Career Spotlight: Art Zubrod and Leah Cheverie of Brittany Farms LLC
Have you been considering a career at a large training center and breeding farm? Read on for a bit of insight into this career path.
HHYF: Tell us a little bit about what you do on a day to day basis at the farm, both individually and as a team.
Leah: I am very fortunate to work with Donna Schulte and Stephanie Ball, and of course Art in the office. We work as a team and are constantly communicating with each other regarding everything farm-related. Everything is computerized now and we have a very good farm management system that allows us to keep up all the horse records, billing, collections, and personnel. We are in breeding season right now so we have been centered around foaling, breeding Brittany & Partners mares, outside breedings to Stallions we stand and breedings sold, collections of Service Fees, etc. Dale and Patty Logan are on the outside and they are constantly updating us on what is happening on the outside mares foaling, mares to be bred, mares to ship, etc. We have a very good system in place and it works for us – communication is the key! We also have an office in Chicago so we are communicating with George and the girls there about everything horse-related.
Art: We started working for George Segal in 1983 at a leased farm in Lexington. In the early days I basically touched everything every day. We grew rapidly and purchased 411 acres of what was to become Brittany Farms in December 1985. By 1987 we hired our first foremen, first Patty Mowary and then Dale Logan. Patty would soon become Patty Logan. They both continue to work with us as we have many employees with over 20 years of employment. It is important to both of us to run the farm like it is a family farm.
At that time I still spent the greater part of my day hands-on. I would be in the shed every time a yearling or foal was being trimmed. I would be in attendance for every foal delivery and at this time our racehorse recuperation was becoming an essential part of the farm. I still enjoy seeing a foal born, it is good for my soul. It is still rewarding taking a racehorse that needs help and getting them back in top order.
We made our first foray into stallion management in 1988 with Tucson Hanover standing in NY. As we stood more stallions more and more of my day was spent behind the desk and on the phone. In those days we started by handwriting lists for everything and by noon the lists needed editing, that was before the computer made life “easy”. By the mid-’90s we were managing a powerful stallion lineup and breeding over 1000 mares a year. That change everything for us. We grew to a large office staff and the majority of my time was spent on that.
We have downsized pretty rapidly over the last 5 years and it has made all of our lives easier. Instead of going 60mph 24/7 we generally have a much calmer day ahead of us.
One thing that has not changed since our first day is relying on each other for opinions and as a sounding board. In the early days we both took those differing opinions a little harder than we do now. We have worked together every day for 44 years and it has been quite rewarding, we make a great team.
HHYF: What are your favorite parts of your job? And least?
Leah: I really enjoy the breeding, foaling, and raising yearlings – watching them develop and mature is very rewarding. When baby races start in the spring I can’t wait to get on the computer and find all the Brittany two-year-olds making starts – I enjoy the challenge of naming the babies so that’s what I am working on now that’s fun for me.
The least favorite part of what I do is collections – It was extremely difficult in the beginning for me to have to call someone and say ‘hey you owe us money when can we expect payment’ – we have always worked with our customers; if they need help we have extended them extra time, payment plan and no interest just as long as they’ve made an effort! After 37 years with Brittany I’ve gotten a little better at it!!
Art: I still pretty much enjoy every aspect of the horse business but I think watching the weanlings develop into equine athletes as yearlings is my most enjoyable. We have had a field or two of yearling colts right outside our house for years and it definitely helps start the day off well. I used to hate loading the yearlings for the sale but I no longer do that. The only other thing that I really don’t like is doing videos of the yearlings. It is a tremendous amount of work to get it right.
HHYF: How did you get involved with Standardbreds?
Leah: I grew up on Prince Edward Island where legendary Joe O’Brien was born and raised. There were quite a few Maritimers that went to work with Joe in Shafter, California where he trained. I had a family member that went to work for him for a couple of years prior to returning and going back to school. So, when I graduated from High School and didn’t know what I wanted to do decided I would go for a year or two. Joe was training horses for Armstrong Bros. and I went there to Ontario and then went to KY with a load of yearlings then on to California – I worked with Joe a couple of years and then went to Florida to Ben White Raceway and worked for Jim Miller – I met Art in Florida and we came back up to Lexington in the spring and worked for Howard Beissinger. We were married in 1977 and decided to stay in Kentucky and not go back to the racetrack. We knew we wanted to have children. So, from there I went to work for Schare Adams at Kentuckiana and then Carter Duer.
