Maryanna Haymon Traveled An Unlikely Road To A Life Of Dressage Breeding

Jul 10, 2011 - 4:19 PM
Maryanna Haymon’s hands-on approach to her breeding program helps her produce quality horses. Photo by Jennifer Munson Photo.

This North Carolina breeder has found unexpected rewards in producing young horses and owning a Grand Prix stallion.

Twenty years ago, Maryanna Haymon was just looking for a way to subsidize the expenses of her horse.

“My husband and I had five kids between us, and we barely made ends meet. I said, ‘I’ll buy a mare, we’ll have a foal every year and sell it, and that will pay for the gelding’s show career.’ But it never works out that way! I was a bit naïve at the time. I still have that first foal!” she said. “I never imagined where it would end up.”

Haymon’s breeding operation might not have served its intended purpose, but along the way she’s turned into one of the top dressage breeders in the country, finishing second in the 2010 U.S. Equestrian Federation dressage breeding national breeder standings.

Haymon, 56, has held various jobs, working as an emergency medical technician, a neonatal nurse, a research assistant in the feminine hygiene product division of Johnson & Johnson, a nurse at a summer camp, a caterer and a 911 dispatcher. But the journey eventually led her to a career as a breeder of dressage horses.

“I’ve been trying to breed horses that someone like me, an amateur who rides at the lower levels, can handle, but that at the same time, if you’ve got the talent or you want a professional to sit on the horse, it has the talent and athletic ability and work ethic to do the Grand Prix,” said Haymon.

She owns and stands the Grand Prix stallion Don Principe. Jennifer Baumert rode the Donnerhall offspring to win all four Grand Prix classes at the Kentucky Dressage Association CDI on May 26-29, and she’s planning a two-month trip to Germany with Don Principe to train with Klaus Balkenhol. They’ll return in time to show at Dressage At Devon (Pa.) at the end of September.

“I’m so enthusiastic about Don Principe himself, and I really believe in her breeding program as well,” said Baumert. “I’ve had five of his babies in my barn, and they’re all absolutely rock solid—wonderful temperament with great quality. I’m very impressed with them.”

From Babies To Foals

“Hands-on” is an understatement when it comes to Haymon’s approach to her horses. For the past 20 years, she’s done all the work herself, getting up at 5 a.m. to feed, turn out and muck stalls. It wasn’t until late May this year, after she broke her elbow and required surgery, that she hired an employee to help.

Haymon houses 27 horses, including 10 mares, on her 33-acre farm in Columbus, N.C. Five of the older mares are active broodmares, while the other five are 3, 4 and 5 years old. Haymon breeds from four to eight foals a year, though she’s scaling down. One of her broodmares, Windsong, was the first foal she bred, though she passed away on June 9.

Haymon moved to her Marydell Farm in 2002. She and her husband Wendell built their home on top of the 16-stall barn. “I have an interior staircase and closed-circuit TV in the foaling stalls. I can check on mares no matter what the weather,” she said.

As a former nurse for newborns in intensive care, Haymon is uniquely qualified for foaling duties for her mares. “I had the medical background, and I loved babies. And I knew I had a gift with handling horses,” she said. “I’m good in an emergency. All the training kicks in, and you start thinking and you have a checklist to go down.”

The nursing background enabled Haymon to handle some challenges. Her first broodmare, a Hanoverian by Welt As named Feel The Dream, was a high-risk mare who only delivered six foals in her 18 years with Haymon.

“She taught me so much about the negative parts of breeding,” said Haymon. “I got the reputation for being able to deal with whatever came down the road, to the point where one vet would call me if he had an emergency foaling call in my neighborhood, and I’d go over there and do what I could. You only have 20 minutes from the time labor starts to the time you need to do something if there’s a problem. Otherwise, you’ll lose one or the other or both. And you can’t second-guess yourself.”

Because Haymon didn’t mind managing high-risk mares, she was able to build her broodmare stock with the bloodlines she wanted. “That was how I could afford the quality I wanted, with either old mares or mares that had problems. I didn’t have deep pockets, but I was never going to compromise on quality,” she said.

Making It Work

Finding the best in inexpensive horses has always been part of Haymon’s life. She grew up riding whatever she could and learned by absorbing what she saw and read. She eventually wound up showing jumpers.

But in 1987, she witnessed Reiner Klimke riding an exhibition freestyle aboard Ahlerich at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden (N.Y.). “I will tell you, in my memory, every footfall fell on every beat of the music. It took my breath away, and I said, ‘I’m going to do that someday,’ ” she said.

So Haymon delved into dressage. “I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert, so trying to achieve perfection is something that appeals to me. And dressage is the effort to find the best partnership you can between you and your horse,” she said.

For her first dressage horse, Haymon bought a 4-year-old Polish Arabian with barrel racing experience. “He tried to kill me every time I got on him. It certainly put to shame the fact that I thought dressage was safer!” she said.

It turned out that the horse had been badly abused, and it took more than a year for him to let Haymon on his back without panicking.

“I did a lot of groundwork with him, and he turned out great,” she said. “But he still saw ghosts, and he could drop a shoulder and put you on the ground so fast!”

Haymon competed up to fourth level on Matria Turgo, who passed away last year at the age of 26 at Marydell Farm.

