Kim Barzilay on swapping ballet for riding lessons, the VIP treatment and what it takes to produce Olympic contenders
I have been buying and selling horses for over 40 years. I started small at Ridgeside Stables, just five miles from Kimba Farm Stud in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, where I am now. I used to search through the H&H classifieds every week and pop out and buy anything that looked chancy and that I could make a little profit on. I was still competing in those days and would take the new ones to shows.
My non-horsey mum would give me three shillings to go with a neighbour to ballet lessons every week, but we’d go to the local riding school instead. My parents did help me buy my first pony, Sabre, when I was 14, but he was only a foal, so I had a long wait. He became a bit of a local legend and there was nothing we couldn’t win; he gave me the jumping bug.
We built the yard at Ridgeside from scratch, with pallets and corrugated sheets. On a windy night, we wouldn’t know what to expect in the morning – sometimes the roof would need to be nailed back on or the stable walls would get kicked out and we would find two horses in the same box. But I put every penny earned into making things better.
Tinka’s Serenade, who went on to jump at the 2012 Olympics with Billy Twomey, was with us there so it just goes to show you don’t need a posh place to produce champions. I rarely go searching for horses these days – new ones mostly crop up through word of mouth or on sales livery. We breed about four foals a year and we are usually at shows twice a week – we love producing the youngsters.
My saying is “winners never quit and quitters never win”, and I try to instil this in everyone. I work alongside two show grooms and two home grooms, and Emma-Jo Slater, who competes the horses. We have all sorts of horses here and sometimes you can turn one into a superstar. But you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.
Emma-Jo has been on this journey with me for 31 years and one of the best days of my life was when she won the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) grade C championship with Lizziemary in 2014. All the championships she wins with my home-breds feel like great achievements.
I spent 15 years doing a milk round for Express Dairies, and the early mornings meant I had afternoons free to ride and develop my business. But if that had failed, I would have become a property developer – I have done a bit and it’s been enjoyable and profitable. I rarely have a day off, but I do enjoy some VIP treatment as an owner at the big shows. I love taking trips with my friend Jassy Pyke to watch my horses.
We started a couple of years ago when Billy Twomey rode my home-bred Kimba Flamenco to win the CSIO5* Longines grand prix in Falsterbo, Sweden, that was an awesome moment – as was their win in Liverpool on New Year’s Eve. What a great party we had afterwards.
One of the hardest parts of my job is having to sell horses I’d love to keep. But it’s super to see so many horses that we have supplied jumping at shows. If Emma-Jo wanted to jump the big tracks at international shows, then I would keep the top horses for her, but she’s happier producing the novices up the grades and we have a good relationship with Billy, so it works well.
I wish I still owned Lizziemary, who now jumps internationally with Israeli rider Dani G. Waldman. We sold her in 2014 and I should have taken embryos from her – she is a great mare and would be an asset to any stud. Kimba Flamenco was shortlisted for Tokyo with Billy, but if both he and Lizziemary go to the Olympics, that will be three horses we have produced to go on to jump at that level.
I have to pinch myself sometimes when I walk on to my yard; I look around and think: “This really is a dream come true – hard work really has paid off.” I never tire of seeing myself or Emma-Jo in a write-up in H&H, either. I have had an amazing journey and I hope to continue for a few years yet.
Ref Horse & Hound; 14 May 2020