April 2018 - Horse People: Deven Vespi
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Wednesday, 28 March 2018 20:05
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Florida transplant helps California equestrian scene go (Adequan) green.

by Kim F. Miller

Long a symbol of the environmental movement, the color green has taken on additional meaning in California equestrian circles over the last few years. It’s the color of the Adequan® signage blanketing events in dressage, hunter/jumper, racing and other spheres of the West Coast horse universe. The company’s big commitment in the region also manifests in an individual: 28 year old dynamo Deven Vespi.

The Florida native and dressage rider had never been to California when she signed on as territory manager for Luitpold Pharmaceuticals, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Adequan i.m. (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan). Within two weeks of being offered the job, she was settling into new digs in Riverside County’s La Cresta and doing what much of her life now consists of -- hitting the road.

Deven Vespi & Benedina

A Burbank dressage show was an early stop and an eye-opener. “I saw Olympians Steffen Peters, Guenter Seidel and (Olympic alternate) Kathleen Raine and I was freaking out,” she recalls. “I realized then that California was pretty special.”

That was the seed of her self-described “far-fetched” plan on arrival in California in October of 2015. Having lived, ridden and competed in Florida, Deven was familiar with the Adequan Global Dressage Festival and other big circuits and educational events that enjoyed strong corporate support. She felt that California deserved the same level of support.

In the California dressage world, “There are so many USET team riders,” Deven notes. Many of the region’s amateurs could hold their own with professionals elsewhere in the country, she asserts, and the junior and young rider ranks are strong. “There is so much good riding and so many great horses out here, I felt there needed to be more support.” And so it was that California’s equestrian scene began to go big-time green.

Deven and Willow with Luitpold’s Allyn Mann after showing at the Festival.

“It’s the coolest job in the world,” Deven says of her work. “I’m so lucky and I don’t consider it work.” Visiting veterinary practices and conferences to talk about products is a main part of her work that’s typical of the pharmaceutical rep position. Determining how the company will represent itself through sponsorships in the region is an added responsibility. It’s good that Deven loves her job, because it’s pretty much 24/7.

Inadvertent Resume Building

Being an experienced and active horse owner and competitor is a professional asset. Deven began riding in her teens, first on the hunter/jumper track. A fall from a hunter got her thinking about dressage and by about 15, she was sure it was a better fit for her and for the horse she rode then. “Even as a kid, I was very particular. I’m a type A personality. I like having long term goals and I like staying on the ground!”

Her family was not horsey, but growing up in Tampa there were plenty of good trainers to work with and competitions to observe and participate in. Traits that later helped Deven land her current job helped her become a busy catch rider: working hard and being a go-getter. “I was willing to ride more difficult horses and that broadens your opportunities,” she says. “I always hustled. I asked everybody I knew, I put flyers up, ads in local newsletters, etc. I’m a decent rider, I try really hard and I’m also very conservative in how I work with horses.”

While attending the University of Florida in Gainesville, Deven was able to ride enough horses to earn her bronze and silver USDF medals. After graduation, she began riding more as a working student for her main trainer Anna Marek. Deven credits Anna with taking her riding to the next level. “I had my medals and had shown a few horses at Prix St. Georges by then, so I knew how to do things, but I’d say she really taught me how to ride.”

Riding young horses was a part of Deven’s continuing education under Anna’s watch. “That really helped me learn correct basics and how that translates to riding and training.”

She currently owns two horses.  Willow is a 9 year old Danish Warmblood with whom Deven had a great showing at Fourth level earlier this year. The 5 year old Hannoverian mare Benedina is currently in Florida with Anna.

Deven and Scott Hayes, organizer of the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival. Photo: Troy Doney Photography

Deven rides at Hinnemann Farm, where she trains with Natalie Hamilton-Hinnemann. Based in Murrieta, Natalie works closely with Kathleen Raine, David Wightman and German master Johann Hinnemann, Natalie’s father-in-law. Through those connections, Deven was grateful to ride with the legendary trainer and coach a bit this year while he was in California.

Career Path

Deven graduated with a dual degree in biology and psychology, with an emphasis on neuroscience. Neuroscience was her first career focus, followed by becoming a veterinarian. The latter plan was somewhat influenced by having her North American Junior Young Riders Championship dreams derailed by an injury to her equine partner in that quest. The veterinary track involved doing extensive research at University of Florida’s veterinary hospital, another experience that helped Deven land and excel in her current career.

Somewhere along the way she decided against becoming a vet but she knew two things: “I loved horses and wanted a career with horses that would pay enough for me to keep horses.” She ruled out becoming a professional rider “because I’m not brave enough,” especially as her horsemanship knowledge increased to where she realized in hindsight the risks she’d taken with some steeds in the past.

Pharmaceutical sales seemed a good fit, but there was one hitch. “It’s very difficult to get into the animal health pharmaceutical industry.” she explains. “There are not a lot of jobs out there and it’s very competitive.”

Deven had a big edge in the job search with her science-heavy degrees and a lifetime of “doing anything I could to make enough money to keep my horse.” Over a few years, that included selling used saddles, used cars bought at auction and even cremation services. “Inadvertently, that gave me a ton of sales experience,” she notes. “I grew up with both parents having their own businesses, so I’ve been kind of mimicking them since I was a kid.”

She networked throughout the industry and found out about a Luitpold Pharmaceuticals opening to cover Southern California, Arizona and Southern Nevada. She jumped at the chance and is grateful for the opportunity she’s been given, especially at such a young age. “My manager really took a bet on me and I am forever grateful for that.”

Immersion in many areas of the horse world is a job perk, Deven reports. “The biggest thing is that everybody loves their horses, so there is always a commonality. And it’s fun to learn and be supportive of all these people who love their horses. There are great vets on the racetrack and my own vet, Dr. John Newcomb, is a reiner, so I’m learning about that. It’s interesting to see how horses are treated and how they behave in other disciplines.” Observing horses being worked at Santa Anita Racetrack recently, she noticed that the 2-year-olds didn’t spook. “If those were dressage horses, that would be pandemonium!”

As Deven continues to paint the West Coast horse world in Adequan green, the one place that color is rarely found is on her. Fashion is another of her passions and one that fits with her plan to celebrate horse sports in every form. “It’s something I took from the Thoroughbred racing world and I love themes for events.” She celebrated the Breeders Cup in a fancy blue dress and loved the hues designated for Saturday nights each week of the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival.

For Deven, getting gussied up is another way to show off her love and support for all things involving horses.