California Riding Magazine • November, 2008

Briarwood Rides to the Rescue
Two Thoroughbreds from Shiloh Horse Rescue get a fresh start at Briarwood.

It was another great year for Briarwood Riding School. A full roster of students successfully competed at recognized Horse Trials throughout California with many of them moving up a level. Several new students also joined the ranks at Briarwood, and owner/trainer Sarah VandenBerg quietly moved two very special horses, Pacific and Diego, forward into new careers as eventers.

Pacific and Diego may seem fairly ordinary in the world of eventing; both are 6-year-olds, Thoroughbreds and retired racehorses, which have long been a mainstay of the eventing world. Certainly the athletic ability of a Thoroughbred can’t be denied, and Pacific and Diego were no exceptions. The difference between these two Thoroughbreds and most event horses is that they narrowly avoided a terrible fate.

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Diego at his first Beginner Novice Horse Trials.

Both horses were bought at a slaughter auction by Sarah’s sister Jill Curtis and her organization, Shiloh Horse Rescue near Las Vegas, NV. Pacific and Diego’s story is intertwined with that of the two sisters, and they can trace its path all the way back to their horse crazy childhood. “We made every mistake in the book when we were younger,” explains Sarah. “One weekend, we talked our parents into bringing our ponies home to keep in the backyard overnight—we lived in University City. We awoke to a bunch of squealing and two loose ponies running all over the neighborhood!”


Sarah VandenBerg and Pacific.

Sarah and Jill rode mainly hunters and excelled in the show ring until Pony Club introduced them to eventing. Both immediately excelled in eventing and eventually earned the coveted USPC “A” Rating; with Sarah being one of the youngest ever to achieve such status. The “A” rating is only awarded to a very small percentage of Pony Club members nationwide and it is extremely rare to have two in one family.

But Pony Club ratings and a love for eventing weren’t the only things these two riders shared. They also shared a very special mount, Austral. An Argentine Sporthorse, Austral, was originally imported for Jill and she successfully competed him through Preliminary. Sarah then took over the reins, competing him through Advanced, winning back to back gold medals at the North American Young Riders Championships and eventually qualifying him for the Rolex Kentucky CCI Four Star. “He was a once in a lifetime horse and we were lucky to both have him,” says Jill.

Two Roads, One Journey

From there the sisters took different paths. Sarah continued to compete at the upper levels and train over 30 students from beginners though CIC**. Placing a high value on continued education, Sarah earned her Level III rating through the United States Eventing Association’s (USEA) Instructor Certification Program. At the time she became certified, she was one of only five such instructors on the West Coast. She continues to study with top trainers and coaches. “Quality instruction is more important than ever and I want to make sure my students have the very best,” says Sarah.

Jill founded her non-profit organization, Shiloh Horse Rescue, with the mission of rescuing horses from slaughter. Shiloh has rescued 329 horses from slaughter auctions across the United States. Horses of all ages and breeds have found a safe haven at Shiloh, including many talented ex-race horses just like Pacific and Diego. “People are shocked when I tell them that Pacific and Diego are rescue horses,” explains Sarah. “There is a misconception that somehow rescue horses are different, but the unfortunate fact is that any horse can find itself in a precarious place at an auction. These are great horses that with a little care and the right training can really succeed. Their talent, movement and ability are second to none.”

In addition to the 329 slaughter bound rescues, Jill has taken in many other horses from varying circumstances, bringing the total rescued to 475 horses. Some remain in the safety of Shiloh’s Sanctuary where they are allowed to live with their companions in a herd situation for the remainder of their life. But 276 of them, including Pacific and Diego, have found great new homes as show horses, pony club mounts, first horses, family pets and trail horses.

Pacific has been successfully competing at Training Level and Sarah plans to move him up to Preliminary next year. Diego, who started a bit later than Pacific, successfully completed his Novice season and it looks likely that he’ll be moving up to Training Level sooner rather than later. But Pacific and Diego are not the only equines from Shiloh that found their way to Briarwood in 2008.

Casino, another young Thoroughbred, was started at Briarwood and gained confidence in both jumping and dressage. He eventually found his way to a hunter/jumper barn, where his new owner raves about him. Moonshine, a very talented pony was also fostered by Briarwood students Lara and Charlotte Belasco this year. He impressed everyone with his great form over fences and lovely movement. Moonshine recently returned to Shiloh and Lara and Charlotte have high hopes that he will find his forever home soon.

Horse rescues often offer talented horses at a lower cost to good homes, but they may not have the expertise to fully match horse to rider for a successful fit, says Sarah. With Jill’s expert eye for talent and Sarah’s ability to bring out the best in horses, the sisters hope to use their combined knowledge and expertise to provide equestrians with a unique opportunity for finding new mounts.

For more information about training with Sarah VandenBerg and Briarwood Riding School, please visit

For more information about Shiloh Horse Rescue and Jill Curtis please visit