I get asked these question a lot. How long have you been riding? How did you start? Well quite simply, not as you may imagine. Being a young trainer, especially in this day in age, people assume you’ve been riding your entire life. Ironically enough, I had no desire to ride at a young age. I was born into an surfing, fishing, ocean-going family, and other than the occasional beach trail ride with my aunt and cousins up at the ranch or the pony ride at the fair, I had no affiliation with horses until I was 10.
In the summer of 2007, I took my first horseback riding lesson. A friend of mine wanted to lesson at a farm that had opened up down a backroad in our small beach town. At this point in my life, I was well diversified with sports and extracurriculars so I figured I’d try it. Almost immediately, I was hooked. Even though I was merely walking and trotting on the lunge line on a twenty-something year old off the track thoroughbred gelding, I was mystified. I quickly became obsessed with the sport. I began riding there once a week and within the same year, I jumped my first crossrail. Unfortunately that same year, the barn I had began taking lessons at had closed. This barn had branched off from the original facility which was based about 30 minutes north of where I lived. My mom, being the supportive woman she is, drove me to the new barn just north of Santa Barbara.
I rode at Ridgewood farms for just over 2 years. Unfortunately, I had hit the point in my riding, monotonously jumping 2’3/2’6, where I was ready to move up but could not afford a horse of my own that could jump the height. Horseback riding is a very expensive sport, especially in Santa Barbara, California, where a one hour private lesson averages about $100. I had hit one of my first roadblocks. Thankfully, I had met some pretty incredible people and trainers. One specifically who I believe was responsible for beginning my path to where I am today.
An accomplished dressage rider, judge, and trainer also taught at Ridgewood farms on occasion. Her name was Louise Cassice, but I called her “Weezy”. I had taken many lessons from her earlier on when I first moved up to the Santa Barbara barn. She had short platinum blonde hair, not much taller than myself and was always full of positive, fun energy. After running into my horseless roadblock, I happened to cross pathes with her one day. She offered me to come down and ride her ex-Grand Prix trained dressage horse named J’eteux who was boarded at a private barn named Rincon Vista just 5 minutes from my house. He was a beautiful honey bay, and myself being as novice as I was, hopped into my first ever dressage saddle and trotted him around like a hunter, nose poked out and all!
That day, I also met a lady named Tam. She was a gruff, eccentric lady who had moved over from Block Island with her Arabians. She had sold most of them after the move due to financial struggle, but had held onto one. His name was Noble. Tam had terrible hips and knees, so she had asked if I would be interested in helping her ride her horse. He was 12 years old at the time, a beautiful mahogany bay with no white, and only 14.2h. He had only been ridden dressage. I leapt at the opportunity and ended up mentoring and working under the dressage trainer, USDF medalist Suzanne Galsterer, in exchange for lessons and training. I groomed, tacked, lunged, bathed and turnout all day just so I could soak up that knowledge for 45 minutes at the end of it all. Also at this time, I was scribing for Weezy at local dressage shows. After a year or so of continuing my dressage riding and showing with him, alongside lessoning at a few other barns in Santa Barbara (High Flying Farms, Santa Barbara Stables, Sunnybrook, Summerland farms, and Amapola Farms) I had been met with the same answer: I was plateaued at 2’6” and paying quite a lot to do it.
Exploring all the options I had, I reached out to my dressage trainer, Suzanne, inquiring if I could take jumping lessons with Noble. She forwarded me to a lady name Suzix Steedman. Suzix helped me train my first ever green horse. We started Noble over fences. He was quite a quirky horse, so more than anything we did it for fun and for the experience.
One day after a jumping lesson with Noble, Tam had mentioned a place in Thousand Oaks (45 minutes south) where they had numerous school horses and summer horse camps. I called down to Foxfield Farms to set up a private lesson and be evaluated. I rode yet another OTTB named Attie. After my evaluation, I was placed in the Wednesday 5 o’clock jumping 3’, which was the biggest I’d jumped to date. I was put on an older warmblood, named Lucky who taught me to really keep my shoulders back as he loved to stop. Lessons here were cheaper than Santa Barbara, so I could afford to take two lessons per week as I payed for half of my riding myself. I rode Lucky for months, with ups and downs (literally). He took me over my first ever 4’ fence and also plopped me into fences quite frequently (including my first ever show course). After Lucky, I progressed to a fiery mare named Lady who to everyones surprise was an Oldenburg despite her thoroughbred appearance and persona. Alongside all of this, I continued my dressage and jumping lessons on Noble. We even took him to a few schooling shows. As time went on, I began riding in the more advanced lessons such as the Tuesday 5 o’clock (no height limit) and the Saturday 11 o’clock (coursing 3’6). Though Lady had a heart of gold, she didn’t quite have the brain or athleticism to reach the next step. Fortunately, a horse was coming off lease, that was more than capable. His name was Tommy.
