Well I need not start this article with a explanatory introduction because if you know anything about international show jumping you will have heard of Stephex Stables. Now, if you have not heard of Stephex Stables before, then you are reading the right article. But before you start, you should know that Stephan Conter and Stephex Stables are one in the same. They are unanimous with one another and I dare to say that one would not exist without the other.
STX has developed itself through the years as the international in-between; the connection between East and West, North and South. Within the heart of Brussels, Belgium, Stephex Stables stands as the connection between sellers in Europe and buyers abroad. It is one of the fundamental stops if you are shopping in Europe and it represents a rather diverse international business.
Whether you are looking for hunters, equitation or your next international superstar, it seems that Stephex stables has established itself as a place where talent can be found.
You only need to walk into the foyer of the stables to see, adorned on the walls, hundreds of beautifully framed photographs of the many talented mounts to have walked through the stable doors and ridden under the STX label. Horses such as Hickstead, Derly Chin de Muze, Uruquay, King Kolibri, Wivina, Verdi, Coriana van de Klapscheut, Nanta, Blue Curacao, Cappucino Z, Narcotique de Muze, Obelisk Z, Athlete vant Heike, Davendy S, Luikka, Billund d’Arsouilles, Lord II Z, Ulysse, Mouse and Talent.
Stephex stables has developed into somewhat of an empire. Set on 75 acres, Stephex holds host to 80 horses and approximately 30 staff. This is no ordinary stable, it is a mark of the size and growth of international show jumping. The market that contains our equestrian sport has grown and flourished to allow for such businesses as STX to truly become something momentous.
So what makes Stephex stables so unique? Well besides the profound vision of one man, which we will talk about later, it is the union of two fundamental elements required in any successful equation in this business; talent both in riders and in horses.
So besides having the ability to locate and/or develop talented horses such as Hickstead or Cornet d’Amour or Narcotique de Muze, one must have the right driver in the seat. Riders with the ability to handle such talent with the delicacy and finesse required in this very competitive sport. Riders such as Pedro Veniss, Nina Fagerstrom, Jennifer Jones, Eric Lamaze, Kristy Mc Cormack, Joe Clee, Faye Schoch, Marilyn Vorpe, Yves Vanderhasselt, Kevin Spiessens, John Gunvar Knutsen, Jill Smits, Gilbert de Roock, Delphine Goemare and Sebastien Numminen have ridden within the walls of this famed stable and contributed to its considerable reputation.
There always seems to be a solid foundation of talent riding with the STX on their saddle pads. At the moment Germany’s Daniel Deusser, ranked 50th in the world, has made the move from Jan Tops stable in Holland to Stephex stables. You will know Daniel from his successes with the famous Air Jordan Z, among many many others. Honestly, his records in the FEI database go forever. In addition, Japan’s Eiken Sato, Haiti’s Farid Ladjouan and the Netherland’s Tom Martens complete the current Stephex team, affectionately known as United colors of Benetton for the wonderful diversity found in riders from all over the world.
After Germany’s big win in the BMO Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows, with which Daniel was a member, we can expect Mr. Deusser to be a constant feature on the World Cup circuit. Daniel and Cornet d’Amour have turned out to be quite a formidable pair and look to be a competitive feature on the international circuit. He also has moved Lillyfee, a horse previously ridden by Eiken Sato, up into the bigger classes also so no doubt you will be able to see the names Stephex stables and Daniel Deusser synonymously on international start lists.
So what happens when you combine talented riders, top horses and a support system behind a big name? Well you get a tremendous amount of success but not without someone to stand at the helm and steer the direction of such a force. In this case, the man at the helm is none other then Mr. Stephan Conter. Stephan, who rode at a National level himself, elected to start business in the horse market rather then attend University. Like many successful entrepreneurs, a few college classes was enough to convince the ambitious Belgian that organic business development was where his destiny lay. Mr. Conter started things off with famed Belgian rider Ludo Philippaerts. Building a business with the Olympian allowed him to grow and understand the business in a way that would allow him to part ways early on and start something on his own, for himself.
The current 80 acres property is located in Wolvertem, in the heart of Brussels, however it was not always this size. In fact, in 1990, it started as 11 acres and slowly through the years, with success and growth, Stephan bought more surrounding property. By 1995 he had established and built up the trading stable. Just to add to his ambitions, Conter established a separate but parallel business of building and selling horse trucks and motor homes in 1996. So not only did Conter want to grow one business, but rather he set his sights on two.
Did he succeed? Well yes, quite well actually. You can attend any horse show in and around Belgium and you can see numerous STX horse trucks (STX sells over 100 trucks a year). And his trading stables, well the numbers speak for themselves. Stephex stables sells roughly 200 horses a year but Mr. Conter will be the first to emphasize that the importance is on quality not quantity. “We look for the good ones, and I have a lot of my guys around at shows to look for good horses. When I’m thinking to buy, I look at how competitive the horse is. The horses need to be fast, and they need to be careful. They must not only be able to jump big; they also need to be fighters and have the guts to win,” A large percentage of the horses are sold to America, but also to China, Japan, Switzerland, France and Norway to name a few.
