BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN
When you walk through a horse show, you weave through a wide sampling of equestrians. Some are born into it, growing up on perfectly turned out, fancy ponies. Others have clawed their way to get there, hitting the dirt off of problem horses and scraping pennies together to afford the fees. But in the ring, we’re all there together no matter where you come from, and nobody knows that better than Sue and Katie Leverick of Millennium Farm in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois.
Like many trainers in our sport today, Sue and Katie grew up on the back of a horse… but the saddle looked a little bit different. As a kid, Sue rode western and did barrel racing and pole bending speed events. Later she started riding English and taught up down lessons for extra cash. It wasn’t until her daughter, Katie, started riding that Sue sharpened her focus on the hunter/jumper circuit. “I attended a lot of clinics, found mentors that would help me and began piecing it together,” she said of her quest for more education. “Using a lot of what I learned as a kid in the riding school of hard knocks, I took the guidance and combined it all to develop into a program.”
Now Sue is a USHJA certified trainer and owns Millennium Farm, a USHJA recognized riding academy, bustling training and boarding facility. Her daughter, Katie, trains alongside her and Dana Christiansen serves as their talented assistant trainer. The Levericks are grateful for their business, because they’ve worked incredibly hard for each step of the process. “It really started when it was just my mom and me,” Katie explained about the early days. “I had one horse that I showed on the “B” circuit, and we have taken it to 30+ horses on our farm with only a couple of stalls available for boarding.” Opening officially as Millennium Farm in 2010, the stable’s home base is at Steeplechase Stables LLC, located about 40 miles northwest of Chicago, Illinois. Always pushing herself and her business to be the best it can be, Sue has been improving the facility since they moved there. Upgrades including new walls, LED lights, and footing for the indoor have been completed. The entire interior of the heated barn has 14 x 14 stalls with rubber mats, matted aisles, as well as a new clubroom, office and remodeled bathrooms. The new owners of Steeplechase Stables LLC have also re-graded the back portion of the property, built eight new all-weather paddocks and will have eight additional grass pastures ready for horses in the spring. To top everything off, the barn has twenty-four-hour security and cameras for the added safety of their horses.
Whether improving the facility or training, the Levericks attribute their success to one main thing: hard work. “With riding you can have such big goals that you want to achieve, but you have to check off every little goal on the way to get there,” Katie said. “You can’t skip a rung on the ladder. You have to take it step by step.” Katie attends George Morris clinics yearly, and always looks for further opportunities to learn and improve. This careful effort has brought Millennium a lot of success in the past several years including the gold medal at the 2015 Team Jumper Regionals, numerous IHJA equitation medal wins, multiple HITS Ocala Winter Series circuit awards and professional, amateur and junior awards for best performance in St. Louis.
With three different trainers and a glistening facility, Sue’s main goal for Millennium is to make it a competitive show barn for every kind of rider. The barn shows at A, B, PTS and IEA circuits as well as schooling shows, allowing entry for each skillset. Client Sydney Kozloski has ridden through these levels with the Levericks since she was five years old. “The dedication, care, and training that Sue and Katie have shown us and our horses over our seventeen years together is something that I will never be able to pay back,” she said of her time with at Millennium. That kind of client relationship is what Sue strives for. “We call ourselves a family, and it really is like that,” she said of the atmosphere. It’s the kind of feeling that radiates out to everyone in the barn. “I look at Sue and Katie as my family,” said client, Jamie Gerber. “They’ve been there for me through thick and thin, and I’m so grateful to have them to encourage me to push myself in the saddle and out.” To foster these feelings, the trainers offer a lot of team activities, not just at horse shows but also at home, creating fun for riders of all ages. They host clinics at home and audit many others away to always encourage community learning.
Though Millennium has recently started to venture into importing Warmbloods for resale, Sue remembers her background riding whatever horse that she could. “I never had easy horses. My daughter never had easy horses. We had to create horses,” she said. With this in mind, she makes sure Millennium is open to a variety of different budgets and doesn’t play favorites to those with more to spend. “Whether you have a $7500 horse or a six figure horse, there’s a spot for you,” she said. “I have several in the barn that are riding off the track Thoroughbreds, and are really successful at the shows and having a great time, and I have others that are sitting on a six figure horse. We try to make it so there’s a place for everyone.”
