California Riding Magazine • January, 2012

Horse People: Tish Quirk
Veteran breeder earns CPHA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

by Kim F. Miller

Tish Quirk didn't set out to be a breeder. She was a star on the hunter circuit with the Dutch Warmblood Best Of Luck when she realized that breeding him was far preferable to accepting the many and monetarily tempting offers to buy him.

Her husband John imported the Lucky Boy son in the early 80s, just as the trend toward favoring European imports over American-bred Thoroughbreds began. So it's kind of ironic that Tish is now being honored, in part, for bucking that trend by producing home-bred heroes for the hunter and jumper show rings.

At its early January convention, the California Professional Horsemen's Association will present Tish with its Lifetime Achievement Award for 30-plus years of service to the sport.

Tish Quirk & Best of Luck

"I can't think of a more deserving person," notes Betty Oare, vice chair of the USHJA's Hunter Breeding Committee and a longtime hunter competitor, judge and advocate. "What she's done in the breeding world really is a lifetime accomplishment."

Betty cites both Tish's horses and her efforts on behalf of the hunter breeding segment of the industry. "Tish's program has done a great job showing that horses bred in this country can be just as good as those bred in Europe. And, she's been the real person to push and organize the West Coast component of the Sallie B. Wheeler National Hunter Breeding Championships."

The Lifetime Achievement award will fight for space in Tish's tightly-packed trophy case. Breeder of the Year, Leading Handler, Leading Sire and Best Young Horse at the Sallie B. Wheeler/USEF National Breeding Championships are just a few of her titles. It is fitting that her youngsters have done so well at that competition because, as Betty states, Tish was instrumental in bringing it to California. The bi-coastal event was three years in the making when it debuted in 2006. The whole idea was to enable West Coast breeders to compete against East Coast counterparts without having to make the trip to Warrenton, VA, where the National Hunter Breeding Championships have always been held. Promoting top quality breeding out West was an equal part of the mission.

"I'm proud of all the work I've done that's helped all breeders and increased the market for horses that are bred and developed in America," she says.

The success of those programs means more hunter breeding competitors, but Tish's horses have won their many national and year-end titles without chasing points. She insists her horses graze in her Rancho Santa Fe farm's grass pastures every day. The centralized location enables her to get to shows in Del Mar or San Juan Capistrano and still have the youngsters in the pasture in the morning or afternoon. She only makes an exception for Championship days. A similar strictness applies to the show schedules for her current stallions, Just the Best and More Than Luck. "Once they go into the breeding shed I will never tell a client they can't have semen because we are at a show," Tish explains. "Breeding becomes their priority."

All The Best

Tish observes that the Internet has made it easy to promote stallions – "some of whom would be great geldings" – with questionable claims. She's happy to have the Lucky Boy bloodline's history of proven performance as an irrefutable fact and notes that it's hard to argue with the repeated generations of athletic, good-minded horses with great conformation. "I welcome visitors to the farm so they can make their breeding and purchase decisions based on real, live personal observations."

Baby Basics

Talk to Tish outside the context of her breeding farm and it's easy to peg her as a child psychologist. The philosophies she applies in raising her horses are all keys in raising happy and successful children. Couple that with the copious quantities of love and devotion invested in her youngsters' upbringing and it's sometimes hard
to remember what species Tish is talking about.

Nature is, of course, a huge part of producing great kids. The stallion that started it all, Best Of Luck, was a huge hit among fellow contenders when Tish campaigned him. Breeding enabled her to decline generous purchase pitches and quickly evolved into a thriving business. More Than Luck and Just The Best are carrying on their daddy's legacy, and their sons, More Like It, Best Of All, All The Best and Ever So Lucky are stallion prospects poised to assume that role when the time comes.

Nurturing is essential, too. "I want to develop horses that go out in the show world as solid, confident citizens who enjoy their jobs," explains Tish. "The trick to that is that they never have a bad experience before they go out into the world. They like their work and nobody has to force them to do it. The ability and temperament is there in their breeding. We just nurture all that talent and willingness."

