The Eppers Family: Three Generations of Success
The Eppers family of Grayslake, Illinois has lived and breathed horses for over three generations. Dianne, and her daughter, Valerie Kearns, and, her 11 year-old granddaughter, Nya, are all Congress Champions, and it is apparent that riding talent and a strong work ethic has been passed down through the years.
“I enjoyed my childhood in the horses, and, then, to have been able to also have a career in the industry, I feel fortunate,” says, Dianne, who is a past Congress Queen and 2010 AQHA Professional Horsewoman of the year. “I am proud that my daughter has chosen the horse industry and I am proud of her personal accomplishments.”
Dianne continues, “As far as my granddaughter, Nya, goes, she seems to have a good work ethic and a balance between playing and working. She is extremely focused when she is prepping for competition and thoroughly enjoys playing with her friends. She seems to have a lot of confidence which I think is developed from showing horses.”
Eppers, who is currently the Executive Director of NSBA, says that one of her proudest accomplishments as an exhibitor and trainer involve being one of the few women in the 60s and 70s that began training horses professionally.
“I would say that to have been a part of the women’s movement in the industry makes me proud,” Dianne says. “As a trainer, you always need the confidence that comes from success to make you feel like you are headed in the right direction. Showing as a youth is one thing, but to compete in the futurities is another. My proudest moments are the ones where I was a part of the training of the horse and the rider, and success happens.” (Dianne pictured left)
Dianne’s daughter, Valerie, has successfully followed in her mother and father’s footsteps and has become a successful trainer of Congress and World Champions. Her father, Ken Eppers, has had multiple World Champion titles ranging from western pleasure to reining. Her father now specializes in reining horses and lives in Krum, Texas. Valerie began showing when she was just three years-old. Her impressive youth career includes a Reserve World Championship, multiple Congress Champions as well as several High Point titles including winning the AQHA All-Around High Point title. A title her mother won, which made them the first mother-daughter to secure this title.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Valerie told GoHorseShow. “I think my mom knew I would always end up doing the horses, because, even when I was in youth, I was showing some of her clients horses in the open. I went away to college to see what my life would be like without being around the horses everyday, and I felt very lost,” she recalls. “I love the horses, and I really enjoy being able to teach people how to find that connection between horse and rider that can be so incredible.”
Valerie adds, “I am extremely fortunate to have such talented parents. My mother is one of the best business people I know and continues to impact the industry, and my father is the greatest horseman I have ever seen. So, I have been blessed with the best of both worlds.” (Valerie pictured right Age 3)
Just like her mother, Nya, started showing when she was three years-old. In 2011, she earned her first Congress Championship in Small Fry Horsemanship. However, this 11 year-old topped this success with an even more amazing Congress this year. Nya and her horses, Zippos Tabitha and Red Hot Blazing Iron, received four Congress Championships. At 10 years-old, Nya was also one of the youngest competitors to place at the AQHYA Youth World in the hunter under saddle and equitation.
“Everyday she makes me want to be a better person,” Valerie says, referring to her daughter. “As far as when Nya’s showing, she is always surprising me. The first time she showed in the walk trot at the Congress–she came out and was so proud of her horse for moving her rib cage over when she passed the other horses. All I could think about was what seven year-old talks about the rib cage? That’s when I knew she was going to be amazing. Nya asked me if I was going to cry every time she won–I told her I would and I did and I’m sure I always will.”
Proud Grandmother Eppers, adds, “I love watching Valerie work with Nya. My position on the team is cheerleader, and I try to do that the best. Sometimes, I feel like I am in an old movie or going through an out of body experience when I watch Valerie with Nya. It brings back great memories of Valerie growing up and showing,” Dianne remembers. “It was too funny watching Nya show at the Congress this year and show in the showmanship in Cooper arena. I remember exactly what Valerie was wearing when she showed in the 11 &U Showmanship at the Congress 25 year ago.”
Not surprisingly, Nya wants to do something with horses when she grows up. She also says she loves showing horses. “It’s fun and I get to be with my friends and horses at the same time. I would like to go for the All-Around at the Congress, and, in the nation like my Nona and mom. I would like to thank everyone that has helped me–my mom and dad, Nona and Pepi, Tiffany Tarantello, Wayne and Judy Davis, Linda Hicks, Jenny Wellhouse, Alex Sifuentez and Jenny Burton.” (Nya pictured left Age 3)
Kearns says that she and her mother have made jokes since Nya started showing at three years-old that one day she would have a trailer with her name on it and they would just go down the road. Eppers agrees, “If her parents would have given me extended grandparenting rights, Nya and I would have gone down the road when she was about six,” Dianne says laughing. “But her parents said we couldn’t stay on the road all the time, so we settled back in to the real world of going to school and me going to work. It is still on my bucket list of things to do!”
There is no doubt that there will be three generations of a grandmother, mother, and daughter going down the road achieving more goals and wins in the arena.
Photos @ Jeff Kirkbride and Harold Campton