Free Rein With: Bill Schaub

Nov 27, 2009 - 9:59 AM
Pony pundit Bill Schaub has taken his eye for talent from the performance ring to the breeding world. Photo by Mollie Bailey.

Bill Schaub doesn’t consider himself a pony guy, but it’s an easy assumption to make about a man whose business card famously lists the measurements for small, medium and large ponies. While Schaub has trained top hunters in every division, he’s always had a special way with the smallest competitors at the horse show, both equine and human. His ponies and their riders have won most every award around, and he’s regularly seen center ring during the presentations at USEF Pony Finals, Devon (Pa.), the fall indoor shows and on the stage during the U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year awards.

With so many accolades with grown ponies, it was no surprise when Schaub started finding success in the pony breeding ring. He picked up second with Shenandoah Bonfire (Shenandoah Samoa—Shenandoah Ember) for Elizabeth Jones at Devon (Pa.) in the 3-year-old stallions and geldings class. And he’s recently started breeding his own future champions, recruiting Capital Challenge (Md.) grand pony champion Arabesque and Pony Finals grand champion High Fashion as his foundation mares.

The son of a frustrated cowboy, Schaub got his start in the horse world by begging and borrowing mounts and by teaching lessons as a teenager, staying just a step ahead of his charges. He forayed into the show world as a working student, and his career took off after he trained the legendary junior hunter Lyric for Courtney Kennedy and Ashley Kennedy Whitner in the late 1980s.

Now Schaub’s lengthy client list includes top horses and ponies from his home base in Sanford, Fla., and across the country. Schaub attributed his students’ top performances to a dedicated staff at his Over The Hill Farm, spearheaded by barn manager Melissa Vander Vennet and assistant trainer Molly Sewell Schott, but also to a positive attitude that sets the tone for his entire business.

“I quit drinking a year ago, and it’s been the most amazing change in my business,” he said. “We never have emotional decisions any more, and my karma has totally changed. I’m not short with the staff, I’m never grumpy in the morning, the ponies are happy, the clients are happy, the kids are happy, and all of a sudden great things keep happening.”

Name: Bill Schaub                                                       

Home Base: Sanford, Fla.                                                                      

Age: 51

Describe your first horse.

She was a 16-hand, buckskin Appaloosa with a big blanket. She was an ex-barrel racer, and I used to ride her down the side of the road and take her swimming. We taught her to jump.

What’s the No. 1 quality you look for in a young pony you’re going to show or consign?

Attitude. Obviously, if it’s going to show on the line it has to be pretty, but it needs to have a good attitude first and foremost.

What’s your favorite quality in a pony stallion?

Whether it’s horses or ponies, I look for an athlete.

What physical characteristics do you like to see in young ponies?

I like to see ponies with a little more bone. Some of these things that are winning on the line are so frail looking; they do well on the line then can’t stand up to a performance career.

What’s the hardest kind of pony to sell?

A bad lead-changer is tough, and so is a badly-sized pony, but a stopper is the worst. I won’t sell one.

What advice would you give to someone buying his or her first show pony?

First, be sure to take your trainer, and your trainer should be someone you trust. I always say a commission is the best money someone can spend. Shopping alone is a terrible way to cut your expenses—skip a few horse shows instead.

Then, be sure to do your homework. Check up on the pony’s history, and braiders and grooms are often the ones who can tell you how long it has to longe [or] what the behavior is like. Then see if you can get a trial. That’s another good reason to bring a trainer—it will be more likely for the seller to agree to a trial if the pony is going to be with a reputable professional.

What’s the most important lesson you learned the hard way?

Don’t cheat.

What’s your biggest pet peeve in the pony industry?

People who go around and try ponies but aren’t ready or financially capable of buying one. A lot of the etiquette has been lost in this business, and it’s really a shame.

What changes would you like to see in the pony breeding world?

I believe that the ponies who win on the line should be capable of winning in the performance ring, so I’m really disturbed by the fact that we see some ponies showing on the line who are no longer ponies. I believe that ponies competing on the line should have to measure a pony height.

What quality do you admire most in a pony?

Heart. There’s nothing worse than a beautiful pony that jumps great but doesn’t want to do good. It’s like a talented kid who doesn’t want to ride. I’d rather teach an untalented kid who wants it.

And in a human?

Good character.

What item in your wardrobe best personifies you?

Probably my Robert Graham shirts.

What’s the last thing you tell a student before he or she goes in the ring?

Good luck. Or have fun. But usually good luck.

If you could take a turn riding any horse whom would you choose?

Rumba.

Which of your lifetime accomplishments are you most proud of?

My daughter Nicole—I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to have her. She’s the biggest blessing in my life. She’s taught me so much.

What electronic device could you not live without?

My cell phone.

What’s the most ridiculous part of the horse show world?

People think it’s the be all and end all. People get so upset over it when it’s such a small part of the whole thing. If people were more focused on the process they’d realize that’s where the fun part is. Parents who watch the lessons and graze the horses and stay involved enjoy all of it.

Looking back on your career, what advice are you glad you never took?

Some people told me not to buy Lyric. I was a young professional, and that scared me. People were concerned about her ability, concerned that she would be too hard for Ashley coming right off ponies.

In retrospect, what’s the best decision you’ve ever made?

Buying a farm 26 years ago.

Do you have any non-equestrian hobbies?

Not really! I love to go on vacation with my daughter. Because I’m on the road a lot we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.

What’s one fact about you that most people would be surprised to know?

I’m basically a loner by nature. No one would ever expect that.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I hope I’m right where I am today. My biggest goal is to win an equitation final with one of the kids. And I’d like to have grandchildren.

Category: Interviews
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