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Here for the Show

PROFESSIONAL EQUESTRIAN NICOLE KANE Talks Broken Bones and Biggest Awards of Her Career

WRITTEN BY: ALEXA ERICKSON PHOTOGRAPHED BY: ADAM GENTRY

THE EXPERT: NICOLE KANE | Owner of South Shore Farms | Professional Equestrian

Specializes in: “A” Hunters, Jumpers, Equitation and Sales

Horses. They’re one of the most majestic mammals imaginable. Stunning, sweet, poised and powerful, it is impossible not to be intrigued by them. Symbols not only of the wild but also of historical warfare and transportation, we once relied on these creatures wholeheartedly. In our modern day world, we continue to bow to these beautiful behemoths for their physical strengths and overwhelming allure. From agriculture and transportation, to entertainment and culture, and even therapeutic use, they have become an important part of our society.

Turning off the busy streets of Huntington Beach and into the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, the quiet disposition from a car laden world to the sounds of the horses whinnying and trotting calmed me. It felt like I had stepped into a faraway territory, though in reality, it’s just mere miles from my home. Walking up to the Red Horse Barn,  the first entrance that caught my eye, I found a petite young woman cleaning alongside two horses and a one-eyed Chihuahua the size of my hand. This is Nicole Kane of South Shore Farms, and these are her best friends.

At 27 years young, Nicole has made quite a name for herself in the equestrian world. Having been riding for a total of 22 years, her impressive resume includes starting South Shore Farms in 2009 and accolades that include being awarded the World Champion Hunter Rider of 2009 and the National Reserve World Champion Hunter/Trainer of 2011. Currently training nine clients, one of which is her mother, Heidi Kane, Nicole is a positive, ambitious and beautiful young woman with a love for the sport and moreover, a love for horses. She always knew she wanted to do this, and she has no qualms about her career or hesitation that this is the right path for her.

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Q: Tell me about South Shore Farms. Why did you choose this location and what can you tell us about your role?

Nicole Kane: I chose Huntington Beach because it was a lot closer to home than Riverside, which was where I first started my business five years ago. I grew up riding at the Huntington Beach Equestrian Center when I was younger, so I called the owner Mary, and she said she had space available for me to move my business there four years ago.

Q: What does a typical day here entail?

NK: A typical day would be riding the horses to keep them fit and train on them on the flat and over fences to make them easier for their owners to ride. I also teach my clients on their horses. I can help them since I know their horses so well from riding them weekly. I have 12 horses in training.

Q: What type of riding do you specialize in?

NK: I do English show jumping. It’s a lot of flatwork which is trotting and cantering, and then we do jumping. I teach all three types of show jumping which is equitation jumpers and hunters. I would have to say hunters is my strong suit.

Q: When did you first get introduced to horses?

NK: I grew up in Back Bay and there was a horse barn down the street from my house, so my mom took lessons there and brought me along one day when I was four and I couldn’t get enough of it!

Q: Did you always know you wanted this to be your career?

NK: I did. I wasn’t planning on going to college because I knew after high school I wanted to work for a professional and learn everything I could. But then I got a scholarship for riding at Texas A&M to be on their equestrian team.

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Q: Tell me about your favorite childhood memory riding horses.

NK: My favorite memory would be riding my paint pony Spanky in my backyard with my little sister Tiffany after school. We would ride him bareback together and jump little jumps my parents made. We’d fall off then jump right back on. He was the best pony ever.

Q: What was the first competition you won?

NK: I won a lot on my first horse my mom got me. His name was Zephyrus, and I was probably 10 at the time riding a four year old. I competed in the children’s hunter division and had my first win in that division on him.

Q: Have you had any bad falls during competitions or practice? Have you broken any bones?

NK: Yes I have. I’ve broken my arms, my tailbone twice, fractured my ankle and L5 on my back. I’ve sprained my neck, shoulder and elbow at the same time. I’ve flipped a horse when I was younger, which was probably the scariest thing that’s happened to me. But you learn to just get up and keep going, which means I must love it a lot to get injured and keep going and not be fazed by it.

Q: How has your mother played a role in your career? Do you believe she has been a huge source of inspiration in regards to your success and your drive?

NK: She got me started since the very beginning. She’s been my biggest supporter. This sport is so hard and competitive. It’s also very costly. She didn’t ride one year so she could pay for me to have two horses and train with one of the best west coast trainers, Archie Cox, and compete all year to qualify to go back east and compete in the indoor circuit, which included Maryland, New York and Washington. She would drive me to LA to train with Archie and paid for all of my traveling and competitions. If it weren’t for her, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am. When I started my business, she was my first customer and she’s still with me now. I owe her a huge thank you for getting me to where I am today, and she’s still my biggest supporter now.

Q: Give me a breakdown of the different levels you had to succeed in before turning professional.

