Hilltop Farm, Iron Spring Farm, Hassler Dressage and Yancey Farms have been instrumental in the hard, carefully plotted work of giving Americans good reason to look in our own backyard for top young sport horses. By bringing European bloodlines to the United States and investing the considerable time and money required to develop youngsters to their full potential, they’ve stamped “Made in the USA” on successful contenders at every level of the sport. It hasn’t been easy and the job’s not done, but these pioneers continue to lead the way and are poised to do so well into the future.
This breeder bills itself as “the complete sporthorse center,” and it’s that and then some. What began as a friendship between owner Jane MacElree and her family and the Hasslers grew into a vision for “promoting excellence and raising the standards for sport-horse breeding in the United States. That vision’s reality now encompasses breeding, raising, training and campaigning horses through the sport’s highest levels. The stallions and offspring represent nearly every major sport-horse breed registry.
Hilltop’s breeding and training facility officially opened in 1991 on a lovely 400 acres in the northern Maryland town of Colora. As trainers, riders and breeding experts, Scott and Susanne Hassler were instrumental in Hilltop’s rise. Currently the USEF Young Horse Coach and creator of the Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium, Scott helped design and develop Hilltop Farm’s breeding program before branching out with Susanne in 2007 to operate their training and breeding endeavor, Hassler Dressage. Like Scott, Susanne was essential at Hilltop for 16 years.
With Scott on board, European-bred stallions, including the Holsteiner foundation sire Cabaret (Cor de la Bryere), put Hilltop on the map with international show-ring accomplishments. The mid-90s arrival of the star Holsteiner jumping sire Riverman (Redfort) and the Hanoverian Contucci (Caprimond) signaled Hilltop’s full-fledged commitment to becoming a big-time breeding operation.
Select Breeders Services (SBS), the largest provider of frozen semen services in the world, augmented that effort by making its home office at Hilltop in 1993. This added world-renowned semen collection and processing to Hilltop’s services and gave Americans the chance to breed to top stallions throughout Europe via frozen semen. Bugatti Hilltop (Bergamon) and Rousseau (by Ferro and now with Hassler Dressage) are among the names that came to fame during this phase. Royal Prince (Rohdiamant) joined the lineup in 2003, and his offspring’s performances have made him USEF Dressage Sire of the Year a remarkable five times.
Developing a roster of U.S.-bred stallions was critical to Hilltop’s long-term strategy. Its newest purchase, made in October, is Sternlicht GGF (Soliman de Hus-Rascalino), one of four U.S.-bred stallions Hilltop represents. Donarweiss GGF (DeNiro), Qredit (Quaterback) and Dr. Wendel (Don Principe) are the others.
A recently licensed Hanoverian stallion, 3-year-old Sternlicht is one of 27 stallions Hilltop clients can choose from. Versatility, athletic ability and terrific temperaments are common Hilltop traits, but each sire choice offers bloodlines and performance records that point toward dressage, show jumping or eventing.
Christopher Hickey joined Hilltop as head trainer in 2007. Fortunately for fans, one of Jane MacElree’s favorite things about breeding horses is watching them compete. Chris, a 2007 Pan American Games team and individual gold medalist for the United States, is currently in Europe campaigning some of those horses, including Hilltop Qredit and Witness Hilltop.
Touring Hilltop: Visitors are welcome by prior arrangement. Call to schedule your visit at (410) 658-9898; hilltopfarminc.com.
Scott and Susanne Hassler could be called the first couple of American dressage breeding. After their success at Hilltop, the couple partnered with some of the sport’s top owners and started Hassler Dressage with six stallions in early 2007. They started with the already famous Dutch Warmblood Rousseau (Roemer), the silver medalist in the 2003 World Breeding Championships, and five other top sires.
Today, Hassler Dressage at Riveredge Farm—located in Chesapeake City, Maryland, and owned by Leslie and John Malone—stands five stallions and represents several more through fresh, cooled or frozen semen. The lineup features some familiar names, including Lingh (Flemmingh), the silver medalist at the 2005 World Cup Dressage Final, and Hexagon’s Louisville (Burggraaf). Owned by Offield Farms, both Dutch Warmbloods are proven performers, as are their offspring.
Susanne, the farm’s director of breeding, expects its newest stallion, the Oldenburg Diamo Gold (Dimaggio), will be quite the sensation. A great grandson of Donnerhall, Diamo Gold offers more prized lines through his damsire, Ex Libris. “Breeders are excited to access his bloodlines because they are not widely available here in the U.S. through a stallion that physically stands here,” she explains. “And Rousseau will also get the lion’s share of the breedings. He is internationally renowned as a foundation sire. His offspring are competing at the highest levels of the sport with great success, and his sons are producing top-caliber offspring as well.”
Ridability is the most important goal in any pairing, Susanne says. “From an international perspective, it is very clear that many breeders and breed organizations have focused on producing top—almost wild—movers, but when these amazing athletes lack a brain and ridability, nothing is gained. Or at least, these horses are suitable only for a very small, professional market. That said, good character and ridability remain what separate the saleable horse from the ones that are more difficult, especially here in the United States.
“We are producing better- and better-quality horses here in the U.S.,” Susanne continues. “Our breeders have grown immeasurably in their sophistication and judgment on what is a good starting prospect. We need to maintain top-quality movement and ensure that ridability and character come along with the package.”
