One of the world’s most impressive private equestrian facilities is nestled in the foothills of Simi Valley. Here, Stefanie Saperstein raises the bar.
“I’ve always loved horses, their pure way of communicating and expressing love, plus the challenge of competing in a sport against men and women of all ages,” says Stefanie Saperstein as Quanto VL, her Grand Prix mount, plants a lick across her cheek in his stall. Four years ago, Saperstein was the highest-ranked rider in the United States under the age of 21 with the Anglo European warmblood. Now, at just 23 years old, she has her sights set on the 2016 Olympics in Rio but knows that “horses are not a guarantee—unlike sports like swimming or tennis, so much is out of your control. Everything has to come together at the perfect time for the Olympics.” Certainly there is no better place to prepare, mentally and physically, than her family’s ranch in Simi Valley.
Set like a luminous jewel in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains, Hummingbird Nest Ranch is a sprawling 120-acre complex. It was the vision of Saperstein’s mother, socialite and philanthropist Suzanne, who, along with her ex-husband, David, transformed the swath of desert into a world-class professional equestrian facility (complete with its own helipad).
At the end of a mile-long driveway, past olive groves and 100-year-old oaks, is the main villa, designed by architect Richard Robertson, who also built Suzanne’s Holmby Hills French masterpiece, Fleur de Lys. With massive, foot-thick adobe walls and gigantic hand-hewed beam ceilings, it’s like being transported to the countryside of Seville. Look into the distance, though, and you’re reminded you’re in California with a field of solar panels supporting the estate. The black-and-white photos lining the main staircase feature Sitting Bull cottage, an original structure that dates back to the 1920s.
Today, the ranch is unparalleled even by the extreme standards of the show-jumping world. Suzanne, who was born in Sweden, traveled to several horse farms around Europe for inspiration and consulted with designer Ray Schully on the layout of the stables. Draped in bright red bougainvillea, the state-of-the-art Apache barn contains 37 royal-warrant Lodden U.K. stalls, eight oversize wash racks and a lavish tack room filled with Persian rugs and decorative Mexican pottery. Connected by a meandering pathway is the Geronimo arena—world-renowned Olympic course designer Linda Allen consulted on the design and layout of the riding areas, which include a verdant grass derby field, jumping ring and Grand Prix field with natural obstacles. Miles of trails traverse the rugged outcroppings, providing awe-inspiring sweeping vistas, along with the necessary hind-end conditioning required for these elite four-legged athletes.
While the main villa is often rented out for events, films (Sex and the City 2, Savages) and weddings, you can find Saperstein at the stables every day at 7 a.m. tending to her fleet of Grand Prix and home-bred horses (she currently boards six at the ranch). Training starts early, as it’s dangerous to ride in the blistering mid-day heat.
After graduating cum laude from Scripps, Saperstein knew she wanted to ride professionally, but she would have to be creative and forge her own path. She spent the last few years training in Europe with three-time World Cup champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum in Germany; George Morris, the former USA Olympic Chef d’Equipe; Peter Charles and Eddie Macken. She also learned all the different types of feed, supplements and medications in order to come up with her own training and horse management program.
“About a year ago, my father proposed that I move back to the ranch, as I had proven that working with horses was not only my purpose in life but also a promising business model.” With her partner, Richard Padilla, who worked for renowned trainer George Morris at Hunterdon, Saperstein started El Sueño de Amistad and is now opening the ranch to other riders for training purposes as well as hosting competitions, charity galas, and clinics for top area horse trainers and other Olympic contenders (Francie Steinwedell-Carvin, Hap Hansen and Nael Nassar have all paid visits).
“I feel extremely blessed to be able to do what I love every single day and to share it with other horse lovers,” says Saperstein. She came up with the name El Sueño de Amistad six years ago, and it stuck: “It means the dream partnership.”
Written by Shana Dishell Richling
Photographed by Lisa Romerein