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Above photo: Lisa Hankin on Undeniable. Photo by Beth Taylor.
By TPH Eidtor Sissy Wickes
Californians Steve and Lisa Hankin endured the rainy, cold conditions of September in Saugerties, New York to watch their beloved horse, Undeniable, compete in the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix. The chestnut was one of only three California based horses to ship in to contest the storied event. Owned by Hope Town Farms and leased by the Hankins, Undeniable and his long time partner, Jenny Karazissis, faced stiff competition from the other 52 contenders. Undaunted by pressure, the duo performed brilliantly in Rounds 1 and 2 to make the cut of top twenty five going into the final day. They were in the lead after Round 3 and into Round 4 where the top four placed horses compete in a head-to-head, nail biting format. Undeniable had to pull off one more extraordinary trip for the win.
Steve Hankin paced and weaved through the stands like a shark unable to stop swimming. Every so often, he stole a glance at the ring, not focusing too long as the beautiful chestnut and his elegant rider entered the arena. Lisa Hankin, conversely, sat in her golf cart on the other side of the ring with an air of calm confidence. They had placed a big bet on the equestrian roulette wheel in traversing the country for one class. All of the variables had to go just right- pace, distance, style. Undeniable and Karazissis glided around the Grand Prix Stadium flawlessly, earning a class high score of 92 points. From opposite sides of the ring, the adrenaline filled, elated voices of the Hankins rang out with whoops of approval. Across the continent and into the annals of glory, Undeniable rose to the occasion to win the biggest hunter purse in the United States.
Steve and Lisa Hankin are passionate fans of horse sport. Lisa rode as a child, self-taught on horses at home. When education and work led her away, she did not have the opportunity to ride much. Yet, her love for the sport never waned and she followed it loyally, even attending various local shows to spectate. “I loved to sit in the stands all day and watch amazing riders like Rodney Jenkins, Joey Darby, Bernie Traurig, and George Morris ride these gorgeous hunters. I remember thinking that I wanted to be a part of that because it’s a beautiful thing,” Lisa recalls. Ten years ago, at the urging of her husband, Lisa began to ride again. Initially while still living on the east coast, she only had time to take lessons on the weekends. When the couple relocated to the west coast for Steve’s work two years ago, she began to ride at the Karazissis’ Far West Farms. “The training that I have received at Far West has been incredible. I have been able to learn so much and move up faster than I thought I could,” she explains.
Enter Undeniable, or “Nemo,” as he is called in the barn. Leased from Noah Cyrus and Hope Town Farms, the eleven year old gelding has a C-suite resume for the entirety of his six year partnership with the talented Jenny Karazissis. Numerous USHJA National and International Hunter Derbies, the East Meets West Hunter Challenge, WCHR Professional Challenge, WCHR West Coast Spectacular as professional division wins combined with recent consistent success in the Low Adult Hunter division with Lisa belie a perfect combination of talent and temperament. Lisa gushes, “He is perfect to ride. He’s happy, has a little bit of motor, and perfect balance. And he is so cute that people notice him!”
Steve Hankin has the bug. After 27 years of marriage, he describes himself as the “perfect pony Mom for Lisa.” Even before Lisa began to ride again, the couple would go together to watch shows throughout the east coast. Steve laughs, “I think that I have been to every horse show venue in the east.” At his wife’s urging, he began to ride himself two years ago. Learning to ride as an adult is a very difficult endeavor, as all equestrians know. It takes grit, determination, a willingness to risk your body, and a very, very special horse. Steve has all the characteristics and Maxwell Bay, or “Footie,” fits the bill of unicorn.
Footie is a 24 year old horse owned by Lexie Looker. He is so smart that he can almost talk, at least according to his greatest fan, Steve Hankin. Footie has done it all- Equitation Finals, Junior Hunter Finals, Short Stirrup, Long Stirrup, Jumpers, Hunters. At 24, he looks spry and happy, and looks forward each day to his latest project: Steve Hankin. “He has the most energy of any of the horses at the barn,” Hankin states. “He looks amazing, everyone loves him, and he loves his job.” Steve is fascinated with learning to ride and determined to horse show. The quest has not been without its setbacks. In two years, Steve has had three injuries, including a recent broken hand. “In two years, I think I have only ridden for a year and a half,” he jokes. But, his love for the sport and his self-proclaimed “bromance” with Footie leave him undeterred. Steve and Footie plan to make their horse show debut at an upcoming show in Thermal that The Plaid Horse will certainly cover.
Beyond his love for riding, Steve Hankin is committed to improving the show scene in Los Angeles. A successful business manager, he continues to evaluate the horse industry and to strategize about innovations to better the industry. Much to the benefit of horse sport, Lisa and Steve Hankin are all in. Having bought young horses to develop, they are happy to be owners and supporters of their professional rider, Jenny Karazissis. They are competitors, advocates, and horse lovers who are in for the long haul.