"It Begins With A Dream"
Like most equestrians, I was born with an absolute love for horses. An innate infatuation for all things equestrian and equestrian sports. I grew up between Florida (not in a horsey area) and hunt country in Virginia, just outside of Middleburg. My heart would race every time I passed one of the iconic stables or farms along route 50 and my imagination would soar with thoughts of having my own horse and the adventures that would follow. Our neighbors hosted a spring and fall horse trial at their farm and it was something I looked forward to and never missed.
My Paternal Grandfather had a passion for animals, particularly dairy cattle and his hobby grew into the production of an award-winning string of registered Holstein dairy cows. My father who was equally interested in dairy cattle earned a Master’s Degree in Animal Science and certainly understood the intricacies of competing with live animals, but didn’t have the same interest in horses.
Like most beginners without a trainer, I acquired and learned from a variety of misfits and, perhaps unbeknownst to me, problem horses. When you don’t know any better it’s all fun and of course, when you know better, you do better. When I began keeping my horse Beau at Long Branch, an incredibly stately stable down the street from my parent’s, where we used to grow hay, I was exposed to young riders who were competing internationally (eventing) and it opened my eyes to ideas of possibilities I didn’t know existed. Now Olympian, Rebecca Howard, Sinead Halpin, Sherry Hill, and a couple of others who were competing internationally in 3-day eventing were keeping their horses at the stable.
Even though my primary interest was in dressage, I enjoyed learning about eventing and I admired the incredible dedication and detail that was exhibited by my stablemates. I was a few years younger than all of the “eventing girls” at Long Branch and I looked up to them instantaneously. I’d never seen a braver rider than Sherry Hill and I can remember thinking she was just fearless. I would go to watch them compete when the competitions were local and on a few occasions they brought me along to venues like Groton House in Massachusetts or Fair Hill in Maryland. Even though I was completely intimidated and in awe of each of their ability, it made me feel like competing internationally was obtainable. I gave eventing a try, competing in a few training-level events. I certainly had a great time and we all enjoyed many laughs along the way.
Following my stablemate's lead, I began the search for a young rider's horse with the help of the internet, and shortly after contacting various dealers, I began to review VHS tapes of potential FEI partners. I set off to various locations in both Canada and Europe to try horses (alone)! I was still eligible to compete in the junior riders division when I imported Anton from Denmark, with financial support from my father. He was extremely difficult to sit, but he incredibly generous, kind, and a great teacher.
When I had the opportunity to compete in a few shows in Wellington, Florida, (WEF) I realized that I'd stumbled upon the Mecca of equestrian sport in the USA and I so desperately wanted to be included. After leasing stalls and housing in Wellington for the winter my father decided it would be a wise investment to buy a farm there versus leasing. In 2002 I offered stalls for lease at my first stable located on Fox Trail for the winter season. The facility was fantastic, Grand Prix dressage rider and friend Shawna Harding and advanced eventing rider and friend Christy Price shared the stable with me. I had the opportunity to lesson with Olympic Bronze Medalist, Michelle Gibson, who I still believe is one of the most talented riders and trainers in the world. The seasons I spent at my farm taught me more than riding and I gained much more than show ring experience; I learned how to manage a stable and staff. When I wasn’t managing my stable at home, training, or competing, I was often in Europe during the summers and I acquired a couple of new FEI horses.
I was very close friends with Jackie Paxton, who’d just won gold at the North American Young Riders Championships with a record-setting score. I’d competed at the CDI her farm, Paxton Farm (Ohio), hosted during the summer and she was someone I revered in riding and sport.
I’d visited Jackie, with my dear friend Holly Wilmoth, when she was training at Gronwoldhof. Holly and I were both completely inspired and blown away. We attended the Hannoverian stallion licensing in Hannover and returned the following day for the auction where I found and fell in love with a 3 years old, dark bay, Hannoverian, stallion, Cellagon (Contendro x Lauries Crusador xx). He wasn’t really from dressage breeding, but his athleticism and look caught my eye. I phoned my grandparents in Massachusetts (Honey and Papa) and asked if they might consider backing me in the purchase of a young stallion, who’d I’d leave for training at Gronwoldhof. They agreed and I left Germany owning a newly licensed Hannoverian stallion.
