The name Wheeler is synonymous with the Dixon Oval. In this, the 115th year of the Devon Horse Show, there have been 3 generations of Wheelers represented in the Winner's Circle in just as many divisions; Open Hunter, Hunter Breeding and American Saddlebred.
This is the 65th Devon Horse Show for 83-year-old Kenny Wheeler Sr. from Keswick, Virginia's venerable Cismont Manner Farm, and in typical Wheeler fashion, he took top honors in today's breeding division by winning Best Young Horse with his 3 year old other than thoroughbred filly Mae West (West Point ~ Desire) owned by Cindy Chandler. Wheeler also received the Leading Handler Award for the second consecutive year.
"I had four today (in the Hunter Breeding Division) a yearling, two 2 year olds and a 3 year old. We won 3 firsts and a second, so we had a pretty good day. The Best Young Horse, Mae West, she's a beautiful filly, she's very correct, a beautiful mover, and she really shows herself. She's easy to show. She won here last year, so it worked out well."
In all his years of breeding horses Kenny Sr. has seen a lot of changes in the Hunter industry. "I still love a Thoroughbred, most Thoroughbreds now go to the racetrack. Years ago they used to get Thoroughbreds and break them and train them, and then they started to go to Europeand bought the 4, 5, and 6 year old jumpers so they were ready to go. If you gave me a blank check and said find me a Thoroughbred that can come here and win at Devon I probably couldn't find one. Now they're breeding Warmbloods to Thoroughbred mares so they get a little more quality, more refined."
Wheeler said he didn't find the shift from the Thoroughbred to the Warmblood difficult. "I really didn't notice it, the change just kind of happened. I had Thoroughbreds and I had Warmbloods. One of the best horses we had was Isgilde, and she was all German and Working Champion here 5 times, but then I had a lot of great Thoroughbreds too, Ruxton, Just For Fun, Two For One, Gozzi...."
It's horses like the Wheeler's that have inspired the USHJA International Hunter Derbies, so it could not be more fitting that this Sunday's Derby has been underwritten by the Wheeler sons in honor of their father, Kenny Sr. and their mother, Sally.
Photos: Kenny Wheeler Sr. on Gozzi; The Wheelers at The Family Farm in Keswick, Virginia