We’ve followed international dressage rider and worldwide clinician, Stephen Hayes, for many years. From a young man born in Liverpool to the renowned coach he is today, Stephen has thoroughly immersed himself in international equestrian culture, and sport.
Recently Stephen has been quite the talk after embarking on his biggest World clinic tour to date. Reaching further and wider afield each year with his Dressage clinics, Stephen also manages to juggle seasonal locations when during the winter months he competes in Wellington, Florida and during the summer he is based in The Hamptons, New York. This month we were lucky enough to catch up with Stephen to see what else he’s been up to…
Earlier this year you arrived back from a world clinic tour in Australia, New Zealand, Cape Town South Africa, Singapore and Malaysia all in the space of 2 weeks, that’s insane, how did it go?
It was an AMAZING trip, and one heck of a schedule, I was literally flying through the night to the next country and then going straight to clinics. The turnout was amazing and I felt so welcome from all. But this was purely a business trip, not much sightseeing or touristy stuff occurred, the horses and riders were the priority and they kept me very busy. However, I did get the chance to experience all of the beautiful cultures and their FOOD!’
You travel a lot, how do you manage balance horses in training and conducting clinics?
‘It’s a big balancing act, but I’ve been doing this for a while now so I have a system. Normally my week consists of five days at my base ‘Perfect Harmony Dressage’ and then I’ll spend two days at a clinic or a show. And sometimes, just sometimes I manage to book a free weekend off. I love being on the move during the weekends but I enjoy having somewhere concrete for the horses during the week. I’m lucky that I am able to travel as I don’t like to sit still for too long. I could never be a trainer who’s tied 7 days a week to one barn. Some trainers can’t stand travelling to clinics, it’s exhausting, but I like the change of scenery’.
It seems that you are also selling a variety of top quality horses, how are you finding that part of the industry?
‘FUN! I’m very happy to have teamed up with ‘Perfect Harmony Dressage’ in selling horses, we go out to Europe at least two to three times a year and bring back some beauties. It’s hard work finding them, driving all over Europe looking for unicorns with x rays that look like they’ve been drawn by god, but we do a good job in getting as close as we can to finding these ‘perfect’ horses. I look for trainable characters, confirmations that enable the horse to naturally find Dressage easier and comfortable for their rider, three correct quality gaits with a great vetting to match. Sounds like a unicorn right? We won’t just settle, as a team we hand pick them out just as if we were buying them for ourselves. Thank you Perfect Harmony Dressage for going into this venture with me!’
“It’s hard work finding them, driving all over Europe looking for unicorns with x rays that look like they’ve been drawn by god, but we do a good job in getting as close as we can to finding these ‘perfect’ horses.”
Name one thing you love about your job, and name one thing you dislike about this job?
‘Ok let’s start with the positive! The horses are such a big part of my love for the job, I genuinely like to be around them. They’re such a transparent animal, and so forgiving. It really is a gift that they allow us to build a partnership with them. I will be forever in their debt for them allowing me to build a career on their expense.
Ok, now the bad thing. I’ll keep it short and sweet. Just like any industry, there are good people and not so good people. Unfortunately, dishonesty is a big rule breaker in my book. Especially when selling horses, there are many out there who are as honest as a day is long. And then there are some who won’t quite give you the whole story in order to make a sale. I have a very strong circle of acquaintances throughout Europe and the USA who I return to time after time, as I know they tell the truth. That’s so important. I only like good surprises!’
Describe the perfect horse for you in your mind, what would he/she be like?
Tall, 18hh (I’m very tall), any colour, big swingy trot, gigantic walk and an uphill scopey canter, super trainable mind and a confirmation that makes life easier for her (yes she’s a she). I love a mare who’ll fight for me.
What’s been your biggest ‘takeaway’ from industry knockbacks so far?
Hmm, it was probably an email from a big trainer I wrote to ask to be her working student. I was 17 years old, I poured my heart out on this email, told the person I’ll work extremely hard and for FREE, and begged for the trainer to give me a chance. The person replied (I won’t mention the name), ‘there is no position for you here, you are not a good rider, I doubt you’ll make it past the lower levels’. If someone said something similar to my 28-year-old self now, it would be like water running off a ducks back. But at 17, full of hopes and dreams and willing to work extremely hard to learn, it hit me quite hard. I think it’s ok to say I proved to MYSELF, not her, that I can do whatever I put my mind too.
What is your most used word or phrase while teaching riders in a clinic?
‘Love it’, ‘pat him’ or ‘again, your nearly there’
What the biggest WHITE lies you tell your clients?
Hmm, that’s a tough one, you know I think it would be ‘one last time’ (laughs out loud), they might be nearly there but it’s probably not the last time I’m going to ask them to do it…
On a more serious note Stephen, you were recently involved in a head on car crash in Spain, tell us more about this?
Yes, unfortunately, myself and two of my lovely clients/friends have been through a lot during the past three months since the accident. We were in Spain travelling around the country looking for horses to bring back to the USA. Two days before heading back to the USA we were hit, head-on by car at 50 mph. We all were rushed to a hospital near Seville, we all suffered multiple fractures and we are all extremely lucky to be here to tell the story. At the time while lying in a hospital bed it’s very easy to sink into a dark place mentally, but once you get through that and see some light you have a whole new appreciation for life. I feel blessed to be welcoming a brand new Florida season through the doors, I’m feeling strong, I’m riding again, this accident could have meant a very different outcome for all of us. The icing on the cake is we did actually buy multiple horses to bring back to the USA, and we can’t wait to welcome them into the team’
Thank you, Stephen Hayes, for your time, we wish you and your team a great winter season in Wellington, Florida. And we’ll look forward to catching up soon.