From the day she was born on Paula Leweke’s small farm on Vancouver Island, the filly known as Bella was a feisty one. When the farrier came to do the foal’s first hoof trim, it took Paula and three men to hold her to get the job done.
“I realized how strong she was and how powerful her hind end was,” recalls Paula, who was convinced the filly was something special, even when others weren’t.
Her hunch was correct – the sassy Oldenburg filly (Banderas x Timebreaker) grew up to become an FEI 1.50 metre international show jumper and was the 2021 Canadian Show Jumping Champion at the Royal West with her owner/rider Alicia Gadban-Lewis.
Bella, registered as Bella Balatora and shown as Beneficial, was recently named the Canadian Bred Horse of the Year by Equestrian Canada. The award is given to a horse bred within Canada who holds an outstanding performance record that has helped to enhance the reputation and visibility of horses bred in this country.
It’s a proud achievement for a small breeder; Paula, 68, has bred just five foals including Bella during her decades of involvement with horses. She and husband Bob Rowan have a four-acre farm and while she has purchased several quality equines with top bloodlines, she has rescued more than 50 horses in the last 20 years.
“Every time I have sold a good quality horse, all the money has gone into helping other horses,” says Paula, a nurse consultant and instructor.
Paula was born in New Mexico and lived there until age 10, where she got involved with horses before she was three years old. She developed a keen eye for conformation, movement and athletic ability and has been selective in pairing her horses ‒ rescues and non-rescues alike ‒ with the trainers and riders she believes will suit them best.
A dozen years ago, she bought a two-year-old Timebreaker mare, Ivy, in the Fall Classic Sale in Alberta put on by the Canadian Warmblood Breeders Association. “I watched her movement and saw her go through the jump chute. She was absolutely stunning.” Although Paula usually purchased young horses to develop and resell, she bought Ivy for herself. She firmly believes young warmbloods shouldn’t be started under saddle until they are four, so bred Ivy when she was three.
Paula had watched competitions at Spruce Meadows for years and noted that Heartbreaker/Balou du Rouet bloodlines consistently showed up in winning jumpers. She chose to breed Ivy, a Heartbreaker granddaughter, to Dreamscape Farm’s young stallion Banderas, a Balou du Rouet son.
“The following spring [April 2012] I had Bella. I hadn’t had foals of my own for years. I had foals from rescuing, but not ones I’d intentionally bred,” she says. Paula started ponying Bella with her dam on trails around her home when Bella was a yearling, then sent her to the mainland for two years to live on a ranch in Kamloops where she had acres to run and play.
Bella was started by Sara Rathe Person, then ridden initially by Allison Lagan and coached by Joanne Orchard. At her first major show in 2017, she was ridden by Teresa Duerdin and coached by Gina Karrigas.
Paula contacted Alicia Gadban-Lewis, who she has known since Alicia was 12. “I said ‘You will think I’m biased, but this horse is special and you need to believe me.’” Alicia rode Bella a couple of times then bought the grey mare as a five-year-old in the fall of 2017. Soon after, they won the Royal West five-year-old championship.
“Alicia has done a phenomenal job with her,” says Paula. “I’m grateful Alicia believed me. Many people have treated me a like a little backyard breeder and a lot of people at the upper echelon of the sport disregarded me.”
With Alicia, Beneficial has competed in Florida and in Europe as well as Canada with success. The pair were recently 2nd in a 1.40m class at Thunderbird. Alicia is coached by Tiffany Foster and has been invited to train in Belgium with Eric Lamaze.
Bella’s dam Ivy is 14 and still lives at Paula’s small farm. After foaling Bella, she went on to be a successful ‘three-ring’ horse, competing in hunter, jumper and equitation. But with Bella’s success in the show jumping world, Paula bred her back to Banderas a year ago and has a full sibling colt. “He’s phenomenal. He’s got so much personality like his sister. There’s a line-up of people who want that foal.”
Ivy, who is “super intelligent and athletic” is in foal for another full sibling in 2023. Then the mare will enjoy semi-retirement at the farm with Paula’s four other horses and become Paula’s grandchildren’s mount, while her daughter Bella continues her Canadian-made success story in the international show jumping ring.