Art: My mother and I started a riding and training stable in 1967 in Louisville, KY, my home town. It is still in existence today, being run by my sister and our two daughters, and bigger than ever. We focused on the American Saddlebred but I bought and sold any type of riding horse. We were quite successful but a major recession hit in 1974 and we went a long time between horse sales. I had met future blacksmith Kip Huntzinger with the show horses. He went to work in 1974 for the Bowsers racing the NY and NJ circuit and wintering at Ben White Raceway. I was ready for a fresh start and chose standardbreds over thoroughbreds because of the hands-on aspect. Kip was assistant for Hilda Heydt and I took a job there in Dec. 1976. I also met Leah at the time. After spending a summer on the road with Howard Beissinger we decided that if we were going to have a family someday that the racetrack wasn’t the place for us. Leah got a job at Kentuckiana Farms and I went to work for them a few months later. We worked there for 5 years before I took a job for a very short stint at Lana Lobell in Pa. A job with George Segal became available after a few months and the rest is history.
HHYF: How have your careers evolved from the time you started with horses?
Leah: Well, I started on the racetrack went to the farm and did everything outside as far as taking care of horses. When Carter Duer came to Kentuckiana he offered me to come inside and work with him in the office so that’s what I did I would take care of a couple of usually hard to get along with yearlings and do office work as well. I got pregnant and had our first child in 1982 – Art took a job in PA so we moved to Hanover for a few short months of which I didn’t work. In the summer of 83 we moved back to Kentucky and started working with George Segal as a team. We have been working with each other ever since. I have been blessed to work with Art every day – I have had many mentors that I am thankful for including George who taught me a lot about life.
I love my work on the farm it keeps me motivated and I enjoy every aspect of what I do – it changes daily and there is always something new that I am learning. I am 65 years old this year and I have no intention of retiring. I had no idea that the farm life would be my career – it just happened – it wasn’t planned. I intended to go back to Prince Edward Island and go to school.
Art: We have been blessed to work with Mr. Segal. He has allowed us to run the farm as if it was ours. He has also taught both of us a lot about life and business. When we were at our peak with 150 mares and 9 stallions he and I spoke several times a day. We have both been very fortunate to be able to own parts of several successful racehorses over the past few years.
HHYF: How involved are you with the marketing of the farm’s yearlings and stallion interests?
Art: The key to marketing yearlings for Brittany Farms is the product. We produce an outstanding yearling and we stand behind them 100%. Marketing for the stallions is an ever-evolving process. In the early days I found that direct mail was quite successful with the regional stallions. Of course hours were spent on developing a marketing plan for each stallion and our advertising budget at one time was around $300,000 annually. Right now we have Real Desire, who is not a competitive stallion anymore, and American Ideal. American Ideal is well syndicated and doesn’t need many mares to fill out his book. However, we do a lot of marketing promoting his yearlings for the sales and the success of his racehorses.
HHYF: For young people interested in becoming farm managers or getting into the breeding business what is the one thing you recommend they do to get started?
Leah: I went to the racetrack first which I feel really helped me understand the business. Then, when I went to the farm, I understood what breeders were trying to accomplish and where the finished product would end up. But whatever road you decide to take that’s best for you – love and respect the animal, work hard and work with the best people possible – open your eyes – farm life is not an easy life – it’s demanding and animals require a lot of care. So, be prepared to be able to expect the worst and the best!!!
Art: I would tell young people that want to become a farm manager or get into the breeding business the following: The first thing I would tell you is to examine why you want this. If it isn’t because of a complete love of the horse forget it. It is too all-consuming of a career to choose otherwise. Personally my goal was to be around great horses. I started rubbing show horses and worked for several Hall of Fame (HOF) trainers and then worked for 2 HOF standardbred trainers. Luckily for me the association with Mr. Segal afforded me to fulfill my dream of spending every day with great horses.