Conversations With Equestrians: Nick Haness

A friend once reminded me to live my dash – she wasn’t referring to running or a type of seasoning, but the actual dash you see between the dates of a person’s birth and their death on their tombstone. It means to live life to the fullest, as that dash represents your entire life. She didn’t mean this in a morbid way, but as a reminder to live your dash with exuberance.

With a tremendous amount of impressive accomplishments at a young age, including a recent second place in the biggest money class for hunters in history, the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix, Nick Haness is undoubtedly living his dash.

Equestrian Aspirations
Coming from a family of five boys, every brother was busy with his own interest. Nick started riding at age five at Coto de Caza, near his home. Gradually he began moving from one lesson to three lessons per week and spent his summer days in the saddle. After juggling soccer and riding for several years, Nick chose his sport. The rest is becoming a solid history.

Nick remembers feeling inspired as a young teenager while watching top riders like John French and Peter Pletcher compete. As his teenage years in the horse world progressed, his achievements further molded his future. One interesting milestone was choosing his first show horse wisely. Soon after he purchased a bay hunter named Carson, he got a Christmas present from his parents – the funds to compete for one week on the winter circuit in Indio, CA. Very excited about this opportunity, Nick didn’t just compete but he earned a Reserve Championship in the Junior Hunters. That very week, a trainer on the circuit inquired about buying Carson for his client. With a tremendous offer on the table, Nick made a mature decision to sell his horse.

His parents offered to give him the money from the sale to further his equestrian pursuits. Again making a decision that was wise beyond his years, Nick set up a small business. With the help of contacts in the industry, Nick would purchase a green horse in Europe, work with it and then sell it.

About this time Nick also began working with Jim Hagman of Elvenstar. Another turning point, Nick refers to that time period fondly. “Jim put me on the map. He gave me a makeover – changed my tie, my huntcoat, got me new boots – and put on the finishing touches that finessed my ride. I had instant success in the equitation ring with his help.” Nick also went to the east coast with Jim, including Devon and Indoors, garnering some valuable miles and making new contacts.

One of his favorite memories was the first time he went to Indoors. “Ever since I was on ponies I knew about the east coast kids, so showing up as the little guy from California that no one had ever heard of was awesome.” This experience mixed with the other teenage turning points sealed the deal for Nick.

“My dreams and years of wanting to go back east and compete all came true at that moment, and I realized it,” Nick explained. “I liked school and did well, but I knew I wanted a career in horses. I loved being a part of the horse show world.” Nick decided to turn professional at age 18.

All Business
Having business savvy from his junior experiences, Nick bravely jumped into not just the professional world but into having his own business by the time he was 20 years old. Not long after he connected with Richard Slocum at a clinic where they jokingly talked about how they should go into business together. Soon after they took their joke seriously.

Covering all his company’s bases was a priority for Nick who is the first to admit the value in having someone older and more experienced around. “I’m fortunate to have Richard as a business partner,” said Nick. “It’s nice to have the security of a knowledgeable and experienced horseman in the barn.” Fortunately for both Richard and Nick, their strengths mix very well. Nick is the show rider while Richard handles the endless details of running a barn from the clients to the horses in training. Both have a knack for teaching and the clients have blossomed from their combined knowledge.

Now with a handful of professional years under his belt, Nick notes the rewards come at many levels. “When a student wins their first Maclay and they feel accomplished in their riding goals, that’s very rewarding for me.”

After a small but costly mistake in Round 1 of the CPHA Medal Finals this year, student Conor Perrin rallied and not only won Round 2 of that Medal Final but won every round of the CPHA Foundation Equitation Championships, 21 & under the following week. “I was proud of Conor. He learned a lot from that experience and we were all rewarded! When you help someone accomplish something they’ve been trying to achieve, it’s a pretty awesome feeling.”

Plans and Pursuing the Dream
Myriad circumstances changed the plans for attending both the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Final (Lexington, KY) and the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final (Saugerties, NY) in August and September of this year. While competing on Havana at Devon in May, Nick was approached by Scott Stewart about purchasing the horse for his junior rider Victoria Colvin. “So I didn’t go to Kentucky due to the sale. But knowing that Victoria Colvin was seventh overall on Havana in the Derby Finals was just as rewarding as going myself.”

As much as they were looking forward to the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final, a few weeks before the event Nick and his client agreed to wait. “It was a long trip to make when we were uncertain about the weather. We didn’t think it was a good choice for a sensitive horse to go all that way in unpredictable conditions.” Taking it in stride, Nick wasn’t planning to head east for the finals. About a week later, Archie Cox and the Singer family asked Nick if he would ride Cruise at the inaugural Hunter Prix Final in Saugerties. Nick had competed and won on Cruise in a Thermal Hunter Prix and had watched him go numerous times, so he knew the horse and was honored to accept the opportunity. “Jessica is in college at Skidmore, so she was there as well as her parents. They were just happy to be a part of it, they didn’t put any pressure on me.” The no pressure approach paid off, literally. Nick and Cruise represented the west coast well by earning a spot in the top 25, winning Round 3 of the Final (in the pouring rain) and coming in second overall, earning not just a beautiful ribbon but a check for $90,000.

