Many of the country’s top U.S. dressage horse breeders set their sights on the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions each year. The Markel/USEF Young Horse and Developing Horse Dressage National Championships held at Festival provide an excellent opportunity to showcase horses who are carefully produced to be quality mounts. Maplewood Warmbloods is one of the U.S. breeding facilities to plan around attending Festival each year. Owner Jen Vanover and head trainer Lindsey Holleger run the elite private Oldenburg breeding and training center in Middletown, N.Y., and shared some insights into their program.
Vanover started as a dressage competitor and developed an interest in breeding. She began breeding horses in 2005, and her desire to produce quality horses grew into a full-time career as the owner and operator of a top breeding facility.
“For me, it started a long time ago. I got more involved in what I liked and what I didn’t like when I just looked at any horse,” said Vanover. “I think from there it just kind of grew into a passion of trying to create that on my own, kind of like someone baking a cake. You know, what can I toss in to make it taste better? I just became a passion and an obsession, really.”
Vanover’s passion grew to become Maplewood Warmbloods, a 115-acre, 50-stall facility that hosts German Oldenburg Verband inspections and USDF/USEF breed and dressage shows. Fifteen years of hard work, dedication, and thoughtful planning have brought about success for Maplewood Warmbloods.
“We really are mirroring what Europe does in the fact that we are breeding our performance mares, we are standing the stallions, we are developing that type of quality as a stud would in Germany versus a boarding facility and that sort of thing,” explained Vanover. “We are really trying to mirror that quality and quantity that they have in Europe.”
Head trainer Holleger started her successful competition career as a youth. She attended the Adequan®/FEI North American Youth Championships in 2012, 2013, and 2015, winning the 2013 junior individual gold medal. She competed in the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions for the first time in 2013, earning the junior reserve champion title. She joined Maplewood Warmbloods two-and-a-half years ago as the assistant trainer and spent a year in that role before becoming the head trainer and taking over the majority of training and riding responsibilities.
“[The horses] are amazing. It is incredible. I couldn’t possibly imagine a more perfect thing to do with my life,” said Holleger.
Vanover and Holleger lead a team of experienced individuals at a one-stop shop for breeding and sales of quality Oldenburg horses.
“We have plenty for sale right now, and then we like to keep two every year so that they can come and do [Festival] and beyond,” said Holleger. “What I think is really cool about the farm is we do everything. We breed them. Jen does the embryo transfers herself. She has the highest success rate I have ever heard of. Then we start them ourselves. We have a lot of stallions, which is fun. We breed the stallions ourselves, then we develop them ourselves. Everything is done right on the farm. It is just really cool to see it from the very beginning.”
As Maplewood Warmbloods’ young horses grow and develop their training, they are ready to gain experience in the show ring. For the 2020 Festival, Vanover and Holleger qualified seven horses but decide to bring five to keep things manageable.
“I love showing here. This is the best place in the country to show,” said Vanover of HITS Chicago at Lamplight Equestrian Center. “We have been a lot of places. The atmosphere, the ambiance, the camaraderie.”
At the 2020 Festival, MW Ave Maria was Maplewood Warmbloods’ top performer, finishing third overall in the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges Dressage National Championship.
“She is an incredible mare,” Vanover said of MW Ave Maria. “We didn’t breed her; we bought her in utero from a breeder in Maryland. It was just a cross I felt was really going to be super, and to have that come out and raise up and now be a seven-year-old, which I think was the youngest in the field. And to do as well as she did and move as well as she did, I think she made a real impression. I’m just thrilled to have her in my barn. And breed forward with her, too. We have got an embryo that we pulled by Jovian, which is due in the spring. I couldn’t possibly be more excited.”
“This was her fourth Prix St. Georges ever,” added Holleger. “The first day she had some really major bobbles, so she made a pretty big comeback today. I was really proud of her for that, and she is handling the show really well. I think she has a really gigantic future with her. I am so proud of her. She is the most incredible horse that I think I could ever imagine.”
MW Ave Maria’s stablemates had solid results at the 2020 Festival, as well. In an extremely competitive Markel/USEF Young Horse Four-Year-Old Dressage National Championship, MW Bodacious and MW Weissgold were fourth and 12th overall, respectively. MW Feinermark was 10th overall in the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Dressage National Championship, and MW Cilla Amour was 15th overall in the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges Dressage National Championship. MW Bodacious and MW Feinermark are stallions currently standing at Maplewood Warmbloods.
“This is kind of the path for us,” Vanover said of aiming for Festival each year. “We have gotten away from the regionals and the nationals and kind of made this the focus to really have a development program in the truest sense and develop that pipeline for Lindsey.”
“It has been a wonderful championship. We appreciate everybody’s efforts to put this on because I am sure it wasn’t easy,” continued Vanover. “This is a show that people do this for a living. We need this to promote our facility and our horses, and the trainers need it to promote their riding, so it is important.”
Maplewood Warmbloods has had much success at Festival and beyond. They have produced horses with lovely gaits and temperaments who make excellent riding horses. Their method has brought about much success, and they aim to continue to do so in the future as a U.S. breeding operation.
“We are in it for the long haul,” said Holleger. “This is just the beginning.”