Heather Hays of Brewster, N.Y., joined EQUILINE America's sponsored rider team this summer and immediately made a splash by riding to victory in the New England Hunter Derby with Alexander Hamer's Woodwind. Her banner week at the Fairfield County Hunt Club June Benefit horse show in Westport, CT, also included Championships in the Green Hunter 3'6" division with Sierra Gundersen's Rablo and in the Connecticut Training Hunter with Gochman Sport Horse's Touchdown as well as a Reserve Championship title in the Local Hunters with Jill Mastoloni's Marcello.
Hays gives EQUILINE America a look inside her Buxton Farm operation in our latest blog:
EQUILINE America: What is life like at Buxton Farm?
Heather Hays: Alexander Hamer is my business partner, and the two of us make up Buxton Farm. We have around 40 horses at any given time, with about 25 of those being show horses. Then we have some retired horses, because it's a huge, 380-acre farm. It's beautiful. It looks like something you would see in Kentucky. Then we also have a group of people who just board their horses and take lessons and just enjoy the riding aspect of things; not just horse showing. We do hunters, jumpers, and a little bit of equitation and ponies—a little bit of everything. Hunters and jumpers are main focus, and we have sale horses as well.
EA: What horses are you particularly excited about at the moment?
HH: The horse that I won the derby on, Woodwind, is owned by Alex. Woodwind was the name of an amateur-owner hunter of my mom’s back in the 80’s. So, we loved the name Woodwind and thought it would be cool to bring that back out there. He’s a really special horse that Alex and I both love. Right now, we’re sort of bringing him along. He had done jumpers in the past, so we’re sort of training and showcasing him as a hunter.
Another good one we have is Stellar, a sale horse that is owned by my sister, [top hunter rider] Holly Orlando. She’s a really nice up-and-coming hunter. We both show her, depending on where we are and what horse shows we’re at.
We have a lot of nice hunters that I show in the professional divisions but who also have other jobs as well.
EA: What is your favorite EQUILINE product?
HH: I love the EQUILINE riding coats. They fit well with the waistline of the breeches for an overall nicer fit, they're well-tailored, and they're washable, which is fantastic. I've done five weeks of showing in a row, and I definitely haven't had time to go to the dry cleaner.
The breeches are also very flattering and look very nice. I wear them every day, and they hold up so well. I wash mine a lot, and I ride five or more horses a day—I'm pretty hard on my riding clothes—but they definitely have lasted!
EA: What do you enjoy most about EQUILINE's saddles?
HH: I love the saddles. I feel like I've had my EQUILINE saddle for months or even a year, and it's only been a couple weeks. I only rode in it once at home before going to the horse show.
I think one of my favorite things about the saddles are how comfortable they are and how well they break in. When I sit in it, it molds perfectly to my position and where I want to be.
EA: What is something people might not know about you?
HH: I actually studied public relations at Auburn University. With a school like that, you're definitely part of a family, and it's a great network to be a part of.
EA: What does it mean to be a part of the EQUILINE America team?
HH: It's an honor to be a part of it. It goes along with my own philosophy. We [at Buxton Farm] want to have a quality operation and produce quality show horses, and EQUILINE goes right along with that in that it produces such quality products—not only with apparel, but also in equipment. You can tell with the saddles how much thought was put into creating something that was good for the horse and that allows the horse to be comfortable and go well, which I love. It's so important. It's not just focusing on riders and what we do: It's what the horses do as well. I feel like they really did a great job of doing their homework in putting the horse first.
Their clothes are such quality products, and the look is well put together. It's just a classy, sophisticated line. Whether you're wearing the clothes or using the saddle, saddle pads, or bonnets, when you go to the ring wearing EQUILINE, people notice. There's definitely a presence that it brings that people take note in.
What are your short- and long-term goals?
It's cool for me to not only be a rider, but to also be a trainer and run a business and have Buxton Farm. There are a lot of professionals that are just riders or just trainers. I'm really proud of and enjoy being a part of having a farm and customers and a business. Last year, I showed in the Developing Pro Challenge at Capital Challenge, and most of the competitors were riders or assistants working under another trainer, so for Alex and me, we're proud to have Buxton Farm and a business with clients that have very nice horses and similar goals as we do to have a presence at horse shows and show up with quality, well-trained horses and people that try to do their best in the ring.
I would say, long-term, my goal is to keep growing. Our business will be three years old in October, and we're still a growing business. It's been really fun to develop along the way, and we continue to grow and emerge.
Short-term, for my own personal riding, I'd like to keep going out there and try to do my best and have quality horses to present in the show ring. Fairfield was a great week, and a lot of good things happened. I'd like to keep things going at other horse shows.
Be sure to follow EQUILINE America's blog page for our next sponsored rider feature!
Photos by Sarah Latterner