California Riding Magazine • January 2003

Horse People: John & Tish Quirk

A handsome fighter pilot turned best-selling novelist arrives at the apartment of a beautiful model, 25 years his junior. The setting is New York City in the middle of the swinging 60's. It's love at first sight and these two are about to join the jet set scene from New York to Palm Beach, Acapulco, London and Rome. It sounds like the beginning of a cheesy romance novel. But in this case it's the first chapter of a real life story, still unfolding for Tish and John Quirk. Though they've traveled the globe and mingled with everyone from the Pope to Pavarotti, their saga has continued for more than three decades in the heart of California horse country, San Diego County, where they have woven themselves into the fabric of the West Coast and international horse sport.

Tish started the whole horse thing. For John, who grew up as a "city boy" in the Midwest playing the contact sports, then golf and tennis, this was a new and mysterious world. For Tish it was the life into which she was born, growing up on a cattle ranch in New Mexico, where she was raised to revere the land, the horses and the ranching life. The small town values and the straight-arrow approach which she inherited from her father, the late Denny Moore, anchored her through the jet setter period of their life.

The ranch girl quickly took to the English saddle when introduced to jumping and became an accomplished junior competitor on the Southwest circuit. Spotted on the Stephens College campus in Missouri by Mademoiselle Magazine scouts, Tish Moore accepted their offer to come to New York as a model. While she has now replaced the couture clothes with well-worn boots and Levi's, Tish is still a knockout at 57.

Having resumed her love affair with horses after she and John settled in Carlsbad, California in 1970, Tish won year-end PCHA Amateur Owner Hunter and Equitation championships. With Best of Luck (Octrooi), son of the famous Dutch stallion Lucky Boy, she began a breeding business and established a line which now claims many national hunter, jumper and dressage championships to its credit. Best of Luck's son, Just the Best is now following in his late father's footsteps as the program's head stallion.

It didn't take John long to realize that Tish's equestrian interests were no passing fancy, and that he'd best embrace them. He applied to the horse world the full force of his quick, curious and creative mind, entrepreneurial spirit, forceful will and considerable problem solving skills in same way he had in the automobile and space worlds as an engineer, inventor, marketer and multi-company president.

John bought Horses Magazine in 1980 and transformed a California vanity publication into the bible of international show jumping, with subscribers in 50 states and 39 countries. Not bad for a venture that began as a justification for writing off the horse expenses, John says.
"He's an astute observer of everything in life," says Tish. That trait served John well as a man writing about one of the few sports he'd never done himself. Asked how he learned so fast and so much, John replies, "I watched a hundred thousand horses jump a million jumps. I asked questions and listened to the answers. Eventually you earn your way. I think my proudest moments in the sport have come from two letters, one from Bert de Nemethy and one from Olaf Petersen, the two greatest course designers of all time, with congratulations for my reports describing the subtle nuances of their Olympic and World Cup courses."

John's in-depth articles and interviews during the Horses heyday reflect an insider's appreciation of the sport and its stars, both equine and human, and his pervasive enthusiasm for the athleticism, beauty and suspense of show jumping. They also reflect the rapport he has established with the world's top riders and horsemen.

From 1981 on, Tish and John attended every World Cup Show Jumping Final. At their first, he started Tish off on an additional career. "We stopped in Hong Kong on the way to Gothenburg, Sweden and John bought a really good Nikon camera," Tish recalls. "When there weren't photos available to buy at the Gothenburg World Cup, John handed me the camera and said 'See what you can do.'" John says, "Her horseman's instinct helped her get the right shot at the right time, her model's instinct saw backgrounds and angles that not everybody saw, and the male photographers went out of their way to show her the techniques and tricks of the camera." Tish was off and running on her renowned career as an equestrian photographer.

The inroads John created through Horses led him into event organization. The 1992 Volvo World Cup Final at Del Mar and the Budweiser World Cup Final 2000 at Las Vegas were his babies, and his resume includes active roles with a long list of international competitions. Now 82, John is a key player in the 2003 Final coming to Las Vegas next April. His dedication to a new event of his own design, the Nations Cup of the Americas, is unwavering, even though it's taken John a bit longer to convert the non-believers than he had hoped. John's creations and contributions have been recognized with two special performance awards and three lifetime achievement awards from the AHSA, PCHA, CPHA, and Del Mar.

