Congratulations, Fall 2019 KTFMC award winner, Cristina Brandon!
The Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club (KTFMC) awards
one Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) intern a Management Award each
session. This award recognizes an intern for their hard work,
professionalism, and dedication to the industry. The award includes a
cash prize as well as an opportunity to shadow an industry professional of the
intern’s choosing for the week following their internship. Cristina
Brandon was recently announced as the KTFMC scholarship winner for the Fall of
2019. Congratulations, Cristina!
Montevideo, Uruguay is a long way from Lexington, KY—over 5,300 miles away, to be more precise. Additionally, the entire population of Uruguay is only 3.4 million people—less than the population of Kentucky, which is 4.5 million.
Traveling that far and into a country
so large is daunting for even the most self-assured person; but it was but one
small step on Sebastian Angelillo’s journey in the Thoroughbred industry.
Sebastian arrived in Kentucky in 2011 to be a part of the KEMI program.
A Winding Road to the Bluegrass
Sebastian is no stranger to horses; his family used to own and race
Thoroughbreds from his Haras Sureño farm
when Sebastian was growing up. “I’ve liked horses since I was a kid,” Sebastian
says. “I used to go to Maronas racetrack with my family and friends.” These experiences
at the racetrack and with his father’s horses ignited in Sebastian a passion
for the Thoroughbred industry.
Sebastian notes that in Uruguay, if one wanted to
be involved in the Thoroughbred industry that their options are quite limited.
“You could go to vet school, be a trainer or be a farrier—that’s about it,” he
explained. He completed a training
course at San Isidro in Argentina and a few years of vet school until he
decided that the business side of the industry was more in line with what he
wanted to accomplish with his career. “I
always wanted to be in a place where I could learn from the best in the
industry—and that’s what I did [by coming to Kentucky].”
Though Sebastian was emotional when he received the
acceptance email from the KEMI program, he knew that heading to the States and
being in the KEMI program would give him the best experiences in the
industry—even if it meant leaving behind friends, family and his home. “The
KEMI program was my first experience in a foreign country and it opened so many
doors to me,” Sebastian reminisces.
Once settled in the KEMI program, the hands-on work
quickly became Sebastian’s favorite. “That’s where I believe you get a real
view and learn how to do things,” he explained. Sebastian was placed at Three
Chimneys Farm during his time at KEMI. “I worked for Sandy Hatfield, the best
guide ever,” he said.
Sebastian worked hard during his time at KEMI and his
work ethic didn’t go unnoticed; he won the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers
Club (KTFMC) Management Award, recognizing him for his hard work,
professionalism and dedication to the industry. With the award, Sebastian was
awarded the opportunity to shadow Thoroughbred industry professionals for one
week at the conclusion of his KEMI internship. Sebastian shadowed Donato Lanni,
Greg Fox, Bradley Purcell, Dan Rosenburg, Eoin Hardy, Tony Cissell, Tom Evans,
Bill Witman, Tom Thornbury and Fabricio Buffolo.
All Over the Map
After graduation from KEMI, Sebastian went to
Taylor Made farm and worked in the yearling division, where he had the
opportunity to go to all the major yearling sales in Kentucky and Saratoga, as
well as to the breeding stock sales in November. In 2012, Sebastian took part
in the Irish National Stud breeding program internship. The goal of the Irish
National Stud course is to offer students hands-on, practical training in every
aspect of Thoroughbred breeding. While in Ireland, Sebastian also completed a
yearling sales prep program at Staffordstown Stud and worked the major yearling
sales in both Ireland and England.
After that, Sebastian headed to the Southern
Hemisphere, where he worked at Widden Stud and Chatsworth Park in New South Wales,
Australia. “I worked for a full year with mares, foals, weanlings, yearlings
and stallions, and I also worked all the major sales there,” he said.
In June of 2014, Sebastian returned to Taylor Made
Farm in Nicholasville, KY, to help in the yearling division; he also again
assisted in the Saratoga and Kentucky yearling sales. Then, in September,
Sebastian moved to Ocala, FL, and worked at Eddie Woods Training Centre to gain
experience in the 2-year-old pinhooking business. He stayed in Florida for nine
months: The horses were bought as yearlings and sold as 2-year-olds in the
Making his Mark
In September 2015, Sebastian began working on a
South American venture under the Taylor Made brand, building and developing
relationships between Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and the U.S.
