Monthly Editorials
December 2020 - Editor’s Notes
Written by Alicia Anthony
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 04:10


If only all bad news could be turned around as quickly as that we reported last issue regarding the Fresno County Horse Park’s future.

See this month's Gallop for the happy reversal of fortunes in which Terry Hilst has stepped in to buy the lease on the popular eventing venue and the fixtures needed to carry on with recognized events as originally scheduled.

Better yet, the previous owner and organizer John Marshall will continue to play an important role as co-organizer of the shows. John took over the reins from Bill Burton in 2012 and Bill, himself, has chimed in to offer his help, Terry reports. They join many USEA Area VI members and supporters who’ve jumped on the bandwagon to help maintain this important venue on the West Coast circuit.


You can learn a lot from reading this month’s issue. Hunter/jumper trainer and Grand Prix rider Scott Lico has a good piece on the importance of having a game plan on game day. Amateur eventer Alice Chan writes about the importance of being curious as a horse owner. In her case, that led her to Dr. Carrie Schlachter’s new venture, The Horse Course, through which Alice has gained knowledge that is even more valuable now that she and her son, Benjamin, keep their horses at home. And, our performance psychologist columnist Darby Bonomi, PhD, answers a reader’s request for staying mentally sharp through the equestrian “off season.”


We really enjoyed getting around to several big shows during this deadline cycle. Look for reports on the Galway Downs International Horse Trials in Temecula and the debut of Desert Dressage in Thermal. Big congratulations to those exceling in the many medal finals that managed to be staged at lovely competitions even in this year when so much was rescheduled, relocated, re-imagined, etc. All of our show organizers are outdoing themselves and I find that very encouraging and exciting.  

Thank you to Big Horse Feed and Mercantile in Temecula for sponsoring this month’s cover feature. Very fun to write about this fixture of the Southern California equestrian lifestyle that has had something for everyone, even in these tough times for retailers.

Finally, this is my last issue as editor of California Riding Magazine. Thanks to founder Cheryl Erpelding for taking me on way back when, to Denise Munson and Virginia McClintock at MPM Publishing for sticking with me when they purchased Riding Magazine and to creative director Alicia Anthony for making the magazine so beautiful always and being a pleasure to work with through the tense times of deadlines and last-minute scrambles.

Thanks to the many who’ve shared insights, opinions, guidance and great stories over the years. Thanks to the horses who are the inspiration. Thanks most of all to my mom, Margaret Freeman. “Why don’t you write about horses?” she asked at my last career crossroads. Sure glad I took her advice.

It has been a lovely ride and please stay in touch!


This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Snip is a 10 year old quarter horse gelding up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, California.

He stands 15 hands high and has been well trained to ride. He appears to have been a ranch horse who most likely worked/roped cattle. He has an enlarged arthritic fetlock on his right front so light riding only for this gorgeous boy.

Snip was probably used hard and he has done his job well, therefore he deserves the best light riding pampering adopter who will love him for life and appreciate him as a family member, not a working machine!

Adoption fee is $500.

See Snip on our adoption page at

December 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by by Dr. Darby Bonomi
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 03:24

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby,
It’s December, and I’m already looking ahead to the 2021 season. Like most of us, I  didn’t get to show consistently this year. I ended this season feeling that my horse and I finally got back into our groove. Will you give me some tips on staying mentally sharp during the off season? When I get back to competition early next year, I want to be my best right out of the gate.
Thanks very much,
—C.N., Newport Beach

Dear C,

Thanks for this great question! With COVID and the wildfires, 2020 was indeed a stop-and-start show season for us here in California. It’s been a very stressful year, no doubt about it. I am happy to hear that in the last couple of months you were able to get into your groove—that speaks to your determination, focus, and hard work—all of which will serve you well next year and beyond.

First of all, I advise taking a break. I know that may sound like a strange first step, but recovery (mental, psychological, and physical) is an essential part of the performance cycle. It’s just not possible or productive to stay on ‘full flame’ all year. You wouldn’t expect that of your horse, so don’t expect it of yourself either. Horses need time off, and so do we.

Remember that lots of integration occurs during downtime, so rest assured that your hard work isn’t going to waste. With more downtime, you hopefully will have some more mental space. Don’t rush to fill that space with busywork; plan your weeks so there is time to reflect and recover.

Full disclosure: I am not good at downtime.
Give me a schedule with goals and tasks
to accomplish, and I’m right there, but
give me a week off and I might get lost.
For this reason, I try to schedule my
downtime just as I do my work time.
Those boundaries allow me to actually
take a breath and give myself a rest.  

Do take some time to review the factors that helped you to get into your groove at the end of this season. What did you refine or do differently, both for yourself and your horse? Make a few notes about the mental prep, technical work, or physical conditioning that made a difference—and add a few notes about what you might tweak for next season.

During this time when you’re not riding as much, challenge yourself to develop your physical fitness. Change up your routine. Maybe try a new workout or consult with a fitness trainer. Now is a great time to focus on getting stronger, more flexible, and developing your endurance. Do an assessment of your physical fitness to pinpoint your weaknesses, and go after those. One of your rewards will be that physical fitness provides all sorts of mental and psychological benefits too.

As we get older strength,
flexibility, and endurance
are crucial to our performance.
I personally have found that
cross training is an
essential foundation to my riding.

In addition, the off season is an optimal time to do some extra reading. Sounds like you’re game to enhance your mental strategy, so I would suggest some sport psychology books such as Mind Gym, The Power of Full Engagement, and The Champion’s Mind. There are many great texts out there—find something that speaks to you and see what you can glean from it.

Make a plan for next year. Think about where you and your horse are now. Outline where you want to be this time next year and how you’re going to get there. Focus not only on your show plan, but also your training goals and mental/psychological goals for performance. Writing down your goals and your plan will help you solidify them in your mind and keep track of your progress.

And, remember: no matter how much off-season prep you engage in, when we come back from a break, we’re all a bit rusty. Expect it, plan for it, accept it as a part of the cycle of performance. Not every show is the Olympics; nor should it be! Finals and championships happen at the end of the year for a reason. Be reasonable in your expectations of yourself and your horse, and always have gratitude for the process.

Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist based in San Francisco. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. She can be reached at

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

November 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by CRM
Friday, 30 October 2020 02:11

ask dr darby

Even optimists need strategies in prolonged tough times.

Dear Dr. Darby,
I’m an optimist by nature. These past few months, I have held onto the belief that the current pandemic, fires, and political divisiveness will ease up. This perspective, that things will soon improve, has helped me keep worldly worries at bay during my barn time. But now I’m feeling a sense of hopelessness that bleeds into my time with my horse, which has normally been such a refuge. How can I continue to compartmentalize these aspects of life, and should I? Is there a danger in suppressing these worries in order to enjoy my ride?
Thanks for your perspective,
—K.M., amateur rider, Orange County

Dear K,


Thanks for this beefy question. You, similar to many people, are losing that sense that everything will go back to ‘normal’ once the calendar turns on December 31. I have heard folks remark, ‘get me to 2021 fast,’ as if our current situation will magically transform in January. I think it’s safe to say that our troubles are staring us in the face, and we have a long way to go before they’re resolved.  We’re not ‘going back to the way things were.’ It’s abundantly clear that we have to change on many fronts.

Right now, as in other times in history, we as a society are faced with big tasks, challenges, and responsibilities. It can be overwhelming, to be sure. I am guessing your hopelessness and despair emerge when as you feel powerless to make things better and uncertain of the future.

Do our current societal challenges mean that we should no longer go to the barn, enjoy ourselves, and develop our riding? Absolutely not! If anything, we need our barn time and our horses more than ever. As I’ve often said, for us equestrians, the barn is a sanctuary—our meditative, restorative place. It’s important to keep it that way—for our mental health, our riding, and our relationship with our horses.

You ask if there is a danger in suppressing your worries in order to ride. My answer is that it’s imperative to have regular, reliable, relief from stress.

Consistent, long term exposure to high levels of stress, especially in which you feel helpless and hopeless, is detrimental to your mental health and your physical well-being—and it has a significant negative impact on your immune system. I highly recommend that you find ways to compartmentalize your worries, release physical and mental tension, and give yourself opportunities to be productive in your world.

Here are some strategies to get you started.
•    Set boundaries: Personally, I set boundaries around tasks and activities in order to help me be productive when I need to work, focus when I need to perform, and relax when I need to do that. Remember, time off is essential for productivity, so give yourself a break from worries too.
•    Lean into change: What you resist gets bigger and more powerful. If you’re feeling hopeless, you are likely resisting change rather than accepting the situation and figuring out to adapt and thrive under new conditions. Challenge yourself to see new opportunities for growth rather than putting your head in the sand waiting for the calendar to turn.
•    Be proactive, not reactive: Turn your mind to what you can do, rather than what you can’t. How can you make today a good day for yourself, your family, and your community? Productive people always turn their minds to what they can do to improve themselves or a situation.
•    Have compassion: it’s a stressful time. Let’s give ourselves and others a break. Even the strongest and most resilient among us sometimes feel off our game. If you’re feeling unsteady or down, give yourself some time to refuel. For us riders that might mean we need an extra afternoon at the barn!

Last, you mention you’re an optimist. Hang onto that quality! An optimist sees the opportunities in every situation. You, as a glass-half-full person, are needed right now more than ever. Look for the good in situations, such as the small pieces of progress or light. Maybe it’s the pony girl who just learned to canter, or the neighbor who brought over some cookies, or a kind gesture by a groom. What you focus on expands, so turn your mind to the new growth, the good, and the opportunities that present themselves now—and help others do the same.

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

October 2020 - To Show or Not To Show …
Written by by Nan Meek
Thursday, 01 October 2020 15:42

dressage news

That is the question during fires, festivals, and championships.

by Nan Meek

Whoever said dressage is as exciting as watching paint dry clearly did not coin the phrase in 2020. Myriad monumental wildfires that began in mid-August created evacuation havoc throughout California, Oregon, and Washington, followed by choking smoke that blanketed much of the state. COVID-19 restrictions that began in mid-March evolved into uncertainty that kept riders on the edge of their saddles, waiting to hear if bucket-list competitions would be held or not.

Fires, Smoke, Championships


As we go to press, riders who traveled to Del Mar are competing in the 2020 Great American Insurance Group/ USDF Region 7 Dressage Championships and the 53rd California Dressage Society Championships, held concurrently at the Del Mar Show Park. That show is the ultimate bucket-list competition for hundreds of dressage riders in California.

Lily-Rose Bacon and Warm Night, FEI Junior Division, 2020 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. Photo: Susan J. Stickle Photography

It’s been a rocky road getting there, for those who are competing and for those who are organizing the show. In mid-July, the CDS board was faced with a quandary:  Move the championships from their original venue, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, due to its continuing closure required by local government’s response to the pandemic? If so, where should it move? Or, should it be cancelled?

After taking in extensive suggestions and concerns from members, and evaluating the advantages and drawbacks of available facilities, the CDS board decided to move the championships to Del Mar Horse Park, keeping it in Southern California. This show alternates annually between north and south, to help make it evenly (or alternately) accessible for riders in our spread-out state.

Later, the CDS board faced another dilemma due to the wildfires that swept through so much of the state, as smoke created unhealthily high AQI (Air Quality Index) numbers almost everywhere that wasn’t actually on fire. The question became whether to hold the championships at all. Conversation on social media ranged from “We can’t hold the show with all this going on” to “We have to hold the championships” and everything in between.

Warm Night with Lily-Rose and Lucie Bacon. Photo: Jerry Yang

Judgment Calls

As the days counted down toward the September 24 start of the show, the CDS board decided the championships should take place as planned, with all due precautions such as masks required at all times except when riding, hand sanitization stations throughout the facility, and social distancing.

For those who were unaffected, or minimally affected, by high AQIs that prevented schooling and conditioning, it was a welcome decision. On the other hand, many horses spent weeks breathing unhealthy air and exercising only by hand- or tack-walking. For their riders, the decision to show or not to show became a personal choice: Was the show date too soon after horses’ respiratory systems had been assaulted by damaging particulates? Was it fair to expect a horse to compete when it had been effectively laid off for weeks?

For the decision-makers at CDS, there was no way to please all of their members. For CDS members, to show or not to show became a personal choice based on each member’s individual circumstances and each horse’s unique health situation.

Some competitors were reassured by Del Mar’s AQI numbers falling into the mid-40s to low-50s during the week heading into the show, especially competitors from locations where the AQI had not risen much above the 100 mark that seemed to divide “riding as usual” from “hand-walk or tack-walk.”

Others, whose horses had been breathing particulate-laden air well above 100, often for weeks, relied on the rule of thumb that, even after AQI numbers fell below 100, a two- to four-week recovery period was necessary before resuming competition-caliber training. Respiratory health is critical to horses’ general health, even more so for horses pushed to perform at maximum effort, and the horse’s respiratory system can be easily damaged, sometimes permanently.

Showing is always a judgment call: Is my horse truly ready to compete? Am I aiming too high (or too low) for my horse’s ability at the moment? Am I asking too much (or not enough) of my horse or myself? Now more than ever, those questions are more complicated and difficult to answer.

My hat’s off to CDS for making the decision to offer a championship show, despite the challenges of the pandemic and the air quality crisis. Leaving the decision of whether to show, or not, to each individual competitor places the responsibility for each horse’s health and safety squarely where it belongs: with their owner, trainer, coach, and rider.

My hat’s also off to everyone who makes the right decision for their horses’ health and wellbeing, whether that’s to show, or not to show. If there’s one thing every DQ can agree on, it’s that every horse is a unique individual. What’s right for one can be wrong for the next.

Here’s hoping that every decision to show is made with the horse’s health and wellbeing in mind – come pandemic, wildfire, or whatever challenge comes our way.

Team HCM Dressage, left to right: Lily-Rose Bacon, Lola (dog), Hillary Martin, Woldhoeves Silco (pony), Carmen Stephens, Caroline Mader, and Lucie Bacon.

