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A New Generation Of Exhibitors



         

Linda Weber, Abbot Wilson and Jillian, Jeff and Vicki Schaffer were out in full force on the Sunshine Circuit

Most of us have heard and experienced the saying, “Once it gets in your blood it never leaves,” referring to being hooked on show horses. In this story, the venom happens to be American Saddlebreds. The subject of this story was away from horses for 17 years, however, she found her way back home via twists and turns that were pure fate.

In the early 1960s, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Factor of Palm Springs, Calif., and Highland Park, Ill., got into the horse business because of their daughter Vicki. It all started out innocent enough and then snowballed into one of the top show stables in the country.

“When I was six or seven I went to a camp in Fryburg, Maine and the instructor was David Canter,” explained Vicki Factor Schaffer. “He gave me a great introduction to horses and I even rode in the intra-camp show.”

Because of that young girl’s enthusiasm towards riding and the talent she had displayed, the camp instructor called Mr. Factor and informed him of his daughter’s way with a horse. It wasn’t long before Vicki was taking lessons and the Factor family was owning show horses. She started out with Don and Bernice Leadly showing a three-gaited pony named Town Topic. They not only did performance, they were quite successful in the equitation ranks as well.

Living in the heart of historic Illinois Saddlebred country, it also didn’t take long for the Factor family to realize they wanted to play a bigger role in the business.

They had been introduced to veteran trainer Ben Segalla, who along with his wife Dolly, owned and operated Country View Stables in Half Day, Ill. A trainer of open, amateur, and equitation champions, Segalla had had up to that point stars like Dream Waltz, Rebel Command, Thunderbird, Dizzy Blond, The Persuader, Breath Of Spring, Plumb Beautiful, and Rooster Butterfly, to name a few.

“We had been talking to Ben about moving there, but dad didn’t really want to do the public barn thing,” said Vicki. “We talked it over with Ben and he sold us his farm and stayed on as trainer. My parents named it Victoria Farm.”

Early on Vicki was riding the three-gaited gelding Mr. Sensation and making victory passes everywhere from the Illinois State Fair to the Chicago International. Mr. Mercury soon joined the string and he too carried Vicki to many equitation triumphs.

Moving into the 1970s, Segalla teamed Vicki with one star after another. Included in the Victoria Farm string were a group of world and national champions second to none. Names like Desert Moonbeam, Victoria’s Dream, Winter Wine, Pamela Gray, Heart To Heart, Wild Honey, Twilight Mist, Tender Tears, and Shaman ruled the winner’s circles at both regional and world class shows.

“We were showing 20-25 horses,” exclaimed Vicki. “It was an experience I’ll never forget, however, I needed to make a life for myself. I was 30-years-old and divorced so I went to Europe to play backgammon. From there I moved to Miami with a girlfriend and ended up staying in the area. I didn’t really want to, but I had to leave the nest.”

Totally removed from the bright lights of the show ring Vicki was finding her way on her own. She met and married Jeff Schaffer and the two settled in Hollywood, Fla. They had a daughter, Jillian, and a funny thing happened. As she grew up she asked to take riding lessons.

“Jillian wanted to start riding and we checked on some barns in the area and ended up at this Arabian/National Show Horse place,” said Vicki. “We bought a half-Arab and the next thing you know we had another, and then another.

“We were pleased with how well Jillian was doing, but it was different from what I grew up with. I hadn’t really kept up with the Saddlebreds. I was afraid to do it on my own, out from under daddy’s protection. I remember he told me, ‘You’ll go broke if you try to do this on your own.’"

With that, Vicki and Jeff kept supporting Jillian’s interest in showing Arabs and National Show Horses but then fate stepped in. While at a local Arabian show they walked into the trailer of Saddlebred trainer/clothier Linda Weber.

“Jillian had outgrown all of her suits so I went into this trailer that was set up to sell custom riding suits,” explained Vicki. “I went in and there were pictures of Saddlebreds everywhere. It brought back so many memories.

“We bought some suits and then ended up going to her farm for more fittings and we saw the Saddlebreds there. Linda [Weber] and I hit if off immediately. She put me up on a gaited horse and it all came back to me. I hadn’t ridden a gaited horse in 24 years and it was like I had never been away.”

Abbott Wilson soon joined the team at Hawkewood and the whole group just seemed to click. The Schaffer family made a decision that they wanted to return to Vicki’s childhood roots and show Saddlebreds.

“In July of 2004 Jillian gave up Arabs and by August first we were in Linda’s barn,” said Vicki. “They invited us to go to Louisville with them and we had a blast. The people were very welcoming and I got to see some friends that I hadn’t seen in 20 some years. It was like I had never gone away.”

The Schaffer family has already enjoyed some early season success in their return to the Saddlebred world. Jillian started last fall with junior exhibitor three-gaited titles at Challenge Of Champions and Harvest Days aboard Favorite Things. This year she debuted winning the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Championship at Gasparilla and then taking third in the championship at Tampa.

Jillian also showed her half-Arab to win Tampa’s Saddle Seat Equitation Championship and 14-17 age group, as well as the UPHA Challenge Cup at Gasparilla.

“She’s a talented young lady,” said trainer Linda Weber. “She was taught to do things a little differently in the Arabian world but she is catching on quick. She can ride anything.”

“Jillian is a riding machine,” added Wilson. “I’ve had several nice riders but she could be one of the best. Vicki hasn’t forgotten how to ride either. She hadn’t been on a gaited horse in 20 years and she got up there and just clicked.”

At the recent Gasparilla Charity, Weber brought out Riva’s Periaptor to win the Ladies Five-Gaited class for the Schaffer family. She would come back the next week to take reserve in Tampa’s Denver Junior Five-Gaited class.

“This was her [Riva’s Periaptor] first time showing and we were very pleased with how she handled things,” said Weber.

In their short time back Vicki already notices a big change in the way things were in the ‘70s.

“It’s much costlier,” laughed Vicki. "It’s also much bigger now. It seemed like a tiny little world back then; same trainers, same owners, same judges. You might see the same judge three or four times in one year back then. Also, there are more high level shows now. You can stay in your area until Lexington and Louisville and still show against quality competition. We had to travel long distances to go to bigger shows like Pin Oak and Devon. It’s much more regional now.

“Equitation is going to be much harder for Jillian. I rode equitation and won everywhere from Louisville to Kansas City, but the competition is much higher now. The horses are so much better and powerful. The horses I rode wouldn’t even get you looked at today.”

Fate has played a role throughout this entire process. In one of their early visits to Hawkewood Farm in Floral City, Vicki and Linda were walking in the fields looking at babies and one just stood out at Vicki. In fact, it reminded her of her old champion gaited mare Winter Wine. Sure enough when they got back to the tack room and looked up the colt’s papers, he was a great-grandson of Winter Wine. He too now belongs to the Schaffer family.

The Schaffer family has made yet another move. They sold their place in Hollywood and have bought a farm next door to Hawkewood so they can be with their horses all the time. Currently a new house and a new barn are under construction.

“I’m so glad that we’ve been able to do this. To share these horses with my daughter is very special,” said Vicki. “Jillian had heard me speak about it, but she never realized how thrilling these horses are until now.”

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