Six-Decade Labour of Love

Maple Grove Stock Farm, a true family operation born 67 years ago with the

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When Ed Dittloff was a boy, nothing could match the splendor of seeing someone getting a delivery from Eaton’s big department store. “They had a team of beautiful bay fillies and I just loved to see them come down our road delivering supplies,” Dittloff said. “My mother, whenever she wanted me, all she’d have to do is look up the street one way or the other. If there was a horse, there I was.”

So began a life-long love affair with horses the 88-year-old patriarch of Maple Grove Stock Farm in Grindrod, in the BC interior, wouldn’t change for anything in the world.

Sixty-seven years after Dittloff opened it, Maple Grove Stock Farm, the operation he runs with his wife, Gladys, and their daughter, Karen Dittloff, is celebrating one of its most successful years in the business. It all culminated with four awards at the BC Thoroughbred Industry Awards on Dec. 4 at the Newlands Golf and Country Club in Langley, including honours as the breeder of BC-bred Horse of the Year, Lord Rosberg.

“We got the trophy for the Jack Diamond Futurity,” Ed said. “Then we got another trophy for the fact that he was the two-year-old champion, BC-bred and open breeding and I thought, ‘We can’t ask for anything more.’ Then the second last presentation they made, they called us up and it was the Horse of the Year, BC-bred. That really got me. I didn’t really expect that.”

The Dittloffs were also honoured for owning and breeding Irish Delta, the champion broodmare of 2014 and the dam of both Lord Rosberg and stakes-winning three-year-old filly Irish Lyric.

Lillian Talbot, who runs Red Rock Farm in Westwold, BC with her husband, Bob, said she is thrilled the Dittloffs had a “wonderful year” in 2014.

“I can’t say enough good things about the Dittloffs. They’re great people,” Lillian said.

Red Rock, which has been in business at least as long as Maple Grove, was named the top breeder in BC in 2011. Red Rock is also home to Finality, named BC’s champion sire in 2014. The Dittloffs own a share in Finality, who is also the sire of Irish Delta.

“We’re a fairly close-knit group throughout the North Okanagan and the Okanagan and Kamloops, this whole interior area,” Lillian said. “We’re always competitors, but we’re absolutely thrilled when each other wins.”

Rae Fawcett, whose farm Tod Mountain Thoroughbreds in Kamloops was the leading breeder in British Columbia in 2013 and 2014, said the Dittloffs are “probably the last old-time breeders of that generation” still operating in the province.

“We’ve known them quite awhile and they’re an incredibly hard-working family… They do it all themselves,” Fawcett said.

In fact, since Ed Dittloff broke his neck four years ago, almost all of the work at Maple Grove is done by Gladys and Karen, who is in charge of the operation now.

“I can’t do what I used to. I can’t handle the horses, because if they knock me, I’m gone,” Ed said. “But, I’m very, very interested and my daughter will stand there and tell me what to do. My wife goes out and works with Karen. If we need any help, our son is only 10 miles away.”

Maple Grove is an almost entirely self-sufficient operation. The Dittloffs grow their own hay and alfalfa and look after some 15 horses with virtually no outside help.

“I think they have a vet come every once in awhile, but I think they also do the majority of the vet work themselves,” Fawcett said.

Ed is proud his farm has remained a complete family operation for nearly seven decades.

“It’s us and that’s it. There’s no arguing or anything else,” he said. “My daughter and I look at pedigrees and she has some likes and I have other likes, but we work it all out.”

From Powell River to Grindrod

Ed Dittloff was just 21 in 1947 when he opened Maple Grove Stock Farm in Powell River, BC, by buying his first mare.

“When I bought her, she had four foals and had four winners. I was really lucky to get started that way,” Ed said, adding that a love of maple trees inspired the farm name.

At that time, there was no road into Powell River, a community some 170 kms north of Vancouver on the coast. “There was no transportation, in or out, other than a boat,” Ed said.

A little over a decade later, Ed, now married to Gladys, began looking for a farm in the BC Interior. They landed in Grindrod, a community of some 1,500 people on the Shuswap River, 100 kms north of Kelowna, 130 kms east of Kamloops and just a few kilometers south of Salmon Arm.

