Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

Barbara Ellison Expands Her Dream For Wild Turkey Farm

This California breeder shows that passion and persistence pay off in the end.

Barbara Ellison first realized she was suffering from an addiction to horses when she was just a little girl. She saved her money all year to ride along the beach aboard horses for hire during her family’s summer vacation to Oregon.
Now, more than 25 years later, the owner and director of Wild Turkey Farm is spending her pennies on building a new state-of-the-art breeding farm in Northwestern Oregon.

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This California breeder shows that passion and persistence pay off in the end.

Barbara Ellison first realized she was suffering from an addiction to horses when she was just a little girl. She saved her money all year to ride along the beach aboard horses for hire during her family’s summer vacation to Oregon.
Now, more than 25 years later, the owner and director of Wild Turkey Farm is spending her pennies on building a new state-of-the-art breeding farm in Northwestern Oregon.

Although Ellison has been riding since she was a teenager, she pointed out that it was only at the good will of others. “I’m one of four kids, so my parents didn’t have money to spend on my riding. I rode on the beach in Oregon and when I was old enough, I worked there.

“Well, if you could call it working,” she joked. “I took people out on trail rides for eight to 10 hours a day.”

She was first able to afford lessons when she was 12, riding once a week with Jay and Claudia Campf. A few years later she met Wheylan Meyers, who offered to let her ride at her barn a few times a week.

“I was only able to ride because of Wheylan,” said Ellison. “She was such a nice person and realized how much I loved it and let me exercise her horses. Other than that, I never would have been able to ride as much.”

Ellison gave up riding when she went to college and wasn’t able to pick it back up again until 1986, when her son was 18 months old and she started working with Jan Pearce.

“I started taking lessons once a week, which went to twice a week and then seven days a week,” said Ellison.
Shortly thereafter, Ellison purchased her first stallion, Wizard.

She met the Hanoverian—who would go on to start her breeding farm—while she was riding with Butch and Lu Thomas at Willow Tree Farm, Woodside, Calif.

Ellison and her husband Larry (they’re now divorced) were living on her small farm in Woodside, named for the road they lived on, Wild Turkey Lane, when she bought Wizard and brought him home.

At the time, Ellison didn’t think of breeding Wizard and said the fact that he was a stallion had nothing to do with why she purchased him. “I just thought he would be a great horse for Lu to ride. He is a fantastic jumper, and I was really impressed by him, so I bought him.”

Soon after, Ellison moved to ride with Carleton Brooks, but when she made the switch, she sent Wizard back to Hap Hansen, who had partnered with the horse before she purchased him. “I told Carleton he could ride the hunters and my other jumpers, but Wizard needed to go to Hap,” said Ellison.

She felt that the pair made a great team, and she wanted Wizard to have the best career possible. And she was right about their partnership—Wizard and Hansen went on to win the first $100,000 grand prix offered in California.

Love At First “Site”

A few years later, Ellison was busy raising her kids and taking care of the farm when she received a phone call from the Thomases. She wasn’t riding much then and had been out of the show ring for a while. Although she kept a few horses at her home, she didn’t have any plans to start a larger business.

Lu and Butch mailed her a videotape of a 5-year-old Holsteiner stallion named Liocalyon. A scopey jumper and all-around superb horse, Ellison knew that she had to have him. She purchased him off the tape and never looked back. After that, more stallions followed, one at a time, and slowly she started collecting broodmares, although she never actively searched for them.

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“I had a couple of stallions at that point, and people started calling me, asking me if I needed any nice mares. They had a broken down competition mare and they needed to place her somewhere and thought she might work for the program,” said Ellison.

Pretty soon, Ellison realized she needed more than just her 11-acre Woodside farm. She wanted to keep moving forward with her breeding program, and the location just wasn’t right.

“I’m pretty sure my neighbors would have a heart attack if I bred the stallions here,” joked Ellison. “This is kind of a residential area, so we have to haul the stallions two hours away up to Oregon whenever we breed them. That gets really expensive.”

She’d been looking for property for seven or eight years when, in 2001, she found her dream farm.

“I was at a horse show in Oregon when my friend who ran the show told me about the property next door to him,” explained Ellison. “He told me it wasn’t for sale but that I should look at it anyway.”

Ellison took one look at the 215 acres of hazelnut trees and fell in love. She bought the property that year and started the plans for her new facility. She knew she wanted a few different barns, one for stallions, one for broodmares and one for horses in training, along with large pastures and a house for herself.

