American Breeders Series Part Four - Marydell Farm

by Stacy Gormley

Marydell Farms is a privately owned small breeding operation in the United States. Although smaller in size than the more well-known facilities, Marydell Farms has proved it’s’ worth to American horse enthusiasts by consistently producing elite sport horses.

Marydells’ commitment to furthering the caliber of equines around the world is being noticed. DressageDaily's Stacy Gormley had the chance to get a great interview with Maryanna Harmon.

DressageDaily: Is America catching up to countries such as Germany and the Netherlands on an Internationally Competitive Level?
Marydell: The United States is catching up in this area thanks in part due to the owners and riders who are venturing over to Europe to ride and compete. It is so important to compare the riding and judging side by side. We can't compete on a level playing field if our riders and judges stay at home. Our perception of ourselves and our talent cannot be accurately measured against the Europeans unless we are right there alongside them competing. That is what has improved and why we are now "catching up".

Dressagedaily: How important is it for Americans to produce their own athletes?
Marydell: Some breeders have committed themselves to producing horses of the caliber or better than the European bred horses. I for one, travel to Germany at least twice a year and look at young stock and watch competitions. This keeps my eye educated and myself on top of the trends. I have seen the swing to the very light, elegant type with the huge trot and the loss of purity in the walk and canter. These are the youngsters who catch our attention and shine but then where are they at the upper levels of sport?

I have also seen that certain bloodlines will NOT win the Young Horse Competitions such as the Bundeschampionat and the Young Horse Championships, but those lines mature later and then excel at the International FEI levels. Dedicated breeders in the USA are committed to producing the finest horses possible. In today's breeding we have access through frozen semen to the same horses that the Europeans do. We are breeding the same high quality they are.

Dressagedaily: How has the quality of sport horse breeding stock changed in this country?
Marydell: In the USA, breeders are producing the same quality of performance horse that Europe is. This is a numbers game at the young horse stage. In Germany alone, one particular warm blood registry has more broodmares registered than the entire American based registries combined. So when comparing what Americans are producing, we ARE producing the same quality in larger percentages based on the total numbers of mares in the breeding base. But because American breeders tend to be small independent farms without the finances or connections to top riders, most of these top quality offspring are never seen. They are sitting in someone's backyard competing at second level at best. Our biggest "hole" is the lack of a standardized training system to get these horses started properly and into the rider's hands. Of course we can find the "resistance free" person or an ex track rider or some young trainer that is hungry for a start. But what do these people really know about warm bloods and properly forward thinking horses?

I think the USDF and Hilltop Farm are on the right track with the Young Horse Trainers programs they are starting. But we need a hands on approach as well as theory. Breeders need to be able to find these trainers, have faith in them and be able to afford them.

If American based riders could take the time to look in their own backyards, they could find horses that would be internationally competitive. However, it means they would have to take the time to look and to travel more than they do in Germany or the Netherlands. In the long run, it is cheaper to buy American! Marydell Farm has produced several nationally ranked young horses. Even today, we have a weanling whose video was shown in Germany to three independent trainers. They all wanted this horse in their barns when he was two. One even asked if I would consider shipping him to Germany as a two yr old for his stallion licensing.

Dressagedaily: How important are the Young Horse classes and Championships?
Marydell: I fully support this program as a way to highlight young talent and to get riders and owners interested in competing young horses. The attention the program gets has brought spectators to the classes. Something dressage shows in general are lacking in the USA.
I think this program brings to light the fact that there are some very talented young horses in the USA, and a majority of them are born here! I hope that we can follow the future careers of these rising stars.

There is a strong trend as evidenced by the national championships in 2005, for American born horses to be ridden in this program. What a major step forward for American breeders! The problem for me as the breeder (who no longer rides due to health reasons) is how to find owners for these talented youngsters. Or if I still own them, who to send them to be trained, and how do I afford it? As a small breeder, I still have over 20 horses from mares through foals to support.

I own a stallion, Don Principe(Donnerhall/SPS Prince Thatch xx) that competed this year in the National Finals, 6 yr old division. We prepared him slowly as this level requires a good deal of collection. Don Principe did well finishing fourth overall.

My concern with this program is that some horses might not be mature enough for the work being pushed by trainers/owners because of raw talent. I had a trainer in Germany tell me that the in the 5 yr old division, anyone can do the test. All it takes is a talented horse with three good gaits. But he also told me the six yr old division requires a special horse with an excellent rider of the highest standards. This is a big jump in expectations. Now with the new 4 yr old division, I am afraid of American’s need for instant gratification.

“If I could give any advice to riders planning on this- it is to go slow and listen to your horse, they will tell you if they are ready. Do not chase year end awards; instead have the finals be your goal. Learn how to train a young horse to peak for the finals and then give the horse down time to grow in.”

Our breeding programs in the USA have grown by leaps and bounds. More and more breeders are taking advantage of the use of frozen semen and we are breeding horses on USA soil with identical pedigrees to the top performing horses in Europe today.

Dressagedaily: How have the mares in this country changed over the years?
Marydell: By watching and educating ourselves, breeders have learned what "nicks" work and what individual horses are exceptions to the pedigree. But at the basic level, if you do not start with the best broodmare, you can't improve the quality of the horses you produce. Scientifically, both mare and stallion contribute 50% each of the DNA to the resulting foal. However, the mare incubates the fetus, births and "raises" the foal. She is the template for ground manners for the foals. A good deal of the attitude a riding horse exhibits comes from learning by example, watching the dam.

If we use a mare with excellent (not perfect- no one is) conformation, good attitude and three correct basic gaits, we stand a good chance of producing at least the same quality and hopefully better. Be harsh; judge the mare with the most critical eyes you can, then go looking for a stallion that can improve the faults. Do not just select the "flavor of the month", the young stallion that has not a proven record of good offspring, but is the most fashionable bloodlines. Use proven sires with proven offspring. If you have experience, then a breeder can think about a young stallion and try to get even better offspring. Most warm blood breeders are members of registries that inspect the mares for these traits. Using this system, which is similar to the European one, we are using the same quality of mares that Europe is.

What we do not as breeders need to be doing is----- Our mare was competing and broke down, bowed a tendon, popped splints, has navicular, too thick a throatlatch, can't collect, back problems, must be retired due to lameness, breathing, etc, fill in the blanks. These mares are then bred by well meaning owners who think that the mare must have a job. She has a uterus, let's breed her! The reasons these mares can no longer compete WILL be passed on to their offspring in most cases. These mares should not be bred.

“I am seeing more and more that mare owners are taking the advice of the inspectors and fewer mares that break down are being bred. So we are producing better and better young stock. We are certainly as good as the Europeans. Americans do learn from others. We take the tried and proven methods and make them our own. Americans have the knowledge and the commitment to producing the very best horses they can.”

Related Links
Marydell Farm
HorsesDaily Breeding News
HorsesDaily Stallion Listing - Don Principe
USEF/Markel Young Horse Dressage Championships Final Presents the Horses For the Future - James Koford and Don Principe