Monday, July 13, 2020

Horse Business -1984

In October of 1984, some 36 years ago, Northshore Magazine ran a comprehensive article on the topic of horses in St. Tammany, in particular the horse industry in all its aspects. It contained many interesting statistics, political observations and business-oriented tips for the newcomers to the parish seeking to get in on the action.

Here is the text of the article:

The Horse Industry on the Northshore

By Garry Boulard/Photography by Harriet Blum

To call it a horseman's paradise may actually be missing the point. To talk of the many farms and even more horses that dot the map of St. Tammany might be an understatement. To point out the interesting state tax incentives available to the horsing industry could sink the argument into a trivial mass of numbers.

Instead, it might be more appropriate to say—simply—that St. Tammany parish is rapidly becoming one of the best areas in the entire country for the delicate art of horsebreeding.

The reasons for this dramatic evolution are as varied and numerous as the types of trees one might find in the same backroad trails regularly traveled upon by the many horses and their friends.

While various breeds trot and gallop in large, sometimes rolling fields across the parish, seemingly oblivious to the role they are playing in the region's economic well-being, state record keepers in Baton Rouge have been looking at some figures—and almost all of them agree that St. Tammany parish is the heart and soul of Louisiana's quietest and healthiest business: horse breeding.

The folks who pour over these official numbers will find that in 1969  there was a grand total of 608 Louisiana-bred -foals. The leaders in this newly expanding business took heart. The figure in 1961 was only 142.

Yet, to trace what has happened since would require a slide rule big enough to be called Herculean. Within the next decade, the state's breeding business exploded and St. Tammany was the busiest parish. By 1982, there were more than 2,350 foals-an all-time record--from 1,150 breeders.

Industry estimates point to yet another record for 1984—perhaps more than 2,500 foals statewide. Once again, St. Tammany breeders will probably lead the way.

In a meandering Iine that would start just north of Slidell can be found the proof of the parish horsing industry's vitality. Following this line down shady, gravel roads that seem to be a far cry from the inhabited thruways of Slidell's Cause Boulevard, one sees large, spacious farms filled with gallant stallions and sleek mares.

More than likely, the horses would be in clusters of two or three. Many of them would be found in the backyards of neighborhood houses.

Our line of travel would take us on a scenic route of the parish. From Slidell to the rural outlying areas of Mandeville and Covington. Eventually the scenery would change from large, flat ground to slightly rolling hills. By the time the road reached Folsom, the trees would become less dense, and horses by the dozens would appear out of nowhere.

"All kinds of people are getting into the horse business," said Peggy Authement, the manager of Authement Quarter Horses in Folsom. "While there have been a lot of bigger farms starting up in the last couple of years, I'd say most of the activity has been with the families who have moved up here and decided to get a horse or two."

"Someone was telling me not too long ago that about ten years ago we were one of only about two or three quarter horse ranches in the entire area," Mrs. Authement continued. "Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a quarter horse operation. In some ways it's been good for the business and in other ways it's been bad."

As St. Tammany's population exploded in the mid and late 1970s, the horse industry reacted in kind. Former New Orleanians who decided to take on the country life found that one of their first priorities became finding a nice home in a rural, unsettled area. Their second task was probably getting a horse.

Continued Authement; "In this day and age, people need hobbies. It can be anything from knitting to horses. A lot of people have gotten into the business by buying just one backyard animal. Then maybe they thought 'Well, let's
breed this mare we've got. Why not breed it with a good stallion and see what we come up with?' Before you know it, they're in business."

The Authement farm, located on Bush-Folsom Road, started up in the comparatively docile days of the mid-1960s. Dr. E.G. Authement is the founder of the business.

A stickler for perfection in his horses, the doctor invested thousands of dollars into his animals in order to get the purest quarter horses in these parts. Almost twenty years later, Authement's colts go for anywhere from $3000 to $10,000. A top of the line colt might actually bring upwards of $20,000.

Customers who spend such big money, however, almost invariably realize an early profit on their investment.

"Within a year a real good halter quality baby can earn back everything you've bought it for," said Mrs. Authement. "They're going to run for four or five thousand each."

If such a lucrative financial incentive weren't enough for the many new horse breeders in St. Tammany, there's always the attraction of the tax structure. In the 1960s, the state legislature set up a variety of tax structures that made the horse business all but irresistible. "There are more shelters in it than even the real estate business," one Slidell breeder commented.

Another incentive for breeders required each racing track in the state to allow for two races a day just for the Louisiana-bred horses. In addition, money was taken from racetrack betting pools and cash awards given to the owners of state mares and stallions who produced successful Louisiana-bred racehorses.

According to the Times‑Picayune/States-Item, awards under this program amounted to almost $2 million in 1982 alone. In addition, the horse industry has gained some important friends in Baton Rouge—friends that come in handy in times of need.

In 1983, when Jefferson Parish representative Eddie D'Geralamo introduced a bill that would have done away with all state-sponsored breeder and stallion awards, a legion of breeders and horsemen got in touch with their best friends in the capital-­including the prominent Sen. B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn--and arrived en masse to a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee to protest the action.

Rayburn, who has long represented the local breeders and is the president of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders, strongly opposed the bill. But, for once, he didn't have to work out a tough compromise with his colleagues on the floor to get his point across.

When D'Geralamo rose to speak in favor of his bill he did so alone. No other senator was willing to stake out the Kenner legislator's position, and the bill died a quiet death in committee.

Such legislative support has only added to the attraction of the local horse business. Those who concern themselves primarily with breeding-­rather than training race or show horses, can realize exceedingly hand­some profits for all their efforts.