U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions

When Lily-Rose Bacon, a junior member of my CDS chapter, returned from competing at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions, I asked her to contribute an account of her experience to this column. I knew her perspective as a serious student of dressage and as a junior rider would provide a fresh viewpoint on high-level competition in these trying times. Here is Lily-Rose’s report:

For six years I have dreamed about riding down the centerline at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions. In April of 2019 I met my current equine partner, Warm Night, and our goal for the 2020 season became to qualify and compete in the FEI Junior Division. Alongside fellow teammates from HCM Dressage, I began the year with a hectic competition schedule and a great deal of excitement surrounding the possibility of earning an invitation to the championships.

When the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders brought competitions to a halt in early March, our plans became tangled in the disarray that plagued the equestrian community across the country. Our seasonal goals were put on hold, but we continued training with hope that competitions would resume. By June, competitions restarted under the US Equestrian Federation’s newly adopted regulations. While the North American Junior and Young Rider

Championships were cancelled, we remained hopeful that the opportunity to compete at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions in August would remain a possibility.

Carmen Stephens’ Woldhoeves Silco shows a little love to Team HCM Dressage.


Thanks to careful planning on the part of the USEF, our wish came true. With great excitement, on August 15th I, my twin sister and designated groom Lucie Bacon, trainer Hillary Martin, and fellow teammates boarded the plane to Illinois to attend the Festival. Our horses, who had flown out earlier that morning, met us in Chicago.

Understandably, the atmosphere was quite different than years prior, due to health regulations. However, having attended several post-quarantine qualifying competitions, I was familiar with the new policies. It is an understatement to say that USEF did an incredible job maintaining health protocols and addressing the concerns related to COVID-19 policies. Mask wearing and temperature checks were required in order to enter the grounds, and social distancing policies were enforced throughout the week. Because of careful planning, and the incredible enthusiasm of the community of participants, the atmosphere remained lively and supportive, and I was able to immerse myself in the experience of competing among some of the top riders in the country.

The week began by adjusting the horses to the Lamplight facility, and making our final preparations for the tests during our training sessions. Dressed in customized team shirts, we attended the jog Wednesday evening, and my horse Night and all of our team horses were officially accepted to compete in their respective divisions.

Despite an explosive ride in our first test, Night and I were able to conclude the competition with a positive experience in the Junior Individual test.

Although our tests were not as I had hoped, we brought home 15th place in the nation. After such a chaotic ride Friday, this truly reiterated to me the importance of perseverance.

Through the successes as well as the challenges, having the opportunity to compete alongside my trainer and teammates made the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions a remarkable experience that I will forever cherish. While dressage tests are ridden alone in the arena, behind every competitor there is a team, and I am beyond thankful to have endless support from my trainer, Hillary Martin, and the foundation of my team, my parents, who have made all of my dreams a reality.

A lifelong horse owner, Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1).

October 2020 - What’s Happening...
Written by CRM
Thursday, 01 October 2020 04:41

whats happeningCalifornia Riding Magazine Event Calendar

Does your special event deserve special coverage in California Riding Magazine’s What’s Happening Event Calendar? If so, let us know and don’t forget a photo. Send it all to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Our deadline is the first of the month for the following month’s issue. It’s the place to be and it’s free!

(Please visit the organizers’ websites before planning to enter or volunteer to ensure the event status has not changed.)


Woodside International Horse Trials
Oct. 8-10 in Woodside


Training through CCI4*-S is on the docket for this fall fixture of the West Coast eventing circuit. The team at organizer Kellerhouse Presents has ample experience with the new COVID protocols, from summer events at their sister site, Galway Downs, and the Summer Event at Woodside. Not so much socializing, but lots of great competition at a venue famous for challenging cross-country tracks, breath-taking views and nice people!

For more information, visit

Woodside Day Of The Horse
Oct. 10-11 in Woodside

In case you were escaping a fire or hiding under a rock when our September issue arrived with the cover story on Woodside Day of the Horse, here’s a friendly remember about this great event. The wonderful long-standing community tradition had to be modified due to COVID, but the Woodside Horse Owners Association’s determination to “Ride This Out Together” is a great example of equestrian ingenuity.


The trail ride is set for Sat. Oct. 10 and will likely be mostly locals this year. The Horse Fair is set for Oct. 11 as a drive-through event. Art of the Horse will be online as of Oct. 1. All are encouraged to vote for their favorite 12 pieces to be featured on WHOA!’s 2021 calendar.

For more details, grab the September issue of California Riding Magazine and/or visit

Young Eventing Horse Showcase
Oct. 23-24 in Paso Robles

Twin Rivers hosts the USEA Future Event Horse West Coast Championships and The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse West Coast Championships.  This special showcase for young horses is an important part of the sport’s development. The Baxter family’s beautiful venue is also hosting an unrated one-day event Sunday Oct. 25.


For more information, visit

Hunters, Jumpers & Reiners, Oh My!
Oct. 23-25 in Thermal

The Desert International Horse Park hosts an innovative, new equestrian event which brings together both hunter/jumper and reining competitors for a fun, affordable week in the desert.


National Sunshine Preview will be the first in a series of new shows, co-produced by DIHP and LEG Shows & Events, focused on hunter/equitation riders up to 3’ and jumpers up to 1.20m. The California Reining Horse Association Challenge (Oct. 20 - 25) will run concurrently with National Sunshine Preview and is the first reining event to be held at DIHP. The Challenge is one of the biggest reining competitions in California and DIHP is excited to see reiners “slide” into the desert.

“There is so much about this new event that we are excited about. We are hoping to create a new home for Southern California reining events. In support of this event, we are building three new large sand rings, which will serve a dual purpose by adding just over 250k square feet of new schooling space to the horse park,” commented Steve Hankin, President and CEO of DIHP. “And, we’re enthusiastic about creating a new hunter/jumper event which will bring new groups of riders to the horse park with National Sunshine Preview’s focus on lower height classes and a more affordable price point. The show plans on pricing stalls at $175 for the week, class fees at $40, and an office fee of $50. And now with the addition of the LAHJA medal finals, we’ll have even more to offer hunter/jumper riders.”

“These two events bring together two disciplines in a fun, casual weekend. There will be a crossover team event, a dinner social, and more fun activities throughout the weekend,” noted Hankin.

“With COVID-19 limiting activities in Los Angeles County, this gives us a great opportunity to move the needle on producing affordable and accessible competitions for the West Coast equestrian community,” shared Marnye Langer, Managing Director and CFO of The Langer Group.

For more information, visit

September 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by by Dr. Darby Bonomi
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 20:31

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby,

I’m a 15 year old rider at a large show barn. Most of my lessons are with other riders similar to my ability. My problem is that during lessons, my trainer compares us, and makes every lesson a competition. I know she does this to try to get us to ride our best, but what happens is that I get very nervous and self-conscious. It’s really hard for me to concentrate because I feel judged. I don’t know how to tell my trainer how I feel. Besides, I think she might tell me to just learn to live with it.

Thanks for your advice,

—R.A., Northern California

Dear R,


Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear that your trainer’s motivational approach isn’t working for you. From where I sit, many riders feel the same. Constant competition at home can be stressful, and I believe this approach goes against some very important principles of sport performance.


In my view, we must ride for and against ourselves, regardless of whether we’re at home or a show. I coach my riders to own their rides. Ride for yourself. Don’t ride for me, the judge, your trainer, or to beat your friends.

Create your own plan—based on your own challenges and aspirations—and actualize it.  

Toward this end, I encourage everyone to set three goals for every ride—whether it’s at home or the show. After the ride, evaluate yourself on those three tasks—did you accomplish them? If yes, how well?

If not, what are you going to change? Give yourself feedback and then refine your plan for the next time. And, remember: while the judge might give you only a ho-hum score for your ride, but it might be a complete victory for you, given your goals for your horse and yourself on that particular day.

The more you define your own goals and ride your own plan, the more you will take full ownership of every ride.

With this perspective in mind, comparisons are irrelevant. Even if you and I are in the same lesson or class, we are not working on the same things. It might be helpful to me to see how how you rode a track, or made an inside turn, but I know that I’m working on keeping my horse straight particularly out of my right turns, maintaining a consistent forward pace, and anchoring my right leg. You, on the other hand will have other tasks to focus on. We might ride together, but our goals and challenges are distinct.

If I were you, I’d have a conversation with my trainer when you can sit down in the office. Tell her how her approach is challenging for you and offer up an alternative. Maybe she’ll join you in helping craft a plan for each ride, and then give you feedback based on your own performance in relation to that plan rather than comparing you to your friends.

I also have found that constant comparisons between barn mates really undermines a positive barn culture. Although ours is an individual sport, much of the fun and learning comes from being part of a barn. Intra-barn competition, in my view, is best kept to a minimum. It’s only natural for us competitors to want to be the best, but I find that most everyone performs optimally when they are riding their own plan—whether it’s at Grand Prix or short stirrup. Even if your trainer is not receptive to this point of view, you can change your own mindset, setting up your goals for every round and riding your plan.

Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist based in San Francisco. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. She can be reached at

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

September 2020 - What’s Happening...
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 20:16

whats happeningCalifornia Riding Magazine Event Calendar

Does your special event deserve special coverage in California Riding Magazine’s What’s Happening Event Calendar? If so, let us know and don’t forget a photo. Send it all to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Our deadline is the first of the month for the following month’s issue. It’s the place to be and it’s free!

(Please visit the organizers’ websites before planning to enter or volunteer to ensure the event status has not changed.)

Twin Rivers Fall Horse Trials: Sept. 18-20 in Paso Robles

Advanced to Intro and CCI2*-S to CCI4*-S are on tap for these Horse Trials that had an unprecedented turn-out last year. Of course, this is a very different year, but the appetite for competitions that can be safely staged seems to be huge, so there are expectations of another big event.

The Baxter family that owns and operates Twin Rivers Ranch and the eventing competitions have added enforcement of COVID safety protocols to their resume of continual upgrades to the property and fostering a fun, family vibe for all exhibitors. Hugh Lochore brought his course design expertise to the Advanced tracks last year and rider feedback from those who ran them in March was very positive.

The inaugural Spring CCI4*-L set for April had to be scrapped because of COVID, but summer events have been successful, safe and popular.

Most likely spectators still won’t be allowed, per USEF and county guidelines, but volunteers are much needed as always and there’s no better seat in the house than jump judge, score runner or gate person.

For more information, visit

CDS & Region 7 Championships: Sept. 24-27 in Del Mar

The 53rd Annual California Dressage Society Championships are set to go, and are concurrent with the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 7 Championships, as usual. What’s new is the venue: the Del Mar Horse Park in San Diego, a carefully considered relocation following COVID restrictions in Los Angeles that affected the original plan to stage the Championships at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

Glenda McElroy is at the organizational helm and, of course, COVID-19 protocols and practices will be strictly adhered to.

For more information, visit

Sacramento International: Sept. Sept. 23-27 and Sept. 30-Oct. 4 in Sacramento

West Palms Events is one of many hunter/jumper show organizers flying through hoops most of the year to keep people and horses safe and shows on the calendar, even if in a scaled down form. The Dale Harvey-led team has staged shows at the Woodside Horse Park and Del Mar Horse Park from mid-summer on, with events also planned for Hansen Dam Horse Park in Lake View Terrace and, of course, the Murieta Equestrian Center in the Sacramento area’s Rancho Murieta.

The Longines FEI World Cup qualifier that is usually the centerpiece of the Sacramento International’s two weeks was cancelled but the rest of the show is on. Welcome Week, Set. 23-27, hosts the NorCal Finals to get things off to a strong start.

Somehow in their free time, West Palms organized livestreamed Zoom meetings with Michael Nyuis Scholarship recipients and two stars. Transplanted Californian Lauren Kardel spoke about being a black equestrian and Olympian McLain Ward answered the group’s good questions. Very cool to be able to listen in on those chats!

For more information, visit

August 2020 - The Gallop: Diversity in Dressage
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Monday, 03 August 2020 05:13


All colors, breeds and body types find their footing in an equal opportunity discipline.

by Kim F. Miller

As the equestrian industry seeks ways to increase diversity and inclusion among riders, they might be heartened by the fact that, at least with horses, it’s possible. While Warmbloods still dominate dressage, their big dramatic movements aren’t the only game in town when it comes to entering the winners circle.

At the highest levels of the sport, Baroque breeds led the way in giving Warmbloods a run for their money. Dressage trainer Allison Mathy has campaigned these breeds for many years, with a special focus on Lusitanos for the last several. In the last major dressage competition in Europe before coronavirus shut things down, “the most prominent breed was Lusitanos,” she reports.   “And the Lusitano Breed Association was ranked fifth in the world in the international dressage scene.


“In European countries, some of the top riders are competing and making international teams with Lusitanos,” she continues. “We’ve yet to have a Baroque horse make the team in the United States., but we have some really good quality horse flesh here and I think it’s going to happen in the next few years.”


As a general rule, Allison has noticed the judging of Baroque breeds at the international level “become increasingly objective.” At lower levels of competition, some prejudicial judging still exists, she shares, but nowhere near as much as in the past.

Legendario. Photo: Tupa

Arabians Are A-OK!

Susanne Lanini, DVM, heard plenty about prejudices in dressage judging over many years campaigning her recently-retired Arabian, Just In Kayce, in Open competition. Yet, she never personally experienced it. “Everybody has been so welcoming,” says the small animal veterinarian and amateur dressage rider from Rancho Cucamonga. “It’s been very uplifting.”

It may have helped that “Dr. Suzi” and Justin began their dressage track with two very open-minded trainers, Sarah Lockman and Sabine Schut-Kery. Sarah’s acceptance of a new client with a sight-unseen Friesian led to her partnership with Summit Farm’s owner Gerry Ibanez. And, Sabine launched her career in the U.S. training Proud Meadow Friesians for both exhibition work and Open dressage competition. Sarah and Sabine rode to their current fame on Warmbloods, but their enthusiasm for the idea that all horses can benefit from and fulfill their potential through correct dressage training inspires students and fans alike.

