Years of hard work have paid off for the young handler with wins at Devon and beyond.
Emily Belin doesn’t exactly look the part of a typical hunter breeding handler. She’s female, for starters, in a world dominated by gentlemen. And she’s 26 years old, in a ring where there’s seemingly no upper limit on age. With her blonde hair, rhinestone belts and the occasional pink blouse, this unlikely candidate has found achievement in her chosen venue.
Belin’s two-year winning streak began in 2008. At the Devon Horse Show (Pa.), client Amy Trout’s Middleway’s Handsome Devil (JLA Sir William—Hailey’s Comet) claimed the tricolor for best Pennsylvania-bred pony and won the 3-year-old hunter pony colt class and the produce of dam class. Farmore Crown Jewel and Farmore American Idol brought home the blue ribbon in the get of sire class for Telynau Royal Charter.
Belin, Douglasville, Pa., concluded 2008 with her first USEF National Championship when Fox With Three Sox, a Thoroughbred gelding owned by Marcia Heylin, was the 3-year-old hunter breeding champion.
And 2009 proved even better. Jessica Hughes’ Belgian Warmblood Harper’s Baczar (Balta’ Czar JSF—Spry Sprite) won the reserve best Pennsylvania-bred horse title at Devon and topped the 2-year-old Pennsylvania-bred filly class and was second in the 2-year-old non-Thoroughbred filly class. None of Belin’s entries finished out of the top five in well-attended classes that day.
“We came off a really good showing on pony breeding day at Devon, and I was excited because I knew we had a great group of horses showing as well as ponies,” Belin said. “In the past, I’ve always seemed to have more ponies, but I’m branching out a little bit. I’m having a great time showing the horses as well.”
At last year’s Upperville Colt & Horse Show (Va.), Virginia Bank’s Justamere’s Prom Queen (Telynau Royal Charter—Fraulein Caprice) won the yearling pony filly class. And in the Sallie B. Wheeler/ USEF National Hunter Breeding Cham-pionships East Coast Phase, held at the Warrenton Horse Show (Va.), Harper’s Baczar won the 2-year-old filly class.
“The past two years we’ve been getting on a roll, and it keeps on rolling,” Belin said. “I can’t complain!”
Despite her wins, Belin said it hasn’t been easy breaking into the sport of hunter breeding, often dominated by an unchanging cast of familiar characters.
“It’s been interesting,” Belin said. “Some people have been pretty supportive, and others haven’t been so supportive. It’s kind of tough because you’re playing in an established group of professionals that have their own things going on. It’s a hard thing to break into, but I just do what I do and let my animals and results speak for themselves.”
With some good-natured ribbing, much of the so-called “old guard” has accepted Belin into their ranks.
Veteran handler Raymond Francis agreed Belin has done an excellent job of fitting into a largely male-dominated world. He’s also appreciative of her youth given that so few young trainers choose hunter breeding as a profession.
“It’s pretty tough—some of these babies can get a little rough—but I think she’s one of the up-and-coming handlers we’re going to have, which is what we need because most of us are getting on in the years,” said Francis with a smile.
“I’m having a good time playing in the boys’ club,” Belin said. “Especially at the bigger shows, I’m usually one of very few females showing. The guys kind of razz me sometimes. I like wearing a pretty top, which usually is some shade of pink, and I’m always wearing a blingy belt with rhinestones. One of the guys asked me at Upperville what time we were all going for the cocktail party!”
On a more serious note, Belin believes the judging in the hunter breeding ring is fair and said her case helps proves that. She’s a young, relatively unknown female, and she holds her own horses at the biggest shows, proving it’s the quality and turnout of the horse that counts, not the big name standing next to it.
“I’m tired of people complaining [about the judging],” she said. “Maybe it’s a little political, but I’m finding success. I don’t care who’s standing there. If you don’t do a good job, you aren’t getting a ribbon.”
An Untraditional Start
Early in her equestrian life, Belin took the road less traveled and chose to specialize in showing young horses on the line, not riding.
“It’s important for young horses to have a good foundation and get used to the show ring,” she said. “So many of my peers have chosen to do the performance horses and don’t want to deal with the babies, which is really disappointing to me.”
The daughter of non-horsey parents, Belin hails from rural Montgomery County, Pa. When she was 9, she began riding at a local stable that doubled as a breaking and training farm for young Thoroughbred race horses. She helped with the young horses in addition to riding the show horses. This experience provided a unique education for Belin and helped her discover her passion.
Later, Belin showed locally on leased mounts in the children’s pony and hunter divisions, competed the barn’s sale horses and sometimes picked up catch rides. Her early exposure to young-horse training stuck with her, however.
