Written by: Jan Hoadley
The top five horse farms in America are an elite group. When considering the big picture these farms can encompass all breeds. Their contribution to the horse industry as a whole as well as their section of it stands out.
There are many farms blessed with a couple good stallions, and then there are those that get one that changes everything. They are legends, they are driving forces in their breed. Some embrace the past, present and future. All have made an impact.
5. UVM Horse Farm is long known for top Morgans. The Weybridge Vermont farm has for 150 years produced some of the best Morgans the breed has known. In 1907 Colonel Joseph Battell perhaps saved America’s first breed of horse from extinction by deeding his farm and the horses to the government, and over the years such legends of the breed as UVM Promise, UVM Flash, UVM Kathy and UVM Trophy emerged. Grand National stars such as UVM Christine, UVM Columbine and UVM Unity have lit up the show ring.
The farm is credited with raising horses to the 2nd largest agriculture industry in Vermont, with over $27million per year and 100,000 acres kept open because of the horses. In 1951 the US government gave the farm to the University of Vermont, where it is a designated national historic site. While it’s true that the Morgan is not as popular in numbers, this historic farm is a vital part of the breed. The UVM Equestrian team has excelled at the national and regional level as well as an active Dressage team. The apprentice program teaches students proper riding and driving skills as well as foaling, breeding mares and handling the stallions.
4. Riverside ranch began on a humble dairy farm in Sultan Washington. Now with a main branch in Weatherford Texas owners Stephen and Cindy Stephens have opened a Leitchfield, Kentucky location also. It was a different picture on that farm in western Washington. They found a nice horse and bought him re-mortgaging the farm to come up with his purchase price. The horse was foaled in Galva Illinois by Verlin Jackson in 1981. He was a decent enough horse, earning some recognition in the show world. But this was Quarter horses it takes more than a nice horse as there are many nice horses. When the Stephens took that step they could not have dreamed how this horse, found in Mississippi, would change their lives. His name was Dynamic Deluxe.
DD was a horse ahead of his time. As an 8 year old paired with an up-and-coming couple it made the perfect puzzle. DD became a legend pleasure competition sire. He had sired champions and yet was valued not just for what he did but for the incredible horse he was. DD was laid to rest at 21 after a long battle with laminitis.
Today DD grandsons carry the tradition. Riverside Ranch is the epitome of not being the biggest yet maintaining high quality. They are a USDA approved export collection center to provide semen for overseas shipment, bringing that top quality to an international market.
3. Sheldak Ranch means Appaloosa legends such as King David, Mighty Tim and Mighty Bright. To have one great horse is a dream. To a list warrants all breed recognition. Mighty Tim alone has a resume that speaks for itself.
These are horses that excel not just in one event but from halter to roping to steer daubing to pleasure. To have a beautiful, colorful, tractable horse home produced by generations of breeding is something worthy of all-breed credentials. Outstanding horses have been sold throughout the USA as well as Canada, Mexico and as far as Spain. With decades of outstanding horses they warrant being in a list of the top farms America has to offer.
2. Calumet Farm is history. It is a name recognized around the world for great Thoroughbreds such as Whirlaway, Citation and Alydar. It is a name marked with tragedy and sadness, following the controversial death of Alydar and the demise and sale of what once was a thriving operation. It is forgotten that the farm influenced more than just Thoroughbreds. A Standardbred gelding Peter Manning in 1922 he set a mile record trotting in 1:56-3/4. It was this Standardbred gelding that brought William M. Wright to purchase the farm. In the early days of Calumet it was Standardbred trotters that ruled. Mr. Wright passed away in 1931 and the farm passed to Warren Wright, the same year Calumet Butler won the Hambletonian Stakes. It would be two years before Hadagal became Calumet’s first Thoroughbred stakes winner and Nellie Flag became their first champion. In 1936 Blenheim II and Bull Lea came to the farm and the 1940s ushered in the glory days for Calumet. Whirlaway and Citation became Triple Crown winners. Twilight Tear, Coaltown, Barbizon and Real Delight were named champions. In 1950 Mr. Wright passed away, and Mrs. Wright took over the farm. In 1964 Bull Lea and in 1968 Forward Pass became Calumet’s eighth Kentucky Derby winner. Calumet’s involvement in Thoroughbreds was secure as was the farm. In the late 1970s came arguably the most famous reserve Triple Crown winner in history, when Alydar pushed Affirmed to become the last winner at this writing. In 1982 Mrs. Markey died and ownership passed to JT Lundy, son-in-law of the Wright’s only child. In 1990 Alydar was America’s leading sire when he died. That year Criminal Type was named Horse of the Year. The unraveling of Calumet is documented in the book “A Wild Ride” and the remaining horses were sold. In 1992 Henryk de Kwiatkowski, owner of Danzig, bought the farm at auction and restored it to what it could be. When he died in 2003 the farm passed to family members and trustees.
The farm is currently on 800 historic acres with reputation world wide for their record of Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winners.
1. Claiborne Farm certainly shares a long history in Kentucky at the top. For horse people and especially Thoroughbred fans this is hallowed ground. A bay stallion foaled in 1909 named Wrack was purchased by the Hancock family and by 1923 he was the leading US sire, a feat he repeated in 1930 and 1931. It was 1920 when the farm welcomed Sir Gallahad, who won G1 races in France whose son Gallant Fox won the Triple Crown.
In 1947 Claiborne’s homebred Jet Pilot won the Kentucky Derby and in 1950 Hill Prince was Horse of the Year. The farm had purchased a little Irish horse named Princequillo born in Ireland due to his dam being moved to safety in WWII. Princequillo sired Horse of the Year Hill Prince. In 1951 *Nasrullah, English 2 year old champion, was brought to the US to stand. In 1954 his son Nashua was named champion 2 year old. In 1955 *Nasrullah began a run at the leading sire list that he himself held for 5 years and Claiborne held for 15. Times were good. Bold Ruler and Round Table returned to Claiborne for stud duty, marred by the loss in 1959 of *Nasrullah. By 1963 Bold Ruler led the sire list for the first time where he would stay for 7 consecutive years. In 1967 Claiborne-foaled Buckpasser returned home for stud duty after winning Horse of the Year the year before.
By 1970 the outstanding horse Nijinsky came home to Claiborne. In 1971 Bold Ruler died and the following year Round Table topped the leading sire list. In 1973 Secretariat was syndicated for a record $6million before winning the Triple Crown. Wajima sold for a yearling record $600,000 at Keeneland which would be topped in 1978 by Nureyev selling for $1.3million.
In 1981 Danzig entered stud at Claiborne. Champions Swale, Forty Niner, Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Lure are Claiborne horses.
Claiborne homebred Lure won the Breeders Cup Mile twice on his way to a dominant run at racing history but unfortunately fertility issues kept him from sire records. In 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled joined the stallion roster. In 2002 Monarchos became the 14th Kentucky Derby winner to stand at Claiborne. In 1996 Smuggler won the Eclipse Award for 2005 champion 3 year old filly the 63rd champion in major racing to be foaled at the farm since 1954.
Today the stallion roster holds names like During, Horse Greeley, Political Force, Pulpit, Easing Along, Seeking The Gold and War Front – many with ancestors who also lived or were produced at the farm. For the long reign at the top of the heap not just in America but in the world, Claiborne has earned a place at the top.