A fixture in the American sporthorse breeding landscape since its establishment in 1991, Hilltop Farm has had many good years. Its stallions and their offspring have consistently won at every level in dressage, hunter/jumper, eventing and breeding competitions. But 2009 takes the cake. Hilltop had three stallions earn USEF Sire of the Year honors. The veteran Contucci earned the title in the discipline Hilltop is most famous for, dressage. Foundation sire Riverman did so for eventing, and relative newcomer, Royal Prince, took top honors in the Federation’s Dressage Breeding standings.
Hilltop has previously been awarded Sires of the Year, but the USEF triple play is a first. The accomplishment reflects the success of the initial vision of owner Jane MacElree over 20 years ago: “a breeding and training center that would promote excellence and raise the standards within the U.S. sporthorse community.”
Hilltop’s primary focus has shifted between show ring success and breeding over the years, but its strength has always been a rare combination of quantity and quality in its stallions. The beautiful 400-acre property in Colora, MD is currently home to 10 resident stallions, and the program also has limited supplies of semen available from three additional stallions. That number is about the norm, explains Hilltop’s general manager and breeding manager Natalie DiBerardinis. Hilltop’s careful selection criteria ensure that all sires offer excellent temperament, supreme athletic ability and great gaits, while each offers a slightly different set of characteristics to best match
those of prospective mares and the goals of prospective breeders.
At 20, the gorgeous dappled grey Riverman has long been an icon of the farm. The former Holsteiner Verband stallion’s name is synonymous with Hilltop’s stellar standing in the dressage world, even though his bloodlines tie him more strongly to the jumping world. His sire Redfort is by Rebel Z, the full brother to Olympic jumping medalists Ratina Z and Renomee Z. Remarkable athleticism and versatility are among Riverman’s many great traits. One of his offspring, Cody, competes successfully at both FEI level dressage and in Advanced pairs driving, and in 2007 represented the U.S. at the World Pairs Championships with international driver Larry Poulin. In the harness with Cody was his fraternal half brother Rivage. Riverman’s eventing breeding title in 2009 and years of success as a jumper sire speak to his unique range.
Hilltop Farm’s veteran stallion, Contucci, winner of the
2009 USEF Sire of the Year for dressage.
Like Riverman, fellow longtime Hilltop sire Contucci was a standout from the start. The 1993 Hannoverian commandingly won the dressage phase of his 100-day test with a score of 147.11 and finished as a Class 1 stallion with an overall 127.60. Contucci earned six 9s throughout the testing for character, willingness to work, rideability and his trot and canter. He then successfully showed in Germany, including winning a 1997 Bundeschampionat qualifier with 9.2 out of 10 possible points. This elegant son of the Trakehner stallion Caprimond joined the Hilltop Farm in 1998 and his offspring have dominated breeding and performance competitions ever since. From 2006 to 2009, for example, one of his youngsters won the USEF Young Horse/Developing Horse National Championships. The best known of those, currently, is Cabana Boy, “who we call the poster child for U.S. breeding,” DiBerardinis says affectionately. He was the 2004 Reserve Grand Champion of the prestigious Dressage at Devon, then went on to represent the U.S. at the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses as a 5-year old, has won three consecutive National Championships (FEI 5-year old, FEI 6-year old, & the Developing Horse Championships at age 7), and was the youngest horse, at 7, to compete at the 2009 USEF Intermediaire I National Championships. He’s now working the Grand Prix movements with Hilltop’s head trainer since 2007, Christopher Hickey, and is poised for continued success as an 8-year-old in the Small Tour ranks.
Hickey is also campaigning the recently purchased young Grand Prix gelding, Douglas Hilltop. With only one Grand Prix dressage test under his belt in Europe, Douglas arrived in May of 2009, won his first competitions under Hickey, and began the winter show season in Florida with a 73.542% in his first ever Grand Prix Special. He was set to contest his first CDI in January, and Hickey hopes to qualify the horse for the World Equestrian Games selection trials this year.
Royal Prince joined the Hilltop stallion line-up in the fall of 2003, but he wasted no time in accumulating a stellar record. Under Susanne Hassler he represented the U.S. in both 2004 and 2005 at the World Breeding Championships and his fourth place finish as a Five-Year Old remains the highest finish by an American entry to date. His first foal crops have validated his success as a sire as well. Last year’s USEF Dressage Breeding Sire of the Year title was his second consecutive title. The 1999 Hanoverian stallion is like several of his younger stablemates in that he’s expected to do double duty as a sire and a competitor. Campaigned by Hilltop assistant trainer Michael Bragdell since 2007, the Rohdiamant son is slated to debut at Prix St. Georges this year.
Something For Everybody
Hilltop is in the happy position of having something to offer almost any sporthorse breeder. DiBerardinis fields e-mail and phone inquiries for both veteran breeders and newcomers alike and welcomes the opportunity to offer advice on which Hilltop sire would be the best match for the mare involved. She loves it when clients send photos, or better yet, videos, of their mares, so she can study the mare’s conformation, gaits and movement in her matchmaking efforts. Every stallion she recommends will have the common Hilltop traits of great temperament, rideability and athleticism, but beyond that there are many specific traits to weigh. These encompass bloodlines, conformational qualities, as paired with the mare’s physical traits, and suitability for the client’s goals. “I like to know if they are breeding a horse for themselves or for sale, an amateur horse versus a high level prospect, the discipline they are breeding for, etc,” DiBerardinis notes. “The more I know and see, the more I can help.”
Many clients are longtime Hilltop customers. They return to breed to favorites and also count on the farm to have a line-up of stallions whose traits keep up with evolving demands and preferences in all of the sporthorse disciplines. “We have customers that have bred to our stallions for two or three generations, and we always want them to have something new to consider.”
Royal Prince, Reserve Champion at Fourth Level of the
Region 1 Championships, pictured with owner Jane MacElree.
Being an integral part of the breeding process for Hilltop clients is a rewarding privilege, DiBerardinis notes. Many clients send photos of their foals and follow-ups from breed inspections and show ring performances. “You get to see the impact our horses are making,” she says.
Hilltop’s state-of-the-art labs have served as the headquarters for Select Breeders Services since 1993. That expertise in semen handling, coupled with the viability and availability of fresh cooled and frozen semen, enables Hilltop to provide breedings to horses throughout North American and well beyond. European, New Zealand and Australian horse owners are among Hilltop’s clients, even though their marketing focus is on the United States and Canada.
Hilltop’s entry into the horse world had nothing to do with breeding. Owner Jane MacElree comes from a long-line of horsewomen and has always been involved with horses, including chairing the Devon Horse Show for many years. Back in the late 80s, Jane arranged riding lessons for her youngest daughter Ann Hill, who had spina bifida. Watching her daughter flourish under the direction of Scott Hassler’s mother, Jill Hassler, inspired MacElree to purchase two horses for Scott to continue training and promoting. One of those horses was Cabaret – the founding stallion for Hilltop Farm. MacElree’s daughter continues to be an active hunter/jumper competitor and keeps her horses at Hilltop for part of the year. Hilltop has grown and evolved from that first stallion and over the years has established its place at the forefront of American sporthorse breeding and training.
For information on Hilltop Farm, visit
www.hilltopfarminc.com or call 410-658-9898.