The impact of Harmony Sporthorses on dressage in the United States just continues to grow.
Sometimes the most important names in dressage are the ones you don’t hear at all. Leslie Malone isn’t a household name, but she just might be one of the best things to happen to dressage in the United States.
She started Harmony Sporthorses in Kiowa, Colo., as a recreational breeding operation, but it’s grown under Malone’s careful guidance into a multi-faceted international corporation. She and her husband, John C. Malone, now own more than 40 horses, including multiple premier breeding stallions and a horse headed to the Olympic Games.
“Ultimately, I would love to see the United States get the gold medal in the Olympics in dressage,” said Malone.
And she’s doing everything in her power to progress toward that goal, including breeding the right type of horses, training people to ride them and supporting talented riders who need that extra financial push.
Malone had no idea how her business would grow when she started Harmony Holsteiners more than 10 years ago.
“My kids grew up, the bird died, our dogs passed away, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ ” said Malone.
She loved horses as a child and rode for a few years in her 30s, so when the opportunity arose, Malone returned to horses.
“I decided to buy a baby horse and think about breeding,” she recalled. “I started getting to know various people in the area by looking at baby horses to buy, and it just grew. I ended up with 17 horses at my house and a three-stall barn. I thought, ‘Well this doesn’t work. I’ll have to get a facility.’ ”
As the horses increased, Malone realized she needed capable people to break and train them. “They’re like rabbits,” she said. “The level here wasn’t up to what it could be, so I thought, ‘That’s something I could contribute to.’ I could help people here with clinicians and raise the bar a little bit.”
One thing led to another, and before long Malone offered a horse to Leslie Webb, a dressage trainer from California who conducted frequent clinics in Colorado.
“I had purchased a riding horse named Cassiano for myself, and he was too much horse for me,” said Malone.
|A New Career
During the earlier part of Leslie Malone’s life, she held a full-time job as a mother to her two children and wife to her husband, John C. Malone, chairman of the Liberty Media Corporation.
But when her children moved out, Malone took the opportunity to start her horse business, and she hasn’t regretted that challenge once.
“It was just a hair-brained idea I had,” said Malone. “I find life much more exciting than I did way back when. Starting the business was a really good final step for [the children’s] growth and how they are connected to their mother and father. My husband is a tall oak to grow up under. It created more balance for me to have some endeavor that did well.”
And even as Harmony Sporthorses grows, Malone finds time to work on other projects.
“We have 100,000 acres in Denver proper,” she said. “I’ve restored a lot of folk houses. I try to keep the old barns restored so that we have some of our heritage left. I’ve restored 35 to 40 houses. We rent them to employees and keep the cow operation. I also run a construction crew. We have a restaurant in Elizabeth, and I’ve redone that building.”
Malone is also lending her talents to designing the barn at Riveredge, the property Hassler Dressage calls home in Chesapeake City, Md.
“She has an incredible eye for how things will look, individual style and feel,” said Scott Hassler. “My role is layout, how things function, safety. It’s going to be an amazing barn. It’s been fun working with an existing structure.”
Malone credited the horse business for giving her balance in her busy life.
“If I didn’t have some kind of rope to hang onto, I’d be a bag lady,” she said with a laugh. “It gives me the people contact, which is very important to me. I go to the barn every day when I’m here. I ride three horses a day when I can, normally five days a week. I keep supplying people with horses, and then the horses come back. I have a wonderfully trained group of horses that I can ride to further myself.”
“She didn’t want him to go to just anybody,” said Webb. “She didn’t want him to go to a manufacture place. I got along with him very well, and he was sent out to me. That year we won everything at second level. I took him all the way to Grand Prix and rode him at Grand Prix for four years.”
When Cassiano retired, Malone continued purchasing horses for Webb, including Harmony’s Favorit and Harmony’s Sandro.
Harmony Sporthorses soon added more riders to the lineup too.
After Cassiano was placed, Malone traveled to Maine to look at an upper level horse named Coolio. Malone talked with Jeannette and Warren Knight, who breed sport horses at Wolf Run Farm in Buxton, Maine. There, Malone met Susan Jaccoma, who trained for the Knights.
“They cried when I bought him,” said Malone. “They felt so bad about losing him. I knew I couldn’t ride him, so I decided to leave him with Sue.”
