Flying horses

Trainer Melinda Matulich jumps an obstacle at the Leak’s horse

GILROY — There is a place in Gilroy where the horses are just a
little different than most. While any horse can be a sign of beauty
and grace as they gallop along an open field, it’s even more
amazing to see them fly. And that’s what they do at Sovereign Farms
off of Roop Road.
GILROY — There is a place in Gilroy where the horses are just a little different than most. While any horse can be a sign of beauty and grace as they gallop along an open field, it’s even more amazing to see them fly. And that’s what they do at Sovereign Farms off of Roop Road.

The property, owned by Gordon Leak and his wife, Karen, of Cupertino, is a place where gravity takes a back seat to the amazing strength and control of a group of horses that can power their 1,200-pound bodies up and over fences set up on a course built specifically for horses that can leap.

The Leak family owns 15 horses they keep on the property, but 22 other horses owned by other riders rent out the land to care and train their own horses.

And for the Leaks, who both grew up in England with horses of their own, it’s a dream come true.

“I rode as a kid. That’s how we met,” Leak said of his wife. “We had neighboring farms. I grew up riding for 20 years.”

However, family life and work pulled Leak away from the farms of England and into the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. But thanks to selling his electronics company at just the right time, he finds himself semi-retired a young age, and he’s able to ride again.

“There are a lot of people that are jealous,” Leak said. “I’ve very fortunate. There’s a lot of hard work put into that but a lot is luck.”

Leak is talking about the electronics company that tested semiconducter chips he owned in the Silicon Valley that he sold just before the technology bust. Now just 46-years-old, Leak has been able to use his good fortune to go back to riding, something he wasn’t able to do when he first left England.

Walking through the stalls on the property with Leak gives you the impression that he doesn’t take any of this for granted. Stopping at each stall along the way, he could tell the story behind every one of his horses, from his jumping horses to his hunting horses, which ones are his and which ones his son likes to ride.

“Unique is my jumper,” Leak said. “They’re very nice animals. They’re normally prey animals.”

The first horses were no taller than 4 feet from the ground to the top of their shoulders, but they were bred to be larger. Also, because their instincts tell them to run, they have to be trained to jump over fences as they’d rather run around obstacles, Leak said.

“You don’t want to ride too much,” he said. “Jumping is stressful.”

For each jumping horse, the Leaks keep a strict regiment. The horses undergo an hour of grooming each day, including special care for their feet, which need to be re-shoed every six weeks. They also are looked at by a chiropractor once a month to make sure they don’t develop any back problems from the stress of jumping.

“It’s like any athletes,” Leak said about taking care of his horses. “They are athletes, too.”

Speedy, a holsteiner, is an example of the pure athleticism in the horses. An import from Germany, Speedy can jump over five-foot-high fences, but won’t be for a little while because he has a hurt leg.

“This guy is one of the best jumpers we have,” Leak said. “He’s injured. He’s not very happy.”

Leak said that each horse has its own personality.

“Definitely, each one has a personality,” “It’s not quite the same as a dog, but they’re great animals.”

And a horse that isn’t jumping is a horse that won’t sell.

Buying and selling is a big part of the business of owning horses, and the Leaks are no exception to the rule. They bring six to eight horses to horse shows they attend all over northern and central California and have won $800 to $1,000 in a show, but it rarely means making money.

“We often win, but we don’t often make as much money as you pay to enter,” Leak said.

But while their horses may bring in a little prize money in jumping competitions, the big money is in selling the horses they take to the shows.

“You’d like to move a horse in six months,” Leak said.

And the amount a horse sells for can range from $2,000 to $150,000 or more for a high-end jumper.

“We sold one last year for just over $200,000,” Leak said. “It depends on what the horse’s potential is.”

The equestrian horses are basically placed into two different categories: hunting and jumping.

Jumpers are judged in competitions only on their ability to jump obstacles. On the other hand, hunting is a more natural-looking event where the horse is judged not only on jumping obstacles but also on how they look.

“It’s become a very stylized competition,” Leak said. “Some of the top hunters in northern California are here.”

Trainer Melinda Matulich, from Aromas works with the Leaks’ horses and trains them on riding.

Matulich rides in the professional class of riding and trains for both hunter and jumper events.

Thailene Gavin also trains onsite for Western Pleasure riding

The Leaks participate in different classes of riding themselves when they go to shows. They just returned from shows in Pebble Beach and Menlo Park, but there also are smaller-sized shows in and around Gilroy.

“There’s quite a few shows in Gilroy and this area,” Leak said.

And as Leak got dressed in riding gear, put on his helmet and mounted one of his horses, he again mentioned how fortunate he is to spend much of his time with his horses in the hills outside Gilroy.

“It was a luck more than knowledge,” he said. “If you wish for anything, wish for luck.”