Tish & John Quirk

Her horses have inherited the temperaments, work ethic and conformation needed to excel in their careers. The developmental process at Tish Quirk Breeding rests on making every day a reward-driven adventure and the result is horses that feel good about what they are doing.

In raising her "babies," all Best Of Luck descendants, Tish has a methodical plan for every phase of training. Trust and emotional security form the basis of her relationship with her horses from the moment of birth onward. In hand and under saddle training stages are precisely paced to meet each youngster's learning curve. "They'll tell you when they are getting a little bored with something and it's time to move on to the new challenge," she says.

Hearing from happy owners is one of Tish's greatest rewards. "My horse is smart as a brain surgeon" and "I'd let him drive my car" are a few recent comments from clients. Her approach produces very practical rewards, too, an example of which arose when San Diego fires forced Tish to evacuate her horses a few years ago. She was camping out in her car at the emergency stabling facility and woke in the wee hours to what sounded like a kitten mewing. Tish got up to investigate and found one of her yearlings trapped under the pipe railings of his corral.

Just In Time at birth

"It was a foal I'd delivered and he was squeaking in distress," she recounts. The colt lay still long enough for Tish to get a groom's help and he continued to lie quietly while the groom looped ropes around his legs. "If he spooked he could have broken his neck," says Tish, who cradled the horse's head and neck. "He never tensed his muscles and he stayed soft in my hand while he was pulled out. It was like he was saying, 'Help me out of here just like you helped me out of my mother.'"

New Mexico Gal

Tish is a New Mexico girl raised on her family's cattle ranch. She and her father, the late E.O. "Denny" Moore, only revealed to each other relatively recently that neither was nuts about the horse scene early on. At about 50, Tish admitted she was scared of horses as a little kid, and Denny confessed he preferred flying his airplane and driving ranch trucks to doing the horse work. "We realized we both did it for each other," says Tish with a fond smile in her voice. "Sort of our own version of Gift Of The Maji."

Denny passed away in 2002, but not before seeing how far Tish's horsemanship carried her. Many of his best traits live on with his daughter, along with a few business mottos: "If your outgo exceeds your income then your upkeep will be your downfall" and "Your handshake should always be more binding than a written contract."
Her dad isn't the only influential man in Tish's life. John Quirk knew nothing about horses when he and Tish met in New York City: he a dashing Navy fighter pilot and novelist and she a top fashion model. A master of many things, John not only figured out the horse world, he became a key player in it. He published, with Tish, HORSES Magazine for many years and was an originator and organizer of the World Cup Final's staging in Del Mar in 1992 and for four years in Las Vegas beginning in 2000.

At a time when Thoroughbreds dominated the hunter/jumper scene, John saw Best Of Luck's potential in the hunter/jumper world. He also put Tish up to becoming a photographer. It was during a World Cup Final many years ago that John was covering for HORSES. Tish had credentials, a camera and a solid knowledge of which shots to get, but she knew little about the equipment involved. John knew Tish's then all-male counterparts in the photographer corps would happily help the beautiful newcomer figure out the finer points of her camera, and so began a very successful career in that field.

Tish Quirk with Just In Time

These days Tish only finds time for special shoots and big competitions like the World Cup Finals, where she is the official photographer. She loved her many years on the circuit as a full-time competitor, but is most happy now at home tending to her horses and watching them flourish. She'll compete just enough to develop her young horses and to continue to prove the success of her bloodline.

One of her clients owns very successful Grand Prix horses that live in a different barn with their trainer. When Tish apologized for having missed one of those horse's recent big wins, the client said, "Well, that's why I have my horses with you, Tish. I know you will always be there for them!" The simple statement nicely sums up Tish's modus operandi all these years and it continues to be the secret of her success.