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Riding Develops Character As Well As Winners

by Ann Bullard


Up, down, up, down. These are some of the first words a young rider remembers when he or she embarks on an equestrian journey. For a few, those basic lessons designed to help ensure a rider’s safety if he or she embarks on the trail may be all there is. Others go on, through academy, junior exhibitor and into adult show ring competition.


Why do riders do it? Why do parents spend hours in the car and thousands of dollars supporting their children and horses?


There is no question that riding is a sport. Some look at it as an individual affair. Others realize it is much more. As with the rest of the “growing up years,” the accomplishments a rider can put on paper pale in comparison with the life-lessons learned.


Your Horse World staff talked with a number of persons who have gone from being champion riders to leading productive adult lives. What they learned during those junior exhibitor years defines the importance of being part of the Saddle Horse community better than any other words we might write.


Elly Perwien Berman

The daughter of Ada and Edmund Perwien and mother of world’s champion roadster pony driver Kevin Berman, Elly sees the business from several viewpoints: daughter, exhibitor and mother.


Berman began riding with George Roberts in Houston when she was eight years old. She spent most of her formative years riding with the late Sue and Don Roby, first in Dallas and later in Houston, Texas. Shortly after Don Roby’s death, her parents established Bluebonnet Farm near Houston, although they kept one or more horses with Sue Roby throughout her lifetime. Few Texas Saddle Horse fans from the 1970s can forget the picture of the petite young lady and her lovely, very hot mare, CH Star Scene. More recently, Berman graced winner’s circles with such horses as CH Carmen Miranda TM and CH George Foreman.


“I learned a lot of life lessons at a very young age,” Berman said, enumerating teamwork, confidence, a sense of accomplishment, how to deal with stress and patience. “I can remember just going out and taking lessons. I’d watch the birds fly overhead. I didn’t worry about any of the day-to-day problems when I was with a horse.


“Each horse has a different personality and you have to change riding styles for that particular horse. Each one teaches you something. Star Scene taught me how to do a lot of things; she was fun, exciting, like being on a time bomb waiting to explode. She taught me patience. I had to wait for her a lot of times. She taught me to try something else if the first thing doesn’t work.”


CH Star Scene’s genes are found in many of the youngsters produced at Bluebonnet Farm. “I see a little something of her – that show ring attitude and enjoyment of what they’re doing – in her babies. Some are a little bit scared. She [and her babies] take a lot of time to settle down.”


Berman relishes the time she spent (and spends) with her parent. “I spent so much time with them as a child. Just traveling with my parents gives us closeness, a common interest and goal.”


Enjoying the horses also creates a special bond with her son, Kevin. 


She freely concedes that her parents owning and operating Bluebonnet Farm made it easier for her to remain in the business than many of her contemporaries. “I went to college at the University of Texas so I could keep riding. And I don’t know if I would have had the time or energy to continue on my own when raising young kids (sons Kevin and Jeffrey) if the farm hadn’t been where it is.”


Those life lessons learned as a junior exhibitor helped prepare Berman to be a horse show mom.


“I get a whole lot more nervous as a mom, especially in the beginning. I don’t want to feel like I have to give advice on the sidelines or to be one of those overbearing parents. It’s fun to watch my own child win, to enjoy the sport. I love seeing him playing with the babies out in the field. He has a natural love for it. That makes me really happy and proud. I don’t want to push him into this.”


Leslie Ann Cannon

Self discipline. Competitiveness. Patience. Dedication. Those four traits lead the list of lessons the daughter of Ann and Will Cannon of Concord, N.C., learned through her riding career. A graduate of Queen’s College in Charlotte, N.C., with a double major in psychology and Spanish, Cannon now works in public relations and communication for a 457-bed community hospital in her hometown.


The charming young lady, who is remembered with such mounts as It’s Me Again, her mother’s CH Sultan’s Earth Angel and later CH Devoted To The Cause, began her riding career by taking a short 4-H Club horse grooming and riding class.


“I fell in love with the horses,” she said in her quiet, Southern voice. “By fall, I was taking academy lessons. My whole family has been hooked ever since.”


Nancy, Betsy and Paul Boone of Boone’s Farm in Concord, N.C., opened the doors to the Cannon family. “They pushed me to do my best, but never ridiculed me if I wasn’t perfect,” Cannon said. “They taught me to do and learn for myself. They taught me discipline.”


