March 21, 2023 – Wellington, Fla. – As far back as Wynne Fassari can remember, everything has revolved around her love for horses. At eight years old, Fassari’s mother found a summer camp that offered horseback riding, where she could drop her off and return to pick her up at the end of the day. The rest became history.
After a successful start in the Arabian world exploring a variety of disciplines, Fassari ultimately landed on dressage. She then attended West Moorland Davis Equestrian Institute located in Leesburg, Virginia. It was there that she began to work with renowned dressage athletes such as Jaap Pot, Maria Gunther and Gunnar Ostergaard. Fassari went on to run a training business, but eventually decided she wanted to start a personal operation. That is when she built Iron Rock Dressage, a world-class facility for her horses in Fairfield, California. Once her new home was established, it came time to add to their team. Fassari posted an advertisement on Facebook, which quickly attracted Eleni Econopouly.
Now, 27-year-old Eleni Econopouly does not remember a life without horses. “I started riding basically when I learned to walk,” Econopouly said, “My background was a little bit of everything. I had two horses in my backyard that are the typical horses you’d have growing up to do rebellious and wild things with. I started eventing and doing the hunters, which I really enjoyed, but wasn’t very good at the dressage part.”
She began to take dressage lessons with the intention of improving her flatwork to benefit event riding, not to solely become a dressage rider. Yet Econopouly shares that, “I began to see what dressage looked like outside of eventing dressage and that inspired me to do more. It only grew from there. I was a hungry kid who just wanted to get better and keep learning more. My goal at the time was not specifically to choose either dressage or eventing, but to become an all-around horsewoman. I wanted to be the best that I could be for these animals.”
Fast forward to her teenage years, Econopouly discovered all that Olympian, Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids program had to offer. When talking about Gray, Econocpouly describes her as “the core of my dressage”. Gray taught lessons weekly at the barn where Econopouly worked, which doubled as the facility Olympian, Courtney King-Dye was based out of, giving Econopouly access to top-notch dressage early on in her career.
With the help of Dressage4Kids events such as the Training, Education and Mentoring (TEAM) clinics, the Evolving Dressage Athlete Program (EDAP) and the Winter Intensive Training (WIT) program, Econopouly climbed her way through the FEI youth divisions.
“From there, I began to do a lot of freelancing at home in New York, then started to bring everything together. I brought all of my freelanced horses into one facility where I stayed for three years. I had a little of everything – jumpers, eventers, and dressage horses. It was fun to have something going on every weekend,” she reminisced. “It was a point in my life where I had a successful business and things were going well, but I felt like I was spending so much time on others and not enough time furthering my own education. I had to make the decision to either stick it out or find a different route.”
It was then that the stars aligned and a friend of Econopouly shared Fassari’s Facebook advertisement. Econopouly remembers that, “I found it interesting, went out [to California] for an interview, and I absolutely fell in love with Wynne and her program.”
Once settled in as a team in California, Fassari and Econopouly began horse shopping.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic kept them from traveling and trying potential horses, Fassari ran the sales videos by Califonia based FEI 4* judge, Jane Weatherwax. With Weatherwax’s help they hit the jackpot, purchasing twelve horses from various locations.
“I wanted to provide Eleni with horses, but also wanted to keep our options open,” Fassari said.
“Originally Eleni was riding Qosmo. When we decided to sell him, she took over one of my Spanish horses that was doing almost FEI,” Fassari recalled. Qosmo, an 11-year-old gelding by Quaterhall, now thrives under their trainer and friend, David Marcus of Marcus-Fyffe Dressage. She continued, “I felt bad that we took Qosmo away, so it snowballed from there and we kept buying horses. We ended up enjoying the process of developing and selling, which brought forth the idea to start a boutique sales business.”
What sets Iron Rock Dressage apart from many typical sales operations is the time and effort they dedicate upon each horse that comes through.
“We are not interested in being an in-and-out sales barn. We keep them to peel through their layers, to make a better life for them. Many horses come with baggage, so it is our job to work through that and present them to people as the special horses they are,” Econopouly stated, “Our end goal is to find horses and not do a quick turnover, but turn them into solid citizens that can go and take care of their new rider; horses that are ready to make a relationship with their own person.”
Econopouly elaborated on the importance of creating a relationship with each horse that comes through their barn. “We like to make the horses personable. When you first get them in, so many of them can be shut down. It is such an important piece to this sport – we want horses that want to do their job.”
“It is one thing to have a Grand Prix horse and get on and go, but another thing to have a horse from a younger age and have those years to develop them. You really create sort of a love language with them. There is an extra bond and an extra connection that can really shine in the ring,” she went on. “With the sales horses, we really start to develop that trust and harmony. It is our goal to make them want to do the work. No horse ever asks to do this, we ask them to do it.”
Not only do the equines of Iron Rock Dressage get treated with the utmost compassion, but live a lavish therapeutic lifestyle as the high level athletes they are.
“I always seemed to be in barns that doubled as rehabilitation facilities,” Fassari explained, “So when I built my barn, I built it as a rehab facility for my own horses. We have a water treadmill, EuroXciser, Theraplate, a Horse Gym Ice Spa, and a system that grows non-GMO organic fodder to provide the best feed for the horses. All that fun stuff.”
When it comes to the future, both riders are looking forward to further developing their private operation. Fassari shared, “When I bought these horses, I was just kind of having fun. Our criteria was safe for an amateur but with gaits nice enough for a professional.” She shares that, “This time around, Eleni will be assisting with finding new prospects, possibly some that are slightly further along in their education. We try to buy horses that both of us would want to develop for ourselves.”
The overarching plan is to keep multiple horses in their program for a handful of years before marketing two or three annually. Alongside the sales program, Econopouly has personal goals as well.
“I do have big aspirations.” She explained, “I would love to make a team and represent the U.S.A. and Iron Rock. It is a cool situation we have here – the ability to choose what horses stay and what horses we can provide other people. I do not have a specific timeline, I am very much about the journey and the process. Horses love to throw curve balls at us. But a big goal was to come down here [Wellington, FL] to train, to push my education and also showcase our barn and string of horses.”
“Watching them continue to develop in their new home is so rewarding,” Eleni shared, “A perfect example is one we recently sold to Texas. His owner is always sending us photos and expressing how much she adores him. We know he is loved to pieces. That is what this is about for us. It is amazing to watch these horses we develop go on to loving families.”
To learn more about Iron Rock Dressage, visit their website here
Non-Phelps Media Group photographs courtesy of Eleni Econopouly and Elizabeth Hay