February 2015 - Winner's Circle
Written by Kim F. Miller
Wednesday, 04 February 2015 03:12

NorCal News: Lu Thomas, Macella O’Neill and Charles White receive special honors at NorCal Hunter/Jumper Association awards banquet.

Lu Thomas received the association’s Lifetime Achievement Award during its annual awards banquet Jan. 10. Lu and her husband Butch Thomas have operated Willow Tree Farms hunter/jumper training program in the Bay Area for many years. They’ve partnered with their son, Grand Prix rider Guy Thomas, in the business for the last several years. Duncan McFarlane, Mandy Porter, Peter Breakwell, Karl Cook and Alec Lawler are just a few of the big name Grand Prix riders coached by the Thomases.

Lu is renowned for her elegant riding style and has a resume with equal success in the biggest hunter and jumper arenas. She contested the World Cup Jumping Finals, in Switzerland, in 1996 and has many Grand Prix victories to her name.  A Regular Working Hunter championship at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show is among her many accomplishments in that ring. She is also highly regarded for refining and perfecting the horse/rider partnership.

Lu Thomas. Photo: Ryan Anne Polli

NorCal’s Wendy Nissen Memorial Trophy is awarded to someone who has committed a “random act of kindness and senseless act of beauty.” The following letter is from Haley Schwab, nominating her trainers and this year’s recipients, Macella O’Neill and Charles White, of Diamond Mountain Stables, for the award.

“A man named Kiko came to work for Macella and Charlie about this time last year. A hard working, legal Mexican American, Kiko is a great driver with a Class A license. He’s an exceptional gardener and has a work ethic that rivals anyone in the world.

“Kiko has three beautiful children and a lovely wife. This past April, Macella and Charlie learned that the reason Kiko was always 15 minutes late to work was because he was commuting 45 miles from the single room garage where he and his family lived. This open room had no bathroom, and only a makeshift kitchen for the family of five. It was rented for $900 a month.

“Macella and Charlie, disgusted that this exceptional employee could be living with his young children in such meager conditions, set out in search of a more suitable place for Kiko and his family to live. Yes, Macella and Charlie, who themselves slept on their living room floor for the first 25 years of business, bought a house for their employee simply because it was the right thing to do.

“Certainly, the home is nothing extravagant. A double-wide on a beautiful little knoll in Middletown, 15 miles outside of Calistoga, where the kids have rooms, and proper kitchen from which to eat and Kiko and Emma have their own master bedroom.

“I have nothing but admiration for the kind and generous people that Macella and Charlie are, and I hope to be able to follow the example that they set in my own life.“

- Haley Schwab

Here are NorCal’s 2014 year-end award Champions and Reserve Champions. Congratulations to all!

Pony Equitation:

  • Champion - Syler Allen (Trainer, Sami Milo)
  • Res. Champion - Brook Morin (Trainer, John Bragg)

Equitation 11 & under:

  • Champion - Sydnie Young (Trainer, Sami Milo)
  • Res. Champion - Payton Potter (Trainer, Sue Lightner)

Equitation 12-14:

  • Champion - Michael Williamson (Trainer, Patty Ball)
  • Res. Champion - Audrey Poole (Trainer, Joey Pedroni)

Equitation 15-17:

  • Champion - Patty Gill (Trainer, Kelly Van Vleck)
  • Res. Champion - Demetra Evrigenis (Trainer, Patty Ball)

Equitation 18-35:

  • Champion - Laura Owens (Trainer: Ned & Hope Glynn)
  • Res. Champion - Carly Bechtel (Trainer, Matt Sereni)

Equitation 36 & over:

  • Champion - Danae Evrigenis (Trainer, Patty Ball)
  • Res. Champion - Elizabeth Robbins (Trainer, Mariano & Nina Alario)

The Winner’s Circle welcomes submissions and photos. E-mail them to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .