Dee Osborne had a Dressage at Devon plan B in Beaturce VDL – Brendan Curtis showed the mare to the Grand Championship of the Breed Show and on the title of Best Handler.
Three good friends from Lancaster County, PA went to Dressage at Devon in September. They took several horses, packed lots of hope, and prepared for the unexpected. As the competition unfolded, the friends, Dee Osborne, Victoria Wanner and Brendan Curtis began to realize that the field was narrowing and it was likely that the final showdown would pit two of them against the other. And that’s exactly what happened. Beatrice VDL, a six-year old from Paard Hill Farms in Manheim, was shown in hand by Curtis. Dazzle, a four-year old bred by Wanner, was shown in hand by Bruce Griffin.
In the end, Beatrice was crowned the Breed Show’s Grand Champion, Curtis was named Best Handler and Dazzle was Reserve Champion. One might think that a little bitterness would be natural, but one would be wrong. “I was so genuinely happy—truly from the bottom of my heart—for Dee and Pieter to have won the championship. I could not have lost to better people,” Wanner said.
It turns out that, for these three friends, it’s really all about the horses. And the friendship. And the unexpected twists and turns that are woven into life with horses.
Beatrice Outshines the Sun
Osborne and her husband Ron own Paard Hill Farms, where Beatrice has lived since arriving from the Netherlands when she was six months old. “We have a long relationship with Pieter Ruig,” Dee Osborne explains. Ruig, who lives in Shelter Island, New York, owns Beatrice. “He brings all the young horses to us and we take care of them until they’re ready to graduate.” The Osbornes have been doing this for many years, and they’ve developed a winning formula. “We believe majorly in hands-on from birth,” she says. “A lot of handling. When they’re ready to go under saddle they graduate.”
When Beatrice was on the verge of “graduating” from Paard Hill, doctors found that she would not be able to carry a rider, due to a previously undiagnosed injury. “When they x-rayed they found out that it was something she did as a foal,” Osborne says. The mare was young and otherwise healthy and fit, so they decided to breed her. Her foal, Helios, out of Rousseau, was the one they planned to showcase this year at Devon. Helios, namesake of the Sun god, is a talented youngster that Osborne believed would do well in the show ring.
“Helios did okay,” she explains.” He had the ability to do really well, but when he was in the Dixon Oval, they decided to start testing the speakers.” She imitates the speakers’ static and squawking, laughing at the memory of Helios’ reaction. “He’s just a foal and he was going up through there and they started testing those speakers, and he went ‘whoa! Whoa!’” Three times he tried trotting through the cacophony, and three times the speakers blared. It was just not Helios’ day to shine.
Osborne decided to put Beatrice in the mare class, and that’s when the magic started. “Well, she won and she won and she won. She kept winning! Beatrice redeemed both of them. She is an amazing mare, and is just adorable.” It was not an easy task, Osborne says. “She had to go in to compete the mare championship, and then she had to go compete against the champion stallion, then compete against the champion young horses.”
In addition to winning the breed championship, Beatrice was named Mature Champion. That’s right…at six…mature champion. The mare is now carrying a UB-40 baby. UB-40 is one of the stallions at Iron Spring Farm. “My husband and I have been doing this for a long time, and we’ve been in the championship ring a lot and we’ve won young horse championships; this was our first experience winning the grand champion.”
She says that Beatrice’s owner, Pieter Ruig went to Holland shopping for prospects, and once he saw Beatrice, he didn’t want to look at anything else. “He called me from there and said ‘Dee I found her. They keep showing me all these pictures, but the only one I want is her.’” Beatrice was one of their “keeper” mares, Osborne says. They wanted to keep her for breeding, and were not intending to sell her. But Ruig prevailed.