In 2004 when Jackie decided to compete in the USET qualifiers for the Pan Ams, I followed suit (not very successfully I should add) and when I was riding one of her Grand Prix horses at her farm with her father, John Paxton, watching he suggested I travel to Gronwoldhof in the summer, like Jackie, and learn and compete with the best. It was an idea that had occurred to me many times earlier, but until her father made the suggestion it didn’t really feel like a realistic expectation. When I presented the idea of taking my horses to Germany to train and outlined the costs to my father he was supportive but said we obviously couldn’t keep the farm in Wellington while my horses and I were living abroad and explained his expectations as far as training, education, and competition expectations. So, we listed my farm on Fax Trail and booked a flight for my two Grand Prix horses, the Dutch Warmblood (KWPN) stallion, Le Byou P, and my Dutch Warmblood (KWPN) gelding, Labyrinth to travel to Europe.
Following WEF season 2004, I drove my horses to the airport loading center in Miami, with four tack trunks, and about 10 suitcases. We flew in a huge cargo plane. I’d taken a course in Miami a few weeks prior, so I'd be allowed to travel with my horses as a traveling attendant. I stood behind the large rope net that separated the cargo from the pilot’s area during take-off and as I looked into Labyrinth’s eyes I thought, wow, this is the beginning of a brand new chapter.
Gestut Gronwoldhof - “Ist beginnt mit einem träum”
When I arrived at Gronwoldhof I was immediately humbled and inspired. It had been the home to so many of the greats, including Donnerhall. Mr. and Mrs. Rehbein were unparalleled figures within the international dressage community. The indoor riding hall served as a learning and preparation place for many American Olympians, Carol Lavell, Robert Dover, Tina Konyot, Lisa Wilcox, and so many more. During my time at Gronwoldhof I have the privilege of riding alongside not only Jackie Paxton, but Australian Olympian Kristy Oately-Nist, who was positively inspiring to watch ride and train. In hindsight, Kristy’s taste in horses certainly influenced me and certainly inspired my change to German (Oldenburg) horses. The knowledge, experience, and friendships I gained in Germany certainly helped shape both the person and rider I am today.
I think part of what made my European training experience a little different from many of my American counterparts is that I didn't just have finished or competing horses to work with and take lessons on, I had a young stallion who was only recently started under saddle. I'd spend as much time watching Frau Rehbein and Kristy train as I would in the saddle. I'd travel with the stable to every competition, even if I wasn't competing, and watch as many classes as I could. I also loved spending time at the warm-up arena. It was such a unique time in my life. I practicing a new language, studying independently, and every day seemed like an exciting new opportunity.
I’d drive from my flat on the Olster (the bay) in Hamburg to the stable in Gronwohld every morning. I enjoyed the thirty-minute commute because it gave me time to think about my lessons or work from the day prior and it allowed me to set my intentions for the day's rides. I’d drive past huge fields of yellow flowers that were picturesque. Unfortunately, it was before camera phones, so I don't have as many photos as I'd like.
World Cup 2004
Before my departure to Germany BeeGee Leslie-Siegfried would have me come to her farm outside of Saint Louis, MO monthly to work with her and our mutual friend, Pat Purnell. Pat’s husband, Jack Purnell, was the long-time CEO of Budweiser International the sponsors of the FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas. We all traveled together to Las Vegas in a company jet. At 20 years old I was surely awe-struck and our access to the World Cup was a dream come true. It was the first time I’d had the opportunity to see International dressage in such a venue and though intimidating, it was awe-inspiring.
In 2006 when I returned to Wellington and set out to start Dream Street Stallions, Olympic Bronze Medalist Lisa Wilcox was just returning from Europe as well. Initially, she came to the stable I was leasing for the season in Wellington before I moved my eight horses to her stable in Rustic Ranches. Lisa was instrumental in helping me develop my stallions, furthering my riding education, and even competed some of my horses in an effort to qualify for The Young Horse World Championships. From the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany to the FEI World Cup in Las Vegas (2006), I got to see all the behind-the-scenes action with Lisa, including training sessions and even USET team dinners.
In the fall/winter of 2006, I was selected as the Grand Prix Demo rider for the Ingrid Klimke, United States Dressage Federation Symposium, being held in Kansas City, MO. Following the symposium my horses left Lisa’s stable and moved into their new home in Wellington, Florida at Dream Street Stallions, South. My friend and student, Deborah Howe, and I partnered on a stable that served as the base of operations for my program. We’d routinely leave for a few summer months to escape the heat, compete at either the Young Horse National Championships in Wayne, IL, Dressage at Devon in Devon, PA, or both! During the winter season, Lisa was always generous enough to come to my stable when I needed assistance or when I was polishing a test before a competition.
Over the years I have had the honor of working with some incredible horses and categorically outstanding students. I’ve found even more joy and fulfillment in the success of my students than I have my own. Currently, I am looking forward to developing a talented youngster N'Joy Summer (Dream Boy x Don Primero) who I plan to compete in the FEI Young Horse Division (2022) and I'm helping my students reach their training and competition goals.