By Tyler Bui
Julia Salisbury has always been passionate about horses. But it wasn’t until a chance encounter that she discovered the hunter jumper world five years ago and immersed herself in it. Today, she competes as an amateur and owns a ranch full of horses and other rescue animals. Through hard work, curiosity, and determination, Julia found her way through the stages of life to her true place of happiness—looking through the ears of her beloved horses.
Julia grew up in Hermosa Beach, CA, and was brave as could be. Getting on her first horse at age three, she began her riding career participating in gymkhana events such as pole bending and barrel racing. In addition to riding, she enjoyed other daredevil activities like motorcycle racing.
Throughout middle school, high school, and her young adult life, Julia took any opportunity she could find to be in the saddle. Spending her free time as an exercise rider, she found herself on a wide range of horses— from English to Western, she was just happy being involved with horses in any way she could.
During her mid 20s to early 30s, Julia found herself in the Arabian world.
“I heard that somebody had horses down the road—it turns out they owned Arabs. If I would have known there was a hunter jumper-barn down the street, then I would have gotten involved in this world a lot sooner,” says Julia.
She had her three children during this time and the whole family fell in love with horses together. Her daughter Christina still shares that bond with her mother as a rider herself.
In the early 2000s, Julia temporarily shifted her life away from horses—she moved, wrote a cookbook, became a hairdresser, and began buying and flipping homes, all while raising her kids. Her cookbook led her to be featured as a celebrity chef at the Super Bowl, and she also had the opportunity to travel to different countries for book signings. She was single, eager to achieve, and trying to figure out her true passion.
She met her current husband, Doug Salisbury, in 2006, and they have now been married for eight years. “My husband supports me one hundred percent. He’s always there for me, whatever I need. Today, he’s even my groom at the horse show,” says Julia. “He’s an amazing man. We traveled all over the world together, it was wonderful. I’d ride in different countries—anytime I would see a horse I would get on and ride.”
Julia knew she wanted to get back into riding, but didn’t know where to start. After struggling for months with pain and injuries related to her feet, she underwent major foot surgery where both her ankles and feet were completely reconstructed. At the time, things seemed quite bleak— but a chance encounter at her physical therapist’s office led her to a hunter jumper barn.
It was Julia’s first true interaction with the hunter jumper world, and she quickly became involved in all aspects of it. Not too long after she began taking lessons, she went to her first horse show in Del Mar, CA. When her trainer asked her if she knew how to jump, the fearless amateur told her trainer “yes”—when, in fact, she did not. At the show, Julia recalls her trainer shouting colors to direct her from jump to jump, and she ended up winning the class.
After this horse show experience, Julia says she officially caught “the horse bug.” She began taking lessons, and soon after was determined to own her own horse—and impulsively did so without the guidance of her trainer. This horse, a Holsteiner named Landego, was as sweet as could be but very green. Despite a few falls, she didn’t give up. Even after a second foot surgery, Julia found herself back in the saddle with a plastic bag wrapped around her cast. She recalls being so determined that she wasn’t scared.
“I kept going with the dream that I had in my head. At every turn, either getting major foot surgery or a couple of concussions, all the trainers said I needed to quit or sell my horse, but I didn’t. I didn’t quit. I just worked harder,” says Julia.
Today, Julia owns her own fleet of horses and trains with John Bragg. With his guidance, she slowly but steadily found her footing in the show world. She kept practicing on her horses Landego and Guns n Roses (a.k.a Starboy, a former Grand Prix horse turned amateur mount for her). Despite hitting speed bumps— falls, concussions, and sprained body parts, she persevered through because she loved the sport and her horses so fiercely.
“Bragg and his staff are truly wonderful. They welcomed me with open arms and really took the time to teach me about the industry and create a plan to help me achieve my goals,” says Julia.
In 2021, Julia was Overall Circuit Reserve Champion in the 2’6″ Adult Equitation at Thermal, second in a USHJA Affiliate Hunter 2’6″ class at the Las Vegas National Horse Show, and was third in the 2’9″ Low Adult Amateur Hunters PCHA Year End Awards.
“I make my mistakes, but Starboy rescues me. Letting a horse take care of you is absolutely amazing,” she says.
As Julia recently turned 60, her family wanted her to quit riding because of her numerous injuries. “You fall, but when you love something so much— your horses, the people, the passion, the excitement of going in the arena—it’s all worth it,” says Julia.
And now, Julia is able to share her passion for horses with not only her daughter but also her grandchildren, whom she loves to watch at horse shows as well.
In addition to her show horses, Julia bought a 40-acre ranch during the pandemic. While she knew nothing about owning a ranch, she knew that she needed an escape where she would be at peace with her animals, family, and friends. Julia and her family have rescued a number of animals that now reside on their ranch, including orphaned calves, miniature ponies, neglected Arabians, and off-track Thoroughbreds.
“We have ranch horses, goats, pigs, dairy cows, black angus cows, Texas longhorn cows, two Great Pyrenees and 15 chickens. It’s the most peaceful place to go to. It’s been hard— a lot of sweat, a lot of tears, just like riding—but it’s worth it,” she says.
Looking ahead, Julia does not see herself stepping away from the sport anytime soon. Her love for horses makes every struggle worth it, and she wants to continue to share her animals with her friends and family for years to come.
“My message for anyone paving their own way in the horse world is to never give up,” says Julia. “No matter how many setbacks you encounter, if you persevere and keep your head up high, nothing and no one can stop you. Being with your horses makes every moment worth it.”
*This story was originally published in the February 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!