Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2024

Heidi Humphries Is Pumped Up

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Heidi Humphries likes to go big.

She’s the founder and chief executive officer of Spectra Baby USA, which produces the country’s best-selling electric breast pump. 

She runs Zen Elite Equestrian Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as well as Zen Haven, a nonprofit animal sanctuary that’s home to hundreds of cats, goats, pigs, birds and other animals, which she runs alongside her partner, Danielle Linder. 

And she’s making a big mark on the sport of dressage as the owner of a string of horses that includes Bohemian, the 14-year-old Westfalen gelding (Bordeaux 28—Sunshine, Samarant) previously competed by Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour of Denmark in international competition, including at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

“As much as I would love to ride, I have a few neck injuries that prevent me from getting on the back of a horse,” said Heidi Humphries (fourth from left). “I am hoping that one day I will be able to piaffe and passage down a centerline! For now, I am living vicariously through my fantastic team of horses and riders.” Photo Courtesy Of Heidi Humphries

Now known as Zen Elite’s Bohemian, the superstar is being campaigned by Endel Ots, 38, of Wellington, Florida, who had not ridden a Grand Prix test at a CDI until this year. 

For Adrienne Lyle, 39, who won Olympic dressage team silver in Tokyo with now-retired Salvino, Humphries purchased two established Grand Prix horses: Lars Van De Hoenderheide, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Negro—Taaika, Layout); and Helix, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Apache—Zeester T, Jazz). 

All three high-profile acquisitions closed shortly before the deadline for ownership transfers ahead of Olympic qualification, and Humphries clearly has her sights set on the Paris Games. After the completion of the qualifying events, the Zen Elite team held three of the top four places in the rankings, all earning spots on the short list. And when the Olympic team was named June 25, Lyle and Helix were on it, with Ots and “Bohemian” named as traveling reserves. 

“I hope we can create a lot of magic now and in the future,” said Humphries. 

Baby Love

Long before she found success as an entrepreneur, Humphries was a girl who loved her Appaloosa pony. 

“Every horse I own carries a piece of the legacy of my sweet girl, Roxie,” Humphries said. “And every rider I support has a little bit of that 7-year-old me in them, who just wanted to live, breathe and be around horses.” 

In addition to Lyle and Ots, those supported riders include Quinn Iverson, Christian Simonson and Kati Dagge, as well as jumping trainer Jill Briggs. 

Babies have been another enduring passion in Humphries’ life. While working as a neonatal registered nurse and lactation consultant, she was struck by the lack of options for mothers using breast pumps. 

“Moms were uncomfortable pumping precious milk for their babies. Becoming a new mom is already challenging, and pumping shouldn’t be so difficult,” she said. “I tested hundreds of brands of breast pumps and finally found the Spectra brand in 2011.” 

Humphries added new features and tweaked the design of the South Korea-based Spectra product for the U.S. market. 

“I started my business in my garage with my family helping me pack shipments,” she said. “I was so happy helping a few moms at the beginning of Spectra; I never expected it to grow into the business it has grown into.” 

A 2023 market survey by the consulting firm Stax ranked Spectra as the top electric breast pump in sales and customer satisfaction, while a New York Times Wirecutter guide from March noted, “After six years of following conversations in online parents’ groups, we’ve concluded that a clear majority of people who have used double electric pumps from multiple brands prefer Spectra’s pump over competing models.” 

Picture This

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Ots met Humphries several years ago when she came to Wellington to see a Lusitano gelding the trainer was selling. 

“I had a feeling when I met her, and I told her, ‘One day we’re going to do something great together,’ ” Ots said. 

Humphries bought the gelding, and Ots kept in touch, sending occasional updates on his horses and competition results. In 2020, Humphries purchased King’s Pleasure, a Dutch Warmblood stallion (Dark Pleasure—Cozette, Johnson TN), for Ots to ride. When the horse arrived in the fall, Ots realized the then 5-year-old would not be ready to show in FEI 6-Year-Old classes the following year. 

With Zen Elite’s Bohemian, Endel Ots stepped into the CDI Grand Prix ring for the first time and was named as traveling reserve for the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team. SusanJ.Stickle.com Photo

But believing that King’s Pleasure would do his owner proud in time, Ots gave Humphries an empty silver frame, engraved with the words “2022 7-Year-Old Dressage National Champion,” saying, “The second half of this gift will be a picture of your horse wearing a blue cooler in this frame.” 

That prediction came true. “When I started working with Endel, he began riding a young horse for me and accomplished everything he said he was going to with him,” Humphries recalled. “He allows the horses to be horses in a playful, fun way, and they thrive with that in their program.” 

In 2023, Quinn Iverson took over the ride on King’s Pleasure, who was “a little small” for the 6’1” Ots. Meanwhile, the search was on for a new partner for Ots. 

Ots found some younger prospects he thought were special, but Humphries wanted a shot for Paris. Fresh off the plane from a horse-hunting trip in Europe, Ots saw the news that Bohemian was for sale. Half an hour and a message from Humphries later, he was packing his helmet and boots again. 

After the first ride on Bohemian, Ots texted Humphries that he was prepared to sell a kidney, his firstborn, anything, to partner with the horse. “This is an amazing, amazing, amazing animal,” he wrote. 

