Breeding Life into her Sport
03 Aug 2019
Diane Veasy explains the high stakes and nurturing of horse breeding
By Chrissy Neville
Southern Oaks Farm, home of Veasy Sport Horses, is a breed apart from the host of horse farms which dot the highways and byways of Sandhills horse country. That’s because Danielle Veasy, the 47-year-old lifelong horsewoman and farm owner, learned early on that the best horses are bred, not born, through selective and methodical means. For the meticulous matchmaker, crossing high-quality broodmares with exceptional sires has been both her life’s passion and work.
Veasy grew up in La Jolla, California and began riding horses at age seven. Her grade and high school years were filled with riding lessons and horse shows, as she competed in English hunter and jumper divisions and dressage. Her skill and drive led her to show in Canada during her junior year of high school, traveling with her trainer on a circuit that took her and a gaggle of girls like her, through Canada and the U.S. Pacific coast. She was living, what she described, the horse lover's dream, but still, she felt one day she would do even more.
“I had a childhood friend who rode horses with me,” Veasy reflected. “And she always wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian and I was going to be the horse breeder. We would joke and say that she would be my personal vet. Being a breeder was the dream that became a reality.”
Fast forward some years post high school and college at the University of Virginia where Veasy rode on the school’s equestrian team and also, on a wild hair, galloped racehorses and “broke babies” at the race track, today she is a nationally-known horse breeder, trainer and seller. She and her husband, Dr. George Veasy, an orthopedic surgeon, moved here from Salt Lake City in 1999 with this goal in mind.
“After living in the urban areas of California and Utah, we were ready to buy a large piece of land.” Veasy said. “We moved to Aberdeen and I met my neighbor, who was a big dressage breeder. When she recruited me to help her, I realized then there was a great market for dressage babies.”
Babies. That is a recurring word in Veasy’s everyday vernacular. To be in her presence for long is to hear about breeding babies, putting babies on the ground, weaning, caring for, feeding, and breaking those same babies, showing in hand babies, and marketing, selling, or keeping the babies to ride and train now and list later.
One would almost think she had a bias for babies or something like that. But, oh wait, she does.
“I love working with babies rather than older horses,” she explained. “It is not just anybody who can break a foal and teach it to stand and go around the ring and train it up under saddle. I prefer to work with the babies.”
And babies she has had. Veasy’s progeny bear her last name, or VZ, for a phonetic abbreviation and bit of flare. For example, from Versailles, her Dutch foundation mare sired by the Dutch Olympic sire Ferro, also known as Olympic Ferro, has henceforth come the stallion Bourbon VZ, Damiana VZ, Early Times VZ, French Martini VZ, Gin Rickey VZ, Harrison VZ, Idonis VZ, Jade VZ, and Presley VZ. Some sold at age 2 or 3, some as a yearling or weanling, a couple were kept as broodmares, and two are now for sale. All this from one mare, and from her others, too many offspring to name.
The other half in the breeding pair varies. Veasy has a penchant for the Dutch, or the KWPN-NA, breed, known for stringency in what is allowed in their book, or registry of horses, but delves in the Oldenburg, or GOV, line as well. Her most prodigious sire, an Olympic stallion aptly named Idocus, resonates of Greek legend.
“The horses have to be European and they have to be papered,” she explained. “The sire has to be approved into the Dutch registry. Most other registries are not as strict, but a few have even more regulations.”
These sires and dams never meet though. No candle-light dinners or long walks on the beach here. In the sport horse world, Veasy clarified, all registered thoroughbreds require live cover to breed. As for the rest, like her Dutch and German equines, artificial insemination is employed using fresh or frozen semen for the ease and safety of both mare and stallion. The procedure is expensive with everything from the samples to the shipping costing thousands of dollars, not to mention the veterinarian bills. And according to Veasy, it is also a gamble.
“There are no guarantees. Sometimes the breeding takes and sometimes it does not,” she said. “The vet uses timed insemination and it costs a lot because he has to ultrasound the broodmare every 4-6 hours when frozen semen is used, and that can go on days. Like last year, I spent over $20,000 overall to get five mares pregnant, resulting in four pregnancies but with two aborting. In the end, there were two babies on the ground.”
According to the horsewoman, the breeding happens March through June normally but says some mares can be bred earlier or later depending on their heat cycle. She further explained that the cycles can be extended by using artificial lighting to simulate the longer, warmer days. Full-term gestation is 320 days but Veasy said that mares can “cook” as long as 360 days at times. With the breed-to-birth period taking nearly a full year it is a time-crunch to rebreed before the season is over.
“It gets quite technical,” she asserted. “My biology degrees serves me well.”
This year Veasy added O’Henry VZ in March and Bella VZ in May to her long list of progeny. Like a proud mother, she took Bella to her first Oldenburg (GOV) inspection in June where she earned First Premium, a good ranking for the foal. O’Henry will travel September 9 to the Lumberton County Agricultural Center, where Veasy and fellow breeder Melanie Harper will host the Dutch inspection. Veasy expects good results for the weanling.
She has reason to be confident. Veasy’s young stock has consistently placed in the top 10 at inspections and breed shows as foals, fillies and colts, with one 3-year-old being named Champion and another Reserve Champion for the U.S. a few years ago. And after the age of 3 when Veasy trains her horses under saddle, it is her turn to turn heads and win over judges whether she’s riding, showing or foxhunting her protégés.
Such awards and rankings help Veasy not only excel in breeding the best but in marketing and selling her sensational steeds as well. With her “babies” fetching anywhere from low-to mid-five figures over the years, she says trained 6-to-7-year-olds with great show records sell upwards of the six-figure mark.
Veasy is not alone in the breeding business in the Sandhills. A number of others are wielding expertise with other breeds and methods such as Equito Dressage and Arion Sporthorses. Horse breeding gets in line with all of horse country’s other business and pleasure pursuits but upon consideration, takes its proper place in order -- right in front.