RANCHO SANTA FE — Tracey Kestler said it was her grandfather Herbert Korholz, who got her interested in horses.
“He said everyone should learn to ride just like they should learn how to swim,” she said. “He said the reason was you never know when you will fall into someone’s pool or be invited on a fox hunt and you wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself,” Kestler said with a chuckle.
Kestler, now in her early 40s, still treasures the memories of Sunday trail rides with her grandfather who had “grand ideas about how life should be.”
She took her grandfather’s advice, but went far beyond mere fox hunting skills.
Over the years she has earned national titles with her riding and even helped train Grindstone, the 1995 Kentucky Derby winner.
And believe it or not, a couple of years ago, she was invited to a fox hunt.
These days she continues to train racehorses and teaches riding skills to locals.
Kestler is home grown.
“I have been extremely fortunate to have grown up in Rancho Santa Fe and it so happens, I started riding with Hap Hansen, such a wonderful man and an amazing trainer, one of the best in the world,” she said. “I started with him when I was 6 years old. He has an amazing gift with horses and the horses love him and perform for him.”
She said one of Hansen’s best qualities as a teacher is making students feel they can do anything and that they are already successful.
“That is what I try to impart to my students,” she said.
“When I was young I thought when I grew up, all I ever wanted to do is be a horse trainer,” she said.
As a teenager, she and her mare placed first in the country in the Junior Hunter Division in 1986 and 1988. She was also the Grand Hunter Champion at the Washington D.C. International Horse Show in 1988 and was also a Reserve Champion at the National Horse Show that was held at the time in Madison Square Gardens.
“I traveled to horse shows every weekend. I went to Rancho School and Torrey Pines. I would take off Thursday and go to the show and compete. I was always a good student too because my parents said I had to keep my grades up if I wanted to ride,” she said.
At age 17 her parents sold her horse because it had become so valuable.
“I couldn’t imagine going into a show ring without her,” she said. “I went to college in Boston for a couple of years. It was the only time in my life that I didn’t ride,” she said.
When she came home from Boston, she ran into a woman she knew at the post office who asked her what she was doing. She told the woman she had been away for college, but that she was doing nothing at the moment.
The woman told her of an opportunity to train racehorses near Santa Barbara.
She went to work with renowned horse trainer D. Wayne Lukas and the experience changed her life.
“It was fun and was a really good training experience working with young horses,” she said.
She said she that when Grindstone as a baby she had the chance to ride her.
She has continued on with the profession of training racehorses at Del Mar, Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.
“If I knew what it was going to be like, I would have never done it,” she said with a note of irony. “I’m not a morning person and this is a seven day a week job starting at 4:30 a.m. There are no benefits, no stock options or paid vacations, you don’t make much money and it’s really dangerous.”
But, she said, she would not trade her life for anyone else’s.
“I am excited to go to work. I am the luckiest person in the world,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I exercise racehorses in the morning. I absolutely love it. It is the most wonderful job in the world.”
In addition to teaching the art of show jumping to others, she admits she is getting the itch to begin competing again.
She is hoping to get more students and loves working with people at all different skill levels.
To learn more call her at (858) 353-4539.