Mary Nicita and Kelly James are on the move. Mobility is their middle name as these hunter/jumper trainers juggle students at different Southern California training facilities and shows in San Diego and Orange County. Mary’s main headquarters for most of the last decade has been her own facility, Emerald Bay Farms, in Norco. A few years ago, she brought Kelly in as a training partner. More recently, Mary and Kelly have begun to work with students at Stacey Turner’s stable, also in Norco.
Jamie Cullers on Lotta Class.
It might sound chaotic, but the end result is a training program that offers students at any level instruction tailored to their needs. Stacey specializes in starting beginners, while Mary and Kelly are poised to take riders to the next level, usually a competitive path that targets an average of two to three shows a month. Mary specializes in Hunters and Equitation and Kelly has a great affinity for the Jumper divisions and a track record of producing effective riders. Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Assn. and Orange County Horse Show Assn. shows comprise the bulk of their show schedule, which is spiced up by occasional forays onto the A circuit.
The partnership with Kelly has been especially nice, Mary comments, because of the flexibility it creates. “There is always somebody to work with students who don’t go to the shows, and somebody to be at the shows. Sometimes I go to the show for a day or two, then Kelly and I switch. No matter what happens, our students are never left high and dry.” Also, Emerald Bay Farms students have the chance to get instruction phrased differently. “Sometimes it’s nice to hear a different voice,” Mary observes.
Wherever she is teaching, Mary has an infectious sense of enthusiasm and fun that she considers essential to her training efforts. “We are competitive and we keep it fun,” she says of the vibe among Emerald Bay Farms clients. “Everybody likes to hang out with each other and we have a nice family atmosphere.” Some of those family members have been with Mary since she started the business 10 years ago.
“We literally do not have one bad client,” Mary says happily. She does admit to a “pet” student, however. “Everybody knows I treat Chelsea Treser like my own kid.” Now starting college at UC Irvine, Chelsea began riding with Mary five or six years ago. She arrived with a 17.2 hh Thoroughbred named Gimme. “He was crazy: He’d spin her off time after time,” Mary reflects. In the process of becoming a multi-champion at last year’s GSDHJA Championship show, “Chelsea has been a great example to a lot of kids,” Mary says. “She has an amazing work ethic and a lot of my students aspire to accomplish what she has.” In August, Chelsea and Risque capped their successful partnership by winning the Childrens Hunter Championship at an A show at the Oaks in San Juan Capistrano.
Alyssa Lambert on Covenant.
Photo: Ed Moore
Mary grew up riding in San Diego. Her early trainers included Pam Craver, John Lipari and Terri Eadons, and later, Denise Cintas. Mary counts veteran trainer Sandi Nissen, who runs Hunter Hill Farms in Hemet, as her greatest mentor. Several years ago Mary worked for Sandi as a rider, and their relationship evolved to that of lifelong friends. “I can’t say enough about Sandi and her assistant Doug Snell,” Mary comments. “They are truly horse people and they taught me not just about riding but about horses in general.” Those years also introduced Mary to her future training partner, Kelly, who is Sandi’s daughter and has her own long resume of accomplishments.
Kelly, too, considers her mother Sandi her greatest inspiration and relies on her to this day for guidance and inspiration. As a junior under her mother’s tutelage, Kelly racked up the ribbons on horses that were everything but “made” mounts. “We had the reputation for bringing along young horses and for fixing problem horses,” Kelly recalls of her junior successes.
An apprenticeship with Ronnie Freeman and two years working for Mary Gatti polished Kelly’s riding, training and coaching skills. Her greatest pride now is in producing riders that, like herself as a youngster, “get the job done.” Moxie is more important than money for mastering horsemanship at Emerald Bay Farms.
Mary loves sharing her property with the horses of Emerald Bay Farms. “It’s nice to see them outside my bedroom window and, at 10:30 at night, you’ll find me out at the barn spoiling the horses!” On the side, Mary and her student Chelsea have begun to dabble in reining. It sprang from Mary’s work with Jerry Lunde’s Paint horses. She works with them for the jumping divisions of the Paint circuit’s all-around competitions.
Now that Mary, Kelly and Stacey have settled into a groove together, Mary expects that 2009 will see a slightly heavier show schedule with more frequent visits to the A circuit. With so much flexibility in the Emerald Bay program, they are no doubt poised for more success at every level and, for sure, more fun!
For more information on the Emerald Bay Farms program, call Mary Nicita at 909-223-2622 or Kelly James at 951-678-6340.