Schooling hapless California amateurs at a local B show before heading to the Beijing Olympics to coach the New Zealand show jumping team was all in a day’s work for Greg Best. The 1988 Olympic double silver medalist on the legendary Gem Twist was a bonafide “rock star” of the show jumping world in the U.S. before heading for a different life in New Zealand.
Now, Greg spends four to five months a year in the U.S., traveling from clinic to clinic—often 50 to 60 clinics each summer. Contrary to what you would expect, Greg is a genuine nice guy with a wry sense of humor and he’s a born storyteller. However, once the clinic begins, he becomes a diligent teacher—fanatically focused on improving the horse-and-rider combinations who venture to pay the clinic fees and step in the arena.
Five years ago, a girlfriend and I talked about a riding vacation. I had seen the glossy catalogs of the different options—castle rides in Ireland and Scotland or beach rides in Portugal sounded wonderful. My girlfriend, Lori, had another idea—heading to New Zealand to ride with Greg Best. Living on the farm and taking daily lessons sounded intense, but New Zealand was definitely a country I wanted to visit so off we headed to New Zealand.
Greg gets into the “Gilroy Experience” by riding a reiner.
Staying at the house Greg shared with his girlfriend and business partner Kim Zander was a bit intimidating. I was one of the many riders in the 80s that followed Greg’s successes on the Grand Prix circuit aboard the wonder horse. I had watched his accomplishments on the way to achieving the AGA Rookie Of The Year title as Gem Twist earned AGA Horse Of The Year. Having this person sit across from me at the dinner table was disconcerting to say the least! I’m not sure I said very much our first few days.
After the first few lessons I was hooked on Greg’s teaching style and enjoyed the colorful stories told over dinner. I was sitting on the leather couch in the living room one evening when Greg came and joined me. After my initial panic at what to say, we started chatting about yearly trips to the U.S. and his clinic schedule. He had an open weekend in his schedule and I jumped at the opportunity to bring Greg to WoodMyst Farms, where I keep my horses in the Bay Area’s Gilroy. This was the beginning of a friendship that still amazes me to this day.
Convincing the owner of WoodMyst Farms, Donna Russo, to allow me to organize a clinic with Greg wasn’t difficult. Donna and I met over 20 years ago, ironically at a clinic with Victor Hugo Vidal. Donna loves clinics as much as I do, and has an impressive list of clinicians she has ridden with over the years. We both share a love of learning about our sport, perpetual students continuing to try to improve our skills while dealing with the fact that were both aging amateurs.
All of us at Greg’s farm during a trip to New Zealand.
Greg’s first clinic at WoodMyst Farms was definitely a great experience. Even though Greg had to deal with a cancelled flight, lost luggage and teaching all day in the same clothes he wore the day before, he was patient and amazingly generous with his knowledge. He built a challenging course the second day of the clinic which tested each rider’s skills and enabled us to rise to the challenge.
After the first year, we couldn’t wait to have Greg return. The following year of Greg’s clinic trip to the U.S., WoodMyst Farms hosted two clinics. The third year he came for three clinics at our barn as well as other barns in the Bay Area as word of his amazing teaching ability spread. He also brought news of his pending wedding to long-time girlfriend Kim. I jumped at the opportunity to return to New Zealand, bringing along Donna and her family to attend Greg’s wedding.
Star Of The Show
Last year, during Greg’s annual visit, we asked Greg take the hunter/jumper riders at WoodMyst to a horse show. We picked the Almaden Farms Summer show in Watsonville—it fit in the clinic schedule and is a fun B-rated show with a relaxed atmosphere. It was also Greg’s last stop before heading off to Beijing to coach the New Zealand show jumping team. The show was such a memorable experience for both our riders as well as others who attended the horse show.
Greg was as professional to our riders as he would have been to the New Zealand team. His guidance and attention to detail brought our focus and determination to a new level. Greg was also kind and gracious to everyone at the show as word spread of his attendance. Seeing the reaction of those who remember Greg from his Gem Twist days was amazing. It was delightful to get an insight into what an impact he had on our sport over 20 years ago as well as today. He still retains his celebrity status, much to his own amazement, and was the highlight of the exhibitor’s party.
This year, Greg returns to the Bay Area for multiple clinics for three weeks starting in mid-April, and another two weeks at the end of September. Greg teases me about possibly setting up residence in California if we keep on increasing his time here. Doesn’t he realize this was my plan all along?
Please contact me at Hollie@woodmystfarms.com if you are interested in scheduling a one, two or three day clinic with Greg at your facility.