Showcasing Young Talent: Katherine Bardis

By Jackie McFarland

Katherine Bardis
A senior at Loyola Marymount with Law School aspirations, Katherine Bardis is growing up. Considering she has only been in the jumper ring since age 14 and in the Grand Prix arena since age 17, she made a name for herself in a short span of time. Now 22 years old (for about a week at press time), Katherine is making adult decisions about her riding, her education and her career.

EqSol: Your equestrian start – where you are from, how you started riding, the early years…
I started when I was about 10 years old. My older cousins rode and loved watching them but my parents would not let me start until I had tried out other sports first. I’m from Pebble Beach so the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center was almost walking distance from our house. My first lessons were with Toni Venza and Tracy Cotchett. I started in the medium ponies, then moved to the greatest large pony ever, ‘Peter Piper’ (PD) who we leased from Alex Silvestri. When I was 12, I won the Pony Finals on PD and then got my first Children’s Hunter, a little quarter horse named ‘Equal.’

EqSol: When did you know you wanted to ride in the jumpers?
 I was getting bored doing hunters and equitation. My mom really didn’t want me to do the jumpers because she knew once I started I would be hooked, which is exactly what happened. When I was 14, we went to Spruce Meadows just for fun with a couple of my equitation horses – my trainer thought it would be a good experience. That was when my dad and my trainer’s husband met Richard Spooner in the show office. Of course he was my idol, since we had just watched him win the Queens Cup and the Chrysler Classic. So I was extremely embarrassed that they were talking to him. Luckily, during their conversation (while I was timidly hiding in the corner) Richard mentioned that he had some horses for sale and that we should come and try them. And that’s how it all began…

We flew down from Pebble Beach to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and ended up purchasing two horses, Prestige and Bada Bing. Within a month, I started riding with Richard. We went down on the weekends so I could train and go to shows with him. I hadn’t had any formal jumper training nor had I been competitive in the jumper ring before Prestige and Bada Bing, so when I started riding with Richard it was like a whole new world.

EqSol: When did your Grand Prix aspirations start?
 I didn’t have Grand Prix aspirations until I was about 17. That’s when I rode in my first Friday Grand Prix in Indio on Mademoiselle and Pariska. I remember I was so nervous because it was not only my first Grand Prix but theirs too. Luckily they were both fantastic. I think I ended up 10th on Pariska.

EqSol: Your GP history – when you started, the good, the bad & the victories.
After Indio in 2005, I wanted to try and keep riding at the Grand Prix level. In 2007 I was a freshman in college so I didn’t have as much time to train. When I tried to ride in the Grand Prix classes at Thermal, I wasn’t in tune with my horses. I think I fell off three times! By the end I improved, I was 4th once and only had one rail in the $200,000 class. After a bunch of second place finishes from Blenheim to Spruce, my first win was at the 2008 Memorial Day Classic Grand Prix on Pariska. Another highlight was winning third in The Pepsi Challenge on the International Field at Spruce in 2007.

EqSol: Let’s talk about Summer 2009: The Developing Rider Tour experience.
 It was great to do something totally different – we did everything as a team – warmed-up, flatwork, we even ate meals as a team.

My favorite show was Lisbon – the horses did really well there. Leopoldo built the courses – I only had a foot in water in the Nations Cup on Pariska and placed in two other classes.

Riding on this tour really showed me what the next step up is all about. The pressure of being on a team, where three other people are relying on your performance and you don’t want to be the drop score. I made a lot of my own decisions – preparing and schooling – it was all on me, which was a great learning experience. I was both excited and scared. I had competed in CA without Richard, but I am so comfortable there, someone is always around to help if I need it. In Europe I was a foreigner, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t know anyone so I had to go with my gut. There were people on the tour that were helpful, but at the end of the day it was my decision.

EqSol: Your education, on & off the horse. Start with your equestrian education.
 Working with Richard was definitely the graduate school of showjumping. He is the best teacher that anyone could ever have. Not only did he have endless patience and never got mad at me, but always helped me work through the mistakes. He would go out and show me what he wanted me to do, so I was able to visualize and could try to emulate. Richard has a great bond with horses. His genuine nature really taught me to admire the sport through all the hardships and the good times.

EqSol: Now more about your college education and beyond. Your favorite courses, who you are off the horse…
 My favorite course at school was Interpersonal Communication during my freshman year. The class was all about the relationships you have with people in your life, on a daily basis and long term. It really heightened my awareness of how actions can affect people. I love philosophy – Soren Kierkegaard is my favorite philosopher. His main theory is that passion comes from within and those that are the most passionate are the most authentic. “The thing is to find a truth which is true for me…” Something I try to live by. I have a passion for education and a passion for horses.

I’m a senior at Loyola Marymount. I plan to go to law school – ideally I will go to Loyola downtown, my second choice is McGeorge near Sacramento. I’m taking the LSATS in December. So I will start in the spring of 2011. My goal is to get a really good education, to gain a new perspective. Not certain if I’ll actually become a lawyer, but if I decide to I can practice law anywhere in the world.

