When the mare with the flaxen mane, Osophia, won the $25,000 Travel Paso Robles Alliance Grand Prix at the Central California Fall Classic, the victory marked a rare moment for rider Kevin Winkel and his mother, Julie Winkel, to share and reflect on the success of their Maplewood Stables’ breeding and training program located in Reno, NV.
“Confident,” is the key word Kevin uses to describe his partner. “She does not know what she can’t do.” Sophia’s been Kevin’s horse from beginning, he’s been her only rider. For his 21st birthday, Julie told him he could pick a foal from that year’s crop of 14 for his own. “She’s only 16.1 but the mare has such heart,” says Julie. “But truly, it’s their teamwork and connection, it’s really a supernatural bond. Everyone sees it. They’ve even got their own fan club. It’s just cool to see a 30-year-old guy who loves his horse so much.”
It’s clearly mutual trust, developed on the Winkel’s take it slow approach that’s led Osophia’s consistent streak in 2015, winning the $30,000 Ariat Grand Prix, earlier this summer, a 15,000 Welcome Stake at Sonoma Horse Park, plus a third place in the $25,000 Sheri Allis Memorial Grand Prix in July and fourth in the $25,000 Oak Tree Grand Prix in November.
For Julie, who travels nearly every week as a prominent USEF R judge and sought after clinician, it was a moment to savor to actually be there to watch her son and one of their many homebred rising stars shine so bright.
All in the Family
Bred by Julie, Osophia is an 9-year-old daughter by Osilvis, her stand out 1996 chocolate palomino stallion (Silvio II x Iregina by Nimmerdor). After her own Grand Prix success with Osilvis, and her other Grand Prix stallion, Cartouche Z, Julie turned the reins over to Kevin at what age 20 who added to the horse’s impressive record, including winning the $50,000 Showpark Grand Prix and showing at Spruce Meadows.
As a sire, Julie believes Osilvis offers an excellent package of balance, scope, brains, good bone and as a bonus, throws a lot of color. The stallion has produced winning competitive horses for both the jumper and hunter rings.
Managing Maplewood Stables’ impressive operation that oversees 60 to 80 horses, breeding, horses in training, lessons, and consignment sales requires a lot of coordination with weekly staff meetings, assistant trainers, clients and interns.
Julie laughs that working together with Kevin, “The problem is we’re exactly alike! We give each other space. I know he’s evolving his own system.” But they are on the same page when it comes to horse welfare and the care of all the horses remains paramount. They’ve also developed and competed both stallions, Osilvis and Cartouche Z, so they know their stallions inside out. Together, they plan which horses will be bred, raised and sold.
Both Winkels adhere to the philosophy of raising horses in as natural state as possible. On their 160 acres, youngsters are grouped by age and live outside, although handled and looked at daily. “I really feel it’s crucial to develop strong bone and immune systems,” notes Julie. As late 3- year-olds, they import their favorite Guatemalan cowboy, Jose Alejos, to impart the basics and a well-rounded foundation in the breaking process. As 4-year-olds, the horses live out during the night and are stalled individually during the day. They get acclimated to the routine of schooling shows, field trips, and trails, while jumping is kept at a minimum.
Although, Kevin did not catch the riding bug until age 13, his natural talent has been both inherited and honed as an excellent student. Kevin has been the beneficiary of learning under the complete horsemanship system of family friend Joe Fargis, who Julie refers to as the “ultimate horseman of the universe.” It was due to working for Joe for two years that Sophia had a later start. Kevin also spent a year working for Grand Prix rider Rusty Stewart.
Determination and independence are Kevin’s hallmarks traveling on his own at shows, along with coaching clients. He is his own ground person, and enjoys course design and setting up gymnastics at home. He studies the videos of the top international riders, as well as his own rounds, as a valuable tool to constantly refine and improve his technique.
“I'd say ambition is probably the most important key to success whether you're talking about the horse business or competition,” He says. “You have to want it more than anything and be willing to give up everything. In our sport/business you have to be consistent as well, you have to put in the work everyday to see the results.”
Bringing along his own homebred mount from day one makes the relationship extra special. Having also started Sophia’s dam, Rebelle, he values the depth of their whole training process together.
“Working through those ups and downs are what has strengthened our trust and confidence in one another,” says Kevin. “Sophia thinks very highly of herself but at the same time, she is very straight forward to ride. She loves her job.”
Cheering on Kevin and Osophia’s win at ringside felt especially gratifying for Julie, who is most often on the road (she had just flown back from judging the 2015 USEF Pessoa Medal Finals in Harrisburg, PA). In addition, she conducts clinics for juniors or fellow judges across the country, volunteers on USHJA committees, co-chairs the USEF Licensed Officials Committee, and writes Practical Horseman’s monthly Conformation Clinic.
Looking down the stabling aisle, out of the ten horses they had brought to show, eight were by Osilvis, including Optical Illusion, a 1.30 meter jumper and Ostenstatious, a genuine hunter prospect. Julie is very proud of the other offspring, upcoming and champions, making their mark in all three rings. “They all have great brains,” she says.
At Maplewood Stables, the mission has always been on breeding for conformation, athleticism, and trainability, along with their homegrown practice of raising sound, competitive horses and educating riders, imparting their knowledge and values.
For Kevin and Osophia, it’s been a year to celebrate that process and a partnership that can really soar.