Marguerite Taylor-Jones Changed The Face Of Pony Breeding

Nov 24, 2010 - 9:49 AM
Marguerite Taylor-Jones made a life’s work out of breeding the top ponies in the country. Photo courtesy of the Newport News Daily Press.

She’s devoted decades to producing pretty ponies and raising the standards.

Sometimes, on a soft summer evening, Marguerite Taylor-Jones will place a chair in the shade of a tree and gaze at the weathered red barn and paddocks where hundreds of ponies cavorted.

She replays in her mind walking down the aisle, with pretty pony heads hanging over the stall doors, nickering for their breakfast. And she reminisces about quiet nights spent rubbing a soft gleam into young ponies’ coats, getting them looking their best.

On just 3 acres in Hampton, Va., Taylor-Jones, 78, created an enduring legacy of pony bloodlines that continue to run through top performers today. The famous Cymraeg Rain Beau was born here and began his storied career as a sire with Taylor-Jones, who owned and bred him.

“She brought the entire pony hunter division to a new level through her breeding program and desire to excel,” said Richard Taylor, Taylor-Jones’ nephew and a successful pony breeder, trainer and judge today.

Though Cymraeg Rain Beau passed away in 2000 at the age of 25, his impact on today’s pony hunters is strong. He was consistently in the top of the U.S. Equestrian Federation pony hunter sire standings for more than a decade, topping them in 2000 and 2001, and was fifth in 2006. His son, Blue Rain, has topped the pony hunter sire standings from 2005 to 2010, and there are five other Rain Beau sons on that list.

Some of Rain Beau’s most famous offspring are Buzz Light Year, Light Up The Year, Dow Jones, Blue Mist, Beaujolais, Remember The Laughter, Lucky Me, Lucky Too, Millbrook’s Tiny Bubbles and Knickerbocker.

“He was a huge deal. He was special the day he was born,” said Taylor-Jones’ daughter, Marianne Taylor, of Rain Beau. “He started our own generation of breeding, even though we’d been breeding to other people’s stallions for years. We bred a lot of mares to him—they came from all the best professionals. It was a special time. Rain Beau established [my mother] as one of the premier pony breeders in the country.”

No Corners Cut

As important as Rain Beau was to Taylor-Jones and her breeding program, Richard Taylor emphasized that he wasn’t a fluke.

“Rain Beau was the next step in her evolution of where she wanted to go. She created him; he did not create her,” Richard said. “Before Rain Beau ever came along, they had some ponies equally as good as what he sired later. Rain Beau is extremely important, but he didn’t take them to a new level. He carried it on, but Marguerite was on her way.”

On their modest farm, in a 17-stall barn, Taylor-Jones and her first husband, Kenneth, and their son and daughter, Kenny and Marianne, bred, raised and sold some of the best ponies in the country. Marianne did much of the riding, while Kenny preferred riding tractors and doing farm maintenance.

“I did all the foaling and the breeding. Looking back, it’s a miracle I did it all,” said Taylor-Jones. “I did it all with not much help other than my family. I had young girls who would come in and want to be around the ponies, and I had some that were as loyal as could be. I taught them to ride in return for helping with the barn. I’d go away to shows and leave them in charge of the farm. I did it with family and volunteer help.”

While Taylor-Jones didn’t have the biggest operation around, she made the most of what she had. “We had the best tack, we had the best riding clothes, we had the best ponies,” said Marianne. “And it definitely wasn’t because we had a lot of money, because we didn’t. It was just the way Mama did things. They ate the best hay and feed, they were bedded up to their knees on the best bedding. She was very detail oriented. Everything we did, we did right. There were no corners cut anywhere. We just worked hard.”

Taylor-Jones’ first husband, Kenneth, was in the real estate and insurance business, but horses were in his blood. “Our whole lives were centered around the horses and ponies,” Taylor-Jones said. “He loved the ponies as much as we did. In all his spare time, he loved rubbing on them. He was a perfectionist. Because of him, I learned to be a perfectionist also.”

Taylor-Jones can remember that on spring nights when she couldn’t sleep, especially in the month before the Devon Horse Show (Pa.), she’d go down to the barn in the middle of the night and groom ponies, content in the quiet barn.

Devon was the true showplace for Taylor-Jones’ ponies, and for almost 30 years, starting in the late 1960s, hers dominated the pony breeding division.

“I would sleep at the barn at Devon,” Marianne recalled. “We’d start braiding at 1:00 in the morning and just get it done. One year we had 26 breeding ponies at Devon, and they were all ready to go by 7 a.m.”

They went to horse shows every weekend, but the show ponies also foxhunted and trail rode and went swimming. “They did everything,” said Marianne.

Three That Started It All

Taylor-Jones didn’t get into breeding right away, but her eye for a pony was apparent immediately. She’d been known as a catch rider on horses around the circuit, but when Marianne turned 3 in 1956, Taylor-Jones went on the hunt for a pony for her daughter. Joan Mackay-Smith Dunning of Farnley Farm was a good friend and directed her to an appropriate pony.

Her name was Gremlin’s Delight, and she turned out to be a marvelous pony in her own right, winning the international pony teams competition in England in 1961. Gremlin’s Delight went on to a successful broodmare career, foaling the famous pony Dresden.

Taylor-Jones promptly bought Johnny Reb and Swamp Fox too, and was hooked on ponies from then on. “They all became famous. Johnny Reb was champion all over and on the first U.S. pony team in 1959,” Taylor-Jones said.

The international pony teams competitions of 1959, ’61 and ’63 were prestigious events, and Taylor-Jones ponies participated in all of them. For the first competition, ponies from England came and showed against U.S. ponies at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Two years later, U.S. ponies traveled to England to show at Windsor Castle. And in 1963, the U.S. ponies competed against Canada at the Fairfield Hunt Club (Conn.).