“When I work with Suzi and Justin, it reminds me and inspires me that you don’t have to have a huge budget for a fancy horse,” Sabine told Arabian Horse Life Magazine last fall. “Having ridden non-traditional dressage breeds most of my life, Suzi reminded me that any horse and any breed will benefit from the correct training of dressage and what a gift it is to be passionate about training horses.”

Sabine first met Dr. Suzi and Justin while teaching a clinic. “The two of them caught my attention because she was riding an Arabian, and it’s not like he came into the ring with this fancy, huge movements we see nowadays that everyone is attracted to. I was more impressed with how correct he was and his good quality gaits and how carefully and thoughtfully he was trained and ridden.” Top 3 Fourth Level Adult Amateur finishes at the 2018 CDS Championship was one of many highlights of Dr Suzi and Justin’s career. Those came alongside Justin being an Ambassador for the Arabian Horse Association, riding in the Rose Parade, being a breed circuit star and doing volunteer Mounted Patrol work in San Bernardino County.

Thys. Photo: Meg McGuire Photography


Even if judging prejudices and the occasional sidelong glance were non-existent for those campaigning an “unconventional” breed in dressage, there are physical and training challenges when it comes to excelling in the discipine.

Stephanie Freeland encountered those when she trained and campaigned the Norwegian Fjord horse, FMF Rivoire, aka “William.” In between working for Helgstrand Dressage in Florida and Sabine Schut-Kery in California, Stephanie spent a six-month break in her native Indiana. Her mother had leased William from a friend and Stephanie tried him out.

“Everything we did he just picked up on,” she explains. “He was an easy horse to ride and we started putting some movement and actual training on him.” With only six months of that work, he went from Training Level to getting 70s at Second Level and to contesting the National Dressage Pony Cup last summer at Lamplight Equestrian Center near Chicago.

Fjords are one of the world’s oldest breeds, originally bred for farm work and known as sturdy, tough and agile. Their good temperaments have made them popular as riding horses in more recent times, but they are rare in dressage. “Even though they are more of a driving horse, William is built for dressage at the lower levels,” Stephanie says. “His neck is pretty and he can prance around.” Physically, collected work was more of a struggle for him, but “He never said ‘no’ and that’s what told me he could go on with more training.”


Prior to coronavirus, William’s owner was planning to send him to Southern California, where Stephanie’s training business is based at El Campeon Farms in Hidden Valley. “When I last sat on him, he was doing Third Level work and we felt there could be a little Fourth Level work possible.”

Welcome was her main feeling from fellow exhibitors and judges, Stephanie shares. Scores needed to qualify for the Pony Cup year-end show were earned against Warmbloods in most cases. At First and Second Level, William earned points for “steady, solid rides,” she says. Mistakes due to spookiness were never an issue. Judges regularly complimented his consistency and “very cute” was a constant comment. Constructive criticism from the judge’s box included “make sure he stays working from behind.”

“The way his neck looks, it looks like he’s always round, but I have to make sure that it’s not fake roundness,” Stephanie explains. “I have to keep working on rhythm, tempo and connection.”

Stephanie sensed William was sometimes initially dismissed as “Oh, just some little fat pony” by fellow exhibitors, but his trot quickly dispelled that. “It’s like a Warmblood’s. It leaves you in the air trying to sit it! Everybody is super welcoming and excited to see something different. That has been great!”

Stephanie’s personal horse is a Haflinger, so she’s accustomed to standing out at gatherings where Warmbloods dominate. Her Haflinger “does a little bit of everything.” That includes Working Equitation, which shares many training principles with classical dressage.

One Fine Friesian

Cameron Wyman had zero familiarity with or interest in Friesians when shopping for a horse with upper level dressage potential five years ago.  Yet, a video of the Friesian stallion, Thys, caught her attention so strongly she made the purchase without traveling to meet him in person. They have since contested three North American Youth Championships for Region 6, including last year in the Young Rider division.

“He is an awesome representation of the breed,” says Cameron, a Cal Poly student and a working student for Allison Mathy’s Lyric Dressage in Templeton. On that video, he showed “a lot of flamboyance and seemed to have all the ability to do the upper levels. And, he was in our price range.”

Cameron was 16 at the time and had only done lower level work. They’ve been gradually progressing up the levels together. This year, they had planned to come out at Intermediare II had the show season run as normal. Now riding as a professional, Cameron is aiming for the U25 Brentina Cup tour next year.

Allison Mathy & Legendario.

Originating from the Netherlands, where they served as medieval war, farm work and cart horses, Friesians tend toward dramatic front-end knee action. Getting the hindquarter engagement needed for throughness throughout the test is a challenge, Cameron notes. “It’s common for the breed that they are powered from the front end, so the biggest challenge is the collected work.”

Now a working student for Lyric Dressage, Cameron and Allison often compare notes on the different rides needed for different breeds. “You have to work differently to get the correct throughness in their body,” Cameron says. “It’s challenging because you have to be more solid in your own body to get them to put their body in the way a Warmblood’s body more naturally goes into.”

Thys is a colorful character. “He stands out, usually in a good way,” Cameron says with a laugh. “He knows he is special and lets everybody know.” He is often one of the loudest on the show grounds, and loves saying hi to the ladies, but is overall a very manageable stallion. Exhibitors recognize him from show to show, when he is often the only Friesian or Baroque breed in attendance. At last summer’s NAYC, however, he wasn’t alone. A USDF Region 1 rider, Emma Teff, contested the Junior division on an Andalusian, Ugo JV, and Annika Tedlund of Region 4, came out on Eclipse BR, an Andalusian, in the Young Rider division.

Very outgoing and friendly around the barn, Thys is Cameron’s “heart horse.” His flamboyant presence in the ring is matched by a remarkable work ethic. “What really makes him enjoyable is that he loves to work,” she explains.

Cameron occasionally hears fellow riders say they are taking the Friesian breed more seriously after seeing Thys in action and many say they are more open minded to breeds beyond Warmbloods for dressage. She also occasionally hears people say their scores should have been higher. “I get that a lot. It doesn’t bug me, but it is noticeable.”

FMF Rivoire, aka “William” & Stephanie Freeland. Photo: John Borys Photography

Social Support

Allison Mathy credits social media with helping accelerate the Baroque breeds’ popularity in the States and elsewhere. “Twenty years ago, the information you got about these breeds came from a book or because you went to Spain or Portugal and saw them in person. Along with consistent success at the international level, there is a lot more visibility thanks to social media. Everyone is posting videos and photos and people can see them live and in action.”

Allison, too, has gone from being the only one a Baroque horse to seeing them much more frequently on the Open dressage circuit. While she continues to ride and train various breeds, she has become aligned with the Lusitanos in particular. “The Portuguese and Brazilians continue to breed for sport,” she observes. “They have great minds, strong backs and a proclivity for dressage because of their strength, agility and confident minds.”

Dr. Suzi Lanini and Just In Kayce. Photo: Nancy Albright

In her own riding, Allison is excited about debuting the approved Lusitano stallion, Vaquarius CD, at Grand Prix soon. And, a new 6-year-old stallion, Legendário dos Diamantes, is poised for the 6-Year-Old Championships at the California Dressage Society Championships in September.  

With her business partner, Brazilian rider and judge Andre Ganz, Allison enjoys seeing Lusitanos make new fans regularly. It’s good for all levels of the sport. “For amateurs, the more quality horses we have for our clients, the better. Lusitanos are lovely to ride. They are so willing.”

Especially for those who find a Warmblood’s big movements no longer enjoyable, but still want to compete at the higher levels of dressage. “It’s a different mindset,” she concludes. “Lusitanos are partners. They want to please and to do a good job.”

Moreover, the Baroque breeds may be paving the way for inclusion of different colors and body types with whom the pursuit of dressage can be fully rewarding and successful.
The Gallop welcomes news, tips and photos. Contact Kim F. Miller at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

July 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 01 July 2020 17:11


As of mid-to-late June, show organizers had figured out how to implement the USEF safety protocols regarding the prevention of COVID-19 spread and found ways to get local government’s approval for their plans to get the competition season back on track. The first shows within my reach hadn’t happened before we went to press, so I can’t report on what people think about maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, not inviting spectators and other smart, common-sense safety procedures. Judging from online chatter, it seems enthusiasm far outweighs concerns.


The direction of our coverage redirected when George Floyd’s death and related Black Lives Matters protests spurred the horse world to take a hard look at inclusion and diversity in our sport. Our Be The Change feature shares a range of experiences, opinions and ideas on this subject.  


Perspectives range from that of Brianna Noble’s raised-fist ride in the May 29 downtown Oakland Black Lives Matter protests to show manager Dale Harvey’s reflections on the benefits of bringing inner city kids into the horse world. FEI dressage rider Genay Vaughn speaks eloquently on her own experiences and thoughts as a bi-racial African American rider. And we’ve included the USEF’s suggestions for further reading for those who want to better understand the issue of systemic racism and its far-reaching effects.

Like me.

I’m grateful to all who shared their views and especially to Shayna Simon, another bi-racial dressage professional. Shayna is among several local African American equestrians I’ve interviewed and written stories on over my many years with California Riding Magazine. I recall it occasionally crossing my mind to ask them if their skin color had impacted their experience in the sport.

I never did.

First, a basic rule of journalism is that you don’t include a subject’s skin color unless it’s relevant to the story. I must have felt that it wasn’t. Also, the question seemed too nosy, too personal, not my business.

Thanks to current events, I am coming to terms with the likelihood that I didn’t ask them because I assumed, in this day and age and in our sport, it couldn’t have made a difference. Surely, money is the only barrier to our sport, I’ve often thought. With her characteristic kindness, Shayna made a familiar statement that hit home. “A lot of people think racism doesn’t occur because they are not directly involved in it.”

Me, again. I’m certainly aware racism exists in broader society, but guilty of assuming it is not a big issue in our little corner of the world. Thanks to my young adult sons for reminding me regularly to “question my assumptions.” I will.

An editor is a finder, teller and sharer of stories. I’ll be looking for more stories like those of Brianna Noble and Compton Jr. Posse graduate Nathan Allan Williams-Bonner. By sharing what happens when horse people decide to “be the change we seek in the world” I hope to promote what’s possible in a way that inspires more action.

Big thanks to Kelly Artz and her Entrigue Consulting team, our cover sponsors. They’ve been moving equestrian sport and its stakeholders forward for several years and we enjoyed a glimpse of how they make that magic happen.

On to our August issue, which has an editorial focus on dressage and therapeutic products and services. As always, we welcome ideas, story suggestions and contributions.

Happy reading and happy, safe showing and enjoying your horses!


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Available for Adoption: Snowflake

Snowflake is an approximately 5 yr old Appaloosa/Quarter cross mare up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, CA. She is petite at 13.2 hands high and a very pretty steel grey. She is halterbroke only and looking for a loving home who will continue her training and handling. Kind and willing, she is flashy and sweet. Looking for a loving home to continue her learning and future training under saddle. Sweet and pretty girl. Healthy and sound, her adoption fee is $400. See Snowflake on our adoption page of the website at and follow the instructions to set up an appointment.

July 2020 - What’s Happening...
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 01 July 2020 03:45

whats happeningCalifornia Riding Magazine Event Calendar

Does your special event deserve special coverage in California Riding Magazine’s What’s Happening Event Calendar? If so, let us know and don’t forget a photo. Send it all to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Our deadline is the first of the month for the following month’s issue. It’s the place to be and it’s free!

These competitions were set to happen as of our June 19 press date. Each is complying with USEF protocols designed to keep exhibitors, staff and spectators safe from COVID-19 and operating in compliance with local regulations regarding the same. Visit the organizer’s website for information or forms you may need to complete before attending any of these events.

Temecula Valley National Summer Series: June 30 - July 4 in Temecula

Nilforushan Equisport Events not only got their National series rescheduled, they got the new two-week series rated by the USEF. The first week took place June 24-28.

Level 4 Jumpers and National Hunters becoming pointed resulted in part because each week offered over $80,000 in prize money, greater than the usual $25,000 for unrated shows.

Presented by Interactive Mortgage, the Summer Series is staged at Galway Downs Equestrian Center. The Nilforushans are offering their own economic stimulus by giving trainers a 2% rebate on the cost of their barns’ entries and stalls. “NEE hopes these funds will be helpful in allowing trainers to keep working with their clients and traveling the horse show circuit with a bit less stress,” says their press statement.

Twin Rivers Summer Horse Trials: July 2-5 in Paso Robles

The much-anticipated Spring International, with a new CCI4*-L, in April was not to be, but the Baxter family and many exhibitors are happy that the Summer Horse Trials are nicely on track with Intro through Advanced divisions.

West Palms & Gold Coast: July 2-5; July 8-12; July 16-19 in Lakeview Terrace

Hunter/jumper organizers West Palms Events were sorry to leave their normal 4th of July stomping grounds, the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, this year. But when Orange County approvals lagged, they were happy to find a new host in the Hansen Dam Horse Park in the Los Angeles area’s Lakeview Terrace. The West Palms Welcome Backs #1 and #2 are USEF A rated, and the Gold Coast July is USEF B rated.

All three shows will be managed by West Palms in association with the Langer Equestrian Group. The first two weeks are highlighted by a $22,500 Grand Prix classes and the third week has a $10,000 Grand Prix.

Starr Vaughn Dressage: July 10-12; Aug. 14-15; Aug. 21-23 in Sacramento area’s Elk Grove

The first week is a qualifier for the USEF National Dressage Championships and all three shows are point-earners for the LEGIS League Dressage Series. The LEGIS Final takes place the third week, Aug. 21-23, with the added attraction of a Junior Invitational Competition.

No Show & More: July 15-19 in San Juan Capistrano

The Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park got city clearance to resume equestrian competition in late June. This month, that means the popular No Show takes place on July 11, followed by the resumption of Blenheim EquiSport’s national shows series, starting with the Summer Festival Horse Show July 15-19.

Galway Downs Summer Horse Trials: July 17-19 in Temecula

Three months of no shows have enabled the Kellerhouse Presents team and Galway Downs Equestrian Center to give the venue some extra sprucing up. Clinic and schooling participants had a sneak peak at new show stabling, upgraded arena footing and new fencing. Exhibitors get their chance during the new Summer Horse Trials with Advanced-Intermediate through Introductory divisions on the docket.