“(Gladys’) father was a cattleman, and he was going to a meeting in Kamloops. So, we came up with him and he dropped us off in Enderby. We got in touch with a real estate man and he took us around to three places. He drove us up to this one and I said, ‘Oooh, this is my place.’ But you don’t just buy the first one. He took us out and showed us across the river and there was 60 acres — not big enough. He showed us another place on the other side of the river and it was 40 acres. So, I asked if we could go back and look at the first place and Gladys just slapped her thigh and said, ‘I knew we were sold.’”

The year was 1958 and the 320-acre parcel of land was a beauty.

“It’s very nice. We’re on top of a hill. There’s a valley down below and a road that goes up. We bought the original homestead from the people that lived here all their lives. It goes back before the first World War,” Ed said.

The rolling hills, hard ground and the homegrown hay and alfalfa has produced some nice thoroughbreds over the years.

“It’s perfect. It’s funny, I got a Christmas card from some friends and they said, ‘Wow, you had a fantastic year. I always said that the best horses were raised up in the Interior.’ I didn’t argue with that,” Ed said, laughing.

Maple Grove has had its ups and downs like virtually every breeder in the sport, but has been fortunate to breed four BC Horses of the Year.

“There was Summer Lil in 1975 when she was a two-year-old. Then, Fleet Reserve in 1988. Then, between then and now, there was another one, I’m Free, who in 2001, was the BC-bred Horse of the Year… Then, a couple of years back, we had a three-year-old champion, Racing For Gold.

“We were thrilled with little Summer Lil. She was a small mare. She was only just over 14 hands, but she ran like a little demon. As a two-year-old she ran 15 times and she had six wins. Usually, I feel that Horse of the Year should be an older horse, but Summer Lil got it and now Lord Rosberg has gotten it. The two others that got it, I’m Free and Fleet Reserve, were both three-year-olds.”

Though Summer Lil was the farm’s first big success story, few years will top the one the Dittloffs had in 2014. Lord Rosberg won three of his four freshman starts, finished second by a nose in his last start of the year and earned $105,365.

“He was a very willing little sucker to work,” Ed said. “Anyway, he won his first race (a maiden in August), the second one was the CTHS Sales Stake and the third one was the Jack Diamond, or the BC Futurity. Then, in the last start of the year, his rider got hurt two races before his race and they had to substitute and the track was nothing but a sea of mud. The rider that was riding him said, ‘There was one accident already near the rail. I’m not going down.’ So, he kept him in the middle of the track. When he tried to get up at the end, he got up, but lost by about three inches.”

All this from a yearling the Dittloffs took home from the 2013 BC CTHS Sale after the son of Rosberg out of Irish Delta failed to attract his reserve price. He was subsequently sold privately to Gail Breckenridge and Lillian Jarvis-Meehan and placed in the care of trainer Pat Jarvis at Hastings Park. In 2015, the Dittloffs will consign five yearling colts to the BC CTHS Sale, including a half-brother to Lord Rosberg sired by Alberta-based Gayego.

“We’ve had people asking about him and some people have said, ‘Well, you’re going to top the sale next year,’ but that’s asking a lot and I’ll see it when it happens,” Ed said.

Lord Rosberg’s three-year-old half-sister, Irish Lyric (by Stephanotis), was not consigned to a yearling sale and is owned by Kay and Sue Ohashi and trained by Patty Leaney. Irish Lyric also had a big year in 2014, earning $70,477 with a record of 3-2-1 in eight starts. One race after her little brother won the Sales Stakes, Irish Lyric won her Sales Stakes.

“I said we’ve had the first stakes win, that’s all we can ask for. Then we had the second one right away,” Ed said. “Then, three weeks later, (Lord Rosberg) won the Futurity and Irish Lyric ran in the B.C. Oaks. They had a mare brought in from Kentucky and she beat my filly by about four or five inches. Anyway, we were happy, because it was a fantastic run.”

A run that ended with four major year-end awards and big smiles all around.

“That was fun to see,” Fawcett said of the awards night. “That was just wonderful. It’s well deserved. I’m so glad they finally got recognition for all their hard work.”

Ed Dittloff said it was the culmination of a nearly 90-year passion for horses.

Asked what horses have brought to his life, he simply said, “everything.”