By Britney Grover
Steve Stephens knows a good jump course—he competed over hundreds, winning events like the American Gold Cup and Nations Cups around the world. Since the ’80s, Steve has been putting his interest in jumps and courses to use as a course designer and with his business, Stephens Equestrian Designs.
It’s easy to see why Steve was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2013 and awarded the USHJA Lifetime Achievement Award. Not only does he supply jumps to most of the country’s most prestigious horse shows, he has been a top course designer, laying courses for the American Invitational, Washington International Horse Show, the National Horse Show, the Royal Winter Fair, the Winter Equestrian Festival, Devon and others—including internationally in Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Mexico, Hong Kong and at three Olympic Games.
Along the way, he’s also been U.S. Chef d’Equipe five times, including to win the Nations’ Cup World Final in 1991 in Belgium, and has managed shows like WEF, the National Horse Show and The Hampton Classic. He grew up in Palmetto, Florida, where he still lives. “But I’ve traveled the world pretty good,” he understated. “Send me home soon, please!”
Tell us about your family.
My father was a sheriff in Tampa, my stepfather was a farmer—oranges and tomatoes, like 900 acres worth, and tomatoes are my most un-favorite food!
How did your horse career start?
My stepfather had jumping horses as a hobby, he started me at 8 years old. At 16 years, I started riding for Gene Mische at Fairfield Farms; I took over Rodney Jenkins’ position—big boots to fill at 16 years old!
Best early memories of riding or with horses.
My first competition was an endurance ride, 100 miles at 9 years old—won everything at the event!
Any favorite horses over the years? Why are they your favorite?
Toy Soldier—jumped 7’ 1 ½” at Madison Square Garden and won many open jumper events; Houdini won the American Gold Cup; Touch The Sun was a hunter, won 78 straight classes; VIP, my last Grand Prix jumper, won the AGA Championships; and Let’s Dance, you name it, she won it!
If you weren’t involved with the horse world, what career do you think you would have picked?
Something that would be needed in the design world—love detail jobs, even a landscaper would work. I also like music, maybe a night club!
If you could tell every rider one thing, what would it be?
Focus on your skills—stop complaining, get the job done. Quit watering things down. Step up to the plate!
If you had a week off, what would you do?
A TV would be involved! I like my TV shows. I would do cruise ships but my wife won’t go! Doesn’t like the boats!
Do you have a personal motto or catch phrase?
“Winners adjust, losers make excuses!” and, “If you don’t like me today, you probably won’t like me tomorrow. Not much will change!”
Have you had a funny horse moment that still makes you laugh?
I didn’t find horses as a funny part of my life. Things were always serious—more disappointments than funny moments!
What talents do you feel you have?
I’m good at detail work! I like things to look special. But keeping my truck clean isn’t on that list—it gets a wash two times a year if it needs it or not.
What’s your favorite item of clothing to wear?
I could wear a tux every day! But at WEF it’s my logo shirt and khakis for about 12 weeks, every day.
What’s your favorite meal?
Steak and potatoes, but will go for barbecue any time! Sea bass works also, Bimini Twist in West Palm.
Favorite type of pizza?
You can have my slice! I’ll get something at 7-Eleven on the way home!
What three things can always be found in your refrigerator?
Iced tea, potato salad and cheese
Something people don’t know about you?
Sorta proud of this one—never had an alcoholic beverage! Nothing, not a taste!
What would be the best gift in the world?
A bigger TV screen than what I have now—I watch on a 105” TV. Let’s go bigger!
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Grow money on a tree in the backyard
What’s something everyone should try at least once?
Travel first class somewhere! I did the Queen Elizabeth 2 to England from New York first class, what a journey for five days.
Photo by SAS Equestrian, www.sasequestrian.com