When I came back from the summer tour I knew I had to make a choice to commit to my education or riding. I decided it was time to take a serious look at my education and what I want to do in the world. So I’m taking at least a year off of riding. I didn’t have the time and it wasn’t fair to Richard or my horses. It’s been very difficult to give up the most important thing in my life since I was ten years old. The choice affected me more than I realized it would.

EqSol: We miss you and your parents at the shows…
 It is weird to see everyone grow up. Doesn’t seem that long ago that I was riding ponies. There is no doubt that horses will always be a part of my life.

It’s true you don’t know what you have until its gone. I’m so grateful for what my parents and Richard have done for me over the years. We all miss the horses but I’m sure we’ll be back.

Thank you Katherine for spending the time to talk with us. We wish you all the best and hope you’ll keep in touch.

Industry Innovators: The Compton Junior Posse

By Erna Adelson with Jackie McFarland

Compton Junior Posse Gives Inner City Kids a New Lease on Horseback

Horses have long served as a magical medium for the rehabilitation and uplifting of spirits and minds; equine therapy is frequently implemented as a social and vocational tool for the physically and mentally handicapped, former veterans, and inmates. In the 1992 film Into the West, a mysterious horse rescues two children from the poverty, hostility and discrimination of the projects of Ireland. Mayisha Akbar and riders from the Compton Junior Posse—a steadily growing group of kids from a Los Angeles suburb better known for gang violence than blue ribbons—are finding that their equine companions have an innate power to inspire them to dream of lives beyond gang involvement, just like the supernatural horse of the film. Changing the greater perceptions of the equestrian community, these new additions to the Southern California hunter and dressage arenas are really turning heads.

The Compton Junior Posse is a 501.3.c. non-profit dedicated to encouraging inner city and underprivileged youth to become productive members of society. Using horses and horseback riding to teach responsibility, discipline, and self-esteem, founder Mayisha Akbar has managed to change the lives of hundreds of inner-city kids. This equine medium teaches them valuable social and interactive skills, motivates them to set both academic and career goals, as well as simply providing a place where they can seek refuge from the often violent environments in their neighborhoods. Out of her small, backyard stable, Akbar has seen two decades of kids grow into leaders and outstanding contributors to their local communities. “We have found that investing in these children through our equestrian program motivates our kids to achieve their goals,” she says. Akbar has also rescued over 100 horses through her ranch.

Akbar, who grew up in the Harbor City Projects outside of Los Angeles, was raised riding horses and aspired to be a veterinarian. She wanted to give her own children the same equine upbringing, so she moved to an agricultural zone in Compton in 1988 to have horses. “At first,” she explains, “we weren’t affected by the neighborhood’s gang culture because the kids were young.” She recalls that neighborhood children started coming over unattended, so she would take them in for a meal and supervision as long as they helped with the horses. As this pattern became more regular, Akbar raised her standards—she made sure that as long as kids were spending their spare time at the ranch, they went to school and kept up their grades. She collected report cards to make sure there was progress. In return, each child was offered a safe place after school, food, warmth, and camaraderie. “It just happened out of needs for the community,” Akbar explains.

Early in the riding program, the Compton Junior Posse went mostly to rodeos. Akbar started to integrate English-style riding about three years ago after watching a flat class at a local horse show. “It was clearly so good for the horses to learn and progress the same way, and be judged the same way. Everyone walked, trotted, and cantered at the same time!” she noted, a big difference from rodeo chaos. Now, the Compton Junior Posse is primarily an English operation, and all of the rescue horses are trained under English saddle. Akbar says that since making the switch to English riding, she has seen Junior Posse riders benefit from more structure and discipline. “I was worried about not being accepted at hunter and dressage shows,” says Akbar, “but the English world has been so welcoming, so giving, and so warm! Everywhere we go we break norms. Everyone is so impressed with the athleticism and politeness of the Junior Posse riders—we are completely breaking equestrian stereotypes.”

With the support of private donations, the Compton Junior Posse has grown from a refuge of necessity to a flourishing equestrian, husbandry, and educational program. Once on the verge of retiring due to the emotional toll of her work (Akbar estimates she’s lost 40 children over 20 years to gang violence), she has rallied in a most interesting way—by having introduced English style riding and equitation to the Junior Posse and finding support in some of the West Coast’s most prominent riders, trainers and veterinarians. She has forged ahead with a development plan for fundraising, support and maintenance of the program and now has some substantial goals, such as being the first inner city charter school and Interscholastic Equestrian League (IEL) team so students will be able to ride and receive PE credit from Junior Posse participation while they get core credits from regular schools. Additionally, as IEL participants, the members of the Compton Junior Posse would earn points toward collegiate equestrian scholarships when competing at IEL shows.

