Adam Steffens began his career with his mother while perched in front of her Western saddle. At 9, he began dressage training with a local trainer, Barb Anderson Whiteis, at Callie Farm in Monticello, Minnesota. She was adept at making riding fun with loads of kids, laughter and horses to ride. At 14, he began training with FEI "S" judge William Solyntjes along with Lloyd Landkamer at their Brandywine Farm in Hamel, Minnesota. Solyntjes is a gold, silver and bronze medalist and Landkamer is a show manager for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in South Florida.
“What a wonderful opportunity it was,” Steffens says. “Bill and Lloyd have a barn full of wonderfully bred and trained horses. They are incredible trainers and inspirational people. I really admire them.”
Solyntjes knew he had a winner when he took Steffens from riding at Training Level to competing at Fourth Level in less than a year. During that time, Natalie Hamilton-Hinneman (Jo Hinneman’s daughter-in-law) moved back to Brandywine from Europe and took 15-year-old Steffens under her wing.
In 2006, Steffens rode in a clinic with Tuny Page where he learned about her world-class facility, Stillpoint Farm in Wellington, Florida. He became obsessed with spending the winter season there and in 2007, he accepted a working student position with Stillpoint-based Olympic rider Dottie Morkis.
“Coming from the Midwest to Stillpoint was a shell shock for me,” he exclaimed. “Being around some of the best riders and horses day in and day out and making connections at the top of the sport was life changing. Dottie is a superb trainer and could train a mule to the Grand Prix! I learned a lot from her.”
From there, he started as a working student at Stillpoint for Israeli high-performance rider Oded Shimoni in 2008. Shimoni is a veteran of two World Equestrian Games, two European Championships and has qualified two horses for the Olympic Games.
“This was the experience of a life time,” Steffens says. “I learned all aspects of the business, from sales to training. I also learned about ‘Oded's Eye.’ He sees everything! He is an incredible horseman and was an influential stamp on my career.”
In 2009, he purchased an incredible Danish Warmblood gelding, Rubicon Ask, and Steffens soaked up perfecting his skills on the talented horse. The rider learned all the Grand Prix movements and competed the gelding through Intermediare 1. They notched Top 10 finishes in Wellington CDIs in the Young Rider divisions, and shined in national shows in both Florida and Chicago.
From there, he moved to California in 2010, and claimed another Top 10 finish in Young Riders at the Del Mar CDI. They also claimed a winning Prix St. Georges in Indio, California.
Criss-crossing the country again, Steffens returned to Minnesota the following year to start his own business, AJS Dressage Horses.
“During this time, I focused mostly on developing my own riding and teaching a barn full of students,” he says. “An eventer named Isabelle Olson called me about a Hanoverian mare she wanted me to sell named Holeandra (Hotline x Don Bosco). I began riding her and ended up qualifying her for the 2011 Markel/USEF Young Horse National Championships in the FEI Four-Year-Old division. We finished eighth with a 75.80 percent.”
In September of 2014, he found himself horseless and called Oak Hill Ranch in Folsom, Louisiana, in search of a hot prospect. He bought a 2009, 18-hand Danish Warmblood Gelding named Romulus (Blue Hors Hotline x Roma). Ever the wanderer, Steffens was ready to make another move.
“Romulus relit my flame and instilled a desire to move back to Florida,” he explains. “Over the next few months, I put my historic home that I just finished restoring up for rent, closed my barn down and, in January, a handful of my clients and I made the journey down to Florida.”
Steffens hopes Romulus will be a candidate for the 2016 Developing Horse Championships. He also has the ride on Susan Thomas’ handsome black Oldenburg stallion, Patriot (Pharoah x Safir), whom he hopes to have in the CDI ring this coming winter season.
Steffens counts himself fortunate to have been invited to participate with Benettona (Bennon Dream x Varden), a lovely painted Hanoverian mare owned by Gretchen Guender, in the USEF Young Horse training sessions with Traurig.
“What an amazing experience it was and Christine keyed into all my concerns and really helped polish the whole package,” Steffens says.
The partnership with Benettona all began when Guender contacted the rider to list Benettona’s dam, Varden, for sale. Guender was pleased with the changes she saw in the mare under Steffen’s tutelage and decided to move “Benny” over to him once her mother sold. He began training Benny while still in Minnesota where the pair braved December’s negative degree temperatures in an unheated arena. When they decided to pack it up and move to Florida, Benettona began to blow them away with her talent as Steffens and mentor Julie Julian trained the young mare. The horse and rider earned impressive scores of 7.42 and 7.54 at the 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington. At a Welcome Back to White Fences show in Loxahatchee, Florida, the pair turned in an 8.58 after he hacked her over to the show grounds on the buckle. She was calm, cool and collected but he says she lights up when she enters the show ring and gives it her all.
“Every day, this horse tries her heart out and has such a fantastic mind,” he explains. “Julie Julian has trained many horses from green broke to Grand Prix and has been a wealth of knowledge for me to bring this horse along and keep her happy in her work. Gretchen has been the most amazing, supportive owner and I'm so grateful to her. My team at home, Stacey MacLeod and my super groom Marcel, have been incredible help managing this horse--and myself.
“I guess it takes a village,” he laughs.