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.