On a recent trip to Napa Valley, I met a fellow equestrian who also happens to be a pastry chef. I sat down with Chef Christine Shepherd to talk about horses and how she maintains a work life balance.
How did your love affair with horses begin?
CS: My mother put me on the back of a horse when I was six months old and I don’t think I ever got off. That’s how it began, and then I just kept riding. I got my first horse when I was eight years old. My mother, my sister and I all rode horses. My brother didn’t ride.
Growing up in Petaluma, California I was an active participant in the Petaluma Riding and Driving Club. In fact, I’m still a member today. I rode gymkhana and jumped horses. Throughout my youth in Petaluma I became active in the equestrian color guard and joined California State Horsemen’s Association (CSHA.) I was Region Queen from 2004 – 2007.
Like many little girls, I wanted to be a professional horse trainer when I grew up. I learned that training horses was a difficult way to make a living so I became a pastry chef, as well as a sous chef here in St. Helena.
What is your profession now?
CS: I’m a head pastry chef and a sous chef, which means I am the right hand person of the executive chef. Currently, I’m working at Archeytype Napa in St. Helena, California.
How do you maintain a work/life balance with horses and your restaurant profession?
CS: I ride on my days off and I try to ride if I get off work early. For example, yesterday, I got off work at 4:00 p.m. and I’ll ride at night in a lighted arena. It’s difficult. Especially as I get more higher up in the chef line and as I take on more responsibilities, it’s become more difficult.
Have you made a conscious choice to keep horses in your life and how you move forward with your career?
CS: I just figured that I’m never going to stop horseback riding. I’m going to fit it in one way or another. I look at it like going to the gym; you have to make a commitment to fit the horses in to your life.
Do you have an early childhood equestrian memory?
CS: We used to play “Red Rover, Red Rover” and it would freak our parents out. So we’d play Red Rover after drill team and tag each other on our horses. We’d be running full bore at each other, but that’s just what we did. Drill team is a full bore canter. You do patterns and criss crossing like that, so for us, it was nothing. But to our parents it was crazy. We were just kids having fun with our horses.
Tell us about your current horse that you own.
CS: I’ve had my current horse, Jazz, since I was 12 years old. So I have pictures of her all the way through my childhood. We’ve grown up together. I have pictures of her when I was a senior in high school. She’s in my senior photos. I also have my drill team pictures with her.
What type of horse is she?
CS: She’s APCA (American Paint Horse Association.) She’s a rose roan and she’s a rescue horse. She’s a little crazy. I bought her to show her in reining and colors and I did that. We won a few buckles and did some fun things together. I had another horse I rode drill team on. Jazz is not suited for drill team; she likes to kick!
I had two horses that I showed and I swapped out between the two of them. With Jazz, we’d hang out in the field together and while she’d eat grass, I’d be sitting on her for what seemed like 12 hours a day. She’s 27 years old now.
Do you ride English and Western?
CS: I ride both English and Western. I ride Jazz western, but I also have an English saddle. I used to work for a horse trainer. At one point I thought I wanted to be a horse trainer but then I decided that profession didn’t make enough money. I decided to become a chef, but they don’t make much money either (she says with a laugh.)
It sounds like you are following your passion?
CS: Yes. I love both. I’m here doing this passion now, at the restaurant and my horses are never far behind.
How did you get into competitive showing?
CS: I got into reining and cow horses with the trainer and barn that I was with. She showed a lot and we decided to show with her. Gymkhana was a big thing when I was a child. It’s when they do the pole bending and all that. It was a fun type of show. You always got a ribbon.
Do you have any advice for young equestrians?
CS: Always get back on the horse. Whether you fall off, or you are jumping and you loose your balance; always get back on. Also, sometimes you have to be aggressive on horseback. Sometimes you have to give a little force. You might have to cross that threshold with that big of an animal and then you never have to go there again.
Is there any question that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to talk about?
CS: I feel that we are trying to preserve horseback riding in Northern California. I feel that we’ve opened a lot of parks in the last 10 years. I feel like as equestrians we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. We have 25,000 horses in Sonoma County alone. As long as we keep the kids outside and off their laptops, hopefully horseback riding will stay around.