get the same giddy feeling I did when I was young and went for riding lessons! How does it get any better than to still get that feeling after all these years?”

He spent many years in the entertainment industry. Starring in commercials for Shake & Bake and Ford Pacer, where he got to dance on the roof of the car. He also had bit parts in some of those old sitcoms like Happy Days. Along his journeys he met Bud Wolf, who worked for American Airlines and had relocated to the Los Angeles area. They partnered up and opened Bay Ridge Farms at the Paddock Riding Club in Burbank and have stayed partners their entire professional career, always in that central San Fernando Valley area.

He is a “Yes, what can I do?” type A personality and has been since the very first day he began training horses and riders during the mid-70s. He began his professional life in 1978 at the Paddock Riding Club for 19 years before relocating to The Summit Riding Club in 1987. Following nine years at the Summit, they were invited to move around the corner to the main Middle Ranch training center in 1996, where they stayed for another 15 years.

Then the fires wiped out the entire region and burned through Middle Ranch. Thankful to George Chatney and LAEC for evacuation housing, they were homeless. Debbie Cecil, manager of Middle Ranch before it burned, had bought a part of Upper Middle Ranch and insisted Bay Ridge become a permanent part of that location.

While he has had exceptional horses and riders over the years, far too many to name, this award is about Jeff Katz and who he is, not what he has won.

His gift to our sport is a lifetime of caring. He has quietly and kindly stepped to the front of the line in traumatic times of need for many of our CPHA professionals. To name a few: Devon Gibson when a fall broke her back; Judy Martin, when a fall and surgeries got in the way; Gretchen Tank as her life changed; and most recently a farm owner who is fighting a life changing illness.

While this list could go on and on, it is best said this way…. He is a man of character, integrity, honesty, loyalty, and so many more of the traits that have carried him through a lifetime of devotion to our world of horsemen. Jeff is one of those old souls who has loved this sport and the impact it has on people and horses lives. According to Jeff, the minute we touch them and our love of horses takes hold, our lives are never the same.

He has lived by the belief that trainers have a job to do and it must be done in the best interest of the horse first, then the best interest of the rider/client and whatever was left over was for “us.”  He has willingly and tirelessly given of himself, his time, his business and his love to a sport that has given him that “giddy” feeling every day.

He is the epitome of the true meaning of a horseman and an example of a professional’s life well lived to all of us. It is not about the win, it is about the journey and Jeff Katz has been a major force in the journey of horsemen for many, many decades.

Kate Abajian

by John Bragg

Kate has been training with me for a little over two years now and every day over those two years she has continuously arrived to the barn or show with an exemplary work ethic and dedication for the sport. She is always the first one to arrive at the barn and the last one to leave and keeps herself busy helping out at the barn all day.

Kate also demonstrates exceptional horsemanship as she can often be found cleaning her tack, grooming and bathing her own horses and she will get to the show at the crack of dawn to braid her jumper, and occasionally a few others, for the Classic.

Regardless of Kate already practicing exceptional horsemanship, she still makes an effort to learn more about the care and upkeep of the horses. Kate is a rider that really desires to learn and improve. When I’m teaching her she always listens to everything I say and tries her hardest to apply what’s being taught. On top of her desire to learn every aspect of the sport, she also desires to become a professional and make a living in this industry.

She’s in it for the long run and that really shows when you take a look at her work ethic and dedication. Over the time that I have been training Kate she has proved to me that she has the natural ability and talent to really go far in this industry and is therefore worthy of this honor.

