A growing number of equestrians are taking up arms, as shooting on horseback continues to attract new competitors to its ranks.
Lured by the challenge and the camaraderie, memberships are swelling in the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association — especially in California and the birthplace of CMSA, Arizona, where the Arizona Mounted Shooters Association had three January events to start the year.
With names like Roy Rogers Rangers and the Tombstone Ghost Riders, how can anyone resist a peek at this fast-action sport that requires horsemanship — and a special horse.
Six-year-old Katherine King may not have much experience in the saddle, but you can bet she was among the nation’s leaders in ribbons won this year.
The youngster from Placentia, known in her circles as “Katherine The Brave”, lost her battle to a rare illness, Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), but a village of supporters grew to include trainer Heather Spies and clients at HS Performance Horses in Riverside. After devoting themselves to give Katherine a special day with a unicorn via the Make A Wish Foundation, the barn dedicated itself to the youngster and her family.
“No National Championship moment, no Regional Championship or any ribbon will ever compare to that day,” said Spies, whose former horse, a retired Arabian now owned by Lori Chiodini, made the perfect unicorn.
After a courageous struggle that inspired many and raised awareness of DIPG, Katherine died in June.
While Southern California weather took a desert-like reprieve from mid-winter storms, the Southern California Half-Arabian Association had its own desert-like rehearsal as its new show slot in late January gave participants a chance to warm-up for February’s Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.
The 2016 SCHAA Arabian and Half-Arabian Horse Show moved its big show, formerly in may at Galway Downs, to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in January. “When these dates came open for us, we really scrambled quickly and pulled this show together,” said Show Manager Kay Kelley. “It worked out great for us and helped ready for Scottsdale.”
The world’s finest Arabian and Half-Arabian horses and trainers come to Westworld in Scottsdale each year to, among other things, test the waters for the new season. This year, California competitors again proved great.
The 61st annual version of the show drew more than 2,400 horses in a myriad of disciplines and events. Among the thousands of entries were the likes of venerable show barns like Stachowski Farms, established in both Ohio and San Marcos, as well as individuals and smaller operations.
California champions hailed from all types of barns — big, small and in-between, and clearly the Golden State continues to be an influential force in the breed.
“This year’s show was a huge success,” said Katherine Rich-Elzig, a veteran trainer who enjoys having this world class venue for her students. “The AHAA show commission was on point from beginning to end.”
California riders from the now Arizona-based Burkman Centre enjoyed an epic show this year, as trainer Cynthia Burkman and her team accumulated 28 championships and seven reserve championships.
Five years ago, Rose Spencer Litwack took a big leap. Still a teen-ager, she jumped from being a Riata Ranch Cowgirl trick-rider to a cast member of Cavalia — her energy, appearance and lasso skills making for an impressive audition.
After the 2016 spring run of the new Cavalia tour, Odysseo, Spencer Rose returned to her roots as a Riata Ranch Cowgirl.
“When I first joined the show, I came in just doing what I knew — trick riding and roping,” says Spencer Rose, who at age 12 performed her first trick on horseback at Riata Ranch and discovered the thrill of performance. “At a point, it clicked that I really wanted to embrace what I could learn here at Cavalia.”
No bikes on the Burbank bridge…that was the call after a two-hour public hearing on bicyclists’ access to the Mariposa Equestrian Bridge into Griffith Park. The Burbank City Council ended the controversy simply: no bicycles on the bridge.
Known as the “swinging bridge” that connects to the Griffith Park equestrian trails, the bridge carries hundreds of horse-and-riders daily and as many as 1,000 on a weekend. The seven-foot wide bridge, commissioned in 1938, was the result of efforts by movie actor Gene Autry, who understood that once the Los Angeles River banks were built out, equestrians would be cut off from riding in the park.
The Valley Center Vaqueros Equine Education Foundation, along with Armstrong Feed, sponsored the community’s Third Annual Day of the Horse. The display of the area’s vibrant, diverse equestrian world brought together equestrians and non-equestrians in the type of community event that crossed interest lines of breeds and disciplines.
“The Day of the Horse is a way to embrace our diversity and share it with the general public,” said Julie Picot, a 30-year equestrianne who moved to Valley Center in 2004. “We have members who are into driving, and others are into cowboy challenges or drill team or dressage. We kind of showcase that diversity at the Day of the Horse, and it’s important for the community to come together.”
