July 2018 - Sunsprite Warmbloods

Emilee Libby and Sunsprite’s Fleurette. Photo: Marcus Greene Outdoor Photography

All-around athletes, great brains and a wee bit of playfulness distinguish prominent sporthorse program.

by Kim F. Miller

Google “Sunsprite” and several definitions come up. There’s a rose by that name and a “wearable sun and light tracker” that improves energy, mood and sleep. But ask anybody in the eventing world what Sunsprite means and the answer is Pamela Duffy and Don Trotter and nearly 20 years of producing talented, versatile sporthorses under the Sunsprite Warmbloods banner.

Despite their big presence on the eventing scene with horses, volunteerism, sponsorship and cheerleading, Sunsprite Warmbloods is actually a small program. Since getting started in 2000 at their modest-size property in Temecula, Pam and Don estimate they have produced between two and five babies a year.

Sunsprite broodmares at leisure. Photo: Jutta Bauernschmitt

Savvy horsemen get in line for those youngsters early. Washington state eventer Marc Grandia, for example, met Sunsprite’s Watusi, by Wild Dance and out of Kamirette (Damiro B), as a 2-year-old while getting a ranch tour. Referred by Sunsprite’s long-time ambassador Tamie Smith and well aware of the program’s prominence in the sport, Marc found himself a tad nervous when Pam sent him into the paddock with a halter and said, “Go catch your horse!”

“I knew she was watching me,” Marc continues. More significantly, “I knew she was watching him to make sure it was going to be a good thing between us.” After some playtime with Marc and Watusi loose in the paddock, Pam gave her blessing to the partnership.

As is the case most of the time, Watusi went to his rider at the age of 4, after a leisurely youth and solid ground manners training at home. Last year, Marc galloped Sunsprite’s Watusi to the West Coast Young Event Horse Championship, and he’s on a good pace for this year’s 5-year-old standings.

The Sunsprite team believes that happy 2-year-olds become happy 4-year-olds and, with the right horsemanship, can remain so throughout their careers.  Watusi embodies that, along with intelligence, confidence and curiosity. When they first met, the now about 17hh youngster was “interested in everything, but not worried about any of it,” Marc relays. That “great brain” has made for easy training and easy accomplishment of every new task he’s presented with.

Without jinxing anything, Marc has the highest of hopes for this dance partner. “He has every single individual quality you could look for in a horse at the highest levels.” Now, just that minor matter of “putting it all together.”

Getting a Sunsprite as a 2-year-old is common among eventing clients. In part, that’s because eventers often like the extra edge of starting the horse themselves. Committing to such a young horse is a gamble for sure, but one that more riders, pros and amateurs in all the Olympic disciplines, are starting to take as they learn the inverse relationship between the quality of Sunsprite horses and the scarcity of Sunsprite supply. Calls from those not-so-familiar with the Sunsprite ways often involve an inquiry about 4-year-olds. “But they aren’t born as 4-year-olds,” Pam notes with a laugh. “By the time they’re 4, they’re most often spoken for.” Buying a Sunsprite under the age of 3 is also a more affordable way to get a well-bred prospect.

Sunsprite’s Cali. Photo: Jutta Bauernschmitt

All-Around Athletes

Partnering with a horse so young is a substantial commitment from a rider or owner, Pam acknowledges, but no more so than the substantial commitment Sunsprite has been making to American Sporthorse breeding throughout its history. Breeding all-around athletes was Sunsprite’s goal at launch and remains so today.     The stallion and mare choices change and evolve, but the program’s priority does not. In eventing terms, they strive for horses that start a Three Day Event competition winning dressage on Friday, and finish still atop the leaderboard after cross-country and stadium jumping. Elegant movement and overall athleticism are common denominators in all their horses, but temperament is their top priority.  “Any number of riders can succeed on a Sunsprite,” notes Don. International eventers have done so, and so have amateur riders, including juniors, at various experience levels and in various disciplines.

