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Anne Speck Is All About The Kids



 


The Rancho Del Mar crew met up for a trail ride

in Griffith Park during the 2007 Spring Kick-Off Show.

 

 

by Ann Bullard

 

October 2007. Anne Speck sat quietly in her Rancho Del Mar office, as Santa Ana winds pushed wildfires closer to her Valley Center, Calif. farm. The horses had been evacuated. Ash from nearby blazes notwithstanding, Speck still handled phone calls, made plans for the remainder of the show season and waited.

 

Again, fortune shone on her. Unlike what happened to many of her San Diego County neighbors, the fires stopped short of her ranch. The horses returned home and life went back to normal.

 

Less than a month later, Speck stood in the American Royal’s Kemper Arena, joining Cindy Zubrod-Boel in coaching Caroline Cherry and Jacqueline Beck to top ribbons in their respective Medal Finals and Natalie Armstrong Grunnan to the blue ribbon in the 13 and Under Saddle Seat Equitation competition. She had taken riders to the Morgan Grand Nationals, missing Beck’s reserve championship in the NHS Good Hands Finals.

 

For Anne Speck, life is – and has been – anything but dull.

 

A New Hampshire native who was raised in Connecticut, Speck still exhibits many of the traits associated with her northeastern heritage. Her speech has a decided ‘Yankee twang.’ Her hard work, ethics and the success of her riders have helped earn her the UPHA’s Helen K. Crabtree Equitation Instructor of the Year Award and the Audrey Pugh Gutridge Award from the World’s Championship Horse Show. She previously had received the Harry Forbes Sportsmanship Award at the 1987 California Futurity, was named UPHA Chapter One Horseman of the Year (1995,) the American Morgan Horse Association Women of the Year in 2004 and was inducted into the Region VII Morgan Hall of Fame.

 

Speck (center) was honored with the

Harry Forbes Sportsmanship Award

at the 1987 California Futurity.

 

She looked back on those formative years. “We lived in suburbia. My mother, Lois Bradley Tracy, had Saddlebreds with the late Jack McGrain. As a kid running around the barn, I rode the horses no one else wanted to ride.”

 

The late Jack McGrain trained one of Speck’s

early show horses, CH My Flowing Gold,

during the 1970s.

 

Lois Tracy showed her young three-gaited stallion, CH My Flowing Gold, in local shows. “It was more of a social thing, not as serious as it is today,” Speck said. “Showing is not quite as much fun as it used to be.”

 

Speck graduated from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. “I taught school for a year, and later worked in New York City for about six months,” she said, adding, “I thought I could do horses part-time.”

 

The lure of the horse world could not be ignored; part-time work wasn’t an option. When McGrain offered Speck a job at his Connecticut barn, she stepped into the Saddle Horse world on a full-time basis.

 

Falling in love with a farrier hadn’t been in the young woman’s game plan. Still, the late Bob Speck stole her heart and helped set her on her life-course. When Anne Speck was 28, the couple moved to California, settling in the Valley Center-Del Mar area.

 

Anne and her late husband, Bob Speck,

moved to California when she was 28 years old.

 

“When I first came out here, I worked part-time for (the late) Royce Cates,” Speck said. “Rudy and Sherry Lewis asked me to teach their children (Ruth Ann and Darryl) at Rancho Santa Fe.”

 

Ruth Ann Lewis (Anderson), who won the Saddle Seat Equitation 13 and Under Championship at ages 11 and 12 under the late Helen K. Crabtree’s direction, recalled her days of riding with Speck. She started when she was six years old.

 

“We had horses with Royce. He told my mother about this new trainer and sent us to Anne for lessons. She had a flock of kids, although none of her own. We became her children. She was [and is] a nurturer and so patient with the little ones,” Anderson said. “At first I was too young to know winning, losing or whatever. Anne didn’t expect winning, but encouraged me enough so I wanted to win for both of us. She cheered me on, helped me out and rode every step with me.”

 

Anderson describes Speck as “very businesslike and not overly strict with the kids. She looks like a tough trainer but she is not. We had Thanksgiving, many Christmases and other holidays with her. She is a very, very kind soul.”