Patty Ball

by Olivia Simon, Sophia Sanders, Gracey & Tallie Hensley & Alli Christy

Many people know Patty for her immense achievements in developing amazing riders. What most don’t know is all that happens behind the scenes. Not only does Patty instruct riders to have excellent horsemanship and skill, she also instills valuable life lessons that extend outside of the ring. I have learned that sometimes you are leading the victory lap and sometimes you are in the dirt. The same can be said for life. Patty makes sure we get right back up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work again and again and keep fighting. I will carry the tools she has given me in all aspects of life through school and beyond.  I would describe Patty’s teaching as “tough love” and I can honestly say, without a doubt, I would not want it any other way. Thank you Patty for everything you do. - Olivia Simon

Patty has had such an impact on my riding. I wouldn’t be half the rider I am today without her knowledge and expertise. I would’ve never achieved the goals I have realized this past year without her guidance, patience and dedication to me. She has become so much more than just a trainer to me. She’s truly such a caring, talented, hard working woman that I’ve come to love so much and I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of the recognition. Thank you Patty for all your hard work. - Sophia Sanders

As a student of Patty’s, I have learned so much, and I know that there is much more that I have yet to learn. There are so many special things about Patty that make her so great. She always pushes us to do our best, and she is always so humble. She has always been a great role model, and she has made so many people grow to be champions. I always look forward to her lessons because I always feel so inspired afterwards. She always puts a smile on peoples’ faces. I’m so grateful to have Patty as my trainer. - Gracey Hensley

I rode with Patty over 30 years ago, and now have the pleasure of watching my daughter ride with her. Patty is every bit as passionate about the sport now as she was then.  She cares deeply for horses. When a new horse comes to the barn, she will figure out what the horse needs and is lacking and within a short time the horse transforms in front of your eyes.  As much as she cares for horses, her depth of commitment, love and dedication for her riders is never questioned. She is determined to get the most out of each rider, and never accepts anything less than that from them. - Tallie Hensley

Patty Ball not only has influenced me to be the rider I am today, she has also shaped me to be the person I am today. Riding is such a unique sport in that we have to communicate through body language. Patty has taught me that life is about the ride; and the way you hold yourself in and out of the arena is so important. Patty teaches her riders not only skill, but helps each rider to find a true passion for every aspect of these beautiful animals and this amazing sport. I could never have achieved the goals I have this season without Patty. She really is one of the most skilled, amazing people I have ever met. Thank you Patty for all that you do! - Alli Christy

Paige Dendiu

by Nick Haness

I met Paige when she was 14 years old. She was out of school early that day and I was trying a horse from her barn. She was polite, she had manners, she offered to help with a smile on her face. It was rare. I took note of her helpfulness and thought to myself, “She was a breath of fresh air.”

Fast forward to a few years down the road when I would see her passing by at the horse shows. Maybe I seemed like I was in need of help or she was just brave in asking, but she offered to come help ride horses for me in the mornings on professional days. I reminded her that it would be super early in morning. She said “no problem, I’ll wake up early and come ride for you before school, then I’ll go back and change and go to class.“ I thought “Wow, a hard working teenage kid willing to wake up early to come help ride horses at any chance she could get.“ I was so impressed.

And she did it willingly. She didn’t ask for anything in return, just to lend a helping hand. That’s the kind of person Paige is. No agenda, no need for something back, just a hard-working, kind-spirited, polite and humble person.

I later had the opportunity to teach Paige in the show ring. She had always watched the other more privileged kids have the chance to ride fancy horses and win medals in the equitation. She longed for it and in my opinion she deserved it. I felt it was my obligation to help Paige reach her goals, to see out her dreams. It was so incredibly rewarding for me to be able to assist in that task.

Myself and my clients were able to provide her with a nice horse to show at the end of her junior career to many memorable moments and victories. And even though politics were not in our favor, as a team we accomplished something more fulfilling than blue ribbons and trophies. And when we didn’t win first prize, it felt like winning the Olympics to us because the road to that point had been so hard worked-for, so desired and, in my eyes, we won it all.

Congratulations to Paige for all that she has accomplished and all that will come her way. She should be proud!

Nick Karazissis, Sr.

by Lisa Winn

Twenty-nine years ago, I became a member of an amazing team headed by this remarkable man, Nick Karazissis.  Far West Farms was built with the belief that the love of a horse is the greatest gift possible. Nick lives and breathes this philosophy every day.

He is passionate about the sport and its future, having served on numerous associations and having been a past president of CPHA.  He is a sought-after clinician and judge and has received many year-end trainer awards. Nick was honored by receiving the USHJA Jane Marshall Dylan Award and the CPHA Special Achievement Award.