Our own Olympic Gold Medalist Will Simpson, who has worked with the Compton Junior Posse riders on several occasions and will be participating in the upcoming LAEC fundraiser, reports that “The Compton Junior Posse is a great program. They are so appreciative, love to learn and are incredibly talented. These kids aspire to go to the top of the sport – they want to be as good as they possibly can, which I think is a healthy approach. That attitude plus their dedication and a willingness to work hard is how to get to the top. Every single one of them has that drive.” He goes on to say that working with the program is uniquely rewarding. “I get as much out of it as they do.”

In the next year, Akbar’s goal is to raise 1 million dollars in gap funding while she awaits approval for federal and state grant money—primarily to hire a staff to support her efforts as the program grows. “I’m going to need a director of education, a director for the riding program, ranch management, an administrative coordinator, and capital for equipment, a hay barn, tractor, and classroom,” she says. She has also arranged for a long-term lease for her property so that the program can stay in its original location, which makes it convenient for the participants and their families. This evolving program that aspires to give more opportunities to inner city kids offers a new lease on life through horses and English riding. An unlikely bond that we hope can be everlasting.

  The upcoming fundraiser May 30th at LAEC, featuring a silent auction, celebrity appearances, dining, entertainment, and dancing, is a major initiative for this cause.

  Tickets are available online at, and are $175 each.

Compton Junior Posse photos from the 2009 HITS Desert Circuit courtesy of Suze Randall.

2008 USHJA Annual Meeting

A to Z at USHJA
By Jackie McFarland

We all expect interesting changes due to the economic climate. However our industry is hot to trot – attendance didn’t appear to be light at this year’s USHJA Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN. The interaction at the rule change forum, in committee meetings and regarding program implementation was lively and positive. USHJA is taking big strides for our discipline and participating members are playing a big role.

The meeting covered a wide range of topics over a four-day period. The following is a brief overview of a handful of the impressive developments happening with this five-year-young hunter jumper association.

Hard work for HJ

The staff, board members and committee members of USHJA are working diligently on behalf of the hunter jumper discipline – from the grassroots to high performance. It takes an incredible amount of effort to build a brand new organization for a discipline steeped-in-tradition that wants to evolve to new levels. That said, even the traditionalists are opening their minds and participating in some very forward thinking.

Unruly Ruling

Rule changes are a key element of these annual meetings. Seemingly mundane, these sessions can get quite animated as various individuals speak their mind on details that are important to their passion and potentially their livelihood. Covering topics from measuring ponies to splitting an equitation class to heights of Low Junior Jumper Classics, these minute details are important to hunter jumper exhibitors at all levels.


2008 was the inaugural year of the High Performance Hunter. In the form of the USHJA Hunter Derbies, chosen A-rated horse shows hosted these special hunter derbies throughout the country. Not only did hunter, jumpers and equitation horses step up to compete for the money, the points and the fun, but spectators gathered in droves. To watch hunters! The program returns in 2009 and will culminate in the first final in Kentucky this August. The top 75 horses on the money-qualifying list will be invited to a unique two-day competition, offering fabulous prize money and awards to grooms, riders, trainers and most importantly owners. The first International Hunter Derby of 2009 is during Week III of HITS-Thermal with another during the Championship Week. Winter circuit derbies will be held in Ocala, Gulfport and Wellington.


New! Although the details of the program may change as it evolves, the Emerging Athletes Program offers an unprecedented opportunity for young riders at various levels to learn from some of our nation’s top show jumpers. As Committee Co-Chairman Melanie Smith states, “…this program will provide a stepladder for young talent to reach their goals of riding on a team representing the United States someday.” An applicant needs to ambitious and assertive, however they do not need to have competed in ‘A’ horse shows or have a high level horse. So spread the news! Riders who show talent on horse’s with limited abilities, young horses, difficult horses… as well as pony jumper riders all are encouraged to apply. Almost three hundred chosen applicants, twenty-four from each zone will participate in their zone’s 2-day clinic – eight at 3’, eight at 3’6” and eight at 4’. Some of our nation’s top riders and trainers will run the clinics. Participants will do all their own work from horse care to course setting, learning about the skills of riding well from the ground up. A group of twelve from each of the twelve zone clinics will then be selected to participate in one of four regional clinics, narrowing it down to forty-eight riders. The next twelve chosen from the regional clinics will be participate in a week-long intensive session, culminating in a Nations Cup type competition. And the top two from this session will be invited to train for 30-days with an experienced trainer.

EAP offers education for hundreds of riders that they otherwise may never have dreamed of garnering. Not to mention discovering young talent that these top trainers may never have otherwise seen. Auditors and volunteers are welcome – check with the clinic host for details. Since this program is just spreading its wings, watch the USHJA web site for the specifics and for application information.

Trainers Certification Program

Calling all trainers or those who aspire to be trainers – now there is a certification program brought to you and endorsed by some of the nation’s best trainers. It is a voluntary program, intended to enhance trainer credibility and offer ongoing education. The time for this concept to become a reality is way overdue.