 

Speck worked many of the Lewis horses. “It all snowballed from there,” she said. “My husband thought I should have my own business. We moved to Del Mar and began to set it up.”

 

Helen Thomson and Jim Cherry both rode with Speck as youngsters. They fell in love, married and followed their friend and instructor into the Saddle Horse business. Today, they operate the very successful Zazen Ranch in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Helen enjoyed a ‘great career’ in equitation and the junior exhibitor divisions. “My best childhood memories come from horse shows and hanging out at the barn with Anne,” she said. “She is very hard-working, dedicated and does a great job getting kids ready to show. She’s still pretty much a ‘Yankee;’ I don’t think she’s changed a bit in all these years; she’s still working hard and going strong.”

 

Tina Armstrong began riding with Speck in about 1980. Not only did she ride equitation and performance horses from Rancho Del Mar, but she also worked for her instructor.

 

“Anne taught me my work ethic,” she said frankly. “Back then, she was as hard to work for. To this day, I don’t feel I can work hard enough.”

 

Armstrong concedes Speck has mellowed. “She’s not as tough now as she used to be. It’s just matter of her being a perfectionist, seeing that everything is done right, and kept going.”

 

If you ask Speck about her role in life, she will tell you “trying to create good people for the rest of their lives. It’s not just about winning. I think hard work is the answer to being successful. We have a family atmosphere in our barn and do everything as a family group. I try to set a lifetime example for people by being honest and working hard. We do pretty good.”

 

‘Pretty good’ would be an understatement. Since her early days in the business, Speck has fielded riders who have more than held their own on the local, regional and national levels in both the Saddlebred and Morgan worlds. And she doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘slow down.’ Yet she rarely toots her own horn.

 

Janet Lyttle has taught part-time for Speck for 15 years. Her daughters, Mackenzie and Samantha, are part of the Rancho Del Mar team. She describes Speck as “without a doubt one of hardest-working and most honest driving forces in horse industry. She is so inspiring. She solely runs the ranch; trains 25-30 horses while maintaining at least 10 school horses. During a typical (six-day) week, she gets every animal worked and teaches 40 to 60 lessons. Anne often drives the truck and trailer, braids every horse and helps with the tack. She runs five weeks of camp, takes 15 or more horses to 20 shows a year and manages two local shows as well as handling her Charity-Fair duties.”

 

For Speck, everything has to be done to

perfection. She put the finishing touches

on one of her horses’ tails at the

All American Horse Classic.

 

In her teaching, Speck “emphasizes horsemanship and showmanship,” Lyttle said. “She pushes hard when it’s necessary but always finds something positive to say when a rider comes to center ring at the end of a lesson. Anne often has multiple riders in the same class. She teaches them to remain friends, to compete with grace and good sportsmanship. Being a poor sport is not an option.”

 

Cathy Brown, who now works at Willowbank Farm in Simpsonville, Ky., had worked with Hackney ponies in Canada when she called Speck about visiting her. “I called on Friday and left for California the next Thursday,” Brown said. “I wanted to go for a couple of months and stayed about 15 years.

 

“Anne warned me that she was tough to work for,” Brown added. “She was wonderful and not that tough. She just liked things done the way she wanted them. As long as I did that, everything was fine.

 

“Anne is really good with the kids,” she continued. “For my birthday, two weeks after I got there, she packed the kids and me up and went to Disneyland. She gave us lessons on the carousel. She splashed us all at the Pirates of the Caribbean. Away from work, she’s just a little kid.”

 

Some may measure the success of a trainer, of an instructor by ribbons and trophies. Customer loyalty and longevity tell a better story. Speck’s client list includes several second-generation riders. Champion riders Jacqueline (JJ) Beck, Caroline Cherry and Natalie Armstrong Grunnan each followed their parents into Speck’s world.

 

“Anne is a neat person and quite a character. She’s not real chatty; when you first meet her she can kind of put you off. Sometimes she has a little gruff way about her,” Melissa Beck said, explaining that the real Anne Speck is quite different. 

