Millar. Deslauriers. Hayes. Those names are synonymous with show jumping in Canada, but not just because of the family patriarchs who blazed a trail in the sport. The next generation in these famous families have now firmly established their place in the equestrian industry as well as they follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
Mario & Lucy Deslauriers
Mario Deslauriers made international show jumping history in 1984 when, at the age of 19, he became the youngest-ever rider to win the World Cup Final. He still holds that title today, and continues to amass many more in a decorated career that includes two Olympics and numerous Nations Cup victories.
Lucy Deslauriers, 21, has followed closely in the footsteps of both parents (her mom is accomplished grand prix rider Lisa Deslauriers) to become one of the most successful young riders in the sport today. With numerous Young Riders medals and a national U25 championship title under her belt, Lucy is now a regular winner on the FEI 5* circuit.
Did Lucy always plan to follow in her famous father’s footsteps?
Lucy: As far as I can remember I’ve always been really into horses and riding, especially as I was able to join my parents on the road to competitions around the world at such a young age. I did play a lot of other sports growing up ‒ tennis and basketball most seriously ‒ but riding really stuck when I started to compete ponies around the age of eight.
I think I started to truly consider a career in horses after my first few years competing with my current top horse, Hester. I’m still in school at the University of Pennsylvania, though. Regardless of my future with horses, I think I’ll also occupy myself in other ways, considering my outside interests in the healthcare and wellness spaces, and social and criminal justice.
Mario: I always wanted my children to choose to do something they love. In Lucy’s case, she loves horses so this is fortunate, though I know it’s a tough business. That being said, it is great to do this together! I knew very early on that she could be a top competitor. She was gifted, she had the drive, and she has always wanted to do it right.
Is it difficult to have the same person playing both the parent and coach roles?
Mario: I am her coach in horses and one of her coaches in life. Right now it’s a little more difficult with our schedules, so she does have outside help. Mclain Ward helps, which isn’t bad (wink, wink).
Lucy: Since I was young my father has supported my wide range of interests, making me feel secure in the ability to forge my own path, and I know he will continue to do so regardless of my results in the ring or based on how my career measures up against his.
What is your favourite memory of watching your father/daughter compete?
Mario: I have many. When Lucy was younger and she won gold at North American Young Riders; her first few FEI wins at Spruce Meadows in Calgary; and that same year she won the CSI Grand Prix in Bromont (my home town). Of course the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in 2018 and I can’t ever forget her winning a bronze medal at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, in 2019.
Lucy: I’ve had lots of great memories watching him compete. However, I think many of my favorites have come from being able to compete alongside him and watch him master certain 5-star or championship tracks that I try to replicate and learn from, or observing his ability to scout and develop young horses into top grand prix horses.
What do you admire most about each other as a rider?
Mario: Her focus, her dedication, her competitiveness and her compassion for her horses.
Lucy: His work ethic and consistent focus on keeping our horses’ well-being at the core of everything he does.
We enjoy working together as a family. It enables us to stay close as a family in a sport where it can very much be a gypsy life.
What do you appreciate most about each other as a father/daughter?
Lucy: He cares so deeply about our family and acts so selflessly to make sure we are always taken care of, whether in the barn or otherwise.
Mario: She is intelligent, caring, and she is a good human being.
What’s it like being business partners? Is it harder or easier to work with family?
Mario: It’s the best! We enjoy working together as a family. It enables us to stay close as a family in a sport where it can very much be a gypsy life.
Lucy: It depends on the day. Sometimes it can be hard to bring the disappointing days back home with you or to the dinner table. But, ultimately, I feel so lucky to work with my father in this sport. There’s so much to learn from him and I know there’s nobody who wants me to succeed more than he does.
If you both didn’t work in the equestrian business, what do you think the perfect job for each other would be?
Mario: Hard to say right now, as Lucy is still in school, but she is passionate about health care and making this world a better place. I am sure she will make a difference!
Lucy: A golf pro. He’s obsessed with golf and is super athletic.
What’s the #1 thing you have learned from each other?
Mario: I think I’ve learned about balance from Lucy: balancing goals, balancing one’s education and one’s career. Most of all I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help from others at certain moments.
Lucy: If I had to pick just one thing, I’d say the importance of a strong work ethic. He always maintains a strong attention to detail around the barn and I can only believe that this mentality is what has brought him such long-term success.
