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WoSJ Exclusive; Tal Milstein – "You are only as good as the people around you"

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Tal Milstein pictured with his riders Lea Nissen and Henri Kovacks. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.Tal Milstein is a well-known name in the showjumping business, and is the one responsible for many successful horses such as Estina, Tristan, Baronez, Jonkheer Z and Cadett 7. And there are many horses to be added; as we are guided around Milstein's beautiful yard in the peaceful countryside of Asse, Belgium, we see that more than one wall is covered with photos of horses who have found their way from Tal's stable to the top of the sport. Tal himself is not a Belgian though, he is originally from Israel – and was a successful junior and young rider in his home country before he moved to Europe at the age of 22 to try his luck. "Back in those days there was nothing serious to do in Israel as a horseman," the now 38-year-old laughs when we ask him about the reason for his move.

After working at a few different stables and with some top names – that included the famous Bolvorm stable as well as legendary trainer and horseman Jos Kumps – Tal decided to chase his own dream and start up on his own in Asse, where he still is based. When it comes to his time with Jos Kumps, Tal is full of praise; "To be a couple of years close to a horseman like Jos, who is one of the best, was great. He is so knowledgeable and intelligent, and it really was a big plus for me to be able to learn from him."

Tal together with his business companion and good friend Ilan Ferder. Photo provided by Tal Milstein.Tal's business companion would turn out to be a good childhood friend from Israel that had moved to the States; Ilan Ferder – also very well-known in the showjumping world. "About twelve years ago Ilan and I started buying some horses together, selling them and then buying some new ones. From there on it went on to become a real business. Ilan and I build this business together from scratch," Tal explains. "I have my own company here though, and Ilan has a company in the States where he is based. Tough our friendship goes long back we are very different as persons. Still we complete each other in a very good way also when it comes to business; I'm responsible for the business in Europe and Ilan takes care of the sales in the States." Another good friend, Haim Levi – a rider, trainer and horse agent in Israel – has also meant a lot for Tal's career, and helped Milstein off to a good start with his own business.

Most of the horses at Tal's yard are sold to America. "A large part of the horses we sell go to the US. We mostly do showjumpers, maybe an equitation or hunter gets sold here or there – but I believe in doing what we do best and that is showjumpers."

Tal likes to source the horses for his business himself, and explains what is the most important for him when looking for a horse; "The main thing for me is that the horse is good for its job. It doesn't matter for which division, but it needs to fit for the job it's meant to do. I also need to make sure that the horses we sell have their heart in the right place, and that the horse can take some margin of mistake. I like horses that want to play along with the rider," Tal explains. "Age doesn't matter for us, but most of the horses that come in and out of the doors here are between eight and ten years old – that's were the biggest market is. But we also buy young ones that we think will be good enough for top level and use our time on them, as we have time for that. There is no rush here to sell. Some horses maybe stay for a couple of weeks, and other stay for two years," Tal says.

Most of the horses at Tal's yard are sold to America. Here is Jonkheer Z that competed at last year's World Cup Final with US rider Karl Cook. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson."The main difference from when I started up compared to how the market and business works today, is that nowadays horse dealing is much more capital intensive. In the past, the markets were less transparent and were based more on commissions," Milstein explains of the development in the horse market. "The horse business is complex – which is actually what I really like about my job; there are so many things that can go wrong but also so many things that can go right – so you always need to be on top of your game. Only then can you create something," Tal smiles.

With so many horses involved, it comes as no surprise that Tal has a huge machinery around him and that he likes things to be done neat and tidy. At the time of our visit Tal has twelve employees – all carrying out different tasks. Tal quickly replies that in his opinion they are overstaffed – but not long ago they were too few, and he does not want that to happen again underlining that he wants his horses to be well looked after and taken properly care of every day of the week. "My riders and me all work 24/7 here; horses don't know what holiday is," Tal smiles. "I have a great team here, and I like to think that I don't only invest in horses – but also in people. I believe that you are only as good as the people around you.”