“Just being a part of the first year was a dream come true. Really it was. As a kid I dreamed of experiences like this – great riders, TV, press conference – it was overwhelmingly exciting.”

Nick continued, “All the California riders were rooting for each other. I was proud to represent the west coast in the top four.”

Speaking of the west coast, an impressive seven riders returned in the top 25 and four placed in the top twelve. Reflecting for a moment in the sweetness of the victory, Nick also discussed the agony of defeat. Jenny Karazissis experienced the high of winning Rounds 1 and 2 on Saturday. She was riding beautifully on Sunday as well. When she rounded the corner towards the end of the course, her horse’s pace slowed suddenly and he took a brief trot step. The crowd gasped and scores reflected the pace change. “We were all shocked. It’s amazing in sports how dreams can disappear in a split second. Jenny handled it with poise. She’s such a fabulous rider and a top notch competitor.”

We know that Nick Haness is living his dash. And we congratulate him. Are you living yours?

Pfizer Million Preview

West coast riders come east for Pfizer Million Weekend; HITS bids to bring Olympic Trials to HITS Desert Horse Park
As the summer show season nears its end, the excitement and anticipation for this year’s Pfizer Million Weekend is gaining momentum. Exhibitors are clamoring to get their qualifying classes in and add to their winnings to ensure their place in the Rider Rankings for both the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix and the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final. After the Desert Circuit it was clear that riders from the west coast were serious about ensuring they’d make the cut for these two monumental events. And with the grand finale weekend just about a month away, west coast riders are making their plans to come east for their chance at show jumping history – the opportunity to compete for $1.5 million in prize money!

The group of High-Performance riders coming east includes a mix of both returning and first time qualifiers with John Pearce, Helen McNaught, Duncan McFarlane, and Saer Coulter, while young phenom Lucy Davis, who took the Desert Circuit by storm when she won the last four Grand Prix at the Thermal including the $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini of Newport Beach, is making her first trip to Saugerties.

The crop of Hunter riders making their plans to show in Saugerties is equally as impressive with top professional riders John French, Hope Glynn, Nick Haness and Jenny Karazissis each committed to show in the Diamond Mills Hunter Prix Final. Amateur riders Erin Bland and Avery Hellman, who both train with Ned and Hope Glynn, will also be on the scene, as will Archie Cox with a group of his students.

“I am very excited to be coming to compete in the [Diamond Mills] $500,000 Hunter Prix,” said Cox. “Cruise, owned by Jessica Singer, has already proven himself from coast to coast and I am anxious to add a top placing to his resume.”

Jerry Dougherty of Bokeelia, Florida will set the courses for the Hunter Prix and Olympic Course Designer Steve Stephens of Palmetto, Florida will set the track for the Pfizer Million. Olympic Course Decorator Flora Baptiston of Brazil will bring her magic touch to the courses.

There’s quite a buzz about the weekend throughout both the equestrian and local communities, as VIP tables are selling quickly and ticket sales for Motown legends The Temptations are picking up momentum. Adding to the ceremony of the day will be an appearance by the West Point Equestrian Team and a special 9/11 commemoration ceremony with members from the local fire, police and emergency service workers. Plans are also in the works for a special head-set rental program for round-by-round commentary for both the Hunter Prix and the Pfizer Million.

More exciting news pertaining to live-webcasting and TV coverage along with other plans will be announced soon, so stay tuned. For more information about VIP or general ticket information, please visit

HITS bids to bring Olympic Trials to HITS Desert Horse Park
For the second time in two years, HITS put in a bid to host a USEF selection trial competition at the HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California. In the summer of 2009, HITS bid to host the USEF Show Jumping Selection Trials for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). The proposal included unprecedented prize money, $775,000 to be exact, and a commitment to waive the entry fees for all Selection Trials classes for horses competing in every leg of the Trials. This time around, HITS submitted another extraordinary bid proposal to host the USEF Selection Trials for the 2012 Olympic Games and National Championship.

The highlights from the Olympic Trials bid included $200,000 in prize money to be divided among the winners, waived entry fees and complementary accommodations for all exhibitors participating in the trials. News came in early August that the selection committees had met and voted to award the bid to another management company, despite the innovative package prepared by HITS.

When news of the decision came, HITS President and CEO Tom Struzzieri offered his insights on the vote. “If there’s a bright side to this, we’ve got our bid packet fine tuned! Perhaps more importantly, these Trials will not take place during the Thermal Circuit, so customers can enjoy their regular circuit schedule with us in the Desert and still have the opportunity to travel for the chance to compete on the Olympic Team in Florida at the end of March.”

Struzzieri was pleased to have the opportunity to submit a bid and was pragmatic about the outcome. “I can’t say that I disagree with the decision of the committees, geography has to play a big role in this type of decision. We will continue to stay in this process and hopefully we will be awarded this type of event in the near future.”

