By Molly Sorge
Portraits by Kristin Lee
When her groom didn’t show up at the Del Mar National show in May, Hannah Selleck didn’t panic. She got to work.
Hannah had four horses from her family’s Descanso Farm showing at Del Mar and then the next week at Showpark Ranch & Coast, so she rolled up her sleeves and did what needed to be done — feeding, grooming, tacking up. “It was a crazy two weeks, but we survived!” she said. “All those years at Foxfield [Riding School] caring for my own horses came in handy.”
Doing whatever needs to get done is a hallmark of Hannah’s professional riding career. “She doesn’t want to do a mediocre job; she wants to do a great job,” said Olympic gold medalist Will Simpson, who helps Hannah with some horses and rides a few of the young horses her family has bred. “That’s what stands out the most to me. She’s determined and she’s going to make things happen.”
That determination is paired with a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to explore new avenues on her career path. Hannah, 29, has big grand prix show jumping goals, but she’s also focused on developing the young horses her family breeds. And she’s not afraid to add a hunter to her list of horses to ride.
Hannah’s current show string includes her grand prix horse Barla and four young horses bred by the Selleck family’s Descanso Farm, all out of mares that Hannah competed in the past.
“You learn to love the process. At the beginning, it was hard to imagine having horses at the show with all these little foals being born at home,” Hannah said. “But now that those foals are in the show ring and winning, it’s like, Oh, they can make it to the big ring, and this is going how we want! The way the market is, even when you have a very large budget, finding those very special horses is difficult. So why not try and use these nice, well-bred horses and produce your own.”
Hannah, whose parents are actors Tom Selleck and Jillie Mack, grew up in a world full of Hollywood and entertainment. Hannah didn’t have an interest in the entertainment industry; instead she found a path to a much less high-profile life. Hannah knows how to walk a red carpet and pose for the cameras, but she’s more at home in breeches and boots in the barn.
Her parents have always been supportive of Hannah’s riding career. Hannah grew up surrounded by animals at her family’s ranch, and Tom had a few horses for pleasure riding as a result of his time riding in Western movies. Hannah made the transition from backyard fun to showing thanks to lessons at Foxfield Riding School in Westlake Village, California.
Students at Foxfield do all their own horse care, so Hannah got a good foundation of horsemanship that stood her in good stead when she started riding with top trainer Karen Healey at age 16, but she still kept her horses at home. “I was used to doing a lot myself, knowing their grain and schedule,” Hannah said.
Hannah’s junior riding tenure with Karen included a win in the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search – West in 2008, second place in the 2007 Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals (Pennsylvania) and team and individual gold medals from the 2008 North American Young Riders Championships (Colorado).
Hannah continued showing as an amateur while she studied communications at Loyola Marymount University (California) and she had every intention of combining horses with a professional career in the public relations industry. But after she graduated in 2011 and started work with a public relations firm, she knew she needed to change course.
“Once I was removed from the horses and riding, it made me realize how much I loved it and how happy and fulfilled it makes me,” she said. Her parents agreed to help her get a start as a professional rider, but they guided her toward a series of jobs learning the trade instead of just starting her own stable right away.
Hannah spent a year as an assistant for Karen, riding client horses, setting courses for lessons, and teaching students. “It was interesting since I’d been a client and a junior there with a nice string of horses,” Hannah said. “I never really realized how big of a team works to get you to the ring, from the grooms to the trainer to setting the jumps, and the hours it takes. You see it with different eyes when you’re on the other side of it.”
After stints with show jumping legends Laura Kraut and Katie Prudent, Hannah stayed on the East Coast as a professional rider under the umbrella of dealer Ilan Ferder’s stables. “It was good to see that side of things,” she said. “They’re good at figuring horses out, finding different techniques or bits to help problems. Ilan’s stables had some of the best management I’ve seen; he runs a very tight ship.”
All of those experiences under veterans in the sport gave Hannah the tools she needed to set up on her own, so she moved back to a California base in 2017. Her horses live at El Campeon Farms in Thousand Oaks, and she also rides and shows sales and client horses for Meredith Herman’s Burgundy Farms. She’s eager for any kind of ring time; this spring she rode Lightfoot Show Stables’ Bayou to the 3’6” young hunter circuit championship at the HITS Coachella (California) winter circuit. At any given horse show, Hannah can be found at the young jumper classes, the grand prix course walk or the hunter ring.
“I want to win, no matter what ring it is,” Hannah said. “It’s very satisfying, especially when you’ve brought a horse along. And ring time is good no matter where it is. If you can master the accuracy in the hunters, that’s only going to help you on a jumper course.”