A future goal is representing their horses more proactively in the dressage and jumping worlds. Marketing videos and advertising campaigns would be great ways to get the word out, but time is another scarcity at Sunsprite. With four of this year’s crop of five foals safely on the ground, and one more on the way, round-the-clock foal watch was still underway as of early June. And the rest of the year is filled with caring for babies, youngsters and broodmares of all ages in their care. Not to mention attending shows to cheer on their horses and support the sport.

Sunsprite Warmbloods was built on Pam’s savvy for finding and pairing unique sporthorse bloodlines. Up until recently, they also operated a small program in Germany to help secure bloodlines that were especially hard to find in the States. “In some cases we have rarer blood here in our Sunsprite horses than can be found in Europe,” Don notes.  Pam has always believed in the mare’s important contribution to any breeding, so it’s no surprise that their broodmare band is dominated by Model, Elite, Verband and State Premium designations from the Trakehner and several other Warmblood registries.

Pam enjoys her immersion in the sporthorse pedigrees, but she doesn’t expect bloodlines to be the first lure for most customers. “We hope a buyer is most interested in compatibility, potential and temperament.”

Mark Grandia and Sunsprite’s Watusi. Photo: Marcus Greene Outdoor Photography

Performance & Pedigrees

Performance is Sunsprite’s best marketing tool. “When you get beat by a thing on regular basis, you start taking an interest in it,” notes Don with the trademark twinkle in his eye. They like their broodmares to have a performance record first. Like Madeira. She was purchased in Germany, where she won her breed performance test and was already in foal. After she delivered, Sunsprite struck a four-year arrangement with Bay Area-based eventer James Alliston. “We bought her as a broodmare, but when we sent her to James, I said, ‘Let’s see if it’s possible for her to go all the way to 2*’ and that’s exactly what they did.” James’ wise horsemanship was the ideal match for the mare’s brave nature and he brought out her best. Yet Pam stuck to her guns about Madeira having babies. After winning at the 2* level, she came home to Temecula, perfectly sound, to resume her mommy career.

For this reporter’s sake, Pam keeps the bloodline discussion at a layperson’s level, but her knowledge and enthusiasm happily override that when she details the rationale behind Madeira’s current breeding to Upsilon. Originally bred for the cross-country and jumping requirements of the military, the Trakehner breed ensures athletic ability for all levels of jumping. Madeira’s breeding equally indicates dressage. Her grandsire is Biotop, a Russian Trakehner for German dressage master, the late Reiner Klimke. Bravery, intelligence and soundness are well-established hallmarks of this line.

Pam paired Madeira with an up-and-coming sire, Upsilon. He has evented up the 3* level and represents an interesting combination of Holsteiner and Anglo-Arab blood. The Arabian influence is an important ingredient in many of Sunsprite’s horses. In this case, it brings respiratory endurance that builds on an already big dose of that present in Madeira. “One of the things that makes her lovely for eventing breeding is that her respiration rate comes down amazingly quickly,” Pam explains.

With the foal due this month, cautious Pam is finally confident to talk about another breeding she’s excited about: the Heraldik xx daughter High Ovation to Glücksruf I. “We have the Heraldik lines here in the States, but most are grandchildren, not daughters,” Pam says of her excitement about finding the mare and bringing her to the States last fall. This line’s bravery and athleticism is well known through offspring including Butts Abraxxas and Butts Leon, who, remarkably, were both part of Germany’s Olympic team gold in 2008.

James Alliston and Sunsprite Madeira. Photo: Captured Moment Photography

The Sunsprite Family

Whether professional or amateurs, riders entrusted with Sunsprite horses become part of the family. But first they have to pass a few unofficial horsemanship hurdles to prove worthy of entry. Tamie Smith’s many-year relationship with Pam and Don, and her steady ascent to the recent USEA Gold Cup 3* victory with Sunsprite Syrius, make her the lead brand ambassador. “She is a very generous soul,” says Don of Tamie’s place in their program.