Cannon’s sole sport was riding, which raised a few eyebrows at her school. “I didn’t want to take time away from my riding. My principal said if I could document that I spent as much time riding as with a team sport during my four years in high school, she would accept the horses as a substitute. I explained I rode every Thursday and Saturday and went to shows on weekends. The 20 minutes in the show ring was just as much an athletic workout as if I were playing an entire season of another sport.


“Riding is a team sport – but with your horses and trainers,” she said. “Competitors are teammates as well. We’re all going for the same goal. We run into each other in the ring. We learn to be supportive of our peers and colleagues, how to be competitive, how to win and lose.”


She added, “Being a rider gave me such a positive influence from my family and from Paul and Betsy. Showing and riding was the best thing we did. My father loves to talk about how you can get 16 and 18-year-olds to beg you to do something as a family every weekend. It was a wonderful experience for us to enjoy and grow with together.”


Cannon ended her junior exhibitor career in 1988, winning the Three-Gaited Junior Exhibitor Championship with Sultan’s Earth Angel and the Five-Gaited Pony Championship aboard It’s Me Again at the North Carolina State Championships. The patience she learned as a rider still serves her well in dealing with physicians, patients and the media who usually seek more information than privacy laws allow to be released.


“You have to be patient in dealing with a horse. You’re not going to command them, but have to learn to work with them,” she said looking back. “The horses I’ve owned have had very strong personalities. I couldn’t cram them into doing something, but had to ask. Paul and Betsy taught me not to get mad at the horse but to look at what I was doing and to work with her.


“If I’m in a media interview and it takes a turn that might not be appropriate, I have to calmly and gently steer it in the right direction without being insulting or demanding,” she said.


Now that she’s back home in Concord, Cannon has an opportunity to again enjoy the horses. Most of the family’s show ring stars are retired at the family farm. Some are broodmares, others simply enjoying the life they so richly deserve. Cannon visits with them at every possible opportunity. Many of the horses now in the Cannon name are those they have raised. The latest of these is CH Devoted To The Cause’s weanling filly by I’m A New Yorker.


Persistence could be added to the list of character traits Leslie learned from her equestrienne days “You have to stick with it. There are times when it’s difficult; those can be learning experiences. I’ll never lose interest. It was such an amazing part of my life. I wouldn’t trade time with American Saddlebreds for anything in the world.”


Will Cannon

The younger member of the Cannon family brother-sister act began riding with the Boone family in 1991. He was eight years old. From academy he rose to be among the elite of the junior exhibitor five-gaited riders at a time when that division was among the most competitive in the sport’s history. Cannon won his first world’s championship–the 13 and under qualifier-and grand championship aboard CH Mountainview’s Starlike Reviews in 1996. Two years later, he and CH Moonchance began their assault on the junior exhibitor five-gaited records. They won their age groups in 1999 and 2000 and the grand championship titles as well as the grand championship in 1998.


Cannon spoke with Horse World during the last weekend of his U.S. Army Boot Camp training at Ft. Benning, Ga. From there, he will enter Airborne School and then deploy to Ft. Bragg, N.C., for more advanced training. Few who know the young man are surprised at his dedication.


“I learned lessons while riding American Saddlebreds that will last me my whole life,” Cannon said. He continued to enumerate them: the importance of discipline and hard work, sportsmanship, friendship and humility. “I learned about real competition and that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it.


“I rode against some of the best,” he said, naming Kristen Bagdasarian with CH The Homecoming Hero, Emily Hess with CH Gypsy Supreme and Kate Salmonsen aboard CH Doubletrees Steel The Show as some of his fiercest friendly competition. “They gave me a run for my money.”


It’s been six years since those days. Cannon has graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a double major in emergency medical care and fire protection administration. He joined the North Carolina National Guard. He plans his future military service as a Special Forces medic. He believes the lessons he learned riding horses and time spent enjoying them with his family helped shape that sense of responsibility.


Cannon says learning “physical and mental endurance are perhaps the most importance things. You have to have psychological stamina when the chips are down. If you have a horrible ride, you may get tired of doing it and may not want to go on with what’s at hand. You have to have the discipline to maintain the course.”


He spoke of the closeness he and his family developed and still maintain. “Not many families have the opportunities to spend the time together and do what they enjoy as we did. My mother, sister and I showed. Dad was the specialist for coordinating transportation – the enabler. We have that common sense of purpose. We all were at Boone’s Farm twice a week, spending two days mostly together. We spent weekends cooped up in a hotel room every other weekend. It made an excellent opportunity to teach – and learn – patience.


