Celebration KF, 2010 National Hunter
Mare Champion with the KWPN-NA.
Founder is usually a bad thing. But Kim von Disterlo has the career-ending lameness to thank for what has become a dream come true: Kimberlee Farms. The origins of her sporthorse breeding program began with a Thoroughbred mare she purchased as her next show mount. Founder derailed that plan, but because she was a nice, well-bred mare, Kim decided to breed her instead. The first-time breeder had the smarts to pair the mare with Dutch Warmblood star Best Of Luck four times and one of those mares, Irresistible, became the foundation mare for Kimberlee Farms.
A hunter/jumper competitor through her youth, Kim established a DBA (doing business as) designation for Kimberlee Farms back in 1978. In 2002, she and her husband Mike were able to fulfill a big part of that dream when they created a home for Kimberlee Farms as a breeding, training and boarding facility in Ventura County's Somis.
The reality of owning a facility and closely overseeing all facets of the breeding process is even better than she'd imagined, Kim says. Though she has a "real job" in a bank, Kim lives on the property with her husband and she is able to see and work with the horses every day. "I can't even believe that it all happened," says Kim. "I feel really blessed and lucky to have the support of my family and husband and to live with these wonderful animals. It was a matter of having a dream and not getting off the track of that dream. Though sometimes I look around at all that we have and it is kind of overwhelming!"
Kimberlee Farms has stayed true to its roots as a mare-based breeding program. Kim maintains four full-time broodmares, one out of Irresistible, and three others by the Dutch stallions Indoctro, Edison and Idocus. She'll occasionally breed a young home-bred mare before the horse begins its competitive career. With an emphasis on quality over quantity, Kim typically breeds two to four foals a year. She follows the stallion market closely, looking for bloodlines that are known to "click" with her mares' bloodlines. Holland-based Dutch Warmbloods Indoctro and Corland are favorites, along with Popeye K and Apiro, who are based in the States. "I like to be on the cusp when a horse is in the process of becoming a special stallion and breed to him while it's still affordable. One up and coming young stallion, Crespo VDL, is on my stallion roster for next year."
The Disterlos of Kimberlee Farms, Kim and Mike.
With so many good stallions to choose from, Kim is not compelled to own one herself. "Unless you have one that is really, truly spectacular, I feel it's not fair to keep a horse uncut. It's a lonely life for the horse."
Set to mark her first decade with a full-blown breeding endeavor, Kim says temperament and soundness are non-negotiables in her program. "The last thing we need is more animals that won't serve a good purpose," she says. "Everyone dreams of breeding international horses, but you have to be realistic. The biggest market in the U.S. is for amateur horses. You have to start with mares that have fabulous temperaments and breed to stallions that have fabulous temperaments. You could have a very talented horse, but if he is tough to deal with, it will be tough to market him.
"Temperament is genetic," continues Kim, who devotes many an evening to tracking bloodlines for exactly that trait.
Building A Reputation
Although 10 years in the business sounds like a long time, Kim acknowledges that it's not much when trying to build a reputation for producing solid competitors. Her young horses go to new owners with the "KF" designation as part of their names, but there is no obligation to keep those names so it's sometimes hard to capitalize on their success. Thanks to the boutique nature of her program, however, there is a sense of camaraderie among those who purchase KF horses. The fun updates on the "Where Are They Now" page on the farm's Facebook page show evidence of this espirit
Matching the right horses with the right buyers is the most important part of Kimberlee Farms' marketing plan. "That's more important to me than getting the highest dollar possible because I believe that's how people will come to my program in
Working with the babies is the greatest of many joys for Kim. She has a full time staff to manage the horses and the farm while she's at work, but she rarely misses a foaling and always finds time to be part of their early lessons in bonding with humans and learning to be handled. There's plenty of gratification later when the trainers she works with to start them under saddle report how easy the KF youngsters are to deal with.
Dallas KF. 2011 USDF Dutch Materiele Champion
and Reserve Champion All-Breeds.
Kim's primarily Dutch Warmblood horses most often find their success in the hunter/jumper and dressage markets. Two young mares out of Irresistible and by the VDL Stud sire Great Pleasure were national champions in the Hunter division at the KWPN North American keurings. Another full sister out of Irresistible, the 3 year old Dallas KF, won this year's top honor in the USDF materiale division for Dutch-breds and was reserve champion All Breeds.
Kimberlee Farms' resident trainer, dressage professional Amelia Newcomb, helps Kim start the babies and introduces them to under-saddle work. If they demonstrate a gift for dressage, she continues further with them. Nearby hunter/jumper trainer Shauna Pennell works with those who look like they'll excel in that discipline.
The facility has room for 30 horses and is about full most of the time. Kim also devotes a few stalls to help horses that come her way through the Neigh Savers Foundation. The racehorse rescue is based in Northern California, but when a horse comes from a Southern California track it often stops at Kimberlee Farms so Kim can evaluate it for the best new home. "I'll evaluate whether it's a trail or family horse or whether it's of the caliber to make it in the show ring," Kim explains.
She is thrilled to play a part in Neigh Savers' current success story, Warning Zone, aka "Ozzie." The retired racer is two for two with Baby Green Hunter championships at his first two hunter/jumper shows. (See story here.)
In addition to her soft spot for the Thoroughbreds she started with, as a rider and as a breeder, Kim has another motivation for helping the Neigh Savers horses: "It's my way of giving back and I'd like to think it creates some good karma should one of the horses I've bred someday be in need."
With strong ties in the Southern California equestrian scene from her days as a competitor, Kim sells most of her horses to local clients. She's proud to be among American breeders producing more quality domestic-bred horses, but observes that the allure of flying off to Europe to go horse shopping is apparently still powerful. "My hope is that my place will become an alternative to that." With steady sales and successes, it seems that hope is already coming true.
Kimberlee Farms' horses can be viewed at www.kimberleefarms.com.