Horse Play: Nick Russell rides, trains and dreams big.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Looking Good: Diane and Nick Russell cozy up to Big Bill.
Tall and stately on his horse, Nick Russell could pass for well beyond his 15 years. But get him talking, and the trademark verbiage of teenagers gives him away: He ends our first conversation with a "later" that makes my own "goodbye" seem quaint.
But don''t get me wrong. Russell is no ordinary teenager. He''s a regular Superman. Russell attends Pacific Grove High School and is very involved with the music department, playing the trumpet, tuba and guitar. (Of course, he only told me about the guitar. It was his parents that leaked about the other instruments, his mother Diane commenting that her teenage son is "trying to keep up his image.") He also likes playing baseball, soccer and skateboarding and hanging out with friends.
Think that''s a lot? That''s just the Clark Kent side. Superman emerges when you factor into that schedule his love of horseback riding, which literally soaks up every spare minute.
"On a typical day I get up at 7," he says, "and first period starts at 7:20." School ends at 2:40pm, and a mere half an hour later he''s out at the barn at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. Many horse owners don''t have the time to exercise their horses every day, so Russell rides the horses for them, which amounts to anywhere from two to seven animals a day. Then there''s clean-up, and he''s home by 8pm, just in time to squeeze in dinner and a couple hours of homework before crashing for the night.
Russell has been riding for six years, but has yet to get used to the routine. "The schedule''s hard," he tells me. "It''s definitely not natural." And he isn''t the only one who has to adjust to the time and energy this maintenance and competition takes. "My teachers aren''t that cool. They''re pretty strict about attendance," he says. Regular attendance at school conflicts with horse shows that often run Wednesdays through the weekend.
Russell hopes to attend college and get a degree in equine management or some other equine-related degree, and ride professionally. "Then I want to get a job in Europe, an apprenticeship or something like that. Then I could bring what I learn back here."
From the looks of things, he may do just that. He''s got plenty of support on the home front, with both his parents encouraging him in each endeavor he undertakes.
Diane introduced her son to horseback riding when he was just four and a half years old, taking him on traditional pony rides. When he was seven, they took lessons together. He dropped his riding for a few years, but then took it up again with a vengeance. He has been working with the same trainer, Tracy Cotchett, for four years now. Watching Russell ride his horse out in the ring, his pace smooth and even, his father remarks, "Without Tracy, he would not be the rider he is."
William is a Shire-Thoroughbred cross, which gives the horse incredible strength for jumping, Russell tells me. It also means William is huge. Upon first seeing him, I am taken aback at how incredibly big this animal is, yet how calm and obedient. At nine years old, William is still young. Russell purchased him 18 months ago at Tracy''s suggestion. At the time, William was "green," meaning he wasn''t trained. Russell worked with Tracy, and together they taught William a variety of commands.
Diane suggests to her son that he show me some of those moves, like having the horse back up while he steers, and having him walk sideways, with his hooves crossing over one another. Russell rolls his eyes and gives an embarrassed smile, but shows me anyway. It seems as if the boy is just sitting there while William goes through his paces on his own, but his parents inform me that the rider is moving his heels, hands and legs slightly and William is responding to each movement.
Walking a horse backwards and sideways is all well and good, but what happens when you get to more extreme handling, like jumping in competition?
"It''s less dangerous than skiing," Diane says, pointing out that riders are required to wear a helmet at all times, and no one is allowed to practice jumps without a trainer with them.
Russell smiles and tells me his next endeavor will be bull riding, provoking a strong, motherly "No!" from Diane. "Maybe baby bulls," Diane concedes, but it''s clear there will be much more mother-son discussion if he tries to ride anything more dangerous than 1,400-pound William.
Nick Russell will be grooming horses in the Pebble Beach Equestrian Classics, July 22 through Aug. 3 at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, Stevenson Drive off 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach. 624-2756.