“We sell a lot of really good 5-7 year olds, and then there is a huge demand for horses at 1.40 level in the US,” explains the equine entrepreneur. Not all horses are kept at the Wolvertem location, some for example are with Belgian rider Marc Van Dijck or Brazil’s Pedro Veniss, Canada’s Eric Lamaze and Tiffany Foster. Stephan co-owns a lot of horses with Canadian Olympian Eric Lamaze who runs Torrey Pines Stables in Canada as well as Artisan Farms now here in Belgium. The two have enjoyed a successful partnership as well as friendship, marked poignantly by the acquisition and purchase of the famous Hickstead as a 7 year old. I have seen the pair many a time, enjoying the comforts of Stephan’s jet-black Eurocopter as they roam the countryside in search of the next superstar.
Now Hickstead he remembers, but Stephan will be the first to admit that he does not always remember all the horses that STX owns. It seems there are a lot. You just have to look at the lengthy list of references to understand where Stephan is coming from.
Now, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of knowing Stephan quite some time. I actually met him for the first time when I was barely a teenager. It was the first time I had ever been introduced to the world of show jumping in Europe and Stephex stables was my first visit. Jeroen van Lent, my cousin and a good friend of Mr. Conter’s brought me to this place which I thought was the most impressive stables I had ever seen. At 13 years of age and from Western Canada, I had never quite seen anything like it. Mr. Conter was of course more than obliging. He sent me home with piles of saddle pads and jackets, a hat and a vest. So naturally I felt like I had hit the jackpot and arrived at home to sport all things STX at the shows in Vancouver, CAN.
Now that I live in Belgium, I look back and the many run-ins I’ve had with Stephan and Stephex stables. Seeing them across the Atlantic at Spruce Meadows, visiting through the years and watching this STX empire grow. It just shows what hard work and vision can do in this sport and in this business. Through the years I’ve watched as Stephex becomes unanimous with European show jumping and very much a one-stop-shop for so many international buyers. But what drives a man like Stephan to build what he has built? What is it about him in particular that has contributed so fully to such a business?
Well I asked those closest to him to describe the equine entrepreneur in one word. The word they chose was …..Creative. Perhaps that is what divides those who build and those who create. Stephan Conter has certainly created something monumental. That is for certain.
Talking with Stephan…
Since my very first youthfulness I have always known that I was to “built” and to create my own business. When I was a teenager my personality was already deeply oriented towards entrepreneurship and social networking.
As lover of horse sports , it was for me natural to associate my deep entrepreneurial personality and my passion because I think that if you associate these two element you can reach a personal and business plenitude.
Why did you decide to do sales horses/competition horses/ horse trucks instead of anything else?
As explained it was not a decision but a clear natural evidence that mixed my passion and my personality.
Of course during my career and since the beginning of my working life , I took several strategic decision to develop my business to what I wanted . These decision has always had a rational basis but also partly emotional. As an entrepreneur it’s sometimes difficult to explain why you decide to take this or that opportunity but you feel it. Sometimes it does work but most of the time it’s a success. Anyway, in all my working live I have never make a single concession on the quality and honesty. It’s true for my horse business but also for the industrial part of my activities. I will put my company on the top level and to do that you need to be impeccable on all things , from A to Z , the difference is in the details. Each day, I challenge myself and my teams to repulse our limits and deliver top quality products.
What do you envision for the future of Stephex?
Stephex Group is today a sportive, commercial, industrial, real estate and financial group active in several region and domains. I want to continue to develop our expertise in all these sub-parts of my activities. This will be possible due to my personal involvement and my very professional collaborators. I have to recognize that the development of my financial and industrial activities is fast and I am very happy for it. Nevertheless my target is to continue to diversify my group and without reducing my personal implication in the horses department.
Where would you like to see your company in in 10 years time?
A profitable independent group with a turnover 3 times more than it is now and a leader in it’s niche.
Do you hope that your daughters will take over the business when they’re older?
For all family companies, the questions of the second generation , the succession , the inheritance and the long term survival of the company are difficult questions. As a father, I am very proud of my daughters and I wants the best for them, I would simply like that they can reach a personal and professional equilibrium that permits them to be deeply happy in their lives. Each day I try to give them the personal tools to reach this situation : honesty, pride, working values (if you want something you need to work for it), respect and ambition.
This having been said I have the chance that they are clever and very well involved in the horses. We will see but I would like that they will have the opportunity to experiment some different kinds of environement to make their experience stronger and after if they want to take the relay the door will be opened.
What is your motto in life?
Recognition of my and of what I represent (my company, my family)