BY SISSY WICKES
Michelle Kerivan is a woman with a plan.
The California native sets specific goals for herself, and then checks them off of her to-do list as she accomplishes them. Most recently, she has been knocking at the door of her most recent goal: winning a Grand Prix. On her Irish Thoroughbred cross, Colin, she has finished in second place in three Grand Prix competitions within the last year. An amateur with two children, Kerivan marvels at the skills of the professionals she rides against. “I am always amazed when I just make the jump off. And then, they are so fast and so experienced. It’s hard for me to be the fastest, but I am going to do it!
Kerivan began riding at the age of nine when her grandmother bought her a horse. Describing herself as a troubled child, Kerivan struggled emotionally from her parents’ divorce. In horses, she found respite from family strife. “Horses saved my life. They gave me something to care about.” Initially, she only rode barebackand without any instruction. But, from the outset, jumping was in her blood. No coach, no lessons, no experience, no matter; “I would jump anything.”
Within a few years, Kerivan moved her horse to the Huntington Beach Equestrian Center where, ironically, she rides today. In 1981, the Center had a rule that every rider must have an instructor. Required to choose a trainer, she began riding with Mike Nielsen. Soon, she was smitten by the horse show bug. With all of her self-taught jumping skills and bareback balance, she quickly moved into the children’s hunter division. Her relationship with Nielsen produced much success on the show circuit. Soon, she had five to six junior hunters and jumpers. Yet, emotional turmoil followed her into her teenage years. “I got into a lot of trouble. But, luckily, my family continued to support me with the horses. They never took anything away.”
Kerivan continued to excel in the sport. At age 20, she began to train with Jamie Mann at the Orange County Fairgrounds. There, she acquired Wizard, a Grand Prix horse successfully campaigned by Hap Hansen. “I learned a lot from Jamie. But, at that point in my life, I had one foot in and one foot out. So, I quit. I just was not super passionate about it anymore, which is sad.”
Twenty two years old, Kerivan hit the road and went on tour with a friend’s band. For the next five years, she concentrated on photography and painting. ‘I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had to step away and figure myself out a little bit. Photography helped me a lot.”
At the age of 27, Kerivan married and soon had a son, Joey, 18, and a daughter, Zabel, 15. During her time away from horses, Kerivan never forgot about them. She drew them, and dreamed about them.