January 2016 - Hats Off!

CPHA honors seven special people and one horse and here’s why.

produced by Kim F. Miller & Alicia Anthony

The California Professional Horsemen’s Association’s annual presentation of special awards is always a moving ceremony and a feel-good time of reflection and celebration for everybody involved. The presentations take place during the CPHA banquet January 8 during the Pacific Coast Horse Show Association’s convention at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

To augment these awards, we asked peers of the recipients to write brief tributes, allowing us all to get to know these well-deserved winners a little better.


Kathy, left, with friend Zazou Hoffman.

Kathy Kusner - Hall of Fame inductee
by George Meyer

As a beginner in horse sports in 1976, I had heard Kathy Kusner’s name spoken in reverent tones. When I learned that she would give her first clinic, I knew I had to attend.

Approaching the dark indoor ring at Storms’ facility in Torrance, I saw a short, delicate person purposefully striding around the ring. “What is a nun doing here?” I asked myself. The jodhpurs, boots and breeches suggested that this must be Kathy Kusner.

Her feats on horses – three Olympics, first female jockey, etc. – need no elaboration from me.

In the last 20 years, she has applied her intelligence and generosity to her non-profit foundation Horses In The Hood. This foundation holds one-week summer camps at Cory Walkey’s Mill Creek Ranch in Topanga. The children are from environments where they have suffered from want and often from brutal abuse. In the camps, groups of 10 learn about caring for and riding horses.

It is a joy to see Kathy interact with the children as they work with and on their horses. The glow on the young riders’ faces is a wonderful reward for all who are involved with Kathy’s foundation.

Thank you Kathy. It’s a privilege to be your friend!

Author George Meyer and Gail Ross are partners in Pacific Riding Club in San Juan Capistrano. 

Linda Allen - Lifetime Achievement
by Larry Langer

When I moved from Southern California to Northern California in 1972 to open the Pacific Horse Center, Linda Allen was already on her way to becoming a legend in our hunter/jumper sport.

At that time and through the ensuing years she was virtually one of California’s best international jumper riders. She was well known throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, and in Europe as well. When her riding career came to a sudden end due to an injury, there was no time for her to mope ... it was not in her blood.

Despite the fact that she was at the peak of her riding, she re-focused and kept on going like a certain Energizer bunny we all know.

Linda became one of the best jumper course designers in the United States, and just like when she rode, she began designing courses throughout the world.

In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where I was fortunate enough to be the Show Jumping Competition Manager, Linda was our Course Designer. These kind of jobs are almost never given to a woman, and almost never given to a United States citizen. Linda was at the top of the world show jumping sport once again.

One interesting note: the highest International Course Designing license awarded by the FEI is an “O” license, and at the time of the Atlanta Olympics, there were only 12 people in the world who carried that designation, including Linda.

I personally was blown away by the fact that nine of those 12 FEI Official International Course Designers volunteered to serve as Linda’s assistants, flying to Atlanta at their own expense from all over the world to work with her, as essentially her ring crew. I was so honored to be in their presence and it shows how revered she was in the world show jumping sport.

Linda was never into letting grass grow under her feet. She became a powerhouse in the governance of our sport, first as a PCHA board member, and then eventually moving up to be an officer of the United States Equestrian Federation. She has been a long time national and international judge, and has conducted many courses for licensed officials for both our national federation and for the FEI.

Today, in addition to her very popular book and many articles, she is one of the most sought after clinicians in our hunter/jumper sport in riding, course designing and horsemanship. Through it all, Linda has never forgotten her California roots, and still serves as a member of the USHJA Zone 10 Committee.

To summarize, Linda has been and continues to be a legend for all of us who love the horse. I am extremely glad to see the CPHA award her the tribute she surely deserves.

Author Larry Langer is one of the hunter/jumper industry’s longtime guiding lights. He’s a show organizer, sport advocate, member of many committees over the years and, with his wife Marnye, operates the Langer Equestrian Group.

John French - Special Achievement
by Tom Rattigan & friends

Grand champion from coast to coast. He’s won it all, from North to South. Devon, Washington International, Wellington, Thermal and the Hunter Derby Finals. He’s been there and continues to do it all at the highest level.

