From Softball To Show Ring
Spring through fall, you’ll find Hershell and Karen showing ponies and stallions at breed shows up and down the East Coast, including Maryland and Virginia Pony Breeders Association shows.
“We do a lot of groundwork with the foals and stallions to get them ready,” said Hershell. “[Karen] gets the ponies groomed up for the shows. All of them sparkle—she has her secrets.”
But unlike breeding management, for which Hershell felt initially unprepared, showing in-hand came more naturally.
“I played softball for many years, so I could run fast, and that was good for showing ponies,” he said. “Like [Farnley Triton], he’s won more [WPCSA supreme championships] than just about any pony that can be remembered. He’s amazing. He’s a 10-plus exceptional mover, and those are the ones you love to show. You can just get in the ring and fly with them.”
Abeles, who took over ownership of the farm when Dunning, her mother, passed away in 2009, attributes Hershell’s success to more than just speed.
“At [the Upperville Colt and Horse Show (Va.)] once, he was holding Farnley Magic Word, and there were quite a few stallions in the ring,” she said. “One of them began to act up, and the others caught the bug. But Magic Word and Hershell just stood there nonchalantly like nothing was going on. That’s very typical of his teaching. He requires them to be quiet, and they are. Someone came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I know which stallion I’m breeding to!’ ”
For Hershell, good behavior is the most basic requirement for all of Farnley’s breeding stock.
“All stallions should have good manners, and I always say that it’s usually not the pony, it’s what they’ve been allowed to get away with,” he said. “But we only have good-mannered ponies at Farnley. That’s what you want in a child’s pony.”
Does he have a favorite among the stallions?
“Triton is a favorite,” he said with a gleam in his eye, then rattled off a list of others—Farnley Magic Word, Farnley Magic Flute, Cowboy Joe, Count Bisbee—making it clear he can’t play the favorites game.
“You raise them up, and they’re all individuals with their own personalities,” he said. “I like working with all of them, and you do get attached.”
Affinity for Hershell is equally as strong in the Welsh Pony community.
“He meets the world with joy, and he’s very well-known,” said Abeles. “He’s one of the people they all look forward to seeing.”
At Season’s End
When breeding and show season end, Hershell gives the stallions a 30-day break before turning them out together in a field behind his house.
“Ms. Dunning always said that that’s how they grew up, and sure enough, they’ve always been fine out there together. They’re just like a bunch of kids playing. You can go out there, and they’ll just be standing quietly in the field. If they see you coming, they’ll squeal, but that’s about all they do.”
Abeles takes comfort in knowing that Hershell can look out his window to oversee the herd.
“He has his eye on them all the time, and it’s a peaceable kingdom,” she said, noting that she’s come to rely on Hershell for a variety of tasks over the years.
“He’s the best of the machine drivers, because he cares about them,” she said. “He’s learned a lot from the veterinarians, and he can quote them. He’s famous for how good he is at giving a shot. He can find a vein in the neck better than the vet—even the vet will tell you that!”
Though Hershell and Karen’s daughters are now grown with children of their own, their granddaughter, Madison, who just turned 3, competed in her first leadline class this year on Farnley Couscous.
“As long as they’ll have us, we’ll be here,” said Karen. “People don’t know how we’ve stayed married so long and still work together every day, but we do. We’ll probably grow old together here.”
And Hershell, an old hat in the breeding business after 30 years at Farnley, can’t envision a better setting.
“The special times, when the craziness of the showing and breeding are over, are when you can take time to look at the farm and the ponies,” said Hershell. “With Mrs. Abeles, I’ll compare the ponies now with what we’ve had in the past and the good conformational matches we’ve made. Or I’ll do the bush hogging and come back in the evenings when it’s cooler, when the mares and foals are out running around. No matter how bad a day you’ve had, if you can sit and watch them, it makes it all better. Some people would say, ‘Grab a drink!’ But I’d say, ‘I’d rather go watch a foal.’ ”
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. The original version of "Stud Manager Hershell Shull Finds His Niche At Farnley Farm" ran in the Dec. 5, 2011, Stallion issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.