Sonoma Horse Park: Starting July 17 in Petaluma

Doubts about exhibitors’ interest in returning to shows under COVID precautions evaporated with quick sell-outs for the HMI EQ Classic I and Giant Steps shows that highlight the Horse Park’s summer season. Things kick off with the Classic AA-rated competition July 17-19, which includes the USEF Junior Hunter National Championships West and the Gladstone Cup Equitation.

Rosé In May: Aug. 6-9 in Paso Robles

With two successful show already under their belt, the Paso Robles Horse Park continues its re-shuffled season with the B-rated Rosé In May Aug. 6-9. Welcome Classics originally set for spring begin Aug. 26, followed by a full slate of hunter/jumper shows through December.

June 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by CRM
Thursday, 28 May 2020 04:58


I’ve felt on pins and needles more this month than the same time in March, when the domino effect of COVID cancellations had just started. As we went to press, the daily updates rolled in on what will or will not happen when the USEF competition restrictions lift May 31. As is discussed in The Show Must Go On! Or Must it? on page 22, city, county and state regulations supersede those of any sport governing body, and those vary throughout California. Then there’s the question of who and how many will want to compete in this new normal.  


Finding a silver lining in coronavirus current events has been a head-scratcher. We’re grateful to Jim Hagman, Georgy Maskey-Segesman and Marnye Langer for doing exactly that on the hunter/jumper front. “Now more than ever, we are really learning how to work together in our industry. That gets a lot of lip service, but by and large, we don’t do it,” says Marnye. “We are not as well off for not doing it. There is a way of working together without impeding your own company’s success. A way to be competitive and collaborative.”


Thanks, too, to Michael DeLuna for writing about the show pause as a good time to re-examine international dressage competition in the state. We also have lovely personal perspectives from amateur eventer Hilary Burkemper and young jumper rider Amelia Enzminger on how their equestrian experiences have helped them face these tough times.

Don’t miss our Picture Day! feature on locally-bred young horses (page 30). And here’s me on Picture Day, only a few years ago!

GGT-Footing is much-appreciated as the sponsor of this issue’s cover article and as a big supporter of equestrian sport in the West. Our barns issue is always a favorite, especially this year with up close peeks at Milberry Farm in Rancho Santa Fe and Far View Farm in San Marcos.

Finally and most cheerfully, we have a Picture Day! feature of foals and young horses produced by our region’s awesome sport horse breeders.

Onto our July issue. It has traditionally been my all-time favorite issue because it showcases young riders bound for the North American Young Riders Championships in jumping, dressage and eventing. Of course, NAYC was cancelled this year. So, instead, I’m stealing an idea from our local newspaper in celebrating riders who just finished high school and will be moving on to new adventures this fall. Do you have a feature-worthy high school graduate equestrian to recommend? LMK at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

We hope to see everybody happy and healthy at July’s Western States Horse Expo, too!

Thanks to our readers, advertisers and contributors for their help with this issue in these challenging times! As Jim Hagman said in The Gallop, there’s nothing healthier than spending time with horses and hopefully we can all get back to that now.
Happy riding and happy reading!

Kim F Miller, Editor
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Adopt Me!


Brandi, a beautiful blood bay 4 yr old mare is up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center.

Brandi is a darling mare, and a clean slate as far as training. She is halterbroke only, and stands about 14.3 hands high. She appears to be a morgan/friesian cross with feathers.
Super cute and sweet temperament. Healthy, sound, ready to start under saddle.

Adoption fee is only $500.

See Brandi on our adoption page at

June 2020 - Dressage News & Views: An Ode to Older Horses
Written by by Nan Meek
Thursday, 28 May 2020 03:20

dressage news

Three senior steeds epitomize graceful aging.

by Nan Meek

Older horses come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of “older.” Some horses are old at 15, worn out from being “used hard and put away wet” as the old saying goes. Others age gracefully until well into their 20s and beyond, transitioning from show ring star to schoolmaster to pasture ornament. And who hasn’t known a lesson horse, calmly packing little kids around the rail during pony camp, year after year. I knew one pony who continued his career as a “packer” until he was almost 40.

I’m lucky enough to have three older horses in my life right now, and they all enrich my life in immeasurable ways.

Helio at sunset.

Helio: Handsome as Hello

My oldest, at age 30, is handsome Helio, a Spanish warmblood gelding who knows he’s the hottest thing on four hooves and demands a level of pampering normally required only by A-list celebrities. I originally acquired him in partnership with my friend Annamae, with the intention of showing this Prix St. Georges level schoolmaster at some point. Annamae showed him once, my life got crazy busy, and I discovered that I could have more fun per hour by riding him in lessons and clinics.

Thus, time marched on, until I woke up to discover that Helio had turned 30 while I wasn’t paying attention, and I owed him a major equine birthday party. Although he spent most of his life being the pampered show horse, he transitioned into life as a pampered clinic star with remarkable aplomb. Once he discovered that absolutely everyone at a clinic was looking at him the entire time, he was happy to have the undivided attention of clinicians such as Andreas Hausberger, the First Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School.

My neighbors, even the dressage queens, are avid trail riders, and they convinced me that Helio would love the trails as much as they did. I’d ridden the trails here on the San Mateo County coast on previous horses, but couldn’t quite picture Helio following in their hoof prints. After all, this is the horse who doesn’t like getting wet or dirty. He’s never told me this, but I suspect he doesn’t like it when his mane gets too long, either. How can I tell? After a freshly pulled coiffeur, he tosses his head and puffs up his chest as if to tell the world what hot stuff he is.

Imagine my surprise when he took to trail riding like … not like a duck to water, since water is the only part of trail rides he detests. No rivers or streams, not even a trickle of water in a curbside culvert. He won’t cross any of them. Anything else, however, is fair game. Deer in the bushes are cool. Barking dogs behind a fence, not so much, but he just looks and carries on. His favorite is riding at the head of the group and taking a new trail he’s never been on in his life.

Helio proves that you’re never too old to learn something new.

Mischa in his younger days. Photo: Jana Peterson

Mischa: Angel By Name, Angel By Nature

At 20 years old, my Lipizzan gelding Mischa is the sweetest angel. He even has the wings to prove it – he portrayed the winged Pegasus in a costumed musical performance, much to everyone’s delight, including his own.

His registered Lipizzan name confirms his angelic status: officially, he’s Neapolitano Angelica II-1. That gives away the clue that his dam was Angelica (meaning angel-like) and his sire was from the Neapolitano line that originated in Italy. It’s no wonder that he resembles the elegant baroque white horses in Italian renaissance paintings, a distinction he shares with the world famous Lipizzan stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Mischa came to me as an older fellow that a friend was thinking about buying. His soundness didn’t meet her needs, so she didn’t snap him up, which was a blessing for me. Helio needed a buddy to keep him company, so Mischa stayed with me. He was sound enough for about a year of gentle dressage and trail riding before it became clear that he needed to become the classiest pasture ornament in the neighborhood.

Since his retirement, he has specialized in grazing and cuddles, provided the lush tail that visiting children love to braid, and kept a watchful eye on the wildlife that come down from the hills to share his field when he’s tucked up at night in his cozy stall and paddock. He and Helio visit over a shared fence line and through the window between their stalls. I can look out my window and watch them mutually grooming, their teeth scratching the other guy’s withers, and only occasionally ripping a hole in the other guy’s fly sheet.

It’s not all peaceful grazing and mutual massage for Mischa, however. The other day, the shadow of a hawk who was riding the thermals above him startled him, and he went from grazing to capriole in less than 10 seconds. “Doesn’t look lame now,” commented my farrier, who was there to shoe Helio. Of course, handsome Helio paid absolutely no attention, because really, it wasn’t about him at all.

Mischa proves that good friends don’t care about egos.

Nan and Celtico.

Celtico: Solid Gold Saint

Also 20 years old, Celtico is a horse that is truly worth his weight in gold. This grey Andalusian can attack the trails of Montara Mountain one day, and the next day shine in the dressage arena. He’s the horse that everyone wants to accompany them on the trail when they’re riding a nervous new horse. He’s the solid citizen who packs around little girls in matching pink tutus and cowboy boots, and he’s the horse that you want to be riding on a windy day, when tree branches crack on the hill overlooking the arena and deer jump out of the bushes.

Celtico belongs to my friend Claudia, who generously lets me ride him whenever I can break away from work. She says it’s actually Celtico who lets me ride him, because he likes me better than other riders. I tell her what he really likes are the copious carrots and bottomless bags of low-starch, low-sugar horse treats that show up with me. But I hope he likes me, because I think the world of him.

Claudia bought him eight years ago, when nobody else would. He didn’t have much training, and he was blind in one eye. His walk was a pace, his trot was choppy, and his canter resembled an egg beater.  Mutual friends told her he’d never make it past Training Level, but there’s nobody more determined than Claudia when she makes up her mind to do something. I knew she’d succeed, and she did.

Today, Claudia and Celtico have a CDS Reserve Champion Second Level Freestyle title to their credit. Celtico now has a swingy walk with a nice overstep. His trot comes in true collected, medium, and extended flavors. And his canter is a lovely big, round, uphill three-beat dream. I’m particularly fond of his lateral work – all I have to do is think renvers, and he does it. That pretty much also goes for shoulder-in and the rest of the lateral movements, provided I’ve warmed him up well. Can you tell that I love riding him?

There’s a deeper reason that I admire and appreciate all that he is, and all that he’s become, and that is his character.

Celtico brought significant baggage when he moved to Claudia’s barn, which we speculate stems from the accident that cost him the sight in his right eye. Generally he’s a calm guy, he can get really wound up when he’s asked to learn something new, like flying changes, or when he sees something new, like a giant wolfhound that’s the size of a pony but doesn’t look like a pony at all.

When Celtico does something well, you can feel his pride. From a rider’s perspective, there’s nothing like nailing a perfect transition, for example, and feeling your horse’s respond to your quick pat on the neck and “good boy” praise. Those moments of communication with Celtico make it a joy to ride him.

When he doesn’t understand what’s being asked of him, he gets very upset. Watching from the sidelines, you can see his frustration and anxiety build. When you’re the rider in the saddle, you can feel the tension throughout his body. He tries his heart out, but when he doesn’t think he can do what you ask of him, or he doesn’t understand how to do it, his fear and anxiety overwhelm his brain and his emotions. Thankfully, those moments are increasingly rare, and they are far outnumbered by the days when Celtico shines.
Celtico proves that what you overcome makes what you achieve all the sweeter.


A lifelong horse owner, Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1).


May 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 04:59

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby,

I have been on Shelter In Place for several weeks, with no end in sight. I can’t even see my horse, much less ride or have a lesson. And, of course, we have no idea when the shows will be rescheduled. This is my last junior year and I feel so sad about it. I know it’s a small problem in some ways, but it’s a real loss to me.


—C.P., Sacramento, CA

Dear C,


Thanks for your question. You raise many important topics. Let’s start with the grief you are feeling, and the guilt that is on top of that grief. I’ve had quite a few clients feel guilty about their sadness over the loss of horse shows, or horse time. They feel that it’s not OK to have these feelings when others are in much worse shape. It’s important to recognize that we are all experiencing losses in our lives, some bigger than others, and all the grief is powerful and real.

When you feel that grief—usually a very heavy bodily feeling along with intense sadness—allow it to be. Don’t push away your feelings. Acknowledge them.

You might try writing them down in a journal.

Journaling about your feelings during this time can help you manage and cope—it gives you a safe place to put feelings out there, in an unedited version.

If you are in your last junior year as a rider, I suspect you may also be a senior in high school. If so, you’re missing out not only on horse show milestones, but also on other milestones—prom, senior retreats, yearbook meetings, parties and even graduation. The losses are significant, and there is no way to ”make them up.” Nonetheless, this crisis calls upon us all to accept the situation, gather our strength, and find ways to move forward in positive and productive ways.

After you have allowed yourself some grieving time—maybe even daily—put it away and actively decide to focus on moving yourself forward.

One of my mantras is stay grounded in present time while keeping your eye on where you’re headed. This perspective is even more relevant now. As I said before, we have to mindfully acknowledge what we are going through, and at the same time keep our intentions and larger purpose in mind.

Keep Your “Why” Front & Center

What is your why, when it comes to riding? Is it to hone your skills and jump bigger? Or complete a pattern flawlessly? Or take your skills to the next level?

Well, all those goals are still relevant. We are all a work in progress. This crisis has changed our path, but the floodwater will recede, and we will navigate a new path to our destination.

So now let’s talk specifically about the loss of riding during Shelter in Place.

First and foremost, stay fit. Ok, you can’t ride right now, because you’re at home. But you can be active. Actually, it’s essential to stay fit, both so that you can be ready to get back on when we get the green light—but even more important—for your overall physical and mental health. I suggest, if you haven’t already, designing a plan of workouts six days per week, that includes stretching, strengthening, balance, and aerobic conditioning. If you need help, there are countless videos and Zoom workouts available right now. The most important thing is that you put workouts in your daily routine and stick to it. I personally like to get outside, and because of where I live, this is relatively easy and safe for me.

Second, use visualization to “ride.” Visualization is a powerful tool that many of us use to prepare for a performance. In this circumstance, you can “practice” your rides by closing your eyes and visualizing. The more intense and alive you make your visualization, the more effective it will be. Sit yourself on a stool or somewhere where you can simulate your position in the saddle. Sit up straight, put yourself in a riding seat. Close your eyes. Call to mind a lesson, or a show round that you want to work on.

Bring it into sharp focus so that you can sense every detail, just like you would on an actual ride. Feel your horse underneath you. Feel your feet in the irons.

Touch your horse’s mane. Feel the bridle in your hands. Now, in great and vivid detail, ride the round or the lesson. Practice what you are working on. To your brain, such intense visualization is very close to doing the real thing. Visualization is a great way to correct mistakes, too!

