Following a 15-year stint in the standardbred racing industry, on her 50th birthday Deborah Kinzinger of Brampton, ON, declared to her husband, Vel Miculinic, that she was going to start riding again. She purchased a package of 10 lessons at a local stable and was once again hooked on the sport that had been her passion since childhood.

“I used to ride a number of years ago, doing three-day eventing and a little bit of dressage at the lower levels,” explained Kinzinger. “When I returned to the sport, I was coming from the world of horse racing; it didn’t give me the chance to interact with the horses to the same degree as when you are riding. I decided I wanted more involvement with my horses, and I started riding again. I fell in love with the horses all over again. While three-day eventing was too ambitious at my age, I was in love with dressage.”

A natural progression

Never one to do things in small measures, Kinzinger finished her 10 lessons and decided that if she was going to keep riding, it was time to buy a horse. Naturally, she also wanted top training, and a quick Google search of “top Canadian dressage rider” put the name David Marcus front and centre on her computer screen. As luck would have it, Marcus was heading to Europe to look at horses for another client and agreed to look for Kinzinger as well.

After six weeks of delays due to the Icelandic volcanic ash which grounded flights across Europe, Don Kontes finally arrived in the spring of 2010 at Marcus’s stable in Campbellville, Ontario, located an hour west of Toronto. For Kinzinger, it was love at first sight with the tall, dark, and handsome Swedish Warmblood by Don Schufro. While being introduced to her new horse, Kinzinger was also meeting Marcus for the first time in person.

In only their second lesson together, Kinzinger declared to Marcus, “This is not the horse for me.” He was taken aback, thinking he had failed in his attempt to find a suitable mount. Kinzinger explained, “He is far too good for me; this horse is awesome and needs a top rider. Why don’t you ride him and see what you can do at the shows?”

Weeks later, Marcus and Don Kontes, affectionately known as “DK,” made their competition debut, winning the prix St. Georges at the CornerStone Summer Festival with a score of 72.106%. The rest, as they say, is history.

“When David started showing Don Kontes, I loved it!” said Kinzinger. “I realized that I didn’t need to be a phenomenal rider myself, I just needed to see my horses in order to enjoy the pleasure of being involved.” Since that realization, Kinzinger has immersed herself in dressage. She currently has four horses in full training with Marcus, including his 2012 Olympic mount, Chrevi’s Capital; Don Altena, who is successfully contesting the FEI six-year-old division; the stunning eight-year-old mare Betrina (now in foal to Totilas); and, of course, Don Kontes.

“This is only our fourth year together, but David and Capital have absolutely surpassed all of my expectations,” said Kinzinger, who owns 14 horses in total, including state premium broodmares and top quality young stock. “David is a wonderful rider and, in only three seasons competing at the grand prix level, he has achieved things that most riders only dream of. David has either competed at or qualified for every single one of the top international events, with only the Pan Am Games yet to come. So far, they haven’t missed a team spot since they went grand prix.

“Our goal is to stay at the top of the sport and to continue to represent Canada at all of the top international events. We have the Pan Am Games in our sights, and the Olympics in Rio beyond that.” (Although the official announcement had not yet taken place, as we went to press it was apparent that Marcus and Chrevi’s Capital would be representing Canada at the 2014 World Equestrian Games.)

The birth of C-DAAP

It is not just major championships that drive Kinzinger’s involvement. “I love the sport and the people,” said the 2013 Dressage Canada Owner of the Year. “I love watching young horses coming up through the ranks and turning into something that you least expect. We are always on the hunt to acquire top quality young horses that we can bring along.”

However, looking at the bigger picture over the long term, Kinzinger felt there was a serious disconnect between the Canadian high performance riders being able to reach their goals of top international competition and having the funding to do so. Looking at dressage from a business perspective and analyzing the long-term sustainability of dressage in Canada prompted Kinzinger to found the Canadian Dressage Athlete Assistance Program (C-DAAP).

How did a newbie to the sport end up creating such a far-reaching financial support system for Canadian athletes? “Remember, I’m coming into the sport with no baggage and no understanding of how the sport works and operates in this country,” reminds Kinzinger, who is chairman of several companies she and her husband own, including one of Canada’s largest meat processors. “I’m a business person, first and foremost. I entered the sport looking at the world of dressage from the outside in. The old way of funding wasn’t working, and it was time for a change.”

It was the process of qualifying for, and subsequently making the 2012 Canadian Olympic Dressage Team that opened Kinzinger’s eyes to the need for a structured support program. “When David decided to try to qualify for the Olympics with Capital, I didn’t realize what was required; what type of training, funding, and travel was necessary,” related Kinzinger. “I came out of London knowing that the journey didn’t end there; it was just one destination among many in a competitive career.”

