It Takes Two

Lonestar, Circuit Champion Amateur Adult Hunters. Photo by Sportfot.

BY April Bilodeau

From the magazine

Rider-owner team Lainie Wimberly and Laurie Stevens take the hunter ring by storm

When you combine a passionate rider with a talented horse it can be magic in the show ring. And if you’ve ever watched Lainie Wimberly ride, you know just how magical that can be.

Described as an equestrian who is masterful in the saddle, Wimberly has racked up success at some of the nation’s top horse shows, from the Hunter Derby ring to the Grand Prix.

But there’s one more element that’s crucial to Wimberly’s great success—an equally passionate owner. When Wimberly met Laurie Stevens, they formed an instant connection that grew into a true partnership.

In 1981, Wimberly started a four year-old horse named Brigadoon, which is now the name of her farm based out of North Salem, NY. Within the year of starting Brigadoon, she brought the mare to Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden and was called back into the second round in the top two (though Brigadoon was unfortunately injured before the second round and unable to compete).

“My entire career has been based on bringing along young horses,” Wimberly tells The Plaid Horse.

She went on to ride with R.W. “Ronnie” Mutch and later worked for Melanie Smith Taylor as a rider. During her junior years, she was primarily a catch rider and was known for qualifying the horses for Indoors.

Lainie Wimberly and Nobleman. Photo courtesy of Wimberly.

After her junior career, she imported her first horse, Nobleman, a four-year-old stallion from Northern Holland. She had him gelded and sent to the states.

“I thought he was going to be a jumper,” says Wimberly. “But I started showing him in the hunters and he won every class.”

Nobleman went on to win the World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Class at Capital Challenge, and The Legacy Cup, among other big wins.

“He is the one that really catapulted my career,” says Wimberly. “I really hope that one day he will be inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. He deserves it.”

After Nobleman, Wimberly continued importing horses, and many of them went on to win with new owners at Devon and Indoor finals. “I was well known for sourcing horses for riders,” says Wimberly.

Wimberly spends her summers at Brigadoon’s headquarters in New York, showing at area shows. In the winter, she travels to Wellington, FL, for the circuit, which was where she met Stevens.

A Powerful Connection

Stevens began riding when she was a child and, after taking a break, started back up in her twenties.

“I rode with a lot of people throughout my years because I wanted to learn a lot of things from a lot of people,” says Stevens.

Laurie Stevens and Visionary. Photo by The Book.

Most notably, she rode with Diane Carney, to whom she credits much of her success.

“Diane taught me a lot, she pushed me a lot,” says Stevens. “The nine years I spent with her gave me a solid foundation, and I credit much of my success to her.” From there, Stevens spent three years with Larry Glefke, and met her husband, Haynes Stevens.

It was her husband who encouraged Stevens to buy a horse named Visionary, who went on to be the Amateur Owner Hunter Horse of The Year. “That partnership put me on the map,” she notes. From there, she went on to continue importing several horses and began riding with Tammy Provost. Together, they produced many winners, such as Tommy Bahama. Adds Stevens: “Rob Bielefeld and Chrystal Knight have also been instrumental in contributing to my path of success.”

With her husband, Haynes Stevens, DVM, an equine veterinarian, Stevens moved to Wellington, Florida, opening up Equine Services Ltd., a facility that they built together.

Stevens and Wimberly with Iceman, Grand Champion Amateur Adult Hunter at The Hampton Classic. Photo courtesy of Stevens and Wimberly.

Upon meeting Wimberly, the two just clicked. There wasn’t even a courtship period, as Stevens put it: “We started winning big from the very first day. We started having a saying between us, ‘A day isn’t a day without a blue ribbon.’ From the moment we started working together, we had such a connection. Lainie has such a masterful connection with my horses and with me.”

Winner After Winner

Wimberly began selecting horses for Stevens, and in 2009, Stevens was the circuit champion at the Wellington Equestrian Festival (WEF) in the 3’3” Amateur Owner Division aboard Orka, a horse that Wimberly had brought along.

Since then, they have had numerous winners, including Iceman, Santiago, Lonestar, Belvedere, Listen to Me, CC Cool, Unistar, and Quartermaster.

“Santiago was a dream horse,” says Stevens. “Lainie owned him and wasn’t going to sell him!” With some convincing though, Wimberly sold Santiago to Stevens once she was sure the partnership would thrive. “I thought, if I’m going to sell him to a client, I need to make sure it works!” says Wimberly.

Santiago and Stevens went on to win reserve circuit champion at WEF, WCHR week champion, and champion at Capital Challenge. Santiago is now retired. “From the second I laid eyes on Santiago, I was mesmerized,” says Stevens. “Santiago was and is my dream horse of a lifetime.”

Cayman winning the Style Award at WEF in the 3’3 Greens. Photo by Sportfot.

Reflecting on the long list of horses the two have worked with, Stevens adds, “they’ve all been winners. Every single one of them.” Many horses that Wimberly has imported have been favorites by more than just Stevens.

“If she likes a horse, she will keep them in the barn,” says Stevens of Wimberly. “So many clients have passed along horses to keep them in the barn. Some of them will stay eight or nine years, rotating through clients!”

And in the past few years, Wimberly has been focused on National Grand Prix classes. “Those have enhanced my handy hunter riding and brought me a new level of confidence and ease about my riding,” she says.

A Perfect Fit

This past year, Wimberly and Stevens began thinking about the future and how they could continue to combine forces.

“I think a gift we have together is we recognize potential in horses,” says Stevens. “I’ve had just as much fun watching Lainie ride and develop horses as I have in the saddle myself.”

With that in mind, Stevens is shifting focus and together, she and Wimberly are expanding their business to importing and selling horses. “Laurie has a great eye and she’s really good at picking out a quality horse,” says Wimberly. “She picks out horses that anyone can ride, it’s not just for one rider.”

The pair pride themselves on picking based on quality and allowing the horses to dictate how quickly they come along, putting an emphasis on proper development. “We want to really handpick horses that are special,” says Stevens. “I am not going to buy one just to have one.”

Cayman and Pablo Mendoza after winning the Derby at ESP 3. Photo courtesy of Stevens and Wimberly.

Of course, no one can do it alone in this business, and both Wimberly and Stevens note that their grooms, Jesus Barcena and Pablo Mendoza, are integral to their success.

While Wimberly will continue running Brigadoon, she plans to keep the business small with only a couple of clients while focusing on developing top talent. “I don’t want to be a factory of people. I want to focus on developing and bringing along horses because I’m so hands on,” she says. “I want to produce those top riders. I want to produce those top horses.”

With the help of their contact in Europe, Desiree Johnson, from whom Stevens has been importing horses for 15 years, the two are working to hand select only the best horses for buyers in America.

“I want to be the go-to person for horse sales,” says Stevens. “It makes me really proud to see our horses go on to do well.”

Stevens and Wimberly.

While the two women undeniably have a successful business model, they have more importantly built a friendship based on the trust and belief they have in each other.

“What made connecting with Laurie successful is I have the backing and belief of her,” says Wimberly. “It gives me a little extra something. You could call it confidence or pride. It just makes me not have to worry about anything and focus on the partnership with the horse.”