That’s just how Malone’s nature works. When she finds a talented and deserving rider, she wants to support that person, whether young or old. Her most recent addition to the Harmony Team is Olympic medalist Dorothy Morkis.
“The No. 1 quality I look for is how they feel about the horse—their sportsmanship, care for the horse and how the horse is treated under their tutelage,” said Malone. “Of course, I look at how well they do and how they compete too. They have to have the feel for the animal. We try and put our horses with people they’ll be happy with.”
Bringing In The Big Guns
As Malone’s business grew, she made the decision in 2000 to bring in expert consultants Susanne and Scott Hassler to ensure she stayed on track toward her goals.
“She wanted an overall evaluation of her entire farm,” said Scott. “She wanted me to come out, look at the horses and evaluate the mares. She wanted support finding the right combinations in the breeding program. She also wanted us to teach her in her riding.”
Susanne comes from Denver, and her mother, dressage judge Anita Owen, already knew Malone.
“Our first impression was overwhelmingly positive,” said Scott. “It’s a beautiful facility. They’re wonderful people, so genuine and passionate. They asked the right questions, and we felt extremely comfortable with them. At that time we were with [Hilltop Farm in Colora, Md.]. We offered to come out and help them, and they offered to support Hilltop Farm in their needs and activities and educational events. There was an immediate comfort zone on both our sides, and it just felt really right.”
The relationship between the Hasslers and the Malones blossomed. Scott said he helped Malone evaluate her breeding stock and expand from exclusively Holsteiners into the more international Harmony Sporthorses.
He also suggested Courtney King-Dye to Malone when she was looking for another talented rider to sponsor.
“I didn’t mention one rider to them for three years,” said Scott. “Courtney and I got to know each other, and we worked together with Wyoming. He was a 4-year-old, and I had a great feeling about Courtney. The more time we spent together, I thought to myself that she’s the one I’d like to recommend to them.”
At the time, Harmony’s Wyoming was for sale, and although King-Dye wanted to keep riding him, she had no means to buy him. The Malones offered to buy Wyoming for King-Dye with no strings attached.
“They gave him to me,” said King-Dye. “They didn’t want the responsibility of keeping the horse forever, because they had no relationship with me, but they wanted to help me. They continued to pay half of his expenses, and I pay the other half.”
King-Dye developed a relationship with the Malones only after they’d purchased Wyoming.
“They always stayed involved with Wyoming like they were owners,” said King-Dye. The Malones also supported her trips to California and to Europe as King-Dye’s career took off. And when King-Dye knew she needed to find a buyer for her Grand Prix horse Mythilus, who is headed to the Olympic selection trials in June, she didn’t think twice before calling the Malones.
“Leslie had talked about supporting my dreams and buying horses for me,” said King-Dye. “When Myth’s owner decided to sell him, she was one of the very few people that I spoke to about that. One of Leslie’s dreams is to have a Harmony horse go to the Olympics. Hopefully, there will be another one someday that she’s bred, or is American-bred. But they were really excited about being part of that and really supportive to help me in a situation where I needed that kind of support.”
“Courtney is a really sharp businesswoman and a wonderful rider,” said Malone. “It’s part of my nature to want to see people do well. I love to see the horses have a career. My husband watches out for the financial aspect. It’s fun to see people excited and doing well.”
A Shared Passion For Education
Another reason Malone sponsors individual riders is because she knows her support will move beyond the one rider.
“They all teach, and they all spread the word,” said Malone.
But Malone doesn’t have the resources to help more than a limited number of riders, so when Scott approached her about partnering with Hilltop Farm to create the first young horse dressage trainers symposium, she was eager to help.
“The incentive behind the first symposium was that we can breed all the horses in America that we want to, and to whatever quality we want to breed them, but they’ll only materialize to be as good as their trainers,” said Scott. “The breeders didn’t know who to call, and there was an incredible void.”
Harmony Sporthorses co-sponsored the initial young horse trainers symposium at Hilltop Farm in 2005.
“We expected to find two, three or maybe five individuals who we would bring to Hilltop, do intensive training with and let ride everything we had,” said Scott. “We had 340 applicants.”
The Hasslers left Hilltop Farm at the end of 2006, and the Malones picked up full sponsorship of the symposium. In 2007, 65 participants traveled to Harmony Sporthorses in Kiowa, Colo., for the
symposium, which not only offered top young horse trainers like the Hasslers and Michael Klimke, but also featured a mechanical bull.