California’s horse world lost a giant March 6 when Sheila Varian, whose passion, thoughtfulness and drive influenced a generation, passed away after a battle with cancer. She was 78.
Varian’s impact on the world of Arabian breeding in the U.S. is difficult to exaggerate — 70 percent of show horses winning today carry Varian blood, according to her ranch website, and according to Arabian Horse World magazine’s statistics, Varian Arabians is the all-time leading breeder of English horses as well as the all-time leading breeder of Western horses. Nine generations of Arabians have been bred by Varian Ranch since it imported *Bachantka from Poland in 1961.
With the foresight of a visionary, Sheila Varian was formulating a way to perpetuate the special environment of Varian Arabians — well before she became ill with ovarian cancer.
In another civic-minded horse event, the City of San Marcos held its 25th Annual Trail Days, and the community’s horse people showed up in force — more than double the previous year. The event asks all residents to come together, put on their hiking shoes or saddle up their horses, and step back in time and experience the rural trails of San Marcos’s extensive trails system. All funds raised from the Friends of San Marcos Parks & Trails Membership Drive directly benefit existing 52 miles of trails and help complete the final segments of the 72-mile multi-use trail system.
Chatsworth equestrian community leader Mary Kaufman, a longtime president of ETI Corral 54, died unexpectedly March 24 on the second anniversary of the death of her favorite horse, Ace.
Kaufman, 68, served a variety of boards and equestrian causes, including the Los Angeles Equestrian Advisory Committee.
Diana Cavender, a veteran of more than 50 parades since she joined the Escondido Mounted Posse six years ago, was killed April 23 when her horse spooked and fell, knocking her to the ground at the Lakeside Western Days Parade.
Cavender, 52, was an Escondido resident and horse trainer who was considered the most experienced rider in the posse, which rides in 15 to 17 events each year.
Valerie Tonto, a well-known Inland Empire horsewoman who contributed to the horse world for 43 years, passed away. “She left a huge impression on so many students, customers, friends, and her peers,” said her daughter, Crystal. “Her character, drive, determination, and integrity will always be remembered, however she was — first and foremost — an advocate for the horse.”
In an emotional return to the show ring that had everyone cheering in the Del Mar Arena, teen-ager Ryan Melendez competed at the Arabian Horse Association Region 1 Championship Show. Riding Rebecca Shupek’s beautiful mare, Kharmen Electra, he took a total of three firsts, a championship in Western Horsemanship in the mare’s first time doing a pattern, and a Reserve Championship in Half-Arabian Western Pleasure JTR 18-under. Ryan had been an inspiration to everyone he encountered since September 2015, when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The cancer is in remission, but two years of treatments remain.
“Throughout this battle, Ryan has shown an incredible amount of bravery, strength, courage and determination to make sure he wins the war,” said his mother, Kristal Melendez-Raiger. “He continues to inspire all of us every day with his passion for life. He hasn’t once let cancer define him.”
Sisters share a special bond, and when you add a horse — well, good things happen.
That’s the case with Ashley and Samantha Price and Dress Blues, a trio whose history together goes back several years and whose immediate past is terrific: a fresh pair of championships and a reserve at the Region 1 Championship Show.
A little history was made May 1 when the San Diego Arabian Horse Association held its first show, the San Diego County Arabian Community Horse Show, at Deer Springs Equestrian in San Marcos. In addition to AHA classes, all breed classes were available, too, including in both Western and English Dressage and Western and English Trail. Stick horses, too, had their special competition, which brightened an already pleasant day. The SDAHA is a union of two previous Southern California Arabian organizations, the Desert Arabian Horse Association and the Tierra Del Norte Arabian Horse Association.
Although they race against a clock, time is an ally to Dr. Karen Donley and her Arabian mare, Royal Patron. Like fine wine, they improve with age.
Since Dr. Donley purchased “Winnie” eight years ago, they have logged about 50 miles a week in a partnership that last month took endurance riding’s greatest prize, a win at the Tevis Cup. It may have been a 100-mile race, but the journey was much longer.
Hundreds of horses were evacuated in a late July wildfire in northern Los Angeles County that scorched more than 40,000 acres in and near the Angeles National Forest.
The fire that began on a Friday afternoon near Sand Canyon Road took almost three days to fully contain, destroying 18 homes and killing a man during the fierce first 48 hours. More than 20,000 people were evacuated.