“We spent a lot more time together than most and it strengthened our family,” he continued. “Our childhood was riding horses. It’s what we did. I have a lot of memories, and many life lessons came from that. It helped shape my perception of the world, of competition, friendship and loyalty.”


The things he has seen and done helped put Cannon on the road to serving his community and country. “I firmly believe we live in the greatest nation in the world. If I want to maintain our freedom and the quality of life I have enjoyed for my future family, I have to defend it. When I finished college, I had several jobs lined up. They released me to do military time.


“I’m not settled in a career, I have no wife or children. This is a time in my life when I can take those risks and fulfill what I believe is the right thing to do.”


When that active duty service is over Cannon hopes to live in the Concord, N.C., area. His dream is to be close to the farm and to what he grew up loving to do.


“Whatever success I’ve had is the culmination of a lot of effort by a lot of people: my mom, dad and sister, my Boone’s Farm family and my horse show buddies, Emily, Kate and Kristen. We had hard-swinging competition in the ring. Our friendship out of the ring is a testament to what showing horses is all about.


The strength of character that Will developed as a youngster and as a rider is being honed by the U.S. Army. Senior Drill Sgts. Smith, Crowder and Hidalgo have put him through rigorous training. He calls the training officers strict, firm and with a big job to do.


Their job: to make a soldier of the young man we all simply know as Will.


Vicki Gillenwater

It’s hard to imagine Vicki Gillenwater as a shy and reserve child. Still, that’s the way she describes the six-year-old who began taking lessons at Sherril Stables in Knoxville, Tenn. She held on to her equine passion after trying everything from ballet to team sports.


“I just loved being around the horses,” the now vivacious, outgoing lady said. “I had friends at the barn and built so much confidence with my horse that riding became the one thing that I was good at.”


Gillenwater concedes riding is an expensive hobby and her parents could have chosen not to let her follow her dream. Instead, they found aspects of the sport that they loved. In 1980, they established Scenic View Farm as the late Dorothy Gillenwater decided to breed her daughter’s first equitation mare. Gillenwater continues to operate the farm today.


“I overheard my father tell someone that the best investment he ever made in his daughter was the horses,” she said. “I had to be dedicated to it. It taught me to be successful at something that you have to dedicate yourself to doing and doing well. We all shared the love of animals. Horses have so much heart and teach you so much. It was the same with the people around them.”


Gillenwater rode with Ann Neil at Blythewood Farms, and later showed equitation with the late Helen Crabtree. After her parents established Scenic View Farm, a young trainer named Bobby Wolfenbarger came to work there. He remained part of Gillenwater’s life for 20 years until his death. She considers him one of the greatest influences on her life.


“Bobby showed the kind of influence a trainer or instructor can have on a child. He taught me not to quit. He taught me it is a blessing to be in the show ring in the first place, whether I won or lost to do so with dignity. I always remember being so thankful for the ability and opportunity my parents provided,” Gillenwater said.


“I think my horses taught me as much about respect and kindness as anything else,” she continued. “In high school, I was the tall, skinny one and always felt like the loser at school. When I came to the barn, I always felt like a champion, that I could do anything.”


Gillenwater recalls an incident when she was in the eighth grade and trying to qualify for the equitation finals. “I had one line in my school play. Only one show at which I could qualify remained so I explained to my teacher that I would have to miss play practice. I borrowed a horse and qualified. When I came back to school, my teacher dragged me in front of the class. She used me as an example of someone who didn’t understand teamwork or dedication because I missed one practice for one line in the play.”


Dorothy Gillenwater’s discussion with that teacher emphasized that what Gillenwater learned from horses defined teamwork and dedication. “You’re always part of a team when you show. Your family, instructor and horse are a team. I don’t think my one line in that play influenced me nearly as much as my opportunity to share my life with my family and American Saddlebreds.”


What traits, what life lessons has Gillenwater taken from the sport she loves? Loyalty, dedication, diligence, confidence and a deep appreciation for the horses and people in her life head the list. Unlike many of her friends, she didn’t always have the top-of-the-line, most expensive mounts. Her parents bought her first pleasure horse at Tattersalls.


“He wasn’t an expensive horse, yet I won with him at Rock Creek,” Gillenwater recalled. “He taught me to think ahead.”