In the end, Struzzieri believes, “Our bid had an impact in raising the stakes for the competition. As it turned out the other bid was modified to match what we had offered and include free entries for the riders, so that’s another positive outcome for the exhibitors. Having just completed hosting the East Coast Junior Hunter Finals here in Saugerties, I feel strongly that HITS has a product to offer that will ultimately be the right one for trials of this nature and we’ll keep going after it… for us, our customers and the sport.”

Photos by Flying Horse Photography.

Highlights From 2011 HITS Desert Circuit

By Selena Frederick and Jackie McFarland

In what seemed a newfound rhythm for the HITS Desert Circuit, the winter circuit sailed relatively smoothly for six straight weeks. With increased entries and a positive response from many of the competitors we approached, we asked what was the formula for success this year? Challenging course designers, well maintained footing, improvements and additions to the VIP areas, big money classes, and of course the grand prix highlights from fantastic afternoons to fabulous evening events.

Beautiful sunsets and cool breezes welcomed the four World Cup Qualifiers in the intimate indoor arena. Actually for a majority of the six weeks the California desert weather was pretty perfect. To top it off, during the final week the facility sparkled with Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces and even a pristine private jet parked on site.

John French and Chawi de Laubry

The west coast circuit drew a slew of legendary grand prix riders from near and far, including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Hap Hansen, Eduardo Menezes, John Pearce, Rich Fellers, Jill Henselwood, Charlie Jayne, John French, Susan Hutchison, John Perez, Gabriella Salick, Kate Levy…

And that is just a short list. Stars of the circuit Rich Fellers and Lucy Davis each earned four grand prix wins, simply amazing. These two athletes and their horse mates, mind you they each won on different mounts, were fast, clean and cool as ice.

The hunter rings were bustling as well. West coast greats such as John French, Hope Glynn, Nick Haness, Chance Arakelian, Jenny Karazissis and John Bragg were vying for the various championships and derby wins. The ever-versatile John French, who won his usual lion’s share in this arena, also suited up for several outdoor grand prix events. French was seen ‘speaking’ both hunter and jumper on the same day, literally running from the jump off to the hunter derby, garnering top ribbons if not wins in both places. The calm, cool and collected French commented, “It’s an adrenaline rush with the jumpers and everything is so fast; I’m not used to being so hyper.”

Hansen and Michaels-Beerbaum
discuss the course

Quite a few competitors, sponsors and spectators noted the family-friendly aspect of the area. Lamborghini of Newport Beach’s Director Donny Gath brought his entire family. As is often seen when outside sponsorship comes on board, Gath’s company became a sponsor after his 9-year-old daughter Kendal started competing at HITS two years ago, so it is both business and pleasure. Grand prix princess and high-school senior Lucy Davis mentioned that her family can easily come out from Los Angeles and watch her compete as well as enjoy the desert treasures. “My dad can golf in the morning, and then come and watch me ride in the evenings.” Internationally acclaimed rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, also Davis’ trainer, expressed how nice it was for her to spend time in a family friendly environment. She explained, “In Europe the cold indoor circuits typically have late class times making it not very baby or family friendly. It’s also good to be back in California, and see people I haven’t seen in years.” Baby Brianna Beerbaum celebrated her first birthday in California with Mom (Meredith) and mount Lancaster winning the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix. Great day to celebrate.

Of course there were ups and downs. One particular grand prix Sunday took its toll on some top riders. Beginning the circuit with wins, Canadian John Pearce, as well as riding legend Hap Hansen, and the daring John Perez all took a spill at the same fence (#7). Unfortunately Pearce went on the injured list for the remainder of the circuit, whereas Hansen and Perez were able to walk away.

The close to the circuit $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix of the Desert was nothing short of poetic. After 53 riders attempted Olaf Peterson’s technical and big and wide course of jumps, five riders remained in the running for the $200,000 in prize money. The 90-degree southern California sun apparently didn’t faze the riders or the Sunday afternoon crowd. Cheers were rampant at the end of Lucy Davis and Nemo 119’s clear

Lucy Davis and Nemo 119

jump off round, on a streak after winning three grand prix events in a row, as she crossed the timers in the lead.

The class was far from over with two riders left. next in the ring was speed demon Rich Fellers, aboard the amazing Flexible. And following that pair was Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum aboard the talented Kismet 50. The crowd gasped in disbelief as Rich and Flexible took the inside turn to the wide oxer heading down the last line and a rail fell. When the final pair of Beerbaum and Kismet 50 heading towards the first tall pink and white vertical – down went the top rail and Davis had clinched the win. It was a day to remember for competitor and spectator alike.

As Davis said in her interview with HITS after her victory, “I could never believe this in a million years. I was so happy to just win one Grand Prix and I kept thinking that there was no way that this could ever happen. Some of the best riders in the world were competing here today and to come out on top is just surreal.” (Read more in the HITS press release)

International riders, sizeable prize money, classy cars, big jumps, fans galore and increased attendance makes for sporty splendor indeed. Congratulations to all and good luck at HITS Saugerties in their fall finales for both hunters and jumpers.

Photos by Cheval Photos