He’s such a fierce competitor, and leading the jog is usually where you’ll find him. That is, when he’s not walking calmly from ring to ring where he easily rides up to 55-plus rounds in any one given day.

John’s love of showing and catch riding starts back to his early youth, riding for his mother, a hard-core pony trainer in Maryland. John’s job was to prepare the naughty ponies, and he hasn’t looked back since. John rode those ponies from sunrise to sunset, just like now.

John’s craft and horsemanship often means that he is one of the last to leave the show grounds.  No short cuts for John.  Each horse gets the attention it needs and deserves.

His colleagues most often describe him as gracious and patient. His gentle demeanor, patience and quick wit make him a favorite on the show circuit with his fellow competitors and his clients. Most importantly the horses love him!!!

He’s there with an honest and fair critique of the horses he’s selling and after he catch rides your horse, he spends the needed time talking to the other trainer about the horse, its short comings and strengths. Then he’ll spend the needed time to plan out the strategy for the next day.

When John’s not on the road showing or in Europe trying to find the next winner, you’ll could easily find him at a good movie, a great restaurant or downtown shopping, and not necessarily in that order.…He definitely has a weakness for a great dinner out with his partner, Carlos, friends and clients.

And did we mention he loves a great shopping adventure… And then there’s the other shopping, the shopping for the next winner, which is another great passion.

If you’ve ever gone horse shopping with John in Europe, it’s not uncommon to be see him on his first horse by 7 a.m. and still riding past way past midnight. And it’s always fun to watch the folks at the yard come to the rail when word gets out there’s a great rider jumping some big fences with amazing ease. They flock to the rail to watch the master. After 18 hours of trying horses, then you go scouring the countryside for a hotel. That’s always a fun challenge in certain parts of the European countryside.

To say that John gives it his all 24/7 is truly an understatement. His dedication and love for the horse, his team and sport, make him one of the most sought-after riders in the country.

John was short listed for the 2004 Olympic Team and he only had one open jumper that year. He loves to tell the story about when he was 16, riding and competing on his 15.2 hand Palomino, John was ready to call it quits. He sent his picture in to The Chronicle of the Horse, and George Morris, after commenting on John’s long hair (unacceptable), thought the picture was the best example of classic hunter seat equitation he’d even seen. That gave John the kick he needed and the rest, as they say, is history. George is still fond of saying that John French is probably one of the best hunter riders in the U.S.: he’s probably one of the best rider of horses, period, in the world.

In reflecting on his amazing career that spans over a quarter century, John reminds himself to always be humble. If not, “The horses will do it for you!” John doesn’t rest on his laurels. “You’re only as good as your last horse show.”

It’s wonderful to see the CPHA honoring John and their acknowledgment of his skill as a trainer and sportsman.

Author Tom Rattigan is marketing manager of G2 Insurance Services and one of John’s many friends.  

Will Simpson - Special Achievement
by Mayisha Akbar

I first met Will Simpson when he blazed onto the Compton Jr Posse (CJP) scene more than eight years ago, when he was introduced by a mutual friend. Who would have thought that this good looking, kind-spirited man would have the courage to come down to the streets in Compton, which was known as the most dangerous city in America, to teach jumping to African American youth and, in particular, young males.

Will quickly became a life-changing partner with his down-to-earth no-nonsense teaching.  Kind of humorous, as I remember -- our young boys saying that they would never wear those tight pants, but Will was able to meet them on their level with his strong character. He explained: “Hey, it’s just a uniform like football,” and then went on to demonstrate that this is not a sport for the weak or faint of heart. They were persuaded!

Photo: Bret St. Clair

Will has been a great role model because he understands first hand the power of possibilities from his own growing up on Chicago’s south side, to riding to the top of the equestrian game.

Will, the magic man, has spent countless hours working to help sustain the CJP organization and has been the number one force insuring that CJP is “Keeping Kids ON Horses and OFF the Streets!”

He has opened doors to make it possible for CJP kids to participate in activities that they would never have otherwise been able to. This has inspired our youth and given them hope, where they had little growing up in the community from which they come. Will has helped them understand that there is another lifestyle they can aspire to, but it requires hard work, dedication and education.

