Throwback Thursday: The Bushkin Sisters Were Like Movie Stars In The 1970s

May 18, 2017 - 10:54 AM

Three young girls and parents who loved horses and could provide the means to compete at the highest level of horse shows is the story of the Bushkin family’s Cristimar Farm in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Maria (from left), Tippy, and Chrissy with trophies. Photo by Fallaw

World-renowned jazz pianist Joe Bushkin and his wife Fran had three young girls they were raising in a garden apartment in New York City in the mid-1960s, but in a bid for a different environment for the children, the family moved to Hawaii and then to California.

The family settled in Santa Barbara in 1966 and the girls started taking riding lessons from Cece Thorsen. Maria was 8, Tippy was 5, and Chrissy was 4 when they started. They had ridden in Hawaii at Parker Ranch but that was in western saddles. Thorsen gave them the beginnings of their hunter and jumper careers when she took them to local shows around Santa Barbara. They also bought their first horse, Mr. Dandy, who all three girls shared.

Tippy Bushkin on Davey Tough. Photo by Fallaw

One day, as Fran drove her young girls through Hope Ranch (an unincorporated suburb of Santa Barbara) and past Foley Farm, she said, “One day we are going to live there and we are going to have a horse farm.” A year later, in 1971, the family bought the 24½-acre horse farm. The farm had 30 stalls, a long tree-lined drive, paddocks, and a riding ring. For the first year, J.J. Smith was the private trainer for the newly named Cristimar Farm (combining the names of the three daughters that rode).

Cristimar Farm.

Russell Stewart, who was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame in 2003, started as Cristimar’s trainer in 1972. It was then that Fran (who did all of the buying) bought the girls some nice horses for the girls to show. Maria had Bright Angel (formerly Farnley Rosemont). Tippy had Davey Tough (named for a famous drummer friend of Mr. Bushkin). Chrissy had Eloise. Those three horses started the girls on the path to winning at the major shows.

Tippy Bushkin on On The Spot. Photo by Fallaw

A year later, the family bought more (and better) horses for the girls. For Maria, her top horses were Axius, Quiet Please, and Natty Bumpo. Tippy showed Raggedy Ann and Follow Me and later Axius in the junior jumpers. Chrissy had You Watch in the small juniors and Joe Hill in the large juniors. (Read more about Chrissy and Joe Hill in another Throwback Thursday.) Maria started showing and winning with Davey Tough in the junior jumpers.

Nice horses were also bought for Stewart to show in the hunters and jumpers. The star of that group was Grey Chief, who was AHSA Open Jumper Horse Of The Year in 1973.


One of Chrissy Bushkin and Joe Hill’s many championships in California in 1974. Russell Stewart (left) holds Joey along with Chrissy’s parents Joe and Fran. Photo by Fallaw

During Stewart’s tenure, horses owned by Cristimar Farm won 14 out of 17 Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association year-end high score awards. But Stewart left the Bushkins to start his own business at the end of the 1974 show season.

For the next few years, Cristimar had several top trainers under its employ. Gary Ryman, Tommy Lowe, Thom Hardy, and Rusty Stewart Jr., each took a turn at the farm.

Maria Bushkin on Axius in Lake Placid (N.Y.) in 1975. Photo by Bob Foster

Tom Wright, noted trainer, recalls his time as a teenager helping the Bushkins at Cristimar Farm. ”Fran Bushkin gave me a wonderful opportunity to ride their horses when the girls were on break, but more importantly her validation and support of me gave me the confidence to go East and strive for goals I would have thought unattainable. The entire Bushkin family were always top drawer and they will forever remain that way to me.

I was a hired rider as a junior that kept the horses in regular work. I fortunately lived a half a mile from Cristimar Farm in Hope Ranch. I rode the horses starting when I was 16 and then when I was 18 she gave me two of the retired horses to start my business. Fran quietly kept them for me for two years; when I moved to Cincinnati and was ready to start Uphill Farm, she sent me Cold Ruler and Damien. They launched my solo career in Ohio.

“The three girls Maria, Tippy and Chrissy were all amazing riders individually, each with a different style, yet all equally successful. Their parents, Fran and Joe Bushkin, created an incredible stable for their children that was successful no matter who trained them. For a boy growing up in California, the girls were movie stars in a sea of magical riders. I was fortunate to see the best junior riders on the West Coast, from Francie Steinwedell to Gigi Gaston to Erica Petal to Hillary Kuhne to Laura Davies and the Bushkins…they went head to head every week and then went East to battle it out at Devon and indoors.”

The Bushkin sisters (from left)—Raggedy Ann & Tippy, Bright Angel & Maria, You Watch & Chrissy—on the cover of Horses magazine.

In 1973, for her birthday, Maria received Quiet Please, who had been AHSA Horse Of The Year for two years with Rodney Jenkins riding while owned by Dr. and Mrs. Harry Hemphill. Maria had swooned over Quiet Please ever since she first saw him the year before but he was not for sale. When Maria and her mother were settled on a plane to fly to Atlanta (supposedly to try horses), Fran said, “Happy birthday! Your birthday present is Quiet Please.”