In 2005, the USHJA formed the Trainer Certification Program Committee in response to an overwhelming interest from membership. Now that it’s coming to fruition, many have expressed skepticism regarding this new program… And the question is why? Are the critics afraid of how much that they know or don’t know? This group has spent countless volunteer hours over the last three years arguing, developing, changing, discussing, meeting and finally agreeing to create this program. Were they not thinking about what is best for the industry? For the horses and for the riders and for ultimately the trainers? Hopefully all will step up to the plate and participate. Yes, there are hundreds of trainers who should be ‘grandfathered in’ without having to pass Level 1 – but as George Morris expressed, why should they want to? For many trainers Level 1 should be easy to pass. So stay tuned – the USHJA Trainers Certification Program will begin June 2009. Applications and enrollment procedures will be released in May 2009.

Capital Campaign

Amongst all the other happenings, including creating the USHJA Foundation, USHJA’s staff has grown at an alarming rate. In order to make the transition as well as develop a nationally recognized headquarters at the Kentucky Horse Park, USHJA seeks to raise $6.5 million in the next 24 months. As we know raising capital is a challenge these days. Consider this an investment in your discipline’s future. They’ve developed creative ways to give, for example buying a brick or a bench for the garden. Sponsors

Although I could write more, I am going to conclude with thanking the sponsors and donors whom without we would not have High Performance Hunter Derbies or a new Courtyard and Gardens for USHJA. At the risk of forgetting one, we won’t name them all here. Suffice to say from A (ASG Software) to almost Z (World Equestrian Brands), thank you!

Conversations With Equestrians: Shelby Wakeman

By Laura Ware

The USHJA International Hunter Derby made its debut at the third week of HITS Thermal, and has proven to be a success every time it was held. This unique class attempts to create spectator interest in Hunters, with difficult courses consisting of bending lines, natural jumps, and four-foot fence options, all set in the main Hunter or Grand Prix arena. Other special features of this class are that it rewards bonus points for brilliant riding, and has a minimum amount of $10,000 prize money.

The most recent Hunter Derby was at the Oaks Spring Tournament in the small, intimate indoor ring, which has never before been used for a hunter class. Shelby Wakeman, a talented and successful rider in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings, placed second in this past Hunter Derby, making her the highest placing junior rider. She was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me.

Laura: What were the classic and handy courses like?
Shelby: The classic course was more like a hunter course with a forward ride and couple of bending lines. There were natural options, including a skinny plank, multiple brush jumps, and a log under a jump, which made it different from any other hunter course. The handy course was hard, with a lot of tight inside turns that I could not get on Truly because they were more like jumper turns. It was difficult, but fun.

Laura: What was it like showing hunters in such a small arena?
Shelby: I was a little skeptical about showing a hunter in an indoor ring, but the course designer did a good job, and I really enjoyed riding it.

Laura: Tell me about the horse you rode.
Shelby: I rode Truly, who is owned by Ashley Pryde. He was a bit spooky in the Derby at Thermal, so I didn’t know how he’d be, but he ended up being really good and relaxed.

Laura: What makes this class special?
Shelby: The fact that it was in the indoor ring was fun and special, because the hunters never show in there and it is a completely different environment. It was at night and under the lights, so a lot of people came to watch it, adding to the uniqueness of this class.

Laura: Did you get any bonus points for taking risks in the handy round?
Shelby: You can get up to 8 bonus points from each judge team in the handy round, so a maximum of 16 points. This can really add to your score. I watched Jenny Karazissis (who had won the class at Thermal) go before me, and she took all the inside turns and got 7 bonus points. I didn’t know what it would take to earn 8 bonus points, so I planned on taking all the inside turns.

Once I got into the ring, however, I realized that the turns were tighter then I had thought. I ended up missing a couple, but I still ended up with 5 bonus points from one judge and 2 from the other.

Laura: How did it feel to be second in a class with famous professionals?
Shelby: It felt really good. I was honored to do well in such a prestigious class.

Laura: What are your riding goals for 2008?
Shelby: I want to do well at Devon. I’ve never been there and it’s my last junior year, so it would be really special if I did well. I’d also like to compete effectively at Indoors, and end my junior career on a good note.

We congratulate you Shelby, and wish you all the best in your last junior year.

Results of the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby:
1st   On Top    Keri Kampsen
2nd   Truly    Shelby Wakeman
3rd   Cinico    Katie Taylor
4th    Palmar     Jenny Karazissis
5th    Aragon    Jenny Karazissis
6th    Rumba    Erin Duffy
7th    Wesley    Shelby Wakeman
8th    Fiona    Elizabeth Blaisdell
9th    Norah Jones    Ali Leopold
10th    Rascal    Archibald Cox
11th    Mata Hari    Hilary Neff
12th    Chaucer    Peter Lombardo

Laura Listens is brought to you by Laura Ware. Winner of the 2007 LAHSA Junior Medal Finals and a recipient of the 2008 WCAR Jumper Rider Grant, Laura rides with First Field Farm and often trains with Archie Cox. She is very successful in the all three disciplines on her own mounts as well as catch riding other horses.

