Photo ©Kimerlee Curyl
"Breeding is not for the faint of heart," says Dara Rip, a partner in the Golden Oak Farm sporthorse breeding program. While passion inspires many to enter the breeding business, those who go the distance have lots of that, plus considerable business savvy. Golden Oak put itself on the map with terrific stallions, including Contester and Wonderful, both deceased, and the semi-retired dressage star Rubino Bellisimo. In addition to breeding those three, the Farm's success results from an equal emphasis on producing and developing great young horses and determining the right path for them, be it dressage or jumping, high performance or an amateur track.
It all starts with pairing a nice mare with a nice stallion, but unfortunately the rest is not that simple. "Mother Nature has a nice sense of humor," Dara points out. "We study genetics and what seem to be the strong points in various bloodlines and make our choices based on that. If the result is good, we do it a couple more times and if it's not so good, we reassess our choices." The staying power to see how those breeding decisions perform over time is a key to Golden Oak's success.
Breed inspections and young horse performance competitions indicate that Golden Oak is definitely on the right track. Following the lead of its mentors as breeders, most notably DG Bar Ranch's Willy Arts, Golden Oak invests wisely in its young horses. Breed inspections are great indicators of a sporthorse's quality of gaits, athletic ability and rideability. And they usually include feedback regarding which discipline, dressage or jumping, each horse may be best suited for. Golden Oak doesn't stop there.
Photo ©Tass Jones Photography
"Showing a horse in hand is one thing," explains Dara. "But really the name of the game
is what you have under saddle. People want to
see what horses do when they're being ridden." That stage doesn't start until the youngsters are
4, so there's lots of time for handling and ground
training that produce well-mannered, happy
youngsters. The end result is young horses that
have a good amount of careful training, at a
price that keeps them relatively affordable.
That applies to horses bound for life with a competitive amateur and those bound for the
high performance arena. "Our goal is to produce rideable horses,"
Dara asserts. "If you have bad
characteristics, you're not going
to sell that horse to anybody.
Everybody wants to sell that
next Grand Prix horse, but the
real key is recognizing early on
what you have and making sure
that horse is on the right path."
Photo ©Tass Jones Photography
Golden Oak partner Violet Jen and trainer Caley Morrison help determine those paths. "Violet is an engineer and she has an incredible eye for conformation," Dara says. "She sees patterns and the ways in which things tie together." New Zealand-born Caley competed in dressage in Europe and now focuses on the hunter/jumper market. "He's helped me broaden my horizons into the jumping disciplines," Dara says.
Through their performances and their offspring, Contester and Rubino Bellisimo brought Golden Oak recognition as top dressage producers, but Dara notes that the farm offers bloodlines that are equally renown for jumping. The late Contester, for example, is a Contender son with Calypso II and Cor De La Bryere on his sire side and Landgraf 1 on his dam's side—all famous jumping lines.
Three 2008 youngsters are terrific advertisements for the Golden Oak program. Rubi Bella is an AHS Mare who looks just like her dad Rubino Bellisimo (Laura Bella/Lauries Crusador). "She is very correct with loads of power, and is a feminine filly bred for dressage," Dara reports. She's a winner, too. In 2009, Rubi placed third in the Western Regional Dressage Breeders' Championships and she was the Western Regional Grand Champion Filly in 2010. Going well under saddle and showing promise in hunters, Rubi turns heads in the arena and has all the potential for the top levels of the sport.
Photo ©Kimerlee Curyl
Dream Catcher (bred by Mary S. Hamacher) is a KWPN-NA 1st Premium Colt by Contester (Gigi/Merano). He's an impressive young stallion that is making his mark in the world. The USDF/ Markel Western Region Breeders' Series Grand Champion Colt in both 2009 and 2010, he also earned the KWPN-NA National Keuring Champion 2 Year Old award. "He's drop dead gorgeous, has outstanding character and presence with power to spare," Dara says. "He practices piaffe just for fun!"
Carissima (owned by Lake Vista Partners) is a GOV Premium Filly, also by Contester and out of Abracadabra/Abanos. She has three very correct gaits, a lovely neck, very free shoulder and a powerful hind end, Dara reports. "She's very athletic and has personality galore." Carissima was the USDF Dressage Sport Horse Breeding Western Region Reserve Grand Champion filly in 2009, when she was the top scoring Oldenburg in the U.S. "She is well bred and can be a wonderful ET donor while she wins in the show ring."
Woodwind is another great example of what Golden Oak strives to produce. The 2003 KWPN Elite Mare by Contester/Muziek/Uniform is a stunner who's been winning awards since she was a foal. These include DSHB National Champion, USDF Breeders National Champion, KWPN National Top Ten and FEI Young Horse Qualifier to name a few. Owned and bred by Natalie Bryant of Little Creek Farm and Willy Arts of DG Bar Ranch, Woodwind "takes your breath away," Dara says.
Golden Oak Farm's Court Marshall.
Photo: © Tass Jones Photography
Along with its investment in the early development of its young horses, Golden Oak is happy to sell its weanlings. These requests typically come from happy customers whose first-hand experience with Golden Oak's babies makes them anxious to get their hands on another as early as they can.
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The Golden Oak partners are grateful that their breeding endeavor is earning a modest profit. "It has taken a while, but we have managed to do it even in this economy and even through the loss
of Contester." (Contester was lost to colic in
June 2010: he remains available for breeding via frozen semen.)
Repeat customers represent a large percentage of Golden Oak's business. That's thanks to well-bred and well-raised horses, plus personal service. Dara keeps in close touch with those who've bred to Golden Oak's stallions and those who've purchased their youngsters, keeping tabs on the horses' successes and progress. "If you do a good honest job as a breeder and the buyers are happy with what they get, they are happy to share what's going on with their horses." Simple things like answering the phone in person or returning messages promptly go a long way, Dara notes. "People have a lot of stallions and breeding programs to choose from. You have to try to make the experience as good as you can."
Golden Oak is among a core of domestic breeders who are slowly contradicting the idea that Europe is the preferred source of top sporthorses. "Slowly but surely most of the top American breeders are seeing people say, 'Why are we going to Europe when all the best bloodlines are available in the U.S.?' We have had a lot of spectacular stallions in the past, but what was overlooked were the broodmare lines, which the Europeans have always been strong in."
While Dara has her eye on up and coming stallions, including a few prospects among Golden Oak's homebreds, she's intent on continuing to build a strong broodmare band.
California, a GOV colt by Contester.
"Our job as breeders is to make good choices with what we have," she says. Using mares that have soundness or temperament issues rarely results in a quality foal, regardless of the stallion. "Sometimes we have to make an ethical decision and advise somebody against breeding their mare, even if that's not what a prospective breeding customer wants to hear."
Located in Northern California's Silicon Valley area, Golden Oak is usually home to about 25 horses, including broodmares and a typical annual foal crop of between three and five babies.
Everybody wants a superstar, Dara concludes, but not many can afford one that's already performing on center stage. "So you buy a great young horse and put the training into it." Choosing a Golden Oak youngster gives buyers a big head start on stardom.
For more information on Golden Oak Farm, call 650-868-0175 or visit www.goldenoakfarm.com.