Oh, Tommy, where do I even begin. Tommy taught me everything. He was not a barn favorite as he had a nasty habit of rearing which had resulted prior in breaking his own withers on one occasion and breaking a trainers pelvis on another. Tommy didn’t just have a screw loose, he had a whole screw missing. He was a simple brain, but a nut. He was a bit unpredictable, but such a talented boy. From the first time I rode him, I was in love. He had a god-awful giraffe headset paired with an elevator jump from hell, but I was infatuated. I so vividly remember getting jumped loose on every fence that first lesson. Coming from a jumper start to life, Tommy was notoriously quick and drop shouldered making riding him even more difficult. I rode Tommy for just shy of 3 years. In that time, we accomplished things no one thought possible. Together we won the Foxfield Equitation Championships class twice. We also won our 17&U USHJA medal and were recipients of the Battlecreek “No Guts, No Glory” Perpetual trophy. We had numerous wins in the jumpers. In 2014, after winning our medal, we went to medal finals. Tommy being the quirky horse he is wouldn’t function in the dome arena where our medal final was held so we scratched to all jumpers classes and took home division champion in the .80 and 1.0 as well as the $500 Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program High Point. Tommy continued to amaze me with how hard he tried for me. He was the first horse to take me over 5’, and the first horse to rear me off. He taught me to be fearless. He taught me to love the Thoroughbred breed. With the success Tommy and I had, one of the owners/trainers of foxfield, Nancy Turrill, really took me under her wing. The two days I was there weekly, she had me schooling other lesson horse’s for her. She would have me get on something green, fiesty, or naughty and ride in her lessons throughout the day. I would spend my Saturday’s sitting by her booth waiting for her to tell me to go get on one of the horse’s in the lesson that a kid was having trouble with or go bring in a different horse all together. Nancy gave me my first opportunity to take a horse straight from the track and teach her to jump. She taught me to be tough, have integrity, and that the underdogs have just as much a shot as everyone else. I learned more than I could’ve ever hopped in those years.
By this time I was 18 1/2 and Tommy, now 16, was ready to move down from the height and level of competition. At this time, I went and mentored and trained other various other trainers, but after months of this I was ready invest in my own horse. I had looked at numerous race tracks and on various websites. I only had $5,000 to spend in total including vet check. After searching the ends of the earth, the perfect horse seemed to be under my nose the entire time.
Roman, who’s name was Luck when I bought him, was boarded at Rincon Vista, the same barn Noble was at. He was a very green, recently gelded (at 7 1/2) 8 year old that was owned by a young man with no interest in riding. After settling on $2,000 and a pricey prepurchase exam, I bought him. When I got Roman, he was terrified of poles, didn’t have lead changes, and couldn’t hold the canter on a circle if his life depended on it. Soon after purchase, I began lessoning him with Suzix and developing him into the little hunter he became. With the new financial strain, I had slowed my lessons at foxfield and decided I had to move to a more affordable barn in Ojai, CA. I moved Roman to Cañada Larga Ranch in July of 2015. I continued training Roman to become a Hunter Derby horse. He was hands down the most talented Thoroughbred hunter I have ever seen. He jumped knees to throat every time and made easy work of 4’+.