Highlights From HITS Thermal March 2008

Sunday, March 16th
On a cool, breezy Sunday the HITS DC Championship Week comes to an exciting close with six horses racing against the clock in the jump-off, including Guillermo Obligado on Suleyman de Wulf Selection, World Cup contender Keri Potter on her mount Rockford I, Master of Faster Richard Spooner riding Cristallo, veteran Eddie Macken aboard Tedechine Sept, Canadian Jill Henselwood on Special Ed and Olympic hopeful Will Simpson on El Campeon’s Tosca, in the $200,000 HITS Desert Circuit Invitational Grand Prix. Only two managed to go double clear and we congratulate Richard Spooner and Cristallo on their victory.

Saturday, March 15th / Sunday, March 16th

The west coast was honored to host the R.W. “Ronnie” Mutch Equitation Classic. Challenging by design, junior riders were on their own for every aspect of the class – walking the course, preparing their horse and making decisions about the ride – plus the track included some technical adjustments and stride options. On top of all that, the class went at night under the lights in the Grand Prix arena and the weather was windy to say the least. The wind picked up towards the end of the second round, leading to management deciding to complete the class on Sunday morning. Congratulations to Carly Anthony riding the beautiful Vogue to the win, just one point ahead of Shelby Wakeman on San Francisco.

Friday, March 14th

Congratulations also to Tache Rouge and John French on their win in the $10,000 ASG Software Solutions/USHJA International Hunter Derby Classic topping a talented field of handy hunters. Held under the lights in the Grand Prix arena, professionals, amateurs and juniors competed in this special class. Under the scrutiny of four judges, the top 12 horses hunted around two rounds of courses that included a snake option jump, liverpool, trot fence and the anticipated long gallop to the last oxer.

All three of the highlighted events drew a great crowd. No matter what the weather, spectators had fun and participated in cheering on hunters, jumpers and eq horses.

To view all of the HITS Thermal press releases, please click here.

We’ve listed the Desert Circuit Champions and Reserve Champions by division below – congratulations to all the exhibitors and we wish you continued success throughout the 2008 show season.


Conversations With Course Designers: Anthony D’Ambrosio

By Tammy Chipko

FACT: Show jumping is an Olympic sport where men and women (both horse and rider) compete on an equal basis.

FACT: Grand Prix courses reach heights of 5’3”, with spreads of up to six feet. The course may also include a water jump, which may be 10 to 16 feet in width.

COURSE DESIGN: The height, width, location of fences, and time allowed for the round allows only the best rider/horse teams to move on to the jump off. That’s where Anthony D’Ambrosio and other top course designers come in. Known for building fair, technical courses to test every level of rider, Anthony D’Ambrosio is a well-respected course designer both nationally and internationally.

Tammy Chipko: How did you get started in designing courses?

Anthony D’Ambrosio: I have been designing courses since 1995. Being a Grand Prix rider myself, I found I had an interest in what type of questions were being asked of riders and horses in the ring. I spent a lot of time speaking with course designers from all over. Eventually, as my interest in course designing advanced and my professional riding slowed, I made the full transition to course design.

TC: How much advance preparation is needed to design your courses?
AD: If I know a place well I am able to work a bit in advance because I know the layout of the ring and the materials available to me. If it is a new place for me I usually do not plan too much in advance but work day to day.

TC: Do you use a computer program to design courses?
AD: Not too much. I prefer freehand. It allows me to use my imagination to draw without relying on a computer. I can usually be seen with a clipboard in hand drawing basic ideas depending on the track, types of jumps, combinations, flower/tree fill etc. I will then copy the results to my computer. That works best for me.

TC: Do you use the class sheet to help determine what type of course you will build?
AD: I can certainly get an overall impression of the level and strength of the group from the class sheet. I have worked with most groups more than once so I have fairly good knowledge of rider/horse ability. If it is a group of green riders and/or horses, I might change the combinations to require more agility and less power. I never want to over-face anyone but at the same time I do want the riders to be challenged. Riders appreciate a challenge so that they can feel as though they have accomplished something that not every horse and rider team is able to do. Keep people learning and growing and everyone is happy.

TC: You design courses for the Children’s Jumpers through World Cup Qualifiers. Is one more fulfilling than another?
AD: No, a good class is a good class. It is all rewarding. Every course, no matter which ring I am building for, is a serious effort that requires a meticulous physical layout. Each day of jumping is the same in terms of importance. There have been times when a Children’s Jumper Classic is so exciting, the crowd so involved that I’ve thought, “WOW! I wish my jump off in the Grand Prix would have unfolded like this one!”

TC: I would imagine building a World Cup Qualifier course is more difficult than a Friday Grand Prix?
AD: A World Cup class is pre-determined since it has to be built within International Standards. West Coast riders have insisted that the courses be tough and demanding. They want to prepare for the finals by jumping extremely competitive courses. They have raised the bar for themselves and want the course designer to show them what they need to know ahead of time. They do not want to be coddled. The Friday Grand Prix are not as big or demanding. If there are a lot of competitors, my course might be a bit trickier in order to manage the total number of clean rounds for the jump-off.