Thinking ahead has come in handy on many occasions. In 1985, Gillenwater, Heidi Price, Kelly Gilligan and Leslie Bovis rode for the United States on its first, four-person World Cup team. No trainer accompanied them; Dorothy Gillenwater served as chaperone, coach and friend.


“I was 16 and had no idea what to expect,” Gillenwater said. “I have had some wonderful and some not-so-wonderful horses in my life. Those not-so-wonderful taught me how to ride everything. They gave me the confidence that, whatever type horse I was presented with, I could ride it.”


In those days, judges tied individuals as well as the team. Gillenwater won all three individual events and Team USA won the overall competition. She returned to South Africa in 1999 as a member of the U.S. Five-Gaited team. It was here that she and Carson Kressley cemented their friendship.


“The friendships made on that trip have lasted me my whole life,” she said of the second trip. “This is when Carson (Kressley) and I became close friends.”


Gillenwater stayed close to home for her college years. She earned a bachelor’s in communications from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She followed that with a Master’s Degree from Centre College in Danville, Ky.


A career on Capital Hill seemed inevitable. Soon after graduation, she joined U.S. Congressman John Duncan’s staff as a special assistant, working with the press, legislative affairs–and opening mail.


“I loved it,” she said. “He offered me the job as his Deputy Chief of Staff. As I was getting ready to move back to Washington in the year 2000, Bobby died. I came home to be here with my parents and my horses.”


More challenges lay ahead. In November 2004, Dorothy Gillenwater lost her battle with cancer. A little more than five months later, Paul Gillenwater died of the same disease at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.


“My friends in the horse industry have gotten me though it,” she said. “When tragedy strikes one of us, we’re all in it together. All the things I grew up with … I cling to them now.”


Gillenwater has given up the idea of a Washington career. Instead, she directly influences young lives as a communications instructor at her Tennessee alma mater. Students voted her one of the 50 most influential faculty members on campus.


Today, Gillenwater continues to carry on her parents’ legacy, breeding American Saddlebreds and promoting the breed that gave the family so many hours of pleasure. As vice-president of the American Saddlebred Horse Association, she co-chairs the Advancement Committee, charged with developing tools to promote the breed.


In 1987, the ASHA recognized Gillenwater’s sportsmanship with the Frank Ogletree Youth Award. In 2006, the association presented the first of the Paul and Dorothy Gillenwater Family Awards in recognition of others’ “sportsmanship and dedication as an entire family to the advancement of Saddlebreds, as amateurs and purely for the love of sport…”


Respect. Kindness. Persistence. Teamwork and dedication. The ability to think ahead. The value of friendships. Those words only begin to touch the surface of what being in the Saddle Horse world taught young Vicki Gillenwater. Now she works to ensure future generations will have the opportunity to learn those and other lessons through the horses we love.


Billy Jarrell

The traits of hard work, sportsmanship, respect and keeping what happens at the barn at the barn are four lessons Billy Jarrell learned as a junior exhibitor and as a young professional. From the time he began riding with Dottie Martin in Charleston, W.Va., to his present situation as owner/trainer at Ainsley Farm in Versailles, Ky., he has put those hard-learned life lessons to good use.


“We started off showing around West Virginia in county fair-type shows. The barn where I grew up was 20 minutes from our house," Jarrell said. “I went there two or three days a week and all day Saturday. We did it all: washing tails, blacking feet, getting our horses ready ourselves. It taught us to work and to respect people older than you.


“I am glad we began the way we did. It taught me that it was my responsibility to get out there and get it done. Even as a kid and paying a trainer, I didn’t mind doing the work.”


The Jarrells’ next step was to Chris and Chad Reiser. It was here, during the early 1990s, that his parents and trainer teamed Jarrell with the five-gaited pleasure horse CH Magnificent Contract.


“We bought him when I was 12,” Jarrell said of the five-gaited pleasure horse with which he would have so much success. Before the team retired, they had earned a reserve world’s championship.


“The Reisers taught me not to wear my emotions on my sleeve,” he said. “Ours is a sport with a lot of parity. The person in the middle is the only person whose opinion counts when you’re showing. You may think you should be first or second and end up fifth. He or she may not like the suit you’re wearing. I learned to come out smiling and go on to the next one.”