 

“I began riding at Anne’s before JJ was born,” Melissa Beck said. “I had purchased a three-year-old I intended to train myself. When I took her to her first show, we stabled with Anne. I asked if she would take the mare home with her.”

 

It proved to be a perfect move for the family. “The timing worked out,” Beck said. “Anne’s was the perfect place for the whole family to enjoy this sport. My mother liked to drive and could do so here. I could ride my mare and JJ could take lessons.”

 

JJ Beck calls Speck “an inspiring woman. She always encouraged us to have fun, whether or not we were successful [in the show ring.] She gave me all the elements I needed to be a successful rider.”

 

Melissa Beck describes Speck as “very honest” in her assessments of a rider. “If you look like poop, she will tell you. If she thinks you should buy a horse, she will tell you – and if not, she will tell you that too. Someone came up to Anne and asked what she thought of their daughter. Her response: ‘Do you really want to know?’ She won’t just turn around and give a positive answer or say, ‘What were you thinking!’”

 

One of JJ’s early rides in a Morgan English Pleasure class is a case in point. “The horse didn’t do well, but the judge didn’t see any of my mistakes,” JJ recalled. “When I was getting the [blue] ribbon, the judge was standing right there. Anne told me, ‘You didn’t deserve that one.’ Anne made me understand that it’s not all about winning. It’s all about having fun. As long as I’m enjoying it; as long as horse looked great and I had good ride, the color ribbon doesn’t matter.”

 

The world of top equitation instructors is comparatively small, so Speck’s acquaintance with Cindy Zubrod-Boel and Bonnie Zubrod isn’t surprising. That became much more than ‘acquaintance’ in 2004, the beginning of the Ranch Del Mar/Zubrod Stables California/Kentucky connection. The Becks wanted JJ to show in the UPHA Junior Pleasure Challenge Cup at the All American Horse Classic. Taking a horse from Louisville back to California and on to Indiana a few weeks later wasn’t an option. Rather, JJ’s horse remained in Kentucky with the Zubrods. At Indianapolis, JJ tied reserve in the very tough class. It was the beginning of their very successful connection.

 

“Anne called and asked if we could work something out with the Becks having a Kentucky horse with me and a California horse with her,” Boel said. “She has a huge California clientele and cannot shut down to come to Kentucky for the summer. It’s hard to be a strong contender at Louisville and in the Finals if a rider hasn’t shown in this type competition regularly. We both felt that a horse staying here rather than shipping long distance would be beneficial.”

 

JJ was the first rider to make that move. Caroline Cherry and Natalie Armstrong Grunnan later joined the Zubrod team.

 

Caroline Cherry and CH In Neon ERB had

a most successful season as part of the

Speck/Zubrod team. World’s champions

in the Walk and Trot Saddle Seat Equitation

9-10 Year Old class and one section of the

nine-year-old qualifier, she tied reserve in

the 10 and Under Walk and Trot National

Championship at the 2007 American Royal.

 

“It’s a high compliment for an instructor as great as Anne to want us to have that relationship,” Boel said. “We look for the same thing in a rider. Other than possibly dropping a stirrup or shortening reins a notch, nothing changes.”

 

Obviously, the move has worked well. “It’s rather like we’ve transplanted Anne’s barn to Kentucky or ours there,” Boel said. “The girls ride whatever we put underneath them. If we need help at an academy show or camp, all the kids all pitch in.”

 

The results speak for themselves. Beck continued to star in equitation aboard both Morgans and Saddlebreds in California. Riding from Zubrod Stables, she posted 2005 blues in Lexington’s NHS class, at Blue Ridge and earned a reserve in the 14-Year-Old Saddle Seat Equitation qualifier at Kentucky State Fair. In ’06, she earned another reserve world’s championship, a reserve in the NHS Good Hands finals and won the UPHA Senior Challenge Cup Finals title. Last season, Speck and Boel raced into Freedom Hall to head Beck and Pinstripe Dancer after their win in the 16-Year-Old Saddle Seat Equitation World’s Championship.