The blaze also destroyed Sable Ranch, a longtime Southern California location for film and TV shoots. The ranch was a popular location for Westerns with its Spanish-style hacienda, stables and various out buildings. Among the numerous shows shot there were television’s Maverick, The A-Team, and 24.
Volunteers were quick to respond in a widespread evacuation effort to relocate horses from the susceptible canyon areas. So were local agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs and Department of Animal Care and Control. Nearly 800 animals were relocated and cared for in eight locations, including 345 horses, 165 goats, 111 chickens, 33 pigs and others, including a llama and Brahma bull, according to the L.A. Dept. of Animal Control. Shelter locations included the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, Pierce College and Gibson Ranch in Sunland.
Weeks later, more fires took hold, including the Blue Fire and the Pilot Fire. At one point, more than 500 animals were evacuated to the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville.
They call themselves the Backbone Trail Cowgirls — an appropriately strong moniker for this trail-riding quintet.
Led by 81-year-old Ruth Gerson, the Cowgirls covered 67 miles of spectacular but rugged terrain from Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County to Will Rogers State Historic Park in Santa Monica. Yes, the six-day journey was a challenge, but the group’s objective was to bring attention to the Backbone Trail, not them.
“I rode this ride for a lot of reasons,” said Gerson, a former Tevis Cup endurance rider whose drive to completion remains intact. Her passion to share a trail ride along the inimitable Backbone Trail, just recently made contiguous after decades of effort, is as strong today as it was 25 years ago when she last rode it.
The ride, she says, was to inspire others to be adventurous, and to show her gratitude that she could make the trip.
Also, it was to share the word about the trail and a need for trail camps in the Santa Monica Mountains that overlook the Pacific Ocean.
The trail, officially designated as a National Recreation Trail by U.S. Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis on June 4, was patched together, segment by segment, over more than 40 years. In all, 180 properties were stitched together to create the trail.
Averaging about 11 miles each day, the cowgirls made their journey over mostly rugged terrain with some pretty hefty elevation changes along the way.
October 26 was a significant date for a big-hearted mare off a racetrack in South Korea. It was on that day in 1952 that Reckless joined the United States Marine Corps. Her eventual battlefield heroics — real, not from Hollywood — would be unforgettable to those who witnessed them.
It’s no coincidence that, after years of inspired effort, a magnificent monument to SSgt Reckless was dedicated on Oct. 26 this year at Camp Pendleton, the mare’s final resting place.
The ceremony attracted 500 on-lookers, who heard speakers Brigadier General Kevin Killea, Commanding Officer at Camp Pendleton, monument founder and Best Selling-author Robin Hutton and Jocelyn Russell, the renowned sculptor of the statue. Also, a half-dozen of the men who served with her in Korea and Camp Pendleton, or grew up with her and have memories of Reckless. Were present. The event culminated Hutton’s five-year effort to bring a memorial to the base that was the mare’s home in her last years. It has been a passion of Hutton, a Los Angeels-based writer who discovered the mare’s story and has been inspired by the mare and those surrounding her ever since.
After an intense week of investigation and suppression procedures, State officials worked with local horse owners and facility managers to quell an outbreak of EHV-1 virus in Los Angeles County.
State officials said six cases of Equine Herpesvirus-1 Myeloencephalopathy (EHM) and been confirmed and three febrile horses confirmed positive with Equine Herpesvirus-1. One of the EHM cases was euthanized Nov. 10 due to the severe symptoms, and the other five neurologic cases remained in isolation while recovering.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture said the horses, all stabled at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, had attended a horse show in Las Vegas and most likely contracted EHV-1 on their return to the LAEC, following a short incubation period.
Four of the initial five confirmed cases were at the same Oct. 27-29 horse show in Las Vegas, according to CDFA reports. One of those cases, a 5-year-old Saddlebred, was euthanized. All five horses resided in Barn A at the LAEC, which acted quickly with biosecurity measures upon the first cases to isolate any virus.
The CDFA did not specify the horse show. The 72nd Annual California Saddle Horse Breeders’ Association Futurity Horse Show was held at South Point Hotel in Las Vegas on Oct. 27-29.
Dr. Katie Flynn of the CDFA thanked those affected in the quarantine area and applauded the work done to address the viral scare.