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November 13, 2009

Free Rein With: Akiko Yamazaki

Photo by Sheryl Ross.

Akiko Yamazaki may own Ravel, who is currently the top dressage horse in the United States and ranked fifth in the world with rider Steffen Peters, but she has also been making her own fame in the dressage ring with her two horses, Lautenspieler and Kranak.

Born and raised in Costa Rica, Yamazaki began riding at age 6 and competed in show jumping and eventing throughout high school. She continued to ride occasionally when she moved to the United States to attend Stanford University (Calif.), where she graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.  “When I picked up riding again about 12 years ago, my husband said, ‘No jumping,’ ” Yamazaki said with a laugh. “So dressage it was!”

A busy mother of two girls, Yamazaki splits her time between raising children, working with horses and supporting her husband Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo! Inc., whom she met while they were both studying in Japan in 1992.

In addition, Yamazaki serves on the board of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the national advisory board for the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, and is heavily involved, along with her husband, at Stanford University. The University dedicated the new environmental research building, the “Y2E2” (Yamazaki And Yang, Energy And Environment) in honor of their contributions to the school. Yamazaki said she felt it was one of the best investments she and her husband could make for the next generation. 

Name:  Akiko Yamazaki                                                       
Home Base
:  Woodside, Calif.                                                       
Age
:  41

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being able to compete in the Grand Prix this year.

What is your biggest self-indulgence?
Carving out two to three hours every day to ride or take care of my horses.

Who is your real life hero?
My husband, Jerry, who is not afraid to dream big and to go for it! And he is very honest.

What is your drink of choice?
An old red burgundy. Yum.

What is your favorite Ravel moment?
Seeing him in his big stall eating peacefully with his big fluffy mane draping on both sides of his neck.

What is your favorite movement to ride?
An airy, supple half-pass at the trot.

Least favorite?
The stalling piaffe. So painful.

What was the hardest lesson you’ve ever had?
Having an unsound Grand Prix horse for 11⁄2 years and figuring out how to make him sound. That was a long lesson. Thanks to Shannon [Peters], Steffen’s wife and my coach, he is sound and competing!

What was your most embarrassing moment at a horseshow?
This spring at a High Performance show in San Diego my small tour horse, Legend, didn’t want to go in the arena despite the groom trying to lead him multiple times. Shannon, who was the rider ahead of me, came to the rescue and tried to lead him nose to tail. Axel Steiner was announcing over the radio commentary, “Oh, there he comes. Oh, no he didn’t.” We did somehow miraculously make it in the ring. One of the judges wrote in the comments, “Good work ethic!” I guess they really do judge only what they see in the ring!

Which one item from your wardrobe best personifies you?
I would like to say that it’s my chic and sophisticated Monique Lhuillier dress, but the reality is that I’m always in jeans and T-shirts because I get smeared with yogurt from little hands or horse saliva as soon as I’m up and running.

Favorite non-horsey hobbies?
Buying cute clothes for my little girls.

What is your greatest fear?
That my girls will grow up without a passion in life.

Where will you be in 10 years?
At my barn, riding, hopefully with my two girls as well.

What is your greatest regret?
Not going through the High Performance competitions with my small tour horse, Legend, when he was a little bit younger and at his peak.

What characteristic do you value most in a human, and in a horse?
Honesty.

What word or phrase do you most often overuse?
Time to go! (I have two little kids!)

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the world today?
Lack of inspiration and hope.

What was the last book you read?
With two little children, I’m lucky to get to the newspaper within a day of its printing. But I did start Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl (still on page 30).

Which talent would you most like to have?
To get up early in the morning. It’s not my forte. I could do so much more if I was ready to go at 5 a.m.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
My husband, my little girls and my Corgi, Maggie, and all of my horses.

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