Some would call Susan Deutermann a modern trail-blazer of Dartmoor pony breeding. Ponies have consumed her life, whether breeding, showing, driving or training. Now 57, she’s taken the invaluable lessons learned in her early years from time spent at Farnley Farm and established a model for Dartmoor pony breeding at her own SingleTree Farm in Reidsville, N.C.
Her 40 years of experience with ponies has cultivated a sense of careful consideration, setting goals, understanding what kind of ponies can achieve those goals and how to produce those ponies. And Deutermann has seen the breeding game from countless angles.
In the early 1980s, she learned an invaluable and simple breeding ideal while working with U.S. Dartmoor breeding pioneer Joan Dunning of Farnley Farm, White Post, Va.
“She always had a goal, and she always knew where she wanted to go with her ponies,” said Deutermann. “That’s what I learned at Farnley.”
The first Dartmoor ponies found North American soil in 1936 by the efforts of Dunning herself. She imported the ponies by ship to Farnley, having to exercise them on deck during the lengthy transatlantic journey.
In 1956, Dunning founded the Dartmoor Pony Registry of America over which Deutermann now presides. “It used to be called the Dartmoor Pony Society of America,” explained Deutermann. “But [12 years ago] we had a very important meeting and came to the decision that we didn’t need to be a society. We didn’t need to be in the business of telling people what to do with their ponies. What we needed to be was a registry.”
Now the organization maintains records and original studbooks and acts as a central information source to advocate the breed and provide a means of connection for Dartmoor enthusiasts.
The breed originated on the moorlands of Devon in Southwest England, where rocky terrain and sparse grazing produced sure-footed and strong ponies. When bred well, these untamed qualities are priceless on a marathon course, through careful dressage movements, in the hunter ring, and even on the trail as well-mannered family ponies.
“They are a very endearing breed. As a trainer, they make me look good because they’re so easy and have such a great work ethic,” said Deutermann. “As I progressed more into combined driving, they fell into it well because of this great work ethic. But they’re also very good with children, even at a young age.”
With patience and well-established goals, Deutermann and Tracey Morgan, winner of multiple national combined driving championships, have developed a strong line of driving ponies.
“Susan has been very devoted to this breed. I think when I first met her there were about 100 purebred Dartmoors in this country, and now that’s more than doubled,” said Morgan. “She was always willing to lend me a hand or send me another pony that would match better in a pair, and she trusts me to train and compete while she does the breeding, raising and initial breaking. So we sort of just complemented each other.”
For Deutermann, it started with one strong-willed stallion and a well-timed venture to England where Dartmoors still run on the moors in herds.
“There’s a government program called the Newtake Program in which farmers are paid to run their mares on huge tracts, and the government brings in a stallion that runs with these herds,” said Deutermann. “But they ultimately have to be able to exist out on the moors without any assistance. So they maintain that ability to survive.”
When her husband, Peter Deutermann—a Navy captain of 26 years and now a novelist–was assigned to attend the Royal College of Defense Studies in London, Deutermann spent the year looking for Dartmoors there and found the spark of her breeding career in a foal called Cruachan Valentine.
“When I bought Valentine, it was the year they had a terrible hurricane in England and all of the fields were flooded. He was still a foal standing by his mother’s side. Pat Campbell, his breeder, went out in the night with her Land Rover through the 100 mile-an-hour winds and found [Valentine’s dam] but didn’t know where he was,” Deutermann recalled.
“So she tied the mare to the back of her Land Rover and drove back to the barn while Valentine actually swam to stay with the mare,” she added. “He was maybe 3 months old at the time. When she got back to the barn, where the roof had already blown off, she put the mare under shelter and found the foal there right beside her. He actually swam with the car and made it.”
Deutermann instantly knew Valentine had the heart she was looking for. “That’s what we never want to lose. That’s the element that when Tracey does a marathon and the going gets tough, those ponies just dig down and say, ‘We’re going to do this,’ and they do it gracefully,” said Deutermann.
