For most people, retirement plans involve relaxing and taking it easy. But for two couples in Central Alberta, retirement means sleepless nights, twice daily feed schedules, endless barn chores, paperwork, veterinarians, fence building, trips with the truck and trailer to stallion farms and training facilities, and hours and hours on the computer researching pedigrees, browsing sale catalogues and watching horse races.
Kathy and Cliff Coonfer have always owned horses, in fact there are a couple of fat, shiny Quarter Horses standing in a paddock along their lane just west of Olds. But rather than pursue more sedate horse activities in their retirement, they leapt into raising Standardbreds after a visit to the track with friends who are in the business. With a desire to learn as much as possible, Kathy attended Pedigree Camp in P.E.I and after being partners in a few mares they decided to start a small breeding operation. The plan was to purchase ONE good mare, sell her offspring at the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association yearling sale and start building a small foundation for their Dungannon Standardbreds farm.
Kathy and Cliff both smile when they point to their band of 5 mares, 4 foals and 3 yearlings. So much for owning just one…! Both Kathy and Cliff talk with passion about the challenge of putting together the best horse program they can, which means using the mare’s pedigree as a base for speed, but also breeding for conformation, temperament and marketability. For Kathy, the biggest thrill is taking her yearlings to the sale knowing they are looking their best and selling them on to owners who will race them. Going to the races to cheer on the ‘babies’ is an added thrill for Cliff, but is almost too stressful for Kathy unless there’s a trip to the winner’s circle involved! With their careful selection of bloodlines, solid horsemanship and passion for the industry, there will be many trips to the winner’s circle for Dungannon bred Standardbreds!
Roy and Mona McClintock were also involved in horses, team roping, taking pack trips, trail riding and breeding a few draft mares for pleasure. Roy moved to Caroline from Ireland in 1978, and he always wanted to own a thoroughbred racehorse. Now in semi-retirement, the McClintock’s have jumped into the industry with both feet! Not one to do things in a conventional manner, Roy bought a stallion (sight unseen off of an internet site for retired thoroughbreds) and a band of broodmares before he’d ever stepped foot on a track in Alberta! At the local equipment dealership Roy heard about a horseman in the area who might be able to provide some help with the registration process and it was the start of some wonderful friendships with breeders, owners and trainers in the industry.
For Roy and Mona raising their foals, watching them grow as yearlings and sending them to the track as two and three year-olds has been an amazing adventure. They both insist their trainer take his time with the young horses, stressing that patience is as important as wins. Their patience has paid off and the first three homebreds have hit the track running! With only 9 starts, they have a win, three seconds, and a third, which is successful for any owner. Roy was on his boat deep sea fishing during their first start as breeder/owner and he circled around until he could find a signal for his cell phone to watch the race on-line. Mona was pacing and cheering from the rail and it’s hard to know which one of them was more excited when their horse made a spectacular move and just missed for a second place finish. Roy insists that Mona should have been able to hear him from the north Pacific he was yelling so loud! The joy of being in the paddock with a horse they raised, the adrenaline rush of cheering their baby down the lane and the thrill of getting to the winner’s circle with one of their homebred McClintock Thoroughbreds has been a dream come true.
There are 400 farms and ranches in Alberta that breed Standardbred, Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse race horses, with many being small family-based operations. For Cliff and Kathy Coonfer and Roy and Mona McClintock, being part of the Alberta horse racing industry has provided friendships, fun, and fulfillment and is their perfect retirement plan.