By Lauren R. Giannini
In 1983, Hokan Thorn, a Swedish-born horseman, was working in Germany when he decided to take his vacation in the United States and visit some friends. He liked what he saw and made a few calls that led him to Aiken, South Carolina, for a job audition. “They had a difficult stallion and, after I rode him for 30 minutes, they hired me,” said Hokan. “I never went back to Germany.
“I’ve been working with horses all my life,” continued Hokan. “I left home for the first time when I was 14 to work at the Swedish Stallion Station where I rode many horses every day. In my early years I did a lot of jumping and eventing. When I moved to Germany, I discovered my connection with dressage. I’m primarily a dressage trainer. I love it and I’ve done dressage all my life. I trained with very good people. I worked in a sales barn in Denmark where I learned quickly how to ride difficult horses. In Germany I rode 10 horses a day where I worked for Udo Lange, five-time German Champion of Professional Riders. Alain Gaihede, trainer in Augsburg, Germany, was another mentor who helped shape my approach to dressage.”
Hokan still rides 10 to 12 horses a day. He has trained and shown more than 100 horses to Prix St. Georges, FEI level, and, as of a few years ago, 15 horses to Grand Prix. “I’m known for producing good horses and for taking difficult horses to a new level, although I haven’t made a team,” said Hokan, who became an American citizen 20 years ago. “To compete internationally, you have to have a lot of high-quality horses that you show in quality dressage shows. Unfortunately, some people try to make it happen too soon, either pushing the horse too fast or getting horses that are trained but have bad foundations.
“Nothing happens overnight and you can’t take any shortcuts; you have to be solid with your horses to get them to top levels,” he continued. “When I was a kid, Grand Prix horses in Europe were 16, 17, 18 years old and still going strong. To bring horses to that level, you have to put the time in, but all too often I see horses that are 12 and they’re finished. That’s wrong and a shame. My program focuses on foundation work to build strength and longevity.”
Hokan at Cross Creek Farm
After 30-plus years in the U.S., Hokan had made a lot of friends and contacts, especially in North Carolina, where he taught many clinics. He was intrigued when he heard through the grapevine about plans for a new equestrian center in Tryon, an area he really liked. After two years or so in a private facility in the Tryon area, he found the ideal place to establish his horse business: Cross Creek Farm, owned by horsewoman and B&B proprietor Katherine Pfaff.
“Cross Creek is a great facility, and Katherine is a wonderful woman I’ve known for many years,” said Hokan. “We’re taking Cross Creek to a totally new level. We’ve invested in new footing and made lots of upgrades.”
Cross Creek’s full-service equestrian facility includes an outdoor arena with its own sprinkler system, Olympic-sized covered arena with mirrors, sound system, overhead watering system and new GGT custom gold fiber footing. At the moment, there are two nine-stall barns and one three-stall barn.
Bed, Breakfast, Barn
Katherine opened Cross Creek Bed & Breakfast in spring 2013. That she offers “lodging” for guests’ horses makes it absolutely perfect in terms of easy access to lessons and clinics with Hokan, trail riding on the Collinsville Equestrian Trail Association (CETA) system, competitions and several foxhunts. Guests have their choice of three rooms in the gracious 1860s farmhouse or the cottage with two bedrooms. Area activities and attractions include numerous equestrian events, especially at Tryon International Equestrian Center.
“Bed and breakfast and barn” best describes the big picture with Cross Creek’s welcoming atmosphere of elegance and comfort. The house has six fireplaces, warm wood paneling, and the décor is country classic. The equestrian B&B came about when Katherine departed her hectic life as a software developer in the San Francisco Bay Area of California and moved east to be closer to her parents. She needed a place for her horses and, after moving into Cross Creek where she had extra stalls, her family planted the idea of the farm’s potential as a B&B and equestrian facility.
“I have five horses here, mostly elderly, empty stalls and lots of paddocks,” said Katherine. “It’s a very horse-friendly environment, and horses and people seem very happy here.”
Katherine, a lifelong horseperson, stopped competing when a fracture took her top horse out of action; fortunately, he survived. “That horse is 20 now, one of my retirees,” said Katherine. “With him, I was working up through the levels to Prix St. Georges and then the injury… I do a bit of hacking out on the CETA trails, but now I have a new horse, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, 9, and he knows a lot. I hope to get fit and learn a lot riding him with Hokan. He trained through the German system and he knows what he’s doing.”
The fact that Hokan buys and sells horses in addition to training and showing doesn’t stop him from thinking of every horse as his, no matter who owns them. He also cites standouts, like Bold Contender, “a mare with great heart” who, at barely 16 hands, made history as the first Friesian ever to show internationally in CDIs under FEI rules, including Freestyle and Grand Prix.
The adrenaline starts to pump whenever a prospect shows potential for greatness. Less than a year ago, Hokan bought Django, 7, a handsome and athletic Dutch Warmblood by Jazz out of Nirvana, by Fleming. “He’s a cool horse, but very difficult to ride. I spent six months doing basics with him, building his strength and his confidence,” said Hokan. “In four shows, Django earned the highest scores in the country at Training Level, 77.609 was his best, and he was named 2015 USDF Dressage Horse of the Year (for his level). I t
hink he can go all the way to Grand Prix. I’m really excited about him.
“I’m excited about all the horses I get to train,” continued Hokan. “The process of finding out who they are, their strengths and weakness, is a puzzle I thoroughly enjoy working on. Right now I have some really nice younger horses, including two of my own that are in full training. Their prospects are wide open and I look forward to competing them to the fullest extents of their talents. Settling down here has been a very positive experience.”
Visit www.hokanthorn.com or call (404) 275-8888 and also visit www.crosscreekbbb.com