October 2016 - Breeding the Dream

At California’s idyllic Hidden Springs Ranch, Anita Nardine is pursuing her passion for producing exceptional sport horse athletes.

by Jennifer M. Keeler

"It’s a fantastic feeling when you produce something that you realize has the talent to go all the way.”

Open Novice Champion, Favian with Tamie Smith, rider. Anita Nardine (holding tray).

Photo: Anita Nardine

In the serene, enchanted setting of the Garner Valley in California, Anita Nardine is breeding the next generation of sport horse champions. What began as a simple endeavor to produce a new dressage competition partner for herself has grown into one of the country’s most renowned Oldenburg breeding programs. But even as the accolades and championship ribbons continue to add up, it’s not what keeps Anita going breeding season after breeding season.

“I just really love doing it,” Anita explains. “I enjoy watching the babies come along, and it’s even more exciting to see some of them as they grow up and are out there competing and doing well, and that people are so happy with them. I think that’s every breeder’s goal.”

While she may not have envisioned she’d become a leading sport horse breeder, Anita did grow up in the saddle thanks to inheriting the horse-crazy gene from her mother. “My mom grew up near USC and she would hang out at a nearby barn. In fact, that’s how she met my dad – she would ride by where he was working and he thought that was pretty cool,” says Anita. “They married during World War II, and when it was over they moved to Buena Park near what would become Disneyland when it was all still fields. Dad built a little house and my mother was able to have her horses there, so I grew up in that environment. I always wanted to show but we really didn’t have the wherewithal to do that, so we would go with friends who had Arabians and they would literally toss me up on one of their horses and send me in for the kids’ classes.”

After graduating from college, a career as a programmer afforded Anita the means to buy and compete her own Arabian, and they enjoyed a brief stint in eventing. “I had friends who competed so I went with them to events and found them exciting and challenging,” she remembers. “But after our event trainer returned to England, I decided I wanted to focus on dressage. I began working with Gerhard Politz, going back to basics on the longe line. Soon after, he helped me to find a couple of really nice Warmbloods to compete with. And so it began.”

Photo: Anita Nardine

Despina is by Diamond Hit out of Santina (Sir Donnerhall / Relevant). Photo: Erpelding Photography

In a fortuitous twist of fate, about the same time Anita and her husband Glenn Hightower came to own the property that would become their new equine nursery in Hidden Springs Ranch. “In 2004 we were toying with the idea of a vacation house outside the city, and ended up quite by accident stumbling across this property,” Anita explains. “We were looking for something quite a bit smaller, but we happened to see it and thought it looked so nice. The previous owner had sadly passed away and it was about to come on the market. It was an incredible opportunity, and the timing was just right. I think it was meant to be.”

“I moved my retirees up there and Gerhard said, ‘Well, now that you have all that space, you should think about breeding something for yourself.’ He knew someone who had a broodmare for sale, we bought her, and it’s like Lays potato chips – you can’t have just one,” Anita laughs. “Next thing you know I’m with Gerhard on a trip to Germany to look at a couple of young broodmares, and it just went on from there. We’re now on our fourth generation of babies.”

An Equine Paradise

Today, the 300-acre Hidden Springs Ranch is an equine paradise. Located in serene and scenic Garner Valley in Southern California, just 40 minutes away from Temecula, Palm Springs and Hemet, its elevation of 4700’ above sea level provides temperate summers for horses to relax in pine meadows and frolic in irrigated grass pastures bordering a National Forest and the Pacific Crest Trail. Anita draws upon her expertise not only as a breeder but also as a competitor, having earned her United States Dressage Federation Silver Medal and as a graduate of the USDF “L” Judges Program with distinction; and with day-to-day operations in the capable hands of ranch manager Ron Crawford and sales manager Debra Mead, the breeding program’s results speak for themselves. All of Anita’s mares are Main Mare Book mares with proven dressage bloodlines carefully selected for their outstanding conformation and gaits, including the exceptional young producer Renaissance (Royal Diamond x Fuerst Heinrich) who has already produced several stallion prospects via embryo transfer, and Elite mare Floradonna (Florestan x Donnerhall), producer of four foals so far, three of which were Foals of Distinction and one of which has become a licensed stallion in Germany.

Renaissance. Photo: Anita Nardine

Fait Accompli HSR was named a Foal of Distinction and Premium Foal by the Oldenburg Horse Breeders’ Society at the Mare and Foal Inspection held at Hidden Springs Ranch. She is by Ampere out of Santina (Sir Donnerhall/Relevant). Photo: Erpelding Photography

For breeding pairings, stallions are equally scrutinized and matched to each mare with consideration given to conformation, performance ability and temperament. This dedication to excellence is validated by the high number of premium foal awards received at breed inspections, as well as the multitude of young stock which have earned rankings in the top five of USDF Horse of the Year Sport Horse Breeding Awards, claimed USDF All Breeds Championship awards and California Dressage Society Championships, and made Hidden Springs Ranch among the top 10 in the USDF Dressage Sport Horse Breeder of the Year awards. Anita had a banner year in 2015: of the nine foals presented for inspection, six were named Premium, four Foal of Distinction ribbons were awarded and three stallion prospects were named. The accolades are gratifying, but Anita’s savvy and success are best represented in the quality of young stock regularly for sale at Hidden Springs.

