BY SUE WEAKLEY
MAJOR PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEORGE KAMPER
He walks into the barn like a comfortable cowboy, his stride honed by many hours in the saddle and his good-guy white hat crinkled in all the right places. It’s a true horseman’s barn, designed for the comfort and safety of its valued residents, but, as he nears, something seems amiss. Instead of a crisp button-down shirt and starched Levis, his white shirt is made of a sports performance fabric and he is clad in breeches. That’s because he’s the self-proclaimed show jumping maverick, Todd Minikus.
The two-time, bronze-medal-winning U.S. Pan American Team member earned more than 130 national and international grand-prix wins, represented the U.S. on many a Nations Cup team, served as an alternate for the Olympic Games show-jumping team, and was named equestrian of the year in 2014. He’s husband to fellow equestrian Amanda Minikus and dad to 8-year-old Colt and 6-year-old Langley. Todd’s barn and his home, set on 10 acres on the outskirts of Wellington, Florida, are his ranch and his personal bonanza.
“It’s not like a typical Florida home—it’s more Colorado-style,” Amanda explains. “Todd would say if he could live anywhere, he’d live out West. He loves the Western theme.” They bought the property anticipating the South Florida horseshow circuit moving nearby but, when that failed to materialize, they decided to build a kid- and horse-friendly compound. Amanda would stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. looking at house plans, and when the right one was discovered, it evolved into the present home. “We always wanted to build something because we need a home, not only for us and our family, but we need a home for our horses,” she said. The barn was finished slightly before the house, and they moved in Thanksgiving Day in 2010.
For the Minikus family, it’s a family affair as well as a partnership. Todd does most of the training but, when he is away at shows, Amanda takes over the care and riding of the horses left at home. “We definitely do this as a team,” she says. “When he’s at the show, I handle things at the farm and try to make it so everything works together. He can’t be at two places at once, so I help ride the horses here so that everything stays on track.”
Meanwhile, she wrangles two kids and five dogs, including four Rhodesian ridgebacks and a token Jack Russell. “It’s nice because the kids can just come out and come see us and hang out,” Amanda adds. “Our daughter rides, but our son doesn’t have any interest right now. We want it to be their idea. Just because we do it doesn’t mean they have to love it.”
Todd enjoys his home life as well. “When the kids are on the patio and I’m training the horses in the backyard, they yell out, ‘Dad, I need the TV changed’ or ‘Where’d you hide the remote?’ or something like that,” he explains, “that makes it great, as well as handy, that we’re right there with the kids.”
The children ride their bikes on the property, so when the compound was designed, safety was a priority. The horses were also key in the design, with practicality, functionality, work flow, and their safety in mind. Crosshatch on the front of the stalls and spaces between the stall slats allow for optimal air flow. Todd and Amanda believe that in the barn, the horses come first. “They are the athletes, so we have to take care of them,” Amanda says. “If they’re not taken care of to the best of our ability and we don’t keep them in tip-top shape, then how can we then ask them to perform?”
Todd and Amanda both take an active approach in the care of horses. “You can walk by the stalls and see in just as you’re walking by, and you’re able to see their legs,” Todd says. “You’d be surprised the stuff you notice. And the horses seem comfortable, and that’s important to me. I like the hands-on approach with the horses. Sitting in the house, you can hear if somebody’s banging or in trouble, and I like that feel.”
The feel of the house is also a priority for Amanda. “Growing up, my mom made our home very special,” she says. “There was a lot of love in our home, and I was proud of our home. I wanted to try to accomplish the same thing for my kids and my family. I wanted it to be a place where they wanted to be. Decorating for me is a passion. I love it.”
Todd enjoys the simple pleasures of farm life, and on his Mondays off, he can be found mowing the lawn. At the end of every day, he’s out grooming the arena—a chore he trusts to no one but himself. “I come home and I drag the ring every night myself. That’s the most important thing, and that way I don’t have to grab anybody and shake ‘em for scalping the ring,” he laughs. “I can’t blame anybody but myself. It’s definitely like mowing grass. It’s a good way to take the 30 minutes to wind down. That’s the changeover from work to going into the house. It should be husband time, but it’s mostly dad time.”
The couple has a comfortable routine. Todd and Amanda get up around 6 a.m. and make sure the kids are moving by 6:30. They cook the kids breakfast, and Amanda takes them to school while Todd starts taking care of the horses. “We’re on by eight, and it’s just getting them out and training them to get better at what they do,” Amanda says. “It’s explaining things that they might have questions on to help them understand. Todd’s all about training the horses. There are no gimmicks or gadgets.”
On Mondays, the horses also seem to enjoy the day off, and if you come through the barn, most of them will be napping. “They enjoy the quiet,” she says. “They need a day off where they can do their own thing. They’re happy.”
The same can be said for the Minikus family. Their home and barn are a hidden oasis for a high-performance show jumper who longs for the ranch life for his happy family. “It’s pretty simple,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but it is simple. It’s comfortable for the horses and comfortable for my family.”