One of the ways Millennium Farm offers this range of riding opportunities is their involvement with the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, or IEA, which assistant trainer, Dana Christiansen, coaches. Sue and Dana originally started the Millennium Farm IEA team when riders who had gone off to college had a hard time adjusting to the intercollegiate horse show format. By creating the IEA team, she hoped to allow the next generation to learn this very different way of horse showing, but she also quickly realized that it gave access to shows on a much more affordable budget. “There are so many families that just can’t horse show, but the kids have passion and desire to ride. IEA is a great way for them to be able to get that horse show atmosphere without having to buy or lease, pay for shipping, stalls, etc,” Sue explained. Now Dana coaches an active IEA team, with a rider even going all the way to ribboning at the 2017 IEA Nationals. With the team giving such great access to horse shows, everyone feels excited about being a part of this inclusive show stable.
To the Levericks, keeping Millennium accessible for so many different types of riders is a key part of their philosophy. They, like many of us horse lovers, know how special these animals can be to our happiness, well-being and mental health, particularly when we come across a special one, like Katie’s beloved horse, Sander. About ten years ago, Katie had a very bad injury that made her contemplate quitting competitive riding for good until she found Sander. “He had a hard upbringing in his life. He had some injuries, and I feel like we both healed each other not only physically but emotionally,” Katie explained. “I can’t even describe it. It makes me tear up because he is so, so special.” With Sander, Katie went from the Child Adult Jumpers to the Medium AOs. She won an IHJA Scholarship award in 2009, was year-end champion in the A/O jumpers with Sander multiple times, but more importantly – regained the confidence to succeed in the ring today as a professional. She competed in the Grand Prix ring on her previous horse, Replique, earning ribbons in the big classes at HITS Balmoral. Lately, Katie has had great success on client horse, Gomeri Della Caccia, qualifying for the Saugerties Devoucoux Hunter Prix and winning champion in the 1.10m Jumpers in Ocala. She is also excited about Elano G, a nine-year-old gelding recently imported from the Netherlands, who just stepped up to the 1.30’s at Lamplight with multiple double clear rounds.
Though the fancy ribbons on the banner are great, it’s the love of the horses and her clients that keeps Sue and Katie smiling every day. “I love watching horses that I work with figure things out, and then help their riders through the exercises. It’s really fun to see the client and horse start to click,” Katie said. This emphasis on the love of the horse and overall horsemanship is a focal point for the farm. “The horses well-being always comes first,” Sue said as she trains her students classic horsemanship through grooming, vet care and overall turnout. For each of the three rings, all the trainers at Millennium Farm focus on creating an environment that is open to learning. “I want my clients to know that it’s okay to make a mistake,” Sue explained. “That’s how you really learn. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn anything.” The philosophy must work, because clients thrive at Millennium. “I have achieved riding goals that I never thought were possible in such a short time,” client Charlann Suter said. To get these results, great care is taken to make sure their students are matched with the perfect horse, believing that the right partnership is integral to proper learning. “It may take looking at 20 or 30 horses, but when the pair fits it’s amazing the learning and progress that can be achieved,” Sue said. Millennium has sale horses in the barn for consideration, but expands the search to the local or even international level to provide the best possible partner for their clients.
Riders at Millennium Farm are supported comprehensively as they learn – whether they’re entering the crossrail ring at their very first show, or taking a deep breath before a hunter derby. The support transcends instruction to include a familial component. “I’m most proud about the family atmosphere we have,” Sue said of the farm. “Everyone is treated the same, and everyone is laughing and having a great time.” With this special combination of hard work, dedication and knowledge from all three trainers, Millennium has become a place where riders from any kind of background or budget can be competitive and have fun. At Millennium Farm, it’s the love of the sport, horse and riding with a cheering barn family on the sidelines that makes it all come together in the ring.