Written by: The Carolinas Equestrian Published: 09 August 2019
Motorsports mogul Bruton Smith’s living room is filled with trophies and plaques; mementos of his many accomplishments over the last 92 years, including inductions into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame. But among all the glittering hardware and history, there’s a special place for a championship horse show ribbon, won by Smith’s daughter, Anna Lisa Smith Lee. At Churchill stables, just 11 miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of Smith’s eight active NASCAR tracks, Anna Lisa is paving her own way in the horse business.
Churchill Stables features a staggering list of amenities for horses and riders, including 31 stalls, four heated wash bays, a six-horse walker, 24 hour surveillance, multiple pastures and paddocks, private lockers outside of each stall and a ring with all-weather footing and lights. However, its Lee’s devotion to the well-being of the horses that impress clients the most.
“From daily Theraplate sessions to using Master Farrier, Jack Montgomery, the horses come first,” Lee says. “My horses health, happiness and hearts are the most important things and it shows. People often comment on how amazing every horse in the barn looks and that’s something I’ve very proud of.”
Lee has shown in the hunter and jumper divisions, with success at the highest levels including grand prix wins. She spent much of her junior career under the tutelage of the legendary horseman Ronnie Mutch, then went on to train with Grand Prix rider, Todd Minikus. Lee continued to hone her skills by working for Laura Kraut and then Pablo Barrios; both Olympic Equestrians. Lee has a deep respect for her mentors, including her current business partner, Juan Ortiz, and her philosophy is not to stray from their philosophies.
“I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Lee says. “I was trained by and worked for the best and I do exactly what they taught me. I’m very serious about doing things the right way.”
Lee hopes to pass along her knowledge to the next generation of horsemen, so her business model places significant emphasis on young rider development. Churchill Stables offers lessons for beginner riders all the way up to the grand prix level. Working students are a commonplace in Lee’s barn. While her heart is in the jumper ring, Lee makes sure to develop well rounded young riders, with strong basics.
“When I rode with Ronnie Mutch, he made me do the hunters and equitation, which I appreciate now,” Lee says.
“When I’m bringing along young riders, I’m all about making sure they are classically trained and become consistent and smooth in the hunter ring before they move onto the jumpers,” She adds.
Young horse development is Lee’s other focus. Along with her mother, Bonnie Smith, Lee breeds Holsteiners. With the help of Ortiz, Lee brings along her homebreds with the goal of grand prix show jumping in mind.
“Most of all, I want the horses I breed to be happy doing whatever job they end up in. We breed horses for me to ride in the jumpers, but if they seem better suited for a different job, we sell them.” Lee says.
Smith purchased Churchill Stables in 2004, but it was several years later that Lee took over as trainer and barn manager. In the meantime, Lee still rode and trained her personal horses, but she also dabbled in motorsports. After working with veteran drag racer, Roy Hill, Lee had the opportunity to pursue a career behind the wheel instead of in the saddle.
“Drag racing came very naturally to me. It could have been an easier route; all I had to do was get in the car. I have to work a lot harder in the horse business,” Lee laughs. “But, I can’t shake horses. They’ve always been a big part of my life. Like anyone who truly has a love for horses, I always come back to them.”