Riding for the Rolex

Tiffani Loudon-Meetze sets the bar high at Windfield Farm

On a warm, late summer afternoon, Tiffani Loudon-Meetze’s bright blue eyes are searching around in the sandy loam outside the beautiful barn at Windfield Farm in Winnsboro. Tiffani has lost a diamond earring, apparently while taking off her helmet after riding one of her horses. It’s not the first time a valuable piece of jewelry ended up on the ground at her family’s 97-acre horse farm.

In 1998, riding a 12-year-old American Thoroughbred called “Makabi,” Tiffani won the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, a Concours Complet International competition, at the three-star level. One of her prizes was a coveted Rolex watch.

Tiffani treasured the Rolex, a symbol of winning at one of the highest levels of equestrian competition. “I used to wear it 24/7, but the bracelet part of it, from bouncing around, started to get loose and broke, and I actually lost the thing out there in the field but found it, thank goodness. It went back in the jewelry box. Then I took it to the jeweler and said, ‘How much to fix it?’ and it was a thousand bucks. So, I kept it in the jewelry box.”

The next year, she and Makabi placed seventh at the Rolex event’s four-star level, and Tiffani was subsequently shortlisted for the 1999 Pan Am Games and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Tiffani earned a U.S. Equestrian Team grant, enabling her to compete in European events with Makabi twice.

She also gained sponsorships. Bliss Saddles of England provides Tiffani with bespoke saddles to fit both her petite frame and her 16-hand gelding, Hap; Heritage Gloves is also a sponsor. Closer to home, Equi-fab Carolina of St. Matthews provides supplements for Hap, who competes often and is a favorite of both Tiffani and her 14-year-old daughter, Channing.

Channing, who does not yet have her own horse, recently got to ride Hap in a competition. “She did dressage and show-jumping, so she got a kick out of this because she got to ride my big-time horse,” Tiffani says. “She started out on a little pony we have out here, but she outgrew him, so he’s kind of waiting for his next little kid to come along.”

Hap actually is for sale, though Channing would prefer to keep him. Tiffani has trained him to what is termed the CCI two-star level and is pragmatic about his future. She will compete with him until a buyer comes along or she changes her mind about selling him. Her other two horses, War Chief and Cooper, still have room for improvement so she will continue to train them.

“That’s always the hardest, so that’s why I’ve trained myself to think of this as a business, not just a hobby, because otherwise you get too attached and don’t want to sell anything.”

However, running the horse farm as a business can be a struggle. “Most of my life I’ve owned the horses I ride,” Tiffani explains, “which means I foot the bill for everything, but I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a couple of sponsorships and co-ownerships where I own half of the horse. Another person owns half, and they share expenses. Owners like to be part of the experience of watching their horse progress in its training and move up the levels and compete at the big shows. Typically the riders who are making it on Team USA have a string of six to 10 competition horses at the upper levels.”

Both horses and riders, like all athletes, risk injury while training and competing. Tiffani herself has broken her back twice and suffers from a ruptured disc in her neck; she’s also broken an arm, a wrist, and a finger, all from riding. Even though every precaution is taken to ensure their safety, the horses, too, often sprain tendons or strain muscles. With only two or three horses competing at any given time, if one of Tiffani’s horses is injured she cannot compete, jeopardizing her sponsorships.

One way to prevent human and equine injuries is to train properly. She saddles up her first horse by 8 a.m. most days. “A lot of people say, ‘Why do you ride the horse five or six days a week?’ Well, it’s going to be asked to gallop for three miles and jump 40-some efforts,” Tiffani says. Riders likewise need to develop muscle memory to perform well in competition. “You’ve got to be doing multiple things at the same time. That’s what a lot of people find difficult about riding. It’s so much to think about and do at the same time, and your seat, legs, and hands work independently. I think a lot of people don’t realize what athletes riders are. It’s difficult. It’s not just sitting there.”   

Equestrians send their horses to Tiffani to train for a few months, sometimes to sell. “Typically, they pay the board and training, and then I’ll charge a commission when the horse is sold.”

Both horse and rider must meet certain criteria to move up to a higher level within the United States Eventing Association. Tiffani competes regularly at all levels, including the most advanced four-star level, depending on which horse she is riding. She aims for two three-day events per month during the competition season; events consist of dressage, cross-country, and show-jumping.

Tiffani, who started riding at age 5 in her hometown of Port Orchard, Washington, came to South Carolina at age 19 to take a job as a working student at Farewell Farm in Blythewood. In Washington, competitions were scarce, prompting riders to go to California, Oregon, and Montana for events. “That’s the reason I knew I had to get somewhere on the East Coast,” Tiffani says, “just to be seen and make it easier to train and get to the events. It just happened to be that South Carolina had the best job opportunity, and we heard it was a nice facility. I didn’t get to interview or see it first.” Tiffani, whose older brother still lives in Washington, drove cross-country with her parents; her cocker spaniel, Baxter; and her horses, Makabi and Papillion. Winter prompted a detour through the Deep South, so Tiffani and her parents had to take turns driving 12-hour shifts over a span of three days.

Tiffani met Paul, her husband, at Farewell Farm, where he was working when she arrived. When the time came for the couple to purchase their own farm, Paul visited a woman who owned some pasture land that he felt would be suitable and asked her if she would be willing to sell it. She said she had been thinking of putting it on the market and she wanted it to go to horse people, so Windfield Farm came to fruition.

Paul has three jobs, counting the farm, Tiffani says. He takes Channing to school on his way to work at PASCO, a West-Columbia based company that markets fire-suppression sprinklers. He also owns his own fencing business. The farm is a constant family effort. Tiffani tends to the pastures with a bush-hog, and Paul mows the grass around the house; they offer free hay to people willing to cut it regularly. They build and maintain jumps for the horses.

The farm offers both stall and pasture board. Tiffani gives riding lessons to some of the boarders’ owners, and other students transport their horses in a trailer to the farm. “Most people are pretty serious competitors,” Tiffany says.

Hap, Chief, and Cooper peer out of their stalls and nod their heads from time to time while Tiffani talks. Her dog, Tuck, flops down against the barn wall.

“Horses have their own personality for sure,” Tiffani says. “Chief, the paint, is the biggest; he’s got the most personality out of all of them. He’s the one that plays with toys and is just a goof-off. Hap is very sweet, very obedient; he’s just kind of chill, easy-going. Nothing gets him too upset. He’s just kind of the golden boy. Chief’s also really fun to jump at this point, because he’s really gung-ho to attack them, so I have a blast jumping him. Cooper’s really fun to jump, too, because he’s just so athletic, and he loves it. You can tell the ones that just love it. It’s like they kind of put the puzzle together when they see the fences.”

Tiffani is always looking for the next talented, young horse to train, and she has set the bar high. Her beloved Makabi, who died in 2009 after a seven-year retirement, is buried on the property at Windfield Farm. Tiffani loves the horses she has but still hopes to bond with another horse that has the drive to win at the Rolex event: “I’ve got to find one that’s capable and willing and able to go up to the top again.”

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