She got Feel The Dream, her first broodmare, in 1991, and for a few years she combined riding with breeding one foal a year. But by 1997, Haymon was feeling the effects of having broken her back twice in skiing accidents in the ’80s. That’s when she stopped riding and decided to hone her focus on breeding.

“It’s worked out to be even more important to me than the riding was. I didn’t realize how rewarding this was going to be. I always loved my job in the nurseries with infants, and I can’t live without horses, so it was kind of a natural evolution to put the two together,” she said.

Going To Graduate School

Haymon jumped head first into the dressage breeding world. She went to Scott and Susanne Hassler—then at Hilltop Farm—for guidance. “You couldn’t ask for better teachers. They helped me tremendously,” she said.

“We recognized right away that Maryanna was passionate about her mares and dedicated to producing the best foals she could,” said Susanne. “She has clearly invested herself in not just learning about today’s influential bloodlines but also in experiencing them through her foals, both in this country and in Germany. This investment has provided great depth and vision for her breeding program.”

In 2000, Haymon traveled to Germany for a two-week mare and foal breed orientation course. “It’s an in-depth course of teaching what’s working, what to look for, what the standards are, what bloodlines work well together, what bloodlines don’t nick, all kinds of things,” Haymon said.

As part of the course, she went to the national state stud for Hanoverians and saw portions of the 100-day test for stallions. “We got to see mare performance tests with the jump chute, and we sat through a foal auction of almost 200 foals with the course instructor making comments on each one. We got enormous volumes of material to bring home,” she said.

Haymon then took that education and built a broodmare herd that suited her vision. “I think breeding today has gone so far to the left in getting the light, refined, hot, sensitive horse,” she said. “I wanted to aim for horses that are heavier but have engine and athletic ability.”

Her 2010 colt Flavius MF (Fidertanz—Diora, DeNiro) reflects that philosophy. “He’s a tank, but he’s got power, suspension and elasticity,” Haymon said. Flavius was one of the three offspring who brought the Breeder’s Group class win to Haymon at the 2010 Dressage At Devon.

Haymon had volunteered at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and paid attention to the pedigrees of all the horses competing there. One of the things that struck her even then was that Grande showed up in the pedigrees of the top horses across the disciplines.

“It might not have been in first generation, but it was there,” she said. “So we started looking for a Grande direct daughter.”

And soon enough, they found Flavius’ dam, Diora, who is out of a Grande mare.

Finding Her Prince

The final piece of Haymon’s breeding puzzle fell into place in 2004, when she bought Don Principe. She’d seen the black stallion in 2001 in Germany, just after he’d been rejected from the Hanoverian 2-year-old stallion licensing. But Haymon liked his looks and knew he had late-maturing bloodlines.

Unfortunately, Don Principe (Donnerhall—SPS Papagena) wasn’t for sale at that time. But by 2004, the stars aligned.

“We decided after a year when we spent $36,000 in stud fees that buying a stallion was probably the way to go,” Haymon said. “Our broodmare band was mostly R line, and I wanted a G line son. I had hoped for a Donnerhall direct son, since he’d just passed away. We went over, and Don Principe was the first stallion we looked at. I told my husband, ‘We’re buying this one.’ ”

Wendell convinced his wife to look at a few other stallions, but she kept returning to Don Principe, so they wrote the check.

Haymon left “Prince” in Germany for a year, and he arrived in the United States in 2005 as a 6-year-old. Haymon asked Jim Koford to ride him, and Koford developed him from the 6-year-old classes to the Grand Prix. “He’s been near the top throughout his career, but he’s never been in top two or three and gotten a lot of press,” Haymon said.

“He’s a workaholic. He’s sweet and kind,” she added. “Even I, who had just had hip replacement surgery, can trail ride him. But he’s also producing himself, and better than himself, over and over again. We have five 6-year-olds out there that are doing very well under amateurs.”

When Koford went to Europe to train in 2009, Prince needed a new rider, and Courtney King-Dye took over the reins in early 2010. She had excellent results with Prince in the two shows they did before her fall and head injury.

For the remainder of 2010, King-Dye’s assistant, Jennifer Marchand, showed Prince. They competed at Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions (N.J.) and won the GAIG/USDF Region 8 Intermediaire I Championship (N.Y.).

By the end of 2010, Haymon decided she wanted Prince closer to her, so she shipped him to Baumert, whose Cloverlea Dressage farm is just a few miles down the road from Marydell Farm.

“She’s very enthusiastic, and she’s got strong opinions, in a good way,” Baumert said of Haymon. “She’s a wonderful owner, very attentive and caring about the horse’s well being. She’s detail-oriented and supportive.”

Baumert and Prince debuted together at the Grand Prix level in Florida in February. “It was a learning experience for both of them, since they’d only been together four months,” said Haymon. “It’s fun to be on the sidelines and see a horse enjoy his work so much.”

“She’s very knowledgeable,” Baumert said of Haymon. “I’ve learned a lot about what she does because I hadn’t been around the breeding aspect of it. It’s amazing what goes into a breeding program like hers; it’s a lot of work. She pours her time, heart and soul into it.”

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. “Maryanna Haymon Traveled An Unlikely Road To A Life Of Dressage Breeding” ran in the July, 11, 2011, issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

Category: Breeding

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