 

“I would not have won the Senior UPHA and other titles without Anne teaching me horsemanship and so much more throughout the years,” JJ said. “We worked through the positives and negatives. I’m passionate about the sport on my own, but she made me see what it is all about.”

 

“Anne’s whole life is these kids,” Boel said. “She loves, but doesn’t mince words with them. Yankee is a very good way to put it. When someone from the Northeast counts you as a friend, it means something.

 

“The success we’ve had with those three girls has been phenomenal. Anne came to Louisville this year without a horse,” Boel continued. “She was there for ‘our girls’ every step of the way. We were fortunate enough to do a victory pass.”

 

Nicky Alianelli Shea won the 1987 AMHA

Gold Medal Finals aboard Tico Valentino

under Speck’s careful guidance.

 

Speck’s success is far from limited to the Saddlebred world. Historically, she returns home from Louisville to finish prepping her Morgan riders for their world championship competition. In 2005, Ariana Corrigan won the Morgan Saddle Seat 17 and Under Equitation title and Phase II of the UPHA Morgan Senior Challenge Cup Finals. In 2006, she won the AMHA Saddle Seat Gold Medal Finals. Riders such as Nina Lynette Brabo, Nicky Alianelli, Kristen Greene and Jennifer Greene won AMHA Saddle Seat finals during the 1980s and early 1990s.

 

The 2006 Morgan Grand Nationals meant more

than championships to Speck. She adopted Rocket,

a part Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, from an

Oklahoma City rescue organization.

 

Eric Antman finished his equitation career with Speck, which included winning the Morgan Classic Pleasure Equitation Championship. After graduating from William Woods University, he joined the staff of Callaway Hills.

 

“Anne is an amazing lady,” Antman said. “She’s been doing this a long time and is the best in the business at teaching people to ride their horses. Her equitation riders have proven they can get on any horse and do more than just equitate. They can outride most of the kids out there.

 

“She seems to enjoy the California-Kentucky connection. She can send the horses to Kentucky and Cindy can campaign them in the east. She is able to focus on the girls’ riding skills. Her riders and their ability means more to Anne than winning an equitation class. I really admire and respect her for that,” he said.

 

Speck doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit’ or even slow down. Janet Lyttle recalled her continuing to work following a serious fall in 2003.

 

“I doubt Anne told you she was in the ring in 100-degree heat teaching lessons three days after brain surgery. She did learn that wasn't the best decision on her part and, after a couple of days, decided to follow doctor's orders,” Lyttle said.

 

Riding at Rancho Del Mar is anything but dull or routine. Each camp session ends with a mini show with age groups for everything.

 

“They have a parent-child class; that’s a highlight for the kids,” Janet Lyttle said. “Another is an exchange class, where the judge decides who is going to ride which horses, perhaps one they’ve always wanted to ride. They have a bareback equitation class with a workout.”

 

Farm fun days include relays on horseback; more than once a rider has hit the ground. She will take those just learning to ride and team them double with a parent walking the track with obstacles. Sometimes I think this is Anne’s favorite activity,” Lyttle continued. “Whenever we have Halloween or Christmas parties, summer or winter camps at the barn, Anne is the one planning it all. She always is coming up with something new to try. When there is a costume class, she is dressed up. When there are sack races, she is hopping, promoting friendship and fun outside of the show ring, too!”

 

Speck always is ready for fun. Speck and assistant

trainer Beth Piper represented two Rancho Del Mar

teams in the trainer’s equitation class. Speck (right)

was part of the ‘Hot to Trotters.’ Each member wore

Paris Hilton wigs as they competed in one of the five

team events. Piper was part of Rancho Del Mar’s

Prissy Poodles team.

 

Simply put, Anne Speck is an ambassador. Her riders don red, white and blue costumes and ride wooden horses in area parades. She loves her horses, her ‘kids’ and her business.

 

Small wonder she has earned the respect of her peers and those who share her love for the sport.


 

Mackenzie Lyttle, Speck and assistant trainer

Beth Piper helped ‘shovel away’ the water
during the 2007 Jingle Bell Horse Show.



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