This weekend I visited the North Carolina based breeders Maryanna and Wendell Haymon. The couple bred and owns a number of successful US dressage horses, among them Doctor Wendell MF (Don Principe/Sandro Hit), Don Principe (Donnerhall/Prince Thatch xx) and Duet MF (Don Principe/Rotspon), just to name a few. The Haymons and their horses are continuously successful on breed shows, dressage shows, and have established themselves as a well-known name around the Hannoveraner Verband in Germany as well. After getting to know some of the great US-based riders, I could not miss out on the opportunity to also get to know the Haymon family and learn about breeding in the US.
Success Takes Grit
How to be successful in the horse world as a breeder is strikingly similar to achieving success as a rider. What one needs is grit. Maryanna always knew what she wanted and she went for it. “I grew up on a potato farm, but my first word was ‘pony’. We would have never been able to afford one, but I worked whenever I could and saved up long enough until I was able to buy my own horse. I did not know much at that time, I was told he was 18 and beginner safe, what turned out to be 30 and the absolute opposite of safe, he literally dragged me through a wall,” she laughs. “But I wanted this, and what he taught me was to be persistent and just never give up. My next horse was a three year old horse that I started under the saddle myself. I did a little bit of everything: Barrel racing, Trail, Hunters and Jumpers.” It was not until later that Maryanna got solely into dressage. “My husband Wendell and I went to a horse show in Madison Square Garden and saw Reiner Klimke in the freestyle. That was when I realized this is what I want to do. I bought an Arabian gelding and rode him until Prix St. Georg when Charles de Kunffey told me I had to get a Warmblood if I wanted to take the next step.” This turned out to be her first Hanoverian. A gelding by Amazonas.
Success is Not an Accident
…even if Maryanna’s career as a breeder started pretty much like one: “I started breeding just the way I would tell anyone today to not do it. I bought my first breeding mare because I was able to get her cheap because she was injured. The plan was to breed to her and sell the foal to afford that riding horse. I had that foal until it turned 21. I kept breeding with this injured mare, which really brought me on the way. During the first years, my breeding decisions were very much based on who won at Devon and who had the prettiest announcement in the Chronicle… During that time I learned many lessons. I significantly started improving my skills as a breeder when I went to Hilltop Farm where I was introduced to Susan Hassler, from whom I received valuable advice and guidance.
The turning point in my career as a breeder was my first Hanoverian Breed Orientation Course. I got a whole new perspective; from then on my husband and I started studying pedigrees and confirmation. This course was life changing, we took it several times already and will take it several more. We learn different things every time. The course teaches us to use our eyes and it was the deciding point to go to Europe every year. Each summer we go to see the mare performance test, the foal and broodmare shows, the World Championships of the Young Dressage Horses, and the Grand Prix. This way we cover the whole range and improve our knowledge and judgment of what it takes to make a Grand Prix Horse.
On the comment that she has reached that goal already, Maryanna replied “I can get better. If you are satisfied, you should quit. Breeding is about improving the horses. With every generation they should get better. If you are satisfied with what you have, you need to stop.” After a short break she added: “I am proud of my horses, but I am not yet satisfied. I reached my milestones of winning at Devon, of having a stallion accepted for the licensing in Germany, of having bred a successful Grand Prix Horse, but I know I can still get better.”
Nutrition is Key
Visiting Maryanna’s youngsters outside I noticed that all of them where extremely well behaved, from foal to two year old stallion. “It is not only the right pairing, to have a horse you can ride to Grand Prix, they need to be healthy. To raise a healthy foal, nutrition is key. I need to know what is in my grass, what nutrients come out of the soil, what I need to add on supplements, need to make sure they really get what they need. We live in a good region; the horses can stay outside day and night almost all year round. They all have shelters that they never use,” she laughs. “But if needed we take them inside to feed them twice a day. That really depends on the horse. I work with a nutritionist to find the right balance, but I also educate myself. I go to seminars from feeding companies and then I do my own research. We owe it to the horses to stay on top of things. Science is advancing; we need to make use of that.”
The Triangle of Breeding
“What I was told and think is very true, is that there is a triangle of success: 1. Genetics: the breeder picking the right parents. 2. Nutrition: Conception to adulthood. 3. Management: Farrier, vet, saddle fit and training. If one is missing, the other two will not be able to rise as well. Genetics set the basis for everything, they need to enable the horse with quality of gaits, interior and correct composition. Nutrition and management have to build on that. Those two continuously change. The needs of a foal are different to the needs of a three-year-old to the needs of a Grand Prix Horse.”
The Haymon’s chose to live in the Tryon area because the hills of the Carolinas are good for the horses to grow up on. Still, when necessary, Maryanna will load her horses and drive them to the aqua training. “That keeps them busy, it gives them a task, especially the stallions. They come home tired, but they love to go. And it is good for them. They develop muscles without putting too much pressure on the joints.” On the question if she does it with all her horses, she had to smile a little: “No, you never do anything with all horses. You have to assess every one of them separately to provide them what they need. Nutrition, exercise, farrier,… every horse gets it all, but what exactly, how much and how frequently depends on the horse.
The Story of the Happy Horse
Doctor Wendell is the prime example of Maryanna and Wendell’s breeding. Doctor Wendell was an embryo transfer. The surrogate mother did not accept him, so he had to be bottle fed. He was not very hungry and did not touch his supplements. “But he was always happy. And he still is.” His current rider Jim Koford who already rode the now 8-year-old to a third rank for the National Developing Horse Grand Prix entitles him as the playboy. This horse has some character. He is the kind of horse who will tear things of the wall and drop them when you look, pretending it wasn’t him. You can see the glow in Maryanna’s eyes when she is telling these stories about her horses. “Doc always had this presence as a stallion. When he was three we brought him to Hilltop Farms where Michael Bragdell started him. He needed more exposure, so Chris Hickey took over and showed the stallion in Florida. Having been in Florida for only one month as a five year old, Ingrid Klimke showed him during a seminar and even jumped him, that is how easy and mature he was.” Turning back to Hilltop, Michael and Chris wrote a Pas de Deux with Doctor Wendell and Don Principe, Maryanna and Wendell’s other stallion.
When Chris quit Hilltop, Jim Koford took over and developed the stallion to Grand Prix. This continuous success is not blinding Maryanna: “He is a bit small and a bit short, but he produces better then himself which is important for a breeding stallion. He produced the reserve grand champion at Devon last year, his first descendants are started under saddle and show good ride-ability.” This dedication, the being critical about the own horses, the horsemanship, and the grit – that is what I found on this visit truly makes a good breeder.