Valentine passed his courageous athleticism on to many successful sport ponies during his stud career, such as SingleTree Gemma, SingleTree Tabitha Twitchit, and Gaylen Romeo, ponies that have all competed in World Driving Championships with Morgan.
When Deutermann breeds foals, she allows the stallions to take part in raising them. “The stallions teach them a lot in the family unit. That’s something we can’t take away from these animals. That foundation that they get goes on forever. We’ve got to let them be what we’ve always loved about them before,” she said.
After Valentine retires next year, he’ll pass the torch to Deutermann’s other stallion, Shilstone Rocks Snow Shoes, an 11-year-old she bought as a weanling from Liz Newbolt-Young of Shilstone Rocks Stud in the U.K.
Many of his foals are just beginning to show and most display his easy-going traits and potential. But Deutermann most enjoys pleasure drives with Shoes–just her and the stallion. She hardly thinks twice about the fact that Shoes is “all boy.”
“He lives out in the field with the mares, and I can literally pull him out from a herd of mares and go drive him or pack the grandkids around and he’s a perfect gentleman. We’ve been very pleased with him producing that disposition in his foals,” she said.
Lizwell Gambling Queen, better known as “Maude,” also helps carry on the line of hard-working survivalist ponies. Deutermann first saw her running by her mother’s side on the moors.
“I took a chance that the wild element in her would really be good,” said Deutermann. “I didn’t want to lose that quality of survival and being independent from stalls and blankets and such. I bought her knowing I wanted to keep that element in my breeding herd.”
From The Carriage
Morgan has driven Maude along with her homebred Gaylen Romeo to multiple national pair pony combined driving championships. She and Tabitha Twitchit, or “Tabby,” placed eighth individually for the United States in the pair division at the 2005 FEI World Combined Pony Driving Championships in England.
“Maude is the only pony I’ve had that I can say has never been green. She just went right to work and whatever I asked of her she says, ‘I can do that,'” said Morgan. “She’s my all-time favorite animal to work with.”
Maude currently has a foal at her side that Morgan and Deutermann hope will carry on her characteristics. Maude’s natural and quiet leadership has already helped to train other ponies.
“Tabby went to England last year for the championships and was much less experienced than the other ponies. She had only been to two top shows in the United States and never traveled abroad,” said Morgan. “So I shipped her next to Maude and actually ended up using the two of them in the dressage. So not only is [Maude’s] attitude and work ethic fabulous, but when I put other ponies with her, they just follow suit.”
Morgan is eager to resume competition with Maude and predicts more attention-grabbing dressage tests when paired with Tabby. When they’re both ready, preparation for the 2007 World Pony Driving Championships (Denmark) will begin.
“I can’t wait to have Maude back because she and Tabby are the best matched of all the ponies in color and stride,” said Morgan.
Maude’s previous partner, Gaylen Romeo (by Valentine), has logged the most miles for Morgan and excels in all three phases of combined driving regardless of his pair. But he got a break for this year’s USEF National Pony Championships (Pa.) while Maude was in foal. Instead, Morgan drove Tabby and Farnley Coquette to the pair-pony championship, and she realized her very hopeful position.
“Right now I’m really excited because I have four really good international ponies heading into the 2007 selection trials and the World Championship,” said Morgan. “All four of them are at the peak of their careers, and I think that’s the best position to be in.”
But Morgan and Deutermann both agree that being in this enviable position has taken patience. “It takes 10 years to make a stallion, the way I look at it. It takes 10 years for them to grow up, produce some foals.
You then look and see what it is you’ve produced and decide whether he’s going to produce what you want or not,” Deutermann explained.
Morgan and Deutermann carefully study their stock throughout the year and determine what’s working and what’s not. The ponies that won’t compete or produce at FEI level still make able sport and pleasure ponies, and Deutermann is an expert in finding each pony his niche in life. Those possessing the most desirable traits continue to breed.
Deutermann sees the breeding game in the United States as still in its early development compared to other areas of the world.
“The reason Europeans have what we want is because they’ve been doing this so much longer and they have patience,” she said with her trademark smile. “We have to be more patient. We have the ponies; we just need to really think about our goals and how to get there.”