by Linda Ballou
The full article (reprinted below) is available online at http://www.ridingmagazine.com/index.php/news/743-may-2016-cpha-spotlight-susan-hutchison
Age is just a number for Show Jumping Hall of Fame Inductee.
Susan Hutchison’s show jumping career spans three decades, includes over 90 Grand Prix wins, six World Cup Finals and one World Equestrian Games, in 1994. As of June 2, her many accomplishments and accolades will include a well-deserved place in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame. She’ll be inducted along with other sport legends, sponsor Elizabeth Busch Burke and fellow rider and trainer Katie Prudent. The ceremony will take place during the Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania.
Susan’s Hall of Fame status, however, does not correlate with any intention of slowing down. The 63-year-old is just home from seven weeks at the HITS Thermal circuit and busy with the horses and riders at her base in Temecula.
Her life has been like an arrow shot from a bow destined to hit the bullseye. Groomed to become a riding champion from the age of 5, she has had no desire to become anything else in this lifetime. She is totally focused on the riding world and aims to win. The litany of broken bones that come with the territory has not slowed her down. Her motto, “No Guts, No Glory,” given to her by her trainer and mentor Jimmy Williams, is tattooed on her arm.
Susan partnered with Jimmy for 20 years at the Flintridge Riding Club before starting her own training business 14 years ago. I interviewed her legendary trainer in 1993. At that time Susan was his most promising protégé vying for the World Cup on Samsung Woodstock, the horse that remains her favorite to this day. She is the rider I held in my mind’s eye while writing on-course scenes in my novel The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon.
Earlier this year, I felt honored to sit down with Susan beneath a shady tree at Susan Hutchison Stables in Temecula to catch up with her riding career. Susan has about 12 prized mounts stabled there and a select group of students she trains in between competing in international events. With her characteristic humility, she preferred sitting Indian style on the grass and eyed me with an unflinching gaze as I fumbled with my voice recorder.
Linda: How do you do it?
Susan: Finding good people who can help me. Putting a good team together is the key to this. Finding the right groom, the right vet, the right farriers and a great bookkeeper allows me to focus on my riding and my students. The fact that I love what I do makes it all easier.
Linda: You went to Holland four times last year and spent a month in Portugal. Are you thinking about making a change?
Susan: I was working with Danielle Goldstein in Holland, which was rewarding, and I learned a lot about the system over there, but I decided to stay here. They made me a very good offer that tempted me to stay, but I am happy here in Temecula where the weather suits my clothes and I can ride all year. I love California and enjoy working with a few select clients.
Linda: What is a typical day for you? And, how do you avoid burn-out after all these years?
Susan: Ideally I do events two weeks on with two weeks off in between. I just came home from seven weeks at HITS Thermal. I didn’t stay for the eighth week even though they had a million dollar purse in the offing. I know my limits. Monday is always completely off. I am an early bird and start at 7 a.m. and ride about six horses a day. I’m done by noon and have the rest of the day to play or work with my students.
Linda: Are you working with riders who could be Olympic contenders?
Susan: Recently, I spent time with eventer Tamie Smith on her stadium jumping. She already has the dressage and cross-country down pat. She is a talented rider who definitely has Olympic potential. I have two girls right now that are phenomenal, Adrienne Dixon and Veronica Tracy, both in their late 20s.
Linda: Do you compete against your own students?
Susan: Yes, and I love it when they can beat me. It’s a win for me either way.
Linda: Jimmy Williams was famous for unconventional training methods that included handcuffing his students to keep their hands low and steady. He even blindfolded students and sent them sailing over a chute of jumps so they would learn to feel their mounts. Did he use these methods with you, and do you use them in your training?
Susan: Yes he did, and I think they are very useful, but it wasn’t the tricks in his training that were important. He had such good psychology with people and horses that he passed on to anyone who was listening, and I try to pass it on to my students. He engendered confidence and made you feel you could jump the Empire State Building.
But, he told us that your first love should be the horse. Ribbons can become more important than the animals themselves and that is where students lose connection with their mounts.
