Hopes and Dreams

Beth Yontz’ path to building Anvil and Lace Farm

story by Gordon Waterstone and Kathy Parker

Establishing a breeding farm is a major undertaking, but for Elizabeth “Beth” Yontz, the dream began—as it does with many in the horse business—largely because of one horse. For Yontz, that horse was Dancewiththebest.

Dancewiththebest is the dam of the winners of more than $3.6 million, including $2 million winner Dancin Yankee and $991,441 winner Dancin Lou, the 2019 Breeders Crown 3-Year-Old Colt & Gelding Pace champion.

Happenstance gave Yontz the opportunity to acquire Dancewiththebest and then breed Dancin Yankee and Dancin Lou. The mare was owned by one of Saga Farm’s clients, and once her racing days were over, the owners decided not to keep her as a broodmare. But at the time, Yontz didn’t have much money.

“I was eating ramen noodles!” she quipped.

Yontz’ plan for Dancewiththebest did not immediately include making the mare a broodmare.

“I said I’d take her for a year and ride her and then I’ll breed her next year,” said Yontz of the daughter of Cambest who took a mark of p,4,1:54.4f. “I tried to ride her once and she was the nastiest thing to try and ride. So, I said we were going to change tunes and she is going to have to be a broodmare. I got her in late October, and I ended up breeding her the next spring to Yankee Cruiser. That was Dancin Yankee. He is the first horse I ever bred.”

From there, Yontz said her path to establishing a farm was a product of her work experiences and “hopes and dreams.”

Today she owns and operates Anvil and Lace Farm, in Cynthiana, Ky., just north of Lexington. Yontz, who will celebrate her 40th birthday on Oct. 22, wasn’t born into a harness racing family, but was familiar with horses as her mother trained Thoroughbreds. As a youngster, Yontz rode and showed horses. And in just seven short years working with Standardbreds, she purchased a piece of property, created a working horse farm, and kept an eye out for prospective clients until becoming so established that she had to lease additional acreage to accommodate the horses of her customers.

Yontz’ journey to establish Anvil and Lace—and work in the horse industry—began with a bit of happenstance, when a college friend offered her a job at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“I grew up in Bedford, Ky.,” said Yontz. “It’s in between Louisville and Cincinnati on Interstate 71. It’s a one-stoplight town, where everybody knows everybody, but nobody knows where it’s at. My mom, Beth, pony clubbed, and my grandmother pony clubbed when she was young. My dad, Gus, was not involved with horses until he met my mother.

“There are win pictures of me with Thoroughbreds back in the day, when I was five, at Turfway Park and River Downs,” she added.

Since her mother and grandmother were involved with horses at a young age, it was a natural activity for young Beth.

“I always had ridden and had riding horses,” she recalled. “I did team roping. I went to national showing miniatures. I also did a lot of 4-H stuff.”

Yontz received a basketball and softball scholarship to Midway College, outside of Lexington. She played softball with Missy Schulte, whose father, Jim, was involved with Standardbreds.

When Missy graduated from Midway, she started the riding concession at the Kentucky Horse Park. Thanks to her friendship with Missy, Yontz joined the staff at the Horse Park. Next came a job working at the Red Mile for security director Harvey Taylor. And in the typical interconnected nature of the horse business, Taylor’s wife was the sister of the late Schare Adams, who operated Saga Farm, a boutique Standardbred breeding farm in central Kentucky.

“I started with Schare in 2003 and worked for her for 6½ years,” said Yontz. “Harvey said she needed somebody to help prep yearlings. I had prepped Thoroughbred yearlings during the summers in high school. I told Harvey I could prep a yearling, but I didn’t know anything about Standardbreds. He said to go interview with Schare. And the rest is history.”

In February 2009, when Walnut Hall Limited was looking for a yearling manager, Yontz applied and got the job. Her husband, Doug, was her lead to the job at the farm; he was handling the farm’s blacksmith work.

Suddenly, Yontz was working at one of the most storied Standardbred farms in history, the legendary Walnut Hall. Walnut Hall Limited is operated by Alan Leavitt and his wife, Meg Jewett Leavitt, whose family founded Walnut Hall.

“Alan is in the Hall of Fame. He looks at things a different way sometimes, and sometimes it’s great and sometimes it didn’t work out,” said Beth of working at Walnut Hall Limited. “But he produced some of the best stallions over the years and bred great horses.

“When I was there, in addition to working for Alan, I met many other people, including some of the top vets in the world. I had a chance to work hand in hand with Dr. (Larry) Bramlage, and the trainers who would come in and look at the yearlings. At the time we had Amour Angus, Canne Angus and Canland Hall—the best broodmares in the world—so you had every trainer going there. I still talk to Alan often.”

When Walnut Hall Limited began downsizing, Yontz thought she needed a challenge, and she also was inspired by watching her friend Schare Adams.

“I was always the one who had to go big or go home,” she said about her first thoughts of starting her own farm. “I discussed it with Doug, and he said, ‘Nobody is going to care for the horses that you have.’ I thought if I could get a few here and there, I could make a living at it.”

In January 2015, the Yontzes bought a piece of farmland in Cynthiana.

“We looked at a lot of places,” Beth recalled. “Doug actually found [the main farm] and kept bringing me out. It had no electric, it had no water, it had no driveway. You had some wire perimeter fence that kept the cows in.

