The Sunday Spotlight usually focuses on Junior or Amateur riders, but this week, one Professional rider stood out to us and we could not resist sharing his story. Detroit-based Garo Kazan, 72 is originally from Istanbul, Turkey and emigrated to America in 1970. Although Garo has produced plenty of top-performing horses in his lifetime, in the last 10 years he has taken a ten year hiatus from the show ring. However, with plenty of ambition and talent to match, Garo made his debut back in the show ring this week at World Equestrian Center, taking top placings and even earning Champion in the 1.30m jumpers.
WEC: How did you get into riding?
Garo: When I was a little boy I wouldn’t eat very well. My grandmother would always force me to eat. I always had a dream in my mind to ride a horse. There was a stable down the road from us, so she took me down there and said to me, “If you eat your food, I’ll buy you a pony.” So I started eating and that started my love with the horses.
We didn’t have any money and we couldn’t afford to buy a horse. When I turned about ten or twelve years old, I found out there was a club nearby that had a beautiful stable with an indoor arena. Only the elite in the city could afford to be members. I started to help an old horseman there who was the head groom. After a while, I started riding for him and he learned that I had a talent for it. I eventually became an exercise boy for him. We even competed some of the horses. They were wonderful quality horses. That’s how my career started. This was all in Istanbul, Turkey in the 1960s.
WEC: When did you come to America?
Garo: I came to America in 1970. I had a friend call me two years later and say that they had a riding job for me in Virginia. Rodney Jenkins wanted me to come ride for him. I came to America with my family, though, and they did not want me to go, so I didn’t. If I had gone, I would have probably been a top rider. I got married and had three boys. None of them are interested in horses. I went into business, but closed the business down to start doing horses full time. I got a nice little farm with an indoor arena and an outside ring that I’m still at. We have everything we need to produce good horses.
I usually buy five or six year old horses in Europe and bring them along. I’ve been going to Europe for horses since the early eighties. Before that, it was Thoroughbred horses. The industry has changed. Thoroughbreds used to look like today’s Warmbloods. They were big-bodied animals. Now, it has changed. David Hopper was a horse dealer in New York. When everyone was riding Thoroughbreds in the Grands Prix, a lot of them came from David Hopper. I personally sold a lot of horses – about twelve per year. I did really well.
WEC: Tell us about your process.
Garo: The system I have is called “Listen to Your Horse”. I agree the horse has to listen to you if you’re the one jumping the jump, but the horse jumps the jump. Last time I had a clinic in Holland for my system, over one thousand people came. There is a revolution going on. The reason this system works is because the horse always tells you what you’re doing wrong, but sometimes we don’t want to listen. Every horse is not the same. Every animal has a different experience with humans. We’re very kind to our horses. We appreciate what they’re doing for us. I’m so proud to say that I’ve sold a lot of horses and so many of them have ended up in good sanctuaries in the end. They were such nice horses that people take care of them forever.That’s the most important to me. Money is important, but the welfare of the animal should be more important than the money you make.
I have a meeting next time I go to Europe with the coach of the Dutch Team. They have a problem at the Nations Cup because they horse is running out of juice for the second round. They have nice horses. Horses that can jump those jumps are freaks, they’re not normal animals. They have so much energy, but you have to use it correctly.
WEC: What is the best advice you can give up-and-comign professional riders?
Garo: Learn. Learning doesn’t have an end. If you’re not learning, you’re not living. Don’t think you know everything.
WEC: What made you want to get back into the show ring after over ten years away?
Garo: I had a rider, but now it’s just me, so I decided it was time for me to start riding again. I’m seventy two years old. Before I leave this planet, I better do something spectacular. My teacher always said, “If you’re going to drown, don’t go to the pond. Go to the ocean.” If you’re going to do something in life, do it to the absolute highest extent.
Thank you Garo for your wise words and inspiration!
Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.