Hannah has a strong competitive streak, but she gets just as much joy from the process of seeing horses learn and improve. She was emotional the year she was second at the 2007 Pessoa/AHSA Medal Finals with a green horse, but they weren’t feelings of frustration. “She said to me, ‘I’m so happy!’” said Karen Healey. “She didn’t want people to think she was upset — she was honestly so happy to be second. She’s always been that genuine, appreciative kind of person. The satisfaction of making a horse, not just buying one, was always important to her.”
From the Ground Up
It was when Hannah’s former grand prix horse, Tosca van het Lambroeck, retired in 2010 that the Sellecks decided to start breeding. They had been contacted by European breeders interested in buying “Tosca” as a broodmare. “We thought that if she was that valuable as a broodmare, why don’t we breed her ourselves,” Hannah said. Tosca’s 2012 foal by Lamarque, Elita Toscita DF, has become a winner in 6-year-old Young Jumper classes.
The Sellecks also have three horses competing this year out of a former equitation horse of Hannah’s, Bella (registered name Alvarina), including Rumpleteazer DF, a 5-year-old by the World Cup Final winner Flexible. Hannah has a few young horses on the ground by embryo transfer out of her current grand prix mount Barla.
“It’s exciting to see someone that’s connected to the show ring actually doing some breeding because a lot of times there’s a bit of a disconnect between the two,” Will said. “She’s done a great job at breeding mares that were successful in the show ring. A lot of the Europeans say we can’t make horses over here due to the cost and the way we’re at the shows five or six days a week. It’s really positive when a top rider like Hannah gets involved with young horses from the ground up. It’s a real asset for our country’s system.”
All of Descanso Farm’s offspring are U.S.-bred and by U.S.-standing stallions such as LioCalyon, Flexible, and Cacique. “We want to show that we can produce the horses in the States, having them on the ground as foals and bringing them up through the young horse classes,” Hannah said. “We’re not a huge breeding operation, but it’s not common here. I think it should be encouraged.”
After the Descanso-bred foals are weaned, they’re sent to Rancho Corazon Ranch in Lemitar, New Mexico, where they live in big grass fields with groups of other young horses. Then, when they’re ready to be broken, they go to Colts Unlimited in Wyoming, where they learn the basics. When they’re ready to start learning the ropes of jumping and showing, they join Hannah at her base in California. “We have to outsource, but I like to try and find who’s best to do these things and have the best people work with them,” Hannah said.
“I see qualities of the mares that I love, that have been such special horses for me, in their babies,” Hannah continued. “As you start to get closer and you’re seeing their natural ability, that’s very motivating.”
Success Is More Than Results
Hannah starts her day at the farm at 8 a.m., and while she has grooms to help with the day-to-day tasks of caring for the horses in her string, she manages all their care herself. She rides in the morning and spends the afternoon meeting the vet or farrier or planning for the next show. “There are always calls and emails and office work worked into the day — coordinating the shipping, checking on the horses in Wyoming, packing for the next show,” she said. “There’s always some sort of moving part that’s going on. The day gets jam-packed easily!”
The busy days don’t leave much room for hobbies, but Hannah’s mental break is a varied exercise regimen with boxing, spin classes and running. “I’ll get a workout in with my trainer,” Hannah said. “I try and have balance, but it’s not very balanced, I have to say! I always say I’d like to do tennis lessons again, but it just doesn’t happen. My racket came to Florida with me and lived in the closet. The horses can’t do things for themselves, so I have to!”
Hannah travels from her home in the more urban Los Angeles area to the barn; when she’s back in the city in the evenings, she’ll often meet up with friends for dinner. And on weekends that she’s not showing, she heads to her parents’ ranch near El Campeon Farms for some down time.
Managing her business and competing at the international level means multi-tasking, but working with her young horses is what has brought her such satisfaction in the sport. “Anything from standing in the cross-ties to getting on them at the ring and going in the ring can be a challenge,” Hannah said. “You have to really enjoy the process and remember that each stage is a huge victory or accomplishment. It’s quite rewarding. It’s not just results-based success like it is with a more advanced horse. That’s been a learning process, and it’s a full-time thing.”
While the horses are 24/7, Hannah still feels like her favorite time of the day is “when everything is done for the day and put away,” she said. “The horses are quiet and eating, the aisle is swept, and blankets are folded. It’s always a nice feeling. Everything’s at peace.”
Photos by Kristin Lee Photography, unless noted otherwise