Third, study videos of yourself and of pros you admire. Really observe both yourself and the pros—see what tips you can pick up. Now that you have more time, videos can be an effective tool, and studying them closely will give you real information rather than just the gratification of watching.

Finally, staying socially connected, even though we’re physically apart, is essential during this time. You’re young so it’s likely you’re on social media a lot, but even so, try to maintain more real time connection with your riding friends. You’re not alone in your predicament, and I think sharing feelings with friends makes us all feel better. Be sure to reach out to people beyond texting and messaging so that you can have more meaningful conversations. One of the beautiful elements of showing is that we all tend to make friends across the region and state. During this time, you might be surprised how many people are in your same boat and feeling the same things.

Hang in there. We’ll get through this together.

—Darby Bonomi, PhD

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

April 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 01:02


Hard to believe it was only three weeks ago that I was volunteering as press officer for the new Pacific Coast Dressage CDI3* March 6-8 in Temecula. We were all talking about COVID-19 at the time, but in a relatively unworried way -- jokingly trading elbow bumps instead of handshakes or hugs as we met. The show ran smoothly, but we all came home to a world that radically changed with the March 11 declaration of a global pandemic. Even then, it took a while to realize the wide-reaching impacts it would have on all of us.


California show organizers scrambled to do the right thing. Some first altered the nature of their shows, then later cancelled them all together or sought to reschedule them for later. The USEF’s March 13 declaration that all its owned events were cancelled for the next 30 days, and the request that organizers follow suit, pretty much put the kibosh on competitions and gatherings of any kind. Mandates from local, state and federal government cemented that new reality. The cancellation of the Del Mar National and the World Cup Finals, in Las Vegas, hit particularly close to home. The USEF’s suspension was initially through April 16, then extended to May 3, per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.


Deadline week, March 22, brought the news that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been postponed ‘til some time in 2021. Those are still shocking headlines, but the broader waves of impact are being felt at private and public stables throughout the state. As we went to press on March 25, some stables were still allowing owners to come ride and care for their horses -- most on structured schedules to limit human interactions. Some had immediately closed to boarders while trainers and minimal staffs care for the horses.

By the time this issue arrives, I’m sure a lot more will have changed. Please consider donating to the California Professional Horsemen’s Association’s GoFundMe effort to help some of our colleagues who’ve been most immediately affected: CPHA Fundraiser for Horse Show Work Force at California horse people have helped each other through some pretty terrible things in the past, and I know that will be part of this crisis’ eventual resolution.

We welcome the chance to spread helpful and encouraging news as it becomes available. With a mid-deadline 180° turn in what we should report on, I am super grateful to my friends and excellent writers Nan Meek and Marnye Langer for their great articles in this issue. And, how timely that performance psychologist Dr. Darby Bonomi, PhD, answers a question this issue about staying focused amid distractions? It was submitted by a reader well before any semblance of normalcy went out the window, and it applies now more than ever.

And to USEF photographer Taylor Pence for capturing Sabine Schut-Kery’s joyous expression and sharing it as our cover image.

Thank you to Premier Equestrian for sponsoring our cover feature on footing innovations. I have been following this company for many years and it’s impressive how they’ve found ways to contribute to elite-level innovations and make them available to those of us at the more “normal” economic levels of our sport.

Stay healthy, please. If you are healthy and have access to your horse, give him an extra hug for those who can’t hug their own right now.
Kim F Miller, Editor
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Little Feather is an arabian mare back up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, California.

She is 15 years old and has been with her adopter for the last seven years in Ramona. Her adopter trained her to ride on trail, which she has done since she learned to ride. She is healthy and sound, up to date, and has the arabian sensitivity so she is looking for an experienced rider who wishes to continue to take her on trail rides.

Adoption fee is $500 and a contract is required.

Please contact her adopter Lisa to see Little Feather at 760-315-8164.

March 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Monday, 02 March 2020 21:13


News of the first annual Whitethorne Equitation 101 event came in just as we were going to press for this issue. It will be held in conjunction with the Memorial Day Classic on Monday, May 25, at the Hansen Dam Horse Park and it builds on the very successful Whitethorne-sponsored American Tradition of Excellence in Equitation.


As we have reported, these unique combinations of education and competition are underwritten by Whitethorne Ranch, owned by Georgy Maskrey Segesman and her family. Lead educators in the Equitation 101 are Equestrian Coach’s Bernie Traurig and Diane Carney. The event will see junior and amateur riders competing in equitation and medals from 2’9” to 3’0”. (Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information about Equitation 101.)


Georgy Maskrey Segesman didn’t have to underwrite these events. The Nilforushans didn’t have to add the lower-cost Developmental Series at the upcoming Temecula hunter/jumper shows. Blenheim EquiSports didn’t have to create the grant programs for young professionals and West Palms Events doesn’t have to offer the generous Michael Nyius scholarship.
But they chose to.

Sure, in every case, there may be a profit or PR benefit to what they’re doing, but I doubt that outweighs the cost in time, money and effort from their team.

We had the fun of chatting with Twin Rivers and Copper Meadows eventing course designer Hugh Lechore, an East Coast guy, recently. When asked what he noticed about the West Coast while out here, he said, “It’s a smaller pool of riders, they’re genuinely all good friends and they know and support each other. It’s kind of an old-school attitude and approach: everyone is in it to have a good time and be supportive.”

He was talking about eventers, but I think it applies across disciplines. Horse And Rider Boutique owner Barbara Biernat didn’t have to step in and become a show organizer for the new Pacific Coast CDI March 6-8. She recognized the need for more international shows to support the region’s dressage riders and maybe she had some direction from above, from the much-missed Lisa Blaufuss, in taking on the enormous task.

Lou and Kelly Gonda didn’t have to lift a finger for the Santa Cruz Island horses, but they opted to follow the lead of other supporters and make their beautiful El Campeon Farms a base for stewarding the rare breed into the future. The Peridot Equestrian, LLC, team doesn’t have to earmark partial proceeds of April’s Carl Hester clinic to USDF Region 7 Young Riders team, but they are.

You can read about most of these endeavors in this issue. They only scratch the surface of the good deeds that grace our region, starting with the corps of volunteers who make our eventing and dressage competitions possible.

So, thanks to all for the daily inspirations of doing good stuff.

And thanks to Classic Equine Equipment for sponsoring this issue’s cover. The manufacturer of gorgeous, long-lasting stalls and stable accessories is a long-time supporter of California Riding Magazine and we’re grateful for the chance to share their evolving story with our readers.

Happy reading and riding!

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Titus is an approximately 14 yr old thoroughbred gelding up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, California. He stands 16.2 hands high and moves soundly. He had been started under saddle in the past, but had some pain issues as he has high withers so proper saddle fit and equine knowledge is a must. Needs restarting with a slow confident rider to let him know riding is not painful anymore. Titus has been enjoying playing in the pasture the last few years with other horses and no riding. His adoption fee is $500.  Please follow the directions for adoption on our website at



December 2020 - The Gallop: Valued Venue
Written by by Kim F Miller
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 04:06


Fresno County Horse Park’s fate goes from sad to super in the span of a phone call.

by Kim F Miller

“So many people have told me that I’ve been in training for this for years,” says Terry Hilst, the proud new owner of the Fresno County Horse Park lease and the fixtures related to hosting equestrian events at the Central California venue.

The West Coast eventing community had a sad moment in mid-September when John Marshall announced that he was stepping down from managing the property and organizing competitions, mostly eventing, there. John brought relief to the region when he took over the Fresno reins from Bill Burton eight years ago. Terry brings great experience as the next to take on the task, and she’s quickly enlisted a team of supporters, including John, who will work as co-organizer for upcoming shows.


Terry Hilst & Victory Trail

Terry is a long-time eventer herself and, until two years ago, organizer of events at the Camelot Horse Park in Northern California’s Butte Valley. In the interim she has indulged her passion for designing cross-country courses and for dirt: the kind that’s ideal for horses to gallop over on cross-country.


Terry has been taking the US Eventing Association courses and putting in the apprentice hours needed to fulfill the licensing requirements. She is currently licensed to design up through Training and expects to add levels up to Preliminary as of March 2021.

“My passion is providing good footing,” she explains. So much so that she purchased her own tractor and the “aggravator” attachment that she describes as “causing a minor earthquake” six inches below the surface. The effect is to quickly create safe, cushioned footing. Under the tutelage of longtime West Coast course builder and footing expert Bert Wood, Terry’s been in the driver’s seat aggravating the tracks at Galway Downs and Woodside Horse Park for the past year.

In fact, she was doing exactly that in preparation for the Galway Downs International in late September when she got the news about John Marshall ending his run at Fresno. “Bert (Wood) got the call from John, and Bert turned to me and said, ‘Terry, you should buy it!’”

The Mighty Aggravator

A Team Effort

Terri won’t be going it alone. She reports happily that John has agreed to stay on as a co-organizer of events. The calendar stays as scheduled and starts with the Combined Test and venue fundraiser Jan 15-17, followed by USEA/USEF eventing competitions in February, April, October and November. Prior to shows getting underway, international eventer Will Faudree will be at the Horse Park Jan 8-11 for a clinic organized by Kristi Nunnick and Max Gerdes.

John’s predecessor Bill Burton has also expressed interest in helping out, as have several concerned horse people throughout the region. Along with John and Bill, the team will include course builders and designers Bert Wood and Jay Hambly, Kim Goto Miner, Chris Hoyt, Ashley Ross, Stefanie Gladen and Nick Salwasser are part of the Terry-led team.

Roofing the barns.

Anne Howard is hosting the Friends of West Coast Eventing Facebook page to help raise funds for the Park. The Watsonville area dressage trainer has deep roots in eventing. Volunteer extraordinaire Sue Funkey was on her way with a paintbrush as we went to press, adds Terry, who hopes that the support of US Eventing’s Area VI members will continue to manifest in such helpful ways.

What’s New

Most importantly, Terry plans to continue the good work John has done in staging competitions that have become increasingly popular. Her expertise on the footing front contributes to improvements in that perennial priority and she’s excited that Fresno is on track to be the first West Coast venue to stage a Modified division in April.  Largely because of the significant expense of cross-country requirements for this step between the Training and Preliminary levels, the division has not been offered at many venues throughout the country since it was introduced in 2017.

New Auburn Labs Pavillion

Terry will continue to live in her Butte County home, with her eventer Victory Trail, and has already started spending three days a week at the Horse Park. All are welcome to help with painting and other maintenance tasks that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.  

Most of all, “I really want to put some fun back into it,” says Terry. “John built such a beautiful place and I want there to be parties and tail gate gatherings. I want to put back some of the camaraderie and celebration that we used to have.” That Horse Park, of course, will be managed under COVID safety protocols as long as necessary.

For more information on the Fresno County Horse Park and to help out with its continuance, visit or reach Terry Hilst at 559-572-0011 or by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
The Gallop welcomes news, tips and photos. Contact Kim F Miller at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

November 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by by Kim F Miller
Friday, 30 October 2020 02:32


No trouble coming up with things to be thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches. For all of us pursuing our passions in the horse business, we are back to having more going on than any one person or media outlet can hope to keep track of.

I am in awe of show organizers, training barns, riding schools, tack and feed stores, manufacturers and suppliers who have found ways to keep things going through these eight months of pandemic and having to do everything very differently than we have in the past.


Our cover story on the partnership between veteran show organizer Marnye Langer, of the Langer Equestrian Group, and newer entry Steve Hankin, leader of the Apex Equisport team, is a positive example of good people, both exhibitors themselves, working together to make high-quality hunter/jumper shows more widely accessible. It’s the rising tide lifts all boats idea. “If you work to make your industry better and stronger, your own business will benefit,” notes Marnye.


Horse show organizers working together is not unprecedented in the West. Major players united to build a better World Cup jumping league, and organizers have offered reduced costs for young horses, Off the Track Thoroughbreds and, in some cases, economically disadvantaged riders, for some time.

As in every aspect of life, it’s easy to criticize and hard to be part of the solution. Evidence of exactly that came with the news that much-admired eventing organizer John Marshall notified the USEA Area VI Council that 2020 will be his final year organizing events at the Fresno County Horse Park. John stepped up in 2012 when the venue then known as Ram Tap announced its closure. He purchased the equipment and took over the land rental agreements and has staged events that kept the Horse Park critical to the region’s eventing calendar.

2016 Olympic eventer Lauren Billys, a Fresno area native, and Area VI chair and amateur eventer Asia Vedder are fielding inquiries from all interested in banding together to preserve the venue and its ability to keep hosting equestrian competition. They can be reached through

There’s oodles of inspiration in the revival of the Earl Warren Fairgrounds in Santa Barbara. I am among those whose family’s Thanksgivings revolved around the “Turkey Show” of yore. Rhea Hayes’ article wonderfully details the saga of saving the venue for equestrian competition and the many people who made that possible.

Everybody’s fortitude in getting through this year is especially encouraging in light of the reality that we probably have several more months to go.

Performance psychologist columnist Darby Bonomi, PhD, addresses a reader’s question about how to maintain a positive outlook even if the New Year does not close the book on 2020’s many challenges. As a bonus, “Dr. Darby’s” daughter, Clara, has a neat article on how she and other young riders handle show related stress.

The Desert International Horse Park, under the leadership of aforementioned Steve Hankin of Apex Equisport, is a hub of activity this fall. Last month, it hosted the California Reining Horse Association’s CRHA Challenge concurrent with the National Sunshine Preview, the first result of their partnership with Langer Equestrian Group. The Preview capitalized on the confluence of disciplines by adding a Reining/HJ Team Challenge to the schedule.

Nov. 12-22, DIHP hosts two weeks of international Desert Dressage CDIs. As our story explains, Jan and Ben Ebeling are likely stars of these exciting additions to the West Coast calendar and Amy Ebeling had quite a lot to do with bringing the players together.

In a sport that is typically very segmented between disciplines, it’s gratifying to see the many way in which our shared love of the horse creates common ground. Which brings me to The Love Of The Horse, a new series of online horse health presentations.