For those of you who don’t know, Will grills a mean BBQ! So mean that it has been the most sought-after item helping to raise much needed CJP program funds. He has even rolled his pit on wheels up to the CJP Ranch to help honor corporate sponsors and donors by personally shaking hands and serving them his delicious meals, all the while teaching a lesson to CJP riders in the arena with his apron on.

Will is vested in youth which is reflected in his own words, “The Compton Jr 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.”

Over the years, I and our youth have learned so much from Will. We are very humbled that he remains a true and steadfast friend. Thank you, Will!

Author Mayisha Akbar is founder and executive director of the Compton Jr Posse Youth Equestrian Program. (www.comptonjrposse.org)

Hannah von Heidegger - Special Achievement
by Sydney Callaway

Hannah von Heidegger is well known for her incredible riding ability and her multiple achievements, both in and out of the saddle. She conquered the Grand Prix ring before she even turned 18 years of age, won multiple equitation titles and hunter championships. She was able to simultaneously juggle the high academic demands of Campbell Hall School while traveling weekly to horse shows all over the West Coast.

This past summer she also earned her red coat due to her participation in the CSIO3* in Bratislava. I could go on with her many achievements but most are already very familiar with the many achievements of this little super star.

Rather I want to concentrate on the young women who has grown up in front of my eyes.

I have had to pleasure of knowing Hannah for many years, starting back when we were both 11 years old and competing in the Onondarka Finals together. We continued to see each other every weekend, and from there a great and enduring friendship evolved.  I saw Hannah grow from year to year in her riding career, from her beginnings with Joe Thorpe, to her evolution into an equitation rider under Karen Healey, and finally to Will Simpson, where she has flourished into one of the top young show jumpers in the country.

Whenever Hannah is in the ring, people take notice.  She has grit and style, she has a plan yet keeps her feel, and her cool and calm demeanor both on and off the horse defies the mere 18 years of age and 5 foot 3 inches of height she holds.

Going beyond her riding career, I deeply admire Hannah for her ability to maintain focus on great achievements in academics as well. She is currently a student at UCSD and, when she is not dedicating her hours to her horses, she can be found intently studying. This kind of drive and determination is not easy to come by. Hannah embodies the work ethic and intelligence that most adults far beyond her years are still striving to embody.

In short, I cannot articulate how proud I am of this girl for all she has achieved, as well as what she will continue to achieve. It has been a privilege to have your friendship for so many years, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you.

Much love and admiration, Sydney.

Author Sydney Callaway is a top young rider, currently studying at and riding for the University of South Carolina. She is also a California Riding Magazine intern and recipient of the CPHA Special Achievement award last year.

Alexandra LaDove - Special Achievement
by Caitlin Boyle

Although I have not had the pleasure of knowing Alex for that long, I feel like we have been friends for years. She is such a kind person and is always there if you ever need to talk about anything. If I or anyone else is having a bad day, she knows how to help to make us laugh again.

Her optimistic view on things is very contagious along with the calming vibe she has. At school, she is an amazing teammate because she has a way of making me feel relaxed while still being focused.

Not only is she great with people, she also has a way with the horses. While seeing her compete over the past couple of years, I have always admired her soft feel on a horse and how natural it looks. She has a beautiful position that is hard not to notice. The horses love the way she rides and Alex is able to keep the more sensitive horses at ease.

No matter what happens in the ring, Alex will always have a good attitude and thanks her horses. This is the most important thing while being involved with horses because we must remember why we started in the first place, which is for the love of horses. The love Alex has for her horses is very apparent.

Alex is not afraid of putting in hard work and because of that, she had a great junior career and finished with an amazing final junior year to remember.

Author Caitlin Boyle is a teammate of Alexandra’s on the Auburn University equestrian team.

Bethany Unwin Photography

Morgan Dickerson - Special Achievement & Sportsmanship Award
by Karen Healey

Morgan has been a student of mine for the last three years. He had recently begun doing the 3’6” medals when he came to me in December of 2012. That year he won the Ronnie Mutch class at Thermal, was Reserve Champion in the ASPCA Regionals and got top ribbons at Indoors with his Junior Hunter. He started in the Children’s Jumpers in July of 2013; one year later he was competing at NAJYRC on the same horse.

This year he qualified for the “A” team at Young Riders, the Zone 10 team for the Prix de States competition in Harrisburg and was the first rider on the waiting list for the U25 Championships at the National Horse Show. He competed successfully in his first Grand Prix, won his first U25 class, and qualified and competed once again in all the Finals back East.