A true go-getter in every sense of the word,
Sebastian was the perfect partner for Taylor Made when they sought to expand
their relationships in South America.
Sebastian was the first Uruguayan ever
to complete the Irish National Stud’s breeding course, which has hosted
students from Argentina, Brazil, the United States, France, England, China, New
Zealand, Jamaica, Mexico and elsewhere. Sebastian feels that what he learned
from the course was integral to the negotiations for California Chrome’s
shuttling to Chile to stand at stud.
Sebastian was instrumental in striking the three-year
agreement for Chrome to stand at Haras Sumaya, near Santiago, Chile. There, the
stallion covered 278 mares in his first two seasons and saw multiple
first weanlings sell for six figures in 2018.
So what’s next on his agenda? “I’m trying to
develop a sales company here in Uruguay,” Sebastian explains. “I will make the
first-ever yearling selected sale in Uruguay on June 13.” Sebastian brought Tom
Thornbury to Uruguay to inspect the young horses for the selection process.
Though the history of Thoroughbred breeding is rich
and deep in South America, Sebastian has his sights set on bettering the
industry as a whole. With his work ethic and successful track record, there’s
no doubt Sebastian will leave a lasting mark on the Thoroughbred industry on
Amber (Van Wiebe) Jacobson, a 2010 KEMI grad, rode Silence is Awesome (“Awesome”)to the win in the Ranch Work discipline, sponsored by MidAtlantic Horse Rescue at the $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America. In addition to winning the Ranch Work discipline, Amber and Awesome also finished ninth out of 54 in the Competitive Trail division, sponsored by Florida Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care (FL TRAC).
Amber travelled to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington from
her home base in Longview in Alberta, Canada, where she owner Running Fawcett
Thoroughbreds Ltd. Amber is a Thoroughbred owner, breeder, colt-starter and
boarding facility owner.
Originally from Calgary, Amber was not unfamiliar with the
Bluegrass, having taken part in the KEMI breeding season session in 2010. While
in Kentucky with KEMI, Amber was placed at Margaux Farm, where she learned a
massive amount about Thoroughbreds. “I learned more with KEMI in 6 months than
I could [have learned] back home in 15 years,” Amber says. “The [access to the]
amount of horses, professionals and experience you get is unmatched anywhere
“I Knew I Had The Horse …”
A passionate horsewoman, Amber didn’t ride until she was 24.
“The Makeover was really my push to learn more disciplines and push my comfort
zone,” she said. And what made her decide to give the Makeover a try? “I knew I
had the horse,” she explains. Awesome, (by Silent Name out of Just Awesome by
Siphon) was bred, raised and raced by Amber.
Amber bought Just Awesome at the Keeneland November Breeding
Stock Sale when she was in foal to Silence is Awesome. Awesome, a 4-year-old, 15.1-hh bay mare, had nine
starts and one win, and earned $4,100 in her racing career before retiring. “She
was claimed, but I bought her back after the racing season was completed. I
just knew there was something special about this horse—she truly is a fighter.”
Though Makeover competitors could begin riding their horses
on December 1 of 2018, Amber didn’t put Awesome into work until January of
2019. “She was a harder keeper that just needed some additional downtime,” she
explains of the delay. “I don’t think we really focused [on a specific
discipline] until March, when I sought additional help from Kent Williamson, a
working cow horse professional.”
Amber knew she wanted to compete in the Ranch Work as it’s
something she’s slowly gotten into while living in ranch country. For a second
discipline, she pondered running barrels, but eventually set her sights on
Competitive Trail as she felt it complimented Ranch Work the best. “With only
nine months of training, I think it was the better choice!” she says.
Once her discipline decisions were made, Amber shifted from
discipline-specific preparation to pure foundation preparation, focusing on
putting quality basics on Awesome. “Kent [Williamson] taught me what basics I
was lacking,” she explains of the shift in focus. “Once I, as well as Awesome,
had the foundation down, we started the cow work and really having fun!”
A Versatile Mare
Awesome has shown more versatility than any horse Amber has
ever restarted. Before coming to the Makeover, the duo, with just 7 months of
training, competed in the Alberta Ranch Horse Versatility Association (ARHVA)
competitions as well as at the Cochrane Lions Ranch Rodeo, where they were
overall champion in Ranch Rodeo, winning Sorting, Penning and Doctoring as a
team. The ARHVA competitions include ranch trail, ranch ride, reining,
conformation, cutting and cow work; Amber and Awesome finished second overall
and won the Ranch Ride, Ranch Reining and Cow Work.