TC: Do you have a favorite moment in your history as a course designer?
AD: I can’t choose a favorite because I’ve had so many good moments. The Sunday Grand Prix at HITS II in Thermal was exciting. We were hit by a wind storm during the Grand Prix that blew everything down and we had to stop the class temporarily. When we were able to resume hours later, we had the entire course rebuilt in 15 minutes. The resilience of both the competitors and the spectators was amazing.

TC: What are your future plans and goals?
AD: As far as designing courses, I hope to build in Europe. I have recently also become more involved in management and enjoy that immensely. From my extensive base of experience with infrastructure, I feel I can offer some management input to horse shows. I am also enjoying a new consulting business with my wife Michael, D’Ambrosio & D’Ambrosio. One of the services we offer is advice to clients interested in building a farm, planning a ring or designing a Grand Prix field.

TC: Good luck with all your future endeavors. Thank you for your time and great design!

Inaugural HITS Thermal Fashion Show

Inaugural HITS Thermal Fashion Show kicks off exciting special events calendar for second half of the circuit

On Saturday, February 23, the first ever HITS Thermal Fashion Show, presented by Horse Connection took center stage in the VIP Oasis Club at HITS Thermal.

Highlighting the fashion show was apparel from several merchants of El Paseo. Located in Palm Desert, the famous El Paseo Shopping District features over 300 world-class shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries, jewelers, restaurants and more all lined along a beautifully maintained picture-postcard floral and statue-filled mile. Known as the Rodeo Drive of the Desert, El Paseo boasts a wide spectrum of stores from Saks Fifth Avenue to individually owned boutiques.

Several vendors from HITS Thermal had their merchandise on display. Participating vendors included Ariat, Stirrup Cup, Ayora Saddlery, Shorty’s Loft, Exceptional Equestrian and The Herd Collection. The models included accomplished equestrians such as Kate Considine, Hannah Selleck, Jeff and Shelly Kampf, Kate Bardis, Ashlee Bond and Bliss Heers.

Models included Bliss Heers (2nd from left) and Kate Bardis (far right).
Photos © Flying Horse Photography

Central Equine Party and Relay

Don’t miss the inaugural Central Equine Party and Relay tomorrow!

WHEN: Saturday, March 1, 2008. The party starts at 6:00pm and features a Southwest Fiesta with cuisine by Chef Ric Orlando & the Oasis Club Kitchen Team. The relay begins at 6:30pm.

WHAT: This is a Nations Cup-style class. Teams of three horse and rider pairs will compete, with each rider only riding one horse. The class will take place in the covered ring under the lights.

Under the Nations Cup format, each team will have its first rider complete the course and the time plus faults converted to seconds recorded. Similarly, the second rider for each team will complete the course followed by the third rider for each team. At the conclusion of the class, the aggregate times for each team will be announced and the team with the lowest aggregate total time shall be declared the winner. If any member of a team fails to complete the course or is otherwise eliminated, the entire team is eliminated from the competition.

Ribbons and fun prizes for 1st through 8th Place will be given to each of the top eight teams.

WHERE: HITS Thermal covered arena

WHO: Open to any jumper horse entered in HITS Thermal V. (Sorry, no ponies in this class). Horses will jump a course of approximately 8-10 jumps with heights not to exceed 3’6”.

HOW MUCH: No entry fee. The Relay class is limited to the first 12 teams that sign up and submit their entries in the HITS Show Office.

Can You Ride In The Rain?

By Zazou Hoffman

Bad weather is not fun… or is it? Can we make it fun? Playing in the mud was fun when we were kids, splish-splosh, splish-splosh. So if we can learn to ride in all kinds of weather we can not only potentially have fun but can also have the upper hand in a competitive situation.

During Week I of HITS Thermal, we were deluged with rain on Sunday. Many exhibitors scratched, but after watching a couple of hunter rounds I thought that the footing was still good and that as long as the trainer and the owner of the horse I was riding gave the okay, it was a go. Here in California there are so few opportunities to show in the rain and wind, it’s important to get the experience whenever you can.

George Morris told us in the Horsemastership Sessions to “practice what’s not comfortable in order to get better at it.” On the East Coast riders often have to ride under sloppy, cold conditions. I have benefited from showing on the East Coast where “the show goes on” unless there is a dangerous electrical storm (see final paragraph for more about lightning). Every rider’s tack trunk is stocked with raingear and the barn manager and staff all assume that getting drenched and covered with mud is a job requirement. They think it’s fun. My barnmates at Missy Clark’s North Run actually giggled when I told them I had never heard of Helly pants, (in case you don’t know either, they are water proof pants with zippers on the sides) which they put over their show breeches. Just zip them off before you go in the ring.

So, it is to a certain degree a mindset. You CAN ride in the rain – the horse does not mind. So why do I, the rider, want to get all wet and dirty? Because after working all year to qualify for a Medal Final which takes place on the East Coast in the Fall where you can be 99% sure that it WILL rain you do not want to let bad weather psyche you out of putting in a great round. But, you might ask, “Since they are called Indoor Medal Finals, why would I get wet?” Yes, they are Indoors but the layover farms and warm-up rings where you prepare are outdoors. You never know what weather you might encounter on the East Coast in the fall.

