California Riding Magazine • May, 2008

Flying Changes

Dr. Bill Nissen Passes Away

Rare is the West Coast show jumping enthusiast who has not be touched by the knowledge and kindness of Dr. William “Bill” Nissen. He passed away on Sun. April 13 at his ranch in Sheridan, CA, after spending one of those days that, to a horseman, was just as he would want it at the end of his life, peaceful and doing what he loved the best.
Eighty-one years old, Bill got up Sunday morning and did what he loved doing the very best. He went to the race track! His attention was focused on a 7-year-old, Thoroughbred named Touchdown, USC, that he watched gallop and work that morning. He did that just about every morning that he could and Sunday was a delightful, beautiful California spring day, perfect for a horseman to watch his horses gallop.

This particular morning, Bill also went to the stewards office at Bay Meadows and finished the requirements for the California Thoroughbred Association’s race track vet license. Planning on working at the track, he was excited that his license was granted, opening the way for him to be “official.” Never one to sit idle, he was thrilled to get back to work at the track. Even though he had been practicing his veterinarian medicine in Northern California, his wish was to get back to the track.

He returned to his family ranch, where he had his favorite dinner, including artichokes and a dessert of his favorite strawberries and cream. The evening was spent watching his favorite TV series, CSI Miami, and he read the rule manual for the California Racing Association vets, cover to cover. Off and on, he snoozed but would wake up occasionally, as usual, and talk to his oldest daughter, Corby who was staying with him and herself snoozing on the couch. A typical Sunday evening. Normally this evening ritual would end when Dr. Nissen would wake up and nudge Corby to help him to bed. Tonight he just sat in his favorite chair and watched CSI and read his manual. At about 4:15 in the morning on Monday, Corby woke up and looked at her dad who was peacefully sitting in his chair with the manual still on his lap. She realized he was gone.

Right up to the end, Bill was out doing what he loved, injecting hocks last week, looking at a lameness, checking on clients and friends’ horses. Going to the race track, eating what he loved and being surrounded by his family on the ranch in Northern California that had been in the family for over 125 years. Bill was raised there, his father was raised there and his grandfather was raised there. His daughter, Lindsey, has her training business there and Corby lives on the place. He died peacefully in his sleep, of congestive heart failure, after spending a day doing all of the things he loved best.

He is survived by his wife, Twinkie, a superstar amateur hunter and jumper competitor for many years, and his children Corby, Lindsey, Karine and Brian. He is preceded in death by his beloved daughter Wendy. Services were scheduled for Mon., April 21st, followed by a celebration of all of Dr. William Nissen’s dreams at the family ranch. “Bill’s final run for the roses” was to be the theme for both gatherings. The Bill Nissen Fund, in care of the family, has been set up in his honor and will be earmarked for the American Heart Association, to help defray the final costs of his life and to get that race horse to its first return race, Bill’s dream. Bill called this horse, “The Come Back Kid,” and wanted to live long enough to see it get another chance to race.
Donations can be sent to The Nissen Family, 4000 Rolling Hills Road, Sheridan, CA. 95681. For additional information, please call Corby at 916-337-7257.

This article was provided by West Coast Active Riders.


Dressage Rider Ricardo Amaya Laid to Rest

The popular and highly-respected professional dressage rider, Ricardo Amaya, was laid to rest on April 5. Nearly 150 friends and family members gathered to mourn the native Colombian. The funeral service was held at St. Mel’s Catholic Church in Woodland Hills.

Growing up in South America, Ricardo and his four brothers were all trained by his father, Guillermo Amaya, an international rider and avid horseman. While living in Colombia, he won the Colombian Federation’s Gold Medal for best rider and horse team for three years running and was a qualified FEI level judge. Last year, Ricardo was a reserve rider for Colombia’s Pan American Games Dressage Team.

In 2000, Ricardo and his wife, María, left Colombia and came to California. Over the past eight years he worked diligently and became well-known as one of Southern California’s top dressage competitors. He won the Dressage Association of Southern California’s 2004 Perpetual Highpoint Championship Trophy and in 2005 claimed top honors at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, Santa Barbara, Mission Pacific, the EPC, White Birch and The Paddock. In 2006 he qualified for the California Dressage Society Championships at four different levels and again captured the DASC 2006 Perpetual Highpoint Championship Trophy.

In November 2006, Ricardo told California Riding Magazine, “This (dressage) is a very competitive sport and many riders become caught up in the pursuit of perfection that it requires. It’s not that I don’t want my riders to work hard, but above all, I want happy horses and happy riders.”

Ricardo was hospitalized on March 26 after he suffered severe head trauma in an apparent fall at a ranch near Thousand Oaks. Reports are that the horse he was schooling returned to the barn alone, prompting people at the barn to go to the riding ring. He was found unconscious on the ground and was taken to the hospital. He did not have a helmet on when emergency personnel arrived. Ricardo spent several days in the Intensive Care Unit at Los Robles Hospital before passing away with his family around him.

He is survived by his wife, Maria and two sons, Claudio, 4, and Martín, 2. Ricardo’s accident occurred right before the start of the Cornerstone Event Management’s Festival of the Horse CDI*** and Cornerstone has begun collecting money for the Amaya Family Fund during the show. Plans are now in the works for the creation of a perpetual trophy in Amaya’s honor, but details have not yet been finalized.

Donations can be sent c/o Janice Romersa, 24232 Long Valley Road, Hidden Hills, CA 91302.


Going, Going, Gone! San Luis Rey Downs Sold

It’s not just a rumor. Magna Entertainment Corp. has sold San Luis Rey Downs in San Diego County’s Bonsall to MI Developments Inc. for $24 million cash. An article in the Thoroughbred Times states that the training center has been targeted for residential development within three years.

MI Developments has agreed to lease the 205-acre property to Magna Entertainment for three years for a “nominal annual rent,” allowing the training center to continue to function while MI Developments obtains the necessary permits and approval to develop the property. The lease agreement is terminable by either party on four months notice.

San Luis Rey Downs, which was built in the 1960s, is home to about 400 horses. Many trainers prefer its serene setting to the busy stable areas of the racetracks. San Luis Rey Downs was the training center for 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, among many other Thoroughbred standouts. In April 2006 Magna stated the net value of San Luis Rey Downs as $6 million.