Taylor-Jones was selected to accompany the U.S. ponies to England in 1961. “They trained under Gordon Wright for two weeks at [the U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters in] Gladstone (N.J.). When we went to England, we were stabled at grounds on Windsor Castle, and they trained for another couple of weeks,” Taylor-Jones recalled.

They flew in an old World War II four-engine plane. “I was convinced I’d never see land alive again,” she said. “The English treated us royally,” she added. “We toured the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, had high teas at the fanciest hotels, went to theaters and had lavish meals. We won the competition.”

Just What She Wanted

Throughout the 1960s and early ‘70s, Taylor-Jones was breeding ponies, usually to stallions from Dunning’s Farnley Farm. She was given a lovely Welsh mare that had shown successfully under the name Pandora. She bred the mare, with the registered name Upland Ripple, to Farnley Lustre. And in 1975, Cymraeg Rain Beau was born.

“He was a beautiful foal. He was special from the start. He was a beautiful mover and a real character,” Taylor- Jones said.

Rain Beau won in the pony breeding division at Devon as a yearling and 2-year-old. “We never broke him. We started breeding him when he was 3, and everything he had was lovely,” she said. “I had mares coming from as far away as Florida and Connecticut. We never could collect Rain Beau, and that was before people were collecting and shipping semen.”

Rain Beau’s first foal, bred when he was 2, was fittingly the last foal Taylor-Jones got out of the first pony she bought, Gremlin’s Delight. That pony was Swan Song, who was later a mount for international show jumper Lauren Hough when she was 8.

With Rain Beau in the barn, Taylor-Jones became the preeminent breeder of ponies. “The biggest advantage Marguerite had was a foresight beyond her time. She knew what she wanted a pony to look like 20 years later and was determined to get there,” Richard said. “She and Kenneth had a sense that a hunter pony should look like a green conformation horse.”

Taylor-Jones used to say that if she was going to walk out to the barn and feed 17 ponies, they’d better have pretty heads hanging over the stall doors. “I liked a pretty head, and I liked a good, straight hind leg,” she said. “I always figured I could fill in the rest of it. I just love a pony with a pretty head and neck. Rain Beau put that on his get. I bred for the whole thing—looks and temperament and movement and jump.”

Always Improving

In 1983, Rain Beau’s son, Hidden Creek Rain Fox (Cymraeg Rain Beau—Thomirror, Sir Thomson) arrived.

“He’s a perfect example of a large pony. He was champion at Devon and carried on Rain Beau’s legacy,” Taylor-Jones said of the Welsh-Thoroughbred cross.

Blue Rain (Cymraeg Rain Beau—Blue Haviland, Farnley Lustre), the current leading pony hunter sire, was born in 1989.

“She bred and raised some great ponies. Breeding is a hard thing to do, and she came up with a lot of good ponies,” said Kenny Wheeler, who showed many of Taylor-Jones’ ponies on the line and is a good friend. “She’s a good judge of a pony and a really straightforward woman. Win or lose, I never heard Marguerite say a bad word about anything, and that’s unusual for horse show exhibitors.”

Richard added that Taylor-Jones’ sportsmanship stood out to him, too. “When she competed and didn’t do well, the thought was never to complain about the pony not going well or the judging. It was always to come home and get better. You can to this day go to Devon and be beaten, and if your thought is anything other than coming home and improving for next year, you’re not going to make it. That’s probably what she did better than anybody else,” Richard said.

In 1983, Marianne got married and moved to the Charlottesville area. She took the stallions and mares and show ponies, and life at Taylor-Jones’ farm in Hampton slowed down a bit.

“The heyday was in the early and mid ‘80s. Mom was Taylor Made Ponies, and I was Taylor Made Annex. She came up every week and was at all the shows. It was a labor of love, and we did it together,” Marianne said.

Taylor Made ponies sold all over the country, including to celebrities, such as Linda Blair, star of The Exorcist, Maria Shriver, Paul Newman and John Mellencamp. Sallie Wheeler bought all the ponies for her children from Taylor-Jones. But even at the height of the fame, Taylor-Jones was mindful of her ponies’ fates and would always take back a pony if it needed a home.

“I tried my best to place my ponies in good homes. I wanted to provide for them,” she said.

By 1991, however, Marianne decided to phase out of the business. The mares went back to Taylor-Jones, Hidden Creek’s Rain Fox went to stand at Champlain Isle Ponies in Vermont, and Rain Beau went to North Carolina to stand at Carol Barber’s Arabelle Farm. He passed away in December 2000.

Taylor-Jones still owns the Hampton farm where it all began, but she lives elsewhere. She keeps a Dutch Warmblood mare at the farm and returns each day to visit. “I go every day, and I’ve got an office in an old tackroom, and I do crafts there. It’ll always be my home,” she said.

“I rode right up until 10 years ago. I could still ride now, but I’m 78 and my mare has got a little spook in her. I don’t need her to jump out from under me one day and break a hip,” Taylor-Jones said.

She’s been honored by the Virginia Horse Shows Association, the Virginia Pony Breeders Association and the North American Pony Futurity, but it’s the letters Taylor-Jones still gets from young riders in love with her ponies that mean the most.

“People have told me that I have an eye for a good pony, and I probably did, because I could pick one out of a whole herd of ponies. They all seemed to work out for me,” Taylor-Jones said.

Did you enjoy this article? Consider subscribing. The complete version of “Marguerite Taylor-Jones Changed The Face Of Pony Breeding” ran in the Nov. 26, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

Category: Breeding
Tag: Ponies

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