In the heart of Lexington, Kentucky, a city known for its plethora of Thoroughbreds and strong ties to horse racing, sits a 400-acre farm dedicated to the breeding, development, and sales of performance show jumpers.
It is here, down a winding path, the interior of the permitter lined with gated entrances, that we find the beating heart of internationally renowned Spy Coast Farm: owner Lisa Lourie.
As the original agent for Big Star (Quick Star x Nimmedor) semen in North America, Spy Coast is currently home to several of the stallion’s progeny. Yet many of the farm’s other prominent bloodlines trace back to the multifaceted operation’s earliest days.
Ten years prior, the concept of Spy Coast was simply a question worth pondering by Lourie, a mother who had an idea for the top horses she was seeing on the amateur jumper circuit.
“I was watching my daughter go around in the High-Junior jumpers and I realized that those were some of the best horses on the showgrounds. I wondered what happened to them afterward, especially the mares,” Lourie said.
“At that time, the answer was often, ‘not much’—they got turned out but they no longer had a productive life. I started teaching myself pedigrees and I learned how different pedigreed horses went. I went around to people I knew, and if their talented horse got injured, or whatever, I’d take them.”
What Lourie saw as both an underutilized resource and a hole in the system ultimately laid the foundation for the breeding program that today forms about one-third of the genetic makeup of Spy Coast Farm.
The operation is dispersed across three locations: Lexington; Wellington, Florida; and Tryon, North Carolina. But it is here in the Bluegrass State that the quest to develop show jumping’s future stars ultimately takes form.
Onsite veterinarian Modesty Burleson, VMD oversees the foals from the time they hit the ground until they’re two. “As they’re turning three, they come to the Young Horse Development Center to start their training under saddle,” said David O’Brien, Head Trainer at the Young Horse Development Center.
In realizing that there were “painfully few” training programs capable of fostering the growth of warmbloods up to the 1.60m level in North America, Lourie started the Young Horse Development Center, which plays an integral role in their breeding program as the horses get older.
At about the age of four, Spy Coast’s young horses are put into full work and may attend a few local horse shows. “At that point, we decide if they’re going to be sold or kept to put some more time into them,” said O’Brien.
Honoring a tradition, Lourie celebrates Big Star when choosing names for his foals: Proxima Centauri SCF (Big Star x Diktator van de Boslandhoeve), Procyon SCF (Big Star x Diktator van de Boslandhoeve), and Polaris SCF (Big Star x Lester) were all named after celestial stars.
“Gary [Widdleson] and Nick Skelton made Big Star available to Spy Coast farm about [four] years ago because they knew we had good mares and that we had access to good mares through our clients,” Lourie said. “These Big Stars are out of really good mares, so I think they’re going to be really exceptional horses.”
The KWPN mare Rolette (Lester x Voltaire)—one of Lourie’s foundation mares and the mount of Great Britain’s Ben Maher in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games—is the dam of Polaris SCF.
Belgian Warmblood mare Loletta SCF (Diktator Van De Boslandhoeve x Lester), the progeny of Rolette and Lourie’s stallion, Diktator van de Boslandhoeve (Thunder x Capital), foaled Proxima Centauri SCF. The Holsteiner mare Belle Bleu S (Baldini I x Silvester) was bred to Diktator and the resulting mare, La Belle SCF (Diktator Van De Boslandhoeve x Baldini I), foaled Procyon SCF.
While Spy Coast traditionally brings their horses in for training once they reach the age of three, the then-2-year-old Big Star colts developed noticeably faster than their herd companions. Not only were they big, they also displayed studish behavior.
“When horses are big and grow quickly, sometimes you want to go slowly with them and other times you want to go a little faster; it all depends on their temperament. With [the Big Star colts], we felt we had to get some work into them so they would be easier to deal with later on,” Lourie explained.
“We took them out of their herd [to teach them] a little more manners. Sometimes it works well to do that,” she continued. “We evaluate all of our horses continually. They’re not just thrown out into the field and ignored. Each and every one of them is handled every day, and we’re individualizing their program.”
Described as smart, friendly with people, and good to handle (for young stallions) by the Young Horse Development Center’s Barn Manager, Molly Schmiege, the now-3-year-olds have been working under saddle and show great promise. They are currently on break for the winter before returning to work in the spring.
The 12-Year Scotch Model
It’s hard to believe that Spy Coast, with all its vastness and well-established reputation, is really just getting started. The latest addition to the Kentucky base, the Spy Coast Farm Rehab and Fitness Center, is slated for completion this summer; the facility will employ two noted lameness/rehab vets and include various forms of therapy, including spas, water treadmills, and laser treatments.
“The main focus is to bring horses back from injuries and improve fitness in an environment where our clients know their horses will be getting the best care. We have clients coming in with mares and if some of them want to, while the mares are being rehabilitated, we can offer to take an embryo for them because we have that side of the farm as well,” said Schmiege. “We can do the best of both worlds.”
In addition to the expansion of Spy Coast, Lourie has more than one reason to celebrate the success of a breeding operation that first began as a good hunch.
“All the avenues and directions [Spy Coast ] has taken me in have been really fun. The great augmentation of my efforts has been being a partner in the show management firm because I’ve been able to influence the classes as well. We are decreasing the cost of the young horse classes, so now, people can better afford to show them at five, six, and seven,” explained Lourie.
“It basically takes—from beginning to end—eight years to produce a horse. It’s a huge amount of work and I call it the 12-year scotch model. American buyers have been less willing to buy them younger, because they haven’t been as experienced at bringing on young warmbloods. But they often just can’t afford to buy a developed 8-, 9-, or 10-year-old horse—they can run in the hundreds of thousands, so they have to learn how to bring on younger horses themselves.
“Now, we’ve got lots of interns and we’re trying to produce people who will know how to train and develop young horses better. Everything is kind of working in our favor. The fact that I was a little bit out ahead of it was fine. It all kind of worked out.”