Editor’s Note: In this series, Dressage Today looks at some of the key contributors to the success and support of U.S. dressage at every level. These folks include prosperous businesswomen and -men, horse breeders and overall passionate horsepeople who love dressage and are excited to see the sport grow.
Intelligence, intuition, planning and team-building made Betsy Juliano successful in the corporate world, and she is bringing those same skills to the table in her dressage endeavors. Betsy has a unique ability to look at her goals in dressage both for her own horses and riders and for the United States as a whole. She can zoom out her focus and truly see all the pieces that need to come together. She is certainly not the first person in the U.S. to provide generous sponsorship to riders and USEF programs, but she is doing far more than donating money. “She is creating such an atmosphere of camaraderie,” said Jennifer Baumert, one of the top riders who is sponsored by Betsy and trains and competes her Hanoverian gelding Handsome (Hochadel/Weltmeyer). “Never in my life have I been completely and totally set up for success—horse, trainer, owner, facility, bodywork, feed, care, everything!” says Jennifer. “And oddly, it makes me feel less pressured.”
Betsy’s Havensafe Farm in Wellington, Florida, and Middlefield, Ohio, is aptly named—a safe haven for some of the best dressage trainers in the U.S. to focus on every aspect of their training. Every detail of the farm has been carefully considered for the horses’ welfare. Having space to school outside the arena is a rarity in South Florida, but Betsy wanted to ensure that the horses could be safely ridden everywhere on the property with many options for hacking and schooling out of the arena. There is an area of the farm they call “The Serengeti” because of its wide-open spaces dotted with big trees. It makes a relaxing area for the horses to hack before or after their training or to enjoy on a day off. The atmosphere is peaceful and welcoming, but make no mistake, the riders at Havensafe are the best of the best and the commitment to excellence is unsurpassed.
“Betsy creates a safe haven for animals and people,” says international competitor Adrienne Lyle (read more about Adrienne here). “The farm is very horse-friendly. It always reminds me of walking into a magical jungle barn,” she laughs. “Old trees, lots of shade—just a very safe and pleasant feeling. You don’t feel like you’re in the middle of Wellington.”
Where It All Began
Betsy’s passion for horses began early in life. She grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, as one of five children. Her father was a dentist and her mother was a music teacher and stay-at-home mom. Neither parent had even the faintest interest in horses. But at the age of 7, Betsy started taking a bus to a day camp in Novelty, Ohio, called Red Raider Camp. It became extremely important in Betsy’s life, providing her with an excellent basic education in horsemanship and riding, as well as instilling in her a love of land conservation. She convinced her parents to pay for one session of camp and Betsy saved for as long as it took to pay for a second session each summer and for lessons throughout the year.
When Betsy was around 11, a new instructor arrived at Red Raider. He knew dressage, and that is where her interest began. He was very strong in theory and assigned the reading of classical texts—Steinbrecht, de La Guérinière and Podhajsky. This instilled in her not only a love of riding but an understanding and recognition of correct training, with the emphasis on the gradual development of the horse through kind and classical training. Betsy continued to go to Red Raider Camp until she was 16. She then rode with dressage trainer Elizabeth Channing, and when she graduated from high school, she immediately started working.
Betsy began her professional career as a medical secretary at the famous Cleveland Clinic and soon moved into the legal department there. The combination of her work in medical records and then in law firms led her to eventually create her own business in 1984—Litigation Management, Inc. Betsy has grown this company into an industry leader, providing cutting-edge services surrounding the management of the medical aspects of litigation. Creating such a successful company monopolized all her time, and for almost 20 years Betsy had little to do with horses. But she lived near the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club, where she often took her work to the barn just so she could be near the sight and smell of horses while slogging through mountains of paperwork.