They are the brainchild and passion project of Julie Garella-Williams, president and CEO of MacKinnon Products.  But you won’t see Ice Horse or other MacKinnon brands promoted by the featured vets and experts because the format direct drives info from them to horse owners. The next talk is Sunday, Nov. 8 at 4 pm, featuring one of our favorite veterinary sources, Dr. Phoebe Smith, DVM, of Riviera Equine Internal Medicine and Consulting. The topic is Metabolic & Cushing Syndrome: Understanding Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention. Dr. Smith is a master at explaining complicated topics in regular horse owner terms so I know this one will be awesome.

Thanks to all of our advertisers, readers and contributors for making another issue possible. Next year will mark our 35th year and we greatly appreciate everybody’s support.

Happy reading, happy riding and Happy Thanksgiving!

Kim F Miller, Editor
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ADOPT ME! Cami is a 15 yr old quarter horse mare up for adoption from FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, CA. She stands 14.3 hands high and is healthy and sound. “Cami is broke to ride but needs someone who will take the time to love her and bond with her. She tacks up fine and stands still for mounting/un-mounting great, if you know your stuff she will respond to you, otherwise she will have your number. She just needs a tune up with an assertive rider. On the ground she’s a sweetheart. She loves to be groomed so brushing and would thrill her. There is not a mean bone in her body and she does have a sweet personality. She is looking for an assertive experienced adopter who can give her leadership and one on one attention.” Cami is currently in training with Julie Picot to give her a tune up! Gorgeous girl for the right person. Adoption fee $500. See Cami on our adoption page at

October 2020 - Editor’s Notes
Written by CRM
Thursday, 01 October 2020 17:11


We started work on this issue in mid-August, just as the fires were starting in Northern California. Surely, I thought, those will be out and everybody will be safe soon. Surely, we won’t add wildfires of unprecedented scope to this year of a public health crisis of unprecedented scope.

When I was a young equestrian growing up in Northern California, my biggest gripe was rain that prevented me from riding my horse. Even back then, I had a karmic approach to the weather’s impact: trusting, for example, that three days of rain-related no riding would equal three days of being able to ride later. That method of managing bad news lingers today in my sense that, surely, we simply can’t have any more bad things happen in our world: everybody needs a break.


But, no.


So instead, we have yet another fall issue focused on how our remarkable equestrian community is coping with the fires ripping through our region. A silver lining, I guess, is better preparedness, as is discussed in my interview with the amazing Claudia Sonder, DVM (pg 10). Or in the value of Phoebe Smith, DVM, sharing her experiences with vets in the Northwest, who are relatively new in dealing with the aftermath of fire and smoke on their horses.
I’m happy to have all that balanced with the fun of covering the eventing scene in USEA Area VI. Such awesome people in this discipline, starting with our cover girl Megan Sykes, who super star Tamie Smith predicts is going to be a very big deal very soon. The Twin Rivers Fall International was a big hit under non-smokey skies on the Central California Coast even as fires continued on both ends of the state. Meantime, Tamie is already a very big deal. She won the CCI3*-S and CCI4*-S divisions at Twin Rivers, and is looking at six horses ready to run CCI4*-Ls in the coming months. It’s too many for a single event, so she’ll have some at Galway Downs at the end of this month, and haul some across the country to Tyron, Northern Carolina in mid-November.

There is a ton of exciting stuff going on at the Galway Downs International, starting Oct. 28 in Temecula. With the CCI3*-L National Eventing Championships, the Adequan Futures Team Challenge and new Kellerhouse Presents “Challenges” for Modified-Training, Training-Novice and Novice-Beginner Novice divisions, this is truly the event of the season and a big opportunity for the West Coast to shine on the national stage. Consider sponsoring or volunteering to be part of the effort!

Skylar Wireman dominated the early going of the hunter/jumper medal season. And dressage columnist Nan Meek has a terrific column about all that went into deciding whether to continue with the California Dressage Society Annual Championships. They were a go, set for The Horsepark at Del Mar the weekend after we went to press. I’m volunteering there all day Sunday, so will have that perspective to share in the next issue.

Thanks to everybody for reading, for supporting our great advertisers who make it possible for us to keep bringing you news and interesting stories, and to all who contribute suggestions for future articles.

Happy riding and reading. Be safe and healthy.


Kim F Miller, Editor
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Carter is a darling pony up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, CA.

He is looking for an adoptive home who  will spend time with him and handle him frequently. He was rescued from a home where he evaded people.  He leads fine and is ok for the farrier as long as you don’t move fast with him.

He is approximately 13 yrs old and a larger shetland pony size. Very cute boy!

Adoption fee $500

See Carter and how to adopt on our Adoption page at

October 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by CRM
Thursday, 01 October 2020 04:51

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby,
I am an older rider who struggles with ‘blanking out’ during my rides. It happens all of a sudden, and I have no idea why. It’s a very frustrating problem! I have ridden most of my life—it’s not that I don’t know how! My trainer is frustrated with me too. Can you help?
—A. T., Los Angeles, CA

Dear A.,


Thanks for your question. I have worked with a number of riders in different disciplines who have described a similar challenge—many of them are older, as you are. It is very frustrating knowing what to do, but not being able to do it, and then having to deal with the consequences. As we all know too well, whether you’re asking for a canter transition or approaching a jump, it’s imperative to stay present in the saddle in order to be effective.

First, try to diffuse your frustration. Let go of the idea that you can’t figure it out and embrace the fact that you will. I appreciate that you are frustrated, but now we need you to step into an inquisitive state in order to understand the problem and develop a solution. Frustration only makes it worse. Once you cultivate acceptance of the situation, you are on the road to working it out.

Your next job is to be a detective: you need to figure out the trigger. Make the next few rides about checking in with yourself at every step, with the intention to observe what sends you into your blank-out state. Remember, there IS a trigger.

In my experience, the trigger is often fear—usually fear of making a mistake. One factor that makes the whole situation worse is fatigue—both mental and physical. Take stock: when does the blank-out occur? Is it usually at the end of the ride or lesson? Or is it at the beginning? Does it happen after you’ve done something really well? Keep a log so that you can record and analyze the pattern.

Once you are more aware of the pattern, you can address it effectively. One of my dressage riders insisted that her blank-out was not due to physical fatigue, but what we realized upon further investigation was that she was mentally fatigued. The solution was to insert a couple short breaks earlier in the lesson. The breaks allowed her to relax her mind after a complex series of movements and then regroup. Blanking out was the signal that her brain was on overload.

For another client, blanking out was an expression of her fear that she would make ‘the wrong choice’ in a bending line. If she had any doubt about where she was, she would become absent, leaving her horse wondering what to do. It really was panic response set off by her perfectionism. Once she could let go of the idea of needing to be perfect, she could stay in her body and make some sort of decision in the line, even if it was a timid one. Some decision is better than no decision! And, her horse was very willing to accommodate any option; he just didn’t like being abandoned.

In general, the solution to this kind of problem is to train yourself to be present for every step. Try talking out loud to yourself during your ride. Describe to yourself what you are doing at the moment, count your strides, or simply repeat a mantra. I have found that talking out loud, however funny that might sound, helps riders not only stay present but also detect trigger moments. In addition, if you are talking then you are also breathing, which also helps us stay present and grounded.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.


September 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 21:34


I reviewed the excellent article detailing the Woodside-area Horse Owners Association’s many good deeds early in the week of our deadline. At the end of that week, the story already needed the addition of WHOA!’s efforts to raise funds for large animal rescue efforts for victims of the CZU Lightning Complex Fires that were burning out of control in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

Some of WHOA!’s past donations have supported the renovation and endowment fund for Folger Stable, location of our cover photo shoot. Folger Stable itself was donated in 1974 to the County of San Mateo, and today it is operated by the Chaparral Country Corporation for public boarding, lessons, trail rides, and camps. You can learn more at

The author of the article, our dressage columnist Nan Meek, filed the piece while standing by to help neighbors in her Montara area near Half Moon Bay. She had one extra horse in her field as we closed the issue.

Equestrians who had been ready to head off to a show -- finally -- were instead hauling their horses and others’ -- with the help of friends and strangers -- to safety. Again. Yet this time with the added complexity of coronavirus concerns.

Once again, social media is filled with equal amounts of solicitations of help and offers of assistance from far and wide as our equestrian community rises to the too familiar task of keeping as many as possible out of harm’s way.

Despite the miraculous efforts of our show organizers to continue holding competitions amid meticulous coronavirus protocols and fires, two big shows had to be cancelled. Following their “safety first” commitment at the outset of the truncated season, Blenheim EquiSports cancelled the All Seasons Summer Classic that was set for the third week of August after some positive COVID cases at the previous show. That sets up a 14-day window before September competitions begin. One consequence is moving the Sallie B. Wheeler USEF/USHJA National Hunter Breeding Championships to Friday, Sept. 18 during the International Jumping Festival.

In Northern California, it was the fires and unhealthy smokey air that caused Split Rock Sonoma International to cancel its “Bonus” week set to start Aug. 26. The organizers hoped it would be safe to hold the CSI2* the following week, Sept. 2-6.  

There’s the obvious hope that fires that had burned 771,000 acres in one week, as of August 21, are under control by the time this issue arrives. That people and their horses are able to escape unharmed. Otherwise, I am at a loss for words amid the latest wave of events and forever in awe and appreciation of those stepping up to help, again and again.

Kim F Miller, Editor
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Starz is a gorgeous arabian mare up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, CA.

She was privately owned in the past with one owner, who became ill and could no longer care for her. She was donated to the rescue. She is 15 years old and stands 15 hands high. Rides well under saddle, healthy and sound, appears to be a very nice mare. Adoption fee $800.

See Starz on our website,, under Horses For Adoption and follow the instructions for adoption.

September 2020 - Book Review
Written by Reviewed by Lori Barron • by Michelle Holling-Brooks with photographs by AJ Morey
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 20:28


The Horse Cure: True Stories

Reviewed by Lori Barron • by Michelle Holling-Brooks with photographs by AJ Morey

In hard times, we often turn to stories, both fictional and real, for inspiration. The tales in The Horse Cure: True Stories inspire readers in several ways, showing us humans’ capacity for change and horses’ power to heal.


Author Michelle Holling-Brooks, a certified equine therapy professional and founder of the non-profit Unbridled Change, shares individual stories of clients, both adults and children, who have come to UC to work on healing from trauma. She shows her personal connection to the work by including a chapter describing how horses helped her recover from the aftereffects of severe childhood illness.


The book also explains the kind of equine therapy in practice at UC, Equine-Partnered Psychotherapy and Coaching. The horses are not directed by those overseeing the sessions; rather, they choose on their own whether and how to interact with clients (along with a mental health professional, an equine professional is present to watch out for safety and note how the horse is reacting to the client). By interacting with horses, rarely riding them but sometimes working with them to complete a task, clients gain insights into both their own behaviors and feelings and those of others and learn to start altering old, counterproductive behavior patterns induced by trauma.

Both the clients and the horses in The Horse Cure are inspiring. The book clearly demonstrates how survivors of physical and sexual abuse and other painful experiences, dealing with aftereffects such as trust issues, anger management issues, or emotional shutdown, grow as a result of their work with the horses, who are attuned and sensitive healers. In one memorable session, Wiscy, a big piebald, sniffs the arms of adult client Brenda (names are changed for privacy), then repeatedly blocks her from returning to the therapists. Eventually, he allows her to do so, and she explains to them that she recently tried to slit her wrists and that Wiscy wouldn’t let her come back to them until she became willing to tell them what she’d done. The book gives many such examples of horses’ deep intuition.

The Horse Cure is a moving, informative read. It is clearly written and takes readers step by step through the therapy sessions so we can see how the clients’ transformations occur. Having some chapters describe how a client progresses over time, while others focus on a single session, is very helpful because it shows us how equine therapy changes people’s lives gradually but also provides breakthrough moments that, all by themselves, give clients important new insights. If you want to learn more about this therapy, or if you’d like to be uplifted by seeing the power of horses’ healing work, this is the book for you.

Reviewer Lori Barron is a lifelong horse lover from Sonoma whose greatest horseback adventure was riding a half-Arab stallion on a camping trip in Morocco many years ago.

Would you like to review a book for us? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for a list of books we currently have in-house to review. If you’ve recently read a horse-related book on your own, and would like to submit a review, please e-mail us.

August 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by CRM
Monday, 03 August 2020 05:17


I was grateful to have gotten out to one of the first shows back on the calendar in our area, Nilforushan EquiSports’ Temecula Valley National hunter/jumper competition at Galway Downs in late June. Everybody was in great spirits and compliance with physical distancing and mask wearing rules looked pretty good.

I found it really awkward to not give a hug or handshake to friends I haven’t seen in several months. I haven’t figured out how to project a warm smile with my eyes only. I went off to that show without giving much thought to the “no spectators” rule, I admit. The initial USEF guidelines described media as “essential personnel,” so it seemed OK.


That has changed though and, regardless what each show’s restrictions are, I opted not to attend any other events since that first one in late June. I am fully on board with wearing masks and doing anything else possible to prevent the spread of COVID, including staying home when it kinda kills me not to be out on the scene among people and horses who feel like friends more than story subjects.

We went to press just as California surpassed New York in numbers of coronavirus cases, concurrent with new notices from show organizers detailing the safety precautions, their enforcement and the request for strict compliance from everybody. As several noted, even just a few people not following the rules could put the whole circuit on hold again.

Dressage News & Views editor, Nan Meek, drills deep on the impact of all this on decision making processes for all stakeholders in the sport. Don’t miss her cleverly-titled column, Reality Shows.

The lead story in our Dressage special feature covers Hillary Martin’s wonderful training program in the Bay Area. She has an impressive posse of talented and dedicated riders -- of all ages. We hope several of them get the chance to strut their stuff at the USEF Festival of Champions, this month in the Chicago area. They do a great job of showing the rest of the country that the West Coast is in it to win it. And they do it with best horsemanship and sportsmanship practices, while apparently having a blast!

In the Rehabilitation department, we did venture out for a tour of the Blenheim Equine Rehabilitation program in San Juan Capistrano. Under Jennifer Clarke, DVM’s direction, it has been up and running for a while but our article is sort of a formal introduction in the media. It’s another corner of the equestrian world in which the West Coast is representing excellence.

