Conversations With Equestrians: Liz Reilly and Scott Wilson

By Jackie McFarland

Iwasaki & Reilly: There’s Nothing Small About It
When it comes to horse ownership we can sometimes overlook those who take a giant leap financially and emotionally to send a horse down the path to potential success. As with any sport, there’s only a select few who make it to the top and continue to stay there. Of course every horse is special, but when our passion for finding that fabulous horse results in national recognition, the rewards are that much sweeter.

Now tasting the sweetness of success with their first year horse, Small Affair, owners Liz Reilly and Chris Iwasaki are riding high. Small Affair and John French made a strong statement at Indoors this season, earning the Reserve Championship honors at both Harrisburg and Washington. The collective team also won two prestigious World Champion Hunter Rider Awards at Capital Challenge – the Jeffry Katz Award and the Rox Dene Award. The first is actually awarded to the rider of the WCHR high score horse who, in this case, was the phenomenal John French. And the second award, established in the name of the famous hunter Rox Dene, is awarded annually to the owners of the WCHR high score horse.

Although not listed in the awards, trainer Scott Wilson also deserves credit for helping Liz and Chris attain their goals this year. This is not the first time they have experienced the thrill of victory, as Small Town continues to win under the tutelage of Keri Kampsen and Joe Thorpe of Sovereign Place, first with Nicoletta Von Heidegger and now with her younger sister, Hannah, in the irons. And the newest hunter on the field, who’s been holding her own quite well in the pre-green division, is Small Collection.

Some of us know Liz and Chris from their hard work in the industry. For many years both have made a living in parts of the horse world that go unnoticed. Liz manages the books of a number of west coast professionals and Chris manages Scott Wilson Stables, with upwards of 20 horses on the road throughout the year. By means of his relationship with Liz, Chris now shares in the thrills and chills of horse ownership.

We spoke with Liz about her passion for horses, which of course fuels the fire for both career and commitment to finding, buying and developing top hunters.

EqSol: Naturally the first question: What is your horse history?
LR: I started riding when I was 11 years old on Long Island and continued until I was 19. I was lucky to have a great mix of experiences from pony club, cubbing with the foxes, to horse showing. I loved the horses and basically lived at the barn. After going to college at Hollins College in Virginia for my freshman year, I then transferred to UCLA and never left California.

EqSol: When did you start buying young prospects?
LR: About twelve years ago. We’ve purchased maybe six to eight horses over the years. Ultimately, I try to buy horses that I will enjoy riding, owning and if they sell that is a bittersweet conclusion.

EqSol: Talk about the pros and cons of being an owner.
LR: The pros are easy – I love horses, love to ride and I truly enjoy the process. It is a childhood dream come true. The cons aren’t so easy to express. The responsibilities of owning can be challenging – to me it’s worth all the risk because I get to ride. This isn’t our livelihood, it’s a passion – some we’ve sold, some we’ve given away.

We also get really attached to each horse, so it’s actually a bit difficult to lease or sell one and have it leave home. I adore Small Town. I feel so lucky that he got leased to Sovereign Place, as they have been absolutely wonderful with him. They have really allowed me to remain involved and be part of all his huge successes.

EqSol: Tell us about the journey from prospect to champion with both Small Town and Small Affair.
LR: Small Town – ‘Ollie’ – was my friend Abby Vietor’s horse. As soon as I saw him I loved him. I thought, ‘This is a horse that Scott Stewart would own.’ He had all the pieces – a gorgeous horse with the most beautiful gallop and a great jump. When Abby moved and couldn’t take Ollie to the east coast, I offered to help her sell him. When he didn’t sell as quickly as I’d hoped, I was able to get him through the help of Jim Hagman, who has always been a great supporter of all my equine endeavors. Very talented but very slow to mature, he was the kind of horse that if something spooky was going to happen – it would happen while he was in the ring, or at least he would notice it. He wouldn’t do anything scary – he was just spooky back then (I rode him when I was seven months pregnant and never worried).

In his second pre-green year he started to win everything. The following year he got sick at Indio after winning in the First Years week one, but by spring he was winning again. I rode him in the adults that summer and took a break when I was pregnant with Augusta. Nicoletta leased him in 2005 and he has remained in Keri and Joe’s barn ever since.

Small Affair – Mary Morrison (Ivy Gate Farm) imported ‘Poker’ from France where he was successful in the young jumper championships. I originally saw him when looking at horses with Jim but he was way too green for his client. Then Scott and I went to try him last year. His form over the first little jump was the best I’d ever seen. When we got in the car, Scott, who is usually mister talkative, wasn’t saying a word. Finally he said ‘If you don’t vet him I will have someone else in the barn vet him.’ In 2008 he did the pre-greens as a six year old with Alissa Smith and Keri Kampsen and only won a few ribbons here and there. He was young and all over the place. We asked both John French and Jenny Karazissis to show him this year in the first years. He was champion or reserve almost every time, and won a class at Devon. He’s won a class at every major show he’s competed in, and often wins the under saddle. Next year is his Hunter Derby year, plus I’m going to start showing him.

Small Collection – ‘Daisy’ – is a pre-green horse, our latest purchase. Unlike when we found ‘Poker,’ we tried fifteen horses in Florida. She was the second to the last horse we sat on. I jumped one jump and said this is the horse. Jenny K showed her this year and has been champion or reserve several times.