Jarrell’s mother, Betty, and brother, Bobby, all showed. “No matter what ribbon we got, we came out smiling. Of we came out whining or crying, that was the last show we’d go to for a long time.”


Being in the horse business made Jarrell “grow up faster than I might otherwise have done. I did a lot on my own. Mom kept me very, very involved in what we were doing, what we were paying. She asked my opinion on what horses were worth.”


The summer between his junior and senior years in high school, Jarrell went to work for Nelson Green. The Jarrells moved horses to him that year.


“I think that was the best summer I’ve ever had. I learned so much working for him,” Jarrell said.


Green gave Jarrell lots of opportunities. “That was the year Nelson had CH Winter Day, CH A Sweet Treat and CH Gypsy Supreme. They all won at Lexington; Sweetie and Gypsy won world championships.


“Talk about learning to work, to learn to respect a lot of people. Talk about learning to hold your tongue a lot! This is a very small, rumor-driven business and you have to keep a lot of things to yourself. I learned an absolute ton about caretaking.”


Jarrell became bored with classes at Transylvania College. They sent horses to Todd Graham, near their West Virginia home.


“I called Mom one day and said I thought I could work these horses as well as Todd did. She had always wanted a farm in Kentucky and had sold some property in West Virginia. Rather than putting the money in the bank for the government to tax, she bought and renovated a small farm in Versailles, Ky.  We started with eight or nine stalls for pleasure horses, broodmares, etc. That eight-stall barn turned into 18, with Dave Becker renting from us. His coming out to the barn and helping me was one thing that motivated me to do this.”


In May 2001, Jarrell hooked up his horse trailer, put in his tack, supplies and six horses at Graham’s and drove to Kentucky. He opened his barn with his mother’s six horses, soon adding a few more. He had yet to turn 21 years old.


Jarrell’s first year was deceptively easy. He took “five or six horses” to Louisville, winning seven ribbons including the five-gaited pleasure qualifier and grand championship with Tate Bennett in the irons on The Denali.


A little more than four years later, Jarrell found himself “burned out on everything.” Tre’ Lee had contacted him to see if he were interested in selling the farm. Lee and Johnny Jones moved in–and Jarrell went back to West Virginia to work for his father’s company.


“On Dec.6, 2005, I went to work for my father. I soon realized I had made a big mistake. It took seven months to get back,” he said.


At Asheville the following spring, Jarrell said he joked with Bret Day about getting back in the business. Day offered him a job. In March 2007, he stepped out again on his own. He looked back at his career moves and the lessons he has learned.


“I took a lot of things for granted. My parents had nice horses and so it all came kind of easy. I didn’t work as hard as I probably should have and I paid the price for it. In West Virginia, I worked 14, 16 or 18-hour days several days a week. I watched my father work his butt off. I didn’t think much of that as a kid. When I went back and did it myself at 25 or 26, when I watched him work that hard and saw what he had accomplished, it made me realize I didn’t work as hard as I should have before.”


Starting over wasn’t easy. “Quitting for a time probably was the best decision I ever made. It made me realize I have to work twice as hard as I did before. Everyone is the same in the horse business. We all do it because we love it. I don’t get up every day and have a job; I have a hobby that I love to do and I get paid to do it.”


Karen Jones

Determination and attitude: those are the two main things Karen Jones says she learned from her years of riding. The ability to make and keep friends whether she was winning or losing and you might understand the young woman who now rides with Heather Boodey at Ingleside Farm.


Jones spent her junior exhibitor years with Linda Shelhart at Canterbury Stables in Wilmington, N.C. From the first lesson when she was six years old, Jones knew the horse world was for her.


“Karen is one I can truly say did this for the love of the sport,” Shelhart said. “She always had an excellent attitude. She went for years on lesser horses, never winning but enjoying showing and trying. Win, lose or draw, Karen loved it.”


Jones was small for her age. When she grew sufficiently to handle more powerful horses, Shelhart teamed her with the chestnut mare, CH Beau’s Patricia Peavine. In 1980, Jones and the mare, renamed Kalanchoe for the show ring, began their memorable career. To call the team successful would be an understatement. The next year, Jones and Kalanchoe won the 19-team Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Show Pleasure Stake at the Kentucky State Fair, tying fifth in the show pleasure championship against riders of all ages. They repeated their junior exhibitor wins in 1982 and 1984.


Hard work and determination helped Jones to become the person she is today. She often was at the barn before daylight.