From Equestrian Reality Show to Top Show Rings
Curtis, who showed Beatrice in hand, started in combined training when he was a teen, but has been focused strictly on Dressage for the past 10 years. In 2007 he competed in the reality show “America’s Next Equestrian Star: Dressage,” hosted by legendary Olympian Robert Dover. He started working with established trainers to learn the ins and outs of showing horses in hand. “Michael Bragdell, who is a trainer at Hilltop farm, sort of trained me a little bit. From there, I worked with several breeders who have young stock that needed to be shown in hand.”
It’s an opportunity to be part of the development of extraordinary show horses, he says. “I love seeing the young horses, I love knowing the bloodlines, and the exposure they get at the shows. That show environment stays with them when they begin under saddle.” He says that each of these young horses is different, but they all have one thing in common. “In a show environment they look to the handler for reassurance.”
After his stint in reality TV, Curtis accepted a position at a training barn in North Carolina, where he worked for about five years. He recently relocated to Pennsylvania, where he got to know Osborne, through friends of friends of friends, he says. “It was because Victoria (Wanner) introduced me to the barn owners at the facility I lease.”
With an extensive client base, ranging from South Carolina to New York, he’s a busy competitor, clinician and trainer. It all came together at Dressage at Devon, where he and Bragdell were competing both on and off horses. “We had close to 30 different horses that we ran,” he says, still amazed at how busy they were. “It was really busy. And successful. Everything just seemed to click. When it started out I didn’t think I would have so many horses.”
Born in the USA
A few miles from Paard Hill Farms, Victoria Lamas Wanner operates Greifenstein Farm, which is also where champions are born. Wanner, who is originally from Argentina, bred Dazzle, the four-year-old that won Reserve Champion at the Breed Show. “First of all, I am the breeder, but no longer the owner,” Wanner explains. She sold the horse as a yearling to Taylor Minnucci, but continues to show Dazzle.
“The amazing thing about Dazzle is consistency,” she says. “We took her to Devon as a two- year- old, where she was Reserve Young Horse Champion. The following year as a three-year-old she was Reserve Grand Champion of the show.” Wanner says that this year Dazzle had the highest score of the show until Wednesday. “Yes, I wanted the Grand Championship so badly.” But it was not to be. Dazzle was Reserve Champion again this year, although she won the Born in the USA award for four-year-old and older mares.
“I wanted another shot, and I clearly said to the owner the chances of us being able to do this three years in a row were…” her voice trailed off. “It was a major achievement.“ Wanner says that Dazzle has been started under saddle, and is going really well, although she won’t start showing under saddle until next summer. She credits Bruce Griffin, who was Dazzle’s handler, with much of the mare’s success. “He has been all along through all her successes, and he did an amazing job with her all three years in a row.”
Wanner loves every one of her 16 horses, but a couple of the mares have caught her heart. “I have a couple of young mares that I’m bringing along. One by Jazz and the other is by Rousseau,” she says. She’s looking forward to taking them to Devon next year. One young prospect is Ferrocia, who is the daughter of Rousseau. “She’s jet black and absolutely to die for gorgeous. She has a very exciting future ahead of her. I wish she was three already.
“I love the mares. That’s my favorite thing. Dazzle’s mom—Zizarma—is eight years old and competing at fourth level. I bought her in Holland when she was three weeks old and I imported her when she was two years old.” She says her farm is set up as a breeding operation, and she generally begins breeding her mares at three years. She says it’s especially exciting to have a performance mare, breed her and then watch her daughter or son do well in the ring.
The Three Amigos
Wanner says that one of the best aspects of the friends’ combined success at Devon is that they can so seamlessly celebrate each victory. “It’s really cool because we all get along really well.” They appreciate each other’s success, because they care so deeply about the horses and the discipline. They’ve got a great thing going in Lancaster County, and there’s a profound awareness of what it all means. Osborne and her husband have developed a pretty uncomplicated formula, much like the recipe that Wanner uses. “We raise the foals and get them where they need to go,” Osborne says. “We’re really lucky. We’re surrounded by great people and great horses.” She loves the life they’ve built, and is sincerely grateful for every moment of it. “Hopefully we can do this until we’re 95.”