Throughout these last three years, he has won in the Hunters, Jumpers and the Equitation. He has ridden in The Gladstone Program, and done everything he could to become not only a top rider, but a true horseman.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that Morgan is one of the nicest young men you could ever meet. He is supportive of his friends, of which there are many, and gracious to everyone. He has gone through tremendous highs and lows during this time, yet kept looking forward towards his goals. When needed, he found new goals to work towards and just reworked the plan.

Morgan has a great future in this sport and in the rest of his life. I am truly proud to have been a part of his journey.

Author Karen Healey is one of the hunter/jumper industry’s top trainers and launcher of many young professionals’ careers.

Transmission - Equine Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame
by Ricky Neal

With just one week left in the summer-long tour of Europe, Transmission and I found ourselves in a bit of a bind. Transmission, or “Tranny” as he was known, had been my mount for the summer. Now we were at the first annual Megève CSI*** show jumping competition - Edmond de Rothschild Group, in Megève, France, a lovely town nestled in the French Alps.

It was July 31, 2011, the day before my 19th birthday. Sixty riders were about to face off in the grand prix, the winner of which, as best rider from the Rhône-Alpes region, would qualify to compete in the five-star CSI competition in Geneva.

And we had no trainer and no groom.

Tranny and I were in a small indoor warm-up ring packed around the edge with spectators and jammed with trainers and grooms in a constant struggle over the height of the two jumps crammed in the center. My long-time trainer had left with the rest of our barn to catch a flight back to the States earlier that afternoon before, leaving Tranny and me on our own.

We did manage to connect with the groom of a British rider with whom I had had a drink earlier in the week. He graciously assisted us in setting the jumps in the warm-up ring.

The warm-up was terrible. Don’t be mistaken, four weeks on tour with The USEF’s Developing Rider Program had left Transmission and me well prepared for the demands of the CSI*** Grand Prix. Moreover, the additional month I spent training in Belgium with Henk Nooren, the then-chef d’equipe of the French show jumping team, gave us confidence.

I felt alone. No trainer, no groom, but I had Transmission, and it was time to see if we could fend for ourselves and use what we had learned during our summer together to conquer the course.

Late to secure a jump for the warm-up and even later in deciding on an appropriate distance, I placed my trust in Transmission do what I knew he could do when it was our turn to head for the ring. We went through the crowd of villagers and tourists lining the path to the ring. With a quick stirrup adjustment at the gate and a frantic prance down the chute, a lead from my new friend put Transmission and me in the ring.

The excellent training and experience of the summer allowed us to rise to the demands of the first round and qualify for the jump-off. And then it was back into the ring for the jump-off in the inaugural Grand Prix of Megève. With the crowd cheering for the regional favorite, who had just gone double-clear, Transmission and I made our entrance.

A Yankee on an Irish Sport Horse in France.

Transmission’s aptitude for sharp turns kept a tidy route while his adjustable stride allowed for making the best number in all the related distances. With a little gallop and a big kick through the timers, Transmission and I won our second major competition since the European tour began.  The crowd applauded politely.

Despite the unfortunate warm-up and overall lack of a support network, we found we could build on our recent experiences as part of a USEF team. The victory served as a display of Transmission’s knack for jumping and more so as evidence of the potential height that a young rider and an old horse can achieve with proper training and a desire to succeed.

An hour after the conclusion of the class, Transmission and I caught a ride to Luxembourg, where after a few short hours of rest our van returned us to our Belgian stable for a few short days before catching the next plane back to the States.

Back in the U.S, Transmission quickly made an impression on the riders and trainers at the barn where I boarded him while attending college in Connecticut. Transmission shared his talent with junior Thiele Shroeder and amateur Annie Phillips while in training with Leslie Howard, enjoying a more relaxed competition schedule.

Transmission capped his jumping career at Meadow Grove Farm, where he entered into semi-retirement. He now resides in Brentwood under the care of Winter Hoffman, to whom we are indebted for providing a loving home and a meaningful place in the community and, furthermore, for the nomination for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Author Ricky Neal owns Transmission. He’s a recent college graduate and is ready to return to the equestrian world full time soon.