Wellington, FL – – “Summer is the most popular time for people to come to River Grove Farm because it’s an unbelievable place at that time of year, not just for riding but for families as well,” states Jane Thomas, daughter of Peggy and Parry Thomas – the farm owners and sponsors of Debbie McDonald and her Olympic-hopeful dressage mount Brentina. As a team fundraiser, McDonald has offered for auction a month’s training with her at River Grove Farm including board for a horse and accommodations at a condominium in Sun Valley, Idaho. The auction is set for June 19 at “Celebrate With The Champions,” a fiesta benefiting the USET Foundation at the Dressage Olympic Selection Trials in San Juan Capistrano, California.
The high bidder will not only train with one of the world’s top riders, but also experience an extraordinary horse farm as well as a month’s vacation in a renowned resort town. “River Grove Farm is part of the greater mountain area and there are so many activities – we have beautiful alpine lakes, water skiing, bike riding, mountain biking, and people come from all over to hike in the Sawtooth Mountains,” points out Jane. “The Wood River is one of the premier fishing rivers in the country and a favorite for fly fisherman. We’re part of a system here that’s quite natural. We had 70 elk winter in our backyard this year. And of course with Sun Valley Company, there are many summer concerts and the Summer Symphony. The summer weather is beautiful – a little crisp in the morning and then 75 to 80 degrees virtually every day. It’s beautiful riding weather. The farm is very pretty – we have manicured grounds and many gardens.”
Peggy and Parry Thomas of Las Vegas, Nevada, have owned the 80-acre property on the Wood River for more than 30 years. They completed construction of River Grove Farm in 1981. Peggy and Parry have a house near the stables and also one in Sun Valley to be near the skiing in winter. Jane and her husband Peter Sturdivant built their home at River Grove in 1996 and live there year-round with her son Christopher Nielson. “It’s a small farm – it’s not a huge riding facility,” explains Jane. “There aren’t going to be many people riding the same time as whoever wins this auction. We usually have one person in the dressage arena at a time because we like it that way. There aren’t other trainers – it’s just us, because it is a small private facility.”
Peggy and Jane Thomas originally rode hunters with Bob and Debbie McDonald in California in the late 1960s. Peggy switched to dressage, and eventually Jane and Debbie did too. Bob, who is still actively involved in the hunter/jumper world, trains hunter riders that trailer in to River Grove for a week or two, and Debbie also periodically has students trailer in for dressage lessons.
“We have two dressage arenas and one large hunter/jumper ring that we use as well because it occupies a few acres and it’s nice to ride without corners,” explains Jane. “The newest arena we call ‘The Brentina Arena’. We built it specifically for a performance last year that Debbie did with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, which is a 100-piece orchestra. She rode Brentina in a Freestyle. We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Sun Valley Symphony. It was quite the event – there were almost 800 people here.” The Brentina Arena is an outdoor ring with a two-foot wall around it planted in summer annuals with Carbonit Mountain in the background. Apart from training in a spectacular outdoor arena, the lucky high bidder will also have the opportunity to trail ride in splendor. “We have walking trails that go through the woods and along the river – we usually walk our horses out on these trails after we’re done training. They all have shavings on them for footing. It’s a nice way to cool your horse down after you ride and give him a chance to just be a horse again.” Jane notes that if the rider is a skier, she will most likely choose winter to come to Sun Valley, and that River Grove Farm has a large indoor arena.
The winner of the auction can design her own schedule at River Grove. Most visiting riders choose to start in the morning by observing. “They like to get here early to watch Debbie ride her horses. She usually starts about 7:30. Right now she is doing two or three – Felix, Donatello, and Brentina. She doesn’t have any inside riders at the farm right now because of the Olympic year.” If Debbie is helping Peggy or Jane, she rides their mounts to school upper level movements. Jane has been training with the McDonalds since she was 10 years old. “Debbie’s concentration is just unbelievable. She technically rides every step with you and really works you. She gives the best lesson.” Jane had the opportunity to ride the late Beaurivage, one of Debbie’s Grand Prix mounts. “It’s the most incredible feeling to ride a horse that she’s trained because they are so sensitive to the aids.” A lesson with Debbie is about 45 minutes.
The high bidder will also enjoy a month’s stay in a one-bedroom condo that Peggy and Parry bought in Sun Valley for visiting family members – Jane has four brothers and a host of nieces and nephews! The condo also has a Murphy bed in the living room to accommodate additional guests. “It’s right in the Sun Valley village so it’s nice for other members of the family because they can ride their bike absolutely anywhere, into the village or down to Ketchum, which is the town that Sun Valley is in,” explains Jane. “Our farm is 10 miles away but it’s just a 15-minute drive on the highway. Sometimes people ride a bike from Sun Valley to the farm because it’s all downhill, but then someone comes to pick them up and drive them back!” she noted with a laugh.
Jane is accustomed to hosting visitors. “It’s amazing how many people visit this farm from all over just because they’ve heard that this is where Debbie is.” But the farm is also famous for its gardens. “People come just to walk through the gardens. River Grove has a unique beauty to it, being an alpine area. It’s not your typical horse farm.” In fact, River Grove Farm has been featured in publications such as Fine Gardening, Sun Valley Magazine, and Sun Valley Home – an art and architecture magazine. Every three years, Jane opens her gardens to the public as a community fundraiser. It’s one of the larger properties in the area that has formal and wild gardens. Three acres of cultivated gardens surround Jane’s home and another three acres of plantings are interspersed at the farm. “There are ‘surprise gardens’ – as you walk to the rings, they’re everywhere. Most of the farm is forested with dogwood, cottonwood, Aspens, and alder – it’s the natural forest that runs along the Wood River Valley.” Jane has a background in art and it shows in her garden designs – she created a ‘Bird Walk Garden’ with a large stone wall planted in sedum on top to separate it from the woods. “All my bird houses are in the forest and line the garden, which takes you down to the riding trails. In front of it is my vegetable garden – it’s a Victorian, gated, raised garden that’s very formal. It’s on a parterre scheme so it has a geometric rhythm to it.” Other unique plantings at River Grove include a ‘White Garden’ and 600 espaliered apple trees that create a natural fence to keep horses on the bridle path and out of the gardens. “We have lots of ponds, so we have lots of water gardens as well.”
Jane is looking forward to sharing River Grove Farm and Sun Valley with the auction winner. “People will enjoy this area, whether they’re snow skiers or whether they come for the summer hiking or in the fall for bird hunting – it just depends on which season the person prefers as far as other activities.” She is also pleased to contribute to Debbie’s fundraising plan. “It’s a fabulous idea. There are people who tell me all the time that they’d love to come and train with Debbie, so when she told me her idea, I thought it was a ‘slam-dunk’. My father added the condominium – we thought it would be a nice vacation / riding experience for the person fortunate enough to be the high bidder and a great way to raise money for the USET Foundation.”
Auction And “Celebrate With The Champions” Ticket Information
To attend the live auction of the Debbie McDonald Training Package and “Celebrate With The Champions,” tickets are $100 each. Drink tickets will be available at $5 each at the party. For reservations, contact Jane Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to 760-438-3873.
To participate in the Debbie McDonald Training Package auction via telephone on June 19, bidders must register first by contacting Mason Phelps, Jr. at Phelps Media Group, Inc. via email at email@example.com.