Thanks to our cover sponsor Premier Equestrian for the great information about arena materials that support equine athletes in all disciplines while handling California’s wild weather extremes. With first-class footing in arenas throughout our readership area, Premier definitely has the right surface for any need.

Very best wishes for a continued recovery to Charlotte Bredahl. She underwent brain surgery for metastatic melanoma and is recovering amazingly. She is working on her physical therapy and even keeping tabs on some of her many charges via video. Charlotte is the US Dressage Development coach and has touched the lives of hundreds of riders and their horses. A GoFundMe page enables friends and fans to donate toward what are considerable medical expenses and we sincerely hope to see Charlotte soon!

We’re very sad to report the passing of Joe Lombardo in mid-July. He was a much-admired course designer, trainer, coach and horseman. In the week following his death, social media was filled with moving tributes to the positive influence he had on the lives of many in the hunter/jumper community.

As always, we welcome story submissions and ideas. And, as I don’t expect to be getting out to any competitions with my camera this month, please consider submitting your accomplishments to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Happy, safe, riding and reading!

Kim F Miller, Editor
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



Available for Adoption: Sadie

Sadie is an arabian mare up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, CA, north San Diego County. She is approximately 5 yrs old and stands 14.2 hands high. She has been saddled and bridled before and sat on, but not actually trained to ride yet. Ready to start under saddle for the committed adopter who keeps their horses for life! Super sweet and cute girl! Adoption fee $500. See Sadie for adoption on our adoption page at

August 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by by Dr. Darby Bonomi
Monday, 03 August 2020 03:44

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Bonomi,
As the mom of a 16-year-old equitation rider, I’m wondering how best to support her. She puts so much pressure on herself. She gets really upset when things don’t go as planned or she doesn’t get the placing she feels she deserves. I don’t know whether to stay away from her at shows, or give her space. Should I comment on her rounds or not? Should I meet her at the back gate or stay in the stands? Sometimes I say ‘good job,’ but I know it wasn’t a great round, and then she barks at me. How much and what should I say to our trainer? Finally, the evenings in the hotel after a bad day are excruciating! I could use some advice as we get into Finals season.
Thanks for your help.
K.L., Big Eq Mom, Southern CA

Dear K,
Your letter is a version of questions I get all the time, so please know that you are in good company. To help guide you and all the parents out there, I have a few overall principles to consider. Reflecting on these points will help you answer your own questions.
First and foremost: our job as the mom (or dad) is always to parent. This sounds ridiculous, but I find that a lot of horse show parents become trainers, coaches, and friends to their children at shows and abandon their role as parents. Here is what I mean:

As the parent, we’re the keeper of perspective. Ask yourself: what’s the underlying meaning of being in our sport—is it to win or to learn? It’s our job to keep the life lessons front and center and not get so focused on results. In my view, winning a blue—or a finals—is not the most important aspect of being in sport.

As the parent, we set the rules on expected conduct in any setting. Just because we’re at a horse show doesn’t mean the rules go out the window. What do you usually expect of your child in terms of graciousness, generosity, kindness? Nothing should change at the show. In my book, you get 15 minutes to be upset about a ‘bad’ round or mistake. Then it’s your job to let it go and figure out how you’re going to move forward. Remember, it’s not the last mistake you’ll make, so you better figure out how you can make use of it to improve.

As the parent, we are there to hold our child in victory, defeat, and everything in between. Remember, you’re there for your child, unconditionally. Sure it’s great when our child wins, but they need us even more when they lose.

As the parent, we help troubleshoot issues but don’t solve problems. As much as possible, guide your child toward independent thinking and resourcefulness. Remember our task is to help establish life skills, not just riding skills.

As the parent, we are not the coach (thankfully!)  Let’s leave training to the trainers. It’s important to recognize the difference between trainer questions and mom questions. This can be a tricky one for us rider moms; I know I personally get lured into answering these questions (When should I get on? Should I put on draw reins? Big spurs or small?) Trainer questions need to go to the trainer. In this vein, don’t pass judgement on your child’s rounds. Let the trainer give feedback.

With those principles in mind, here are some specific answers to your questions, K. Sounds like it’s time to revisit the overall ground rules of behavior at the shows. It’s not ok for you to be having excruciating horse show evenings or to be barked at. I’d talk about the 15-minute rule and troubleshoot how your daughter is going to move forward out of mistakes rather than stewing in them. Stewing solidifies poor performance, anyhow. Make clear that your role is to support her, but you expect certain graciousness and respect. Make a game plan of what will feel right to her in terms of your participation at shows. Everyone is different about whether they want to be greeted at the back gate or not. Let your trainer give feedback. If your daughter really seems stuck and frustrated, then I would sit down with the trainer at a good time (not in the middle of a busy horse show) to discuss the situation and craft an effective plan to rectify the technical or performance difficulties.
I hope this gives you some guidelines. Effective parenting of athletes is big and sticky topic and requires constant reevaluation and work. I know this one from both sides.

Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist based in San Francisco. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. She can be reached at

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.


July 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 01 July 2020 03:59

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby,

After months of being at home, I am considering showing again, but I feel pretty stressed out and overwhelmed just thinking about it. In addition to feeling out of practice, I know I won’t be going into a situation that feels at all like normal. Frankly, I’m not sure I should be showing with all that is going on in the world. Not only the health crisis, but also the civil unrest, leaves me uncertain and also makes showing seem rather unimportant.

As you can see, I feel very confused! Any advice is welcome!

M.D., Adult Amateur, San Diego

Dear M,


Thanks for reaching out. You are not alone in your feelings. We are in the middle of a very confusing, overwhelming, and frightening time. I don’t have a magic answer for you, but I will do my best to address some of your concerns.

First, I want to acknowledge your feelings and affirm that there is no right or wrong way to go about reentering the show world. I believe we all have to make decisions that feel right for us, our horses, and our lives. Some riders I work with feel really eager and ready to jump back in; others feel they want to sit out the year. For each of us it’s important to assess: do we feel safe enough to go back to the show ring? In terms of safety, I’m referring not only to COVID-19, but also to the civil unrest. If you feel unsafe, then I’d say you should seriously consider not competing yet. Unless you can feel comfortable, you won’t be able to be fully present for your horse.

My sense is that if you are uncertain, it might be worth your while to sit out the very first horse shows and instead, see how they go for others. Perhaps you’ll have the ability to accompany someone else or at least hear about your barnmates’ experiences and learn what the new procedures are. In addition, it’s my guess that as the shows go on, we’ll all get more practiced at our new routines, and things will go more smoothly.  

In terms of feeling out of practice, you are in the same boat with the rest of us! We all have to accept that it’s basically a re-start to a very odd and shortened season. I would suggest that if you decide to move forward, focus on the first show as practice rather than as a final exam. Set reasonable goals for the first few days, remembering what those first shows are like in January after your winter break. This advice will be harder to take for those who have to jump right back into Junior Hunter Finals or similar big events, but I still suggest to take a compassionate approach: give it your best and have gratitude for the ability to get back in the ring.

Regarding your comment that showing feels unimportant right now: ask yourself why. Is it because you feel guilty about what you have relative to others? Is it harder to enjoy your life when there is so much inequity in the world? Are you called to spend more time and energy focusing on other aspects of your life or your community? Allow yourself some space to think about your priorities, what has meaning for you in your life, and what you want to change. Rather than feeling stuck or paralyzed, use your feeling as motivation to create an action plan. There are many ways to generate positive change, and maybe this is the time for you to jump in and make more of an impact.

Last, but definitely not least: let’s fully acknowledge the collective stress we are under right now. The world has completely changed in so many ways since a few months ago. We will adapt, we will figure out how to move forward, but we all know we’re not going back to the old ways. It’s going to take some time, compassion, and resilience, but as competitive equestrians, we’ve all got it in us to do the necessary mental and emotional work.

Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist based in San Francisco. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. She can be reached at

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

July 2020 - Review: Best Boots!
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 01 July 2020 03:39


I have always worn the Original Muck Company boots every winter so when I had the opportunity to try the new Women’s Chore classic mid boot, I jumped at the chance. This boot is so multi-functional and comfortable at the same time. Since they are 100% waterproof it is so easy to throw them on if it’s raining or muddy to go out to feed.  The premium rubber is easy to clean with just a quick rinse off and the traction of the sole makes you feel safe out there in the slick mud. Since they are designed for a women’s foot and not an overly bulky boot it makes it super easy to grab horses out of their pens and jump on to ride without having to change into different boots if you just need to get one exercised real quick.


These are not just a winter boot, they are great in the summer too. I always use them when I have several horses to bathe so I can save my good boots or tennis shoes from being soaked. Since they are a mid rise your feet don’t get as hot when you are out doing chores in the heat. I can’t say enough good things about the new Muck Company Women’s Chore classic mid boot.


Make sure you check out www.muckbootcompany.comto grab a pair for yourself or buy an extra pair for a friend!

Denise Munson
Pacific Coast Publications

June 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by by Dr. Darby Bonomi
Thursday, 28 May 2020 04:13

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby,

Can you give me advice on shifting the culture of my barn? Right now there is a lot of competitive tension between riders. They even compete for my attention and get into arguments about how much time I spend with each of them. These conflicts get in the way of my ability to focus on what I need to do to train them and their horses. For instance, sometimes one horse only needs 20 minutes when another horse needs 40. It’s not about preferring one or the other. I feel like I’m tiptoeing around my own place. I have tried to talk to the individuals directly involved, but they seem to feel the problem is with the other or with me. Please do not use my name or location, since that will only fan the flames!


—California Trainer

Dear Friend,


I’m sorry to hear that you are experiencing this uncomfortable situation. Tension between clients is tough on everyone at the barn—from the grooms, to the trainers, to other clients as well. Horses feel the tension too, so there are lots of good reasons to get a grip on negativity — and fast. If you add gossip to the equation, morale will tank quickly.

Perhaps now is a good time to do a barn culture assessment. The COVID-19 shelter in place orders have physically separated us, and offered us the opportunity to reevaluate our priorities and connect with what’s most meaningful. I think most of us realize more acutely than ever how important the barn and the horses are. I know I’m not alone in viewing the barn as my sanctuary. It’s the place where I recharge, refuel, and get grounded. Negativity, tension, and conflict of any sort are intrusive and can ruin the whole experience—and definitely keep us from riding our best.

In my work with trainers, I often get questions similar to yours. Trainers tend to be pleasers—they try to make everyone happy, from the clients to the horses, to their staff—and they run themselves ragged in doing so. Rather than trying to please others, decide what kind of community and experience you want for your program.

Ask yourself:
•    What do you stand for?
•    What are your overall values?
•    What kind of barn feel do you want?
•    What kind of personality traits do you value in clients?

Become really clear about how you want your barn to operate and why. Write a mission statement, and then write down how you will support that mission. Becoming exquisitely clear with yourself about what kind of you barn culture you want, will allow you to start to develop the tools to be clear with others.

As a trainer, you often occupy a parent-like role. In truth, you are the parent of your barn. You have to guide behavior and, at times, set limits. When your kids are arguing about something petty (like who got more, for instance), you don’t get in the middle of it. Similarly, don’t get involved in barn squabbles. (You’ll never win anyhow.) Instead, be clear about the behavioral and emotional expectations of clients in your program. Remember, you, the trainer, are the keeper of the culture. If you don’t want clients to bicker amongst themselves, address it head on and don’t tolerate it. Make sure everyone understands that the barn is a community or team—and as such needs to work as a supportive whole, not warring factions.

Create The Culture

Of course, it’s hard to switch horses in mid-stream (sorry for the pun), so if there’s a lot of conflict among current clients, you’re going to need to intervene and set some new ground rules.

You may need to have a barn meeting to talk about the realignment of the priorities and culture, and put your expectations in a memo. While that might seem tricky, taking things on directly and clearly will be a relief—both to the clients and for you. Once you have made the expectations clear, addressing transgressions will be easier.

Clear, written expectations will also make life easier when potential new clients approach you. Now, instead of just evaluating the client only on the basis of riding skills, experience, and goals, you can also add a values assessment. Do the client’s values and expectations align with your program’s? If not, then think twice about taking them on.

Especially in financially tough times, trainers who have open stalls may feel the need to take in whoever shows up at the barn gate. They may not feel the luxury to choose who they want to work with. Even in this situation, it’s important to remember that as the trainer, it is your program. As the barn parent, you’re the decider. Not everyone will be pleased with every decision—in fact, someone will always be displeased. But if you make decisions based on your values, rather than on pleasing others, you will feel more grounded and aligned in your direction and less vulnerable to the intrabarn tensions and conflict. Best of all, your work environment will be a happier, more creative and vital place to be—not just for you, but for all those around you, including the horses.

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

May 2020 - Editor's Notes
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 05:25


It’s hard not to be anxious and/or glum over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the continuing event cancellations and many owners being unable to spend time with their horses. While the impact on the equestrian world pales in comparison to the virus’ impact on those who are fighting to protect their own and others’ lives, it’s understandable to have trouble seeing any good news. As much as I value staying abreast of the news, I also know that balancing the bad with good is always important, even when it’s a little harder to find.


Many of this issue’s articles helped sustain my spirits this past month. I hope they do the same for you!


Thanks to Pam Duffy for sharing that she taps Anais Nin’s “Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage” message as her modus operandi for Sunsprite Ranch’s future. She is a very inspiring person and horse woman and I am excited to watch her horses do their spectacular thing for many years into the future.

Thanks to Stanford’s Vanessa Bartsch for suggesting an article on Andrea Cao, the freshman team rider who vaulted to fame on Shark Tank as a 13-year-old entrepreneur. The Central California horsewoman is now mindfully managing the steady growth of Andrea Equine and continuing to work with BLM Mustangs and young horses.

