2016 Equus Honorees
Katie Moore knew nothing about horses, until a friend invited her to ride in a parade. She remembers it like it was yesterday. “When you are invited to ride a borrowed pony in a parade, you do it.” Even though she’d never ridden before, it felt as natural to her as walking.
She had discovered her life’s mission: horses. She graduated college, went to work, married, bought a horse setup in Santa Rosa, and now has four children, Drew, Demi, Shelby, and Ethan. Demi and Shelby have their mom’s horse-crazy DNA, and the family has been involved in Pony Club for 12 years. Katie is the founder of Santa Rosa’s Pony Club.
In 2007 a young veterinarian, Grant Miller, called Katie. He was working with Animal Services on a horse abuse case. She didn’t know him but he’d heard of Katie through the community, because she had rehabbed and re-homed the occasional sad-story horse. He said, “I need somebody that can cope with the likelihood this will have a sad outcome. Can you do it?”
She said no… two days later she said yes, and Sonoma County’s horses have been all the better for her decision.
Katie says her work with animals, and with CHANGE (Coins Helping Abandoned and Neglected Equines), is the direct result of a wonderful, can-do upbringing. Her CHANGE work began with Grant Miller’s first phone call, the year the organization was formed. CHANGE supports local law enforcement in managing equine abuse, neglect and abandonment, provides transport to veterinary care, foster care, rehabilitation, training and adoption services. She served on its board of directors from 2008 to 2013, then became executive director until she stepped away this month, but she continues to be heavily involved its work and provides CHANGE’s field services to Animal Services.
During the Valley fire disaster she worked 18 hours per day, for almost two weeks,
trucking-in supplies, setting up and managing a free supply depot for emergency responders and residents, and transporting injured animals to hospitals and foster homes in Sonoma County and beyond.
About her Equus recognition, Katie says, “It would be fine with me if nobody ever knew what I did. My greatest rewards are seeing a formerly abused horse blossom, rehabilitated and placed into a loving home, and knowing that people who commit crimes against animals in Sonoma County will be held accountable.”
“All I ever wanted to do was ride.”
Kelley’s mother recalls that even as a child Kelley wanted things to go right. For someone so young, she says, “Kelley showed leadership tendencies pretty early.”
They lived near a park that had two kinds of pony rides — ponies tied to a merry-go-round, and ponies led by an attendant, walking free. Kelley always rode the free walkers. She got a mare when she was five. With the unwavering support for her interests, her mother and father bought another horse, and another, moving to Sonoma in 1972, where they started a Morgan breeding farm.
Kelley became involved in 4H, a highly capable nine-year-old immersed in developing riding skills. She quickly moved into a Junior Leader program, ‘teaching’ other 4H-ers, and began a lifelong study of veterinarian science.
At 13 she was given Celebrity, a 3-year-old Morgan, and after watching vaulting at an advanced young riders camp, fell in love with it and taught Celebrity how to be a vaulting horse.
By the time she was 18, she began her own vaulting program, continued to develop it on weekends during her UC Davis pre-med years, and those weekends quickly became the nonprofit Tamborine Vaulters. Vaulting combines gymnastics and dance on horseback… on purpose. But in addition to teaching vaulting, Kelley, “provides something the kids couldn’t have on their own.” Her kids gather around the table to study with each other because they WANT to.
She ‘teaches’ vaulting, helps with homework, and has taken teams as far as France. She gives her kids a foundation of confidence, skills, an appreciation for helping others, and experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
She has her own long list of equine accomplishments — American Vaulting Association National 2-phase gold women's champion, and taken individuals and teams from beginning levels on up through international rankings. She has a master’s in education, is an FEI steward, Certified Instructor in English and Western, and Region 2 American Vaulting Association president (which also named her Mentor of the Year)… and she’s been teaching science at Casa Grande high school for 30 years.
Her program provides young people with practical, educational, and social attributes. She doesn’t just teach them how to launch themselves onto a moving horse — she gives them a trajectory into a future where they understand that they can accomplish anything.
Bill Neilson turns 80 this August. You wouldn’t know that by looking at him, or by trying to keep up with him — even with that slight hitch in his git’along — and we’d also have to be twice his age to have even half the life he’s had.
Raised with strong family values, hard work and horses, he lives today the way he was raised. He became a winning roper on CalPoly’s rodeo team in the mid-50s, and first experienced the special bond shared through the fellowship of horsemen.
With Riley Freeman, roping partner from college who would be a lifetime friend, he worked the northwest professional rodeo circuit. Bill says, simply, that during those years, “we owned that circuit.” Poke him a little and he’ll admit that along with championships, his rodeo memories include busted knee here, busted hip there…
He moved back down to the Bay Area, went into business and in 1966 became a member of the Sonoma County Trail Blazers. It was an organization that suited him well, where he met fine horsemen, including an admirable gentleman named Henry Trione. He cherished his rides with this classy outfit and participated in many of their legendary, um, ‘activities’… which all seemed to center around someone being dragged kickin’ and screamin’ into a body of muddy water. Guess they’re not called cow -‘boys’ for nothin’…
Bill insists that despite those slightly rambunctious outings, it’s an organization full of good guys, including a Bay Area TV personality who sought out Bill one day and said, “I want to improve my trail riding, and I’ve heard you’re the one I should see about that.”
