Monday, May. 20, 2024

Breeding Is More Than A Business For Barbara Sikkink

Barbara Sikkink hardly leaves the barn during April, May and June. Between foaling out mares, caring for foals and collecting and shipping semen, she hardly has time to sleep, let alone go home to her family.

But she wouldn’t want it any other way. Since childhood she’s dreamed of breeding an Olympic horse. She’s now 38 years old and finally starting to live out that dream at Silver Creek Farms in Broken Arrow, Okla. She manages five stallions and 12 broodmares for owners Summer Stoffel and Steven Snead.
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Barbara Sikkink hardly leaves the barn during April, May and June. Between foaling out mares, caring for foals and collecting and shipping semen, she hardly has time to sleep, let alone go home to her family.

But she wouldn’t want it any other way. Since childhood she’s dreamed of breeding an Olympic horse. She’s now 38 years old and finally starting to live out that dream at Silver Creek Farms in Broken Arrow, Okla. She manages five stallions and 12 broodmares for owners Summer Stoffel and Steven Snead.

“It definitely keeps me busy year round,” said Sikkink in an understatement. “From developing the breeding program to marketing the stallions, putting the marketing packets to-gether to managing the show schedule with the trainer to make sure they’re available for breeding. I do all the collecting and shipping of the semen, breeding farm mares, foaling out the mares, and we take in clients’ mares to foal out. The fall is busy too because we have in-hand shows.”

Sikkink couldn’t really decide what she liked best about her job. When construction started on Silver Creek Farms two years ago, Sikkink and a groundskeeper were the only employees. She’s still the general barn manager in addition to her breeding manager duties, and she runs the farm website.

She used to be in charge of keeping the show horses and stallions groomed, but with additional trainers and staff, she’s been able to remove a few things from her plate.

“Barbara is the crux of the situation. She makes sure everything gets done, even though she’s only supposed to be managing the breeding aspects,” said Kristina LePow, who just joined the farm team as a trainer.

An Unbelievable Opportunity
Sikkink began her career with horses as a veterinary technician. She spent eight years in that job but always hungered to breed horses. She bred her first horse in 1987 but didn’t get seriously involved with breeding until 1998.

“I met Steven Snead and Summer Stoffel, and they were interested in breeding a couple horses. I gave them advice, and it kind of escalated,” said Sikkink modestly.

Now she’s managing a state-of-the-art facility. “The goal is to breed for international sport horses and show jumpers,” said Sikkink. “We have a few mares for the hunter market. We try to find stallions that are suitable for the American market. They have to have the ability for international show jumping, beauty and the right jumping technique for the hunters.”

Sikkink’s first job as breeding farm manager was to choose the horses for the breeding program. “I was given the task of finding  foundation stock for the farm,” she said. “I found the stallions, did a lot of research and found the mares. We imported a bunch of young horses. Next year we’ll have 20 broodmares. It’s really hard to buy the best mares in Europe. The older, proven broodmares are not for sale, so we bought babies. They’ll be 3 next year.”

No day is routine at a busy breeding facility, but Sikkink explained that the work is seasonal. She said she’s there for an average of 10 hours a day, except during foaling season—when she lives at the farm.

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Typically, she’ll begin her morning with office work. “I get four or five phone calls with semen requests, stallion videos or inquiries on mares,” she explained.

Then Sikkink is off to check on all the mares. At 11 a.m. they start collecting the stallions, processing the semen and then send it off with FedEx.

Each stallion gets collected about four times a week during the busier times of year, May and June, said Sikkink. “Some days I won’t have anybody, and then I’ll collect everybody every day.”

She estimated that collecting a stallion takes about an hour and a half from start to finish.

“We’ve got the boys trained to the dummy,” she said. “Most of the time we don’t even have to have a mare. We have a stall that backs up to the collection room, and we keep a mare in there. They can see her at a distance, and usually that’s enough. The collection itself doesn’t take that long, it’s the set up and the clean up.”

But the heavy times for stallion collection coincide with the foaling months, so Sikkink can’t rest after she’s done with the boys.

On The Cutting Edge

One of the benefits of building a new facility is that Sikkink is working with the newest technology in foaling. She can  watch the mares on videocamera from the comfort of the apartment over the barn. They’ve also set up a live, streaming videotape over the Internet through MareStare.com, so others can participate in the miracle of birth.

Mares at Silver Creek Farm receive 24-hour supervision when they get close to birthing. Their stalls are kept hospital clean. “Each stall has to be scrubbed and cleaned between each mare,” said Sikkink. “I clean the stall six or seven times a day to make sure it’s clean when she does decide to foal.”

The mares have a device sewn into their vulvas that sounds an alarm and calls Sikkink’s cell phone when the mare goes into labor.

“I’ve gotten pretty good at telling within 48 or 72 hours,” said Sikkink. “If I know she’s going to foal, I go ahead and remove [the alarm]. But it’s there in case one’s sneaky.”

And work doesn’t stop once the foals are born. “It’s really important to monitor the foals for the first 24 hours. They need to get colostrums onboard or they’ll crash. It’s important to make sure everything is working correctly,” said Sikkink.

When foaling and breeding season ends, Sikkink moves on to the business of promoting all those beautiful babies. Silver Creek Farms hosts an array of events for breeders including two U.S. Dressage Federation Mid-States Breeders Series qualifiers and the Mid-States Regional Finals as well as a KWPN Keuring, a Rheinland Pfalz-Saar breeding stock inspection and an Oldenburg Horse Breeders Society inspection.

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“The inspections are a really good time of year,” said Sikkink. “Last year we had seven foals, and five of them were judged premium.”

Late summer and early fall is also the time that Sikkink spends working with the foals, halter-breaking them and teaching ground manners. When she’s not working with the babies, she’s working with the older horses to promote them with videotapes.

“What we try to do in the down time is produce marketing videos for the young horses,” she said. “Then you’re getting them trained up and in the jumping shoot. It’s pretty time intensive to produce a five-minute video.”

Sikkink doesn’t do all the training herself. Silver Creek Farms employs two in-house trainers, Drew Callahan and Kristina LePow. Because Oklahoma isn’t sport horse central, Sikkink understands that the only way to market the young stock is to get them out showing under saddle and to build up a base of
horses to make the trip worthwhile for prospective buyers.

In another high-tech innovation, Silver Creek Farms is set up so that interested buyers can view a horse live over the Internet. “We have a fiber optic cable run to the barn and wireless Internet in the barn,” explained Sikkink. “We’ll have cameras set up in the ring so people can call to view a sales horse and watch it live.”

And when she’s not marketing the young horses, Sikkink is working on marketing the stallions. “We try to keep them visible by advertising,” she said. “I also put together a marketing packet. It’s really important to have good pictures and video footage.”

She said she was able to triple breedings to their first stallion, Silver Lining, by taking good video footage of him.

While Sikkink would love to continue doing everything herself, she understands it’s not possible, so hiring more employees has made her life a bit easier.

“We have a great team this year,” said LePow. “We all work together. We share a lot of information about the horses, that way we’re all aware of what’s going on with each horse. Barbara can tell you everything about every horse on that farm. She has an unbelievable memory. She can tell you their bloodlines all the way back.”

In the end, it boils down to Sikkink’s passion for horse breeding. “When you choose horses, it’s not really about the money,” she said. “It’s about doing something you love. I’d worked my way up the corporate ladder to a really high position and left it for my dream job. The farm owners have made my dream come true.”

Sara Lieser

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