In the industry, stud operations are considered to be the luxury aspect of the business. The biggest bread-winner in this country's thoroughbred history was the well-publicized Spectacular Bid who earned an unprecedented $2.8 million.

Another sire, Conquistador Del Cielo, was purchased by a syndicate in late 1982 for $36 million. A syndicate commonly buys several shares of the horse. Each share entitles the owner to a free mating of a mare with the stallion. The mare is usually brought to the stallion's farm, bred to the stallion, and then leaves. In his lifetime, the stallion can mate 100 to 125 times during the February to July breeding season.

On a farm like Classic Farms in Covington, there may be as many as 20 different breedings in a season. With an average of about 30 horses a year, that means the horse population is one that is always increasing at Classic Farms.

"But that doesn't mean we're always doing that well," said David Hadley, the manager of Classic Farms. "While there's big money in this business, there is also the normal reaction to the general economy. Since the recession has winded down, our business has gone up some."

At Classic Farms a rare breed called the American Showhorse is the star of the show. A cross breed involving an American saddlebred and an Arabian line, the American Showhorse can bring in an average of $10,000. Some, however, go much higher. One such animal was rumored to have been sold recently,for as much as $150,000.

"As far as I know we're the only ones who have this kind of breed." said Hadley. "I think it gives us an edge on the competition."

Classic Farms, which is owned by Nancy Herpin, specilizes in showhorses only. Although the farm is spread out on 62 acres off of Blackwell Road, only 30 of those acres are presently used by the farm. "Right now we're more interested in getting the right sale. Eventually we'll be more involved in breeding and showing, but our concern now is the public auctions, where you put the right horses in and get the right kind of dollars out."

As the breeding business in St. Tammany has grown in recent years, a variety of farms have established solid reputations as reliable or specialty markets for breeding.

Among those considered to be the most popular in the region are Gambda Horse Farm and Saralin Morgan Horse Farm in Covington; Berryhill Farms, Middlebrook Farms, and Sun Creek Farms in Folsom; and Baldwin Lodge Farm and Ima Cactus Ben, Inc., in Slidell.

Perhaps the most recognized of the older farms is the Clear Creek Stud Farm spread over 365 acres south of Folsom on Bennett Bridge Road. Operated by Jack Lohman, the Clear Creek Stud Farm was begun in the late 1960s and today is considered to be probably the biggest commercial thoroughbred farm in the state.

More than 200 horses can usually be found in the farm's stables, while that number quickly rises to more than 300 during season. In 1982, Dixie magazine reported that Clear Creek's "line of 10 stallions at stud is likely the biggest in  the state..."

To get an idea of how vast the breeding business can be on a larger scale, the Magazine went on to point out that Clear Creek had $20,000 worth of horse feed a month; $1,000 in utility bills; $2,000 a month for the fuel needed to run the farm's six trucks, five tractors, and eight lawn mowers; as well as veterinary costs totalling some $20,000 a year.

Although Lohman is recognized as one of the giants in the business, his high operations costs once prompted him to remark, "You've got to love horses to be in this business. You don't make a lot of money."

Such declarations aside, Clear Creek is the Cadillac of the business and many of the medium sized breeders in the parish look at the farm as an exam­ple of what they'd like to be.

"OK, there's a lot of work to it all," admitted one woman breeder in Covington. "But Clear Creek started out small once too. Now they're the giants. Who knows? At the rate it's going around here, in five or six years there may be a couple of other Clear Creeks."

If that sentiment seems a bit optimistic, then consider that in the last five years, the number of small breeders in St. Tammany has almost doubled. Typical of these new operations is the Weichart Farms, which specializes in mare and foal care, and started up in the spring of 1983.

Located off of Turnpike Road in Folsom, Weichart Farms is owned by Dr. Rudy Weichart, a New Orleans cardiovascular surgeon. With 50 acres and two ponds, Weichart Farms has turned out to be a respected business specializing in the caring of young horses.

According to Louisiana Horse, Dr. Weichart hopes to keep his business on the smaller side, while perhaps developing young breeds on the farm. Said the doctor: "I'm not at all interested in going out and purchasing a proven race horse and taking him to the track and gambling on him. What I want to do is develop young horses on the farm. I imagine if we were to breed and/or foal a winner on the farm my interest would really peak."

Weichart's visions are typical of the up and coming horse breeder in St. Tammany. The opportunities and the possibilities seem as limitless as the land that rolls across the parish.

"Sure there's been a lot of new people coming into this business," admits Laura Landry, the manager of the Oak Wind Farm in Folsom—which itself has only been in operation since 1981. "But many of these people come here just  because they like the way it is around here and they want to do something."

Concerned mainly with commercial breeding, the Oak Wind Farm is owned and operated by Bob Landry and Phil Nettles and is considered to be one of the leading contenders for the new breeding business that has been on the rise almost constantly since 1980.

But, despite the financial opportunities and the chance to control your own business and the role you want to play in it, some of the newer breeders admit they came to St. Tammany for reasons other than the love of horses and a hope for financial success.

"I think the business is growing mainly because there are a lot of younger people with children coming here," said manager Hadley of Covington's Classic Farms. "It's a perfect way, when you think about it, to keep the kids away from the drug scene. You used to hear a lot about the 'Generation Gap' when I was in school.

"Now you don't hear as much about it. Today more families are staying involved with their kids and the horse business is a good way of doing that. With all of these newer horse farms coming up, I bet that's one of the biggest reasons why. It's just a good life.''

See also: