Kith and Kin

Concord Stud Farm’s success is a family affair

story by Ken Weingartner

David Meirs III was watching his 4-year-old granddaughter, Harper, play with a toy horse one recent afternoon when the child turned the model on its back and began examining the feet.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“My pony’s lame,” Harper replied matter-of-factly.

Meirs laughed. Fortunately, Harper’s skills as a farrier remedied the situation.

Such is life at the Meirs’ home at Concord Stud Farm in central New Jersey, where horses—real and otherwise—abound. David and his wife, Robin, live on the 249-acre property and operate Concord Stud Farm with their oldest daughter, Julie, and occasional assistance from three other daughters and six grandchildren, ranging in age from 4 to 18. There is a seventh grandchild, who is 3 months old.

The grandchildren are knowledgeable about the business of the farm, from breeding and foaling mares to prepping yearlings for auction. David enjoys nothing more than watching the grandchildren join Robin for the birth of a foal, their eyes growing wide in wonder. The grandchildren also can be found engaged in equine activities, such as riding, and enjoy mimicking the work they see at the farm.

“They like being here and seeing what’s going on,” David said.

“They do. They love being here,” Robin said. “I think it’s wonderful to have the family all here and involved. They need to be included because it’s part of their heritage. Farming is who we are and we can’t afford to lose it.

“It’s been really good for Concord as it grows.”

David and Robin started Concord Stud Farm in 2003. The operation has expanded since then to include an additional 136 acres in central New Jersey and 148 acres in south central Pennsylvania. All totaled, Concord Stud Farm is home to more than 100 mares and raises foals that will either go to public auction at the Standardbred Horse Sale each November or go directly into training for private clients.

The farm keeps a core of five employees and adds workers as needed depending on the time of year. But overall, it is a family business, with the emphasis on family. David, Robin and Julie are at the center of the business, but Julie’s sisters—Kelly, Jessica and Kati—and their husbands, who all reside in New Jersey, are ready to chip in when needed.

“They all live within striking range and get called in when we need backup strength and numbers,” Robin said. “We probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t a family business.

“Payroll is the biggest nut to crack, as in any business, but in agriculture especially. It’s a balance. It’s an especially tricky balance as we’re trying to hire young people and what their expectations are coming into the work world. There aren’t many farm families left teaching their kids that work is not just 35 to 40 hours a week. Eighty-hour weeks are pretty much the norm, so you’ve got to love your work.”

All the decisions regarding the farm are made by David, Robin and Julie.

“It’s definitely rule by committee,” Robin said. “We all bring different strengths to the committee, so it really does work out well. David’s got phenomenal knowledge and contacts and abilities that he’s honed over the years. I brought equine experience with me to the family, but he really had all the Standardbred experience until we got started. Julie has the business experience, knowledge and youth. The business is changing with the times and you have to stay current with the times.

David is not really a social media kind of guy; Julie brings those skills to our family business.”

Julie, who graduated from Washington College with a degree in business management and obtained a master’s degree from West Chester University, is primarily responsible for the business side of the farm, but works in a variety of roles.

In addition, with a history of being a standout swimmer in both high school and college, she owns and coaches a swim team with her husband, Kip. There are 100 children on the team, ranging in age from 5 to 18, and 150 children take swim lessons through the program.

“It’s very busy, but busy is good,” Julie said. “I didn’t expect to be involved in the horses, but once Concord came to fruition in 2003, I came on board. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. There are many nights that I’m here burning the midnight oil, doing office work or what needs to be done in the barn.”

The work by all has paid dividends. Last year, Concord consigned 56 yearlings at the Standardbred Horse Sale. The horses sold for an average of $86,393 and included the two highest-selling yearlings, trotting fillies Fifty Cent Piece for $500,000 and Krickan for $415,000. Fifty Cent Piece, a daughter of Muscle Hill out of Thatsnotmyname, was raised at Concord Stud Farm for breeder Stefan Balazsi’s Order By Stable.

Krickan, a daughter of Trixton out of Solveig, was raised at Concord for Solveig’s Breeders, a group led by Christina Takter that includes Goran Anderberg, John Fielding and Fred Hertrich III. Concord joined the partnership after Krickan was born.

The $500,000 price for Fifty Cent Piece equaled the auction-sales record for a yearling filly trotter, which was set by Courtney Hall in 2003 and duplicated by Future Secured in 2015 at the Standardbred Horse Sale. Future Secured, by Cantab Hall, also was out of Thatsnotmyname and was raised at Concord. A year earlier, in 2014, Concord consigned Standardbred Horse Sale top-seller Brooklyn Hill.

Other horses raised at Concord Stud Farm in recent years include recent Dan Patch Award winners Atlanta, Gimpanzee, Kissin In The Sand and Youaremycandygirl, as well as O’Brien Award winner Alarm Detector. In December, Concord Stud Farm client Order By Stable was named the 2018 Breeder of the Year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

“It’s gratifying, amazingly gratifying,” Robin said. “It’s not just us. It involves our hard work and some good luck and a lot of good owners. We feel lucky to have hooked up with the owners that we have that have helped us reach this success. Strong, quality clients make for a strong farm. I think most of our clients are our friends, even the European clients I count as friends. We enjoy having them come here. We’re so pleased their horses are doing so well and they look so good.

“It is really hard work. I’m not sure people realize it. You see beautiful horses out here and it’s a lot of physical labor to keep them going. But we enjoy it and we love what we produce and how well everything is doing.”

During last year’s Standardbred Horse Sale, Concord Stud Farm hosted a two-hour brunch on the morning of the opening session. It was a new idea, one conceived by Julie and Robin. The event was well received, going through more than 200 plates.

“It was a way to give back to the owners and buyers,” Julie said. “Whether it helped them buy the horses, I’m not sure, but at least it put a smile on their faces. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.”

The farm is relatively quiet after the Standardbred Horse Sale in early November, but the work picks up again each January with the beginning of foaling season, followed a month later by the start of breeding season.

“We breed horses 24 hours a day,” Robin said. “The semen comes in [for artificial insemination] and we don’t let it sit. Depending on the time we’re able to get it here from one of the airports, we could be out here breeding mares at 11 or 12 or 1 in the morning.”

The eventual result is Robin’s favorite part of working with the horses.

“I really enjoy foaling the mares,” she said. “That miracle of birth, every single time, amazes me. Within 15 minutes, the mare goes into labor and, boom, out he comes. And then an hour-and-a-half later he’s standing and nursing. It’s pretty amazing.”

In the months leading up to the auction, Concord Stud Farm will see a number of visitors pass through to look at the horses that will be available.

“We’ll have people starting to inspect our yearlings probably in about [February],” David said. “Knowledgeable trainers, just coming to see what you have, like a store. They’re not sure what they really want, but they want to see what’s coming along. People are surprised how much they change. It’s just like kids, how athletes change.

“I like to see the way they handle different things, right from the day they’re born. I like to see how they handle the other babies they’re raised with, who are the more dominant ones of the group, who’s got that little bit of grit. I enjoy watching the yearlings, watching them move.”

Added Julie, “Many of them get to come back and do it all over again as broodmares. You get to see how the personalities that they had growing up here—how they generally have stayed the same when they come back after finishing their racing career. You get to do it again, all over again with them. It’s interesting to watch how they take on their next role in the circle of life.”

The horses are as much about family as the family that raises them. And as David discusses the farm and the work and the joy of sharing it all with his family, a wide smile crosses his face.

“It’s all of us, not one—all of us working together to getting where we’re happy,” David said. “We’ve been lucky in so many ways.” HB

Ken Weingartner is the USTA Media Relations Manager. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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