BY SISSY WICKES
Matchmaker, Ltd, in Barrington Hills, IL, is a twenty one acre farm dedicated to excellence in horsemanship and horse care. Mother and daughter team, Connie and Hannah Stevens, operate a family based stable where both horses and riders thrive. Hannah describes the farm as “horse heaven,” a bucolic setting with a tree lined drive, ample turn out, and a peaceful ambiance. Hilly topography, unusual to the area, surrounds the farm to create a quiet haven for the horses. An immaculate fifteen stall barn is surrounded by an expansive outdoor ring with an attached jump field and a heated indoor ring with premium footing.
Connie Stevens raised Hannah as a single parent working full time in the horse business. While her daughter grew up immersed in the industry, Connie emphasized the importance of education. Hannah learned at a young age to juggle the demands of a successful junior career with an arduous curriculum. Hannah explains, “ I was always an on-top-of-it student. I was responsible and diligent. Because of horses, I learned the value of hard work, determination, and organization.” As a junior, Hannah rode at the highest levels in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings. She had the good fortune to train with some of the best in the industry and Matchmaker Ltd provides the same opportunity through the clinics held at the farm with legends such as George Morris and Anne Kursinski.
Hannah graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. With her mother’s encouragement, she was aimed toward a job in New York when she reconsidered her career options. “My mother had some health issues and needed to make some changes. I jumped in, turned professional, and we started to work together. The first few years were a tough learning curve in terms of where I fit in as a young professional, but it has been great. A few years in, we bought the farm, moved, and I just love it here.”
An accomplished rider, Hannah has also found An accomplished rider, Hannah has also found an affinity for teaching. Matchmaker Ltd. is uniquely poised to meet the needs of all levels of riders. From a client competing at the highest levels of showjumping to young equestrians just starting out their careers on ponies, Hannah and Connie devote their energies to each rider’s individual goals. Hannah emphasizes the breadth of Matchmaker Ltd.’s scope and dedication to its clients. “We have a real mix of clients from kids on ponies to adults- some of whom have been with us for more than twenty years. I love our long- term clients who are so dedicated to the farm. It makes for a real family atmosphere.” The youngest rider is four years old and Hannah and Connie love teaching her as much as the more accomplished riders. Matchmaker Ltd. provides full care, but encourages riders to become involved with their animals on a personal level. Grooming, trail riding, and understanding horse care are all part of the experience for their clients.
The horse show schedule at Matchmaker Ltd. consists of twelve to fifteen shows per year. While most clients attend the larger shows and go to Wellington for part of the show season, Hannah emphasizes that she also schedules competitions for those riders just starting out. “We go to local shows with the kids who are just starting out. The cost is reasonable, it’s a good experience, and parents can gauge the kids’ interest in riding. They don’t have to spend a fortune to learn and have fun.” Hannah emphasizes the personal strength and positive experiences promoted by equestrian sport. “Unlike other sports, riding has the additional element of the horse, teaching us about compassion. We understand hardship and the idea that it is not just about one person. And, when you take a tumble or have a bad day, you get up and get back on. What a great lesson for life.”
For riders who would like to compete at a high level, the Stevens team has proven their success. Connie has had decades of experience in the show horse world and brings an invaluable cache of knowledge and success. As a junior and now as a professional, Hannah has garnered top finishes in premier horse shows across the country. While she loves more experienced horses and hopes to compete at the International Hunter Derby Finals in 2019, Hannah also enjoys developing green horses. “You learn a lot making up green horses. My mother used to grab ponies out of the field for me to make up. It was fun to work with them and figure out what you had. And she has a great eye for young ones.” Clients of Matchmaker Ltd. have enjoyed continued success in every ring. Hunters, jumpers, ponies, and equitation divisions are within the scope of the trainers. In addition, the Stevens operate a robust sales operation. One of their skills is starting young horses and introducing them to the show ring. Their expertise has been proven in the successful careers of the young horses they began. In addition, Hannah and Connie enjoy the challenge of helping underperforming show horses to reach their full potential. They enjoy finding gems in the rough, developing them, and selling them into successful careers.
Named for Connie’s proven ability to match horses with riders, Matchmaker Ltd. is a beautiful facility in the heart of the Midwest. The mother and daughter team endorse a high level of individualized care for horses and riders. Fat, happy, and relaxed horses are the most important factor to the Stevens as well as helping their clients to achieve their riding goals. With superior teaching and training in an upbeat, relaxed atmosphere, Matchmaker Ltd. suits riders and horses of all levels.
Photos 3rd Shutter, Andrew Ryback photography
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Editor of The Plaid Horse. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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