One day Betsy ran into a friend who owned a horse that was rehabbing from an injury. The friend asked her if she might be interested in helping to rehab him and Betsy jumped at the opportunity. This chance encounter rekindled her love of riding and in 1998 she bought her farm in Middlefield, Ohio. Owning her farm also allowed her the opportunity to focus on another one of her passions—land conservation. She has now conserved more than 350 acres there and serves as the chair of the board of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
A year after buying her farm, Betsy bought a 4-year-old Hanoverian/Belgian Draft gelding from a local trainer who specialized in dressage. Because the horse was young, she took a few lessons on him before taking him home, and so reignited her focus on dressage. She soon collected more horses, but none were especially talented for the upper levels until she purchased the appropriately named Wildest Dream in 2005 from Performance Sales International, a well-known auction and sales barn in Germany. She began training with George Williams and competed this horse through Prix St. Georges. Her first winter in Florida was 2007, and she traveled to the farm where George had clients—Jeanette Sassoon’s Centaur Farm. Betsy enjoyed her time there so much that by the next spring, the farm was hers and the name was changed to Havensafe. During that first winter she met the veterinarian, Dr. Rick Mitchell and his wife, Julie, who soon became close friends and later introduced her to Olympian and esteemed coach Debbie McDonald.
Making the Right Connections
One of Betsy’s strengths is her ability to surround herself with excellent people—not just excellent in their riding and training abilities, but people who are full of integrity, work hard every day for the good of the horse and are committed to the lifelong learning that dressage requires. Debbie was an ideal match as a trainer for Betsy’s horses. At the suggestion of Julie Mitchell, Debbie called Betsy in the fall of 2011 because she was planning to come to Florida for one month and needed the perfect place to train the eight horses she was bringing from her farm in Idaho. “Can you imagine being just a schlub and having Debbie call you?” Betsy laughs. “It was shocking and exciting!”
Adrienne remembers that first winter well. “I had no concept of what Florida was like. Betsy graciously opened her farm and was an incredible host. I instantly saw that this was where we needed to be. Everything is set up so well in Florida and if you have ambitions to be at the top, this is where you need to be.”
Betsy, Debbie and Adrienne became close friends and the one month at Havensafe gradually became longer and longer. “I’ve known them for years and really watched them train,” Betsy says. She trusts in their program 100 percent—always patient, never forceful, allowing each horse the time he needs to reach his fullest potential. “They have a very special ability to not take anything personally in their training. I have never seen any of them ride with anger or frustration.”
In 2015, Betsy asked Debbie and Adrienne to take over the ride on a few of her horses. At that same time, Debbie recommended Jennifer to work directly with Betsy and her own horses both in Florida and back home for the Ohio summers. “It’s a very tight team with the people related to Debbie,” Betsy says.
Jennifer began working with Handsome almost three years ago, but she mostly taught Betsy on the gelding. A little over a year ago, Betsy handed the reins over to Jennifer completely and this season the pair was almost undefeated at the Small Tour. “He has really wonderful gaits and he also has a presence about him,” Jennifer says. “He’s got a big heart, especially as he really gets to know his job. It’s such a privilege to work with a horse like Handsome.”
As Jennifer and Debbie worked closely with Handsome, he came out of his shell from an introverted horse who used to start out every day as a “diesel” to the fairly sensitive, confident guy he is now. “I always knew the sensitivity was in there,” Jennifer says, “but I couldn’t access it. Now I can thanks to his fitness and building a real partnership with him.” Betsy, Jennifer and Debbie are working to get Handsome ready for the Festival of Champions in August.
Adrienne competes Betsy’s Oldenburg mare, Horizon, and the Hanoverian stallion Salvino (Sandro Hit/Donnerhall). Betsy has owned Horizon (Hotline/Don Schufro/Inschallah AA) since she was purchased at the PSI auction in Germany as a 3-year-old. “She is really special,” Adrienne gushes. “She has an undying work ethic, probably the best of any horse I’ve ever ridden. She gives 110 percent every single day. She’s become even more than what we thought possible and she continues to surprise us.” Adrienne and Horizon won the U.S. Intermediaire I Championships last year in Gladstone, New Jersey. They are now competing at Grand Prix and were in their first CDI in March.
Salvino was originally purchased through a syndicate of owners set up by Akiko Yamazaki, sponsor of Steffen Peters. Akiko had the idea to put together a group of investors to find a horse that Adrienne could ride on a future team for the U.S. “I was totally shocked and humbled that they selected me,” Adrienne admits. She went four times to Europe to look at horses, not finding anything that truly fit the bill and seemed worthy of the money and trust these owners were putting into this syndicate. Finally, through Jochen Arl, Adrienne found Salvino in Madrid, Spain. The stallion and Adrienne have been impressing this season in the CDIs and are a top contender for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) team. “He just did his first freestyle at night under the lights. He loved it! You never know how they will handle it, so I’m really excited about his confidence. He is just so comfortable in his own skin,” Adrienne said. “And I think we’re only beginning to tap into his potential. It’s taken a long time to get the strength he needs and we’re just now seeing his true abilities.”