“My first horse was huge. He would take off, slam on the brakes and watch me fall off,” she recalled. “I never got hurt but would get back on and go again. It was practice, practice, practice. I learned to do the best you can with what you have,” she said candidly, speaking of those pre-Kalanchoe days. “I learned if I didn’t win, I still had to have a great attitude.”


After college, Jones moved to Durham, N.C., where she works for a research company. She and her family purchased Spanish Summer Dance when the mare was three. Jones is putting the same determination that carried her to world’s championship honors into learning to ride the now four-year-old.


Lynn Girdler (Kelley)

Lynn Girdler, like the thousands of young people who have followed her, learned respect, sportsmanship and a great work ethic from her years with Saddlebreds. She learned from one of the sport’s legends, the late Helen K. Crabtree. In 1958, Girdler rode the legendary Storm Cloud (registered name Duke Of Wilmar) to win the AHSA Medal at Madison Square Garden.


Girdler was three when her parents first put her on a horse. She began formal instruction at Rock Creek, becoming part of the Crabtree family when they became trainers at Rock Creek.


“Helen was very strict; she kept us in line,” Girdler recalled. “Great sportsmanship is the most important thing I learned during those years.”


Sportsmanship may have been the most important trait Girdler learned. Add to that respect, learning to keep a schedule and determination and you have the lady who, while no longer active in the Saddlebred world, follows the sport and revels in the years she showed.


“I made a lot of wonderful contacts and friends, several of whom have lasted throughout my life,” Girdler said. “I remained with Helen until the day she died.”


Toni Knight

“I had a choice, but always wanted to do horses,” Toni Knight said. As the daughter of the late Maria and Gary Shipman, adopted daughter of Bill Knight and granddaughter of Lee and Frances Shipman, there was no question about her growing up in the business.


Actually, Knight said, “I wanted to be a horse trainer from the time I was in kindergarten. I loved my life as a kid. I lived to go to shows and never could understand when people would say it was hard work.”


Bill and Maria Knight’s careers took them from Texas to Minnesota and points between. “I remember it was so hard to get a group of friends. I’d love a school and then we’d move,” Knight said. “But no matter where we went in the country, we’d see the same group of people. People in the Saddle Horse world were my parents’ friends. That extended family helped keep me grounded. No matter where I was, I still had a horse family.”


Maria Knight rationed her only child’s riding to one lesson a week for fear she would get burned out. As a teen, Knight spent more time in the saddle at the barn. She preferred sitting at the dinner table and listening to trainers talk than hanging out with her teenage friends.


When Shipman retired, the Knights established Lighthorse Stables at his farm at Cox’s Creek, Ky. Knight became more and more involved. Her parents and friends helped ensure she had a nice horse to show.


“I took care of four horses during the summer and learned it was hard work,” Knight said. “Dad was out there mowing at all hours.


In 1996, Anne and Sam Stafford sent the then six-year-old Sammyshine for Knight to show. They won the five-gaited pony qualifier and championship at that year’s Lexington Junior League Horse Show and earned a yellow ribbon in the Five-Gaited Pony Championship at the Kentucky State Fair.


Knight finished her junior exhibitor career in 1997. She studied journalism in college to have something to fall back on in case she needed to pursue a career other than in the horse world.


In October 2000 Knight’s world crumbled. She had dreamed of working with her parents. Maria died suddenly in an Oklahoma City hotel room while on assignment to judge the Morgan Grand Nationals. That extended family meant more than one might imagine when Maria Knight died.


Toni and Bill carried on. When he and Kris Price married, Knight stepped out on her own, later going to work for John and Renee Biggins.


“Going to Biggins was an eye-opening trip,” she said. “I had a lot of raw talent. The business is in my blood. I needed to learn the finesse to run my own business, to put the finishing touch on skills. They gave me the polish I needed.”


Knight says Maria saw everything through rose-colored glasses. After Maria’s death, her daughter became more cynical about the business.


“There are times I get cynical or frustrated,” Knight said. “Then I look at a tragedy such as when Mom or Ed Frickey died. Everyone pulls together; they really care. We compete against each other, but it’s a healthy kind of competition.


Today, Knight is engaged to trainer Mark Utoft and is working with him at Lisa Strickland’s Seven Oaks Farm in St. Charles, Ill.


“I don’t mind working hard, going to the barn and doing my thing. In evenings, I need to find time for me. I want to go home and be with my family; family first with business close behind.


