By Jan Westmark-Allan
As the daughter of famous Hollywood parents, Hannah Selleck could have chosen a career path that included the glitzy and glamorous trappings of a Hollywood lifestyle. Instead of hanging out with celebrities, however, Hannah is far more likely to be found hanging out at the barn – thanks to a love of horses that began at the tender age of four on the back of a tiny pony. Her early experiences with horses had a lasting impact on Hannah – setting the stage for her life’s calling and unearthing a passionate love for horses that has carried on through her teen and college years and into her adult life.
Hannah, 23 and now a professional rider, is the daughter of Tom Selleck, of “Magnum P.I.” and “Blue Bloods” fame, and Jillie Selleck, a dancer who performed in “Cats” in London. “My parents are private and they wanted me to be normal and live a normal childhood so I haven’t lived the Hollywood lifestyle. Growing up I had a bunch of different animals: cows, sheep, rabbits, dogs (at one point we had 13), cats and horses,” Hannah said. “I tried lots of activities when I was young, including ice skating, ballet, soccer and gymnastics. My parents encouraged me to find my own path.”
Hannah’s path took her toward the barn, and rightly so, as a love for horses runs in Hannah’s genes. Her dad had learned to ride for Western movies and the Selleck family had horses at home. Those ranch horses not only fueled Hannah’s equestrian aspirations but also helped create a lifetime of great memories. “My best horse memory probably has to be the first time my dad ever came to watch me ride. I was four years old and taking lessons on a tiny black Shetland Pony named Sheba who was bratty, as ponies can be. She knew just how to throw me off – she jerked her head down and I went flying off rolling over her neck. I got back on and she did it again. I fell off twice in a row in a matter of five minutes,” Hannah recalled. “My dad didn’t interfere and just let me get back on and try again because that is what I wanted. He has always been very supportive of my riding and so has my mom. My mom is amazing; she comes to nearly every show and is always at the ring video taping my rounds. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all their love and support.”
Hannah, who lives in Los Angeles, began competing on the A circuit when she was 10 and, as they say in the movies, it was “lights, camera, action” after that. Hannah started riding with California trainer Karen Healy when she was 16 and said, “I have trained with Karen since then and along the way I have also gotten help from Leslie Howard and Ian Miller. Karen is the most dedicated and hard working trainer I know and I admire her greatly. She has taught me the importance of preparation for both horse and rider and that there is no substitute for hard work. Whether it is for the equitation ring or a World Cup qualifier, the foundation and basics are the same.”
After earning a Communications degree from Loyola Marymount University last year, Hannah faced an important career crossroad – would she choose a job in the real world or pursue life as an equestrian? One thing she knew for sure, she had ruled out following in her parent’s footsteps. “I took one acting class in college and I was terrified,” Hannah said. With acting out of the picture, Hannah accepted a summer internship at a public relations firm in Beverly Hills. “I didn’t like being inside from 9 to 6 – my passion was horses and I knew then that horses was what I wanted to pursue.”
Hannah accepted a job as an assistant with Karen Healy and has discovered her calling. “Karen is a great teacher and she will further my career. It’s hard work but I love it, especially working for Karen at the shows, helping with the equitation kids and jumpers,” Hannah said. Since turning professional, Hannah said she has determined that she made the right career decision. “I discovered I can do this. I can hang in there and be competitive.”
Being competitive isn’t anything new for this talented young professional, as her junior career was jam-packed with highlights. Hannah is also quick to point out that being in the show ring is a lot more fun then attending Hollywood functions. “I went to the Emmy’s with my dad when I was younger. It was a really long awards show and not very fun.”
What was fun was earning her own awards and Hannah racked up a series of prestigious wins over the years, including: the Silver Team Medal at the Prix de States in 2005; the 16 year old Equitation Championship at Capitol Challenge in 2006; the Junior Jumper Reserve Champion Zone 10 Horse of the Year with Bauer in 2007; winning the USEF Talent Search Medal Finals on W.C. Swing in 2008; placing fourth in the $75,000 BP Cup at the Spruce Meadows Masters in 2009; winning the $35,000 Blenheim Summer Classic II Grand Prix in 2010; and winning the $10,000 Blenheim Summer Classic 1.35 Classic in 2011 and placing second in the $80,000 1.50m TD Cup at Spruce Meadows.
It was Hannah’s experiences at the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC) that stand out as highlights in her life and taught her valuable learning experiences as well. “In 2006 I went to Young Riders for my first time, in Lexington, Virginia and competed on the junior team on my horse Bauer who I had purchased earlier that year from Jimmy Torano as one of my first junior jumpers. That year we finished with a team bronze medal. In 2008 I competed at Young Riders again, this time in Parker, Colorado on the Young Rider team. Again I was on my horse Bauer who I knew much better at this point. We ended up winning both the team gold medal and individual gold medal and I also won the style of riding award. Winning Young Riders was a goal I had for a long time as a junior so it was very rewarding to accomplish it,” she said.
Hannah added that her double gold medal wins aboard Bauer in 2008 were made even sweeter because the year before, in 2007, during her last junior year, she was unexpectedly unable to compete on the Prix de States team at Harrisburg. “Bauer had injured himself and needed time off. I had to give up my spot on the team and that was disappointing. Letdowns like that are always hard but I knew I could not dwell on the disappointment and had to keep focused on my goals. Winning Young Riders a few months later taught me that there are always ups and downs with this sport and if you are going to be a real competitor you have to get used to it. That was definitely not my first disappointment in my riding career and will not be my last.”
A Special Horse
While Hannah has some new horses in her stable, she said one “oldie but goodie” is still proudly part of her show string. “My horse Bauer has been so great to me, so at the end of 2010 we decided to give him an early retirement. He had sustained a minor injury and needed a few months off, not to mention he had done so much for me over the years, taking me into the junior jumpers, winning double gold at Young Riders and into some World Cup qualifiers. Well that didn’t suit him and he jumped out of his pasture a few times over the course of 2011, so at the beginning of this year we decided to bring him back to work. Right now he is showing in the 1.45m and will hopefully be able to do some 1.50m classes here and there. He is truly a special horse.”
As Hannah looks toward the future she is excited about competing at the grand prix level. She is also breeding horses with the hopes of one day raising her own international caliber horses. Hannah recently competed at Spruce Meadows, where she and Bauer placed 9th in the $32,000 Westjet Cup 1.45m class at the Canada One show. Being in Calgary brought back memories of an experience she had when she was 12. “My dad was in Calgary filming and we went to Spruce Meadows. Someone set up a riding lesson for me on a school horse there and we were invited to sit in the playpen where the sponsors sit during classes at the Masters,” Hannah said. “I had no idea that years later I would be back at Spruce Meadows, working for Karen and competing as a professional rider.” While Hannah may not have lived the Hollywood lifestyle, returning years later to Spruce Meadows plays out like a good Hollywood movie – one with a happy ending.