So, what makes Awesome so broke? She has a very strong
horsemanship foundation, Amber explains, which is what makes her so versatile.
“She’s extremely cowy and is the most broke horse of all of our family horses,”
she says, thanks in part to the training Amber and Awesome received from Kent.
More than anything though, Amber credits the bond created
between rider and horse throughout the Makeover process as the reason the mare
is so broke—and trusting. “It was unbelievable. It’s something I will cherish
forever,” she says.
So what’s up next for the indominable duo? Awesome if for
sale, but Amber is quick to point out that she’ll cry if the mare sells, not if
she doesn’t! “I plan to continue to train and compete in the Alberta Reach
Horse Versatility as well as at ranch rodeos. I also hope to try some barrels
and sortings—and one day working cow horse!”
A KEMI Connection
Did KEMI prepare Amber for a competition like the Makeover? “It definitely did!” Amber says. KEMI taught me “the overall care required of a horse–let alone a Thoroughbred! The feeding, grooming, showing and handling I learned [thru KEMI}–it all helped, and still does, with every horse I have. The Makeover was an opportunity of a lifetime. Just like KEMI!”
Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) has been awarded a grant from Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA). KEMI would like to thank TCA and all of the farms who designated KEMI as the beneficiary in the TCA Stallion Season Auction. TCA’s mission is to provide a better life for Thoroughbreds, both during and after their racing careers, by supporting qualified repurposing and retirement organizations and by helping the people who care for them. To find out more about TCA and their mission please visit tca.org. Thank you, TCA, for your continued support of the KEMI program and our mission to help young professionals get a leg up in the Thoroughbred industry!
The Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) Program is pleased to welcome nineteen new interns for the Fall of 2019 session.
BALES, Bailey – University of Missouri- Columbia BRANDON, Cristina – Colorado State University BREMER, Brittney – Virginia Tech CHRISTENSEN, Tanzynn – Southern Utah University CHRISTOPHERSON, Kalley – University of Wisconsin-River Falls DAMP, Angelica – University of Nebraska FUZZELL, Casady – Oklahoma State University HRYNDA, Madison – West Virginia University JENKINS, Sadie – Oklahoma State University LEVKULIC, Samantha – Cornell University MARQUEZ, Henrique – Universidade Positivo-BRAZIL MCNAB, Sydney – Oregon State University PARRISH, Rachel – West Virginia University RYDOSZ, Brynna – Louisiana State University SIFFERT, Emily – University of Findlay TERRELL, Skylar – Stephen F. Austin State University VANSLANDER, Shelby – Oregon State University WADDLE , Kayli – West Texas A&M University WILLIAMS, Nathan – University of Missouri-Columbia
Congratulations to our Spring of 2019 Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) graduates!
Brandi Bahr – University of Wisconsin, Platteville – Shawhan Place Bailey Bales – University of Missouri – Heaven Trees Farm Cristina Brandon – Colorado State University – Mallory Farm Alicia Butsch – Washington State University – Lane’s End/Oaktree Division Lauren Carter – University of Maryland – Darby Dan Farm Mara Castro – Lexington, Kentucky – Runnymeade Farm Rebecca Cedar – New Mexico State University – Shawnee Farm Chloe Crowder – Judson College – Shadwell Farm Gwen Gates – Illinois State University – Monticule Farm Camryn Green – Virginia Tech University – Shawnee Farm Jennifer Hambleton – Washington State University – Lane’s End Farm Kathryn Heath – Texas A&M University – Silver Springs Farm Sadie Jenkins – Oklahoma State University – Margaux Farm Veronica Jones – California State University, Fresno – Brookdale Farm Ambrielle Kaufmann – Louisiana Tech University – Lane’s End Farm Jessica Kelly – Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – Mill Ridge Farm Briana Lambert – Colorado State University – WinStar Farm Allyson Lammers – Colorado State University – Ashford Stud Madison Maneri – University of Connecticut – Darby Dan Farm Caitlin Maus – University of Missouri – Trackside Farm Mikaela Moore – University of Wyoming – Indian Creek Farm Kaitlyn Murphy – Pennsylvania State University – Silver Springs Farm Annie Perez – Texas A&M University – Denali Stud Brianna Renner – Oregon State University – Trackside Farm Diondrea Richardson – Tuskegee University – Pin Oak Stud Abigail Rigsby – Middle Tennessee State University – Crestwood Farm Kristina Schroeder – University of Minnesota, Crookston – Denali Stud Danielle Seitner – Ohio State University – Castleton Lyons Farm Camille Smith – College of Southern Idaho – Timber Town Stables Jiselle Sorenson – Southern Utah University – Shadwell Farm Lauren Teets – University of Nebraska – WinStar Farm Rebekah Trice – Tarleton State University – Lane’s End/Oak Tree Division