Unfortunately, soon after Roman had been listed for sale in February 2016, he slipped and broke his hind leg in the large covered arena. It was a night I’ll never forget. The next morning after conclusive xrays Roman was taken to Alamo Pintado Animal Hospital in Santa Ynez. The surgeons explained that with the spiral fracture Roman had, he would have one of two options. Option one was that the surgeons would insert 3 lag screws across the P2 fusing the majority of the break in only that bone and that with time the joint would be unhindered and arthritis free (better option). Option two was that the surgeons would have to fuse P1 and P2 (which are the short and long pasterns) with plates and screws. After the surgery I received a call from Doctor Mark Rick informing me of the amazing news that the bone seemed intact enough for option one. He seems thrilled with how the surgery had gone and was quite positive. Unfortunately, those smiles quickly disappeared the next morning. Roman came out of his bone scan stall dead lame. They re-xrayed to find that the lag screws must have put pressure on tiny hairline fractures that had caused the bone to split into many more pieces. With this news Roman was rushed into surgery with the very real chance that he wouldn’t be coming back out. Due to the numerous bone fragments, there was a real chance after removing the lag screws, Roman’s bone would disintegrate into shards. I remember so clearly anxiously awaiting the call at my hostess stand that night, telling Dr. Rick to call me there as I had to work that night. Thankfully, Roman made it through. The next few months proved just as difficult with increasing setback. He became severely dehydrated with severe diarrhea and was assumed to have c-dif. He was placed on full quarantine with suits, boots, gloves and masks for visitation. After cultures came back and he was cleared with just sensitivity to bone growth medication, but the punches kept coming. He was developing a nasty rub on his fetlock in the cast leg that ultimately ended up in early cast removal. Thankfully, Roman was insured, but only for about what the initial surgery cost. We started a GoFundMe to help with medical bills and pulled together half of the remaining $10,000. As romans story became viral, my Instagram began to grow and so did the Roman fan club. He received cards, treats, paintings and drawings which really made all the difference. Finally, after 2 months at the hospital, Roman came back home.
About this time I was hired by a man who had purchased a horse off the track close to 5 years ago for his girlfriend, to retrain and sell him as a jumper. This horse was insane. He had been in a 100’x100’ paddock since he was 3 and had never been out. His name was D. It took me weeks just to get him to the round pen. Circling and yielding haunches felt like it was going out of style. He’d snort and trot in place and walk right over the top of me, which was terrifying as he was just shy of 17.2h. Roman was confined to a box for almost a year, so this gave me plenty of time to work with this new horse. As the months went on, the boys progressed. D would visit Roman almost everyday as Roman couldn’t see any other horse’s. With time, Roman began starting to “walk”, which was closer compared to flying a kite, and D was under saddle. I began receiving other horse’s for sale including a warmblood named RockItMan and a kill pen rescue name Sancho. D started jumping small jumps, and Roman began trotting in hand. Assuming Roman would never jump again, I purchased another horse, Caspian, who was sold 6 months later as a jumper horse! Everything seemed amazing. I was really enjoying my time with D, but it was finally time to post him for sales in August 2017. I couldn’t seem to part with him after the year we had been through together. He had helped me heal. Instead of taking the commission off the sales, I took the horse instead.
D went on in the next 6 months and surpassed all expectations I had had for him. He started jumping 3’3 and Roman was cantering under saddle. I also had purchased a new brother for the boys named Titan. With the clientele I had and the ambitions of expanding, I took an incredible opportunity in March of 2018 to move my horse’s to Willow Creek Ranch in Santa Paula, CA. There I have grown my business over the last year and a half with the opportunity of expanding to 17 horse’s in training, something I never thought I’d accomplish. I’ve had the opportunities in just the last year and a half of rescuing/selling/rehoming over 15 horses. I’ve become an avid rescuer as well as a long known advocate for thoroughbreds. With students, client sales horse, and personal horses, I’m busier than a bee, but happy as can be. Also, in the last year I’ve had the unique opportunity to ride and train for Grand Prix rider Russell Morgan, forever trying to further my knowledge of the sport.
Currently, D has schooled up to 4’9 (1.45m) at home and has shown/won all 6 of the 1.10 classes he’s competed in. Roman has become known as the miracle horse, as he has returned to light jumping up to 3’ and is pain and arthritis free (so far!). My kill pen rescue, who was unbroke and coldbacked as of October last year is schooling up to 4’ with scope, and there are some exciting new prospects up and coming. I feel so fortunate and blessed everyday for the opportunities life has provided me. I’m still young and forever learning, but I am so thankful to be able to live my dream everyday. Rescuing and retraining is such rewarding work, and I’m so thankful for all that have made that possible over the years. Without each stepping stone and each connection, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So much can change even day to day, and I’m so excited to see where tomorrow takes me.