We recently had the opportunity to visit with Kiki Courtelis. In a wide ranging, no-holds-barred conversation, Kiki candidly discusses her long love for horses & dogs, suggestions for improving the fancy & her unique adoption of technology. The Courtelis family is well-known in horse racing circles with their Town & Country Farms as they were the first to have racing Arabians and now, race thoroughbreds. Kiki’s Rhodesians are well-known and registered under the Mystiko Kennel.
When did you fall in love with horses?
KC: My love of horses began as a small girl when my father, to keep me busy, would take me to a small shopping center in town that had a pony ride. He’d put me on the pony, buckle me in & off we’d go. Once my pony took off and when he was finally subdued, I asked “make him do that again!” I was hooked. My father continued to encourage my interest in horses as I grew older so that I would have an alternative to boys. (Kiki laughs at the memory). I made all the usual progressions, first a pony, then a paint horse; that horse paced. Fortuitously, that horse was taken to a trainer that also had Arabs and soon, my father bought our first Arab, fulfilling a childhood dream of my mother’s.
Your father seems to be critical in your love of horses, can we talk a little about him?
KC: yes, my father is the American dream come true. He is from Alexandria, Egypt but as you can tell from our name, Greek. He came to the United States with $1000 in his pocket, and put himself through college in Miami. He met my mother on a blind date while in college. They married, he became a successful land developer, and then my brother and I came along. Then horses. It was horses, horses, horses for us! But it was my mother’s love for horses that got us involved. My mother ran the farm in Ocala and my father’s office was in Miami, so the farm was naturally named Town & Country.
My father established the first Arabian Jockey Club. At one time, they had all of Dubai Sheikh Mohamed’s horses on their farm in Florida. We had 300 of his mares and 100 of our own horses on 2000 acres. When the Sheikh slowed down racing Arabians, Mom and I decided we wanted a larger playing field. We turned to thoroughbreds.
What is in your barn now?
KC: Thoroughbreds for the past 8-9 years. We are commercial breeders, we have a very select group of broodmares; shares in top stallions and sell the foals. We moved from Florida to Kentucky just for this business.
What started your love of purebred dogs?
KC: It was my brother. When he became sick, he wanted a purebred Ridgeback. I fell in love with the breed, too. Since I was living alone on the farm, I bought two ridgebacks for protection. Then I thought, maybe I should get something that I could show… Was hooked up with Frank Murphy. While at a National Specialty, I fell in love with the Winner’s Dog there, Spirit and campaigned him for two years. His breeder Tammy Lynch moved to Kentucky and we co-bred Ridgebacks. I now have a breeding program for Ridgebacks with Tammy. Cannot imagine not living with Ridgebacks. I also love the feistiness of terriers and live with a Border. I’m a great fan of wire fox terriers, so much type. I love athletic dogs … that don’t drool! (laughs).
Let’s talk about Mystiko Kennel’s & the dog’s in your life:
KC: Everyone has their heart dog, mine was Scout. Scout was the turning point for me with backing dogs. He was graceful, athletic, had a wonderful bond with him. Scout was the foundation of Mystiko. And the backbone of Mystiko is Joyce Wilkinson. I believe in working with people that share my passion and goals and build teams to achieve those goals. And I believe there should be a clear management structure for each dog – like the horses. Each dog has a team built around them with a manager, handler and dedicated marketing. Joyce Wilkinson provides the management & know-how: she has an eye for the dogs like no one I’ve ever known. It’s a love and a passion we share. She’s also become a very good friend and a huge part of the success of the Mystiko Kennel team. The Kennel has been a wonderful experience.
Megabucks! Certainly bonded with him as soon as he got off the plane. He’s a very spiritual dog, he’s “the people’s dog.” He loves kids, beautiful conformation and moves like a dream. I had planned on slowing down since I became CEO of the farm, after our CEO retired. Then, Miguel asked me to just “take a look”. I found Megabucks to be irresistible and that meant no slowing down (chuckles).
Could you compare showing horses with showing dogs?
KC: With horses, there is a finish line. It is very objective. In dogs, it’s opinion. I enjoy having the balance. Horses and racing horses especially are much more evolved than the dog show world. There’s lots more available to us. Nicking programs will tell a breeder exactly what bloodlines to breed to. It’s a performance-based business. It’s a civilized business in all aspects. There are not a lot of secrets in horse racing. Before the Derby, there’s a trainer dinner. Each trainer talks about their horse. When entries come out, you know who will be there. No hunch factor on results, we’re too busy.
What could be improved in the fancy?
KC: I think that Amateur and Amateur Owner classes will do a lot for dogs. It should increase entries, encourage people to buy more purebred dogs and get involved in the sport, and eventually could work into being shows just dedicated to just amateurs. (Reflecting on her own ideas of team management) This worked beautifully in horses, really re-made it into a family sport. Of course, it requires a foundation, a team effort to make it work, with mentors and marketing dedicated to bringing in the Amateurs.
I also think if Reserve Best In Show isn’t going to give points, then it should be eliminated. Our sport is based on points in the group and BIS rings. If there are no points for an award at this level, then what’s the point? And imagine how it would change the game if points were awarded!!!
How about last minute entries? Exhibitors can enter the day of the show, before the show starts for a higher entry fee.
Who are your heroes?
KC: My mother. She was so ahead of her time. She has a college education with a dual major of Home Economics and Chemistry. She ran her own school, the first of its kind: an open space program where each child worked at their own level. She is an accomplished business-woman, philanthropist, a wife and mother.
What are your passions besides dogs & horses?
KC: Travel, everyone should travel! If you travel lots, do more! Get out and see things, get out and see the dogs. Go to Africa. It is a must – you have to see it, smell it, hear it, be a part of it to understand it. If I was thirty years younger, I would move to Capetown. I’ve been twice and I read a daily blog from the lodge where I stayed.
I love technology and have incorporated it fully into my life. My favorite app is a Daily Devotional Jesus Calling and Offerings. I start each day with a Devotional. Am intrigued by the use of social media and use it extensively for my dogs. Megabucks has 128K fans – imagine!
And Kentucky calls me – it’s home. When I’m not traveling, I’m here, with the horses & dogs and my mother.
What would you like the Best In Show Daily community to know most about you?
KC: I’m very blessed to do horses and dogs. I realize that every day that I can do this. The animals keep me grounded. It’s a wonderful life and I’m lucky to live it.
Thank you Kiki, it’s been a pleasure.
For more information on mystiko kennels, follow this link: http://www.mystikokennel.com/who-we-are/