I believe the riders he helped create are the greatest award for Nick. Seeing Jamie Taylor, Ashlee Bond, Katie Taylor, Blake Lindsey and so many others do so very well is his greatest award.

With the USHJA and the Equitation Task Force, Nick created the “Get Connected” DVD, a guideline to judging and executing the USEF equitation tests.

Nick has the strongest work ethic of any man that I know.  He always believes you can make a horse better and a rider stronger.  I admire his passion, his vision and his love for these beautiful animals.

I respect Nick immensely and I am proud to be a part of the Far West Farms family. His integrity is without question. He is so deserving of this award and I am so proud to be a part of this moment.

Lanie Walkenbach

by Jim Hagman

Last February I received a text message from Lanie’s mother Pam inquiring about joining our stable. I was in Wellington for the winter, far from the California show scene.

After a few conversations with Pam, I started a dialogue with Lanie. Since the show season was well on its way and I was far from home, I wanted to make sure that we established a rapport before we even discussed the nitty gritty of working together. I asked Lanie to send me videos so that I could get an idea of her and her horses. I presumed a couple of videos would appear a day or two later. Only minutes after we first talked, Lanie sent me numerous videos of her competing.

I knew then that Lanie was passionate about her sport. We started a dialogue about her horses, her riding and her goals that was interesting and inspiring. I was immediately impressed by Lanie’s articulation of the characteristics of each of her horses. She knew each of their personalities. Most importantly, she understood each of their home and horse show programs. It was obvious to me that Lanie cared about each of her horses. They weren’t machines to Lanie: they were her partners. This, I thought, is a horsewoman.

Lanie and her mother and little sister Paige came to Wellington for the weekend. The moment we met I knew that they are the type of family that would beautifully fit into our Elvenstar community. Thus began our whirlwind tour together for Lanie’s final junior season.

Lanie had very big goals and the season was already well on its way. Qualifying her hunter for Devon and qualifying for all of the major equitation national finals topped her list, along with qualifying for all of the Indoors with her hunter for her final hurrah as a junior.

Her Junior Hunter, Early August, aka “Auggie,” is a very sensitive horse.  He has a brilliant jump, but he is not just anyone’s ride. Lanie and Auggie were a new partnership and Auggie didn’t have any points towards Devon. With her trainer Gretchen Loff, Lanie qualified Auggie for Devon in only a few shows and her goal of competing there was accomplished with excellent placements.

Devon was my first experience with Lanie at a high-profile competition. Just being at Devon meant the world to Lanie. And every hard-earned ribbon was held with pride. This, I thought, is how it should be. Lanie was appreciative of the opportunity and relished every second of her one and only junior experience at Devon. The summer and fall led to many special moments for Lanie and her horses.

And even with all of her own goals and priorities this past fall, Lanie has been such an excellent role model for her 11 year old sister Paige, a budding rider in her own right. Lanie is always positive, encouraging and helpful with Paige and interested and excited for Paige’s future in our sport.

Lanie is the ideal example of how to graduate out of the junior ranks with grace and gratitude. She is a champion that Paige can look to emulate.  

Kaitlyn Lovingfoss

by Liz Reilly

Kaitlyn Lovingfoss is a wonderful human, whom I’ve had the pleasure to know for the past six years.  My first experience with Kaitlyn was at the USEF Pony Finals in 2013. Her first trainer, Carolyn Culligan, asked me to join us at Pony Finals with her wonderful Large Pony, Saltwater Taffy.  I had never met her or her family and they were delightful. We were there for the week before the Finals and she walked in and won the first class in the Large Ponies. That is not an easy thing with 50 of the top ponies in the country, but that is Kaitlyn: always quietly going about her business and then knocking it out of the park. The following week at Pony Finals, her pony ran away in the under saddle class. Most children would have been devastated. Not Kaitlyn, she just came back and was in the top 10 of the jumping phase. She was just so thrilled to have the experience of going to Pony Finals.