The Riveredge “campus” is also home to the international headquarters of SBS. Overseen by staff veterinarian David Scofield, DVM, SBS’s on-site location includes extensive mare management services that make use of the latest in reproductive technology—“a real asset to our breeding program,” Susanne notes.
Touring Hassler Dressage: Tours for prospective breeders and young-horse buyers are available by appointment through the main office. Hassler Dressage also hosts many educational events that are open to all. Call (410) 885-3824 or visit hasslerdressage.com.
Iron Spring Farm
“We set out to produce better-quality horses each year,” says Mary Alice Malone, founder of Iron Spring Farm (ISF) in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, she set out to do that more than 35 years ago and today ISF horses, past and present, dominate the sport-horse disciplines. Initially, warmbloods were the program’s sole focus, but Iron Spring is now equally well known for Friesians that demonstrate the breed’s impressive potential in dressage.
Dressage results from the 2010 World Equestrian Games (WEG) illustrate Iron Spring Farm’s place in the sport. Ravel, Steffen Peters’ partner in earning the United States its first individual WEG dressage medals, with bronzes in the freestyle and special, is a son of ISF’s Oldenburg sire Contango. The winner of the WEG’s Grand Prix Freestyle, Edward Gal’s remarkable ride, Moorlands Totilas, is a grandson of Glendale. Glendale stood at the farm from 1994 until his death in 2002 and was a half-brother to another famous ISF sire, Consul. Both were sired by Nimmerdor. And the great Dutch mare Exquis Nadine is the granddaughter of the program’s foundation sire, the famous Roemer. One of the first Dutch horses imported to the States, Roemer was a show-jumping and dressage star who sired four approved sons, one licensed stallion and hundreds of Star and Keur mares.
Mary Alice is an accomplished dressage rider herself and, in her view, a horse’s temperament is essential. “When we are selecting stallions, the highest priority is excellent temperament,” she notes. “Even professional riders want a horse that is trainable and a joy to work with.” Conformation is the final key to consistently producing high-quality riding horses. The same formula applies to Friesians. Teade 392 and the late Goffert 369 have, as performers and producers, led the way in establishing the breed’s suitability for dressage at every level.
There’s no resting on laurels at Iron Spring. At this summer’s USEF Young Horse Dressage Championships, Consul son Zansibar (bred by Sandra Willekes) placed second in the Grand Prix division and was third overall, finishing as the highest-placed U.S.-bred horse in the competition.
Poised to continue the farm’s legacy long into the future, warmbloods UB40, Florianus II and Sir Sinclair, and Friesians Meinse 439 and Tjalbert 460 represent the finest modern bloodlines and are producing FEI winners, approved stallions and breed-show champions. Their names and offspring are all over the top standings from this year’s Dressage at Devon breeding classes.
Mary Alice seems undaunted by the challenge of topping what is already a remarkable track record: “Our goal is to continue making the best bloodlines available to North American breeders and to consistently help breeders produce the best horses they can. It is our greatest joy to see each foal crop develop into horses that win in the show ring and enrich their owners’ lives.”
Touring Iron Spring Farm: Tours are scheduled by appointment only. Reservations can be made by calling (610) 383-4717; ironspringfarm.com.
There’s a reason Judy Yancey is still in the sport-horse breeding business after 38 years. “There’s something in a real breeder that makes it so you never quit,” she says. “You do the hard work—and it is hard work—with your eyes wide open and not being barn blind, and you’re always looking for that next one.”
Judy imported her first stallion, the Trakehner Beauté, as her own eventing and dressage mount in 1974, when warmbloods were rare in the United States. Importing the top Trakehner stallion Donauwind a few years later put Yancey Farms—located in Ocala, Florida—on the map. It now lays claim to breeding seven colts that have become licensed breeding stallions, Hilltop Farm’s Oldenburg Qredit being the most notable.
Along with producing terrific horses, Judy’s biggest claim to fame is pioneering the importation and use of frozen semen. She first tried it for her own breeding purposes, selling unused doses from well-known sires, including the Oldenburg Donnerschlag. In 1990, a full-fledged marketing push on the frozen-semen program was ahead of its time. But once veterinary-handling practices in the United States caught up, Yancey Farms galloped on to its current place of honor in U.S. sport-horse breeding.
Seventy German stallions are currently available through Judy’s program. From the get-go, she’s been determined to produce horses that are sane, sound and suitable in every way for amateur riders. “I try to draw attention to tried, tested and true sires,” she says.
Judy advises clients to consider their ultimate goals for the horse they’re producing: their own riding and showing purposes or an investment. The flashy movers and famous names can be very seductive, she notes, but they don’t always produce the best horse for an amateur to handle, ride and enjoy.
Judy has a great track record introducing new stallions to the United States. She brought the Brandenburg Quaterback and the Dutch Warmblood Ampère to the States, and now both are household names. Representing such a large stable of stallions, Judy typically has an ideal sire for the equally important mare part of the breeding equation, and she happily shares her many years of expertise with clients.
Although Judy is reducing the number of horses she breeds herself, she looks forward to identifying and bringing top horses into the States via frozen semen for many years to come.
Visiting: Yancey Farms welcomes calls at (800) 867-7021, and extensive information on all the horses Judy represents is available at yancey–farms.com.