By Sophie St. Clair
Susan Kroshinsky Artes has been living a life shaped by horses since the age of 7. She’s a professional rider, trainer and owner of Susan Artes Stables located in the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank, California. From the beginning — in her challenging first lesson — she was bucked off, which knocked the wind out of her. But she was undeterred by this experience. Speaking with Susie Artes, it strikes one that the same determination is still very present today.
Growing up in California, her early years were spent riding horses all day, every day on the trails at Via Verde Equestrian Center in Covina. It was there, at the age of 9, that Susie began riding with trainer Dorothy Miller. She describes Dorothy as a George Morris devotee. It was Dorothy’s strict interpretation of George’s training system that formed the foundation of Susie’s riding. She credits George as her most influential trainer because she was brought up in his system of discipline. Further, she participated in George Morris clinics twice a year.
She said she was very shy then and once even got in trouble with George because she was too shy to answer his question. Susie traveled east two or three times, borrowing horses to participate in the big medal finals at Madison Square Garden, Harrisburg and Washington. But she says one of her most memorable experiences with George Morris was the year that everyone went to Washington but she stayed behind. Susie stayed at George’s farm to ride the horses that stayed home. She vividly remembers the feeling of being there riding on the grass. For a young rider, it was a bit of a dream.
Susie is quick to give credit to a host of generous trainers and riders that have helped her as she transitioned from young rider to professional. “I drove my own horse and trailer, unloaded everything, did my own grooming and I’d just sort of ask someone to help train me. And, they did.” She’s very grateful to have had the support of such amazing trainers like Joe Lifto, Scott King, Marcia Williams, Francie Steinwedell Carvin, Dick Carvin, Susie Schroer, Rob Gage and Cyndi Grossman Merrit.
Today, she gives high praise to her partner, British Grand Prix rider and trainer Max Dolger, as having the most influence over her riding in recent years.
“Max has taught me how to set better exercises to improve a horse’s jump or the shape of their jump. When a horse starts to get a little uncareful, we prefer to work on the shape of their jump — making them land better, making them canter away from the jump better. Those are things that I didn’t really focus on before. I concentrated on my own riding and I did well. But I think the winning in the last couple of years has come from his influence.”
As a native Californian and lifelong participant in the West Coast horse show circuit, she’s in a position to give real insight to how it has evolved. Susie points to the work Richard Spooner initiated with the West Coast Active Riders (WCAR) as one of the most beneficial movements in recent years. WCAR was, in part, established to give experience to West Coast riders on an international level.
In 2006, Susie was able to qualify for the WCAR team of riders that was sent to compete in France and Holland and then on to compete in the Nations Cup in Gijon, Spain. The team was comprised of Susie and other West Coast professionals Joie Gatlin, Francie Steinwedell Carvin and Jenni Martin McAllister.
“It was really fun,” Susie said. “I wasn’t very good because I was so nervous, but I still got a ribbon because I was on the team and I think we finished fourth! It was a really great experience. It was so much fun to have that team camaraderie and to be a part of a quality horse show like it was in Gijon Spain.”
Her international experience extends to Spruce Meadows as well. She competed there at the age of 18 in 1983, again in 2006 and recently in 2012 and 2013 on Zamiro, her 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood. Susie feels that getting international experience for the West Coast riders has been tremendous for the sport. She cites the international success of Will Simpson and Rich Fellers at the Olympics and World Cup Finals as examples of how international exposure can develop the talent base here.
Susie cautions, though, that California still needs more in the way of 1.50 and 1.60 classes. “I think it’s very challenging to build an internationally competitive horse and rider when we don’t have enough 1.60 classes,” she said. “If you really want to do that, you have to travel farther and that’s expensive. And, you won’t always be good the first time you do those classes. It takes time to get good at it. So I’m concerned right now about the West Coast. When horse shows lower the Grand Prix height to encourage entries, it’s really good for the show and for younger riders and horses. But it doesn’t count for national ranking points and it’s not as good for the horses and riders to always jump lower without the challenge. I understand from a horse show management’s perspective that there aren’t that many horses and riders that can do that, but they will never be able to do it unless it’s offered.”
Two things that get Susie excited right now are winning on her horse Zamiro, which she’s been doing a lot of recently, and the thrill of bringing up young horses. In April, she won the $25,000 S & S Bank Card Systems Flintridge Grand Prix. The next week she placed second in the $25,000 Land Rover Pasadena Grand Prix of Flintridge and the next week she placed 3rd in the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar — very consistent performances.
To add to her talented mounts, which include the very competitive gray mare Karina 445, Susie is bringing up a few young horses. Working on a budget, she and Max travel to out of the way farms in Europe to find promising young horses. “Finding them for a lot less money before the big dealers find them is not that easy to do but Max has a really good eye,” she said. “So, we go to places that are in the middle of nowhere. It’s fun and the risk isn’t so high when you don’t spend so much money. We’re super excited about some of our 5- and 6-year-olds. It’s something I’m really excited by because it’s fun to be on a young horse. The first time they get lead changes and counter canters, it’s like ‘I can’t believe it — he did it!’”
For young juniors coming up looking to make this a profession, Susie encourages them to be patient. She also feels it’s important to actively gather the knowledge required to be successful. “Becoming a rider means becoming a horseman and all the veterinarian care that comes with it,” she said. “Consider going on call with a vet and learn how to do everything. You need to know how to wrap legs. You need to know what to do when something is bleeding. Not just basic veterinary skills but really start to learn the whole thing. Be able to tell when a horse is limping. Is it the front leg or the back leg? All of these things can make you a better rider. You can then understand why a horse had a jump down because it was stiffer on the left hind than the right hind. Get an idea of proper shoeing; how and why a horse is wearing pads; when to use which studs on grass, etc. Those are things that are usually left to the trainers and grooms and the riders aren’t really a part of that.”
Speaking to Susie, it’s clear that she’s a passionate horsewoman who enjoys the work of the profession. Just as she advises juniors, it would seem that as a professional, she continues to seek the knowledge she requires to be successful. Clearly from the progression of wins and high placings, she’s reaping the rewards of her labor. But what’s more than obvious to anyone that speaks to her is that she’s a leader. More importantly, she leads by example.
About the writer: Sophie St. Clair is a high school freshman from Southern California. She has an interest in the psychology of high performance athletes. She is also a Junior Ambassador for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she works to raise funds and awareness for the hospital. Sophie is working toward becoming a professional show jumper but is taking it “one jump at a time.”