Sep 30, 2020

Now on Course: Lynn Klisavage, an Inspiration to Area IX Eventers

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Lynn Klisavage. Photo courtesy of the Mile High Horse Ranch website.

Lynn Klisavage got her start teaching riding lessons on Barber’s Point Naval Air Base on O’ahu, Hawaii in the 1960s. When she was in her early 20s, she and her family relocated to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and it was there that Klisavage became the Director of the Air Force Academy Stables.

In the early 1970s, Klisavage was an early participant in the Equestrian Instructor’s Certification Program at the Morven Park Equestrian Institute, studying under Major Lynch. Several years later, she was hired by Lake Erie College in Ohio as an instructor, trainer, and barn manager.

In 1981, Klisavage went to work for Torrance Watkins, learning the ropes of the uppermost levels of the sport. From there, she went to work at Foxcroft School, teaching students and managing a barn of 60 horses. She coached the Varsity riding teams for three years, winning the championships every year. In 1987, Klisavage won the Area II Adult Team and Individual Championship at the Preliminary level.

In the early 1990s, Klisavage returned to Colorado. Vanda Werner had created Mile High Horse Ranch in Parker, Colorado in 1976 as a Trakehner breeding farm and converted the farm to a boarding and training barn in the 1990s. When Werner heard that Klisavage was looking for a farm to teach at, she offered her a job. “I told her to come up and take a look, and if it seems like someplace she might like we could try it out on a month-to-month basis,” recalled Werner. “That was 25 years ago.”

“I love her because she’s very forward and she says what she thinks,” Warner described. “She doesn’t lie to people and I’m very much the same way, which gets me in trouble sometimes! I’ve really come to rely on her.”

In her time as an instructor in Colorado, Klisavage has been named the CCC Trainer of the Year three years in a row and has coached students to top 10 finishes at the USEA American Eventing Championships and Area Championships from the Beginner Novice to the Preliminary level. Over her many years as a trainer and coach she has become a beloved member of Area IX and of the greater eventing community.

In 2008, Klisavage contracted a staph infection – a bacterial infection caused by staphylococcus bacteria that can be commonly found on the skin of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections. But in rare cases, especially those where the bacteria reach the bloodstream, staph infections can be very serious and cause severe joint and muscle pain, among other ailments. Twelve years ago, Klisavage’s infection required four separate operations in five days followed by weeks of antibacterial medication. Her pain was so severe that she spent two weeks in an induced coma.

Three weeks ago, Klisavage was admitted to the hospital fighting a similar infection. While the infection has not yet spread to her bloodstream, she has so far undergone three surgeries to remove infection along the spine.

The Colorado eventing community has rallied behind Klisavage to support her. “She's still riding and training full-time at 72 years old and still an inspiration to so many of us in the West,” said Kristina Lee, a longtime student of Klisavage’s. “I met Lynn several years ago when I was leasing a horse at the barn she works out of and started taking jumping lessons with her. She's one of those people that you wish you would have met years ago because she's just so amazing. My non-horsey significant other has watched many of my lessons with Lynn, and he comments that she sounds just like a professor with her in-depth knowledge and ability to explain things in a variety of ways to reach different types of students.”

“Now that she’s in the hospital, it’s taking about 12 people to replace her,” Warner said. “She’s amazing. She makes sure she sees every horse on the place – we have 55 horses – and she rides and teaches. She’s an incredible teacher. She’s very optimistic with people – even when she sees things going wrong she’ll find something going right to encourage her students to continue to try while correcting things that are going wrong.”

Kit Nickerson met Klisavage almost 20 years ago and has been a student of hers for the last 10. "I went Preliminary under her training - something I never thought I would ever do in my life," Nickerson said. "She always puts the animal first and she knows when to push and when to back off. She always thought we could do it! Even at 70 years old she's still riding - and not the easy ones. She's amazing!"

Jean McNamara is another longtime student of Klisavage’s. “I’ve been at Mile High training with Lynn for 11 years,” she shared. “I knew her before that because she had worked with my daughter. [As a trainer,] she’s always pushing to bring out the best in you. She won’t give you anything you can’t handle, but she makes you put your big girl pants on! There are so many cookie-cutter approaches to training horses, but Lynn treats the horses just like humans – they’ve all got their strengths, their weaknesses, and their personalities – and she always comes up with a unique plan for each horse. She looks at everyone as individuals and tries to find the best way to help them learn what she’s trying to teach them.”

“She is probably the toughest and hardworking woman I have ever met in my life,” McNamara said. “She works seven days a week and cares more about the horses and the people than you can imagine. She’s a very dedicated lady, and a fighter. I don’t think the average person could get through what she’s gotten through. And she has a heart of gold.”

Klisavage is making progress, but she is on a long road to recovery. Klisavage’s friends have established a GoFundMe page to help assist with medical bills and other expenses. You can also keep up with Klisavage’s progress on her CaringBridge page.

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