As such, she has been entrusted with the development of Sunsprite Syrius, who Pam describes as “our flagship.” Bred by Lori Whitley of Oregon, and by the Trakehner sire Titilus, Syrius was purchased as a 4-year-old to carry the Sunsprite name far and wide. He’s done that and then some. Prior to winning his CIC*** debut at Galway Downs this spring, he and Tamie crossed the country to score the CCI** Eventing National Championship title at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International in Maryland. Currently taking a well-deserved break, “he has nothing to prove,” Don and Pam acknowledge. Yet it’s likely there’s more in store for this strong partnership.

Tamie is joined in the Sunsprite professional ranks by James Alliston, Marc Grandia, Emilee Libby and Deborah Rosen. And, Lisa Marie Baumann of Austin Eventing is training and campaigning Sunsprite’s Anastasia for the mare’s owner. On the dressage front, Nikki Clarke has developed Sunsprite youngsters over the years, and Triana Pangrcic is making her mark with Sunsprite’s Saltamontes, owned by Lisa L. Galliath. They started this year with 70-plus scores in First Level, tests 2 and 3, during the West Coast Dressage Festival.

Pam and Don have a few jumping riders in mind, but have had little time to approach them so far. Arrangements with professionals vary: most have purchased their own Sunsprites, some share ownership with Sunsprite and some campaign horses for the program.

Although they don’t compete themselves, Pam and Don are omnipresent on the eventing circuit: Don as a volunteer, Pam as a fan, and both as keen observers. (Both are ardent Area VI Young Riders supporters. See sidebar, this page.) Results are the obvious indicator of horsemanship, but the warm-up ring often provides an equally important indicator of a rider’s suitability to join the Sunsprite family. “There are a lot of arguments between horse and rider in the warm-up ring and how they are resolved tells you a lot about the relationship between horse and rider,” Don observes. Although wins are as important as they are plentiful, the Sunsprite approach prioritizes safe and educational competitive outings. “Our riders know we would much rather have them come home safely and that either the horse or rider, or both, have learned something,” Pam comments.

Don and Pam are happy to cheer from the sidelines, but they don’t interfere or hover over their riders. Having chosen their riders so carefully, they don’t have to. “Our perspective is that they are family with all the trimmings,” Don says. “Every Sunsprite rider knows that they are loved and respected.”

“Watusi” is another word that has many Google definitions. In the case of Sunsprite’s Watusi, it comes from his sire, Wild Dance, and aligns with the “wild dance of the 60s” definition. It also conveys playfulness, another trait that reflects the Sunsprite spirit. Love for and joy in the daily doings of their horses underpins everything they do and is, perhaps, the not-so-secret secret to the program’s considerable and long-running success.


 

Tamie Smith and Sunsprite Syrius. Photo: Captured Moment Photography

Supporting Tomorrow’s Stars

Sunsprite Warmbloods supports many causes in equestrian sport, but none more dear than the Area VI Young Riders program. In this issue that celebrates the riders heading to Rebecca Farm July 18-22 for this year’s Adequan FEI North American Youth Championships, we wanted to know why.

Pam grew up riding in Mexico and competed in show jumping. During her years in the Young Rider age category, 16-21, “I could have used a bit of cheerleading and support, but there were no programs like this,” she explains. “So I understand why it’s so important for riders at that age. Don and I also think it’s really good for character development. You have to have talent and determination, and the latter is what Don and I are really interested in.”

Sunsprite’s Area VI Young Rider backing includes having a custom show jumping fence designed and built for the highest bidder, and matching whatever amount is raised by the team during their pancake breakfast fundraiser.

Cheerleading and nerve management are equally important. Coordinator Kristin Hogan recounts many instances in which Don, often as a volunteer ring steward, finds the right recipe of calm and funny comments to see the young riders through those final moments in the startbox.

Pam and Don also hope their support helps to equalize the playing field. “Some of these kids don’t have fancy horses and they are chugging uphill a little bit,” says Pam. “Those are the kind of future riders that need to be recognized.” Most of all, “We just want to give them a little wind beneath their wings.”