Jay & Lauren Hayes
With the Olympics, World Cup Finals, World Championships and dozens of Nations Cup events on his resume, there is no doubt that Jay Hayes has earned his place in Canadian show jumping history. But he’s also a builder of the sport. As CEO of the event management firm Hayes Co., Jay has been instrumental in running some of the nation’s most prestigious competitions. In his “spare” time, he owns and operates North Ridge Farm in Mono, ON, with his wife Shawn and daughter Lauren.
From a decorated junior career which includes national championship titles and North American Young Riders Championship medals, Lauren Hayes transitioned easily into the grand prix ring, earning a spot at the Olympic selection trials and representing Canada on Nations Cup teams. While running North Ridge alongside her parents, Lauren is also developing Canada’s next generation of equestrian stars. Her young daughters Sloan and Estée seem eager follow in Jay’s footsteps, just as Lauren did.
Did you always hope that Lauren would follow Jay’s lead?
Jay: My wife and I prioritized education, good values, and hard work to our three children. There was never any pressure to follow in our footsteps, but the door was left wide open. All of our kids competed successfully, but Lauren was very successful even as young as 11 years old. She stood around the ring with her saddle, ready for any ride.
Lauren: I was a barn rat from as far back as I can remember, and I always wanted to ride at the top of our sport. My dream was to ride on a team with my dad. I always wanted to make horses my career. My parents were very supportive, but also were clear I had to go to university first.
Is there a certain pressure to live up to the family name?
Lauren: I wouldn’t say there is pressure; I’m a naturally competitive person, so normally the pressure comes from me.
Is Jay Lauren’s coach, or just a dad cheering from the sidelines?
Jay: Lauren’s mother and I have always been her coaches. She was easy to teach, had natural feel and, as I like to say, she experimented, exaggerated and imitated. She was also lucky to learn from many of the top riders and trainers in the world in all of our travels.
[My dad] is able to separate what happens at the barn; it doesn’t come to the dinner table.
What is your favourite memory of watching each other ride?
Lauren: Watching my dad compete at both the 1992 Barcelona and 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Jay: There are many, but one that stands out was the Young Rider Championships at the Royal where she dominated the field, winning all the classes on the horse Avalanche.
What do you admire most about each other as a rider?
Lauren: My dad is able to get on most any horse and just make everything work.
Jay: Lauren has the ability to ride any type of horse. She is small, but she can motivate the coldest of warmbloods, although her expertise shines on the hottest of hot bloods.
What do you admire most about Jay as a father?
Lauren: My dad is a great example of the rewards of hard work in every aspect of life. He is also able to separate what happens at the barn; it doesn’t come to the dinner table.
What’s it like being business partners?
Jay: We’ve had numerous horse-related businesses that were always family-run. I find the positives outweigh the negatives.
Lauren: Like in any business, there are good days and bad days. But the good outweighs the bad.
What’s the #1 thing you have learned from each other?
Jay: To stay positive no matter what, and to have someone to keep me organized!
Lauren: To not overthink things and not let peripheral situations affect what happens in the ring.
Ian, Jonathon & Amy Millar
No discussion involving Canadian equestrian families would be complete without mentioning the Millars. Canadian Sport Hall of Famer Ian Millar is undoubtedly one of the nation’s most decorated athletes, and is was the first athlete in the world, in any sport, to compete at 10 different Olympic Games.
Son Jonathon and daughter Amy have more than lived up to the family name, working with their dad to run Millar Brooke Farm (both North and South) and competing internationally for Canada for more than two decades – often as their fathers’ teammates.
Was it always a given that the younger Millars would follow in Ian’s footsteps?
Amy: I knew from a young age that trying to fill my father’s shoes was an impossible task. He has always been an incredible athlete. I have always wanted to get to the top of the sport, but do it my way. It is challenging balancing a family life, being a mom, and committing the time and energy to being at the top of the sport, and I often make different decisions than my father would have made. I love the horses, so working with them every day is a joy and makes me feel like I’m always winning.
Jonathon: Even as a child I always enjoyed being around horses and riding, and the lifestyle of running the farm. But riding itself wasn’t my passion at first. It probably wasn’t until around age 15, when I was away for high school and away from the sport, that I realized how much I missed it. We were never pressured to ride or compete, or what direction to pursue in the sport. Our parents always encouraged me and Amy to make our own decisions and follow our own path.
