Breeding Masters

By Erin Gilmore

What defines a successful breeder? Patience, skill, careful management and a wealth of knowledge are a given, but combining all those factors into a winning formula is an art.

We talked to two West Coast breeders who made it a point to prove that some of the very best sporthorses don’t have to fly over from Europe. Certainly not backyard operations, these ladies built names for themselves and their horses on the backs of their successful breeding programs.

Allowing for the fact that tastes vary – from fashion to wine and well-bred horses – Tish Quirk and Barbara Ellison may skew in slightly different directions, however they both possess an uncanny mix of the finesse, patience, know-how and planning that “breeds” success.

Four Sensational Generations: Lucky Lines 
When Tish and John Quirk imported the Dutch stallion Octrooi (Lucky Boy x Ilonka) and gave him the name Best of Luck over 30 years ago, she never could have predicted the world this fabulous horse would create for her.

“Everyone who saw him wanted to buy him,” remembers Tish. “Every time we imported a horse by Lucky Boy, Best of Luck’s sire, it sold immediately. They were exactly the right horses for our market, and it just made sense to continue the bloodline right here.”

Best of Luck, who passed away in 2000 at the age of 28, became an indelible foundation stallion. Throughout his career, he was a phenomenon in the show ring, and he passed his most dominant traits on to his sons, Just The Best and More Than Luck. Tish is now showing the third generation offspring. Best of Luck sired FEI dressage horses, international grand prix jumping stars, excellent hunters and top-level eventers. And in this age of rapidly advancing science, Tish has more than Google searches to back up her knowledge. She began her education as a child in the family ranching, farming and livestock breeding business and continued to learn while she was buying horses in Europe. She learned to study “the whole horse and what made him what he was,” she explains. “Bloodlines are interesting but are not the end all of the horse. What’s more important for me is to know the horses.”

Working with top breeders in Europe who knew the bloodlines for four generations back, Tish learned that “what’s on paper, results and such, is deeply affected by who owns the horse and how much they compete,” she continues. “The heart of horses is not the papers, and it’s not on the Internet.”

Along that vein, for the last 30 years Tish has spent seven days of the week out in the barn, putting her hands on the Best of Luck progeny, knowing each horse from her daily interactions. Tish not only runs her own breeding operation but also oversees the mares when they foal. As the time of birth draws near, she stays in the barn bedroom and watches the mare’s every move on the monitoring system. She is at the mare’s side when labor begins, assists in the delivery and introduces the new foal to life outside of the womb. And she is available anytime to the breeders across the country who are part of her breeding family.

With accomplishments too long to list including champions at every national show in the country, from Devon to Del Mar, Tish’s breeding program has certainly illustrated that the proof is in the progeny.

Dreams Come True: Wild Turkeys Can Jump
In just 15 years, Barbara Ellison’s Wild Turkey Farm’s Holsteiner stallions have made an unmistakable mark on the sporthorse scene.

As an amateur rider in Northern California’s Woodside, Barbara juggled horses and raising children throughout the ‘90s. But as she collected a stable of stallions and her kids grew up, her goals began to shift. After purchasing her first stallion, Wizard, in 1995, then-trainers Butch and Lu Thomas sent her a tape of Holsteiner stallion Liocalyon and things started to pick up speed. The stallions Admiral Z and Lavita quickly followed, and one day she thought, “I should start breeding these boys!” Six years later, she officially began marketing Wild Turkey Farms with a bold ad campaign that has since become a trademark.

Top notch rider Mandy Porter put the Wild Turkey jumpers on the map, most notably with the (recently retired) mare Summer, a two-time World Cup Finals competitor and 2006 Pacific Coast Horse Association Horse of the Year. She continues to campaign Wild Turkey stallions on the West Coast grand prix circuit, winning two events this summer, the Sonoma Horse Park $30,000 Grand Meadows Grand Prix and the Blenheim EquiSports’ $30,000 Copa De Amistad Grand Prix with LaMarque.

Barb also had a hand in the breeding of New Zealand rider Guy Thomas’ powerhouse stallion Peterbilt (Liocalyon x Jeribos). As the World Equestrian Games approach it is impressive to note that both Peterbilt and fellow Kiwi rider Katie McVean’s mount Dunstan Delphi are both by Liocalyon – and both horses will represent New Zealand in show jumping at WEG.

