By Linda White
“I’ve had a funny life,” she begins. “I have always loved horses, but when I was a little girl, I had a very specific dream, and it had nothing to do with horses. I wanted to be Grace Slick, and sing “White Rabbit” on the stage at Woodstock.”
Alas, Vicki Humphrey never got to sing with the Jefferson Airplane, but her achievements as a horsewoman have far eclipsed that little disappointment. Over the last 35 years, she and her clients, and daughters Jessica and Lea, have shown Arabians and Half-Arabians to-quite literally-hundreds of national titles. Even without running the numbers, Vicki Humphrey ranks right up there among the breed’s all-time great horsewomen.
“Although as a kid, I had not a clue that there even was such a thing as a ‘horse trainer” she admits. “I guess I thought people just kept them in their back yards. Yet I always felt as if, somehow, I had been involved with them in a past life. The first time I got on a horse, it seemed like I had done this before; that I already knew how to get along with them.” Get along with them, she did-and does. Through the years, people have often noted her intuitive, almost uncanny connection with the horses she trains. Her gifts, courage, tenacity and hard work have brought her top honors. So much has been written about Humphrey that her successes are matters of public record. Her judging credentials are impeccable, too: she has judged the United States, Canadian, Brazilian and Swedish National Championships, and the Scottsdale Arabian Show four times. She was voted English Trainer of the Year in 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011, and was inducted into the APAHA Hall of Fame in 2013.
The Arabian horse community clearly holds her in the highest esteem, but in her own eyes, what are her most significant achievements, both in and out of the show ring? “As a trainer, I take a lot of pride in turning out a horse that has a lifetime career,” she states. “We base our program on conditioning and keeping our horses fresh, happy and healthy. CA Rumors won 40-plus national championships and reserves in a career that went from the age of four, to age 18. Revelation JF wins the roses yearly, and is still going strong at 17, and O A Starstruck, who won her first national championship at six, continued to add national titles until she retired at 19.”
Who were the people she most admired growing up? “I had a long list of heroes, starting with Lassie, when she rescued Mr. Mc Gregor’s colt before he ran off the cliff,” she laughs.
“As I grew, my heroes changed monthly. Later, as an art major, I most admired Dali, Picasso and
Family inspires--Mother Betty above
Rembrandt.” Humphrey graduated from Meredith Manor School of Horsemanship. “When I got into the horse training world, I admired Gene La Croix, and watched every horse he schooled at every opportunity. I adored my father and his entrepreneurial spirit, and my mother’s strength in believing in, and supporting him as he worked on his many inventions and started his many businesses. My mother worked for me for 30 years, always in a supporting role. She passed away with cancer in 2010, but I still hear from people how much they miss her, and what an integral part of their horse showing experience she was. ‘We would come out and ride, but we really came to see Betty,’ they tell me. She is my inspiration.
“Other heroes included Maya Angelou, Helen Keller and Erica Jong, along with Abraham Lincoln, the tennis player Roger Federer, and of course, Grace Slick,” Humphrey adds.
Which of her many accomplishments has given her the greatest satisfaction? “Without a doubt, my biggest achievement is raising two beautiful, bright, determined, successful and happy daughters,” she replies unhesitatingly. “My greatest struggle as a professional was trying to raise children, start a business, and trying to make it all work. My girls didn’t suffer, though. They both loved horses; they got to ride and compete, and to be part of my world. Lea, who is three years older than Jessica, competed as a juvenile and amateur. Luckily, I had bred the horse Lea was so successful with, because I could never have afforded a horse of that caliber. They lived a rich kid’s life on a poor horse trainer’s budget!
Now Lea’s daughter, Elizabeth-‘Lizzie’, we call her-is 18 months old. Today, Jesse is a key member of
our training team, but I think that she sometimes felt like Lea, who was older, got the best horses, and she got the leftovers. Maybe that was true sometimes, but today, I couldn’t get along without Jessica. She has that same, intuitive feel for what a horse needs. Part of her training ability-and mine-is being able to ‘listen’ to what the horse tells you; to do what that horse is most comfortable doing, and not trying to force the horse to fit your agenda.
“The most difficult part of this business,” she continues, “is finding a balance between being a trainer, a mother, a friend…and finding time for you. Training horses is two full-time jobs, so you have to work hard to fit the rest of your life into the cracks!
“We have a great life, great farm, great clients, great staff, and we are raising great horses. But, as they say, life is about the journey, not the destination. So, to continue the journey, we are planning an expansion. We are adding a 100’ x 200’ arena and 50 stalls. The addition to our family of Gabe De Soto, whom Jesse married in November, has allowed us to expand the scope of our training with his many talents. Gabe is the rising star. He has a phenomenal connection with horses. He learned a lot when he was at Stachowski’s, like attention to detail, and taking care of horses’ legs-but his is a natural talent.
“We also are planning an Atlanta Riding Club after-school equestrian program geared toward introducing the public to the Arabian horse world.” Vicki Humphrey Training Center, in Canton, Georgia, is where the Ohio native shares duties with daughter Jessica, new son-in-law Gabe De Soto, and a team of talented assistants. She purchased the 30-acre property in 1989.
Humphrey’s career has included exciting adventures beyond those in the show ring. “I’ve had so
Africa is a favorite--with two trips in 2014
many wonderful adventures that have taken me from Europe to South America, to Australia, and to Africa, many as a result of judging jobs and the wonderful people I met along the way,” she explains. “Africa has become my favorite: I have made 15 trips in the past 13 years, and have enjoyed putting together a few group trips with our side business, VH Horseback Adventures. I am planning two trips to Kenya in 2014.” She pauses, reflecting on a life that many people only dream of.
“I have been very lucky,” she concedes. “I am not a planner, not an organizer; somebody has to organize my closet, buy my plane tickets…but despite that, my life has followed my passion and my dreams. Dad always preached that if you followed what you loved, ultimately, you would find success. I have followed what I loved.”