With most of the prime real estate throughout the United States skyrocketing, it is becoming more and more challenging for equestrian facilities to provide a location for local competitors to have a quality experience. These facility owners are the unsung heroes of dressage in America. As gas prices continue to soar, the cost of moving horses around the regions continues to rise. Challenged by shortened show seasons especially in the northern states it is becoming increasingly difficult for riders from many regions to get the number of competitions in order to earn points towards their year end goals. The sport of Dressage owes a lot of thanks to those whose passion for the sport and love of horses fuels their drive to open their properties to the demands a recognized competition requires. Located in America’s heartland, Silverwood Farms, in Camp Lake, Wisconsin, provides not only a perfect setting, but quality competitions through the spring and fall, for Dressage and Combined Training. Owners Howard Nelson and Lisa Froehlig provide the ideal setting running 12 dressage shows, 3 Horse Trials, and 1 Hunter Jumper competition from May through October every year.
Silverwood Farm Dressage – An Oasis in the Heartland: Competitors and Judges Love Coming to Silverwood
“I love coming to Silverwood to judge.” said Sarah Geike, who judged the June 11-12 show. “Howard and Lisa are so warm and welcoming, and the shows are run like clockwork. If you are lucky enough to be invited back the next year, Lisa comes up with her schedule, and all the dates are set in stone before I go home.”
Silverwood hosted top judging talent, such as Geike, Betsy Berry, Tom Poulin, Lois Yukins, Gail Hoff Carmona, Joan Humphrey, and Natalie Lamping just to name a few.
“Howard and Lisa are always improving their property, making this an ideal setting for horses to compete.” Said Carole Allaguer, owner of the farm next door, where Patricia Becker rides and trains a string of top quality horses. “We are lucky enough to be able to ride over for shows, but this area is an easy commute for people from Illinois, and Michigan."
Silverwood Farm Dressage – An Oasis in the Heartland: A Full Day for Howard Nelson and Lisa Froehlig and a Happy Staff
As the sun begins to peer over the horizon, the first signs of activity begin at 5:30 AM, as Silverwood Farm owners Howard Nelson and Lisa Froehlig begin their weekend routine. Howard is on his tractor watering the arenas which have won the USDF Footing Award (when it existed) for 6 years in a row. Lisa collects the trash, then, sets out a large container of complimentary coffee and cookies for everyone, outside the show office all day. Then she takes care of her own horses preparing for a full day of competition. When she is not warming up and doing tests on her horses, she’s helping volunteers, setting up the music for the freestyle rides, and just taking care of anything that comes up.
And, at the end of the day, after the judges have been wined and dined, Howard can be found on his tractor irrigating the arenas, as Lisa drives around the property on their golf cart, making sure everything is picked up and ready for the next day.
It’s a family affair too. Howard’s granddaughter Elizabeth spends her summers on the farm, and happily joins the “runner crew” who bring scores to the office.
Show secretary Lisa Cannata efficiently keeps things moving accommodating changes and additions, and maintaining the website with ride times, updates, results and show services. Then shoe is always taking more entries for upcoming shows. Once in awhile she can also manage to fit in a ride herself, choosing to go without a score as she is technically a show official.
Silverwood Farm Dressage – An Oasis in the Heartland: Prime Property Dedicated to Horses
The 103 acre facility which was once a quarter horse stable began over 25 years ago, with one barn and a few paddocks. Howard Nelson managed the before he and Lisa purchased it in 1998. The property now has 7 barns, with heated stalls for 30 boarders, an indoor arena, 3 permanent show barns, and 120 portable stalls when needed. Nelson, a thoroughbred breeder, has several horses racing, with a band of excellent broodmares and stallions, who share the property with the boarders, and Lisa’s dressage horses. There are huge grassy paddocks for turn out, and lots of trees all planted and cared for on a daily basis.
Silverwood Farm is located across the street from Camp Lake a popular summer spot for boaters and fishing. There is a small airport where private aircraft in all sizes and shapes can be seen taking off and landing during the competition.
As the lush farm land of this region, just a one hour drive from Chicago, Illinois gives way to the development of large homes, Silverwood remains a needed oasis, for the large number of entries who come from Illinois, Michigan, Indianapolis, and Ohio.
At any time Howard and Lisa could live quite comfortably on the proceeds of the sale of such prime real estate, if that was what they wanted to do. The taxes continue to rise reflecting the staggering real estate values of the region and the heating bill in the winter months tops $3,500 a month. But their hearts and souls are invested in their property, their shows, the people who count on them, and their horses.
Silverwood Farm Dressage – An Oasis in the Heartland: Doing What They Love to Do
“It’s hard work, but I love it,” said Howard, who can often be found at the edge of the arena watching the rides and cheering on his weekend guests. “I enjoy the people; we have a great group who come here on a regular basis.” An accomplished horseman himself, Nelson is a successful thoroughbred horse breeder and has had multiple stakes and allowance race winners. He has applied his knowledge and sense of safety to every inch of the show grounds and facilities. At a recent hunter jumper show on his property several top trainers noticed his yearling colts in the field, telling him they were as fancy as some of the top futurity winners on the show circuit.
In the winter months when Lisa heads to Florida, Nelson an avid wild game hunter indulges in his latest hobby painting some of the many variations of wildlife he photographs and video tapes while on one of several hunting expeditions he takes in Canada, Alaska, and on another family property near the Wisconsin Dells. He enjoys putting together packages for his buddies for not only his hunting trips, but he also syndicates his race horses, making a day at the track more personal. His grizzly, moose and several other variations of mounted conquests keep the dressage show scorers company in the back office.
“I think he likes it when I leave for awhile in the winter.” Lisa chuckled. “Otherwise instead of him lying around by the fireplace, I keep coming up with new ideas for the farm and things to do.”
Silverwood Farm Dressage – An Oasis in the Heartland: On With The Shows
Local trainers use Silverwood for their students and young horses, as well as perfecting their FEI Level rides for the larger competitions at nearby Lamplight. Jessica Jo Tate brings a string of her talented young horse stock as well as her new Grand Prix horse Cambray. With an excellent sound system, the Saturday afternoon Freestyles has a full class each show.
The Barteau family comes with up with at least 13 horses and several students each show, and Julie Julian trainer of Susan Gohl’s Flying Dutchman Farms from Barrington Hills, Illinois, makes the 1 hour drive with a truck load of horses as well. The indoor arena provides a cool warm up, to prepare for rides in the hot summer sun, as well as ample warm up surrounding all arenas.
In spite of the growing expenses of taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs, Howard Nelson and Lisa Froehlig are devoted to their property, their sport, and the people who appreciate what they do by putting Silverwood in their competition schedule each year.
There is not an official award for the many competition venues like Silverwood who work hard and invest their lives into providing much needed venues, and quality shows. Perhaps there should be. But in the meantime people like Howard and Lisa get their validation each week from those who appreciate what they do.
Text by Mary Phelps