May 2020 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 00:26

dressage news

Great expectations: change is afoot at Toyon Farm.

by Nan Meek

It’s been a busy few months for the Bonavito family and Sabine Schut-Kery. In November 2019, the Bonavitos purchased Toyon Farm in Napa, and have been following “stay in place” orders during the COVID-19 crisis with three generations of their family, as well as their horses. In May, Sabine is moving to Toyon Farm.


Toyon Farm was previously owned by Camille and Edward Penhoet, longtime supporters of dressage in California. Camille, who grew up in the Carmel area and was a competitive dressage rider for many years, and her husband bought Toyon in the 1980s and renovated the original facilities into a jewel of a private equestrian facility set among rolling vineyards.


Today Toyon Farm is the new home of the Bonavito family and their horses, along with a handful of longtime boarders, and is managed by Gera Slijkoord, who was the Penhoets’ manager, as well.

The Bonavitos, and especially daughter Danielle, have been part of the northern California dressage community for many years. As a kid, Danielle Bonavito trained with Carolyn Adams at Yarra Yarra Ranch in Pleasanton, just down the road from her parents’ private farm in Danville. “Carolyn taught me on my first pony, Kirov,” Danielle recalled. “She also trained me on my first horse Quincey (Against All Odds) who we bought from Courtenay Fraser in Canada.”

Later, Danielle trained with Katrin and Dirk Glitz at her parents’ farm, and Katrin coached her through her junior and young rider years. In 2014, Danielle played a key role in the combined USDF Region 6/7 dressage team winning the bronze medal at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“When I was ready to make some changes in my riding and training, Anke Herbert and Alix Curry introduced me to Sabine who they thought would be a good match for me and my horses. I was lucky to be accepted into her program,” Danielle remarked. “Plus, I was able to transfer colleges to one that was only 20 minutes from Sabine’s location at El Campeon Farms.”

Retirees To Olympic Hopefuls

Today, Danielle has her three competition horses at Toyon, along with three of the family’s retired horses, which include her Young Riders horse, her sister’s first horse, and her dad’s horse. “Toyon is the perfect home for all of them,” she said. The retired horses will live out their lives in comfort, while Danielle and her competition horses will continue to be coached by Sabine at home and at competitions.

Danielle vividly remembered the moment she saw that farm-for-sale ad. “I showed the ad to my mom,” Danielle recalled, “and she thought the property was beautiful.” What mother wouldn’t fantasize about luring her dressage-obsessed daughter back home from Southern California with a wonderful place like Toyon for her to live and train her horses?

The only issue for Danielle was a big one: Her coach Sabine Schut-Kery was contentedly based at El Campeon Farms in Thousand Oaks. From Sabine’s perspective, any move would have to be carefully considered so that it worked not just for her, but also for her sponsors, owners, and clients.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way – how many times have we all heard that cliché? There’s a certain amount of truth to clichés, however, and this was no exception.

Sabine explained her thinking about the decision to move north. “It was bittersweet to think about leaving a beautiful place like El Campeon Farms and the support of the great group of clients and friends that I made there. But I have always enjoyed visiting Northern California, and the welcoming invitation from the Bonavitos to move to Toyon in the Napa wine country brought the excitement of new opportunities. My first sight of Toyon Farm, nestled in Napa’s rolling hills and surrounded by vineyards, reminded me of Italy.” Sabine’s sponsors, owners, and clients have continued to be supportive of her new plans.

She is bringing six to seven horses north with her, including Sanceo, the 2006 Hanoverian stallion by San Remo and owned by Alice Womble-Heitman and Dr. Mike Heitman, with whom she has been working to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now rescheduled for the summer of 2021. Also heading to Toyon with Sabine are Marques, the 2004 PRE stallion owned by Rhea Scott, with whom she is looking toward exhibition performances, as well as other horses belonging to her sponsors and a couple of her own horses. With Danielle’s horses already in residence at Toyon, and room for a few new clients, Sabine will be as busy as ever.

“I’m excited to continue Danielle’s development with her three talented horses. She is a gifted rider with a lot of feel, and she is very involved and hands on with her horses. Because of our trips and her commitment to dressage we have built a close relationship,” Sabine said. In 2018, Danielle and her horse traveled with Sabine to Germany to train, and this past winter she joined Sabine in Florida for the season that got shortened by the COVID-19 crisis.

Having lived and worked in the Los Angeles area since 2005, Sabine is understandably committed to her relationships with her clients and students there, so her plans call for traveling south for clinics once or twice a month. As she explained, “I will fly in to teach clinics, while my horses have a cross-training day at home. That way I can continue to work with my wonderful clientele in the Los Angeles area.” Sabine’s own work with Christine Traurig, her longtime mentor and “eyes on the ground” since 2006, will continue at Toyon, where Christine will visit on a regular basis.

Looking ahead, there’s even more to Sabine’s plans. With her time currently concentrated on coaching Danielle and on qualifying Sanceo for Tokyo, her immediate focus obviously remains on competition. But she also enjoys exhibitions, and although her plans to create an exhibition for the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas were derailed by its cancellation, she’s looking forward to revisiting the creative outlet of exhibition riding. “I’m excited and looking forward to being part of the Northern California dressage community,” Sabine said.

Toyon Farm will be a busy place under the ownership of the Bonavito family and with the coaching of Sabine Schut-Kery. Watch for great things to come.

A lifelong horse owner, Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1).