The success of her jumpers is one goal realized, and now Barbara is on the precipice of another. Ten years ago, she set in motion the dream of owning a horse farm. A native of Portland, Oregon, she’s always wanted to return to her hometown, and as her involvement with breeding deepened, she made plans to build her dream facility on 200 acres outside Portland. The new Wild Turkey Farm is now complete, and Barbara plans to be fully moved in by early next year. Among its many benefits, the new facility will have space – lots of it. Barbara looks forward to completing the move and having all of her horses in one facility, where she’ll have more time to be hands on every day.

She counts her mentors as the fellow breeders that she has built working relationships with: Hilda Baisel, DVM, Anke Magnussen at Royal Oaks and Matt Davis at Crooked Willow.

“I really believe that we can breed good horses in this country. We have the quality right here,” Barbara says. “In Europe people can go to a concentrated area and look at tons of horses. I’m hoping that as I get going, people will see that we have a lot of very nice horses, and they’ll shop on the West Coast.”

The Beat of Breeding Continues
By combining the elements of patience, skill, a good eye and extensive knowledge with a true love of horses, Tish and Barbara can rightly be upheld as examples of sporthorse breeding programs gone right. Whether active for 30 years, or half that long, these West Coast women are masters at breeding superb sporthorses.

Thank you Tish and Barb! See more at and

What A World

While we make our way through one of the most challenging economic times we’ve had as a nation, if not the world, there are shining stars and glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel. Whether the economy is up or down, our own niche of sport horses never ceases to please and amaze us. Take a close look at this week’s stories from Carleton to Compton to World Cup.

Touted as one of the best World Cups ever, we are still talking about the once-in-a-lifetime events that occurred in Sin City at the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Finals. First, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum not only won for the third time in her career, but she was the leader in every round. McLain Ward tried to catch her and came quite close; he also had an extremely successful weekend, finishing second to Meredith by two seconds over four rounds and a jump off (Friday).

Next, our American top hats are off to Steffen Peters who dressaged his way to a World Cup win over some of the world’s best riders. His high scores included a 93 in the artistic category on the final night, as his horse Ravel danced to the music of his freestyle ride. Notable that Meredith was American-born, but is now a German citizen whereas Steffen was German-born and now lives and trains in nearby Escondido, CA.

Rich Fellers rode the relatively green Kilkenny Rindo to the blue in the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday of World Cup week. Very pleased with the horse, Rich is currently bringing along a number of jumpers for the Boyds of Kilkenny Crest. Some of our reigning riders, including Olympic Gold Medalists Will Simpson and Anky Van Grunsvan, donned cowboy boots and chaps atop reining horses in an exhibition match – certain also to be a first. Both of course rode well and the crowd loved it.

The room was buzzing at the final press conference on Sunday, not only with the excitement of the fabulous sport all had witnessed, but at the conclusion Robert Ridland made an announcement that put the icing on the Las Vegas FEI World Cup cake. After ten years of participation, Ridland took the time to honor some of the many names that made this phenomenal event possible year after year, including John Quirk, Bob Maxey, Shawn Davis, Tim Keener and Pat Christensen, among others. He then stated that Blenheim EquiSports, with the full support of Las Vegas Events, would be making a bid to bring the FEI World Cup Finals back to Las Vegas in 2014. “This team, this event is too good to give up,” he said. In response to this announcement Sven Holmberg, FEI Vice President, replied with a smile that the 2014 bid would be “very well received.”

World Cup Photos © Tish Quirk.

Conversations With Equestrians: John Quirk

By Jackie McFarland

As John Quirk himself often asks, “Where to begin?” Just start writing is his motto. Read on then for my stream of duly impressed consciousness.

I’ve known John and Tish Quirk since my college years (let’s say for a couple of decades), where I took several semesters off to fuel my passion for horses and competing. One of my adventures away from campus was a brief trip to catch the glorious crown jewel of the indoor circuit, The National Horse Show, at the time still alive and well in NYC. I was supposed to compete but had sold my qualified hunter weeks before. Yet I still wanted to go. Somehow I ended up gallivanting around with the Quirks, publishers of HORSES Magazine, and had a grand time. A fond memory of my youth.

Fast-forward to now. One goal of this e-newsletter was to highlight a few of the people behind the World Cup Finals – not just those fabulous riders that we flock to watch – but the team of people who commit countless hours to provide those horses and riders the perfect stage for their performance. There are many, and we hope to talk with more over the years. Since John Q is the reason the World Cup Finals came to Vegas, he was on the top of the list (not to mention that Robert Ridland spoke so highly of him).

