BY SISSY WICKES
Much has been made by this author and many others of the hardships faced by the sport horse breeder in North America. How do breeders in the U.S. and Canada compete with the breadth and depth of the European breeders? Are we capable of producing sport horses with the same caliber of quality as those born abroad? At RiverCross Farm, the answer is a resounding yes.
Jan and Sally Philippo’s RiverCross farm is a bucolic oasis of green grass and open fields in Eastern Canada- a perfect place to raise a young horse. Horses of all ages dot the landscape at RiverCross, each a part of the small, selective breeding program established by the couple. As Sally explains, “About fifteen years ago, we had the idea of bringing Dutch horses to North America. We chose them because of their great temperaments and athleticism. They are the perfect types for the amateur rider here in the U.S. and Canada. And, we knew that if we sold them into that market they would be treasured by their owners. That means a lot to us.”
Initially, the Philippos began their search for breeding stock at the iconic VDL Stud in Holland. The couple purchased three broodmares, two of which became Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeder’s Association National Champions. Carefully choosing proven stallions to complement their mares, the Philippos began a successful, small scale breeding program. Sally explains, “RiverCross uses bloodlines based on the VDL horses, refined for jump and temperament to suit the North American market.”
The produce of the RiverCross program can be found in equitation, jumper, hunter, and derby rings throughout Canada and the U.S. With breeder’s prefix of RiverCross, names such as Onyx, Winsome, Regent, and Evita are garnering prizes from California to Ohio to Wellington, Florida. RiverCross get can also be found in the pony ring as Sally tries her hand at pony breeding with RiverCross Utopia and RiverCross Blenheim. The Philippos proudly follow the careers of their horses and feel invested in their future. Sally opines, “It is easy to get drawn into this industry and it can be overwhelming at times and very costly. But what is meaningful is our relationship with horses. I love to take the time to know them and work with them. They are such willing creatures. It can be absolutely restorative for me.”
As important as the horses RiverCross breeds are the people involved in developing them. Sally believes in slow, careful training that provides each horse with plenty of time to come to hand. Their onsite staff at RiverCross is patient and knowledgeable. In addition, Sally is stalwart in her belief in opportunity. “Our program provides opportunity to many. We have a core of young people surrounding and supporting it. I am blessed to be a part of it.” RiverCross horses have been with many of the sport’s top names such as Victoria Colvin and Jenny Karazissis. But, as important to the Philippos are the young equestrians involved in training the horses. Local Canadian rider Billie Derouet has successfully started and developed a number of RiverCross horses. Talented young trainer Yann Jacq has been instrumental in handling and training the horses as they prepare for life as competitors. In addition, pony rider and aspiring trainer Erika Skye Boisvert has achieved great results with homebred ponies. Sally explains, “I love to give opportunity to people who need a break. Professional success should not be determined by money in this business.”
With thoughtful pedigree matches and a careful development program, RiverCross follows their offspring every step of the way. Demonstrating personal dedication to their equine offspring, the Philippos stay involved with the horses as they progress in their careers. Sally explains, “The bottom line is love for these remarkable creatures that we are privileged to care for, raise, and train. Every single one of the homebred horses and ponies we have sold are in hands of people who stay in touch and deeply appreciate them. I know this is unique in this industry environment and I am grateful for it. Some clients have become part of our wider family since the beginning of our ‘project,’ such as the Piombo family.” The Piombos have purchased two wonderful ponies, Blenheim and Utopia, from the RiverCross program.
Homebred stallion RiverCross Cri de Coeur (tracing to Mr. Blue, Concorde, Voltaire, Numero Uno) is an exciting prospect at the farm. A gorgeous grey with a large, kind eye, the young horse will begin his performance career in 2019 and is currently available for breeding.
A boutique breeding operation focused on quality and integrity in all aspects, RiverCross embodies the passion of its owners, Jan and Sally Philippo. “We are about producing horses suitable for the amateur market, providing opportunity, and having patience with our horses.” Despite the busy world in which we all live, Sally will always have time to talk to anyone who would like to ask questions about her horses and ponies. In a world where larger is often deemed better, RiverCross mirrors excellence in selective breeding and carefully nurtured horses.
Photos by Alden Corrigan Media, Aryane Tanguay Photographie, & Grand Pix Photography