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Susan Grange – Canada’s secret to show jumping success

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What was your interaction with horses growing up in Canada and competing?
I would buy young horses off the track and bring them up myself. I’d bring them through the hunter division then through jumper divisions. It was a different time then. Now people buy them made and they go in the ring, but I never did it that way.

Tell us about your farm Lothlorien. How did it get its name? What are your facilities like in Caledon, Canada and in Wellington, Florida?
I read The Lord of the Rings when I was at university and Lothlorien was supposed to be a beautiful forest. I thought it would be a cool name and different. The main farm in Canada is 450 acres including a track so we can do fitness training, paddocks, a large indoor ring and a smaller one for the young horses, an all-weather ring, and Grand Prix field.

In Wellington we have two barns. The home barn is 30 acres, about ten minutes from the show grounds so you’re able to get away. We were able to put in two trails which is unusual for a farm in Florida. Then about five years ago, I purchased the show barn which is attached to the horse show on five acres. It’s even closer than the FEI stabling and we’re right there. It’s fantastic.

You have had the opportunity of working with one of the great riders of all time, Captain Canada, Ian Millar. What has it been like to join forces with Ian?
It’s been wonderful. We have a really good working relationship. I started out with a few horses that I had stabled with him. Now I have Dixson here at my farm. We keep the horses fit and conditioned here and he meets us at the shows. I’m very one-on-one with my horses and I like to develop their programs myself. We’ve had a great relationship and the whole family had a lot of fun. We’ve been to the WEG’s, the Pan Am Games, the Olympics and the European championships together.

It has been said that you chose In Style for Ian with the 2008 Olympics in mind and indeed he won a silver medal, the first equestrian team medal for Canada since 1968. What was that moment like?
That moment was unbelievably exciting and unbelievably nerve wracking. We were the anchor rider so every time you went in the ring the pressure was on. Winning the silver medal was huge for Canada. Canada always had a hard time finding the fourth rider for the team and everybody’s horse had to be fit and healthy. In the States it’s very different because they probably have 30 options and so much more backing. Canada has done well lately and it’s quite remarkable.

Ian comments: “I’m always thrilled to partner with Ariel and Susan. They’ve been such tremendous supporters of Team Millar and the sport.”  You also were named 2005 Jump Canada owner of the year. How do you see your contribution to the sport?
If you look at Canadian horses and who owns them it’s quite often a family member. Canada has always had a hard time finding people that wanted to be owners. So I think the fact that I’ve been there with Ian who is one of the top riders and been able to have horses for him has a huge impact on Canada. The support system in the States is at a much higher level and showing there as a rule is at a higher level than Canada. (Although you can’t take Spruce Meadows into account when you say that.) I think that in order to be on a level playing field with the rest of the world you have to be able to travel to all the international shows and get experience.

You work with Irish rider Conor Swail who has been on a winning streak with your nine-year- old Simba de la Roque which has included the JLT Stakes at Dublin and CSI3* wins at New Albany, Ohio, Rolex Central Park Horse Show, and the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. What is your working relationship like with Conor and how did you identify the talent in this horse?
I bought Simba earlier in the year and he had a great Fall. He’s quite the competitor. He’s one of those horses who goes in the ring and gives it his best every time. There aren’t too many like that. Conor first bought him – he has always got his eyes open for horses – and stayed at my barn in Florida so I had the opportunity of watching him at a few shows before I decided to purchase him. We aren’t sure exactly what he is yet – he’s done everything we’ve asked but he’s only nine.

It has been great relationship with Conor but it’s a bit tricky– he lives in Ireland but the horses are with me and between us we sit down and make schedules and fitness routines. We get the horses fit and strong and Conor flies in for the shows and in Florida he is there the entire time, and is able to prepare the horses. We get along really well, and it’s a mutual respect. He knows when he gets here the horses will be in great shape and ready to go and he knows my background and respects the fact I know what I’m doing. We also work on a lot of gymnastics. It makes the horses smarter. What you’re doing is teaching the horse how to jump for themselves instead of the rider telling the horse what to do. I truly believe you can manufacture a horse but the really good ones have to think for themselves.

Swail comments: “I have been looking for a good sponsor all my life. I feel I am very good at what I do. I just needed a good owner like Sue and to have a few nice horses.”  What makes a successful relationship between owner and professional rider?
My relationship is quite different from a lot of owners because with a lot of owners the rider takes the horse and does the fitness and training and the owner goes and watches whereas I actually run my barn. That’s where I get my enjoyment. The training at home to me is the most exciting. I put a lot into the horse myself, and I think the riders have definite respect for that. The excitement of seeing the horse in the Grand Prix ring and winning is knowing all the steps the horse has gone through and the enjoyment of realizing that we finally made it to the top level.

What is your show horse-breeding operation like?
Originally when I started breeding show jumpers I would go to Europe and buy mares and what I mostly do now is embryo transfers. I breed my top horses that are showing and transfer the embryos to a surrogate mare and I don’t have to disrupt the career of the mare. It’s difficult and expensive. Everything has to be timed to perfection. I have a lot of nice young horses. It’s fun to breed them and I love having the babies around. If you breed them yourself you know how they’ve been handled and they’ve never been mistreated and they trust you.

A signature event at the Winter Equestrian Festival, the Great Charity Challenge Pro/Am competition, raises money for Palm Beach County Charities, namely more than $7 million to date. In 2014 the team you sponsored anchored by Ian Millar won first place in honor of Speak Up For Kids, with $150,000 going to the charity. What was your reaction that night?
It’s a great feeling. Show jumping is considered to be a rich person’s sport, and it’s so nice to see the riders are doing this and getting money to where it’s truly needed. I always strive to put a good team together and try to win for them. That was the first year Ian participated, and he couldn’t believe the feeling of it. It brings you down to earth when you meet your charity – mine burst into tears they were so excited. It meant the world to them, and they could create so much impact with the money they got. I’m also a big supporter of Right to Play a global charity which uses play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease in disadvantaged communities.

What are you most excited about for this upcoming season at the Winter Equestrian Festival?
It’s going to be an exciting year for both myself and my daughter, Ariel, who co-owns a number of our horses. What will be most fun is all the eight and nine-year-olds coming along and just getting to the point of big Grand Prix and the excitement of seeing them go to the next level. It’s going to be a fun year.