Marydell Farm - A Tale of Fate, Love and Horses – American Style

Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Posted by Mary Phelps with Brandon Seger



In 1987, Maryanna Haymon witnessed Reiner Klimke riding an exhibition freestyle aboard Ahlerich at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden (N.Y.). “Every footfall fell on every beat of the music. ” She knew then how she wanted to spend her time with horses.

Photo: ©Sharon Packer

She and her husband Dr. Wendell Haymon began their breeding program in 1991 with her first broodmare, to support her passion for riding. As fate, and injuries (from skiing, not horses) would have it, they grew their program to become one of America’s leading breeders of Dressage horses. Maryanna  and Wendell Haymon have always championed for the American breeder since entering the world of breeding dressage horses in 1997.

Don Principe with Jim Koford
Don Principe with Jim Koford ©Sharon Packer

Then in July 2020, Maryanna lost her beloved husband, best friend and partner, Wendell.  Almost to the day, a year later their top breeding stallion Don Principe passed away.

With three horses bred by Marydell Farm entered in the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Championships in August 2021, Haymon pulled herself together and made her first venture off the farm in North Carolina in two years. All three entries grew their successful careers evolving through the the US Program.

Serenade MF (Sir Donnerhall I/ EM Duet MF) owned and ridden by Alice Tarjan won the Developing Grand Prix as an 8 yr old and went on to be short listed and then selected as reserve US Team Member for the 2022 FEI World Championships for Dressage, Herning, Denmark. Their impressive performance in the Nations Cup in Rotterdam, helped the US Team earn a Silver Medal. Haymon knew in spite of the challenges she faced she had to be there to see the dream she shared with her husband come true.

Brandon Seger recently visited with Maryanna asking her to share her experience and feelings on her fateful journey.

Tell us a little about your recent trip to Nations Cup and what you were feeling as the events unfolded.

Alice Tarjan and Serenade MF
Alice Tarjan and Serenade MF ©Mary Phelps

I made the decision to travel to Rotterdam to cheer on Serenade MF and Alice Tarjan only a couple of weeks before the event. It was a challenge, but this was a goal of Wendell and I that a horse we bred would one day represent the United States on a USA team in International Competition in Europe. I wanted to be there in person to witness a special and very unusual occurrence- the first American Bred other than Keen, to be on a Nations Cup Team and the youngest at 9 years old.

Special Treatment

The pride and joy I felt just visiting the team and Serenade in the barns the day before the competition is beyond my ability to express. To see, touch, and observe the care and concentration for Serenade MF was of the highest professional level. Serenade was laid back, and unconcerned about the activities and tension of the humans around her. The kindness of the entire team to me as a non-competitor, but as a breeder was greatly appreciated. George Williams and Laura Roberts of USEF provided me credentials to be allowed in the barns was more than I expected but made the journey so memorable.

International 5* Pressure

As I stood with the team in the area reserved for team members during that nation's team member's ride, the tension on Grand Prix day was palpable. It was Serenade's first show in Europe, her first 5* and Alice's only second time to compete in a European CDI (with a different horse last fall). The pressure on Alice to perform well was something I could see and feel myself. It is such an honor to represent your country and as a competitor, you do not want to let your team members down.

Are There More Like Her at Home?

Duet MF
Duet MF ©Sharon Packer

I was asked if I was nervous by George Williams and I replied "as nervous as I have ever been". I told him all I wanted for Alice and Serenade MF to have a safe, error free test. Boy, did they deliver! I was in awe. The improvement in Serenade from the last time I saw her in March was tremendous. On Friday, watching the calmness and focus that the pair had during a complete chaotic training day where there were 12 horses in the small indoor was amazing. It drew the attention of other trainers. I was asked more than once if I had more like her at home.

The Special was going to be very important as it would determine team placings. I actually videoed the ride and have played it so many times and get more and more happy each time. The ride was error free and very smooth and expressive. I can only speculate how much better this pair will be in the future. At the end of the ride, I saw the first genuine smile on Alice's face since the show started.

The day of the Special, the USA and Dutch teams were tied for 1st place. I think we all knew that all three places were up for grabs, The Swedish team members improved drastically and the Dutch delivered outstanding rides. When it was over, the USA and Sweden were tied for second place. Tie was broken by the GP scores and USA went to 2nd due to our teams better GP scores. That included Serenade's seventh place.

What does it mean to you for US breeders to have this kind of international success?

Americans can breed Internationally competitive horses. The judges and the other trainers in Europe respected and noticed the talent of Serenade MF and Alice Tarjan. As a first time competitor in Europe, usually a horse/rider need to "pay their dues". That means multiple competitions and many rides to  get the attention and the scores they deserve, from the International judging pool. What Alice has done with Serenade MF- Alice rides as an Adult Amateur, highlights the fact that top horses are being bred in the USA.

