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History

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History of Willowview Hill Farm

 

Willowview Hill Farm was the vision of Nicola Alvin-Smith who began riding amongst the soft rolling hills and verdant pastures of Buckinghamshire, England at an early age. Fortunate to find herself amidst neighboring farms of international level showjumpers, avid Whaddon Chase foxhunters and professional pony showing families, it was the ideal environment to grow up in for Nicola, whose passion for everything horse was always a strong influence in her life. She was able to receive instruction in British Horse Society qualifications such as the B.H.S.A.I from the professionals that surrounded her.

During college years in England Nicola met her husband Paul, who unbeknownst to her for several weeks in the beginning of the relationship, was also a keen equestrian. Paul had studied the art of dressage in Dulwich, London since age 11. He was tutored by James T. Bellman, who was a lifetime student of the classical master and Director of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Alois Podhajsky. Paul was also lucky enough to be afforded an exchange with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Many rides along the sand tracks that circled the massive rose beds of Dulwich Park and lessons at Dulwich Riding School under the keen eye of James followed for Nicola, and this expert instruction combined with James's passion for classical riding, sparked her interest in dressage.

When Nicola and Paul's careers brought them across the pond to New York in 1981, it was inevitable that her first USA horse purchase would immediately follow. Boarding her horse McCloud, an ex Grand Prix showjumper, at Caumsett State Park stables at Lloyd Harbor, New York, it was not long before lessons with the resident dressage trainer, Raul de Leon began.

McCloud

McCloudMcCloud

McCloud, ex Grand Prix Showjumper.


" "'Mac' was my first USA horse purchase in 1981. He was competed at Grand Prix jumping in a double bridle, and training his 'go fast nature' to a snaffle took lots of patience on the part of Raul de Leon in the center of the ring and lots of bolting off scary rides for me. But we persisted and succeeded. When Mac heard a tannoy he'd buck like crazy and head me into the nearest trailer excited to be on showgrounds and head on. We galloped the beach at Lloyd Harbor, rode bareback through the perfectly groomed trails of Caumsett and the only thing that flipped him out was the sight of a carriage. A standardbred accident at five, a rescue from New Holland, PA auction at five, a gelding, years of patience on behalf of his rescuer whose name sadly I can't recall, then a Grand Prix career. When I bought him he was sixteen and the vet said he was a fantastic purchase so I went ahead. Who knew he'd be the start of my dressage dreams. A horse in a million."......Nicola Alvin-Smith

When Raul, a world respected equestrian left Caumsett to become a cofounder of the Westmoreland Davis Equestrian Institute at Morven Park with his colleague Bert de Nemethy and his own gold medal winning student Tad Coffin, it was time for Nicola to move on.

Nicola's growing passion for dressage would ignite the birth of Willowview Hill Farm. Searching far and wide for an affordable and suitable farm the dream came true with the find of an older small farm nestled in the beautiful Hudson valley in Pawling, New York. The only downside was the property had no horse building or suitable fencing or arena. Over the course of the 1980's and early 1990's Nicola and her husband Paul worked tirelessly themselves adding barns, arena and fencing despite the obstacles of working with hard limestone bedrock.

As Paul continued competitive showing in the dressage arena with his talented Thoroughbred Mistral, Quarter Horse Windsor Blue and others, Nicola began to look at purchasing warmblood horses. In addition their own young family was growing up and it was time to enter the world of Welsh ponies in the U.S.A. for the eldest son.

 

Mistral

Mistral

Mistral (TB) and Paul, enjoy watching and learning after their classes at WFDA show, Westport Polo Club, Connecticut, back in the late '80's. Mistral would compete successfully against some great moving warmbloods through FEI Prix St. Georg. before his retirement. As a fellow competitor once said, " You'll need to ride your pants off on that thoroughbred to beat me." So in true form, Paul did. That class was judged by Major. Jonathan Burton.

Who was the biggest influence in Mistral's training?
"Without a question Dr. Reiner Klimke. He loved hotter and finer horses and I learned as much as I could from him. We took Mistral to 8's and 9's for extensions, though the poor lad had to do twice as many strides as a bigger horse and back then sand was deep and unhelpful. Piaffe and passage were never a problem. Keeping muscle on him was hard, and his earlier eventing injury under Bob Mankin, would eventually end his career despite careful management. Sadly Bob passed away with cancer shortly after selling Mistral to us so he never had a chance to see his progress in straight dressage over the years that followed. Ironically that accident occurred in an eventing competition at a stone wall fence at Caumsett Park while I was there boarding Gemini, my first USA purchase. This feisty Morgan was a horse that much to Raul de Leon's consternation would spend more time on his back two legs than all four. Showing then was our three kids under 3 years old, in the dressing room chowing down on sandwiches between classes, strollers, umbrellas and lots of hauling which required a slant load trailer as Mistral was a bad traveller. Good times!"...Paul Alvin-Smith

Windsor Blue

Paul, Windsor Blue

Paul and Windsor Blue - a Quarterhorse/Swedish Warmblood Cross.

