Hunter rider Nick Haness had one of his biggest years yet in 2022 with a win in the $25,000 WCHR Pro Final at Capital Challenge (Maryland), the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular (California), the $65,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Southwest Regional Championship (California) and the 3’6”/3’9” Platinum Performance USHJA Green Hunter Incentive North Central Regional Championship (Kentucky). He was also grand hunter champion at Devon (Pennsylvania), topped the WCHR National Standings and earned tricolors at Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania National and Washington International (Maryland). He also won U.S, Equestrian Federation Horse Of The Year titles with Reese’s, Marilyn and Only Always.
A well-known catch-rider on the West Coast, Haness can be found in most open classes at a horse show. We caught up with him during Desert Holiday II in Thermal, California, to learn what a typical day at a show is like with the Hunterbrook Farms team.
5 a.m. I spend all night thinking about how to prepare the horses to win. That’s always on my mind. I wake up usually around 5 or 5:30 to start riding horses around 6 a.m. I like to ride my horses myself to get a feel for how their mood is that day, how they are and what kind of preparation they might need to be their best. I generally like to ride my favorite few in the morning to make sure they’re dialed in and ready to compete.
6 a.m. I get started riding. My assistants and my boyfriend Ryan [May] will all have a horse to ride. I’ll probably ride one to two horses in the morning before the show starts.
We have our breakfast; I’m definitely a Starbucks guy, so my favorite breakfast of champions would be some sort of passion tea lemonade refresher and their egg-white bites. I do not like coffee, but oddly I’m obsessed with Starbucks iced teas. I love all their refreshers, the peach tea, or last year they had an amazing kiwi refresher. I had that, like, every single day. I love a lot of sweet, sugary, bad drinks for you.
After breakfast we start collaborating on anyone’s ideas of changing bits or what tack is needed for the day. We have a little meeting with the grooms in the morning and get all of that organized and situated before we’re turned loose. Once I am at the show ring, it’s a never-ending process.
We do all of our planning before that and get the day organized. Then my assistant Gabby [Gavalas] will go check in with all of the horse show staff and back-gate guys to generate a good guesstimate of what my timing will look like. I’ll be running between hunter rings and jumper rings and all in between, back and forth.
Our Hunterbrook team mascot, Hunter, who is my dog, will join us in the golf cart all day and sit up by the rings to watch his dad show. So that’s really fun. He is a big part of the routine in the morning.
8 a.m. Oftentimes I’ll do between 30 and 60 rounds a day at the horse show, between my own horses or catch-rides for other trainers I’m riding horses for, so once I get a leg up in the saddle on the first horse at 8 a.m., my feet don’t touch the ground pretty much all day.
It’s pretty known at the West Coast shows that if the back-gate guys see me coming to the gate, they pretty much have to find a way to put me in the ring as soon as possible. Otherwise I would hold up the horse show all day long because I have so many horses to ride.
It’s a lot. I think my adrenaline kicks in, and actually it’s pretty fun and pretty easy to get through that many rounds as long as I keep moving and keep going and keep getting on the next horse right away. It kind of just rolls into the next one, and I just sort of keep going, and I don’t even think about it.
When I’m competing pretty heavily, and I’m catch riding for another trainer like Archie [Cox] or for Carleton Brooks, I usually ask that they have someone on their team warming up the horses for me just a little bit before I get there. That way the horses have a little bit of time to warm up before I have to hop on and jump a few jumps and just go in the ring. I believe training horses is done at home. When you are warming up for a class, you just keep it short and simple, jump a few jumps and save all the good jumps for the show arena.
I leave [coordinating with other trainers] up to Gabby and Ryan. They basically text everybody and say, “Hey, Nick is on this horse at Ring 4, and in 15 minutes we’ll be heading back to Ring 1.” We kind of just ping-pong around the horse show from ring to ring and keep everyone updated via text. I have my phone on me when I’m competing, but I’m not really checking it, so I’m sort of useless. I’m focused on the horses and what ring I need to go to next; they’re managing my schedule for me.
4 p.m. As things start to slow down is about the time that my need for candy starts to kick in. That’s my jet fuel. I am definitely a sugar and sweets, candy person, so I’ll find a secret stash of Skittles, M&Ms, Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, gummy bears, licorice—anything kind of sweet or fruity. That’s how I regenerate and get myself kind of brought back up to speed after a long day of showing and competing.
I eat a small amount of real food during lunch. I don’t usually work up a really large appetite when I’m competing because I’m more thirsty than I am hungry. I’ll generally have a very small lunch, probably like half of a sandwich or a salad with just a little bit of protein—something that does have some nutritional value to it—because riding is definitely a sport where you’re exercising, and your brain is working hard, and your body is working hard, so it is required to have a lot of water and just a little bit of protein and jet fuel throughout the day.
4:30-5 p.m. When my riding day winds down, I go back to the tack room. That’s my 20-30 minutes catch-up time where I sit on my phone by myself with no one around. I pull up all of my videos from the day and watch all my rounds and make sure I like the way the horses are going. It’s just sort of a time to kick back on the couch with my dogs and not have to deal with any people or any schedules or anything that’s stressful. I like to really unwind and take in and watch all those rounds from the day and watch my favorite rounds and see which of the horses went the best and how I can improve for the next day. It’s one of my favorite things to do at the end of the day.
5 p.m. Once the end of the day is done, and I’ve had my candy and watched my videos, updated my Facebook and my Instagram for the day, then it’s time for grain and medicating, which is another fun part of my day.
We have a really good system: We have this huge cart on wheels with like 30 horse buckets built into it. Everything is labeled with what the horses need for the next day as far as their supplements and medications. I actually really enjoy feeding the horses their dinner because I feel like it’s their reward for being so good. They get so happy and so excited to see us when they see that bucket and grain cart coming in their direction. That’s always a really fun part of the day, giving them their final treat and reward of the day and their little dessert.
Then it’s time to write the board for the next day, and start to make the plans for the next morning. We send a screenshot of the board to our braider, so she knows what horses are showing the next day and what classes they’re going in and what time they’re going to be showing, so she can decide on her schedule when they should get braids. We also send a screenshot to the grooms, who have probably gone home by now because they’re tired, and give them a heads up on the schedule for the next day.
6 p.m. The nice thing about where we’re competing right now [at Desert International Horse Park] is that we stay at the horse show in a motor home. One of my favorite things is that we’re so close to the show and to the horses. I can go back and forth from the motor home and check in on the horses as many times as I need to.
Generally after the show is over and I’m done, I go back to the camper and shower—a really nice hot shower to just unwind from the day—and then it’s time for dinner.
In this area and many areas that we show, I love to go out and dine. I’m not usually someone who cooks dinner at home and stays in. I kind of get my second wind, get a shower, and go to dinner. And not stay out too too late, but have a nice dinner and come back and check on the horses one more time before I go to bed.
The lengthiest part of the day is outside with the horses. I’d rather go to bed super early so I can recharge and be ready to go for the next day.