Horse trainer/rider, stallion owner
How long have you been part of the horse world?
I have been a professional in the hunter-jumper world for 25 years, since I turned 18, but I rode as a Junior when I still lived up north. I was an inner-city kid from a non-horse family, born in Chicago, and then we moved to Minneapolis when I was 8. After years of begging my parents for riding lessons, they finally found a way. They eventually got tired of driving me all the way out of the city for my lessons, so we moved out to the country when I was about 12. That way I could be close to the barn, so I could work off my lessons every day. From that time on, there has hardly been a day I haven’t spent with horses.
How did you get started in breeding?
Although I’ve been showing in the hunters and jumpers since I was young, the breeding side of the business took me a lot longer to get into. I started that endeavor only about 10 years ago. For years I was doing a lot of importing from Europe and South America, and had always been fascinated with the bloodlines behind the types of horses I preferred. It became very apparent to me, when I was in Europe or South America, that the owners and trainers were all very conscious—and usually quite proud—of their horse’s bloodlines. But when at home in the States, very few trainers would have any idea at all what the breeding was on the horses they were selling or even riding and showing. To me that seemed to be shortchanging themselves in a way, as I saw having knowledge of bloodlines as an extra tool that can help you recognize personality quirks and training issues along with common strengths and weaknesses, just as much as it can be a potential indicator of talent and type. So I submerged myself into learning all I could about bloodlines, and the combinations of different lines and what they seemed to be producing.
With my stallions, though, I wasn’t breeding them to sell, I was breeding to try to achieve very specific types just for myself, horses I would love to keep and ride for a lifetime. So I spent three years deciding on the exact bloodlines I wanted to combine and searching for the right mares before I bred them. I had always been a ‘stallion person,’ so I of course hoped that they would turn out to be stallion material, but standing breeding stallions wasn’t my primary goal initially.
What part do you play in the horse world?
I see my part in the horse world as very small, like a seed that slowly grows and spreads over time. I was once just a student and rider, then I became a trainer and a coach. Now, many of my former students are trainers and coaches. I bred two stallions who on their own are just two horses, but with their careers still ahead of them and already dozens of phenomenal foals on the ground, maybe they have a chance to improve U.S. breeding in general and show people how much quality can be bred right here at home. So in that way, my part in the horse world also slowly grows and spreads.
I used to run a larger business with 30 or so horses and clients, and we’d be on the circuit showing, often with 20-plus on the road. But I have evolved to where now I like to keep my business quite small and tight. I only allow a few highly dedicated students at a time. So I mostly focus on my stallions, who take a whole lot of extra time collecting during breeding season, a few students and training/sale horses. This way, I can give each horse and student the time and attention they truly deserve. It also allows me to spend time with my three kids—not to mention I get to have a real life that includes doing non-horse things!
What’s your biggest achievement in the horse world?
I’ve jumped Grand Prix. I’ve taken students to finals. I’ve won year-end awards. I’ve bred top-scoring foals. But this far into my career, I’m not sure that I consider those things to be the “biggest achievements” anymore—at least not in the way I may have thought of them in my 20s. So, no, I would have to say my biggest achievement in the horse world has been that I’ve stayed true to myself. This can be a pretty grueling business. Keeping myself well-rounded and grounded, maintaining my moral compass and not letting other people’s judgements push me in directions that I didn’t truly want to go are the things I’m most proud of.
What are your goals for the future with your farm and your horses?
My main goals for my horses are for them to have happy, long, healthy lives. As far as their sport careers, I hope to develop them to their full potential, however far that is—they will be the ones to determine that. Citadel (Clinton x Grand Cru) is super multi-talented; he has the step, scope and care to be a Grand Prix horse. But his style and technique will really shine in the performance hunters and hunter derbies, plus he is just so laid-back. So we will play in both rings until he decides what he really wants to be when he grows up. I have high hopes that Oracle de Reve (Nabab de Reve x Darco) will develop into a top Grand Prix horse. He has all the power and is so incredibly intelligent with a work ethic that just won’t quit.
What is the best thing about your life?
Definitely my kids. It’s like living with a clan of hilarious little savages that are full of wild opinions and never-ending affection. I feel like I’ve had an incredibly lucky life: I have amazingly supportive family and friends, a beautiful farm that’s like a sanctuary of peace, I’ve gotten to do a lot of adventuring around the world and I am so fortunate to do what I passionately love for a living. There, of course, has been a lot of hard stuff and hard work, but boy, has it been worth it, and what a ride it’s been so far!
Best kept secret about what you do?
Probably the best-kept secret most people don’t know about me is I’m a bit of an inventor/entrepreneur. I actually just launched a new product for the horse world that I think will improve the lives and health of countless horses and their caretakers. It’s a specialized liner for water troughs, called TroughSaver. It basically solves every single problem that comes with having stock tanks and water troughs in pastures. It stops all leaks immediately and dramatically inhibits the growth of algae, microbes and larvae. No more goldfish! It stays clean a lot longer, but when you want to, you can just hang it over a fence and hose it off or throw it in the washing machine; it’s super easy. And it keeps the water cooler in the hot sun because it’s a lovely light blue. I spent a year researching materials to use for the liner and I’m really happy with how it ended up. It’s a really special proprietary material that is FDA cleared for food and medical use, so it doesn’t leach any chemicals into the water and also creates a barrier for unknown chemicals that could be in the plastics that the troughs are made of. I have a few more brand-new inventions in the pipeline that I think will change the entire equine industry for the better and I can’t wait to get them launched, too. But, for now, they have to remain a secret!
Other than that, I love to scuba dive and have had some amazing underwater adventures all over the world. I even named my farm after my favorite sea turtle, the Hawksbill, which I’ve been so lucky to see several times. I am also into woodworking, I play the piano, I love to read, I paint, and I definitely dig going to concerts and live music of all kinds—though with horses in your life, there’s never enough time to do all the things you love!
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/hawksbill.farm