Tal with his riders Henri Kovacks, Lea Nissen - and Perry Geryl who runs his own stable co-operating with Milstein. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.Currently there are two riders on duty in Tal's stable. Henri Kovacks – who previously rode for Hubert Bourdy, and competed Carolus Z at the Europeans in Herning last year before the horse was sold to Cian O'Connor – has just started as a rider for Tal when we visit. "We have ambitions here – also when it comes to the sport," Tal says of Henri's arrival. "But, we will take it step by step with Henri and take it a bit as it comes." In addition to Henri, Danish rider Lea Nissen also rides and competes the young horses for Tal as well as being chief-in-charge in the stables – making sure that each and every horse is turned out to a high standard. Lea is a perfectionist, just like Tal himself. Then there is Perry Geryl, from Belgium, Tal's long-term rider who now runs his own business – co-operating with Tal. Perry is well-known on the international circuit and also for bringing young horses into the top sport. Perry was the one who rode Kevin Staut's Silvana for Sea Coast from she was six until she was seven, and he was also the rider on Lauren Hough's Quick Study and Gregory Wathelet's former ride Sea Coast Conan when they were young.

Looking at Tal's state-of-the-art yard in Asse, it seems to be expected that nothing is out of place and that everything is running smoothly. Milstein's beautiful place and the way it is run is very much a proof of his success, and as we sit down he tells more about some of the most famous horses that has come from him. "Tristan was one of the most engaging projects" Tal laughs. "Many good horses pass through our yard, but Tristan was different, we held him for a long time because of his rare quality and special character. Both Samantha McIntosh and Kirsten Coe had much success with him, and now he jumps with Tiffany Sullivan for America," Tal tells about the now 14 year old gelding.

Baronez with Kirsten Coe in the saddle. Tal found the mare, which he describes as exceptional. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.Another great match for Coe is Baronez, which Tal found as a seven year old and that originally went to Israel. "Baronez initially got sold to Tomer Asher, who is the son of my good friend Avi Asher. Avi is another person who has really helped me build myself up both personally and professionally; believing in me from the beginning of my career. But the horse didn't cope in Israel, she wouldn't eat and in the end she did not look good," says Tal. "So, it came back and I was very happy about that as it was a really good horse. Within two and a half months she was up and running again. Then we put Kirsten on her, and it was love at first sight. Kirsten went from 1.25 classes to competing 1.50 in one season with her, and in 2012 they rode the World Cup Final in Den Bosch. I would say that Baronez is an exceptional mare. In the summer of 2012 our sponsors Lövsta Stutteri in Sweden invested in the mare, securing her for Kirsten to ride; they are another key ingredient in our and Kirsten's success."

Estina - that has had huge success with Sam McIntosh in New Zealand - was a horse discovered by Tal. Photo provided by Tal Milstein.Both Kirsten and Samatha has found some super equine partners through Tal – Kirsten is also Ilan Ferder's partner and Samantha used to work for Tal, so naturally the two companions know how to fit these two riders with horses. Estina – a ten year old mare by Heartbreaker x Libero H – has shown her competitors the back shoes regularly in the World Cup competitions in New Zealand. With Sam, the mare won two World Cup qualifiers in December last year and finished second in the World Cup League final two rounds in January. "Estina we found at a show. Sam was here looking for horses and we both thought the mare looked great. Sam jumped her at the warm-up, and then she tried her again here. Estina had a little bit of a character, and was maybe not the easiest – but the quality was amazing and we thought it would be a good prospect for Sam to develop. She is a really good rider for these kind of horses, and she likes them to be a bit feisty. In the beginning Estina needed big adjustments, but Sam did a very good job with her – in the end the good things became better, and the difficult ones disappeared. Estina has been extremely consistent with Sam, and it would be nice to see her back here for the World Equestrian Games," Tal smiles. And the list goes on with horses coming from Milstein and Ferder; ZoJasper – a ten year old by Concorde that Coe has competed is now jumping with Rodrigo Pessoa, and Czardas – an eleven year old by Contendro – can be seen jumping under McLain Ward.

Great horses, a thriving business, a beautiful yard – Tal has it all. Still, it seems pretty clear that for Tal it’s the people around him that matter the most. “We wouldn't have been able to do it without them,” he writes us when sending back his comments for this interview. Tal Milstein is definitely a team player. And he is definitely as good as those around him.  

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