" One time we took Winnie to the WFDA show at Westport and I pulled in and went around to take him out the trailer to discover a bevy of judges such as Dr. Max Gaywyler to name but one, had beaten me to it. A little surprised to see people in the trailer with the horses I asked them what was going on. Turned out they had rushed over to check out the new trailer as it was the first slant load trailer they'd seen. Winnie had a good show that day, and I had many questions about his breed. No-one would believe he was half Quarter horse, but he was. I've always believed dressage is good for any and all breeds of horses. And a good horse is a good horse no matter whether he's a registered warmblood or an ex Amish driving horse as Winnie was!"...Paul Alvin-Smith

 

Fenix WVH

Fenix WVH



The first warmblood purchase was of Fenix, an Oldenburg ISR registered foal purchased from Judy Di Giovanni of PA. His bloodlines of Aktuell and Weltmeister with a top line of Furioso II, heralded a twenty year passion for the Hanoverian breed. Before long Nicola would travel to Verden to purchase horses directly from the Elite Auctions, in addition to purchasing registered Hanoverian foundation breeding mares such as Main Stud Book mare Gimli, from such farms as River House Hanoverians in NH. Utilizing her strong network of friends in the horse business in Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal, Willowview Hill Farm began foaling mares and training horses in the U.K and Spain and working directly with warmblood and baroque breeders across Europe. Thus began the annual Willowview Hill Elite Collection and for much of the late 1990's Willowview Hill Farm hosted 'site' parties worldwide, which clients and friends would attend to share an evening of horses and view the Elite collection on DVD presentation. It was a time to catch up and share, an informal gathering of like minded horse folk ranging from international competitors to backyard owners. Before the Baroque breeds became so popular in the U.S.A., Willowview Hill Farm was breeding and importing horses from the Andalusian region, working with colleagues in Jerez and Seville each year.

VHW Hanoverians Imported by WVH From the Elite Verden Auctions

Nicola Elite Verden

Nicola enjoys trips to Germany's Elite Auctions selecting youngstock and enjoys training them when they arrived Stateside.

" You never really know what you have in a horse for sure, until you have them home and start working them daily. Some take air travel in stride and some just shut down. Re-working a horse that has come through the auction process generally takes a full year. Auction horses have often been rushed in their training and are tense to start with, but patience pays off. Ewe Schulten-Baumer once told me to take away 50% of the auction 'wrong muscle' and let the horse down a bit, before attempting to rework the horse in the correct frame. That was sage advice and it works. Turnout is key for rehabilitation after the stress of an auction. We prefer to work directly with breeders and this naturally developed from our frequent European tours. Working with breeders we found much easier, as starting horses the way you like from scratch saves a lot of angst and time for them and for us. This developed into our breeding our own stock abroad and importing for sale. I often take clients on horse buying trips to our resources in Portugal, Spain, Germany and the U.K. We've built many good relationships over the years and are proud of the horses we have imported for both ourselves and clientele."...Nicola Alvin-Smith.

Balou WVH

Paul Balou WVH

Paul and Balou aka Big Bo. Balou was imported by WVH to the USA and later went on to show successfully at FEI with Olav Drehn.

"I had to hand graze Bo everyday for over a year, before he finally settled down enough to stay put in the field. Well, most of the time! When he arrived we hand fed him grass because he didn't know what it was - the Elite Hanoverian Auction certainly yields some super moving horses, but once you have the horse home there are always 'discoveries' to be made. From time to time in later years Olav would find him cantering roadside having jumped clear of his paddock. There are some things you can never retrain and you just learn to work with them."..Paul Alvin-Smith.



In the 1990's in addition to importing and exporting horses Willowview Hill Farm would also visa sponsor keen riders from abroad to work at the private farm, bringing their expertise to the young horses and offering an exchange of ideas and training in a friendly and harmonious environment. Willowview Hill Farm also co-hosted many dressage clinics with international calibre coaches and riders. This exchange of students, riders and high profile trainers in both the daily working environment and special clinic events echoes Nicola and Paul's belief that one lifetime is not enough time to learn half of what there is to learn about horses. That everyone, no matter the level of their experience or the number of ribbons or accolades they have achieved, the breed of horse or riding discipline, has something valuable to share with a fellow horseman.

As Willowview Hill Farm and the numbers of horses began to grow it was time to search for a larger and more suitable property. A location was needed where the pastures were of high quality tillable soils, where hay could be organically grown supporting Nicola's growing interest in organic nutrition for horses, where there was room for an indoor arena and bigger pastures and which was preferably south facing. The search took several years but eventually patience was rewarded when a 76 acre property was found in the New York City residents playground of the beautiful Catskill Mountains and purchased in 1998. The property is south facing, sits at an elevation of approximately 2200 feet above sea level and is set on the south side of Bald Mountain ( Bald eagles are regularly sighted over the property). It is the perfect location with its spectacular views, rolling open pastures and hay fields and access to over 26 miles of trails on the Catskill Recreation Trail.

The land had been well tended by its previous owner and the excitement of designing and then building the horse stables, indoor, pastures and of course, house, would take several years and is still ongoing. During this time the breeding operation was scaled back and only riding horses were kept at Stamford, New York. The elite collections of young horses continued through production abroad and liaison with family and colleagues, and was held in Millbrook, New York every April. Willowview Hill Farm also exported several horses abroad during these years, including Europe and as far away as Japan.

While construction continued Nicola focused her efforts on the competition arena in Europe. Following several years of competing part-time in Europe during the 2000's under the guidance of F.E.I. coach Greta Kemmer in Lausanne, Switzerland through Grand Prix level, Nicola is now home full time and ready to engage further in sharing the knowledge gained during her career with both horse and human.

Today Willowview Hill Farm is poised to step back into the breeding of sport horses in the U.S.A. and bring a world of experience to the Upstate region of New York. During the last decade this private farm has produced and sold organically grown hay for the discerning horse owner at reasonable prices. In 2009 mares were purchased for breeding and a new program geared toward the amateur rider and sport pony rider began. Willowview Hill Farm has never been a 'sale' barn. The offering of horses for sale each year is small and select. Horses are not taken on consignment.

We have extended the program to include lessons at our Stamford, New York location and your inquiries for either lessons or for information on horses we have available for sale are welcome. Willowview Hill Farm enjoys a history rich in satisfied clients and the Willowview Hill Farm Team welcomes you to become one of them.

 

 

 

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