“I’m hoping to help prove that you don’t have to travel to Europe to find a nice horse,” says Anita, whose stock are in such high demand that most are sold in utero, as weanlings or as yearlings. “There are lots of horses out there with phenomenal movement and a lovely modern type but can be too challenging for many competitors to ride, so we’re working for both the professional and the amateur in trying to breed an athlete that will be successful at the upper levels and still have a good temperament. I think a good mind and work ethic are so important in a young horse, so I try to blend that with good conformation and athleticism. While all of our horses are bred with dressage in mind, many of them also excel in jumping. One of those is Favian (French Kiss x Relevant), who is excelling in eventing with Tamie Smith. They were the Open Novice Champions at the USEA American Eventing Championships in 2015, and now he’s about to move up to the FEI 1* level later this month with new owner Valerie Vizzcarondo of Blue Clover Eventing. I’m so excited for his future.”

Sibelius. Photo: Grey Horse Photography

Cover photo: Synergy HSR by Sir Donnerhall out of Dear John (Ferro/Beyondwatch), now owned by Stacy Sarver Taylor in Washington. Photo: Anita Nardine

Anita’s very first mare Beyondwatch was a result of the famous DG Bar Ranch’s Dutch Warmblood breeding program. She continues to incorporate horses from a variety of registries and utilizes up-and-coming sire lines as well as the best of the tried and true stallions into her own program, all in pursuit of producing the best horses possible for the Oldenburg GOV registry. “I really like the look that they’re going for, their breeding philosophy, and the direction – I like how the Oldenburg are looking for a more modern type of horse, more refined and elegant but still with substance. This is why I like to mix the old and the new for the physical traits that I want but always with an eye towards temperament,” she explains. “As a breeder you always try to stay ahead of the curve as much as you can, and I try to get over to Germany to see the stallion shows as often as possible to keep current. The Oldenburg Verband has been so helpful with their inspections and advice to breeders: their input is invaluable. All of the information, feedback and support that I receive from them in turn helps me produce better sport horses.”

On August 5th Hidden Springs Ranch once again was a premier stop on the 2016 Oldenburg GOV North American inspection tour. “We’re one of the larger inspections on the West Coast, and we have a big open house and barbeque where people are invited to wander around and visit all the horses,” says Anita. “Because it’s an open inspection and the public is welcome, it’s a great way to see so many babies by different stallions all in one place as well as being a terrific educational opportunity. The inspectors, including Holly Simensen, North American Breeding Director for the Oldenburg GOV, and Thomas Rhinow, Marketing Director of Oldenburg Auctions in Germany, evaluate the horses, talk about what they see and invite questions. They’re always very complimentary about our program.” Anita’s 2016 crop of foals once again impressed, producing eight Premium foals, three Foals of Distinction and two prestigious honorees as stallion prospects.

Three more Hidden Springs Ranch superstars have been earning top honors in the show ring this year and are now being pointed towards fall championship events, including yearlings Fait Accompli HSR (Fackeltanz x Sir Donnerhall) and Leander HSR (Lord Carnaby x Hohenstein). “I’m so proud of the ones I’m showing right now, and their scores have been phenomenal,” notes Anita. “Fait Accompli HSR is such an elegant filly with a sweet temperament, and a carbon copy of her mother Santina who we bred. She’s so special and has taken to showing like a champion. When she walks in the ring, she just commands the ring as if she’s saying ‘Look at me, I’m beautiful.’ The yearling colt Leander HSR is an amazing stallion prospect, and the inspectors definitely want to see him again next year at 2. He’s a pretty fancy number too, being very handsome and put together really well. His sire is a young and upcoming horse in Germany but who doesn’t have many babies in this country, so if this colt were to go on and pass his stallion licensing it would help bring a new bloodline to this country.”

But Anita’s favorite may be Sibelius. The stunning 3-year-old gelding (Sir Donnerhall x Olympic Ferro) owned and bred by Hidden Springs Ranch has been turning heads up and down the West Coast as he consistently earns top ribbons in the dressage sport horse breeding division. “He’s breathtaking to watch,” says Anita fondly. “He’s tall and handsome and commands attention, on top of being forward-thinking and a powerful mover. Every step he takes is uphill. He’s just started under saddle, and he’s definitely a candidate for the FEI Young Horse program. I think he’s the embodiment of everything someone would be looking for in a modern young horse. We’re so excited about the future of Sibelius and all the other youngsters as they move on to their performance careers, and are proud to say that they were bred by Hidden Springs Ranch.”

To learn more about the Hidden Springs Ranch breeding program and see some of the outstanding young sport horses currently offered for sale, visit www.hsranch.com.