Lindsey Lavery

The daughter of Renee and Lonnie Lavery had little choice about riding. She learned her lessons well. Now training from Ventura Farm in Shelbyville, Ky., Lindsey Lavery is putting those life-lessons to work every day.


Learning the meaning of hard work certainly comes to the top of the lessons Lavery learned during childhood. She added humility, respect for others and learning to take direction to the list.


“There comes a time when horses will humble you,” said the young lady who rode CH Our Golden Duchess to world’s championships in 1989, ’90 and ’91. “That happens on a daily basis now.”


Lavery says there never was a time when she didn’t ride, although she began riding hunters and jumpers for many of her teenage years. She came back to Saddlebreds at 18, showing horses for her parents’ clients and others.  


As for work – “what children who ride have that others don’t is a work ethic. You have to know how to get things done. You just do it rather than having to be told to finish a task.”


She spoke of the closeness of the saddle horse community and members willingness to help. “You never know everything; never stop learning in this business. I’ve known everyone for so long, I can ask anyone for help. I have been in this for so long that I feel very comfortable around my peers. I can ask people I look up to why they’re doing something or for their help with a problem.”


Bridget McNeese

Life lessons learned as a rider with the late Dorothy Dukes Ford, Sue and Don Roby in Houston, Texas still serve Bridget McNeese well. As a civil attorney with Fulbright and Jaworski, she calls upon that patience, humility and learning to move on from a bad experience almost every day.


Bridget, her mother, Dr. Margaret McNeese, and sister, Dr. Catherine McNeese have been mainstays of the Saddlebred world for decades. Catherine was an outstanding equitation rider. Bridget’s choice was performance.


“I started with Dorothy [Dukes Ford] at Bayou Park, going through hand-me-down horses,” she recalled. “After my grandfather learned I wanted to show performance, we bought CH Sue Elegant with Don Bridges.”


The McNeese family houses retirees, including several broodmares, at their farm near Houston. Training horses are with Martin Teater in Nicholasville, Ky. McNeese made her debut in the homebred Kent Brockman, winning the Junior Park Pleasure Championship at the Rock Creek Spring Show.


She says “humility” is the first thing she learned. “There always is going to be another day. If you have a bad ride or something goes wrong, there’s always another opportunity to fix it. Rather than obsess or dwell on something, learn from it and move on. Riding definitely helped me with that interpersonal skill.


“I learned to be a good loser at a much earlier age than other kids did. I congratulated people even though I wanted to throw them off and cry. I see a lot of people in my age group [early 30s,] and in my line of work who get so caught up in something they’ve done wrong. It grates on them, stresses them out. That holds them back. You have to look at something and say ‘tomorrow is another day.’ You’ll have a thousand opportunities to make a mistake. If you do, don’t make it again.”


Patience, accepting that nothing worthwhile is achieved by instant or immediate gratification has helped McNeese in her personal and professional lives. “Things that are worthwhile, that mean something come after hours, days, weeks, months and years of hard work. You have to go out and sacrifice.


“Riding horses kept me out of a lot of trouble growing up,” she added. “I would have been prone to go to parties and get in trouble. With something as important as horses, I kept my focus. All I wanted to do was ride.”


“With college and law school, I understood it was not an overnight deal. It took a lot of effort. It wasn’t always fun but a lot of tears and sweat. I did it, and am pleased with myself.”


Lesley Miles

Lesley Sodol Miles has a unique perspective on life in the show horse world. A successful junior exhibitor, she looks at the business today as the wife of a world’s champion trainer and mother of two young riders.


Self-confidence was the one trait Miles mentioned when speaking of what she learned from her junior exhibitor years. She failed to mention determination, but her accomplishments and growth illustrate that facet of her personality.


Miles began riding at five with the late Temple and Jane Stephenson of Marietta, Ga., where her older sister and Karen Medicus already were established. She spent much of her junior exhibitor career riding with the late Ray Pittman. However, horses were not the end-all, be-all for the young rider.


“I was a dilettante with different sports. I would be picked up and taken from the swim team to cheerleading to riding and so forth. I didn’t know a world of traveling around the country existed until I was 13 or 14. I had no idea where Indiana was, much less Rockport,” she said with a laugh in her voice.


Miles did well in equitation at the smaller Georgia shows. At larger ones, she realized she had a lot more to learn.