Instead of trying other horses in Atlanta, Maria and her mother met Rodney Jenkins so that Maria could show Quiet Please. She had never ridden her new horse before the show. With Rodney’s tutelage and prep, Maria on Quiet Please won every class and were grand champions their first time out.

Maria Bushkin on Quiet Please in 1975. Photo by Fallaw

Maria says that Quiet Please was “the love of my life. He would follow me around like a dog. He was the greatest horse I ever had.”

There came a time at the beginning of the 1978 show season where the Bushkin girls had won about all there was to win on the West Coast so they wanted the challenge of the East Coast shows with the bigger rings and showing on grass, in addition to new competition.

When the Bushkin girls all moved East to show, instead of going with Hunterdon (George Morris, Frank Madden, and Bill Cooney) as Tippy and Chrissy did, Maria moved to Orange, Va., to ride under the guidance of Jenkins. At the age of 15, Maria lived by herself in a cottage on the Jenkins’ Hilltop Stable. Maria would call on her next-door neighbors Matt Collins and Charlie Weaver when she needed comforting during a storm but other than that, she lived as an adult.

Maria said, “It was a very hard transition for me to go from the small rings on the West Coast to the big fields on the East Coast, particularly on the jumpers.”

In 1978, Quiet Please reared in a van and hit his head so severely that he had to be sent to New Bolton Center (Pa.) for treatment. After surgery, the big chestnut gelding broke a leg while coming out of anesthesia. He had to be euthanized. The loss of Quiet Please from such an untimely death, broke Maria’s heart and she quit riding.

While Maria and Quiet Please went to show with Jenkins, Tippy and Chrissy had different needs and wanted to train with Hunterdon’s trainers Morris, Cooney, and Madden so they shipped their horses and moved themselves to New Jersey. Tippy had Raggedy Ann for the small juniors and Follow Me for the large juniors. Chrissy had You Watch in the small juniors and Joe Hill in the large juniors.

Tippy Bushkin on Follow Me.

Tippy and Chrissy thrived under the strict requirements and routine of Hunterdon. They had many successes showing out East.

Tippy did her fair share of winning in the junior hunters with Raggedy Ann and Follow Me as well as placing in the top 15 of the ASPCA Maclay Finals three years in a row.

Joe Hill, with Chrissy riding, continued his winning ways including being champion junior hunter at the National Horse Show for the second time when Chrissy was 16 (the first time had been when Chrissy was 12). They were champion (at least once) at all of the major shows in the Northeast, including the indoor shows.

Although each girl liked to place over her sisters at shows, Tippy said that they “had the attitude that we were a team so when one won, we all won.”

When Maria, Tippy, and Chrissy were at home in California, they liked to ride down through Hope Ranch to the Pacific Ocean to swim their horses. Tippy said that her Follow Me was the best horse at the beach in the water. Long after Joe Hill’s show career was over, whenever Chrissy would return to the farm, she would swim him. Both the horses and the girls loved their time at the beach.

Tippy on Raggedy Ann, Chrissy on Joe Hill, and Maria on Bright Angel at the beach on Hope Ranch where Cristimar was located. Photo by Fallaw

Times and lives have changed but considering all the time that the girls took out of their schooling to ride eight hours a day and pursue their junior riding careers, they have each become very successful professionals in varied careers.

Maria is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. She still lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and two children. Five years ago, Maria’s friend from her showing days, Kristin Hardin, convinced her that she should show in an under saddle class at one of the Santa Barbara shows.

All of Maria’s riding clothes and boots still fit from 1978 so she was dressed the part and rode as she did in the old days. She won the class! Although she doesn’t ride or show any more, Maria keeps in touch with her horse show friends and attends the occasional horse show to visit.

Tippy has worked in the film industry for many years after graduating from the highly regarded New York University Film School. She worked as an assistant trainer at Beacon Hill for a year and a half before making music videos. At 21, she worked for Mark Goodson as a production assistant on Family Feud.

She later ran the documentary department for George Lucas and most notably filmed all of the behind-the-scene footage for “Star Wars III—Revenge Of The Sith” for a 2005 documentary called “Within A Minute,” which she directed.

Tippy has returned to riding and showing on her Dutch Warmblood mare, Familiar. She lives at Hope Ranch, not far from the old Cristimar Farm (which was sold in the ‘80s and now only houses two wild burros).

Tippy Bushkin on Familiar in 2016. Photo by ESI Photography

The baby of the family, Chrissy, received her master’s degree in Social Work from Columbia University (N.Y.) and then founded The Bone Marrow Foundation, which “offers financial assistance and free support services to bone marrow/stem cell transplant patients and their families.” The foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and has helped over 100,000 patients and their families to date. Chrissy lives with her husband and four sons in New York City.

Each of the sisters attributes the discipline that they garnered from their years riding and showing horses to the successes that they have today. They also had a very strong role model in their mother, Fran.

The story of Cristimar Farm and the Bushkin girls cannot be told without giving Fran Bushkin her due. Each girl speaks of her mother with love and respect. She was a force to be reckoned with and had a great love for horses. Fran had an incredible eye for a nice horse so she saw that her daughters were well-mounted and had all that they needed to be successful at the A shows.

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