Spotlight On Waltzing Horse Farm & Lipizzan Breeder/Dressage Rider Sarah Casey
Located in New Berlin, NY, Waltzing Horse Farm has been in business as a private dressage training facility and horse farm breeding for 15 years. This Upstate New York location is home to an active Lipizzan breeding program and frequent visits from the elite riders and trainers of the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna to provide instruction in clinic format to dressage aficionados.
The Covid-19 pandemic has necessarily caused some changes to the plans for the 2020 showing season and also, a lifestyle change for Sarah Casey (SC), the current Manager/Trainer at the farm.
Catskill Horse magazine is pleased to share insight into the operations of the farm through an interview with Sarah Casey:
CH: How long have you run your own horse business in NY? How many horses do you currently have on the property? What is the breakdown viz training horses/breeding stock?
SC: I have been in business for the past 15 years, come October 2020. Today we are down to our lesser summer population, at 22. During the cold months we usually have 3 or 4 more that return annually. 7 are horses I train and work with, and the rest are a combination of breeding stock, youngsters who are growing up, and two retirees who do very limited lessons. The additional winter residents of the farm are typically horses ridden in a very steady lesson program by their owners.
CH: In regard to Lipizzan breeding, how did you become involved with the breed and what stallions do you currently stand? Are they available for stud or just for your use? Do you do live cover or AI? Or both. What new progeny do you have on the ground this season? What plans do you have for next season? What horses do you currently have for sale?
SC: I have been involved with the breed for at least 25 years, possibly closer to 30. That would be the majority of my years of riding (31). The riding stable I was taking lessons at when I was young, started to purchase Lipizzans from a breeder in Michigan. First it was a gelding, then his younger full brother, and next came a mare. That mare turned out to be the first Lip I ever sat on. She was a Devon Champion named Marina and she is the dam to my current star stallion, Maestoso Marina. The owner of this stable continued to purchase, breed, and eventually also import numerous Lipizzans. Super long story short but this woman's stable eventually closed and she wanted/needed a place for the better part of her herd to go to. That was when we found this farm in NY and brought the horses here.
The stallions currently standing at stud are Maestoso Marina, Conversano Belamilana, Maestoso Alga (frozen ICSI only), and Pluto Pompea. There is one likely and promising addition for 2021. Most of my own mares are bred via live cover, but there are exceptions when circumstances arise. For mares belonging to other owners or off farm, it is fresh cooled shipment only.
For 2020 I had bred two mares, but as it turns out we have just one foal, Maestoso Alga II. Our plans are to have four mares bred for 2021. Three of them are in utero agreements, so they already have owners assuming everything goes as planned.
I have two horses for sale at the moment, though they are not advertised as such. Most of my sales have always been through word of mouth, so I generally do not put much energy into advertising!
CH: How have you been coping as a training farm with the Covid19 crisis? What measures did you take during lockdown and how have you managed to continue your business throughout the various phases? And what has been your greatest challenge through this period?
SC: Well, since lessons were banned during the lockdown period, I had no choice but to let my help go. Of course this created the largest challenge, to create a new routine as I had to revert back to doing everything for the first time in a very long time. It certainly is not the first time this has happened, and it is unlikely to be the last time. I can live with that. But every cloud has a silver lining, and this one led to me realizing that what seemed to be the optimal business plan, was not in fact so.
The lockdown period gave me a lot to consider and I think it has changed the way I will continue doing business in the longer term future. Of course a lot is yet to be proven with the test of time. We will see. All that aside, the simple measures put into place during lockdown included no unnecessary visitors to the farm.
In the earliest days of the shutdown, everything on the farm was disinfected. Just the farrier and veterinarians were allowed on premise. Slowly over time, a couple of cautious owners started to trickle in to visit with their horses. The vast majority of my clients are of retirement age, so they have been happily compliant with the most stringent precautions in order to protect their own health. As NY State began to move through the phases of reopening, I felt no rush to go charging back to complete normalcy as quickly as possible. As we are all moving through this great experiment of cautiously reopening, I am only working with what I have right here at the farm....as in only the clients that already have horses here under my care for the time being.
CH: You mentioned you were not accepting new clients in 2020. Why is that?
SC: There are a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, I haven't really taken on new clients for a time now, as there has been a rather long waiting list for a number of years. The majority of horses I have in training end up staying longer than planned. I have a few who have been with me for 9-10 years now. Secondly, I feel I have quite enough to do as farm manager, trainer, instructor, breeder, officer on the board of directors for the United States Lipizzan Registry, and of course hoping to still have time for my second passion which is gardening. On top of it all, making the time to reach out to draw in additional clientele just does not seem prudent to making positive progress in the pandemic situation we are stuck with. All of that said, if I end up having a horse or two leave from the current batch, things could change and I may bring in a new one.