Betsy agrees, “He’s got tremendous potential.” She recently bought out the other owners of Salvino to become his sole owner. “Being a part of the syndicate was a real dream come true for me,” Betsy says. “I’m so thankful to Akiko. But the other three owners are all on the West Coast, and they rarely got to see him.”
Adrienne agrees, “It was a natural evolution [for Betsy to take over ownership.] And I’m so thrilled she did! She’s very involved in the training, which I love. She’s really with you every step of the way.”
Betsy also supports Laura Graves and Verdades, another top combination contending for the U.S. WEG team. Her support for Laura evolved gradually. Laura was bringing “Diddy” for lessons with Debbie in 2014. Betsy often watched Laura’s lessons, enjoying the progress she made with Debbie and the incredible partnership she has with Diddy. She was impressed that Laura almost always sat and watched the other riders. “I got to know her quietly,” she remembers.
Betsy traveled to Gladstone that year, mostly to watch Adrienne, but was also impressed with Laura. She was more impressed still at the WEG later that year, seeing Laura handle all the stress and organization with grace and resilience and finishing an incredible fourth as a relative unknown on the international scene. That next summer, Betsy spent even more time with Laura at Debbie’s farm in Idaho. “I really saw what a struggle it is for professional riders,” said Betsy. “If they’re not riding and training others, they have no income. I watched Laura make hard decisions and I decided I was in a position to help.”
Laura is another rider whom Betsy is motivated to help based on her underlying integrity and determination to do the very best she can in this sport while always doing the very best for her horse. “I’ve had the joy of watching someone so deserving accomplish so many of her dreams,” Betsy said.
Laura is endlessly grateful to Betsy. “If we are looking toward things like individual medals and team medals,” said Laura, “and we have the opportunity to put American riders on the podium, I want to be a part of making that happen. Betsy wants to be a part of making that happen, too. I am so impressed with her generosity not just for me, but for the sport.”
A Strong Future
The commitment Betsy is making to the sport of dressage goes beyond her home turf. She is the secretary of the USET Foundation and a primary sponsor of the development programs offered for top riders through USEF. She is providing funding for Andy Thomas, the high performance human science and sports medicine advisor to the United States Equestrian Teams. Andy works not only with the dressage riders, but also eventers, show jumpers and Para riders. Finally, the riders are getting some of the same physical therapy and bodywork that their horses have long enjoyed.
While Betsy may seem like a fairy godmother for these riders, she offers much more than that through her advice along with her financial support. Betsy is providing help to people who have proven themselves to represent the best of what the U.S. has to offer. “I think we have Carl [Hester] and Charlotte [Dujardin] to thank for awakening the world to classical training at its best in London 2012 and beyond. It’s what the younger generation needs to see,” Betsy said.
The riders she is now supporting all have that same commitment to classical training and the talent necessary to compete at the very top. “I have seen all of them in situations that are disappointing and they always behave admirably. They represent the best of what we have to offer and they are the people who should be the future of our sport. I have a real respect for the synergy of the team,” Betsy said. “When they are all on the same page and have good care for themselves and their horses, it brings about good results—we proved it in Rio.”
“It’s a serious feeling among all the elite riders,” Jennifer added. “Every-one is happy with each person’s good times and supportive in the not-so-good times.”
As the U.S. team prepares for the WEG in Tryon, North Carolina, later this year, all of this support will hopefully show itself through happy, well-trained horses and some medals around the necks of these fabulous horsewomen. But no matter the results in Tryon, Betsy will continue to support dressage in the U.S. and help these trainers to create many more great Grand Prix horses in the years to come.
“Betsy is definitely a visionary,” said Adrienne. “She has this ability to step back and look at the bigger picture and figure out where people need support and where they need focus. She’s able to set them up in such a way that while the riders have to work hard, they have the support they need to succeed,” Adrienne summed it up this way, “Betsy supports that feeling of lifting everyone up. Together, as a group, we raise the bar to make our whole team stronger.”