As any business owner will know, the location of where you set up your business is crucial to the long-term success of the business itself. After establishing your business, watching it grow and mature, the thought of uprooting all of your efforts and starting again somewhere new can be daunting. For Brian and Missy Gruber, when the opportunity arose for them to relocate from Maryland to Missy’s family farm in Napa Valley, California, it was far more complicated than either one of them had anticipated. When the couple, whose lives, careers, and relationship had been shaped by horses, finally made the decision to move, they did so with the premise that regardless where their business was located, the foundation of their lives would always be rooted in family and good horsemanship. This dedication and commitment to core values of family and hard work has birthed a new business venture in Tulucay Stables.
The first time that Missy Gruber brought up the opportunity to move from Maryland to California to her husband Brian, the answer from him was an unequivocal ‘NO’. Gruber had spent the better part of 30 years working to develop a successful business, Ridgefield Farm, that was known for producing top quality horses for the Hunters, Jumpers, and Equitation, in addition to being a place where the whole family can be comfortable riding. Their client base featured ultra-competitive juniors, as well as adults that were growing to meet amateur goals.
“My professional start was with Stephanie Campus at 19-years old. That turned into several years of helping her to develop the students that had dreams of going to the Medal and Maclay Championships,”, recalled Gruber. “Back then, every exit on the Long Island Expressway had a horse show it seems, and that was my education and where I really cut my teeth in terms of Equitation and teaching.”
Maryland would prove to be where Gruber found his footing and established a name for himself as a trainer for the “three rings.” His next professional step after Campus, Gruber assumed the position of Head Trainer at the Potomac Horse Center and was there for over 18-years and three separate facility owners.
“While I was the Hunter/Jumper trainer at Potomac Horse Center, I started what became Ridgefield Farm because the need for more specialized training was immense,” recalled Gruber. “When I moved on from the Horse Center, Jay Matter and Linda Andrisani became huge role models for me. We worked really hard during those years and went everywhere, always chasing points. In one year, I recall that we qualified six riders for the Children/Adult Jumper Finals at the Washington International Horse Show and that was such a fun and memorable experience.”
The trajectory of Brian’s business only became more solidified when Missy decided that she too wanted to be a part of the operation. Missy’s family had moved from California to the East Coast for her father’s business, and she was initially introduced to Brian through his program at the Potomac Horse Center. Missy and her family became a long-term fixture in Gruber’s early business and Brian coached Missy until she made the decision to become a professional and spend time in Europe with Performance Sport Horse International (PSI). When Missy chose to return back to the United States, being with Brian and a part of Ridgefield was the only way to go. As an additional rider and trainer, Missy brought added competitive intensity, as well as an inclusiveness that was the glue to the “Ridgefield Family” as it would be known to many of the long-time clients.
“I think something that really defined what Ridgefield was in its latter years was family,” said Gruber. “We had clients that stayed with us for many, many years. We would start by giving the kids up-down lessons, and then as they would graduate to showing, their mothers would start riding. When the kids moved on to college, the mothers would take over their horses and begin showing. We did not suffer from the same kind of turnover that other barns on the circuit did, and that made getting up and going to work every day really enjoyable.”
Life at Ridgefield Farm continued in this way until 2016, when Missy’s parents approached the couple about an opportunity to take over part of Missy’s family farm in Napa Valley. Missy’s Aunt had made the decision to retire from managing the 22-acre facility, and although the opportunity excited Missy, the proposal to take over the farm and build the business back up, was not initially well received by Brian.
“My grandparents built Tulucay in the early 1980’s. I was born in 1983 and the property was completed in 1985 and so some of my earliest memories of horses were with my aunt, on this property,” recalled Missy. “Tulucay was always home and we would always come back for holidays and summer vacations as I grew up. Looking back now, I think it was sort of always part of the plan that I would end up back at Tulucay.”
“I have a wonderful relationship with my in-laws and very much appreciated the confidence that they had in our ability to make Tulucay a show barn, but I was 49-years old and had my own farm in Maryland almost paid off,” Gruber says. “I was just not open to taking that kind of a risk, but after turning down the initial offer and seeing how unhappy the decision made Missy, I decided that I needed to reconsider and give the idea some thought.”
Once that reconsideration started, the couple did their due diligence by flying back and forth from Maryland to California several times to evaluate the property and the local horse show scene. After several trips and serious soul searching, the couple made the very hard decision to close Ridgefield Farm and start over in Tulucay.
“Leaving our friends and the professionals that we had very close relationships with was excruciating,” recalled Gruber. “It has ended up being the best decision that we ever made but, at the time, it was very painful because those people were family. Luckily, we still have all of those relationships and we have not lost touch with many of our contacts but ripping off the band-aid was certainly hard.”
After Brian and Missy became settled at Tulucay, they started to get their feet wet with new clients at local horse shows. For Missy, who had grown up in California but had her professional career elsewhere, it was both a relief to be home but also a culture shock, because as many of her equestrian peers have noted in the past, competitive equestrian sports on the West Coast are not the same as they are on the East Coast.
“There are more trainers per square foot that are accessible to you on the east coast,” shared Missy. “Growing up, you learn so much through osmosis because you are exposed to different people with different ways of doing things. It breeds good horsemanship because you have access to many good professionals, and you are held to a high standard naturally.”
Horsemanship and traditional equestrian values became the foundation on which the new era of Tulucay was being built. The instant gratification of winning in the ring would come second to horse care. Training the fundamentals of equitation and preparing horses and riders together would be paramount to jumping every day and clients would be educated on the values of what makes horsemen rather than just riders.
“It is not about instant gratification with us,” says Missy. “It’s about the horses and the riders being the best they can be together. Working with our current clients to help them connect the dots between their riding goals and how they relate to their horse’s best interest is something that motivates us daily.”
With the transition West behind them, Brian and Missy are now focused on building awareness of their boarding and training business. Tulucay Show Stables is unique in California because, unlike many other facilities, it is owned and operated by the same family – Brian and Missy. The 22 acre property offers 14 stalls in the elegant main barn that is lined with brick cobblestones. An additional five-stall barn, private grass paddocks, and indoor and outdoor arenas finalize the ideal setting for their competitive program and makes the property a hidden gem in the Northern California equestrian landscape. Brian can be found teaching the competitive clients, while Missy does a majority of the riding and bringing up her “garden of pony kids.” They work together to bring the traditional equestrian values that have always guided them to their business.
“Although we went through quite the journey to get to Tulucay, now we can’t imagine being anywhere else,” says Missy. “We really feel as though we are home, and we are looking forward to meeting new people in our Northern California equestrian community as well as introducing new clients to the rings year after year. The full circle journey has truly been the most fulfilling.”
To learn more about Tulucay Show Stables and Brian and Missy Gruber, click here.