Breeders can take encouragement from the results at Rotterdam to breed the best horse to meet their goals; that a horse with great work ethic can be talented as well.

Please tell us a little about your history with the Markel/USEF Young Horse program.

Both Alice and I have participated in the Markel Young Horse program for over a decade each. Alice has been bringing multiple horses to Lamplight since the competition began there. Serenade MF was the Markel 4 year old National champion, Competed in the 5 year old and won the 2021 Developing Grand Prix. Don Principe started competing as a 6 year old in 2005 when the program was held at the Kentucky Horse Park. 

I have had many of my offspring and grand-offspring participate at Lamplight and many others who qualified but did not attend.  Some are horses I owned and some were owned by other people.

Serenade MF was developed and trained by Alice her entire career as Alice bought her as a weanling. Sonata MF won the Markel 6 year old Championship last year. Doctor Wendell MF also competed in the Markel program, sold in Europe, and is now competing in Europe and doing very well. I point this out as breeders tend to sell their horses at a younger age and she is owned by Performance Sporthorses. Some owners and breeders do not make the decision to enter the Markel Young Horse program.

This program is not for every horse. Some horses are destined to be young horse stars and others do not shine until the advanced level. It is up to the owner/trainer to determine if they have a high quality youngster that can withstand the stress of this work. There are many breeders who go unnoticed due to the lack of connections to trainers and riders to develop their quality horses.

What is next for you?

I am downsizing due to my age, lack of qualified assistance and financial concerns. I am now enjoying watching the success of the offspring that Wendell and I have bred. I am still a strong supporter of the "Born in the USA" programs that Wendell and I helped to initiate. We have provided cash prizes with 80% to the owner and 20% to the breeder.  There will now be a perpetual trophy at the American Hanoverian Society for the Stallion conceived and born in the USA that competes at Grand Prix. A close friend has provided the funds for a bronze of a stallion performing a piaffe. I will be providing an embroidered cooler for the owner to keep.

I strongly believe there are many top quality horses that are American bred that will not begin to develop to their ability because there is such a prejudice against them by the buyers. There is a good deal of pride by buyers in saying their horse is an import. I wish more people would look at USA bred horses with an open eye.

How Wendel Haymon Got on Board

Wendel was a budgerigar (budgie, parakeet) breeder for most of his life, he started at 13 years old to make pocket money. There is a show world for the birds and Wendell was a participant. Only the breeder is allowed to show, as the birds are banded at 3 days old before their legs are too large.

Wendell spent many years trying to get the Champion title and when he was on the cusp, he thought he needed a better pair to elevate his quality. The best breeding birds were located in England. So off to England we went to purchase a couple of breeding pairs. We brought home four birds and put them in the general aviary. The next day, you could not tell which were the imports which proves you need to evaluate the horse for itself and not assume imports are better. Wendell became a huge supporter of American breeds from that point onward.

Dr. Wendell MF Joins Don Principe in the International Stallion Rankings

I named our best horse up to that point, that we bred in 2008, after Wendell--Dr. Wendell MF (Wendell was a PhD). "Doc" was purchased as an 8 year old in Europe by another Adult Amateur who was just starting to ride Grand Prix. Maria Klementyeva had the highest goals. Through her ownership and riding, Doctor Wendell MF became the highest ranked American bred on the FN list, in 2020 and 2021. Due to his success, as of this week, Don Principe is ranked #97 of the top dressage sires in the world.

The  Three Marydell Farm Horses Bred in the 2021 Championships

Dionysus MF (Doctor Wendell MF [Don Principe] who competed at Lamplight with both Chris Hickey and Jim Koford)

6 yr old stallion ridden by Angela Jackson placed 8th overall

Sonata MF (Sir Donnerhall I/ EM Duet MF [Don Principe] Duet also competed at Lamplight with Brendan Curtis)

Perpetual trophy

6 yr old mare owned by Next Level Performance won the 6 yr olds and is ranked #2 this yr for the 7 yr olds

Serenade MF (Sir Donnerhall I/ EM Duet MF) owned and ridden by Alice Tarjan won the Developing Grand Prix as an 8 yr old. She was also the 4 yr old Champion in 2017 the year Wendell was diagnosed. Sue has a very good photo of the awards from that year with Wendell in it.

Serenade MF and Sonata MF are full sisters.

Born In the USA Lives On

Wendell and I started the "Born in the USA" program in the Southeast in 1997 and the concept was picked up by several Dressage at Devon breeders and the program has been running since the early 2000s at DaD and other shows.

A new memorial trophy in Wendell's honor that was donated by Don And Dee Kapper in his name. It is for the Born and Conceived in the USA Hanoverian stallion that reaches Grand Prix dressage. The bronze is by the artist Tammy Tappan.

The statue is etched with the name Don Principe and is a way that Wendell will be supporting "Born in the USA" horses for a long time to come.