Bill opened Santa Rosa’s Neilson West Western Store in 1976, closed it not quite a decade later, then took time to ride horses, hug his kids, and get into real estate, where he made the best deal of his life: he married Santa Rosa-born and raised Dorris.
Now amidst Bennett Valley’s rolling hills, life is all about family and friends. There are weekly roping lessons shared in Bill’s barn with a select group of horseman, the same barn where he receives coaching from a higher power on Sundays in his personal Cowboy Church, in addition to his Cowboy Church service in Santa Rosa.
He’ll tell you he’s known legends, but won’t say what we will, that he’s a legend himself.
What he does say, is, “I’m a very, very blessed man.”
Pete and Benita Matiolli
Pete and Benita Matiolli came together from places far apart culturally and geographically.
Pete is the son Italian immigrants who moved from Pennsylvania and its coal mines to San Francisco. Benita had an idyllic, Utah farm life, working the hay wagon and riding horses until she became a world-traveling stewardess, living in New York until a chance meeting years later on a Waikiki beach turned into love with Pete, by then owner of one of the City’s most high-profile clubs on Broadway.
Benita eventually moved to San Francisco and joined Pete on his small Novato ranch. Pete was doing well, exploring different investment opportunities, including horse breeding, and Pete purchased CalBar from Arnold Dolcini. At seven, CalBar was already a champion working cow horse, and over the next few years garnered many more awards, including Reserve World Champion Stock Horse and Reserve World Champion All Around Horse.
Cal Bar moved into cutting and won the 1974 Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association Novice Cutting Horse title, and the Champion Open Cutting Horse title. An article in The Quarter Horse Journal called CalBar, "Joe Montana, Magic Johnson and Mozart all rolled in to one.”
Pete and Benita bought 21 acres in Santa Rosa in 1974 and began a new breeding ranch, the Double Bar M. They bred, trained and sold hundreds of horses over the next decade. Cal Bar’s offspring won title after title.
By 1988 the Double Bar M offered training and lessons, and along the way Pete, Michael Murphy, and Ed Weber formed something called the Sonoma County Horse Council.
As the 1990s rolled around, they brought in English, cutting, and barrel trainers, and the ranch rode into the 21st century as one of the largest, multi-discipline boarding and training facilities in Northern California. While the Double Bar M name would always be special, the time was right to better describe what those 21 acres had become: the Hunter Lane Equestrian Center.
Benita, Pete, and Rafe, hired in 1980 and still their main ranch hand today, only need to look in any direction to see their legacy, 21-acres of history, memories they can touch; a champion’s lineage, sired in Santa Rosa and stretching across the country; and countless kids who rode there and now share Double Bar M memories with their own kids.
Darn impressive, for an Italian kid from Pennsylvania and a cute farm girl from Utah.
Raised in Mountain View by a great mom and dad, Ron Malone’s happiest moments as an adolescent occurred on his grandfather’s Missouri farm.
His grandfather changed Ron’s life when he said, “Ron,I just bought you a horse named Pete.” Everyday, Ron rode Pete into town and back, then sold him to a local man one day, noting that, “it would be fifty years before I made a profit on another horse.”
He went to law school, to Harvard for an advanced law degree, spent the early seventies with the Department of Justice in Washington D.C., and came back to the Bay Area and joined a prestigious Bay Area law firm.
In 1979 he was doing well, but something was…lacking. “I bought myself something nice: a roping horse named Tank.” Back in the saddle, he learned reigning, then he bought a reigning horse and a working cow horse, Ballina.
Ballina won the Snaffle Bit Futurity, and made the finals for the next six years with trainer Greg Ward. When Greg told him “Ballina wants to be a cutter,” Ron said, “Okay, git off, I’m mountin’ up.” They were ranked nationally in the top ten for years.
In 1990 he purchased 33 acres in Petaluma — the Circle Oak ranch — for his growing herd of cutting horses, opened his own law practice, and won at love, too, marrying Sara in 1996.
An injury his horse and lack of local rehabilitation options spurred Ron and Sara to envision, then create, “a leading edge diagnostics, treatment and professional rehab of sport horses.” First came Circle Oak Equine, then Circle Oak Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2015, with a surgical suite, 50 stalls, vet staff, and certified techs. Ron says, “it’s world class, but, it’s the people here who are the key to its success.” It’s all topped off by Sarah’s amazing showpiece gardens.
In 2014 Ron won the National Cutting Horse Association Superstakes Amateur Title, and in June 2014 won the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association’s Unlimited Amateur Derby, riding his 4 year old gelding, Ruby’s CD.
He is a long-time Horse Council member, served as president, and oversaw the creation of an equine-related, county economic impact report. He served on the boards for Giant Steps and the Petaluma Peoples Services committee, and is the director and president of the Mabie Family Foundation, which has awarded millions of dollars in grants to charities including Sonoma County’s CHANGE, Giant Steps, and the Horse Council.
Even with all he’s accomplished, describing Ron Malone is fairly easy — he’s one heck of a man and one heck of a champion cowboy.