Rancho Santa Fe’s Debbie Tomin recently won the Adult Three Gaited Show Pleasure World’s Championship with her American Saddlebred horse Mister French. Tomin and Mister French earned the top prize at the World’s Championship Horse Show in Louisville, Ky., a competition that gathers over 2,500 of the best American Saddlebreds and Hackney Ponies in the nation.
Mister French is 6 years old and was born and bred in Rancho Santa Fe on Debbie and Bill Tomin’s Rockridge Farm.
The couple have lived at Rockridge Farm for over 30 years. Bill built the barn himself when they were surrounded by nothing but tomato fields until The Bridges community was built around them.
Bill has been training horses his whole life and for the Tomins, their breed has always been the American Saddlebred — “The horse America made,” the horse that generals rode into battle during the Civil War and the horse with the spirited manner and temperament they personally love.
For the World’s Championship Horse Show, the Tomins flew Mister French to the competition on Air Horse One, a large cargo plane that was converted into a horse transporter, operated by H.E. Sutton Forwarding Company. Regulars on Air Horse One have included California Chrome, one of the highest-winning race horses in history, and Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh.
Another local passenger on the plane was Regal’s Promoter, a Hackney Pony owned by Henry and Tracy Reif of Del Mar — Regal’s Promoter was shown in the Junior Exhibitor Hackney Roadster pony division. The two local horses were two of 15 on the plane that day — the plane can hold a total of 24 horses.
The trip was three and a half hours, which is a much quicker trip than the long and hot 2,400-mile, 40-plus-hour van ride to Kentucky that the Tomins have endured the past 15 years taking various horses to the World’s Championship.
“We wanted the horses to get there fresh and ready to perform,” Debbie said.
Mister French is the son of French Silk Stalkings, a five-time World Champion and the winningest American Saddlebred in history. The Tomins have five of Silk Stalkings’ babies — 6-year-old Mister French was her first born.
“She’s such a grand mare and has produced wonderful babies for us,” Debbie said of her 1-year-old, 2- year-old, 3-year-old and 4-year-old.
Mister French was born right at Rockridge and Debbie tears up when she watches the video of his birth at the farm.
Typically, the Tomins bring horses into the barn at 2 years old to begin training, teach them how to drive and pull a buggy, and get them ready to compete against the best in the world.
“They’re hot babies so it takes a little while. We work with them almost every day,” Bill said.
The Tomins admit it’s a challenge, running a full, 20-stall horse barn but said they are lucky to have a dedicated staff to help train and care for the animals — they also run a busy lesson program.
In the Three Gaited Pleasure Show competition, the horses walk, trot and canter, and are judged on performance, quality, manners and overall presence.
“They’re like carousel houses,” Debbie said of the way the horses march and trot with happiness and pride. “Saddlebreds are considered the peacocks of the show ring because they like to show off, they prance and get tall, their ears perked and their eyes big and bright.”
For a lack of a better term, they strut their stuff.
The event is steeped in tradition and riders wear derby hats and jackets — Debbie always tries to pick colors that complement the horse.
Leading up to the event, Debbie worked as hard as Mister French, riding every day to get her wind up and hiking the local trails.
“Preparing for a competition like this is so much stress,” Debbie said. “There’s so much pressure and hopefulness, lots of good dreams. Everybody wants to win.”
“You have to go in with the instinct of ‘I’m gonna win,’” Bill said.
In competition, the top 24 of 60 horses were in the arena together and there is a lot of positioning that goes on in terms of getting the horse to be seen by the three judges.
“There’s a lot of skill involved, setting the horse up by riding and steering and then letting the horse loose to express themselves,” Bill said. “You have to find your spot but you can’t be pulling on the reins, you have to make the horse look good.”
The competition takes about 20 minutes, walking and cantering, “It should look like a pleasure to run,” Debbie said.
In Kentucky, Debbie said the competition was exciting, Mister French had a lot of energy and performed well. The judges lined the horses up before they announced the winner.
“When I won, my mouth was wide open, I was so shocked,” Debbie said.
She and Mister French then took their solo victory lap while Bill proudly watched from behind the rail where he had been coaching.
“I was crying, it was such an accomplishment. I was just absolutely thrilled beyond words,” Debbie said. “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”
For information on Rockridge Farm and lessons, visit rrfsaddlebreds.com.