It's early morning on a Friday on Three Chimneys Farm and Brian VanSteenbergh is out galloping the stallions. Despite being on multi-million dollar horses that sire stakes-winning offspring, the 5'7, spry Northern transplant treats each one as an old friend, smiling as they round the short dew-encrusted oval on the farm. “It's their job to be ridden, but my job is to make them happy,” VanSteenbergh explains. “Riding them is gravy, but the object of the exercise is allowing them to move well, enjoy their job and above all- have fun.”
“They love it,” says Sandy Hatfield, Three Chimneys Stallion Manager. “It's supposed to be fun, and Brian has changed the horses for the better.”
Although being known as Three Chimneys exercise rider, Van Steenberg is a jack of all trades. In addition to riding the stallions, he is a licensed massage therapist, an artist, an aspiring sport horse breeder, a loving husband and a dedicated father of two.
“I cannot be locked in the same thing day after day, and I'm not,” VanSteenbergh says earnestly. “It's not so much work, I'm incredibly lucky and I'm having a lot of fun doing it.”
Brian began his journey in the dressage arena with FEI Rider and USDF Gold Medalist Hans Dressler in Princeton, NJ, who he still credits much of his success and dedication to.
“Dressage is balance in motion, and along the way I also realized part of the balance was in the conversation that you have with the horse.” notes VanSteenbergh. “Hans developed that, the discipline through consistent riding and a deep balanced seat which I still use everyday I ride.”
VanSteenbergh's interest eventually switched from a 20 by 60 meter box to a mile dirt oval.
“From the show ring I went to the racetrack to learn about the mechanics of the horse. In a show barn you learn about how to put a shine on and how to look at soundness overall. At the track you learn about a horse's way of going at a particular stage of development” said VanSteenbergh. “You see patterns of development, and how you can influence that development through different methods.”
With the interest in the track, VanSteenbergh came south to Kentucky.
“I initially came down for the 1978 Eventing Championships,” he says. “I hitched a ride and got accommodations through the dial-accommodations system. What was supposed to be me camping in someone's backyard, I ended up with much better accommodations and a press pass to the event itself. The hospitality in Kentucky is unbelievable, as a horseman, I needed to be here, but to raise a family, I needed to stay.”
The daily grind of the track wore on VanSteenbergh and he decided to pursue massage therapy.
“I wanted to age gracefully,” VanSteenbergh notes. “All too often humans give up range of motion for stability. I found that massage is no different from riding. It's about the journey and finding the release.”
11 years ago his wife Tammy founded VS Salon in Midway, Ky. VanSteenbergh has been practicing there since they opened the spa four years ago. Business, which is done via word of mouth, is brisk and with a consistent clientèle of various ages, riding disciplines and physical abilities coming through everyday.
“For us, it's about quality, not quantity.” VanSteenbergh notes. “I want to get people out of the pain cycle and into a strength cycle and it's instant gratification when you feel the person release and then see them walk and hold themselves better. With riders, I can't change the horse directly, but I can release the rider to help them influence their horses.”
The next chapter of VanSteenbergh's equestrian life is currently unfolding on his eight and a half acre property. His current plans include raising a small barn, fence off the property and put a few foals on the ground. His breeding philosophy matches much of the way he has lived his life:
“Do what you do, keep it simple, and do it good.”