Gone Too Soon - Russ Vento, Jr.
Russ Vento, Jr.
(1960 - 2009)
by Beth Ellen Hunziker
For many of us in the Arabian horse industry, Sunday, October 11th, 2009 started out like most Sunday mornings; nice warm shower, cup of coffee, throw on some barn clothes and go check the horses - maybe not in that order - but something like it. Probably the last thing we were thinking that morning was that it would be our last; certainly not our dear friend, Russ Vento of Battaglia Farms, life partner of Bob Battaglia, and beloved father of Skyler Vento. No doubt Russ had his "to do" list, if not in written form, then surely a mental list of everything he had to do that day...
The past week had been a hectic one as Arabian horse men and women prepared for the trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma and the 2009 US National Championships. Russ and Bob, and assistant trainer Jeff Lovejoy have a phenomenal show string for both open and amateur divisions and Sunday was being spent working on packing up for the show. According to friends, Russ and Bob had taken a break and had gone to the popular local café, The Painted Horse, for lunch. As always Russ was perfectly groomed and stylishly dressed, cheerful and charming as he could be. When they parted there were friendly hugs, a kiss on the cheek, and the promise of, "See you at Nationals!" Several hours later that same friend received a devastating telephone call telling them that Russ had passed away...
Can there be a stronger reminder for all of us than this; to be mindful of what we are doing - using our God-given talents; why we are doing it - selfish or unselfish motivations; how we are doing it - with integrity and excellence; and are we contributing to the quality of our life and the lives of others? Russ Vento will be deeply missed by hundreds, if not thousands, of people because he was such a great example of these important points...
Russell Vento, Jr. grew up in the small, picturesque town of Evergreen, Colorado located about 15 miles southwest of Denver, Co. Russ's father, Russell, Sr. had passed away at an early age, which left Russ's mother, Shirley, alone to raise their son. Russ loved animals from an early age, and no doubt he found the joy of companionship with the Arabian horses and Saluki show dogs that his family raised. Russ showed their Arabians on the local level and was well known for his exceptional equestrian talents. Russ continued to show horses through high school and according to friends who grew up with Russ and competed with him, he was always the one to beat. It was apparent even then, that Russ had a natural, God-given talent - the question was - what to do with it?
Russ and his mother had developed a friendship with Burt and Sheri Melton through their mutual appreciation of straight Egyptian Arabians. Shortly after high school, Russ went to work for the Meltons at their farm, Rinconada Arabians located in Algadones, New Mexico. The Meltons stood one of the legends of the Arabian breed, the stallion Nabiel. It was there at Rinconada that Russ was able to use his talents and develop his horsemanship skills. Russ trained horses for clients and for the Meltons and showed those horses at the Egyptian Event as well as at other Arabian shows. Russ also handled the breeding at the farm. Nabiel had a huge book of mares and the Meltons had some of the finest straight Egyptian Arabian mares in the world. However, the Meltons were more than just employers to Russ. After his mother passed away, the Meltons became surrogate parents to Russ and they had a very deep bond that lasted throughout Russ's life.
While at Rinconada, Russ met and married his wife Belinda. Together they had a beautiful daughter, Skyler. Russ's love and devotion to Skyler was unquestionable - she was the sun, the moon, and the stars to him. They shared a deep personal bond, as well as a true love for the horses and for competing. Russ was extremely proud of Skyler and all of her many accomplishments, academic and equestrian, but most of all Russ was proud to have Skyler as his daughter. Russ had a dazzling smile, but it was never more bright than when he spoke about his daughter. Although Russ and Belinda went their separate ways, his love for Skyler never wavered. Russ was a devoted father and took an active role in parenting - he truly cherished spending time together. For Russ, being a father was one of his greatest joys.
In 1989 Russ Vento joined Bob Battaglia at Battaglia Farms. It was the beginning of a lifelong partnership, both personally and professionally. From the very start, this team was amazing - within a very short time they dominated nearly every English performance division for open and amateur, purebred and half-Arabians. Without a doubt, both Russ and Bob were strong individuals, but their combined strengths created an unbeatable team.
Although Russ was always a bundle of energy and nerves when it came to showing, he truly loved the competition. But I believe, and I think others who knew Russ would agree, that there was more to competing for Russ than just winning a ribbon or another blanket of roses. Don't get me wrong, we all know Russ loved those roses, but it was the camaraderie and being with the people he considered his extended family that Russ loved most.
Russ was extremely generous in sharing his experience and expertise in all matters of show ring competition. He was like a mother hen with her chicks when it came to the youth riders at Battaglia Farms - or maybe it was more like a sorority housemother. He made sure his riders looked their absolute best, that they were properly attired, and that they were mentally prepared to make their best presentation possible. And everyone in the Arabian industry knows that nobody, and I mean nobody, could prepare a ladies hair bun better than Russ Vento. There was often a waiting line outside the dressing room at Battaglia Farms when Russ was assisting his girls with their hair.