Ian: It needed to be 100% their choice. The equestrian business is a 365-day-a-year endeavour that pretty much takes up every waking moment. The day is done when the work is done; it’s got nothing to do with the clock. If you’re going to do it, you better love it.
Both kids certainly showed the gift and feel to be top riders, but we [Ian and their late mom Lynn] never pushed them. They always had ponies and the rule was they had to take care of them, but it was up to them if they wanted to ride.
Amy makes horses fall in love with her. That allows her to get an effort out of them that nobody thought possible, especially with the ones that are difficult.
Is there a certain pressure to live up to the family name? If so, how do you handle that?
Amy: My Mom told me that in life, sometimes you get more than you deserve and sometimes you get less and, in the end, it will all balance out. In the horse world I rarely meet someone who doesn’t have a preconceived notion about me. Everyone knows Ian and they either like me more or less because I am his daughter. I tell myself it all balances out. I am incredibly lucky to be able to run a business on our farm, to have access to training, infrastructure, and knowledge of our industry. It is a very hard industry to make it in and Jonathon and I are grateful to have the advantages our parents created for us.
Jonathon: There aren’t many people – if any – who will be able to match Ian’s accomplishments, so I don’t think I ever felt pressure to achieve the same things he has. You feel the pressure more than it actually exists. People are curious to see what we can achieve, but I don’t feel they put added pressure on us because of the Millar name. We have been given great opportunities because of Ian, so because of that we certainly had a great head start in the sport.
What’s your favourite memory of watching your Dad/kids compete?
Jonathon: It’s so hard to pick just one, especially when he was riding Big Ben. Just to be around one of the best horses in the world was an experience. One of the ones that stands out is the Beijing Olympics; the whole family went to watch that one and it was so great for the entire Canadian team, and for Ian. Nine Olympics without a medal and then to have it all come down to a jump-off. Mac [Cone]’s horse got hurt and Jill [Henselwood] stepped up to the plate with Eric and Ian. It was a lesson in teamwork and it all came together for a silver medal.
Amy: The 2008 Olympic team medal. It was unbelievably special and rewarding and the culmination of so many years of hard work on my father’s behalf.
Ian: There are so many memories. Some of the highlights are watching Jonathon on Canada’s World Equestrian Games team in Kentucky, and Amy at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Those are both pretty proud moments. My favourite might be having the three of us make up three-quarters of Canada’s Nation’s Cup team at the Spruce Meadows Masters.
What do you admire most about your children/father as a rider?
Ian: Jonathon is just exceptional at training a horse, and not just for himself. He has a real ability to watch the owner or rider, and then train that horse to that rider’s strengths. Amy makes horses fall in love with her. That allows her to get an effort out of them that nobody thought possible, especially with the ones that are difficult.
Amy: He is never afraid, and he has really soft hands. He trains his horses to listen to whispers so he doesn’t have to push and pull like so many riders.
Jonathon: His persistence and ability to compete at such a high level, and to continue to evolve over decades. His attention to detail in the training and education of the horse is incredible. The number of horses he’s produced to grand prix is amazing. They fill an entire book!
What do you admire most about your father/child as a person?
Amy: He has always had my back through the good and the bad, I have never been afraid to tell him what is going on and receive his support and guidance.
Jonathon: That he let us choose our own path. That he’s always been supportive of whatever we want to do. Even now, we talk on the phone all the time and he’s got so much life experience and advice to share.
Ian: Their values and work ethic. They are both just darn good people. They are honest, straightforward, and don’t shy away from work. If you have a problem they will help you. They make me very proud.
What’s the #1 thing you have learned from your father/child?
Amy: Never give up. It is always darkest before the dawn.
Jonathon: Attention to detail is the key to success, not just with horses, but in life. And always keep evolving; don’t get stuck in the same way of doing things. Everything will fade if you don’t keep moving forward.
Ian: To evolve and to stay up-to-date on new information, trends, and ways of doing things. Not just in riding and training, but in horse health care, feeding, dealing with sponsors and running a business. It’s easy for someone of my maturity to get caught in doing things the same old way. Amy and Jonathon keep me current.
I feel so fortunate to work with them, compete with them and know them – not just as my son and daughter, but as people. They bring a lot of joy to my life.