Try this mantra: “I love the rain, I can ride in the wind, and getting muddy is fun. Most importantly my horse doesn’t mind.”

This is the best reason to practice whenever there is rain and wind at home. I try to expose my young mare to puddles on the ground and muddy footing so that she will become desensitized to these things. Nothing is worse than getting to a show and having your horse turn into a clean-freak white-gloved party princess. Try to visualize your worst nightmare, the Junior Hunter Under Saddle Hack with twenty run-away horses in a windstorm or in pouring rain and sloppy footing. If you know your horse can behave under these circumstances, you will remain confident and your horse will feel it, too.

This confidence comes from all the training at home. Earplugs can definitely help your horse to focus at a show, but you should practice riding without them at home. Save them for situations where you really need them.

Okay, mantra said, you had your fun in the mud. Now you are back at the hotel after showing in the rain. Your boots and breeches are sopping wet and covered in mud. Your hunt coat smells like a wet sheep dog and you have to show tomorrow.

A few things you can do:

• Hang up the wet huntcoat, spot clean it and place it in a warm but not too hot area. You don’t want it to shrink.

• After getting the mud off of your boots, rub some lotion on the inside of your boots to prevent them from drying into stiff cardboard.

• Next, crinkle some tissue paper and shove it into the foot. The boots can regain their shape, yet breathe and dry. Put boot trees or rolled magazines into the leg area.

• If you have mud-stained white breeches you can rub toothpaste on the dirty spots and take them into the shower with you. I found that if you throw them in a laundry basket with globs of mud, the mud stains the fabric and the breeches are ruined.

A bit on lightning – remember that lightning is electricity. If you are on your horse get back to the barn as quickly as possible. If you have returned the horse to a stall that has pull-down or shutter windows, do not close them. This is because those shutters are often made of metal and even touching them in an electrical storm could get you electrocuted, particularly if the roof of the barn is metal. Just leave them open and get yourself to the center aisle. Regardless of how it strikes, once in a structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical and plumbing fixtures. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Final note: Lightning storm – head inside. Rain falls – as long as the footing is safe, have fun in the mud! Wind blows – if the jumps are blowing down, call it a day. If you can see, go with the flow. Remember your mantra and those words from George…

Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ’07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.


Highlights From HITS Thermal February 2008

Mid-Circuit Recap

Starting off with a bang, Grand Prix rider Richard Spooner, the Desert Circuit’s all-time leading money winner, had two back-to-back wins, first on Gerry the Grey and then on Ezrah. The win on Ezrah was his 100th – only one other rider has achieved that number. Impressive!

Speaking of impressive, the EquiBase™ Arena Systems new covered ring, which is home to all four $50,000 Tourneau FEI World Cup Qualifiers presented by Adequan, has proven to be a great venue for horse, rider and spectator. The atmosphere is intimate, the footing fabulous and the courses challenging. Topping two exciting jump-offs, Rich Fellers and Flexible took the blues in both FEI classes. He now sits comfortably in the top 5 for the West Coast World Cup standings.

Here’s a list of the other 2008 HITS Desert Circuit Grand Prix winners:

• $25,000 Ariat Grand Prix, January 30th: Mark Watring/Sapphire

• $125,000 HITS Grand Prix, presented by EMO, February 3rd: Joie Gatlin/Camaron Hills Shanroe

• $25,000 Ariat Grand Prix, February 7th: Kim Farlinger/Cordoba

• $50,000 Purina Mills Grand Prix, February 10th: John Pearce/Archie Bunker

With $375,000 of the $925,000 total Grand Prix prize money awarded, every Grand Prix at the Desert Circuit is a qualifier for the $200,000 Invitational Grand Prix on Sunday, March 16. The top 30 pairs will be invited to compete.

The Grand Prix ring hosted the hunters during the $10,000 ASG Software Solutions/ USHJA International Hunter Style Derby Classic Week III. Truly an exciting event to watch, riders have a chance to earn points in the handy hunter section by taking tight turns, jumping natural obstacles and maintaining a hunt-course gallop. Jenny Karazissis and Swoon out performed 26 other exhibitors to take home the blue for owners El Campeon Farms.

Kids Day at HITS Thermal
Photo © Flying Horse Photography

HITS Desert Circuit Salutes Its First Half Heroes 

Tara Spencer has dominated the pony ring at the HITS Desert Circuit. Just 11 years old, Spencer earned 24 blue ribbons and 19 red ribbons during the first half of the circuit. Impressive accolades include two Mid-Circuit Championships aboard Brookway Stables’ Tuscany in the Medium Pony Hunter Division and Keep Dreamin’ in the Large Pony Hunter Division. She was also named the Best Child Rider in the Pony division for all three weeks. Spencer is now off to HITS Ocala and will be riding for Don Stewart.

