Chris Hickey Douglas Hilltop Susan J Stickle 02 From taking rides around the neighborhood with his mom, Anita Hickey, on his lead line pony when he was a little boy to competing at the highest levels in dressage, Chris Hickey has done a little bit of everything.  He began his riding career with his father, Josh Hickey, and Uncle Allen Nelson who, “had crazy auction horses that they would trail ride, I grew up riding behind my dad in his saddlebags.”  He and his sister, Jacqui Hickey, were very involved in 4-H and as a teenager he worked at a neighbors’ Morgan farm in North Hampton, Mass., riding and showing their horses, citing the Fuller family as a huge influence in his life.  Soon he had several Morgan horses of his own and was out on the show circuit throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and the New England region.  He did a bit of everything – saddle seat, hunt seat and driving, “it was a great experience, I had a ton of ‘horsey’ jobs growing up and they all helped make me into the rider and trainer I am today.”

His Morgans led him to grooming and mucking stalls at a local dressage barn, “nothing fancy”, Chris says, but the owner rode with Lendon Gray in Maine and soon, Chris was able to meet Gray and start his dressage training under her tutelage.  “A lot of the people I was working with rode with Lendon, it was pretty funny as they were all 30-40-year-old women and then there was me, a teenage boy.  It was an important time in my career.  Soon I was a working student for Lendon, which lasted on and off for over 4 years.”  Chris tried his hand at college, but upon finding that wasn’t the right track for him, he traveled to Florida for spring break in where Lendon offered him a position at her stable, and helped him find his dressage horse, Vesper, for Young Riders in ’88 & ‘89.  “Riding with Lendon was huge and still influences me today.  She was one to say something once and then expect to see you making a change, she didn’t want to repeat herself over and over.  I find that I am like that now with my students.”  Chris rode in Europe many times throughout this career for training as well as competing.  Spending 3-4 months at a time with top dressage trainers, including Conrad Schumacher, Ulla Salzgeber and Morten Thomsen.  Prior to working out of – Oak Meadows Farm – he was head trainer at Hilltop Farm in Maryland from 2007 to 2014.

Chris Hickey Douglas Hilltop Susan J Stickle 01 These days, Chris finds himself traveling all over the world for clinics, horse shows and horse shopping, one of which recently took him to Denmark.  His hope for horses that he purchases depends a lot on what he, or his clients, are looking for, “what I look for in a Grand Prix horse that I plan to compete is very different from a students’ mount that will be doing 2nd or 3rd level.  I try to balance a horses’ personality, gaits and ability, with their future work.”  For his own horses, Chris prefers a horse with an uphill confirmation and a good hind end, “not gangly and weedy.”  He has little interest in horses with big, floaty trots, instead focusing on the walk and canter, “a horse with a so-so trot can often be developed so that it will carry itself in a more forward, powerful trot through strengthening and training.  If a horse has a bad canter, it’s unlikely that will change throughout the years.”  Horses with a willingness to work and that are nice to be around make all the difference as well, so Chris stays away from horses from difficult bloodlines.  As he says, “I like being around nice, friendly horses.  We have an 8-year-old Danish mare at Oak Meadows, “Zackonik” (Blue Hors Zack x Romanov x Don Schufro), who is perfect at shows, has a work horse mentality and wants to learn.  She encourages me to ride quietly.  We are able to paint a nice picture and make the ride look effortless.” 

Chris Hickey Douglas Hilltop Susan J Stickle 03

Hickey started working with Cecelia “Cece” Stewart, owner of Oak Meadows Farm, about 15 years ago when she purchased her horse, “Levin,” from him.  “Levin” is now 26 years old and Hickey and Stewart have a barnful of talented horses.  Oak Meadows has two locations, a 50-acre spread in Edgemoor, SC, while also boasting a 10-acre farm in a Wellington, FL, gated community, where many of his students ride throughout the winter.  In 2010, when Hickey’s top ride, “Cabana Boy” broke his leg in an unfortunate pasture accident, Cece purchased “Ronaldo”, who at the time was a 4-year-old Danish gelding (Romanov x Don Schufro), for Chris to develop.  Smiles Chris, ““Ronaldo” couldn’t steer when we bought him, but now 8 years later, he’s a Grand Prix horse competing at the top shows.  I have found throughout the years that I tend to do better with young horses I have worked with from the beginning.  Horses without habits and tendencies from other training programs.”  This is especially true of his 2007 Pan Am horse, “Regent,” a Dutch warmblood (by Flemmingh x Falco) whom he purchased for student, Brenna Kucinski, at 4 years old and brought up through the ranks.  Hickey and “Regent” won the Team Gold Medal as well as the Individual Gold Medal.

Other top accomplishments in his career include his time with Young Riders, receiving the USDF’s Horse of the Year honor five times, being invited to the selection trials for the 2012 London Olympics with “Douglas Hilltop” and being a part of Nations Cup teams in Wellington in 2012 & 2014.  Many USEF Championships in Young Horse Divisions as well as FEI. Having accomplished so much in his 30 years at the FEI level, including training 11 horses to Grand Prix, Chris hopes to continue producing Grand Prix horses for himself, and Oak Meadows Farm, as well as clients, “training horses for myself, while not easy, is easier than training horses that other people will ride.  I hope to be able to bring horses along that are happy and talented for others to compete and enjoy.  I am riding at my highest level right now, continuing to learn and better my riding.”  To learn more about Chris Hickey Dressage, visit www.oakmeadowsfarm.com

Photos courtesy of Susan J. Stickle Photography