“We were out West, and these people are supposed to be able to ride young horses pretty well,” said Scott. “We wanted to see how good their seats were.”
Each symposium features a slightly different theme, but the focus of the program is always on teaching trainers how to work through all aspects of young horse training from initial breaking through Grand Prix. First-time attendees enjoy an expenses-paid trip, while returning alumni pay a nominal fee. Harmony Sporthorses makes this possible.
“Hopefully, it will spread and give people a membership where they can share skills, help each other grow, and help people like me who are starting out so they can go to a directory and find a good trainer in their area,” said Malone.
When the Hasslers left Hilltop Farm, the Malones purchased Riveredge, an equestrian facility in Chesapeake City, Md., as their next training base.
“They’ve taken this beautiful 600-acre piece of property in horse country that was going to be developed, and they put it into a conservation easement for life,” said Scott. “We’re honored to be there and to run that facility and direct it.”
Although the discussions are still informal, the Malones and Hasslers have a vision for an eventual training education center.
Breeding Tomorrow’s Champions
Encouraging riders’ education and careers is a part of Malone’s dream for stronger dressage in the United States, but it’s still her initial interest in breeding that drives her.
|She’s More Than A Sponsor
Dressage is expensive, and few riders have the resources necessary to support themselves at the highest levels, but sorting out a relationship with a sponsor isn’t always easy.
It can be tough to convince an owner that the horse really needs that expensive veterinary work-up, or that three bad shows are just part of the educational process. But that’s not the case with Leslie Malone and Harmony Sporthorses.
“Everything is for the best for the animals. She leaves us to make the decision about what is best for the horse,” said Leslie Webb.
“Sometimes I say that I couldn’t do it without her. She’s a rock,” said Webb. “You can’t always be on the top. You can call her up when things aren’t going right, and she will always cheer you up. She’s always so positive.”
But that doesn’t mean Malone just gives money away.
“It’s rare to meet someone as knowledgeable, committed, realistic and generous,” said Courtney King-Dye. “But she has to believe in it. She wants to know what’s going on and why the money’s being spent. She’s not a pushover. You can’t just do your own thing, but as long as it makes sense, I’ve never had an issue. I think it’s a rare combination in the horse world. I feel incredibly lucky to have that kind of support.”
“The most exciting thing for me is having the babies. It’s like Christmas,” said Malone. “You’re always looking for the right combination.”
The Malones keep between 30 and 38 horses at their main facility, but many others live out in retirement or with various riders around the world. Malone usually breeds three to four foals a year.
“I try and keep it small because it’s much more enjoyable. I don’t want it to be industrial. If I can’t remember the names of every horse on my farm, I’m too big,” she explained.
And, just as in every other endeavor, when a breeding program needed Malone’s helping hand, she offered it willingly.
Scott picked out Rousseau for Hilltop when he was 21⁄2. “He became a huge success very fast. We had a lot of pressure to sell him,” said Scott.
“We had an enormous offer for him when he was 5. I called the Malones and let them know if they wanted to breed to him, they should do it quickly because we’d had a serious offer. They said they’d love to help out. They purchased half from Hilltop when he was 5. Two months after the partnership formed, he won the silver medal at the [2003 FEI World Championship for Young Dressage Horses].”
Malone feared flying before the purchase of Rousseau, but she agreed to travel to Europe to see him compete at the championships. There, she met Ingo and Susan Pape and Klimke through the Hasslers.
“Both have horses carrying Harmony’s name now,” said Scott. “These relationships led to more stallions. They bought half of the stallion Baroncelli for Ingo and Susan.”
They also bought Rousseau’s son, Wamberto and Davidoff Hit (by Don Davidoff out of a Sandro Hit mare).
“When we left Hilltop, they bought the other half of Rousseau to close the partnership,” said Scott. “He stayed with us. He’s our signature flagship stallion.”
Other stallions owned by Harmony Sporthorses include Loxley 1 (by Londonderry out of a Weltmeyer mare) and Weismuller, who competes at the FEI levels with Jaccoma.
“It’s a mutual inspiration. We have a lot of passion around breeding as well and young horse success,” said Scott.
For all her endeavors, Malone relies on her expert consultants and her own intuition. “If there’s anything I think I’m pretty good at, it’s choosing quality people,” she said.