Lord of the (equestrian) rings

Photographs by Bob Rozycki.

Scott Hakim is a man who loves to keep fit – mentally as well as physically.

“The gym is my meditation,” says Scott, who has the trim, broad-shouldered physique of a man who knows how to balance weights with cardio. “I come out of there an hour later a different person.”

But perhaps no activity has challenged him the way horseback riding has. Growing up in Chappaqua with a horse-loving sister, Pam – and their two equine-terrified siblings – Scott began riding at camp around age 7 and went on to places such as Shannon Stables in Bedford, becoming a competitive rider.

“I love the animals,” Scott says of riding. “Mentally, you’re trying to mesh with your horse. But it also uses your entire body – your core, your shoulders and your legs. When you get into riding properly, it’s the best fitness in the world.”

Though he rides only recreationally now – he says he’d like to get back into it competitively – the equestrian world is never far from Scott’s thoughts. He and his father, Kamran, both real estate developers, own Old Salem Farm in North Salem, which they have transformed into one of the top-ranked horse farms in the nation – refurbishing it thoroughly and putting in on the media map with such sparkling events as the Spring Horse Shows in May and the American Gold Cup in September.

When Scott and his father bought the farm in the 1990s, the property – which once belonged to actor-philanthropist Paul Newman – was long past its glory days.

“We looked over the farm and it was in shambles,” he says. “But underpinning it all was this jewel box.”

The Hakims set out to restore the jewel box, which sits on 120 verdant, rolling acres in North Salem, part of Westchester County’s horse country. They raised the roof; renewed the walls; added windows, installed new lighting, ventilation and fire and smoke detection; upgraded the offices, lounge and gym; introduced fire-grade wood in the barn; and redid the landscaping. Nothing escaped their attention, from the 68 stalls to the paddocks to the sand-based footing on the floor of the rings and connecting areas that are tested to ensure the horses don’t misstep.

The result of the multimillion-dollar renovation is a handsome, rustic facility with a casually elegant lodge-style lounge. “It’s a completely new farm,” Scott says. And yet with everything the Hakims have done, he adds that Old Salem is “only 80 percent of the idea of what it could be.” Bringing them a little closer to their ideal – plans for a new barn that would add 24 more stalls.

Last November, Old Salem Farm made headlines when it bought neighboring Grand Central Farm, a 286-acre site that straddles North Salem and Southeast in Putnam County, for $14.9 million. The Hakims are in the process of sprucing it up.

“Grand Central doesn’t need a renovation the way Old Salem did. Right now the plan is to bring it back to the quality it had and use it for high-end private clients.”

For the public, the focus will remain on Old Salem. There the Spring Horse Shows have increased their attendance and number of competitors and sponsors, while the nationally televised Gold Cup has doubled its advertisers, more than doubled its competitors and more than tripled its spectators.

Scott credits Michael Morrissey, president of Stadium Jumping and Cup organizer, for the event’s success as well as his own staff of 30 to 35. The Old Salem staff includes facilities manager Alan Bietsch, who started out in construction on the site and stayed on, learning the horse business to become Scott’s right-hand man; head trainer Frank Madden, one of the most respected developers of young show-jumping talent in the field; and barn manager/rider Sarah Natale, whom Scott cites for her industry and kind heart.

Scott is a reserved, protective man. But he is particularly voluble in discussing his staff, also mentioning assistant trainers Heather Hays and Stella Manship; Spring Horse Shows manager Allen Rheinheimer; and Spring Horse Shows coordinator Vandy Lipman.

Sterling staffers like these, he says, are key not only to effective management but to a happy environment for riders and horses.

Still much of the credit must also go to Scott himself – a man who values the old-fashioned virtues of hard work, honesty and honor. He would deflect such praise. But then he has a quiet nature that is refreshing in our confessional culture. His qualities suit him in his leadership role not only at Old Salem but in his own company, City Sites Real Estate Group. Based in Manhattan, where Scott also lives, City Sites employs 60 people. (Scott – who attended a boarding school in Princeton, N.J. and Wheaton College – earned a master’s degree in business with an emphasis on real-estate development at New York University.)

His early experience in the ring has also prepared him for his business career, for it has taught him “discipline and fortitude. You find your face in the ground in riding. And you just have to pick yourself up, get back on the horse and canter on.”

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