Also shining at HITS Desert Circuit is top hunter rider John French, who was named Mid-Circuit Champion on his mount Obelix in the Adequan Hunter Division. And his client Alison Baileys, riding her fabulous Tache Rouge, was High Point Mid-Circuit A/O Hunter 18-35, earning the Jennifer Marlborough Freeman Memorial Trophy.

The Pink Ladies at the Equine Idol Contest
Photo © Flying Horse Photography

More than a Horse Show – Fun in the Sun at HITS Desert Circuit

The special events calendar is in full swing. Entertaining events to date include a dog costume contest, the ever-popular Kids Day and a hilarious Equine Idol competition judged by Huntover Farm’s Mark Bone, Showbiz Magazine’s Kathy Hobstetter and Waldenbrook’s John French.

The second half features more out-of-ring festivities, including a fashion show, presented by Horse Connection Magazine, an exhibitor golf tournament at Indian Palms and the annual WCAR Fundraising Party at the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells.

Conversations With Equestrians: Aurora Griffin and Mark Watring

By Zazou Hoffman

After watching her fellow Californian Aurora Griffin move to 1.50m and win Individual Bronze at Young Riders, Team Gold, Double Gold at Harrisburg, in addition to the William Steinkraus Style of Riding Award, Zazou decided it was an opportune time to ask Aurora and her trainer a few questions.

ZH: You made an exceptional debut at the North American Young Rider’s Competition last summer, earning the Individual Bronze medal. What went through your mind during the competition?
AG: Of course I put a lot of pressure on myself during Young Riders. I had prepared for months, and it all came down to those four days in Virginia. When I was leading after the first day, I just kept telling myself “It isn’t over yet” because there were so many rounds yet to do. I was a little nervous, but I knew I had a great horse in Tucker, and he was competing at the top of his game.

ZH: You’ve always been an inspiration to me since we did the FEI Children’s International Jumper Final at Hummingbird Nest Ranch. You have zoomed up the levels in record time,jumping higher and faster. What makes you so brave? Do your parents ever get nervous for you?
AG: I have always enjoyed doing things “high and fast.” I trust my horse and my trainer, and I know that both of them will keep me safe, and this allows me to take risks confidently. As for my parents getting nervous, Mark says my mom lifts up one of her legs over every fence when I show. She has been very supportive of my riding. In fact, the day I got my Bronze at Young Riders was her birthday. What a great day!

ZH: Mark you have not put Aurora in the hunters and the equitation. Is this the same approach you take with all of your students?
MW: Aurora has an equitation horse that we didn’t get to use much. His name is Milo, a few years back he came up with a mysterious lameness. He is fine now, but we never went back into the equitation ring. I think the equitation is super important in that it makes riders smooth and correct. It also teaches riders to make adjustments early.

ZH: You have first hand experience in the saddle at the Grand Prix level. Can you share a few thoughts about getting to that level?
MW: I have not had the luxury of multiple horses at the higher level. It is such an advantage to have a string of top horses. I have had great success with one, and that should inspire others that they, too, can achieve their goals with one great horse. This year I will start Thermal with three Grand Prix horses. Luckily, Aurora also has back-up mounts, so she doesn’t end up on the sidelines.

ZH: If you could each do it over, in terms of your own career, would you do anything differently?
MW: You can only learn from the path you have chosen, you rarely get another chance or do-over. So I always say: “Don’t circle.”

ZH: It looks like the Grand Prix competition might be on the horizon for you, Aurora. When do you think you will give it a try and where?
AG: I have a few horses that are capable of jumping Grand Prix height at this point, and I am planning to begin my Grand Prix career this year. I know it’s a tough game, but I have been working hard this winter, and I look forward to my debut at Thermal.

ZH: The Americans didn’t have a spectacular World Cup. Mark, you buy a lot of horses in Europe and have had a chance to study the training methods there. What, if anything, are we doing wrong in the United States?
MW: We aren’t doing anything wrong. We just hate to be cold. The Europeans spend 7 months out of every year stuck in small indoor rings and have learned to master that small space. On the other hand, after the first frost we Americans go to Florida or to the desert – we are fair-weather folk.

ZH: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Best of luck at Thermal!

Aurora’s comments on the George Morris Horsemastership Sessions
in January, 2008:

I experienced more growth in my riding that week spent training with George Morris than any other week of my career. With regards to horsemanship, I learned more than I had ever since the time I started riding.

The program was phenomenal, and although it was a lot of work, I came to realize that the best way to learn horsemastership is hands-on grooming, feeding, mucking, and cleaning.

Among the most profound things I heard that really summed up the lesson of the week was by Melanie Smith Taylor, “You, as a rider, have to know what you are sitting on when you enter the ring.” Melanie is a true horsewoman; she went on to say that you have to know every detail about your horse from his physical condition, to stall condition, to tack condition, to conformation, to shoeing, to diet.

When I spent the day with Beezie Madden, I found out that this held true for her as well.

Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ’07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.