Thanks to eventer Lauren Billys for sharing what it’s like to have earned a spot in the Tokyo Olympics that are now pushed back to 2021. To Susan Ighani for sharing what it’s like to relocate a 20-horse program amid shelter-in-place realities and to our delightful columnist Nan Meek for sharing what it’s really like keeping a horse a home, a dream for many of us, perhaps even more these days.

Thanks, too, to Darby Bonomi, PhD, and Marnye Langer for their wise, helpful perspectives to help us all get through.

My biggest uplift in reporting for this issue was to find there is actually good news interwoven in the virus’ impact on horses newly in need of new homes. Unlike the situation during the Great Recession that started in 2008, now there is more promotion of and support for moving horses out of shelters and into permanent homes.

Don’t get me wrong: the pandemic is hitting horses hard, but the ASPCA’s Dr. Emily Weiss explained that welfare organizations are setting aside past differences to unite in promoting “horses in transition” rather than “unwanted horses.” It’s a concept that worked really well in the small animal adoption world, and there is hope it will help horses, too. Please read about The Right Horse initiative on page 10, and visit and see if you can help. Even if you can’t foster or adopt at the moment, pick a special horse and share them on your social channels. Maybe someone in your circle can.
Thanks to all of those working hard to help humans and horses during these difficult days.

Happy reading and riding. For those who can ride and visit your horse, extra hugs for the rest of us, please!!

Kim F Miller, Editor


Diamonte is a gorgeous grey thoroughbred gelding up for adoption at FalconRidge Equine Rescue in Valley Center, California.

He stands 16.1 hands high and has been trained to ride trail under saddle.

He is 14 years old and sold for $27,000 in 2007, racing only once.

Looking for a loving intermediate riding home for life.

Adoption fee is $800.

See Diamonte on our adoption page at

May 2020 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 00:26

dressage news

Great expectations: change is afoot at Toyon Farm.

by Nan Meek

It’s been a busy few months for the Bonavito family and Sabine Schut-Kery. In November 2019, the Bonavitos purchased Toyon Farm in Napa, and have been following “stay in place” orders during the COVID-19 crisis with three generations of their family, as well as their horses. In May, Sabine is moving to Toyon Farm.


Toyon Farm was previously owned by Camille and Edward Penhoet, longtime supporters of dressage in California. Camille, who grew up in the Carmel area and was a competitive dressage rider for many years, and her husband bought Toyon in the 1980s and renovated the original facilities into a jewel of a private equestrian facility set among rolling vineyards.


Today Toyon Farm is the new home of the Bonavito family and their horses, along with a handful of longtime boarders, and is managed by Gera Slijkoord, who was the Penhoets’ manager, as well.

The Bonavitos, and especially daughter Danielle, have been part of the northern California dressage community for many years. As a kid, Danielle Bonavito trained with Carolyn Adams at Yarra Yarra Ranch in Pleasanton, just down the road from her parents’ private farm in Danville. “Carolyn taught me on my first pony, Kirov,” Danielle recalled. “She also trained me on my first horse Quincey (Against All Odds) who we bought from Courtenay Fraser in Canada.”

Later, Danielle trained with Katrin and Dirk Glitz at her parents’ farm, and Katrin coached her through her junior and young rider years. In 2014, Danielle played a key role in the combined USDF Region 6/7 dressage team winning the bronze medal at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“When I was ready to make some changes in my riding and training, Anke Herbert and Alix Curry introduced me to Sabine who they thought would be a good match for me and my horses. I was lucky to be accepted into her program,” Danielle remarked. “Plus, I was able to transfer colleges to one that was only 20 minutes from Sabine’s location at El Campeon Farms.”

Retirees To Olympic Hopefuls

Today, Danielle has her three competition horses at Toyon, along with three of the family’s retired horses, which include her Young Riders horse, her sister’s first horse, and her dad’s horse. “Toyon is the perfect home for all of them,” she said. The retired horses will live out their lives in comfort, while Danielle and her competition horses will continue to be coached by Sabine at home and at competitions.

Danielle vividly remembered the moment she saw that farm-for-sale ad. “I showed the ad to my mom,” Danielle recalled, “and she thought the property was beautiful.” What mother wouldn’t fantasize about luring her dressage-obsessed daughter back home from Southern California with a wonderful place like Toyon for her to live and train her horses?

The only issue for Danielle was a big one: Her coach Sabine Schut-Kery was contentedly based at El Campeon Farms in Thousand Oaks. From Sabine’s perspective, any move would have to be carefully considered so that it worked not just for her, but also for her sponsors, owners, and clients.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way – how many times have we all heard that cliché? There’s a certain amount of truth to clichés, however, and this was no exception.

Sabine explained her thinking about the decision to move north. “It was bittersweet to think about leaving a beautiful place like El Campeon Farms and the support of the great group of clients and friends that I made there. But I have always enjoyed visiting Northern California, and the welcoming invitation from the Bonavitos to move to Toyon in the Napa wine country brought the excitement of new opportunities. My first sight of Toyon Farm, nestled in Napa’s rolling hills and surrounded by vineyards, reminded me of Italy.” Sabine’s sponsors, owners, and clients have continued to be supportive of her new plans.

She is bringing six to seven horses north with her, including Sanceo, the 2006 Hanoverian stallion by San Remo and owned by Alice Womble-Heitman and Dr. Mike Heitman, with whom she has been working to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now rescheduled for the summer of 2021. Also heading to Toyon with Sabine are Marques, the 2004 PRE stallion owned by Rhea Scott, with whom she is looking toward exhibition performances, as well as other horses belonging to her sponsors and a couple of her own horses. With Danielle’s horses already in residence at Toyon, and room for a few new clients, Sabine will be as busy as ever.

“I’m excited to continue Danielle’s development with her three talented horses. She is a gifted rider with a lot of feel, and she is very involved and hands on with her horses. Because of our trips and her commitment to dressage we have built a close relationship,” Sabine said. In 2018, Danielle and her horse traveled with Sabine to Germany to train, and this past winter she joined Sabine in Florida for the season that got shortened by the COVID-19 crisis.

Having lived and worked in the Los Angeles area since 2005, Sabine is understandably committed to her relationships with her clients and students there, so her plans call for traveling south for clinics once or twice a month. As she explained, “I will fly in to teach clinics, while my horses have a cross-training day at home. That way I can continue to work with my wonderful clientele in the Los Angeles area.” Sabine’s own work with Christine Traurig, her longtime mentor and “eyes on the ground” since 2006, will continue at Toyon, where Christine will visit on a regular basis.

Looking ahead, there’s even more to Sabine’s plans. With her time currently concentrated on coaching Danielle and on qualifying Sanceo for Tokyo, her immediate focus obviously remains on competition. But she also enjoys exhibitions, and although her plans to create an exhibition for the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas were derailed by its cancellation, she’s looking forward to revisiting the creative outlet of exhibition riding. “I’m excited and looking forward to being part of the Northern California dressage community,” Sabine said.

Toyon Farm will be a busy place under the ownership of the Bonavito family and with the coaching of Sabine Schut-Kery. Watch for great things to come.

A lifelong horse owner, Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1).

April 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by CRM
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 23:37

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby,

On a daily basis, I have a lot of different things on my mind. When I get on to ride I find it difficult to shut off those stresses and focus on my horse. What are some things you recommend that can help me focus during practice?
—A.C., Amateur hunter/jumper rider, Carpenteria, CA

This is a common problem for riders of all levels and ages. These days all of us juggle many commitments, along with an onslaught of thoughts, concerns, and emotions. It’s imperative for our horse’s sake and our own to avoid bringing our burdens into the saddle. Horses are extremely intuitive and feel everything. If we’re stressed and distracted, they will become so as well.


First, I suggest creating boundaries around tasks or parts of your day. Designate certain times for work, emails, riding, errands and so on. Mental boundaries help us focus on whatever it is we’re doing rather than all the other things that buzz around in our minds. Let’s face it—it’s very stressful and terribly inefficient to try to focus on multiple things at once.

Boundaries & Time Limits

One way to create boundaries is to make daily, weekly and even monthly lists of tasks. I set time limits around tasks—giving myself 30 minutes to do x, then 45 minutes to do y, and so on. I stick to my plan as much as possible. My lists are designed to organize me, keep me on track, give me a sense of accomplishment—and give me scheduled breathers during the day! I know that when I set the timer on emails, that’s all I get for now; I have to move on to the next thing. If something doesn’t get completed, it goes on tomorrow’s list (or perhaps next week’s.) I can let the task go for now, because I know it’s on another list and will get done later.

A central purpose of setting boundaries is to be able to let go of everything else and concentrate on what you are doing now.

Another tool to leave stress at the barn door is to develop some mindfulness practices to help shed unwanted thoughts and emotions. Remember, mindfulness is a practice, so it takes practice to work.

Try this to start: take cleansing or relaxation breaths as you imagine the contents of your busy mind going into the earth. Pay attention to your body in space, feeling your bottom in the seat of the car or chair, and your feet on the ground, and become exquisitely aware of your present surroundings. Notice smells, signs, sounds to call yourself right to the present. Should a task or a worry come into mind, say thank you and let it go. This practice can be used anywhere—in the grocery line, in the car—even in the saddle! I personally like to start my rides this way, grounding, centering, and connecting emotionally with my horse.

The essence of mindfulness is to be fully aware of your experience at the present moment.

Last, I suggest my riders set intentions for every ride, even if it’s a solo practice session at home. Decide what three things you and your horse are going to work on today, and design your ride with those goals in mind. Having intentions or goals will help you focus your mind, keep you on track, and shelter you from those nagging thoughts about work or outside life. If your mind wanders, bring yourself gently back to the present and connect with the generous animal you’re sitting on. Remember that he or she deserves your full attention and energy.

Actively setting intentions for your day or ride will help focus your mind.

Just as there are a multitude of distractions out there, there are many tools to help draw ourselves back into the present moment and deliberately compartmentalize thoughts. Horses naturally call us to be here and accounted for—it’s part of why most of us consider barn time our therapy!


If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

March 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by CRM
Monday, 02 March 2020 19:04

ask dr darby

Performance psychologist and equestrian answers readers’ questions.

Dear Dr. Darby Bonomi

During a competition, I occasionally will get a late ride time and have to spend all day preparing and getting nervous for my ride. Often by the time I ride, I feel tired. How do you recommend I mitigate this ongoing pressure for a later ride time?

—Lauren Billys, International Eventer and Olympian, who recently secured her spot in the 2020 Tokyo Games with Castle Larchfield Purdy.

Dear Lauren,


Thanks for this great question. It’s a common situation for all athletes of all levels or anyone who performs—we don’t always get the performance time that suits us best! Most of us prefer to ride first thing in the morning, when we’re mentally sharp and physically rested. An early ride time doesn’t allow too much time to ponder over the track, watch others, or get nervous.

The preparation path is clear—get ready and go. As the day wears on, it can be harder to focus our minds and get ourselves geared up for competition. We are tired, perhaps amped up from watching our colleagues perform, and our minds can become frazzled from too much thinking. Later in the day, it’s also more difficult to productively channel our energy. Nonetheless, as you well know, many of the biggest events take place in the late afternoon or evening. Whether you’re an elite athlete or an amateur, it’s imperative to hone your pre-performance preparation so that you can gear up no matter when you’re asked to perform.

First, it’s key to manage your energy during the day by developing the skill to turn your performance energy ‘on’ and ‘off.’ I know that sounds funny, but what I mean is, if your ride time is late, you need to be ‘off’ or on ‘low’ most of the day and then deliberately turn it ‘on’ when you need it.

Tip: Envision your energy
like a flame on the stove,
regulated by a knob.
You can turn the flame up or
down, but it’s a waste of energy
to be on full flame all day.

When you’re not competing or getting ready to compete, dial your energy to ‘off’ or ‘simmer’. Being ‘on’ all day will wear you out. About an hour or so before your ride, turn up the ‘flame’. Deliberately start to raise your energy as you begin your afternoon pre-ride preparation.

Second, once you have your energy turned up, it’s time to clear your mind and get focused. I suggest that you develop a deliberate pre-ride routine that is tailored to your needs.

Pre-ride routines have three components—clearing mental chatter, centering and grounding the emotions and physical body, and narrowing the focus (or getting into ‘the zone.’)

We all have pre-ride routines, whether we’re deliberate about them or not. I strongly advocate that all show riders develop ways to efficiently and effectively get themselves fully ready to be in the saddle and present for their horse.

Tip: Develop different
pre-ride routines for different
times of the day or week.

Since we all have different needs at different times of the day, we need to adjust our pre-rides accordingly. Similarly, your pre-ride on Wednesday may look quite different from your Sunday preparation. Why? You’re tired—mentally and physically—by Sunday!

Envision a pilot’s take-off check list. About one hour before ‘take off’, start the check list. It’s at this point you’re gearing up—but not before then. For afternoons, you’ll have to figure out how to get yourself from ‘simmer’ to full flame (energized) and focused. Personally, in the afternoons I need to do some extra physical warm up, get some caffeine and protein, and practice energizing breaths. After raising my energy and grounding my body, I study my course, watch several of the best riders perform—but not too many—and then visualize my own ride while I activate my excitement for performing with my horse. Note that when I’m watching others perform, I’m either ‘on’ (intensely focusing) or ‘off’ (just casually watching). I am explicit in my mind about whether I’m in ‘prep mode’ or just ‘spectator mode’.

Tools for raising energy and focusing in the afternoon include: physical warm up and stretching with energizing breaths, listening to fast music, limited caffeine and adequate sustenance, visualizing the feeling of a great ride.

This kind of preparation is a mental and emotional skill and takes time to develop. I suggest a daily practice of making mental energy choices (on, off, simmer). When you’re at a competition, you will need to both change your thoughts and deliberately change your behavior. Don’t allow yourself to watch too many rounds. If you need to leave the showgrounds, take a nap in your car, or go shopping to be ‘off’, then do it. Even if you can’t physically leave, reframing to yourself that you’re in ‘relaxation mode’ will reduce your stress and give you a mental break so you can gear up later for your ride time. Remember, rest is a necessary component of performance.

Thank you again, Lauren, for the great question—it’s good to know that riders of all levels work on these kinds of challenges!


If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.

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