August 08, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

The Dream of Dreamcatcher Meadows 

In 10 years, these Hanoverian horse-farm owners have gone from start-up to top of the class

click to flip through (13) PHOTO BY DAVE STEERS
  • Photo by Dave Steers

Audis, SUVs and a Porsche or two spin up hot dust as they turn into the long drive of Dreamcatcher Meadows, a world-class dressage horse centre situated 20 minutes outside of Pemberton.

They are arriving en masse for Dreamcatcher's annual Hanoverian foal inspection, where eight babies born this past spring — all but one are boys — will be inspected and rated for their potential as dressage horses by Dr. Ludwig Christmann from the Hanoveraner Verband, the German organization that rates the quality of the breed.

Dreamcatcher Meadows is one of only a few certified Hanoverian Deckstations in Canada — as certified stud farms for the breed are called. The 2013 crop of colts, all born in the spring to surrogate racehorse mares via an onsite embryo transfer program, are judged by Christmann for movement, build, temperament and other qualities.

What makes Dreamcatcher Meadows stand out in the dressage world is its achievements including 11 Horse of the Year title wins in North America in the last three years alone.

The inspection day is one of those realities that manifest the longstanding dream of a couple who until a decade ago had no connection to the Pemberton Valley at all.

Jill Giese, an Albertan who had been working as a lawyer in New York and London until she switched to dressage, and John Dingle, a dairy farmer living near Bath in the west of England who likewise moved to dressage competition and breeding, fell in love with the valley. Giese was on a skiing holiday in Whistler and had been looking to invest in a Canadian property.

"I wasn't looking for a farm. I was looking for a little cabin that my family in Canada could use, so we could get together," Giese recalls.

One day during her visit she decided to go for a drive with a realtor. About 50 minutes from the resort she saw a breathtaking property known as McLeod Creek Ranch on the banks of the silty Lillooet River.

Dingle says: "Jill came over to see her family and went skiing. She discovered it and 'Oh my God' fell in love with Pemberton. It was instant, whether it was the mountains... there was something drawing her here. Serendipity, you meet people, you see things. It just spoke to her and she came back and told me about it."

Speaking to a realtor after, Giese asked to be told if the property ever came up for sale. Months later, it did, and they bought it in 2003.

"It was my picture-perfect place. Buying it was complete intuition," Giese says.

They moved to the farm in 2004 with four champion Hanoverians brought from England, including Dreamcatcher DMV, Giese's champion dressage mare after which the farm was renamed, and three of her yearlings.

Now 17 years old, Dreamcatcher DMV, which Giese rides in competition, is the dam from which many of their current crop of award winners have sprung, either as mother or grandmother. Two years ago, the mare won a lifetime achievement award based on her performance over the years and including the wins of her progeny. Giese said Dreamcatcher DMV is the only mare to win five stars for the American Warmblood Society, five categories that rate performance.

Establishing a dressage centre in Canada was a plunge into the unknown for both Giese and Dingle, but there was a strong desire to build a centre where they could compete, teach other riders, and breed Hanoverians. Together, they have established what Dingle calls "a working farm" for the breed and the sport.

Canadian nature didn't make it easy: there were floods just after Dingle and Giese purchased the property in 2003, which luckily left the farm unaffected though it devastated other areas around Pemberton. And both they and their horses were evacuated after two wildfires threatened the valley in 2009, which again left the property unscathed.

"It's an eye opener. There are possible natural disasters you wouldn't get in other parts of the world, but it's worth it. You just have to manage it. People have said why are you doing what you're doing in Pemberton? And my first answer always was 'Have you ever been to Pemberton?' I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," said Dingle.

He added they have done everything they could to ensure Dreamcatcher Meadows was profitable, running a B&B in the early days, and farming whatever portions of land they weren't using to grow their dressage operations. He recalls a passionate conviction they had in knowing their plan could work in Pemberton.

"We were able to produce enough cash flow. When we bought the place we weren't sure what we were going to do. From milking cows, which has a great cash flow, to not milking cows is kind of scary," Dingle says.

"We made enough money from teaching clinics, selling a couple of horses, making hay and farming, doing whatever we needed to do to pay the hydro bill, put food on the table, and keep the farm growing. That was a triumph in itself."

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