NK: When you start the sport, typically you start in the pony division. Then you move to the children’s hunter division, then the junior hunter division which is the highest level you can go under the age of 18. Once you turn 18, you become known as an amateur rider. There is also equitation which is judged on your body and how still you can be riding and how easy you can make the rounds look. They don’t have this division as a professional. Then there is the jumpers, which isn’t judged. It’s based on time and how fast you can go and how tight of a turn you can do without knocking over any jumps. Then you have the hunters which is judged on how well your horse performs over the fences and how well you can get the horse to the jump. You can’t get too close, and you can’t leave the ground too far. It has to be a very accurate ride, and your horse has to have very good form over the jump. It’s also very political with the judges.

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Q: What is the biggest competition you have won?

NK: My last year as a junior rider I won the West Coast Junior Hunter Finals on my horse Rodéo under my trainer Archie Cox, who also got me to the indoor circuit. I won an award called “WCHR “ which stands for World Champion Hunter Rider in 2009. I was champion in the A/O hunter division as an amateur for our region which is know as the Southwest region under my trainers Patrick Spanton and Mary Gatti at the time. In 2011, I was named Reserve National Champion Trainer for WCHR in Maryland at the indoor circuit because my mom Heidi Kane was Reserve National Champion in the adult amateur division which made me the second best trainer for that year. Since then I have qualified for the 500k Hunter Prix held in Saugerties, New York, which I have participated and qualified for the last three years. They take the top 50 in the US to compete for the biggest prize money in history. This year I finished sixth in the Emerging Pro for WCHR in our region.

Q: You have gotten to travel quite a bit I imagine for your career. Where has been your favorite place to compete?

NK: My favorite place to compete is back east. I loved New York when I competed at the Chelsea Pier. Just being in the city and being able to compete was one off the bucket list. I also love Saugerties, New York because they have the biggest prize money, and you’re also surrounded by huge trees and so much green. It’s just beautiful. Maryland I also love because you get to compete in an indoor stadium and that show is beautiful with all its nature. Washington, DC was definitely one for the books. You get to compete at the Verizon Center in a huge stadium, and your horses are literally stabled in Downtown…and you can see the White House!

Q: Tell me about a typical show experience.

NK: Usually, we will get there on a Monday and set up the horses’ stalls with bedding, feed and water. Tuesdays are warm-up days. Us professionals will compete Wednesday and Thursday, then your clients come Friday-Sunday to compete. So as professionals, we compete our clients’ horses against other professionals and at the same time we are training the horses to go well for their owners who compete in either the amateur group or the junior group.

Q: Do you have a favorite horse that you train?

NK: My favorite horse right now has to be Bleeker Street, who belongs to my mom, Heidi, who is also my client. She pays me to train her horses and her. But I honestly love them all. They’re all so different in personality, but they all love their job and try so hard. I got really lucky. I have the best clients and some really talented horses. My job literally doesn’t feel like work. I love Bleeker a lot because he reminds me of my retired horse, Aspen. They ride so similarly and I totally trust them 110 percent. I know Bleeker from the inside out just like Aspen. Some horses are tricky or have quirks, and as a trainer, you have to find them and find a way to ride it without making it look difficult. I love my other horse Goodlord. He’s such a different ride—very sensitive. When you ask him to do something, it has to be so subtle, or he will react in a way where everyone will notice, and he gets all fired up. We get along really well though. He’s my other favorite.

Q: Favorite stunt?

NK: My client Kate Houlihan has this really cool horse named Lexus. I’ve loved him since the first day I’ve had him. He’s 18 now, so he’s a little older but acts like he’s only seven—so full of life. When he gets excited, he likes to buck and kick out over the jump and when he lands. I think it’s hilarious, and I love when he does that. It means he still has a lot of years left and loves his job.

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Q: Can you give us a horse etiquette lesson for first timers approaching a horse?

NK: Always stick your hand out so they can smell you, then gently pet them after so you don’t startle them when you first approach them.

Q: What about first-time riding?

NK: Always wear a helmet! First thing you need to know is how to stop a horse and how to make them go forward. There’s a lot to learn, but some people are just naturally good at it.

Q: How do we gain a horse’s trust and create a connection like you have with your horses?

NK: Time. Take them for walks. Groom them. Feed them. Get to know them. Get to know what they like and what kind of treats they like. Give them lots of pats on their neck when you ride them, so they know they’re doing good.

Q: I can’t help but wonder about this adorable dog following you around. Tell me about him!

NK: His name is Rikki Bobbi! A horse riding friend of mine had him, but they couldn’t keep him anymore, so I adopted him. I’m literally obsessed with him!

Q: Does he love the horses?

NK: He loves coming to the barn, but he loves being with Bleeker the most. He will sit on him all day long and walk up and down his back. They have a bromance.

Q: Does he travel with you to competitions?

NK: Yes! He comes to all my competitions and flies with me to the East Coast. Whether it’s an eight hour haul with the horses or a flight across the country, he’s always with me. He’s like the South Shore Farms’ mascot.

SOUTH SHORE FARMS

18381 Goldenwest St Huntington Beach, CA 92647 949.922.7521 www.southshorefarms.com