“When it came to Bohemian,” Humphries said, “he wanted a chance to develop a partnership with him, and I wanted to help him to show the world what he could do.” 

Irons In The Fire

Lyle and Humphries first connected shortly after the Tokyo Olympic Games. Humphries admired Lyle’s competitive success, but it was Lyle’s “remarkable focus and her gentle, kind approach toward horses” that distinguished the trainer in Humphries’ eyes. 

“As we got to know each other a little bit, the relationship evolved into her wanting to get a horse that I would ride for her, and it moved on from there,” Lyle said. 

But finding the right match was challenging. In the meantime, Lyle and her husband, veterinarian David Da Silva, welcomed their first child, Bailey, in September 2023. 

Then, just as Lyle was returning from her baby break, she and her longtime coach, Debbie McDonald, learned that Lars and Helix were available. They immediately flew to Europe to see both horses. 

“A bunch of things just fell into place,” Lyle said. “You can look for a long time and pass on a lot of horses. We happened to find two that we liked at the same time, which is very unusual.” 

Even though purchasing two top horses for Lyle to ride hadn’t been the plan, Humphries embraced the idea. 

“Heidi is amazing. She’s the most gung-ho, positive, supportive person that I’ve ever met. She gets so excited about the possibilities and the journey that she just draws in everyone around her,” Lyle said. “At the end of the day, she kind of fell in love with both of them, and so did I. And she decided, ‘Let’s get two irons in the fire.’ ” 

And that fire has burning brightly, with three Zen Elite horses being named to the short list and two headed to Paris. 

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Adrienne Lyle and Zen Elite’s Helix kicked off their successful first Grand Prix season together by winning multiple CDI classes in Florida. SusanJ.Stickle.com Photo

When the short list was announced, five-time Olympian Steffen Peters of San Diego was at the top of the standings with an overall average score of 73.62% on Suppenkasper, who was also his partner at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. Behind Peters was Lyle with Helix on an overall average of 72.70%, and she was also fourth in the rankings with Lars (72.02%). Ots filled out the third position with Bohemian, with an overall average of 72.04%. 

“I think it’s so wonderful how she’s backing multiple riders,” Lyle said. “She really is behind us and wants to know what she can do to help our country and help these riders and give them opportunities.” 

After shortlisted horse-and-rider combinations went to Europe for a series of spring competitions, the team was announced June 25, with Lyle on the squad, and Ots tagged as the traveling reserve. 

“We are incredibly proud of what Adrienne and Endel have accomplished with their horses in such a short period,” said Humphries. “I would be thrilled to have one or more partnerships named to the U.S. Olympic Dressage team this year and/or in 2028. That is always the goal for our talented riders and their horses.” 

Back At The Ranch

While Humphries loves to envision the possibility of seeing her horses and riders compete on the world’s largest sporting stage, she also relishes the simpler pleasures of caring for her own animals at home in Fort Lauderdale. 

“I enjoy my personal horses, who are stabled in what I call my ‘retirement’ barn. My favorite time is the evening when I prepare their daily meals and spend quality time with them and their goat friends, Mona and Dexter,” Humphries said. “There is nothing like being greeted by nickering horses. The sound of happy horses munching on their hay is absolutely intoxicating.” 

Humphries shares her journey with her Linder, her children, Bryan Humphries and Nicole Humphries, and her parents, Sam and Linda Perlman. Although none of the family presently ride, they are all supporters of the Zen Elite Equestrian athletes and ambitions. 

“As much as I would love to ride, I have a few neck injuries that prevent me from getting on the back of a horse,” said Humphries. “I am hoping that one day I will be able to piaffe and passage down a centerline! For now, I am living vicariously through my fantastic team of horses and riders.” 

Speaking of the nine horses Zen Elite Equestrian currently has in training, Humphries adds, “My motto is: If it will make the horse and rider happy, let’s do what we can to get it done!” 

Humphries visits her competition horses and riders about once a week during the show season, Lyle said, and she keeps tabs on each horse’s daily life via a flurry of text messages and videos. 

“One of the reasons our sport is so fascinating to me is that you have this dynamic between the rider, the coach and the owner,” Lyle said. “You have so many peoples’ dreams intertwined together.” 

Ots makes a point of sending Humphries a daily “Bohemian fix”: videos of silly and sweet moments around the barn. Allowing ‘Bo’ to be stabled in Wellington to facilitate the bond with his new rider was “a big sacrifice” for Humphries, who fell hard for the gelding’s gentle, intelligent eyes while he lived in Fort Lauderdale before the winter show season began, Ots said. (Humphries has announced on social media and in comments to media outlets that she is actively working on plans to clone Bohemian.) 

“I’m very grateful to Heidi for giving me this opportunity,” Ots said. “And honestly, the entire dressage community. I have never felt more kindness and feelings of goodwill, ever.” 

And for Lyle, the relationship with Humphries has yielded benefits that go beyond horses. “I have everything Spectra Baby you could ever imagine,” she said, “from multiple breast pumps to baby gear galore. The timing of meeting Heidi couldn’t have come along more perfectly with the timing of having the baby. I think it’s the most well-outfitted baby you’ve ever met in your life.” 


A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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