A Path We Didn’t Plan On

Illuminator and Jeriah

The dapper Dutch Harness Horse! We are celebrating them as our May Breed of the Month on YourDressage! We recently asked our social media followers to post a photo of their favorite American Dutch Harness Horse or cross to be featured in a gallery on YourDressage! We will be sharing stories from folks who love this breed all through the month of May.

Did you know that dressage riders who choose American Dutch Harness Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the American Dutch Harness Horse Association and KWPN of North America are both participating organizations?

Here, a Region 2 competitor shares the story of a serendipitous meeting at an auction house that would change the course of her riding career, and begin her and her parent’s journey into breeding KWPN Dutch Harness Horses, and standing one of the most prolific DHH stallions in North America!

By Brynne Varvel

My involvement with the Dutch Harness Horse breed began during a wet, cold winter “horse adventure”. Due to only having an outdoor arena, a small group of us would go on what we called “horse adventures” to satisfy our winter blues and lack of riding. One of these adventures was attending a local horse sale, but when we arrived we realized that it was actually quite a large event. Remarkably, the Amish have imported many high-quality KWPN Tuigpaard horses (the Dutch Harness Horse), and since they don’t use the internet and normal advertising they would take them to these auctions held across the midwest to sell. After getting to see so many of these horses presented for both breeding and sale at the first auction we went to, we decided to start diving into the Dutch Harness Horse world, and began attending more sales.

On a particularly cold morning, at an auction in Shipshewana, IN (about four hours from our farm), we came across a two-year-old black stallion named JND’s Illuminator (Fascinator X Vicabella). When walking through the barns to evaluate the horses before they sold, we saw him and had no doubt that he would go well above our budget, so we just walked on. To our surprise, he was led through the sale (which is unusual and typically does not help the horses to command as high of a price as if they were driven), and we couldn’t believe how low the number was and how few were bidding. Unfortunately by the time we got done arguing over raising our hand and buying the young stallion– which our home farm was not in the least bit prepared for– he had sold. My dad and I raced back to the barn, where we were going to offer the buyer of this horse a small profit right then and there. Alas, we went home with an empty trailer that day. At that point, we contacted the breeder of the horse and, after a trip out to his farm, we ended up purchasing a half sibling to Illuminator named JND’s Diamond. This is really where our education and development with the breed began. 

We sold Diamond mid-summer 2016, and then proceeded to purchase two more DHH’s, I-Be-Bad and JND’s Rennessaler. Despite getting to work with more of these great horses, my mind always came back to Illuminator – he was my childhood “dreamhorse”, and I would constantly compare every horse we looked at to him. So after some time, his breeder tracked him down and we contacted his purchaser to see if there was a possibility to buy him. Because I was still in high school and had exams, I stayed behind the day my parents went to see Illuminator and another horse named Jeriah. Unfortunately after seeing Illuminator for the first time in 6 months my parents were quite concerned for his health– it was clear he was significantly underweight, and when asked to trot off he was quite lame. It was devastating but we had to pass at that point in time. Some weeks later his breeder called us again, to notify us that he had sent a vet out to check on Illuminator, that his health problems were resolving, and that he had purchased him and his full brother, known now as Kayan. This began our long road to where we are now. 

JND’s Illuminator (Fascinator X Vicabella)

Illuminator was easy to start undersaddle, as he had been driven previously, but became a tedious, and at times a naughty, young horse. He was keen to throw in his own flair in the show ring, and seemingly thought that the lower levels were a joke and he needed to do his own dance moves. I tried showing him as a three and four-year-old, but did not have much success due to his antics. He was too smart and clearly not being challenged enough. His five-year-old year we challenged him more by teaching the Third Level work to him, which he ate up and progressed quickly in. We got back in the show ring during his six-year-old year, and even qualified for, and competed at the Great American/USDF Regional Dressage Championships at Third Level. Developing Lumie has been quite interesting, as he has a great work ethic and so much intelligence. Additionally, Lumie has struggled with some physical difficulties. During his time with the Amish he was flipped on asphalt, which has resulted in some issues in his left hip and hind end, and some difficulties in his poll. Despite it, he has proven to be quite sound and healthy, and has moved efficiently up the levels. Over the last two years we have developed and shown him through the small tour, and at nine, he is beginning to school most of the Grand Prix work. It is amazing to look back and see that all the belief we had in this horse is really coming to fruition. He is a very special horse to me, and his larger-than-life personality cannot be missed both in and out of the ring. 

Wouter, grandsire of Illuminator

While Lumie is currently my highest level DHH, I have spent the past seven years competing and producing Dutch Harness Horses, while my parents took up breeding them for sport in 2020. In 2018 we had the opportunity to purchase Illuminators grandsire, the prolific imported KWPN/ADHHA stallion Wouter (Nando X Namora). My parents hadn’t bred horses in almost 15 years and really had little intention of owning a stallion, but we had been so impressed with his offspring that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity when he became available. In addition, my parents also have KWPN/ADHHA mares including STER mare Jamora CL (Colonist x Roy M), STER imported Denna (Whiskey HBC x Allegro), and KEUR imported Bo (Uromast), and have a few foals each year born on the farm. We have focused more on the higher percentage KWPN Gelder bloodlines, as we have found them to be most suitable for the many years of training which it takes to get to Grand Prix. Thus far, all of our foals bred here have been sold on to dressage homes, and we are so excited to see them develop with their owners over the coming years. 

Bo with her 2021 foal Rhiannon, who competed at the prestigious Dressage At Devon last year in hand.

In addition to competing with Illuminator, I currently have three other Dutch Harness Horses that I am developing. As mentioned earlier, Jeriah (Whiskei x Ligemma) owned by my mother, has been my second-in-command for the past few years, and has competed to Fourth Level, and is working on making a Prix St. Georges debut this year. A mixture of Illuminator’s and Jeriah’s bloodlines, Melman (Fascinator x Whiskei) is my eight-year-old, 17.2 gentle giant, who has taken his sweet time to mature both mentally and physically, but he is quite an exciting horse to be producing. Lastly, Montego Bay (Jaquet x Wouter) is my youngest, at six-years-old, and made great leaps in his training as my “backup” horse”, who I was able to bring to Wellington this past winter, thanks to the Christian Kennedy Memorial Fund Scholarship

I have been so fortunate to have had this breed as part of my riding development, and I truly love their genuine work ethic and quirky personalities. Each one is such a unique individual, and brings new challenges and education to my riding. My partnership with these horses has been so special, and I can’t wait to see how the breed can evolve and succeed in this sport.

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