“I’ve always loved working with young horses,” she said. “Watching them learn and progress is so rewarding. I always enjoyed helping handle them and found I had the patience for the work.”
The decision to turn professional was an easy one for Belin. She completed a few semesters at Ursinus College (Pa.) at her parents’ urging, but her heart stayed in the stable.
“My parents were reluctant at first,” she said, “and they wanted me to finish college. But they do understand and have always been very supportive.”
Belin obtained a home for her fledgling business in 2003 when she and her fiancé, Marcus Sadler, purchased 30 acres in Berks County, Pa., and christened it Magic Hill Farm.
The idyllic setting had its drawbacks, however. The buildings on the former crop farm were in desperate need of repair, and the historic bank barn was far from ready for horses. Restoration costs were substantial. Fortunately, Sadler is a general contractor, and thanks to the efforts of Marcus Sadler Construction, Magic Hill Farm has gradually morphed into a beautiful and functional training and boarding facility complete with a brand new indoor arena. There are customarily around 20 horses and ponies in residence, most under the age of 4.
“It’s pony pre-school here,” Belin said with a laugh. “It’s like running a nursery school for little children, only they have four legs and a tail.”
Most Magic Hill Farm clients are long-time horse people who have chosen to venture into sport horse breeding. Because their interests focus more on showing young horses than riding, most of their animals are investments.
Once the horses and ponies turn 3 or 4, they’re usually sold to begin new lives as show horses or in the breeding shed.
Since she doesn’t produce her own animals, Belin spends a lot of time horse shopping.
“My favorite thing is to search for that fancy youngster for a client to purchase and then develop it to their goals, whether that be as an investment horse or their own future performance horse,” said Belin.
Belin rides three to five horses a day and spends hours working with the young horses on the ground to prepare them for showing—longeing, clipping, loading and bathing. Working students, Cathy Kline, Maura Matthews and Chelsea Schott, and Sadler do their part to help spread the workload—Sadler drives the farm’s rig to shows and will occasionally hold a horse in a class if Belin needs an extra set of hands. Belin also employs working students who help her ride and groom.
Barbara Ann Miller, the widow of handler Ralph Miller, Pottstown, Pa., kept a pony, Ambleside Briar Rose (GlanNant Scarab—My Kinda Diamond), at Belin’s for three years while showing her on the line herself. She attested to Belin’s excellent work ethic and ability to handle young horses.
“She’s very capable, very knowledgeable and very dedicated to her profession and the animals,” Miller said. “Those animals are her children. She’s hands-on, and she doesn’t deal out all of the work to somebody else. Each one of those little ones gets their education first-hand.”
Drum Roll Please
One of those little ones is a handsome 2008 Oldenburg gelding named Drum Roll Please, owned by long-time client Amy Louise Trout. “Rolley” earned championships or best young horse titles almost every time out as a yearling in 2009 and placed third in the USEF national standings.
Belin accidentally stumbled upon what is now one of her favorite horses.
“Amy and I went to Meg Sherman’s Equi-Star Farm looking for a pony foal,” Belin said. “While we were there, Meg asked me to take a look at her warmblood foal she had for sale. She told me his breeding, and all I could think of while we were walking across her farm to see the colt was ‘black tack’ and ‘dressage horse.’ I kind of had it in my mind that I wasn’t going to like him.
“Then he came trotting up from across this big field with his big lofty trot, and I went, ‘Oh my God.’ I looked at Amy, and she looked at me with the same expression, and we knew we had to have him,” she recalled.
Though Belin often favors warmblood-Thoroughbred crosses over full warmbloods, she found Rolley (De Laurentis—Feiner Dance) an exception due to his natural lightness and balance.
“Every show we’ve gone to with Rolley since we bought him, we have people coming up and inquiring about him,” she said. “The funny thing is that no one believes me when I say he’s full warmblood. He’s a beautiful horse with a great temperament, and I’ve been very selective of where I’ve shown him, mostly saving him for the big shows.”
Francis, Bedminster, Pa., had more kind words to say about Belin’s program and Drum Roll Please, in particular.
“That horse [Rolley] is really exceptional,” Francis said. “I think she’ll do well in this line of the horse business. She turns her horses out well and shows them well. I know she runs a tight ship.”
Belin is always looking ahead and improving Magic Hill Farm. The new indoor arena went up this winter, allowing her to take more horses in training during the colder months. She hopes to continue expanding her program, accepting more horses and clients.
“I greatly pride myself on the turn-out and care of the horses,” she said. “I’m very picky with how they reflect
on us. I really love making the owners happy, showing the horses to the best of their breeding. This is just what I love doing.”