ES Donavan in memoriam
Owner: Wendy Costello
This article was posted in 2014, and remains as a memorial to ES Donavan, 1985–2016, and to his devoted owner, Wendy Costello, who passed away in 2020. May you both rest in peace.
Rest in peace, Wendy
Farm: Kent Island Sporthorses
Wendy Costello has owned ES Donavan for fifteen years, and treasures so many memories of him. When she thinks of her stallion, now 29, she pictures "his eye, soulful look, and his big head wrapped around me." After a career as a Grand Prix dressage horse, "he came to retire here with me on my farm in Maryland. We are together several times a day. He comes when I call, he enjoys my touch, and I love his hugs." Wendy's other favorite mental image is of Donavan, ridden by JJ Tate, "doing a lovely extended trot." It still fills her with a sense of wonder that she was also able to ride him herself. "He was a Grand Prix stallion and I am an amateur with limited dressage experience - yet I took lessons on him and was able to experience a flying change, piaffe and of course walk/trot/canter on him. He was very tolerant!"
Donavan's life story reads like a novel. Imported from Germany with a group of other Hanoverians by a mysterious syndicate, he was moved from trainer to trainer during his first few years, always moving on because of financial pressures. Eventually, he came to rest in a barn in Wisconsin, where he was found by a woman looking for a dressage stallion. She bought Donavan and placed him in training with George Williams, but the situation - which seemed at first like a fairytale rescue - only lasted a few years.
Wendy and her husband Marty, who lived in Wisconsin at the time, entered the picture to become Donavan's final rescuers. Although owning a stallion had never been in their plans, the Costellos slid sideways into stallion ownership, acquiring him when the previous owner defaulted on a contract, spiraled into financial ruin, and then fled with the horse to North Carolina.
"His owner fell on hard times, largely created by her own doing, and Donavan was in danger of being sold at auction by a bank. It was 1999.
"We never planned to buy a stallion, but I had gotten to know him, and I realized he needed saving. We had to go through a very long and unpleasant period of time in legal battle to get Donavan safe in our custody with his papers intact."
It was during this time that Wendy pieced together Donavan's past, finding that, "many kind people along the way helped keep him safe: George Williams, Hilda Gurney, Dieter Felgendreher, James Koford, Betsy Steiner, Michelle Gibson and others - all giants in dressage.
"I could not have found a better stallion. Once he was ours, I had to keep him. He has changed my life for the better."
Wendy placed Donavan in training with JJ Tate, also then in Wisconsin, and she became "his Lady." They competed in dresssage at I-1 to Grand Prix, and also performed at many special events. "He loved the spotlight, literally, and especially venues like Midwest Horse Fair, and Horse Expo, and Equine Affair. He was fine with music, spotlights, crowds cheering, flags, big signs, horses wearing feathers, and armor and donkeys going by. He was a showman. He and JJ drew crowds and have fans to this day that came out each year hoping to see him, to come by and pat him."
After his storybook life and competition career, Donavan enjoys retirement, hanging out with the other animals on the farm, talking to the mares and foals, standing in front of his fan, and getting attention and treats. But his legacy lives on. "Donavan deserved to be rediscovered and appreciated and to live a good life. I wanted to do that for him. And it is still happening!
"His best qualities are his kind temperament, soft eye, good work ethic, wonderful conformation, and talent for sport - and now his proven longevity. He is a superior sire of wonderful offspring."