The desire to be a jockey was rapidly outgrown as Heather
Anderson quickly surpassed the ideal height for a jock, but her passion for
horses didn’t diminish—it simply became refocused. Hailing from Lander, WY,
Heather wasn’t the only one in the family with a passion for all things equine:
her maternal grandfather, AJ Webeler, bred Quarter Horses on a small scale with
his friend Dr. Hays, for years on his farm in Indiana. He was wrapping up his
breeding business 1990 however, and, after a coin toss to determine which twin
granddaughter to christen his final foal after, Heather Winder (Docs Sidewinder
x Lil Susie Command) was the result.
Like many horse lovers, Heather originally toyed with the
idea of becoming an equine veterinarian, though by her junior year in high
school, she decided that this path wasn’t for her. An avid reader (the
Keeneland library is one of her favorite haunts), Heather eventually combined
her passion for horses with her love of the written word: She’s now the
associate international editor for the Thoroughbred
Of Writing and Riding
Heather was adamant that the school she attend have an
Animal Science degree; she decided on and attended the University of Wyoming,
which was about four hours from her hometown. The distance was enough that it
was easy to return home on breaks, yet afforded Heather the ability to spread
At UW, Heather majored in Animal Science, Production Option.
While there were other specialties available including Ag Business and Pre-Vet,
Heather had determined by that time that she was more interested in breeding
horses than in treating their major injuries. Also during her tenure at UW,
Heather cultivated her love of writing and was part of the UW Honors Program,
which placed an emphasis on creative writing.
Between her sophomore and junior years at UW, Heather travelled
to Summerfield, FL, to attend the Peterson & Smith Equine Internship Program.
This internship allowed Heather to participate in all aspects of equine
reproduction offered by the Peterson & Smith Equine Reproduction Center,
including recipient herd management, management of mares and stallions, embryo
transfer and herd health.
She worked closely with Jose Madera and
Drs. Matthews and Thacker during her time in Florida. Her internship experience
was so positive that Heather began to investigate ways she could further both
her education and her skills once she completed her bachelor’s degree in 2009.
As a testament to her ability to embrace a variety of learning
experiences, Heather spent her final semester as a UW student abroad, as an
exchange student at the University of Birmingham in England. While overseas,
Heather made sure she still got her Thoroughbred fix, watching Sea The Stars (Ire)
win the G1 2000 Guineas over Newmarket’s Rowley Mile.
Equine Experiences in the Bluegrass
By the time Heather was set to graduate, she knew her breed of choice
was the Thoroughbred; to continue her practical education, she worked at the
South Jersey Thoroughbred Rescue and Adoption organization for seven months
upon leaving UW. She then applied for the Spring 2010 session of KEMI and was
accepted; she soon made her way to the Thoroughbred Mecca of Kentucky.
One of Heather’s favorite parts of the KEMI program was touring the
stallion farms. “Seeing the stallions in the flesh instead of looking at
advertisements was wonderful,” Heather says. “The late Giant’s Causeway had this aura of command about him when they
brought him out at Ashford, and getting my picture taken with Tiznow at WinStar
was also amazing,” she reminisces. “The farms were so accommodating [to
KEMI students].” When contemplating why each farm was so welcoming to the
students, Heather offered: “When we get right down to it, the horses are why we
all do what we do.”
Heather’s KEMI placement was Dixiana Farm,
just north of Lexington. The farm, which is over a century old, encompasses
over 1,000 acres of rolling Bluegrass and has produced multiple champions,
including Mata Hari. As part of the Spring semester of KEMI, Heather focused on
breeding and foaling during her time at Dixiana. Spring KEMI interns work in
the barns and sheds so they can learn the ins-and-outs of working on a
professional Thoroughbred farm in the spring.