He graciously agreed to have coffee even though the production deadline for the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final Program, at almost 200 pages, loomed. He claimed to welcome the break. During the course of our conversation our coffees grew chilly, my fully charged computer battery died – and a story of five careers unfolded. Since John Q is a young eighty-eight years, he has this incredible depth of experience, vast knowledge and is a phenomenal storyteller.

Now I could go into his string of successes before he got involved in horses via his beautiful wife Tish. And I intend to at another time. John is truly fascinating and an inspiration to us all. But the topic at hand is World Cup and how it came to have five illustrious years of success in Sin City. It’s not often that a person of this caliber enters the sport as an adult, is not a rider, and has the vision to take it places.

Rewind twenty-two years, on a train to Versailles, when a light bulb went off in John’s head. After the success of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, why not find a way to host a World Cup Final on the West Coast? From that illuminating moment forward he relentlessly pursued this passion. The light grew brighter as he later envisioned the ideal location for the show of shows – Las Vegas. A few years later, while running and writing for what he and Tish had built into one of the nation’s top equestrian publications, HORSES Magazine, and owning a string of successful show horses, John was working towards his illustrious West Coast World Cup goal when the chance to potentially host the event at the nearby Del Mar Fairgrounds came along. Not able to resist a World Cup occurring within 15 minutes of home, John put aside his Las Vegas dreams and pushed all the buttons to bring a World Cup Final to Del Mar. So just five years after the light bulb blinked, the 1992 Volvo FEI World Cup Final came to fruition on the West Coast. It was a success, however not to be repeated. Allowing a tented structure for this inaugural year, the FEI required a permanent roof, which Del Mar’s arena does not have.

Fast-forward again a couple of years as the light was once again blinking for Vegas. John Q networked his way into the offices of a couple of casino CEOs who embraced the concept and led him to Las Vegas Events. This was a tremendous turning point. The light transformed into an illumination, more masterminds were involved and Sin City planned on a bid for the 2000 World Cup Finals. In 1996 the FEI Board of Directors voted to accept the bid. No longer just a light in the mind of one man, the lights of Vegas, both literally and figuratively, would shine for the Volvo FEI World Cup Final.

John Q continued to play a major role as the illustrious team made of equestrian and event experts began to evolve. This was the beginning of a long-term relationship, a successful marriage of event and equine, culminating in setting a new standard for World Cup Finals.

Here’s where we mention a few of the many hurdles this collective group managed to jump in order to see this inaugural and ensuing events come to life.

Hurdle #1: In 1997, after twenty years of supporting the World Cup, Volvo opted not to renew their sponsorship. Some thought this might be the end of the World Cup Final. Not so. Not only did the Las Vegas Events commitment remain intact, Budweiser came along as the sponsor for 2000. And in later years, as we well know, Rolex took on the title sponsor role.

Reward: Due to the unwavering commitment by Las Vegas Events, they were awarded options to host the World Cup Final in 2003, 2005, 2007. Done.

Hurdle #2: A horse show or an event? That question needed to be answered Vegas style. John Q was on it. The logistics of running a horse show in one indoor arena were challenging enough, but what about the Vegas aspect? When would the entertainment fit in? The light bulb continued to burn brightly for John Q – have the horse show be just the World Cup Final, no other classes, add in the Vegas entertainment, of course some great shopping and then let the thousands of equestrian fans loose on Sin City. Brilliant. Done.

Now John Q would be quick to remind me that the tremendous success of the World Cup in Las Vegas was the work of many. And of course that is true and essential to pulling an event of this magnitude off smoothly. But this piece is about a man who single-handedly had a vision and made it come to life. We just witnessed this vision for the fifth time and hopefully not the last.

To top off this tribute, let it be known that one of John Q’s other careers was a published author. Six successful books in the late sixties. As an author, he pens much of the content in the Rolex FEI World Cup Official Program. Worth reading, his prose is both fun and forthright. This year he wrote ‘Show Jumping 101 – Jumps and Such’ an informational yet funny piece on the basics, the course designer and the thrills and spills of the sport. He along with Max Amman named their top ten. And John Q explained the intricate genius behind the World Cup scoring system. That’s not all – he authored his opinions on happenings in the sport up to this point, including the stories of how Rich Fellers got the wild card and what happened with Anky. Plus a sweet and simple goodbye from John Q and Tish. Although it isn’t really a goodbye, it’s just a so long for now until we come up with another fabulous idea or see you back in Vegas.

All of this, plus my intensive interview and he is eighty-eight years old. I haven’t even told a tenth of the story. Makes you think – what’s your vision? It’s never too late.

Thank you John Q!