Wednesday, May. 29, 2024

Mary Slouka Discovers And Develops Her Dream Horse

After a decade spent with her partner Cunningham, she’s perfected the balance of breeding and showing her popular Holsteiner stallion.

Mary Slouka doesn’t run a large breeding operation. She only has one breeding stallion, some competition horses and a few young horses and boarders at her 15-stall, one-acre Wildwood Farm in Newport Beach, Calif.

While not considered horse country—Slouka’s farm is the only commercial stable in the area—Newport Beach has proven a fine location to develop her acclaimed hunter stallion, Cunningham (Cassini I—Iorella H, Contender).

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After a decade spent with her partner Cunningham, she’s perfected the balance of breeding and showing her popular Holsteiner stallion.

Mary Slouka doesn’t run a large breeding operation. She only has one breeding stallion, some competition horses and a few young horses and boarders at her 15-stall, one-acre Wildwood Farm in Newport Beach, Calif.

While not considered horse country—Slouka’s farm is the only commercial stable in the area—Newport Beach has proven a fine location to develop her acclaimed hunter stallion, Cunningham (Cassini I—Iorella H, Contender).

The beautiful California coastal community is the perfect backdrop to showcase a horse with equally beautiful traits, including textbook movement and jumping style. Cunningham has traveled the country, bringing back innumerable tricolors in the regular conformation divisions, including 20 consecutive wins in 2008, with John Bragg aboard.

Cunningham was the 2008 Farnam Platform/USEF National Champion in the regular conformation hunter division and finished second nationally and first in Zone 10 for 2009 with a modest 18 shows under his belt.

“He’s just a quality horse,” said Bragg. “He’s the kind of horse who goes around with his ears pricked all the time, not because he’s spooking, but because he’s looking for the next jump. He clearly loves what he does. Mary did a wonderful job getting him started and stuck with it, and he’s become incredibly consistent in the ring.”

That 40 Horse

Slouka traveled to Neumunster, Germany, for the Holsteiner auction/inspection in 2000. She had no intention of purchasing a stallion that particular year and was thinking about buying the following year. But her well-laid plan changed when she saw Cunningham, then a 2-year-old colt, trot by.

“I saw him come through, and my husband usually sits in the car because it’s cold, and when I got in the car at the break he asked me if I saw anything I liked. I just said, ‘Oh, that 40 horse.’ The whole time we went through the three days of processing I just kept saying, ‘Oh, that 40 horse,’ ” Slouka said.

Cunningham, bred by Volker Redderberg, was approved as a Holsteiner and was to be sold the first day of the sale. Slouka decided to bid on him despite her original intentions.

“I said if I was going to spend real money on a stallion, it had to be one that took my breath away,” Slouka said. “My husband gave me a limit, and that was gone in a few minutes. I told him I would pay the rest—I was determined to have him. We got the bid, the champagne started flowing, everyone was congratulating us and I turned to the guy who was bidding for us and I said, ‘Felix, how much did I just pay for this horse?’ It was painful, but he’s been an amazing, amazing horse.”

After Cunningham made his journey to the United States, Slouka started him under saddle herself. While the first year with him proved a little trying, he quickly found his way and turned into a kind, reliable horse.

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“The first six months I was on him he took off every day,” Slouka said. “He just found something
to make him take off. It was a matter of learning to trust I would protect him, and now he would die for you. He goes in the ring and gives everything he’s got.”

The Next Level

Cunningham and Slouka competed at local shows in the three-foot divisions for several seasons before making the jump to the A-rated circuit. Slouka hadn’t competed in years before she bought Cunn-ingham, instead choosing to focus on breeding and boarding.

Having such an exceptional horse made her reconsider her decision, however, she had no desire to ride him in the professional divisions herself. So in 2005 she hired a professional to ride her stallion, beginning a wildly successful career for the horse in the hunter ring.

“The trick was deciding what professional to put on his back,” Slouka said. “I knew he was
going to stay at home with me and work with me. I don’t allow just anyone to mess with him. He has
a naturally quiet demeanor, and he’s very well behaved as a stallion, and I know it doesn’t take a lot to undo all that. John [Bragg] and I clicked right away.”

Rose Carver showed the 17.1-hand stallion in the first year green division, but when Carver got injured less than a year later, Bragg, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., took over the ride at horse shows.

“When I started riding him he wasn’t nearly as consistent as he is now,” recalled Bragg. “But Mary is an incredible owner and partner; she never lost faith in him. If he had a bad day, she never got frustrated or disappointed. She knew that the next day would be better.

“And she’s very conscientious about his care and his workload,” Bragg added. “She always makes sure he gets exactly what he needs.”

In the pair’s first full year of showing, 2007, they earned 19 championships in the second year green, regular working, regular conformation and green conformation divisions.

In 2008, Slouka started showing him in the adult amateur division, and in 2009 they moved up to the amateur-owner divisions with excellent results, including tricolors at the Los Angeles International Jumping Festival (Calif.) and the Showpark Summer Festival (Calif.).

“He’s a very generous horse,” Slouka said. “I have some good rides and some rides I just bomb at, and he always just takes me to the other side of the jump.”

The biggest difficulty with showing Cunningham lately has been the delicate balance between his breeding obligations and his showing career. Since he travels to a breeding farm for collection, and often must collect during horse shows, it can make for a hectic schedule.

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“We can never collect on Wednesdays because it’s model day,” Slouka said. “We collect in the morning and then show in the afternoon. The people at the breeding farm like it because he’s all clean and braided and turned out nicely for the mare.”

In 2009, Cunningham had a limited book and bred 35 mares due to an extensive show schedule. Even when he’s breeding regularly, Slouka said Cunningham maintains the same easygoing attitude he’s known for in the show ring. Her grooms have given him several nicknames highlighting his personality, including “Fifi” and “Chachi,” named after the character in the TV show Happy Days for the silly things he likes to do, such as running around Slouka’s indoor with whips in his mouth and trying to grab the other horses’ tongues.

Seeing The Future

Cunningham’s foals are already proving to have the same excellent qualities as their sire. Slouka has several Cunningham youngsters ranging from 3-year-olds to weanlings and said they are all mannerly and stamped with the big gray’s conformation, size and talent.

“All of his boys have the same type of personality, they’re just very sensitive guys,” she said. “They’ve all been amazingly easy. I’ve heard from people that have had his babies as well that they’re the easiest ones.”

Jill Lindsay, whose 11-year-old granddaughter Clare Rooney boards at Slouka’s barn and was recently allowed to ride Cunningham as a special birthday present, spoke highly of Cunningham’s temperament. Lindsay also owns a 3-year-old named Chatoyant, or “Gaby,” by him.

“Cunningham knows he’s the head of the herd, but he’s so sweet,” Lindsay said. “Gaby is spectacular and so much like him. He’s already a little taller than his dad at about 17.2 hands, but, like Cunningham, he has the sweetest disposition.”

Slouka has no plans to expand her breeding operation, instead opting to keep it a small, family business. Her two sons, 34 and 25, help out around the barn when they can, and she keeps a small fishing trailer at the farm for foal-watch season.

“When people come to my barn they are amazed there are horses here,” Slouka said smiling. “We’re really lucky because we’re right in the middle of everything.”

As for Cunningham, now 12, Slouka said he’ll still do the regular conformation divisions on occasion in 2010 but she’ll start focusing more on the amateur-owners.

“Right now his schedule is busy. He does enough,” said Slouka.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Mary Slouka Discovers And Develops Her Dream Horseran in the February 12, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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