Settling South

Sergent Stables moves boutique breeding operation from Pennsylvania to Florida

by Kathy Parker

A love for horses, and a life working with them, can easily unite and create partnerships that are more happenstance than planned. That’s how Sergent Stables became a notable breeder of Standardbred racehorses.

Sergent Stables is one of the many entities that breed a relatively small number of Standardbreds each year. Its recent graduates include 2021 Adios champion Hellabalou p,3,1:48.4f ($412,084) and stakes winners Sister Sledge 3,1:51.2 ($842,815) and Always A Miki p,2,1:50.2 ($418,982), who captured the 2020 Governor’s Cup.

Sergent Stables was initially strictly a boarding operation for horses competing in hunter and jumper classes. The operation was founded by Erika Sergent, who began lobbying her father for a horse when she was a young girl.

“Neither of my parents are into horses,” said Erika, who recently celebrated her 30th birthday. “At about 11 or 12 years old, my family moved to Indiana, Pa., and the exciting thing about that for me was that I had been begging my parents to start riding (horses). They told me that when we moved (to Indiana), I could get a horse, so I got my first horse at age 13.”

Her love of horses never waned and accelerated when her family moved to a 100-acre farm.

“We had the space, and they built me a four-stall barn,” she said. “Then they built me a bigger barn. Then an indoor arena. I was riding but that’s how I started a boarding business.”

Sergent convinced her father, Kevin, a businessman who owns the Tri Star Automotive Group of dealerships, that she should attend Lake Erie College in Ohio, a liberal arts school which also has an equine studies program, and use her education to successfully run an equine boarding business.

“I triple majored, including business and equestrian management,” she said. “And today that’s basically what I do. I manage equine boarding facilities.”

At the family farm in Pennsylvania, Sergent boarded hunters and jumpers. Then one day a fellow with Standardbreds gave her a call.

“Neil Balcerak lived in the area and he called me to board his Standardbreds,” she recalled. “I thought the horses were interesting and then he took me to the track and then he told me I should go to the Harrisburg sale. I came home with a Standardbred, a horse named Elegante Attire, and he won a little bit of money for me.”

Sergent jogged a Standardbred once, but never embraced the breed until “things picked up and got interesting” when the Prushnock family was selling Andray Farm, which was located nearby.

“My dad and I went to the farm looking for a hay wagon to buy and ended up buying the whole farm,” said Sergent.

Her intention was to turn Andray into a boarding farm for riding horses, but after talking with Troy and Dottie Eyler, who managed Andray’s Standardbred breeding operation, they saw the opportunity to expand their equine business.

At first they partnered with David Prushnock on Andray broodmares, but in 2015 Sergent went to Harrisburg and purchased some as well, including Behindclosedoors—in foal to Kadabra—for $85,000. That foal was sold as a yearling for $45,000; next up was Sister Sledge, who sold for $35,000; and the mare’s next two yearlings were sold for $175,000 and $190,000.

Now, almost six years later, Sergent Stables has expanded again, this time acquiring the Allen family’s historic 195-acre Golden Cross Farm in Ocala, Fla. Sergent already manages a boarding operation in Wellington, Fla., a huge South Florida winter home for equestrians, so having a presence in Ocala, where the new World Equestrian Center is a bustling horse hub, made perfect sense.

The Golden Cross Farm sign has been removed and the Sergent Stables sign installed. Sergent said she will board hunters and jumpers at the farm, primarily during the winter season of January through April, plus the Sergent Stables Standardbred mares and their foals.

The Eylers were also thrilled to move south from Pennsylvania and raise horses in a part of the world renowned for producing champion horses. In November, they packed up the various components of the Sergent Stables’ Standardbred operations in Pennsylvania and put it on trucks for Florida. The 28 Standardbred horses arrived on Nov. 30 and quickly adapted, finding shade trees and tightening up their hair coats after preparing for a northern winter.

The Eylers are both graduates of The Ohio State University/ATI. Troy’s father was the late well known Standardbred horseman Joe Eyler. Dottie, a native of Wooster, Ohio, showed Quarter Horses. The two met in 1993 while working at the old Brightstone Farm in Pennsylvania.

“My specialty is reproduction and prep of Standardbred yearlings, and in Pennsylvania, the closest veterinarian is an hour away, so I’m thrilled that we will have that kind of expertise so close,” said Troy.

In addition to being a large equestrian community with first-class facilities, the Ocala area is known for the calcium content in the land, which is great for bone development in horses.

“This farm has really good soil,” said Troy. “Each farm tells you what you can and can’t do, and the horses will tell us what they need; you can see it. But another big plus here over Pennsylvania is the footing will be great because there won’t be a freeze-and-thaw cycle.”

He and Sergent team up on selecting broodmares, but he handles the mating selections.

“I’ve been to every sale, and Troy and I always agree on what we buy,” said Sergent. “I have a lot of involvement with the broodmare selections, but for everything else, we trust and rely on Troy and Dottie.”

In addition to finalizing bookings for breeding, the Eylers are overseeing improvements to the Golden Cross property—roofs, fencing and a new indoor arena—and keeping an eye on Sergent Stables’ 2022 yearling crop, which will be sold by Northwood Bloodstock Agency.

There are yearling colts and fillies by Always B Miki, Captaintreacherous, Downbytheseaside and Sweet Lou; and from the first crops of Captain Crunch and Greenshoe. Behindclosedoors, the dam of Sister Sledge, has a filly by Greenshoe, while McGibson, the dam of Boston Red Rocks, has a colt by Captain Crunch. HB

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