by Victoria M. Howard
Everybody has a dream job — something they would love to do but unfortunately never get a chance to do in their life. My dream job would be working at a breeding horse farm. Unfortunately, I’m too old for that now because although it appears to be a fun and fulfilling job it is a lot of hard work. But imagine seeing new life brought in the world and watching these beautiful four-legged babies perhaps grow into a world champion.
That is exactly what Heather Reese gets to do and at one of the most prestigious standardbred horse farms in the industry — Crawford Farms.
“I love watching our yearlings go through the sales pen, but it’s also a great feeling watching everything go full circle. I breed the mares, take care of them for the 11-plus months they’re pregnant, foal them out, raise their foals, sales prep them, watch them go through the sales pen then train down and finally make it to the races.”
Heather, along with three other managers (Britney Gale, Nick Emmons, Megan Comino) and many other employees oversee and manage Crawford Farms in Central New York.
Anndrovette, Funk N Waffles, Krispy Apple, Spellbound Hanover, Homicide Hunter and Monkey On My Wheel are just a few of the many broodmares, racehorses, and retirees who call Crawford Farms home.
“Anndrovette is very picky. She’s particular about how things get done. She hates having a chain over her nose and if you’re not doing things her way, she puts her head up as high as she can (and being 5’1” it doesn’t take much),” Heather said, laughing.
“Krispy Apple is best buddy with my own broodmare and between the two of them they’ve earned over $3 million.
“Spellbound Hanover is pregnant with her 17th foal (which will be a full sibling to Marion Marauder.) She’s the queen of the herd.
“Funk N Waffles, an ordinary looking horse is a sweetheart. Being average looking you would never pick him out as finishing second in the Little Brown Jug and earning almost a million dollars.
“And last but not least is Monkey On My Wheel — the fussiest horse on the farm. She hates walking in and out of stalls and loading on a trailer, but after earning almost $2 million we play be her rules.”
Reese began working for Al Crawford’s father, Jim, and continued with Al and Michelle when Jim passed and his son and daughter-in-law took over the farm nine years ago.
“I took a job with Jim during winter break my freshman year of college and never went back to school. It was my first job managing any sort of breeding facility, but it was significantly smaller at that time. I think we had a total of 25 mares and no racehorses on the farm aside from an old retired gelding.
“I tried the whole college thing, but it wasn’t for me. I made it through one semester and worked for Mr. Crawford a couple of years. Following that I worked for sports medicine vet, Dr. Sievers. We stayed at Vernon, New York half the year and the other half in Wellington, Florida. When Al and Michelle called and said there was a position available, I jumped.”
Since then, Crawford Farms has turned into a top boutique breeding operation promoting the sport in every way possible.
“We have a yearling farm and a farm in Cazenovia where the retired horses live. Right now, we house around 45 yearlings, almost 100 mares we are breeding and about 45 retired horses.
“In the fall after the yearlings are sold the racehorses come back for their winter rest and to rehab any injuries they may have sustained during the year. We foal and breed mares, sale and prep the yearlings, send the racehorses to trainers to race, and the cycle starts all over again.”
I asked Heather what makes Crawford Farms so successful.
“They are 300 per cent for the industry in every aspect. While other farms are cutting back, Crawford Farms is diving in deeper,” Reese said. “Our broodmare numbers have more than tripled since I started working here and that goes for the racehorses, too. Michelle and I were joking earlier this year about how when I started, we were ecstatic about one of our colts being ‘Excelsior Colt Of The Year’ and this year the farm had Homicide Hunter’s big record and Atlanta winning The Hambletonian. Al and Michelle are incredible people to work for.”
The only thing negative about working on a breeding farm is when you work with these incredible animals on a day-to-day basis you are bound to get attached.
“I do get attached. My favorite mare is Ali Badali. She’s 24 years old and has been here since I started working for Jim. She’s super special to me because at one time my uncle trained her. I have foaled her out a lot of times. The last time she foaled she hemorrhaged and I thought we would lose her. Luckily, she survived and is now living at the Cazenovia Farm. I get to see her when she comes to live at the yearling farm for the winter. She’s a real princess and likes to get a blanket on.
“Occasionally, I get attached to a yearling but I’m pretty thick skinned — you have to be. Other than that, thankfully most horses don’t leave the farm for good. I tell people ‘Crawford Farms is like the Hotel California. You can check in but you’ll never check out!”