“The facility is truly going to be top-notch,” said Mandy Porter, “She’s putting a lot into it, and it will be incredible.”
Porter, San Diego, Calif., has been training Ellison for nine years and campaigns her stallions and young horses on the show circuit. In 2004, she coached Ellison’s daughter, Megan, as well as the rest of the USEF Zone 10 team, at the North American Junior and Young Riders Championships.

Ellison also saved 40 acres for her retired horses, of which she has quite a few. Most of the horses who pass through Ellison’s farm doors never leave, and so she’s built them their own barn and hired a girl whose sole job is to care for them.

“If you’ve done a good job by me,” said Ellison, referring to her horses, “I will never sell you. You have a home for life.”

The retired-horse barn is the only building on the property that is completely finished.

“Barb is so good to her retired horses. The barn she built for them is outstanding,” said Porter. “If I could retire like that I’d be happy.”

Ellison noted, “I built that one first because the retired ones are old and need to be out of the weather. They couldn’t just be in the pasture,” said Ellison.

Proper Training

It’s this kind of attitude that keeps Ellison’s horses happy and winning. She makes sure each one has the best care possible and that they’re never pushed too hard.

When the foals are born they spend their first two years being babies, running around the field with their paddock-mates. When they’re almost 3, they’re sent away to Colts Unlimited in Wyoming, run by Charlie and Hilary Carrel. There, the youngsters spend a year learning ground manners and being started under saddle.

None of Ellison’s horses begin jumping until they are 5.

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“I’d rather have a horse who’s a long-time performer who lasts past his 6-year-old year than one who competes and works hard too early and is done when they’re still young,” said Ellison. “They break down if they’re started too young.”

After the horses return from Wyoming, Ellison and her barn manager, Kelli Johnston, begin riding them lightly under saddle. “They go to Charlie to get some ground work done. He makes sure that when they come back to us, Kelli and I can get on and continue their training and it will be safe.”

Once the horses are old enough to start competing, they are usually sent to Porter.

“They usually don’t come to me until they’re at least ready to show in the 5-year-old classes,” Porter said. “They’re not made up horses already, but they’re ready to step into the show ring. Barb and Kelli do a great job of getting them ready.”

Currently, Porter has Chesapeake and LaMarque, two of Ellison’s newest stallions, as well as two of her young sale horses.

Porter also pilots Summer, an 11-year-old gray Belgian Warmblood mare that Ellison and Porter found a few years ago. Norman Dello Joio had the mare and told Ellison he thought she would be great as an amateur horse for Ellison.

After watching Porter ride the mare, Ellison quickly realized she wasn’t for her.

“I can’t ride horses with a lot of kick because I broke my back,” said Ellison. “But Mandy rode her great, and so I asked her, ‘Do you think she has it?’ And she looked down at me and said, ‘Yeah, Barb, she’s got it.’ ”

Porter said that buying Summer is one of her favorite memories from the years she’s spent working for Ellison. “We hadn’t planned on buying a horse like that, and it just kind of happened,” she said.

“Barbara was watching her and even when she knew she didn’t want to ride her, she told me to keep going. She could see the potential that she had and she just had this feeling that we’d be great partners,” added Porter. “She’s got a great eye.”

Summer has been with Porter ever since, and the pair has been picking up top ribbons in grand prix events all over the country. “Summer will always be with Mandy as long as she’s going,” said Ellison. “She’s made that horse into what she is, and when Summer is done showing she won’t ever be sold. She’ll come back here to me to be retired.”

Looking To The Future

These days, Ellison splits her time between the barn and her office, where she keeps busy writing stallion reports and speaking to people about breeding their mares. Last year she had 25 breedings, but she’s hoping the business will grow when she makes the permanent move to Oregon in 2010.

Ellison’s goal is to breed her stallions to more mares from the East Coast. “The country is so big, and being in California, and even though we’re known on the West Coast, it’s sometimes difficult to get the East Coast mares.”
Currently, Ellison has six breeding stallions, two of which are campaigning with Mandy, along with five youngsters and a small band of broodmares.

She visits the property in Oregon often to make sure things are progressing as they should and travels to horse shows, where she and Johnston compete in the jumpers—Ellison in the low-amateur-owners and Johnston in the 1.30-meter and 1.40-meter classes.

She usually meets Porter at the shows, but when Porter can’t be there Buddy Brown helps Ellison and Johnston.
 
“You know,” said Ellison, “I kind of did this backwards. I should have had the property first and then the stallions.

“But there’s no book out there that really tells you how to start a business like this. I talked to a lot of people and made mistakes along the way,” added Ellison. “And now we’re building the property in Oregon and hopefully the business will move forward successfully!” 

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