But Russ's assistance didn't end there; he was with their amateur riders every step of their class. He was always on the rail coaching and encouraging them through every turn and transition, checking and correcting leads whenever needed. Other riders benefited from Russ's generous nature and unselfish attitude too when he would remind them to check their leads or offer advice as they passed him on the rail - and remember that these were riders that his amateurs were competing with. Russ looked at the big picture, he believed deeply in contributing to the Arabian horse industry and that every positive effort, regardless of how small it seemed, was worthwhile. His motivation was completely unselfish - he did it because it was the right thing to do and he did to help others to be the best they could be. Russ always strived for excellence, for himself and for others.
Russ brought that same dedication to excellence to his role as the manager of Battaglia Farms. If you have ever been to their facility, you will agree that it is one of the most highly professional businesses in our industry. Russ had an amazing eye for detail; nothing was overlooked. He worked to create an environment that was both tasteful and functional. The esthetic of the farm reflects Russ and Bob's classic personal style and their deep appreciation for beauty. Whenever I visited the farm, there was always a feeling of calmness and quiet confidence, which I believe was achieved by the neat and orderly way that Russ managed things.
Everyone could count on Russ and Bob for continuity - the same order and organization that enabled the operation to run so smoothly at home were extended outside the farm too. Whether they were at a Regional show, Scottsdale, or Nationals, their stalls were always beautifully decorated, everything was in its place, the horses were prepared to perfection, and they were shown with style and a determination to win - the Battaglia riders are always in it to win it. The results were trophies, ribbons, and roses - lots of them!
In addition to the show ring successes, there were other parts of their business that Russ excelled at too. As the breeding manager, Russ handled all aspects of caring for the world-class stallions and mares that called Battaglia Farms home.
His role as farm manager also allowed him to showcase his creativity in the promotion, sales and marketing for the farm. Russ always was at the top of his game in this arena. Russ once told me that he really enjoyed creating the advertising for the farm - it was a fun way for him to express himself. Another great way Russ found to express himself and help others was through writing his monthly column about his experiences in the Arabian horse industry and competing as an amateur rider.
Russ may have been an amateur, but he was a highly accomplished rider. He had shown, owned, or bred more than 35 US and Canadian National or Reserve National Champions including Ames Queen, Emirate, Lah Lah, Monrovia X, Patina Afire, Rising Star LOA, and many others. In addition, Russ was a Large R judge for the Arabian Horse Association. Russ's show ring success and his many contributions to the Arabian horse industry earned him the honor of being named the APAHA Amateur Horseman of the Year twice. Russ was proud that he, Bob, and Skyler have all won APAHA awards for their excellence and contributions to the industry.
Russ and Bob were a great team, and not just in terms of their professional success. They were so in sync that they often even walked in tandem. Their silhouettes were recognizable even from afar - athletic build, movie star good looks, signature shades, and brilliant smiles. Russ and Bob's success came from their shared values, which included the importance of family, friends, hard work, and a positive attitude. I believe they also shared a gift. Whenever I was in their presence, I felt unconditional acceptance, and that gave way to a comfort and confidence - a feeling like everything and anything was possible. Russ and Bob always made me feel very special. The funny thing is though, how many other people say the same thing - Bob and Russ were able to make everyone feel special. This was one of the many gifts they shared.
Whenever I would comment to Russ on the marvelous success that he and Bob had achieved, he would laugh that little laugh of his and say, "I guess we're just lucky." That comment didn't reflect all of the hard work and effort he and Bob put forth to gain the achievements, but it did express Russ's feeling that he was truly lucky to have Bob as his partner, and how blessed he felt for the life they lived together. "I am living my dream - it doesn't get any better than this," Russ would say, and I knew he meant all of it; Bob and his relationship, his beautiful and talent daughter Skylar, their beloved Great Danes, Misty and Jasmine; the farm, the horses, and of course their circle of friends whom they considered their extended family. Russ was fiercely loyal and extremely protective of his family, especially Bob and Skyler.
Recently, Russ had undergone surgery. Although he and Bob were preparing for Nationals, Russ was not scheduled to ride at the show. It didn't matter; he wouldn't have missed the opportunity to support Bob and the other Battaglia riders. Even after 21 years together, there would have been no need to guess where to find Russ; he would have been right by Bob's side. Now with Russ's sudden and untimely passing, there will be an inexplicable physical void. How do we fill the emptiness and loss we are feeling? Fill it up! Fill it up with thoughts of Russ; with funny "Russ" stories and fond "Russ" memories; with unselfish acts of kindness, by striving for integrity and excellence, and by making efforts whenever possible to contribute to the quality of our lives and the lives of others. By remembering Russ in all these special ways, we will honor him and he will continue to be a positive influence our lives and the Arabian horse industry he loved so much.
Gone Too Soon
Lyrics written by Larry Grossman & Alan 'Buz' Kohan
Like a cornet blazing 'cross the evening sky -
Gone too soon...
Like a rainbow fading in the twinkling of an eye -
Gone too soon...
Shiny and sparkly and splendidly bright!
Here one day, gone one night...
Like the loss of sunlight on a cloudy afternoon -
Gone too soon...
Like a castle built upon a sandy beach -
Gone too soon...
Like a perfect flower that is just beyond your reach -
Gone too soon...
Born to amuse, to inspire, to delight!
Here one day, gone one night...
Like a sunset dying with the rising of the moon -
Gone too soon - Gone too soon!