Some of Heather’s most-treasured KEMI
memories involve foaling. “Every single successful foaling I attended that
resulted in a healthy foal was memorable,” she explained. “Those first few
moments on earth, when they hear something for the first time and their
over-sized ears perk up, was quite special. It gave me a sense of fulfillment
to know I helped a future racehorse arrive.”
A Change of Profession
As her KEMI internship concluded, Heather returned to New Jersey to be
with her boyfriend, who would become her future husband. She searched for three
months for an equine-oriented job, sending out resumes to farms and other equine
entities, but to no avail; as the horse industry as a whole was still
recovering from the 2008 recession, equine jobs seemed to be few and far
Never one to wait for an opportunity to come to her, Heather became a
pharmacy technician with a national chain—but she always knew she would get
back to the Thoroughbreds one day. Though she wasn’t hands-on with horses,
Heather’s innate desire to help people was still being met. “While it was quite
different from anything I’d tried my hand at previously, I was still helping
people and it felt much better to work at something than watch the bills pile
Heather became a nationally certified pharmacy technician in the fall
of 2010 and began looking for employment in a hospital pharmacy setting. She
also investigated openings at veterinary pharmacies as well, hoping to marry her
profession with her passion for horses.
Though she was not as immersed in the industry as she had hoped to be,
Heather kept up with the Thoroughbred industry as much as she could, visiting
Monmouth Park annually for the G1 Haskell Invitational S. and perusing the Thoroughbred
Daily News for information and job opportunities. It was in an issue of the
TDN that she came across an ad for an Assistant Editor for the
newsletter; she was hired in December of 2013 and works out of the TDN
home office in Red Bank, NJ.
It’s Not Work If You Love Your Job
Since starting at the TDN just under 5 ½ years ago, Heather has been
promoted to Associate International Editor at the TDN. She assists with
the European and international
aspects of the paper, in addition to maintaining the TDN stallion
Now completely immersed in the Thoroughbred
racing industry, Heather feels that her time at KEMI prepared her well for her
career with the TDN. Though not hands-on, the contacts she made during
her time in the program were integral to her employment with the TDN.
Additionally, she notes, KEMI emphasized the plethora of jobs in the industry
that were available to people who had the equine and work experiences the KEMI
interns obtained—not all of them hands-on. “Hard work is
very important, but having the right contacts ranks right up there, too,”
Heather explains. “Networking is vital to success in this industry.”
Though it took Heather a few years to make her way back to her chosen industry, she never lost her can-do attitude, giving each position she held the best effort she could. “A good attitude can never be overrated,” Heather says. “Regardless if you’re in your dream job or a short-term position, having a positive outlook makes everything easier. It greases the wheels, so to speak.”
“I’d also add that, even if you have your
entire career planned out from the moment you graduate, life has a way of
throwing a few surprises. Be open to new opportunities, even if they–at the
time–appear out of left field.”
Another key asset KEMI taught Heather was
the ability to balance a multiple priorities, including horse work and course
work during the program. She quickly realized that the key to efficiency wasn’t
to worry about assignments when she was actively working with the horses. “The better and
more focused head space I was in, the better the mares and foals
responded,” she explained. “Compartmentalization was key” and still important
in her life today.
It Takes a Village
Heather is quick to point out that she didn’t
achieve her success in the equine industry alone. “My family always supported me growing up and then that trend [of
support] continued with my internships,” Heather said. “From my first
internship with Peterson & Smith to working with my wonderful Dixiana
mentor Dermot Fagan and other staff at Dixiana, every one of these people gave
generously of their time and shared their knowledge. That has only continued at
especially, I learned proper horse management with an eye to herd stress
reduction. No matter what the activity was, the emphasis was: ‘What is the
best way to reduce stress on the animal and accomplish what we need to
do?’ be it vaccinating, turn out, a farrier visit, etc. That was not always how I would have
originally approached the problem,” she explains.
for the future? “I owned a small piece of a
winning racehorse briefly and I would love to become more involved in the
racing/breeding side of the game,” Heather says. “I also hope to keep expanding
my bloodstock knowledge and apply that to my work at the TDN.”
The Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) Program is now accepting applications for the Fall of 2019 session. Dates for Fall 2019 are June 17 – November 29, 2019. Applications are located on this website. The deadline for applications is April 30, 2019. Any questions can be directed to: email@example.com.
The Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) is pleased to welcome 32 interns for the Spring of 2019 session:
Brandi Bahr – University of Wisconsin, Platteville
Bailey Bales – University of Missouri
Cristina Brandon – Colorado State University
Alicia Butsch – Washington State University
Lauren Carter – University of Maryland
Mara Castro – Lexington, Kentucky
Rebecca Cedar – New Mexico State University
Chloe Crowder – Judson College
Gwen Gates – Illinois State University
Camryn Green – Virginia Tech University
Jennifer Hambleton – Washington State University
Kathryn Heath – Texas A&M University
Sadie Jenkins – Oklahoma State University
Veronica Jones – California State University, Fresno
Ambrielle Kaufmann – Louisiana Tech University
Jessica Kelly – Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Briana Lambert – Colorado State University
Allyson Lammers – Colorado State University
Madison Maneri – University of Connecticut
Caitlin Maus – University of Missouri
Mikaela Moore – University of Wyoming
Kaitlyn Murphy – Pennsylvania State University
Annie Perez – Texas A&M University
Brianna Renner – Oregon State University
Diondrea Richardson – Tuskegee University
Abigail Rigsby – Middle Tennessee State University
Kristina Schroeder – University of Minnesota, Crookston
Danielle Seitner – Ohio State University
Camille Smith – College of Southern Idaho
Jiselle Sorenson – Southern Utah University
Lauren Teets – University of Nebraska
Rebekah Trice – Tarleton State University
Though Cooper Sawyer was born in the Bluegrass, he moved from Lexington at 13 before making his way back Northern Kentucky to finish his high school career at Beechwood High School. With a passion for racing and his heart set on the horses, Cooper studied Equine Business Management at Lexington Community College so he didn’t have to leave the Bluegrass again. Once he had completed the equine courses at LCC (now Bluegrass Community and Technical College) Cooper transferred to the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Communications, Education and Leadership in 2005. (UK did not offer their Ag Equine Program at the time Cooper attended college, he notes.)
Growing up, Cooper’s immediate family was not involved in the Thoroughbred industry, but they did have close family friends who were entrenched in multiple facets of the industry, so he was exposed to both racing and breeding from a young age. The family friends had horses that ran at both Keeneland and Churchill, so Cooper spent quite a bit of time at the tracks with his family and theirs. “My dad would get us out of school early one Friday during the spring and the fall meets when Keeneland was running,” Cooper reminisces. “Racing gives me such good memories of family.”
“I feel like I have always loved the racetrack and wanted to pursue a career within the Thoroughbred industry,” Cooper explains. “I always enjoyed talking horse racing with my dad and his friends, particularly during the Derby prep races in the Spring. It was definitely in my blood from an early age!”
Cooper worked on the track during the summers while he was in high school and originally thought he wanted to return to the track post-graduation. His way of thinking was changed, however, when he decided to expand his industry experience and get a job on a farm to better understand both the breeding aspect and working with foals and yearlings. Lexington was the obvious choice for this industry exploration.
However, though Cooper moved to the heart of horse country, he had a hard time finding farm work on a part-time basis. “I spoke with Garrett O’Rourke’s brother Brian during my search and he mentioned KEMI to me,” Cooper says of learning about the program. “After learning more about it, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
The Start of Something Great
“I was very anxious to start the program,” Cooper said. “I would finally get a job on a farm, in an industry I wanted to pursue AND I was able to take a semester off school to do it! It was all very exciting.” Similar to other KEMI grads, one of Cooper’s favorite take-aways from the program was the relationships he built and cultivated while a student in the KEMI program. “I was very fortunate in my placement [at Wimbledon Farm] and I was able to learn from the best team of horseman under the management of Brian O’Rourke. The divisional managers, foreman, and Drs. Brown and Rathgeber were second-to-none, and provided me with an education and experience that was invaluable.” Wimbledon Farm, where Cooper was placed, encompasses over 1,000 acres on the south side of Lexington. The farm boards mares and preps sales horses. Once Cooper’s semester with KEMI ended, he returned to school, but his connection with Wimbledon remained; he worked at the farm during breeding seasons. After graduation from UK, Cooper was focused on gaining more experience with yearlings. He secured a job with Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington, prepping yearlings under Donnie Snellings. Nearly 300 acres, Mill Ridge Farm boards mares, stands stallions, sells horses and offers bloodstock consulting through Nicoma Bloodstock. Mill Ridge is renowned in the Thoroughbred industry for putting the horse’s welfare at the forefront of every decision.