Trainer Scott Wilson sat with us for a minute and I asked…

EqSol: You’ve been at the top of the hunter ranks many times in the past. How has it been with Small Affair?
SW: I think he’s one of the most athletic horses I’ve ever worked with, possibly one the best hunters in the country and he also wins a top ribbon in the hack. It was clear on the first day I saw him that he was special. Liz has a good eye for horses – she knew. He was relatively easy to bring along and proved to be better over a bigger jump. He’s brave and should be a great derby horse.

EqSol: How does it feel after Indoors is over?
SW: It was a dream come true – a real Cinderella story.

EqSol: How do you know that any particular horse is ‘the one’?
LR: How do you know? Ollie had the ‘look’ and the talent. Poker has that incredible jump. I knew Daisy was the kind of horse that anyone could ride. After all I do want the luxury of the horses being for me. I have always felt confident sitting on all of these horses. Of course I know when to step back and let the horse be trained – I don’t ask for the horse to be an amateur horse out the door. Do I hope it becomes a great one? Sure.

And yes it’s expensive. We manage to afford it through a lot of hard work and some trade, which saves us money. It’s rewarding to be successful, but in the end I really love the horses.

Thank you Liz – congratulations on a great year and we wish you continued success.

Setting Attainable Goals For the Show Ring

By Zazou Hoffman

The start of the New Year is a good time to formulate a game plan for your riding. Take a realistic look at your riding skills, the ability of your horse and the amount of time and money you can devote to the sport. Come up with a list of goals. Then go to your finance person for a consultation – this is most likely your parents, although you may be able to make a contribution yourself if you have an after-school job or other money saved up. Once you know how much you have to spend, you can sit down with your trainer and review your options.

If you are interested in doing equitation, start by learning about the different types of medal classes available on a local, state, and national level. The website is a great resource. Make sure that you join ALL the organizations as quickly as possible and take copies of your cards to every show. Nothing is more heartbreaking than winning a Medal class only to find that your points are invalid because your membership is not current.

Learn how to access the websites and track your points. Here’s a firsthand example of how important this is. When I was chosen for the George Morris Horsemastership Sessions in Wellington, Florida, it was based upon the Bates Equitation Rankings. The rider’s Big Eq placings are supposed to be reported by each horse show directly to Ryegate, the clearinghouse for Bates Equitation points. As recently as last year many of the horse show managers in the western states were not familiar with the program. I tracked down several hundred missing points that were ultimately crucial to my ranking on the Bates list which in turn qualified me for the George Morris Sessions. Although the reporting of points has been streamlined with better computer software, the onus is still on YOU, the rider, to report any missing points and follow up on the corrections.

If you are going to try to qualify for the Indoor Medal Finals in the fall, write the dates on your calendar now and make your hotel reservations early. The more modestly priced rooms get booked up. One I’ve used is They block-book rooms at a discounted rate and you can place your request with them.

If you don’t have an equitation horse, but have a hunter, look into the World Champion Hunter Rider Program. I know the name is waaaay over the top, but it’s a great program. I stumbled on this award program when my homebred children’s hunter, Andy Warhol, had quite a bit of success at the local shows and I wanted to get some experience against more competitive horses. I used this program’s show dates as my template for the entire year. It takes the four highest scores out of designated WCHR shows throughout the year. The year-end Awards for the Southwest are presented at an elegant dinner at the Menlo Park Charity Show. The prizes are beautiful leather halters, embroidered saddle pads and splendid tack trunks. In my case it gave me a goal for the year and gave me experience at the most competitive shows without having to spin my wheels with frustration knowing that I could never acquire the year end points that riders aiming for Devon, Washington, or Harrisburg were going for.

I want to mention two other programs, the FEI Children’s International Jumping Final and The Ronnie Mutch Scholarship.

The first one is hard to find on the USEF website so here’s the link, but you may still have to call. It’s a wonderful competition on borrowed horses with riders from foreign countries. Much of the cost is picked up by USEF and the FEI. The qualifier for our region is at the Oaks in San Juan Capistrano in the fall. The one show–that’s it.

The Ronnie Mutch scholarship information can be found here. It provides for one rider and one working student to get an inside look at the prestigious Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida for two weeks and includes instruction from top trainers, accommodations, and a horse show stall. The applicant must be 15 years or under, jumping 3 foot courses or higher, and submit a video of their riding. The deadline is early January. Winning the Working Student Scholarship is the reason that I was able to meet Missy Clark and move into the 3’6” Medals and the USET Talent Search. It afforded me the opportunity to qualify for the Indoor Finals and opened my eyes to a world that I would never have otherwise experienced.

To sum up, it’s important to set attainable goals so that you don’t become discouraged. Riding should be fun. At the same time it’s important to dream big dreams and set your sights high. Challenge yourself. That said, you could be limited by your horse. It’s difficult to take a cold hard look at your horse’s strengths and weaknesses but you have to do it. The alternative is to waste a lot of horse show fees and your travel budget on an unattainable goal. You can also challenge yourself in other ways. Here in Southern California, there is the unique Foxfield Jumping Derby over a course of stadium and cross country (natural) jumps, the Santa Barbara Amateur Horse Show, which offers great beginner jumper classes, some for optimum time and with children’s classes broken down by specific age, and the Flintridge Children’s Horse Show Hunt Team class which awards the best three person tandem horse and rider team for their precision in riding a course of jumps, keeping equal distance between riders, their three abreast jump, and the most creative theme and costume. All three of these are at beautiful venues where you can bring your family and friends. Maybe one of them will fit as a goal for you and your horse. Happy New Year and let’s all dream big equestrian dreams!

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.