Kinzinger continued, “If we want David to become one of the Canadian greats, like Christilot Hanson Boylen, Cindy Ishoy, or Ashley Holzer, we really have to invest in the sport. I also realized that it was not as simple as me investing in David; we needed a proper infrastructure where all of the riders were supported to make a strong team. We were just one cog in the wheel. There are lots of other talented riders, both those coming up and those already in the system. If we didn’t do something as a community to support them, where was the sustainability?”

Kinzinger reached out to Anne Merklinger, CEO of Own The Podium, which provides funding to Canadian sports identified as having Olympic medal potential, and quickly learned that dressage did not rank high on their list of priorities. “There was virtually no support. It’s not a criticism of the program, it’s simply a fact,” said Kinzinger. “I was also concerned when I was told that Canada’s showing in London was going to inhibit our ability to receive more funding. David and I were a part of that team, and I didn’t want to be the reason why Canada didn’t have the funding to go to the next major games.”

Marcus’s elimination (and subsequently Canada’s elimination due to the three-rider format with no drop score), when Chrevi’s Capital reacted during a heavy rainstorm in the middle of their Olympic grand prix test has been well-documented. Both Kinzinger and Marcus share the same philosophy on the incident. It happened; now let’s move forward.

And what better way forward than to create something that benefits Canadian high performance riders at all levels – senior, young rider, and junior? Kinzinger worked with Equine Canada and Dressage Canada to implement C-DAAP as one of its fundraising programs. In 2013, grants of $15,000 each were provided to Jacqueline Brooks and Jaimey Irwin to attend the World Cup Final. This year, the Dressage Canada High Performance Committee awarded five C-DAAP grants of $20,000 each to Brittany Fraser, Megan Lane, Karen Pavicic, Belinda Trussell, and Chris von Martels to help offset the costs of training and competing in Europe. Six more grants for juniors and young riders will be awarded this year, helping to develop the pipeline of up-and-coming athletes. That’s 11 riders in total in 2014 who will receive over $150,000 in funding towards their competitive pursuits. C-DAAP also funded $30,000 towards the Canadian Fortnight program organized by Equine Canada/Dressage Canada in Wellington, Florida, this winter.

“Through the good graces of many people in our sport – sponsors, riders, friends – they have helped me with getting this program up and running,” said Kinzinger. “I coerced my friend, Anita Gravelle, who has nothing to do with horses, to be the director of marketing and operations for C-DAAP and she has played a big role in its development. So many people have come forward and said ‘How can I help?’ Whether it’s volunteering at one of our events or contributing funds, there is a place for everyone.”

A leg up to pursue dreams

A fundraising luncheon held in June during the CDI-W CornerStone Spring Into Dressage in Palgrave, ON, one of six fundraising events planned for 2014, raised $18,000 for C-DAAP. Coming up is the Royal Canadian Gala on November 6 at Toronto’s Casa Loma, featuring British comedian Neil Atkinson as master of ceremonies and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield as the keynote speaker. A total of 12 unusual and intriguing items will be up for auction at the event, including a filly named Royal Canadian and a travel package to England that includes accommodation at the Countess of Bathurst’s estate.

With Kinzinger’s tireless energy and commitment, C-DAAP is growing by leaps and bounds. Given that she became involved with high performance dressage in support of her own rider, her ‘all for one, one for all’ approach has fuelled a new feeling of optimism among the Canadian dressage community.

“I’m in an odd position,” said Kinzinger, who has also sponsored events personally through her Butternut Ridge farm name. “I have a great rider riding my horses and yet all of these other riders, who are competitors to us, have been nothing but gracious and have helped us over and over again. I am most grateful for the relationships I have with all of the owners and riders around me.”

She continued, “All of these riders are special. There is no one rider that has a need greater than another. I want to help give them a leg up to be able to reach their goals and be the best that they can be. I don’t want funding to be the reason that they stop pursuing their dream.”

Kinzinger’s approach to the sport can perhaps be best expressed by her own rider. “Deborah has owned my horses for four years now, and she’s been incredibly devoted and loyal to me and the horses that we have together,” said Marcus. “I really appreciate that from her. We’ve had great successes with the horses and we’ve had tough days, but Deborah always stays positive. She lets me steer the boat when it comes to the horses. She’s very supportive of my decisions, and I think that is a very important trait in an owner.”

Marcus continued, “Since I’ve been involved with the sport in Canada, to my knowledge, she has been the only owner that has stepped out of the box to support the entire team. She saw a need for a fundraising mechanism in this country that we didn’t have prior and took it upon herself to establish one. She was not only the founder, but also the first to donate. She’s amazing!

“I think I speak on behalf of the all the riders when I express our gratitude. C-DAAP has done, and will continue to do, great things for us riders and this means the sport will have an opportunity to flourish in this country.”