In 25 years in the sport, John has owned an estimated 100+ horses, including 14 horses who have won money in grand prix competition, with horses in three World Cup Finals and on seven Nations Cup Teams, and one horse which ended up as a World Championship horse for Austria. John's current star is Fighter Pilot, a son of the noted Westphalen "Pilot," who he considers at least equal to his great jumper Zulu. The horse's name harks back to John's days as a WWII carrier fighter pilot in the Pacific Theater.

The ultimate proof of John's horse sense came in 1984 when he went to Europe looking for a hunter for Tish and came home with Best of Luck. Up until then it had been difficult to explain the concept of an American hunter to their horse contacts in Europe, where the show ring hunter doesn't exist. "He was the perfect horse," Tish has good reason to say of her outstanding horse, ridden by Hap Hansen and Tish to mantles full of ribbons and trophies. "He had the heart of a lion and was always calm, brave and generous and so very kind." Best of Luck's ideal conformation, disposition, jumping ability and form are renowned.

Tish had not planned on starting her own breeding operation. But show ring success with Best Of Luck brought offers to buy him at such high price tags that the only way to justify saying no to a sale was to breed him, beginning the line which is now a fixture in the American breeding industry. Tish has been thoroughly immersed in the breeding business ever since.

Among Best of Luck's best-known offspring are hunter champions January's Best and Stroke of Luck, plus international Grand Prix jumper champions and FEI dressage champions. Though he had to be put down at 27 three years ago, he had reproduced himself in his son, the 1991 stallion Just The Best. The two stallions are so much alike that it is difficult to distinguish them in portraits mounted in Tish's office.

Last year Tish welcomed the chance to bring her training and breeding businesses together in one location, Eureka Farms in Rancho Santa Fe. The gracious, tree-lined property has four large, grass pasture turn-outs, several smaller paddocks and a beautiful barn. A newly footed jumping arena is complemented by a grand prix field with banks and water obstacles where friends often come to school their jumpers.

Previously, Tish had shuttled between breeding headquarters in inland San Diego's Valley Center and her training barn at Showpark in the Del Mar area. Working with a select group of students, Tish emphasizes solid basics and horsemanship. She offers full care for clients' horses and is happy to work with outside trainers. The facility also enables her to offer lay-ups and rehabs, something she enjoys almost as much as the breeding process.

The horse comes first in everything Tish does at Eureka Farms. She speaks about them as if they were her children and she cherishes the quiet barn moments when she can hear all of them breathing from her office. Her core management philosophy is that horses perform best when they're happy and healthy. Eureka Farms exudes calm. Her horses spend more time schooling or relaxing at home than pounding the circuit to earn points. From the yearling classes on up through the higher divisions, Tish's horses have won big honors on very conservative show schedules. One yearling won a reserve national championship with only 19 horse shows, beaten only by a barn that hauled their baby to 50 competitions, Tish reports. "We are all about preventing problems," she says. "The big thing now is ulcers in show horses. Well, if their lives are not stressful, and their feed, work and management programs are balanced, you won't have ulcers."

Babies are taught good manners in a logical, patient sequence that happens naturally over a few years. "Everything we do from day one points these horses towards the show ring," she says. "But nothing is rushed." A good example of that approach is that the babies are often turned out in the grand prix field, where they run up and down the bank for fun. Most horses first meet a bank in a pressurized show environment, she notes. "For our horses, it's just a play thing."

John and Tish's partnership has flourished through 34 years of marriage in large part because they share an interest without treading on each other's toes. John leaves the breeding and training to Tish and she leaves the event organizing and magazine editing to John. Their experiences, of course, lend insights and support to each other's efforts. Good sportsmanship is a strong common bond, as is their appreciation for the wonderful people and places the horse world has introduced them to. "It's all sport," says John. "You work hard and play fair."