A few years later, Kaitlyn catch rode one of my daughter Augusta Iwasaki’s Junior Hunters at Indoors and again, with no experience on that stage, did a beautiful job. She always does a beautiful job while always staying true to herself.  It’s never just about the riding, but rather the wonderful relationship she has with the horses.  She is still the same kid that fell in love with them as a young child. She still goes to the barn she grew up in and helps Carolyn with all the barn chores. She is truly a “horsey girl.”

Recently at Indoors, her round did not go exactly the way she would have wanted. Most kids would have had a poor attitude at minimum and have been filled with disappointment. Not Kaitlyn; she looked at her now trainer, Jim Hagman, and said: “I just have to get better.” That always wanting to be better attitude is why she excels and puts her always at the top of her group. She has had an exceptional year, both in the equitation and hunters. She won the Hunterdon Cup as well as top ribbons at the medal finals back East. She was Grand Junior Hunter Champion at Ranch & Coast Horse Show as well having earned tricolors on the Indoors circuit.

Kaitlyn is a great role model and she’s great for our sport.

Devon Gibson

by Danielle Lean

Devon is the strongest, most caring person I know. I have spent 10 years in her training program and I can truthfully say I would have never gotten where I am without her by my side.

Devon is my rock and without her I would have quit many years ago. She has such a unique way of training and always makes you feel brave even in your most vulnerable state. Above all, I am lucky to call Devon a friend.

Anyone who doesn’t know Devon personally will recognize her voice from the back gate as she tells her riders to use more leg or go faster. They might also see her as the trainer always on her motorcycle as she races from ring to ring to make sure her students are prepped and ready to show. She is there from sun up till sun down, constantly radiating positive energy.

I only had the privilege of watching her ride and show for about four years, but in that short time I was always so entertained watching her flat the horses and the control she had over them was incredible. When she had her accident, I went to the hospital every day during her recovery. I was always able to put a smile on her face or make her laugh.

It wasn’t until she came back to teaching that I started taking my riding to the next level.  She found me the horse I needed to spark my love for the jumper ring. I can still think back to when I told her that I was never going to jump over a 1M course. Soon after matching with the right horse, I said maybe 1.10M. Devon would always nod her head and laugh at me: She knew where I was going to go. She pushed me hard and it was not an easy road but I knew I was going to accomplish all my goals with her teaching me.

She knows how to comfort me when I’m having a tough time accomplishing one of the tasks she has placed in front of me. When I’m a nervous wreck heading into the ring, she can make me smile just by saying, “Go have fun, you are only riding for yourself.”

Many times she’s asked me, “Who are you riding for?” I knew the correct answer for her was myself, but in my mind, every time I step into the ring, I am riding for her.

I get emotional when I think back on all the things Devon and I have accomplished together as a team. When I came to her I was doing the pony jumpers. She then led me to earning Horse of the Year for the Low Childrens Jumpers. We moved up levels fairly fast but once she matched me with my current horse Dexceminka, that’s when we really took off.

She taught me how to ride a young, difficult horse and always makes me feel like I could jump the moon with him. We flew to New York and competed in the North American Junior Young Rider Championship, finished 12th in my first U25 Finals, and just this year, ninth in the U25 Finals.

My favorite memory will forever be when I walked out of the Las Vegas National Horse Show ring this past November and saw Devon crying with her thumbs up after I jumped my first World Cup qualifier.

I can’t thank Devon enough for the opportunities she has given to me and for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She is and will forever be my hero.

Stella Wasserman

by Archie Cox

2018 has been a stellar year for Stella Wasserman. She competed at the nations premier horse shows - from San Diego to Menlo - Pennsylvania to Washington DC - she’s been a winner in every venue in the country.

Stella’s accolades are enormous. The number of classes she has won is outstanding for a 12-year-old rider. Being champion at Harrisburg and Washington this year was a monumental achievement for a young lady with her partner, Boss. She has been in the winners circle at Devon Capital Challenge in Harrisburg and Washington.

I can continue on and on about her wins but what is most special about this young lady is her love of the horses, the sport and tradition. Horses relax when Stella gets on, she has a very calming way - very nurturing - and that is desired from any partner. 2018 was exceptional ... we look forward to an even more fun and exciting 2019.