“So, we started from scratch. I had the money as I had sold some good yearlings and I sold one when I was with Leavitt for around $110,000, and then another one the next year. The first year at the farm we put in over $100,000 just in fence. The barn had no stalls, so we had to do that, and we had to run the water lines. It was a big investment, but after working for other farms, I set it up the way it would function best. And so far so good.”

Yontz named her new venture Anvil and Lace Farm. She said the word anvil is from her husband’s work, and for some reason—she’s not sure exactly why—they added the word lace. She chose to use the color purple for her logo and signs, and offers the following explanation:

“I love orange, but you can’t do orange because that’s automatically Hanover. The blues, you have Hunterton and Kentucky, and Schare (Adams’ Saga Farms). The greens, you have Kentuckiana and Peninsula. As far as choosing purple, it’s something different that would stand out.”

Anvil and Lace began with a six-stall barn and some racehorse turnouts, plus a couple of broodmares Yontz owned. With the development of the Kentucky mare residency program and boom in purse money for horses that fit the criteria, the Anvil and Lace operation has expanded.

“We own eight or 10 mares right now,” said Yontz. “We do foal shares with people here and there, including with Crawford Farm and some with Diamond Creek for a few years. That really helped because of the quality of horse that they brought in; I wouldn’t have been able to be involved with this early on.”

Since the main Anvil and Lace Farm is only 50 acres, the Yontzes bought another 56 acres, and Beth has rented other property to accommodate her growing client roster.

“[The farms] are spread out more than I like but I can’t afford one 500-acre farm, so I have to spread out accordingly,” she noted. “Each farm operates as its own little farm. I don’t have enough stalls at one to prep all the yearlings.”

As with most farms, Beth has found hiring employees—and keeping them—can be difficult.

“My staff could be anywhere from four, eight, nine, 10 or 12 people,” she said. “The job market is hard. People don’t want to work on the farm anymore.”

On the other hand, Yontz started her horse farm venture because she wanted to work on a farm. She takes a hands-on approach, spending her days at her main farm and traveling to the nearby farms she rents. On a late summer day, she was overseeing the production of yearling videos—she had 56 in her Lexington Selected Sale consignment and 14 for the Ohio Selected Jug Sale—while bathing horses.

“We are very hands-on,” she said. “The babies all have halters on when they are eight hours old. They all get led and don’t follow their mothers. When it’s time for the blacksmith we lead them in. We don’t let them run wild like cows. It takes a little more manpower. I do it different than other farms.

“I live at the main farm and my alarm goes off at 6 a.m. and I’m at the barn by 7 most days. I like to be here when the help gets here to get everything going. When we shuffle horses around, I drive the truck and trailer. I have some good help and on vet days, I can send a vet to another farm, and I don’t have to be there.

“I normally hit at least two farms a day. I don’t hit them all, but some days I do. Breeding season I am normally around, and we foal everything at the main farm.”

When asked about the best advice she has been given, Beth recalled something her mother once told her: “I can tell you the advice I didn’t take. It came from my mother, who said to make this a hobby and not a profession. Every time I rent another farm, she says, ‘I told you, Elizabeth, to make this a hobby.’ I say, ‘Yes, but when I jump in, I jump in all the way.’”

As for having any kind of business philosophy, Yontz says it’s simple: “Always to do what’s best for the horses. The horses always come first.

“What people don’t realize is the after-hours. When my staff goes home, I’m still in the barn at 10 o’clock at night doing night checks. I’m on the computer watching races. It’s not just buy the land and put horses on it.

“First and foremost, I’m a horsewoman. I’ll go out in the back of my house and look out in the field, and I’ll see something I don’t think is normal. Let’s go check the baby’s temperature. We check temperatures twice a day. Even though the babies don’t come inside, they are touched twice a day. That’s where I need more staff because it’s time-consuming. I know that. But at the end of the day, if you take a temperature and it’s high, you can catch it before they show actual clinical signs.”

Although her client list has put more horses under her care during peak season than she ever expected—about 250 in 2022—Yontz still has goals for herself and Anvil and Lace Farm.

She aspires to sell the big horses at the fall select yearling sales, working amid the Standardbred industry’s breeding giants.

“When we bought the 50 acres, Schare (Adams) had 50 acres and made a living,” she said. “I thought I could make a living with 50 acres and never need more. Within a year and a half, we bought the annex. And we’ve rented since then. I had no idea, no idea.

“There’s Bob Brady (Kentuckiana), Steve Stewart (Hunterton Farm) and Carter Duer (Peninsula Farm), who I idolized. And Schare was still active then. So why would I think I would need more than 50 acres? Just get some of my own, have some small clients, and have fun and make a living.

“At the end of the day, I’d love to find one big farm and consolidate. Just so that there is not so much running,” she added. “The ultimate goal is to breed a Little Brown Jug winner; that’s the stuff that keeps me going.

“Last year we sold one for $350,000 (Knights Tale, a sister to Workin Ona Mystery) for a client. I want to be one of those first-day horses. And I think next year’s crop could be it. We have Shartin’s foal; we have phenomenal horses. Every year the stock that my clients and myself have will get better and better. The ultimate goal is to have the best.”

Yontz may not sell the top yearling this fall, but she has one in particular she hopes sells for very good money: Dancin Lou’s full brother (by Sweet Lou). “Sweet Lous are doing well this year so hopefully he will do well,” she said. HB

Gordon Waterstone is a USTA editorial specialist. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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