“At Pro Am, I would follow Lil’s [Shively] riders around and listen to the different comments instructors gave them in the ring. I got on Lillian’s bandwagon when I was 13. Her birthday is during Pro-Am and I gave her cards every year. She always came and thanked me for the card.


“I began dating a boy whose sister rode with Lillian. I came to Harrodsburg and got to witness her teaching first hand,” Miles said.


At Louisville that year, Miles “begged” her parents to let her ride with DeLovely. “After the fair, Karen [Medicus] walked my horse from Pittman’s to DeLovely. Karen put me in the ring the first time I showed with them.”


If she were going to compete in three finals, there was absolutely no way Miles could go to college that fall. Determined to improve her skills before the finals, she lived with the Shivelys and took five lessons a day.


“Some of that was simply sitting on a horse while Lil explained why we did certain things. She also trained Mellow Magic, the equitation horse we bought from Kim Crumpler.


“Two new suits, a Shively saddle and lots of work later, I tied reserve in the UPHA Finals, fourth in the Good Hands and third in the ASHA Medal. I also earned the George Harsh trophy for winning the American Royal Equitation Championship. I did incredibly well in a very short period of time.”


Miles enrolled at the University of Kentucky. She took her first spring break in Florida and realized DeLovely was at the Tampa horse show. She called.


“Lillian said, ‘You need to get back up here.’ Todd [who already was part of the DeLovely team] said, ‘You need to come back up here,’” Miles recalled.


She listened. Miles graduated from the University of Kentucky where she studied  fashion merchandising. She and Todd married in June 1991.


“I realized I didn’t want to be in fashion merchandising. After I married, I went back to Western Kentucky University in Owensboro and got an elementary education degree,” she said.


Tyler was born shortly after Miles finished her second degree. “I said there was no way anyone else could take care of this baby. I stayed home with him,” she said.


When Tyler was two, Miles began teaching lessons for DeLovely, something she did for several years. She also has directed an Adult Education GED program in Owensboro and with some friends operates a grant-writing business. Several months ago, she rejoined the DeLovely staff to help with paperwork and entries, relieving Medicus of some of that responsibility.


As a horse show mom, Miles says she is “trying to be a parent, not an instructor. We are blessed that the Shivelys are supporting us. The kids love it. I really believe this is where character is built.”


As a child, Miles didn’t learn the sweat and tears of cooling out a horse or putting it away. She wants her children to understand that riding is a gift.


“There’s no better role model than their father for this,” she said.


Kim Skipton

“You have to learn to roll with the punches. Anything can happen [when you deal with a live animal.] Sportsmanship means appreciating a win when you get it and appreciating a good ride when you don’t tie as you think you should. When you ride, you become a nicer person. You have to be nice and trust your animal and it has to trust you.”


That attitude plus discipline and focus are the primary things Kim Skipton says she learned when riding as a juvenile in Houston, Texas. They serve her well in her role with the American Saddlebred Museum as well as her association with trainer George Knight.


Skipton began riding with the late John and Gwen Nix when they taught at Tri Oaks Stables, where Charlie Smith held the trainer’s post. During her junior exhibitor years, Skipton had horses with the late Dorothy Dukes (Ford,) Dale Milligan and Charles Isom. She moved to Smith after he established his Kentucky barn.


“I was fortunate the first place I went had Saddlebreds,” she said. “I could have ended up being a hunt seat rider. Once I saw show horses at Tri Oaks …”


She was hooked. “Those were the kind of horses I wanted,” she said.


One thing Skipton learned as a youngster is that it is a subjective sport. “When a little kid runs in a race, you know who is faster. Throw in a live animal and all that changes. On one day, the horse may be an idiot or do something wrong. You can be the most talented rider and not have the best horse, or have the best horse but not get a good ride that day.


“I didn’t always have nice horses,” she added. “When I started out, I would see friends on better horses, yet sometimes I still would beat them. Knowing you always have a chance makes a difference. That’s something you need to know in life. You can’t get your feelings hurt; the way a judge ties you isn’t about you in particular. It’s like choosing between apples and oranges; the judge simply preferred the other child that day.”


She spoke of winning classes when she didn’t have her best ride, and being tied third or fourth when George Knight’s horse was outstanding.


“When I won the class, I know I could have cantered better. On George’s horse, I enjoyed the process of having a great ride around the ring. You have to enjoy the ride no matter what happens at the end of the class.”






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