Stephex Stables has housed some of the best horses in the world. But, only temporarily. Because this is one of the busiest trading stables in Belgium, if not in Europe – and horses that come here, often find themselves a new home with top showjumpers around the globe. The most famous of them all is probably the now legendary Hickstead, whom Eric Lamaze found at Stephex – and as we all know the rest is history! “I was following Hickstead at shows; he had a nice jump and a special character,” Stephan Conter – founder and owner of Stephex – explains. “So, I bought Hickstead and then after Eric had tried him I sold him to Mr. Fleischhacker that is Eric’s sponsor. I had a great feeling about the horse!”
Hickstead is not the only famous name that can be traced back to Stephex. Entering the big hall that leads to the indoor arena and the busy offices, tons of photos of successful horses sold or owned by Stephex decorate the walls. Coriana van Klapscheut, Viva, Wivina, Verdi, Uruquay, King Kolibri, Luikka, Billund d’Arsouilles, Blue Curacao, Lord II Z, Ulysse, Mouse and Talent – they all come from Stephex and the list could go on and on. What’s the key to Stephex success we ask Conter? “Working hard, and having a bit of luck. Everybody in the Stephex team works really hard, and I could not have done all this alone,” Conter says of where he is today. “Twenty years ago I was a boy without any money, but hard work has paid off!”
Let’s start at the beginning of the Stephex adventure. It’s 1990 and Stephex in founded. A few years later Stephan Conter buys a plot of land in the idyllic countryside of Wolwertem in Belgium. “When I first bought it, the property was not as big as it is now – back then it was around 11 acres. But I wanted to do a big complex, so after a while I bought more of the area surrounding the property and today it’s about 33 acres big,” Stephan explains of the now gigantic trading stables – also home to the head offices of the Stephex Horseboxes and Stephex Motorhomes. “Now we plan to build two new barns with 36 boxes in each stable, and we want to use these for clients that want to have their base here. Then we are all on the same ground, but the clients can have their own stables. And we have to plan a few new rings as well,” Stephan explains.
And it’s not that Stephex Stables is not big enough already. We gasp and giggle as we arrive at this showjumping paradise, perfectly situated close to Brussels airport and in the heart of Europe when it comes to showjumping. There is a huge stable, with room for 80 horses – and with direct entrances to the beautiful indoor arena which can be viewed from the stylish offices or the below indoor terrace. There are numerous outdoor rings – both on artificial surface and on grass, a huge walker and field after field for the horses to graze on.
But at Stephex, it’s really busy. So the demand for extending the entire complex is most certainly there. When we arrive Stephan and his colleagues are busy with customers that are at Stephex to try horses, and one amazing horse after another is brought into the ring and we realize we would be happy to just sit and watch the entire day if it was not for the fact that we at some point would have to fly home. There are customers looking at horseboxes and motorhomes, a vet viewing a few of the horses and grooms hacking out the competition horses Mouse and Talent that came home from Paris the evening before. It’s just a normal day at Stephex.
When we sit down with Stephan, it’s easy to see his passion for what he does. “I have been riding at national level myself. When I started to study, I realized I didn’t like it so much so I went into the horse business instead,” he explains of how it all started. “I was quick to get to know the horse market, and after starting up on my own I went into partnership with Ludo Philippaerts for a few years. Then Ludo became busy with his showjumping career as this was in Darco’s time, and I went off on my own again,” Stephan explains. After buying what today is the huge trading stable of Stephex in 1995, Stephan set off to modernize and expand it – but at the same time he developed his horsebox and motorhome business which he had started up in 1996.
"In 2003 we started to build trucks,” Conter says of his luxury line of horseboxes. “Today we sell around 110 horse trucks each year, and 60-80 motorhomes. Last year was a great year for this part of the business! The service we give when a customer buys a Stephex Horsetrucks is a really important part of it though; we give technical assistance at shows to help our customers with any question that should arise. This is absolutely necessary when you take the temperature of the horsetruck market; all horse shows in Belgium are packed with horsetrucks – and as a manufacturer you have to stand out,” Stephan explains. And with a big part of the market belonging to Stephex, the factory in Hungary with no less than 218 employees is busy – building an amazing 2 ½ truck a day Stephan explains while enthusiastically showing us the work being done via an online video camera!
On the question of who buys a luxury motorhome, Conter smiles and explains “It’s a very open market. People use it as a holiday vehicle as it gives freedom but at the same time comfort, movie stars buy it, tennis players or even like in Norway where it’s used as a library on wheels! Our goal is to sell 350 motorhomes in 2014.”
A lot of Stephan’s time is devoted to the horses though, and Stephex Stables sells around 200 horses every year. “Our focus is on quality. We look for the good ones, and I have a lot of my guys around at shows to look for good horses. When I’m thinking to buy, I look at how competitive the horse is. The horses need to be fast, and they need to be careful. They must not only be able to jump big; they also need to be fighters and have the guts to win,” Stephan explains. “We sell a lot of horses to America, but also to China, Japan, Oman, Switzerland, France and Norway to mention some. We sell a lot of really good 5-7 year olds, and then there is a huge demand for horses at 1.40 level in the US,” Stephan explains. “Not all horses are kept here at our yard, some are send to Pedro Veniss that rides for us and then some are with Eric Lamaze and Tiffany Foster – we also own and co-own horses with Eric and Tiffany. I have to be honest and say that sometimes I can forget how many horses we have,” Stephan laughs.
Stephan is also of the opinion that it is important to have top riders to show the horses. Eric Lamaze, Daniel Deusser, Pedro Veniss and Eiken Sato is some of the riders you will see flying the Stephex flag on the international arenas around the world. “Good horses need good jockeys,” Stephan says. “And you go much faster down than up in this sport, so you need riders with good motivation!”