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Hannah Selleck's boutique breeding operation is bearing fruit

Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Interview

Photo © Kristin Lee Photography Hannah Selleck with the 6-year-old mare Rumpleteazer, that is out of Alavarina by Flexible. Photo © Kristin Lee Photography.

 

Text by Emily Riden/Jump Media for World of Showjumping

 


 

There aren’t many top young U.S. show jumpers who have decided to breed their own prospects instead of shopping for them. That’s what sets Hannah Selleck apart. At 30 years old, Selleck has something few other U.S. show jumpers her age can claim: Her own sport horse breeding operation, Descanso Farm. 

While quite unique on the U.S. show jumping scene, Selleck still has much in common with other top, young, grand prix competitors. She grew up showing to great success in the hunter, equitation, and jumper divisions earning a number of top accolades including both team and individual gold at the 2008 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships; she has had training and tutelage from notable names in the sport including Karen Healey, Laura Kraut, Katie Prudent, and Leslie Howard; and she has big goals for the future. 

Today, Hannah is focused on not only furthering her own grand prix career, but also the careers of her Descanso Farm-bred young horses. World of Showjumping caught up with her to learn more about Hannah’s passion and plans for both. 

Bringing up babies

Photo © ESI Photography Hannah Selleck and Elita Toscita DF, a 2012 Holsteiner mare out of Hannah's former top horse Tosca van het Lambroeck. Photo © ESI Photography.

Officially founded in 2010 and based in California, Descanso Farm came to fruition following the retiring of Hannah’s then-top mount, Tosca van het Lambroeck. 

“I was lucky enough to have a couple of really quality mares when I was a junior,” explained Hannah, whose top junior equitation finishes include the reserve championship title in the 2007 U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) Hunt Seat Medal Finals and the win in the 2008 Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals – West. 

“The first one was a great equitation mare, and she got hurt. While she was laid up, we decided to breed her, and that kind of got the wheels turning. When Tosca, one of my top horses retired, my dad said, ‘Why don’t you try and breed and produce your own?’ It kind of started rolling!” 

By 2014, Hannah’s boutique breeding operation had six young horses on the ground and in her program, which focuses on providing them with the highest quality care, experts, and training every step of the way. 

“You need exceptional people and a good program if it’s all going to work out and you’re really going to produce the horses properly,” said Hannah. 

At Descanso Farm, that has meant that, after weaning, each of the foals has gone to Rancho Corazon in New Mexico or to Wild Turkey Farm in Oregon to enjoy living in large grass fields with other groups of young horses until they were ready to be started by some of what Hannah credits as the best at the job at Colts Unlimited in Wyoming. Hannah then takes over the ride as the young horses are ready to begin jumping and ultimately competing. 

“I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, so I want everything done right,” said Hannah, who first grew up learning horse care and horsemanship at Foxfield Riding School in California. “It’s hard for me, because I do have the knowledge on the ground. All those years, we would always have George Morris come in with Karen [Healey]; all those sorts of traditional basics are hardwired, and you can’t just throw those out. It’s instilled. So, I always want to work with a team that I can trust to share a lot of the same fundamentals and to do their best for our horses.” 

For Hannah and the Descanso Farm-bred horses, that commitment to excellence and to exceptional, fundamental horsemanship is now beginning to pay off in spades. 

“At the beginning, the whole process wasn’t so tangible until I started riding them,” said Hannah. “There’s kind of that bit of lag time from when you start with foals on the ground until they’re ready to really work with. There was a point where I didn’t have a horse in the big ring, and you start to think, ‘Okay, should I be focusing more on my own career? Is the breeding taking from my time to do that?’ 

“Then it suddenly reaches the other side, and you see that these horses have so much potential and that they could make it to the big ring. Once the first one started showing it felt more real,” continued Hannah. “As you’re initially doing it, you don’t quite know what the end product is going to be if you’ve never done it. Then you get to see it come to fruition, and it’s so exciting.” 

Currently making the years of fundamentals and development all the more exciting and rewarding are seven-year-old Holsteiner mare Elita Toscita DF (Lamarque—Tosca, Casch) and six-year-old warmblood mare Rumpleteazer DF (by Flexible). 

With U.S. Olympian Will Simpson in the irons, Rumpleteazer DF claimed multiple wins in the Six-Year-Old Jumpers at both HITS Coachella in Thermal, CA, and the Blenheim Spring Classic 2 CSI3* in San Juan Capistrano, CA, and Hannah is looking forward to watching her continue to climb the ranks. 

“[Rumple]’s always been blood and scopey, but you really started to see her potential this winter,” said Hannah. “Will’s doing a great job with her, and I’m excited to see where she ends up and what the future holds for her.”

Elita Toscita DF also earned multiple wins at HITS Coachella, where she additionally served another vital role for Hannah. 

Finding the silver lining on the sidelines

Photo © Kristin Lee Photography At only 30, Hannah Selleck runs her own sport horse breeding operation Descanso Farm. Photo © Kristin Lee Photography.

“Elita has ended up being my comeback horse,” said Hannah, who usually competes in the grand prix ring aboard her own Barla, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare. “I felt the most comfortable on her right away. I needed a horse to show along with Barla, who is a wonderful mare, but has her quirks. It can be a little intimidating to just want to walk back in the ring on her, but I could do that with Elita. She’s just a really quality, sporty, blood mare.”

Hannah’s need for a comeback horse arose in June 2018, when a fall at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, AB, left her with severely broken tibia and fibula bones in her leg and forced her out of the saddle for four months. 

“I’ve never taken more than a couple weeks off of riding at a time,” said Hannah, who chose to focus on the positives of the time out of the saddle. “It really allowed me to remember why I started wanting to ride or compete in the first place, because it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re going from ring to ring, and you have multiple horses showing in a day. It ended up being kind of a good reset and reminder for me. When I first got back on a horse in November, I was only flatting, but I was really loving just going to the barn every day— not preparing for a show, but just working and spending time with the horses.” 

“I had the luxury to not have to jump back in the ring the minute I got on a horse. I worked with Will [Simpson] so closely, and I had all the horses showing with him, so the first week in Thermal, I prepared all the horses,” continued Hannah. “I flatted them, and he would show. Those few weeks were quite fun to be in a different role than I’ve ever been in. I’ve never done that with horses that I own. Obviously, I do it for clients and somebody else gets on and shows, but it was really so much fun to be a part of my own horses’ success in a different capacity.” 

Enjoying each moment 

Photo © ESI Photography “My goal right now is to enjoy each moment,” Hannah says, here seen with Barla. Photo © ESI Photography.

By February, Hannah was back in the show ring – and back to turning in top results. Hannah now plans to continue to aim Barla at CSI2* and CSI3* competition throughout 2019, while also bringing along Elita Toscita DF and another Descanso Farm mare, five-year-old Gia DF, and her newest mount, Cuzco, owned by Melissa Margolis. However, when it comes to goals for both her own show jumping career and Descanso Farm, success in the show ring is not currently her primary focus. 

“My goal right now is to enjoy each moment,” concluded Hannah. “It’s a blessing to be jumping so many of these classes, so I’m just trying to be present and take that in. We are goal-oriented as athletes, but you’re also constantly thinking about future plans, where you want to be, and ‘I need to do x, y, and z in order to get this result.’ Right now, I want to focus on not only having the goals, but also being more present. You want to enjoy that moment that you’re in – whether it’s in the show ring or training the young horses at home — because we are so, so lucky to work with these animals every day.”

 

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