May 2015 - Horse People: Cindy Ramirez-Smith
Written by Kim F. Miller
Saturday, 02 May 2015 01:45

Renaissance horsewoman embodies the welcoming Central Coast equestrian scene.

by Kim F. Miller

Cindy and Carina HGF. Photo: Captured Moment Photography

Cindy Ramirez-Smith didn’t get the memo that our equestrian world has become very compartmentalized.

She is mainly a dressage trainer, but also events successfully and, as manager of Vulcan Mesa Ranch, hosts hunter/jumper schooling shows designed to hook newcomers on equestrian sports. She grew up in San Luis Obispo County’s Atascadero riding whatever horses she could slip a leg over, migrated to Warmbloods as her skills advanced and more recently embraced the Spanish breeds. She’s preparing her PRE stallion Decoroso HGF for his Prix St. Georges debut and rode the PRE mare Carina HGF to the US Eventing Association’s Area VI Adult Rider Novice Division championship last year.

Cindy is president of the San Luis Obispo California Dressage Society chapter and, in her free time, helps her previously non-horsey husband Eric Smith with his budding dressage career aboard the Quarter Horse Chexter.

In her open mind and helpful attitude, she typifies trademarks of the “SLO” area horse scene. “Cindy is very connected to the equestrian community,” notes fellow dressage trainer Ariane Rezvani. The new owner of the in-development, Ariane appreciates that Cindy’s program provides ample opportunities for kids and beginners and that she welcomes all breeds. “She’s a real asset to our area.”

Some of Cindy’s young students.

As an equestrian, Cindy traces her open mind to her upbringing in the Black Oak Pony Club and to riding any horse and any style needed to get time in the saddle. She is among a core of SLO County equestrians influenced by eventers Brian and Lisa Sabo during their many years based in Paso Robles and she lessoned with Lisa en route to her “A” Pony Club rating when Lisa was a Black Oak instructor.

It’s not unusual for eventers to take part in open dressage competition as a tune-up for that phase of their sport. It’s also not unusual for eventers, or hunter/jumper riders, to take up dressage when jumping loses its thrall. But achieving impressive success in both disciplines is rare.

Dual sport stardom was not a goal unto itself. Cindy’s first plan was upper level eventing. “But by the time I actually got to where I had aspired, Intermediate, I was not having as much fun as I had been at the lower levels.” Non-horse related injuries compounded the extent to which risks dampened the fun and dressage emerged as a new focal point. The upper level eventing track was planned to be taken with a Warmblood mare named Capri, a half sister to a horse Cindy had trained to and competed in Preliminary. Capri turned out to be equally adept at dressage and Cindy brought her up to her potential, Fourth Level. Capri was recently sold to a young rider who plans to take the mare back to eventing at Beginner Novice.

Cindy and Eric Smith in Spain.

Dressage Dreams

As upper level dressage dreams took shape, Cindy began looking for the right equine partner. Spanish horses were not on her radar screen until Cindy and Eric took their first vacation to Spain in 2008. “He became enamored with the Spanish horses we saw on our trip and he thought they’d be good at what I wanted to do in dressage,” Cindy explains. “Now there are a lot of people breeding Spanish horses for dressage, but at the time that wasn’t the case and I’d had no prior experience with the breed.”

Cindy was smitten by the breed too and agreed with Eric about their suitability for dressage, if they could find the right horse. They eventually identified Kim Boyer’s Hampton Green Farm in Michigan as breeding horses with the dressage potential they sought. Cindy bought the 2006 PRE stallion Decoroso HGF in 2010 and they’ve been steadily moving up the levels, finishing 2014 as the United States Dressage Federation’s All Breed Fourth Level champs.

The Smiths were not originally in the market for a stallion and are not currently marketing Decoroso as such. “For one thing, it’s important for a stallion to prove through performance that they are worth breeding to,” Cindy explains. “I wanted a competition horse and he happened to be a stallion. I’m OK with that so long as it never interferes with training and competing and he has never given us a reason to geld him. We’re not against breeding him, we just haven’t sought it out.” Plus, it’s a time consuming endeavor that doesn’t currently fit on Cindy’s already full plate.

Vulcan Mesa Ranch in Atascadero

Cindy’s return to eventing was prompted by a second Hampton Green horse the Smiths fell for: Carina HGF. “She’s a very bright horse that gets bored easily,” Cindy explains. “That’s why we started taking her to horse trials and she’s done well.” Along with their Area VI Adult Novice Championship last year, the pair also won the El Premio de Merito award from International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association, for earning 200 points in United States Equestrian Federation competition.  Cindy says a season of Training Level will likely conclude Carina’s eventing career and breeding is a future option, possibly to Decoroso.

Cindy and Decoroso compete throughout the California dressage circuit and were preparing for their first Prix St. Georges outing this season, with an eventual goal of Grand Prix.

As a trainer and, more recently, ranch manager, Cindy is pleased to be based at Vulcan Mesa Ranch. The 27-acre property in Atascadero celebrates its 25th year in 2015 and Cindy has been there for 10. Last year, she took over the lease for the whole boarding facility, which fluctuates between 30 and 40 horses, so is running the operation along with being its main trainer.

Her training clientele include many junior riders, and she is especially pleased to have that influence on the sport’s next generation. She initiated two annual hunter/jumper schooling shows to give those who don’t own their own horses a chance to experience relatively inexpensive competition in a low-key environment. The events have become popular county-wide, with other trainers bringing in green riders and/or horses to gain mileage.  (The next show will be in June: check Vulcan Mesa Ranch’s Facebook page for details.)

In offering a range of opportunities, Cindy’s efforts typify trademarks of the Central Coast’s equestrian scene. “Because so many of us grew up together, starting at a backyard level and rising higher, we know what it’s like to be at the beginning end of the sport. We all have a lot of respect for entry level riders and there are a lot of us who want to help them out.

“Not everybody is coming to us with a $50,000 horse,” she continues. “They may come on a free horse they got from their neighbor and that client is just as important. That is one of the things we all really like about our local horse community and I’m not sure you find that so much in a bigger city.”