In the Spotlight

Growing up in a show-biz family, Select amateur competitor Cathy Ebsen gravitated to the horse-show world.

By Tara Matsler
The American Quarter Horse Journal
June 10, 2013

Cathy Ebsen and Pass The Mahogandas at the 2012 SmartPak AQHA West Novice Championship, Waltenberry photo

Cathy Ebsen of Simi Valley, California, competes with homebred Pass The Mahogandas at the 2012 SmartPak AQHA West Novice Championship Show in Las Vegas. (Waltenberry photo)

While her life has wound around her career, plus time spent acting and performing, horses are a passion Select amateur competitor Cathy Ebsen has held onto dearly.

“My sisters Bonnie, Kiki and I, all three of us, were just crazy as all get-out about horses,” says the Simi Valley, California, horsewoman. Out of a larger herd of siblings, Cathy says only those two sisters enjoyed horses as much as she did. Yet the Ebsens sported another horse enthusiast in the family, too: their father, renowned actor Buddy Ebsen.
Having spent more than 70 years in the entertainment industry, Buddy is beloved for such roles as Jed Clampett in the CBS television series “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1962-1971) and the title character in the “Barnaby Jones” series (1973-1980). Although he died in 2003 at the age of 95, Cathy says left Buddy left his children with a strong “go get ’em” attitude.

“His philosophy was, ‘I don’t care what you do, as long as you do it well and you’re happy at it.’ ”

Cathy has taken that attitude and run with it. After working for a corporation for more than 15 years, Cathy decided to try a different path in life, so she enrolled in Web design school. Now a Web designer, she sidelines as a nutritional consultant for both humans and animals.

Even with a busy work schedule, Cathy has always made time for breeding, raising and showing American Quarter Horses.

The Ebsen girls started with horses at a young age – Cathy was 11 when she received “Lady Blue Strawberry Roan,” a name she says was an apt description for the uniquely colored little mare.

“We were always horsey,” she adds. “One of the favorite moments for all of us, I believe, was on Christmas Day when Dad, Kiki, Bonnie and I would all go out for a Christmas trail ride. We’d go out and climb the mountains.”

A little farther down the line, Cathy’s mother, Nancy, encouraged Buddy to go on a hunt for show horses for their daughters. Alas, Buddy was steered in a slightly different direction than your typical show horse.

“He bought a racehorse,” Cathy says. “My mom about had a heart attack: ‘You did what?!’ But that racehorse ended up being the best saddle horse we owned.

A running Quarter Horse, Wally Fish was Buddy’s favorite mount and Cathy’s first show horse. By Bob Fish and out of Sahara’s Dogie by Wilson Nunes, the sorrel traced back to Oklahoma Star and Chicaro (TB).

While Nancy feared a horse off the track might be a little too hot for their young girls, in actuality, Wally Fish was nothing but mild-mannered, which explained why he was up for sale.

“He ended up being a Ferdinand,” Cathy explains, referring to the tale of Ferdinand the Bull, who preferred sitting under trees and smelling flowers to clashing horns. “Wally Fish would run like a bat out of hell for an eighth of a mile, then stop and smell the roses. He had that disposition on him. He was really, really a very good horse. He turned out to be a wonderful saddle horse for my dad, and for all of us.”

Kiki showed extensively on the horses Ivanhoe Jody and Super Sunday as a youth and amateur. And it was with her sister Bonnie that Cathy partnered on her first expensive show horse, Poco Sierra, a 1960 chestnut mare by Poco Pat (by Poco Bueno) and out of Sierra Suwanee (by Joe Reed II). Poco Sierra produced Barnaby Chex, the King Fritz son whom Cathy raised, promoted and stood at stud.

“I have a picture I’ll treasure forever,” Cathy says. “It’s a picture of Kiki, Bonnie and I all on Quarter Horses. We’re riding down the trail – we did extensive trail riding with all of our horses. I’m a firm believer in taking show horses out on the trail.

“Bonnie’s on the left, and she’s riding Poco Sierra; I’m in the middle, and I’m riding Super Sunday; and Kiki’s on the right, and she’s riding Ivanhoe Jody. We’re all probably in our teens.”

Times have changed, though. Bonnie majored in psychology and moved to Arizona. Now living in Skull Valley, Bonnie operates a riding program that provides horseback opportunities for special-needs children.   

Kiki has put horse showing on hold to pursue a very successful music career. She also runs Healing Equine Ranch, a nonprofit equine-assisted learning program, on the Ebsens’ family ranch in Agoura, California.

“Our ranch in Agoura is 35 acres, and it’s currently an inholding in Malibu Creek State Park, so we have 4,000 acres to ride in,” Cathy says. “All we have to do is open up our back gate and ride on the property, right on the state park. We can ride all the way to the ocean if we want to.”

So it seems it is Cathy, out of the three Ebsen horse-crazy girls, who has remained the most rooted in the horse-show world.Over the years, Cathy has enjoyed watching her horses compete in reining, working cow horse, cutting and hunter under saddle, plus she has stood at the shank in halter and showmanship events. But it’s pleasure driving that she really enjoys.  
“I. Love. Driving. I absolutely love it,” she says with a laugh. “At first, I didn’t think I would, but I like that it’s a different class. Plus you get to dress up.”
Right now, Cathy is on hiatus from the pleasure driving pen, but she has been competing in the showmanship ring. Cathy ventured to the inaugural SmartPak AQHA West Novice Championship Show last fall with 14-year-old Pass The Mahogandas, a homebred mare by Cathy’s late stallion Chocolate Mahogany and out of Passing Poetry by Barpasser.

“It was an excellent experience,” Cathy says of the very first championship show for Novice-level exhibitors. “I was absolutely amazed at the numbers of exhibitors.

“The Novice Championships give exhibitors the experience of being at a world competition, but on the Novice level,” she adds. “It was an excellent move for the industry (to add the Novice Championships). You don’t have to say anything; the numbers prove itself. I’m sure that this year is going to be even bigger.

“I’m qualified again this year, and we’ll go.”

While attending the SmartPak West Novice Championship is on her itinerary once again, Cathy has many more things she’d like to accomplish before she even thinks of hanging up her spurs.

Cathy loves to breed horses, and she loves competing with her homebeds. Pass The Mahogandas has helped fill both those roles. Sheis the dam of 6-year-old Passing The Sign, a daughter of PS Sign The Card who has made a few trips around the hunter under saddle ring. Cathy and trainer Kimberly Leiter hope to start the bay mare in hunter hack and western riding classes.

But if you’re looking for Cathy at a show, you won’t find her on the rail. She’ll be the one taking her turn at “Princess’ ” showmanship shank.

The American Quarter Horse Journal loves to feature the hard-working AQHA exhibitor, and In the Spotlight is the Journal’s fun new way to do so. Do you know a hard-working AQHA competitor who deserves some time in the limelight? Email AQHA Internet Editor Tara Matsler at tmatsler@aqha.org to submit story ideas, then visit www.aqha.com/inthespotlight to view more In the Spotlight stories.