THE Stephex Stables
He is not only one of the most important show jumping horse dealers in the world, he has six riders in his stables – of which one is world number one Daniel Deusser – and he is also the leader in the industry of horse transportation. In addition, he’s been a successful event organizer with show jumping events in Wolvertem and Knokke. Why should Stephan Conter stop now?
Things are clear. Stephan Conter’s ambition covers every one of his fields of activity. His leasing company for luxury vehicles, the youngest of the group, is already enjoying a progression above all forecasts. It is nevertheless for his work as a renowned horse dealer that we went to meet him at his headquarters in Wolvertem, in the Flemish outskirts of Brussels, behind the wheel of an Audi R8.
I own some of the best horses in the world: Firstclass, Equita van ‘tZorgvliet or Ensor de Litrange, to name a few. We sell our horses to the best riders, like Simon Delestre (Ryan des Hayettes), Kevin Staut (Hayade Septon) or Eric Lamaze (Hickstead). All our horses are for sale here”, he says straight off. “We are mainly interested in horses that are capable of performing at the highest international level.
“I own some of the best horses in the world: Firstclass, Equita van ‘tZorgvliet or Ensor de Litrange, to name a few. We sell our horses to the best riders, like Simon Delestre (Ryan des Hayettes), Kevin Staut (Hayade Septon) or Eric Lamaze (Hickstead). All our horses are for sale here”, he says straight off. “We are mainly interested in horses that are capable of performing at the highest international level. Stephex Stables own no less than 250 show horses, of which around 100 are here and 150, aged 5 years old or more, are all over the world. We sell approximately 15 horses a month, but we also buy 15 horses in the same time lapse. These horses are amongst the best in the world: a matter of experience, but also of sensibility. The good buy must be felt, it is not rational. My scouts search everywhere and each week we are see between 10 and 20 horses from all parts of the world: Sweden, France, Italy… We can’t forget that Belgium is “the” crossroad of show jumping horse trade in the world.”
A question of flair
It is flair and feeling, based on experience, that are decisive factors in buying a horse, according to Stephan Conter. “In show jumping, a horse must be fast, respectful of the fences and clever for the sport. Show jumping is not like dressage. Buying horses is a métier. There are excellent riders who don’t know how to buy a horse that fits them. It is our job as horse dealers to advise them. Personally, I know exactly what kind of rider corresponds to this or that type of horse. Of course, we can also make mistakes. I would say that in my business I could do without 10% of the horses I buy. We realize that very quickly, roughly two to three weeks after buying them. Not very long ago I thought I had bought an amazing 5-year-old that would fly over the fences. Unfortunately, three weeks after I realized I was wrong. In this case, we have a huge network of people who resell for us, so we downgrade the horse and sell it at loss for amateur riders. We can lose up to 50% of the cost price this way.”
Horses and riders
In addition to world’s number one, Daniel Deusser, Stephan Conter has five other show riders, amongst which his two daughters. He plans to add two more riders to his team very soon. Thirty-seven people work in Wolvertem. “We want to expand and reach 215 boxes here. We have 33 ha, so there’s enough space. I have around 200 horses in a breeding facility of 77 ha, the Haras de la Pomme in Deauville. Amongst my clients, you can find both professional and amateur riders who want to reach a high level. This means we don’t sell horses for 5.000 or 10.000 euros. We sell horses between 50.000 and 5 million euros. The million-euro factor does not surprise anyone anymore in this business. Some show jumping horses are nowadays sold for 12-13 million euros…”
Stephan Conter has started his business working his way up each year. “I have a winning spirit and I always want to be the best in my business, be it as a horse dealer or selling horse trucks. My association with Eric Lamaze, Olympic Gold medal in Beijing in 2008, has driven me to be more and more competitive. I grew very fond of it. I hired the best riders. When I hired Daniel Deusser two and a half years ago, everything changed for the best. He was ranked 127th at that time and he is world’s number one as we speak. Our first goal was to reach the Top 30 and for that we needed good horses. In two and a half years he has reached the summit. It was very fast.”
Conter regrets that politicians don’t realize the importance of horses in our country. “We try to cypher that ourselves now to prove its relevance. As an example, in the Netherlands – another active country - the horse business is more important than the flower business. It represents almost the double! Many activities are in fact related to the horse business: farmers producing spelt, straw, hay and haylage; carpentries producing shavings, transport companies, event organizers, veterinarians, workers… The horse business is a very important business sector in Belgium and public authorities continue to delay its development.