Family Ties: An Interview with Polly Howard

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Posted by Phelps Media Group

Everyone in the equestrian community has heard of Fox Meadow Farm and the Howard Family. These legendary horsemen have made numerous contributions to the horse show community, from helping found John Madden Sales to opening The Custom Fox Tack Store. Their legacy begins in the early 1900's, when Polly Howard's grandfather, Charlie Howard, began Howard Stables. Recently, Devon Grand Prix winner and Fox Meadow Farm head trainer Polly Howard took time to discuss her family's history, their many successes, and their plans for the future.
RW: Can you tell me about the roots of Fox Meadow Farm and how your grandfather got started in the business?

PH: He was a Calvary man and he ran the Calvary in our area at two or three different locations. He had fifty horses that he took care of for the Calvary. He did that, and then he purchased his own horse business later on. His farm was Howard Stables where he had over 100 horses, most of them were boarders but he also had a very large lesson program.

That continued on until he passed away, and then my father, John Howard, and my mother Judy built their own business next door to the old Howard Stables when it was sold. We grew up at my grandfather's farm until I was 15, and then we built our own place. We've all helped build the business at Fox Meadow Farm, which is what it is today.

RW: What lessons did your grandfather pass on to your father, and then eventually on to you?

PH: I would have to say that they were all very hard workers, and they were all very dedicated to the animals. Which in turn, makes it work very well for anyone else involved because that is the main thing of what we all do. It was full-time, all the time for them, both my father and grandfather lived on the farm and they handled anything and everything that came up. It's very similar to what we do today with our family business.

RW: How has Fox Meadow grown into the successful show barn that it is today?

PH: I think a good basis of hard work probably started it all, and then over the years getting to train and ride with many different people throughout the business has helped put all the pieces together to make into what it is today.

RW: Who have you gotten to ride with over the years?

PH: I've ridden with Larry Glefke, Bucky Reynolds, and Lisa Burke. John Madden and I started John Madden Sales together, and I did that for about eight years. I still coached the riders at Fox Meadow that came to the shows when I worked for John Madden Sales. That gradually built up to the higher level that we are at now. All the different opportunities that we've had along the way have worked into a very successful situation.

RW: What was it like growing up on the farm and what are some of your fondest memories?

PH: I remember when we were kids and were growing up on my grandfather's farm, the seven grandchildren would get up early every morning and we would go help my grandfather feed all 100 horses. He was very hands-on, quite a bit different then the way things are done now. Anyway, he would give a silver dollar to any of the grandchildren that got up and helped with feeding.

I remember being able to spend countless hours at the barn. Each grandchild had a pony because we owned three small ponies, three medium ponies, and a large pony. We rode them all, but there were enough ponies that if all the grandchildren wanted to ride at once we could. We would ride our ponies in the morning and we would ride them all over, through the woods and to the store. In the summer and on the weekends we wouldn't come back until it was too dark to ride anymore.

RW: What have been some of your biggest accomplishments over your career?

PH: I would have to say a couple of the ribbons that I earned during the equitation finals as a junior because they were usually on horses that were not my own. I had a nice junior hunter that was champion at a couple of the Indoor shows and that was fun. As I got older and moved on we had a couple of nice hunters that were competitive at the 'A'-Level. My family had a very nice horse named Keenelend that won quite a lot and did very well at Indoors with both my sister Beth and me.

As a trainer the bigger wins would be the national champions that we've had throughout the years. My niece Laura (left) has been very successful, she was third at the $100,000 USHJA Hunter Derby Finals last year and she's still a junior. She's done very well at Indoors and she has some very nice junior jumpers that have been national champion and winners throughout at the top level of showing. My nephew Henry competes in the jumper divisions and does the grand prix. He's in college at the moment but he still rides and participates in the family business.

RW: When did you know you wanted to take over the training aspect at Fox Meadow?

PH: We kind of went off and did different things within the horse industry once we were out of high school, but we've all come back to the business at home. I don't know that there was any one moment; I think we've always known that we love the animals and we love doing this.

RW: What is it like being able to work with your sister Meg Howard everyday?

She does the hunters professional and I'll do mostly the jumpers to split it up. On a whole it's great, but you can imagine that if you're working with your family 24/7 that we have our moments. Mostly I don't think I would change a thing with it.

RW: What's it like watching your niece Laura and nephew Henry Pfeiffer's success throughout the years and knowing you're such a big part of it?

PH: I think it's very rewarding. They both work very hard at it, and in that sense it makes it even more enjoyable that it pays off for them. I think the riders that are the most successful are the ones that work very hard at it. It's very rewarding to get your riders to that level and have them be competitive.

RW: What are the competition plans for Fox Meadow in 2010?

PH: I think we have our basic plan set up, the equitation finals are the main goal this year. The kids and the adults that ride with us all make their goals, and we stick to a nice showing schedule in order to get everyone qualified for where they would like to go. It's going to vary a little bit this year since there will not be any Kentucky summer shows. We don't quite have that part worked out yet, but we're trying to decide what we're going to do.

RW: What are the future plans for Fox Meadow and how do you see it growing and changing?

PH: I think it's going to continue on through Henry and Laura. They are both going to college, but I think they still want to ride and I think once they get through college we will see if they want to stay amateurs or become professionals.

RW: Thank you so much for your time and good luck this year.

Judy Howard and Betty Oare took some time to talk about about Dr. Fritz Howard, who was Polly's Great Uncle. Dr. Howard was a veterinarian in Virginia that was very involved with surrounding equestrian community. Here is what they had to say:

Judy Howard:
Dr. Howard would have been my husband's uncle. He was a great football player here in Toledo and then down at Ohio State. Veterinarian. He was a great big huge fellow. They had a huge farm down in Virgina, Merryweather Farm, and he married Polly Calvert.

Betty Oare:
Dr. Howard was quite a guy. He looked like a football player while I knew him. He was a very well respected veterinarian in the Warrenton/Middleburg area. He considered Warrenton his hometown and he had a lovely farm there called Meadowville. He treated show horses and racehorses. He was also very involved with the Warrenton Horse Show. He was president of the show for many years. His whole family has been involved with the Warrenton Horse Show. Helen Wiley, his stepdaughter, is the current president of the Warrenton Horse Show and she is carrying on the tradition. He was a character, a great guy, did a lot of things. He stood some good horses and bred some good racehorses at his farm. He had one of the first big veterinarian practices. Great personality, he could play the part of the football player, the part of the horseman, whatever you needed him to be. He was well respected. He was a major part of the equestrian community in Warrenton as a veterinarian, and he also bred and raced some nice horses.