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Deep River Farm:  Reins Change Hands But Remain in the Family

 Written by: The Carolinas Equestrian Published: 30 January 2019 Deep River Farm, owned by the Willard Family, is located in Oak Ridge, NC, which is a small town located about ten-minutes northwest of Greensboro.  Originating in the 1940’s by Frank’s grandfather, Dan Whitaker, the farm was initially home to American Saddlebreds, fox hunters and show hunters.  Dan was also the Master of the Sedgefield Hounds for many years. In the 1970’s, Frank took over and transformed the farm exclusively into a show hunter facility.  “I was fortunate to have some great customers who provided me with some great horses,” offers Frank.  “It was a different business in the ‘80s and ‘90s as horse owners, Jane King and Cameron York, sent me horses to show and sell.  They bred them for that purpose and I loved doing it.  As the business changed to everyone wanting to ride and show, the shows obviously had to change to accommodate them.  “We were married in 1984,” shares wife Vivian, “and I rode as an amateur owner for several years until our daughter Caroline came along in 1986.  She was on a horse as soon as she could sit upright!” Some of the earliest highlights for the farm that came from both the horses Frank showed and the horses they sold over the years: ‘Double Murmur’ winning the Medal Finals at Pennsylvania National Horse Show (Harrisburg). ‘Timeless’ winning the Three Year Old Hunter Futurity Championship for his owner Cameron York, then going on to be Horse of the Year in the Green Conformation Hunter Division ‘Bachus’ Fourth in the Medal Finals at Harrisburg with Heather Caristo on board Caroline has enjoyed much success through the years, beginning with the short-stirrup division.  “First show, right off the bat, she is champion at a HITS Ocala on a 16.2 hand horse named, ‘Marble’!” exclaims Vivian.  “Much of Caroline’s success is attributed to Susie Schoellkopf and Jennifer Alfano.”  Susie arranged for Caroline to team up with her incredible medium welsh pony, ‘Farnley Rutile.’  This partnership began with the short-stirrup division in 1997 to a Reserve Champion National Title in the medium pony division in 1999.  Additionally, they were Zone Three Medium Pony Champions in 1998 and 1999 as well as North Carolina Hunter Jumper (NCHJA) Year-End High Score and Grand Pony Champion.  Some of the other highlights in Caroline’s junior years included a partnership with Cameron York’s, ‘Winifred.’  She was a 17 hand plus chestnut mare that Caroline rode to the Zone Three Year End Championship in the Younger Large Junior Hunter Championship. “Caroline and her amateur-owner horse, ‘Hypnotiq,’ were an amazing team,” offers proud dad, Frank.  “They were together for five years and just one of the headlining accomplishments was that they were the Younger Amateur Owner Grand Champions for four consecutive years and Overall Grand Amateur-Owner Champions for three consecutive years at the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Shows.”  Additionally Caroline has won the North Carolina Hunter Jumper Association (NCHJA) Equitation on Ponies Finals, the EJ Haun Finals and the Bryan Jones Adult Equitation Finals.  At the time, these were the only NCHJA Finals, and she was the first and may still be the only rider who has topped all three!  “We thought she would work in the ‘real world,’ and be an amateur/owner rider,” ads Frank.  “So, with that thought in mind and Vivian and I wanting to slow down – we sold the original Deep River Farm consisting of 50 acres and 20 stalls for development and purchased a much smaller farm (12 acres and eight stalls) which we thought was suitable for an amateur.  Well, as you might guess, Caroline decided to become a professional in 2012!  Our 12 acres has become home to 18 stalls and a rented four stall barn a mile away, and her business has grown by leaps and bounds.  Now that Caroline’s business has expanded, she usually takes around 12 horses/ponies to the ‘AA’ shows 20-24 weeks out the year.   “There have been so many changes through the years in the horse show world,” agree both Frank and Vivian.  “Some personal and some from the ever evolving horse industry.  On the personal side, our daughter taking over the reins of Deep River Farm has been a major adjustment.  Caroline married Jacob Briles in October 2017 and since then has been molding Deep River into her own show barn.  It is however, still a family operation.  As Vivian and I keep the books and organize the shows to help free Caroline up to do what she does best – ride, train and teach!” Highlights Since Caroline Turned Professional: 2017 Leading Hunter Rider at the Duke Jump for the Children Horse Show in Raleigh, NC Grand Green Hunter Champion with Tara Rein’s ‘Baron de Ley’ 2013 Zone 3 First Year Green Working Hunter Champion with Addison Byrd’s ‘Too Cool.’ This pair was also NCHJA and South Carolina Hunter Jumper Association (SCHJA) Year End Champions. 2012 Caroline finished third in the World Champion Hunter Rider (WCHR) Developing Pro Finals A typical day at Deep River Farm is Caroline riding 10 to 12 horses in the morning then teaching five or six amateurs and juniors in the afternoons – a full day!  “Our specialty is attention to the individual!” affirms Vivian.  “We like to keep our numbers small so we can build a custom program that meets the needs of each horse and rider as a team.  The horses’ happiness is so important to us.  Happy horses like their jobs and make great show horses!” Since 2017 Caroline has been paired with Alex Steven’s ‘Sky Pilot,’ and this team has racked up numerous wins in the national hunter derbies as well as champions in the performance hunters divisions.  This spectacular horse has also had many wins with Alex, and in 2018, the duo met a 30 year dream by winning the Masters Adult Hunters Grand Championship at the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show.  “I’ve been with the Willards for close to 40 years,” he beams. 

Top Three Considerations When Building Stalls

Your horses spend a lot of time in their stalls. Here are some tips to keep your equine companions comfortable, happy and safe. There are many things to consider when selecting stalls for your horse barn, including animal comfort and safety, functionality and style. Three of the most important factors are stall door styles, the design of the stalls, and what types of waterers and feeders you decide to use.

Churchill Stables

 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.”

Summer 2022

Our Summer 2022 issue features the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show. We also have an important article on preparing for emergencies with your horses, as well as a story about the equine artist Joyce Hall, our Under 21 junior profile and much more.

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