What is your earliest equestrian memory?
That would be trail riding just outside of Boston in Winchester, Massachusetts, bareback in the woods behind my house with a good friend of mine. We were about 12 years old. She went to pony camp in the summer and would take some horses home with her in the winter; she needed help exercising them, so she and I would go off in the winter in the woods and trail ride.
What is the proudest moment of your career so far?
The easy answer is: when Chaqui Z, whom I own, and who Shane Sweetnam rides, were on the winning team at the European Championships. Recently though, I had the experience at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, of standing by the ring where the five, six and seven‐year old classes were being conducted, and I had a couple of horses warming up to compete in those classes. At the same moment, there was an eight‐year‐old that I’d bred in the equitation warm-up, and there was another good rider, Aaron Vale, who’d bought another Spy Coast‐bred horse, who was going into the five‐year‐old classes. Then somebody else walked by with another Spy Coast-bred horse. So that was a moment for me when I was literally surrounded by horses that I’d bred that were doing well. That moment really had an effect on me. I thought: “It’s really happening!”
How did you get into the breeding side of the sport?
I had a thoroughbred mare, that was a real schoolteacher, who I bred. Her colt had become two and a half, and eventually someone said to me: ‘What are you doing?’, at which point I realised that since it was a thoroughbred, it should have been gone by now! I realised then that there was no way I was going to give up these thoroughbreds, these babies, so young. So, that’s how I got into warmblood breeding, and it made so much more sense to me. I felt I could have an impact in warmblood breeding, but I could really lose my shirt in thoroughbred breeding, which I knew nothing about it, so that’s why I went in that direction.
Could you summarise what the main elements of breeding a top show jumping horse are, what is the background behind it, how do you decide which pairings to breed, etc.?
Obviously, I try to breed the best to the best – proven dam lines to great breeding sires. So, for me, the dam is really the biggest element, and then you want excellent breeding sires. Not just ones that have succeeded in the ring, but those that have also succeeded in breeding good horses. I always breed brain first, as 95‐99 per cent of my buyers are amateurs. I’ve tried to follow in the footsteps of some of the best European breeders, because I figured, why recreate the wheel, when Europe has been doing it for decades, so I try to follow their example. I try to acquire the best mares possible, and Shane and the rest of my riding crew are involved in pretty much every aspect of the breeding that I’m involved in. Not being a rider, and not being at every international show, they’re able to tell me how these horses actually go, what their mouths are like, what their attitudes are like, things like that. Their input into my breeding programme is essential.
Has there ever been a time when pairings have had unexpected results?
Yes, sometimes I’ll breed a very nice mare with a very nice stallion, and I’ll get a mediocre filly, who may be too short, she may not be very good looking, or she may not have very much scope. It was actually Joris de Brabander, who told me that it’s often those mares you want to breed to, as it’s the grandchild that’s going to be the one. So, with some resistance from my team, I’ve done that. I’ve bred to those mares and we’ve been very impressed with the results, so that was a good tip!
The partnership between horse and rider is clearly important; is that something you’re looking for when you sell to new owners?
Yes, not always, but definitely for the best ones. Obviously, we care about the pairing when someone is trying the horse and making sure it’s not too much horse for the person. When we have one of our better horses, we want it to go to somebody who is going to bring the horse along well, especially if the horse is young. So they do well by the horse and also by my programme. We are still a young programme, and because we’re not in the European Union, I’ve had to prove our training programme and our development of these horses, as much as the horses themselves. That’s why we didn’t sell any young ones early on. We needed to prove our breeding programme and get them out there and produced well, so that Spy Coast Farm would be well regarded from the outset. Once they’re seven or eight, there’s more tolerance for the type of rider the horse can take. But the young ones need someone that can bring them along properly.
How long do you keep the foal before it goes on to its next home or before you break it in?
We typically start them at two and a half years old, so it’s a gradual start. We try to sell them fairly young now, but there’s not a lot of market here in the US for any horse under five or six years old unless they want to buy them as a breeding prospect and then you’re just selling your bloodlines cheaply. I’d rather the good ones go on to have a jumping career before they are used solely to have their bloodlines reproduced.
How many horses are you breeding during the year?
In a typical year, Spy Coast breeds 20 and we generally breed 20 for clients, all on the property. This year not being a typical year, I’ve bred around 31, but then also 20 for clients. We sold a lot more semen to outside customers in 2020 – this year was a big breeding year.
What is your main ambition with your career in breeding horses?
To improve the industry, as a whole. American’s are doing alright with sport horse shows and veterinary skills, but there was a giant gap when it came to breeding. I just felt that we had purchased so many good mares and stallions from overseas, that we needed to do something with them. Coming with that meant establishing the training of young horses and having classes and shows for them. It was a big chunk of the industry that wasn’t properly being attended to here. In the end, I believe we will develop even better riders, because they will know how to bring on the young horses we are breeding.
Which homebred horses are you most proud of?
Well, probably Kirschwasser SCF – he’s gone on to have a great Grand Prix career with a really enthusiastic rider, Freddie Vasquez, who loves him to death, so I’m super happy about that. There are some exciting ones coming along, but I also have to give a shoutout to my own horse, Nosy Parker SCF, who takes very good care of me. She’s extremely well bred (For Pleasure x Cumano), is very athletic, and she has a fantastic brain in order to tolerate me, but I think I’m going to move her along now, as she’s nearly eight. She has more talent than I have ability, so it would be a good time to move her on.
Aside from breeding, what are your other ambitions and aspirations?
To establish a low‐cost, high quality system of the young horse business here in America. That’s the ultimate goal. Also, to form an international alliance, and come up with ways that Europe can help us and that we can help Europe, while moving breeding forward.
Out of the four Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, which of them is your favourite, and why?
I haven’t been to all of them, but I’d say the CHIO Aachen, as the energy there is just electric, and my horses always do well there, which helps, so you can’t discount that! I’ve come up with some great ideas from just being there, so for those reasons I’d have to say Aachen.
Who is your biggest inspiration? Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?
Breeding wise, it’s Joris de Brabander, his Stal de Muze has produced wonderful horses. But I’ve also had the great privilege to work and be around several true entrepreneurs, the type of people who always inspire me, as they think outside the box, and they come at a problem from a different angle, which is what I always try to do. I’ve really enjoyed working with Mark Bellisimo, and our partners in Wellington and Tryon. But recently I’ve really enjoyed working with Klaas De Coster and the Mares of Macha partners in Belgium. They approach breeding from a unique direction, with lots of positive energy and I’m enjoying being a part of that. They are moving the industry forward in a very democratic way.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
It’s kind of goofy but it’s actually a song lyric, which goes: “It’s hard to see the spot you’re standing on”. In other words, you have to change things in order to discover where you really are. If you stay in the same place all the time, you don’t leave room for possibilities. Well, at least that’s how I interpret the song lyric.
Source: Press release from Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping
Photo: © Spy Coast Farm