CH: How did you come to specialize in dressage? Who has your greatest influence/mentor been to date?
SC: I started out riding jumpers. Not the carefully trained and correct sort, but the wild riding by the seat of your pants kind. A couple of years in, I was lucky enough to meet and take a number of lessons with Klaus Fraessdorf. If my childhood memory is accurate I believe he had something to do with coaching the German showjumpers years ago, and then later on had a role in the formation of the equestrian communities down in FL. We had good fun. I loved his stories of rudely interrupting a lesson under a covered arena by jumping his horse over a parked car alongside the half wall of the ring....from outdoors to in! He also tormented us kids with escargot when we would go out to dine during horse show weekends. For sure Klaus played a role in my first basic education of extending and collecting the stride of a horse, specifically in order to reach the right spot in front of a fence.
My specialization in dressage came not very long after, I must have been around 11 years old. The first dressage clinic at the stable was blatantly ignored by my young and ignorant self. I remember my mother signed up to ride a very large Mecklenburg gelding with Hilda Gurney. Next, came Hubert Rohrer from Austria (my first actual dressage lessons), and then Herwig Radnetter. Luckily Hubert was kind to us children...I thought he was completely nuts for trying to tell me to turn my horse using the outside rein! Herwig Radnetter came as a Bereiter from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. I had many lessons with him on both Lipizzaners already trained to FEI levels and having competed at Devon with their prior owner, and also a stallion that had been imported from the Spanish Riding School.
Shortly after I graduated from college I had to move to NY. There was just a one year break from these annual clinics I was so fortunate to have access to during all of my teenaged years. We started up again with a young Bereiter from the School, Marius Schreiner. I believe we hosted him here at Waltzing Horse Farm for three years. Then Andreas Hausberger, Chief Rider of the school began to travel to NY. I hosted him for 5 day clinics for the next 6 years. During that time I was able to also work into a mentor type of relationship with Arthur Kottas, of which we are in the fifth year.
CH: Who would you like to work with in the dressage world outside of your present sphere? What riders/trainers do you look up to?
SC: I guess my next possible interest could be Carl Hester. There is some possibility of learning a bit from Bettina Drummond at some point. Aside from that, after thinking on it for a few days, I am not sure I find many top riders interesting enough to go outside of my current sphere.
CH: If there was one book that you have read that you believe is a must read for a dressage rider which one would it be and why?
SC: Centered Riding, the first version. Why? Because as a young rider, after I read that book for the first time, I went and rode and realized for the first time in my life that I could FEEL so much of what was happening under the saddle! Who knew?
CH: What advice would you give to someone who was interested in starting up a horse farm?
SC: If you expect to be successful you had best be very, very good in your field of whatever it is you do! Mediocrity does not lead to success.
CH: Who helps you out on your team there - taking care of daily chores? Training wise?
SC: In normal times I have 1-2 working students and a part time helper. I had two new live-in working students who were scheduled to move in during this past Spring. Of course the pandemic and especially the state of things in NY at the time put those plans to a halt. This Spring and early Summer my husband stepped up and helped me out more than usual. In just a couple of days we will finally see our new full time working student arriving....from NYC.
CH: Are you planning to attend shows during this pandemic or not?
CH: Do you compete down in FL in the winter or stay Upstate NY all year around?
SC: No, never done the Florida thing. I am happy to stay up North.
CH: How involved is your husband in the farm? Do you manage it primarily? I know he is a super talented photographer. Does he sell any of his photo work? If so, where can people view it to buy?
SC: I do all of the management myself. He steps in for some of the necessary construction projects from time to time. He does do a lot of great photography, but he does not market any of it. However, he has been known to sell when someone makes an offer! He has many interests aside from photography....building guitars from scratch and making wooden signs (like stall plates, or even full size signs for businesses).
CH: Were you born in NY? Do you plan to stay in NY? Do you have family here?
SC: I was born in Green Bay, WI. All of my family is back in the Wisconsin/Minneapolis/Chicago area. My husband Nihal has a brother in NJ but all of his other relatives who once lived in the Northeast have moved on. We hope that later on when it comes time to down size, to move back towards the Midwest.
CH: Do you have any events (online etc.) that you would like to tell us about?
SC: No. Nothing currently.
CH: What is the best way for folks to contact you if they are interested in your training services or horse sales?
SC: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or call me at 508-733-4809.