“The leadership at Mill Ridge taught me so much. Mrs. Chandler’s respect for the horse and her philosophy, ‘take care of the horse and the horse will take care of you,’ was ingrained in me at Mill Ridge,” Cooper explains. “For someone who was seeking to gain knowledge working with yearlings, I couldn’t have landed in a better place. I have so much respect for Donnie Snellings and his methods; I was able to learn so much from him and I am forever grateful.”
After spending nearly 5 years at Mill Ridge, Cooper was presented with an opportunity to move to Lane’s End Farm. There, he spent 4 years as the yearling manager, “where I was able to gain a better understanding and insight into the commercial aspect of the industry.” Established in 1979, Will Farish is the owner and founder of Lane’s End Farm, which comprises more than 2,300 acres in both Woodford and Fayette counties. Farish has raced more than 165 stakes winners and bred more than 300 stakes winners, and has won Horse of the Year accolades multiple times.
Lane’s End sells at every major sale, breeds and boards mares. “And I had a front-row seat at one of the best-run organizations in the world,” Cooper explains. “It was a great experience and important step for my career. The Farish’s, Mike Cline and the rest of the Lane’s End team are first class.”
From Lane’s End, Cooper went on to manage St. George Farm for Ian Banwell, a client of Lane’s End and a highly respected proponent of Thoroughbred breeding and racing. St. George was a medium-sized, private commercial breeding operation, which also had a sizable racing stable. “This was the first time in my career that I was able to put all my experiences together and apply it on a daily basis to run a farm. I spent 3 years managing St. George Farm before coming to Mt. Brilliant and I am proud of the accomplishments the farm made under my management,” says Cooper.
Cooper is now the Farm Manager of Mt. Brilliant Farm in Fayette County, Ky. The farm, which is over 1,200 acres, offers boarding and sales prep, and owns horses in training and actively racing, as well. In addition, the farm hosts polo matches and boasts phenomenal gardens, which include a taxus maze, kitchen garden, flower garden and vineyard.
KEMI: Laying the Foundation for Success
Cooper is adamant that KEMI was instrumental in helping him create such a successful career path. “KEMI serves as a launching pad for students wishing to pursue careers in the Thoroughbred industry. The model, comprised of networking, hands-on experience and coursework, has proven to be successful for almost 20 years. KEMI provided the foundation I needed as I was starting to build my career,” he explains. “If you have an interest in the Thoroughbred business, regardless of career path, this experience is a must,” Cooper says. “KEMI provides a built-in system for networking and building a knowledge base within the industry you can’t find on your own.”
KEMI students have to have some stick-to-itiveness, Cooper says with a laugh. “Everyone on the [Wimbledon] farm was trying to make me quit!” Even with the good-natured ribbing, Cooper knew he was meant for the Thoroughbred industry. “During orientation week [at KEMI], we went to a bunch of big farms and saw the stallions, like Giant’s Causeway. It’s an experience I will never forget … I really felt like I was a part of something bigger.”
Like every KEMI grad, Cooper acknowledged that there was a steep learning curve when he was placed on the farm. “I found working on a Thoroughbred farm initially was quite challenging because I was trying to learn as much as I could while still trying to do the best work possible,” he explains.
What he learned on Wimbledon Farm has translated to each of his subsequent career moves, where he garnered additional information and tactics he added to his management toolbox.
But one thing permeates every position he has had, on every farm: “No matter what your position is, take advantage of it, work as hard as you can and learn as much as you can, so you can apply that knowledge base as you progress in your career. And don’t be afraid to ask questions!” Cooper says.
Now married with three children, Cooper acknowledges that working on a farm is much more than a full-time job. Racing has taken a backseat to breeding (and kids); “to stay up with it all is still another full-time job!” he says.
Though he may not get to the races as often as he would like, Cooper is making his mark on the Thoroughbred industry in his own way, working toward the same goal that was instilled in him from his days at KEMI: the betterment of the farm.