At Flintridge, we were experimental and lucky enough to have lots of different horses to ride. It was a very special riding opportunity. Jimmy taught us early on that not every rider is for every horse and not every horse is for every rider. Today young riders are lucky if they have one horse to learn their lessons on.
The main message he gave me was this: “Don’t give up. Try to jump whatever is in front of you.”
(At this point Susan’s pale blue eyes sparkled as she broke from her direct manner and became very animated in the telling of the time when she was on course at the World Cup in 1993 and two members of the ring crew were standing in front of a jump. She was going to jump over their heads, but Woodstock would have nothing to do with it! The judges gave her a clear round in the end.)
Linda: What is the toughest course you have done?
Susan: The World Equestrian Games in the Hague, the Netherlands, in 1994.
Linda: Do you have a fitness regime that keeps you in shape for these taxing events?
Susan: I had a private trainer, but then I broke my collar bone. I didn’t like Pilates. I travel lots, so I don’t have time for a regular regime.
Linda: At 63 aren’t you pushing the envelope?
Susan: I grew up with Hap Hansen, Robert Ridland, Rob Gage and others who are still going strong. I don’t even think about how old I am. Riding is one sport where you actually can get better with age. You understand the horse better. You can anticipate problems and avoid them better.
Linda: You ruptured a kidney that damaged your spleen when you were young, have broken your ankle three times, dislocated your shoulder, and broken your nose and collarbone. Aren’t you afraid of the next injury?
Susan: I used to enjoy the challenge of riding anything, but now I am more selective. I try to have horses that suit my style. In the early days Jimmy would fix a horse for me and get them in front of my leg. Now, I know I am better on a little hotter horse that will carry me to the jumps. I am lucky enough to be able to choose horses with good brains and stay off of young, inexperienced horses. Still, my biggest injuries have come from my best horses. (laughs) Stuff happens, regardless.
Linda: Who are you riding now?
Susan: SIG Firecracker is very forward and ahead of my leg and is moving up nicely. He loves the attention he gets at the show and is unhappy when I leave him at home. I won the Brook Ledge Welcome twice with Ziedento at the Thermal, so I was happy with that. I acquired Brisbane, a 9 year old Dutch Warmblood, in October 2015 from Barbara Phillips. John French had been training and riding her. I was pleased with my ride on her at Thermal.
Linda: The riding world has changed a lot over the time you have been in it. Are you comfortable with that?
Susan: You have to change with the times. Most of these changes are for the better. The riding and the courses are more technical and the types of jumps are more challenging. Change can be invigorating. The biggest change I see is the ability to have global tours all over the world. The course standards are higher, and you are competing against top riders for handsome purses. If you are lucky enough to have two good horses to take with one that can stand out in big classes, it is a wonderful opportunity.
Linda: Do you ever think about retirement?
Susan: Not as long as I’m lucky enough to get good horses to ride. I love what I do. It will be a sad day for me when it ends.
Susan has made her own luck over the years with her unshakable spirit. She is absolutely fearless and rides determined to win. She genuinely cares for the horses that have become her partners. She hopes that her students will carry forward the style of riding Jimmy Williams shared with her, but more importantly that they have the confidence that he gave her and the courage to win in a tough game. She proves the point that age is just a number. I hope the character in my novel modeled after her embodies the same qualities. I know we will be seeing her in the ribbons for a long time to come.
Linda Ballou, author of The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon, loves seeing the world from the back of a good horse. Read articles about horse treks, guest ranches she has enjoyed and more about her book at www.LindaBallouAuthor.com.
This is the fourth profile in our new CPHA Spotlight, in which we’ll feature a professional member of the organization each month. The CPHA provides a forum, voice, and many valuable programs and benefits for equine industry professionals throughout the region, including those who live elsewhere but compete and/or work within it regularly. Members can be trainers and anyone else who earns at least half their income from working with horses. CPHA also hosts prestigious medal classes and finals for juniors and amateur members. For more information on the organization’s good works and getting involved, visit www.cpha.org.
Response to a late March Facebook post on California Riding Magazine’s page about Susan’s Hall of Fame induction reflects how the equestrian community views her. Shortly after posting, it drew close to 1,000 likes and 100 comments, from riders all over the country and in various disciplines.