One of the top hunter/jumper equestrian competitions on the planet rides into town. Get ready for the Menlo Charity Horse Show.
Written byJennifer Massoni Pardini
Photographed byAlden Corrigan
As June sunshine filters through trees extra lush from this year’s rain, shadows dance on the gravel path outside the barn facilities at Menlo Circus Club, the upcoming locale of the 49th Annual Menlo Charity Horse Show (MCHS) benefitting Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. While the weeklong show is still two months off, the stalls are already sold out and anticipation is in high gear.
For our annual look at MCHS’s celebration of equestrian elegance, skill, and fundraising, we are touching base with two local trainers—Nicole Norris of Round Meadow Farm and Peter Breakwell of Breakwell Stables LTD—to learn more about the work and dedication underway leading up to the Stephen Silver $40,000 Grand Prix at Grass Jumper Field.
Soon, the sounds of gravel crunching under hoof as Norris and Breakwell emerge from the barn that houses both of their training businesses, riding flea-bitten gray Cooper and chestnut Mondeo, respectively. “The barn,” as it were, is a setting California native Norris has known well since she began riding at the age of 5. “I was the little kid at the barn for a long time,” Norris recalls of time spent accompanying her mom, who competed nationally.
The family also raised horses at home in the San Fernando Valley, where they would lay up and rehabilitate injured racehorses. “I finally got to start riding myself, and I can say that I never looked back,” she shares. “Here we are 45 years later.” When asked about her career as a trainer, it reveals itself as the natural, multi-faceted evolution of this early passion. “Having a business as a professional, you wear a lot of hats,” she explains. “You manage the barn, you teach people, you ride horses, you compete with horses, you train horses, you train people, you help them purchase their animals, you help them find their next horses to lease, so you do a little bit of everything.”
Norris has been donning her many hats at Menlo Circus Club since 1998, and officially opened Round Meadow Farm five years later, shepherding students through different goals and objectives, from the casual home rider for pleasure to those riding at high levels of competition—including some in MCHS this year. While Norris has competed in the Grand Prix and other events, this year she is focused on her students. “I try to work with all of them individually as much as I can,” says Norris, who also gives praise and credit to her two assistants, Currie Geffken and Meghan McDonald. Grooms Demetrio Mendoza, Adolfo Mendoza, Jamie Sanchez, and Juan Mendoza complete her team, lest we forget Round Meadow Farm’s 25 horses in full training! “The day-to-day care of the horses is so important; they’re athletes on their own,” Norris says.
The horses are also, in Norris’s point of view, teachers in their own right with ever so much to impart, especially in a one-on-one relationship. In an effort to get to know them and their unique personalities outside of the sport, Norris invites her students to ponder what the horses are thinking. “We try to tap into that a bit with my training, and I try really hard with my young students to instill the horsemanship of the sport,” she says. “We try to encourage people to be here and get to know their horses and spend time with them and understand what it takes to get them to the ring. There’s a whole group of us here supporting them.”
In looking back on two decades now at Menlo Circus Club, Norris feels fortunate for the role she has played in the lives of so many riders. “Really, I think the thing that has touched me the most is the relationships with the kids, secondary to competition,” she says. “At the end of the day it’s less about how many championships you win and more about the memories we’ve been able to help create.”
Since its inception, Round Meadow Farm has also been a sponsor of MCHS, giving Norris much to reflect on about the annual affaire. She savors something in particular about these seven days: “The early mornings of the show before everybody gets there, when it’s quiet.” She often grabs a “good-luck” coffee and raisinette pastry and watches as committee members make sure each detail is where it should be—“a committee that has continued to make this show be one of the top shows in California year after year,” Norris credits.
Indeed, founder Betsy Glikbarg, co-chairs Wendy Baum, Catherine Harvey, Jenifer McDonald, and Linda Salvador, and Suzanne Rischman in her coordination role, have ensured that MCHS has been a USEF Heritage Competition since 2012 (and the only one in Northern California at that) and is consistently named a Top 10 horse show of the year by the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.
Fellow trainer Peter Breakwell also grew up riding, on his family’s farm in New Zealand—and he competed for New Zealand at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Since the 1980s, the majority of his career has been stateside, previously with his training business at Portola Valley Training Center for 27 years.
A decade ago, Breakwell moved a portion of the business over to Menlo Circus Club, where Breakwell Stables LTD, also a MCHS sponsor, has been exclusively based the last two years. “I’m still riding and competing now,” he says. “That’s what I’ve always done.” Breakwell Stables has also taught students—from young kids on ponies and adults just starting out, to clients taking on jumper, hunter, and equitation events—and credits the help of two assistants, Amanda Hay and Kim Carpenter, as well as grooms Anselmo, Carlos, and Juan.
Some Breakwell Stables students will also compete in MCHS, though with a recently injured horse, Breakwell’s participation in the jumper events he typically shows in is currently up in the air. But his admiration for the show on the big grass field is definitely in top form. “It’s always been a special place to show and compete,” he says, as lines of sprinklers whirl over that grass. Over the two weeks prior to competition, the view will drastically change. “A couple of days before it’s ready to go, it’s completely transformed,” he says of some 400 stalls, three rings, a VIP tent, and more.
Much of the local equestrian community will be there when it is, but Breakwell leaves us with a reminder of year-round access. “It’s a fantastic facility for people to come to and ride,” he says of Menlo Circus Club, where it’s not required to be a member or board a horse in order to ride. “Anybody can come and have a horse here in training with us. A lot of people think right away that it’s not an option for them,” he says of riding lessons or leasing horses. “But it is, it’s open to anybody.”
Come August 6-11, anybody can also attend the show events, peruse vendors’ artful, luxurious goods, and learn more about Vista Center’s important mission—all the while capturing memorable moments of their own from #MENLO2019.
Menlo Charity Horse Show Benefitting Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
August 6-11, 2019
- Tuesday, August 6 | 5:30 pm Exhibitors, Trainers, and Grooms Welcome Dinner on the berm in front of the Horse Show Office
- Wednesday, August 7 | 6:00 pm $2,000 Windy Hill Equestrian in Memory of Larry Mayfield Horse & Hound Jumper Class at Grass Jumper Field
- Thursday, August 8 | 4:30 pm $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Presented by Daryl K. Hoffman, MD, at Grass Hunter Field
- Friday, August 9 | 6:00 pm $10,000 Rhys Vineyards-Ryman Memorial Speed Class at Grass Jumper Field
- Friday, August 9 | 5:30 pm Wild Wild West Gala in the Club House following dinner under the Oak Tree. For information and reservations, please contact [email protected].
- Saturday, August 10 | 6:00 pm $40,000 Stephen Silver Grand Prix at Grass Jumper Field
- Saturday, August 10 | 7:00 pm USHJA World Championship Hunter Rider Southwest Regional Awards Presentation, Dinner, and Dover Fashion Show.
For information and reservations, please contact [email protected].
For tickets and additional event details, visit menlocharityhorseshow.com, and follow along on social media with #MENLO2019.