Shard Farm delivering the goods



When it comes to delivering the goods, Debbie and Mark Smith of Shard Farm literally do it every day. And that’s even before they get around to preparing future champions.

The well-respected breeders are based just north of Invercargill and have been responsible for producing the likes of Group One winners Smiling Shard and Mach Shard.

And whilst the preparation and breeding of young stock is a specialty of the farm, Debbie and Mark’s typical day starts before most would even start stirring out of their early morning slumber.

“Mark starts his ‘day’ job at 2.15am delivering bread,” Debbie explains. “We own a Tip Top Bread run delivering bread to Invercargill and Bluff.  He then arrives home at 9.00am and feeds the horses breakfast if they are in the paddocks, and has a sleep until 12noon.”

And Debbie’s day also starts well before dawn, juggling her role as Senior Technical Officer at Silver Fern Farms in Kennington, along with doing the horses.

“We process 250 deer there a day, and its four minutes from our home. I have been there two years and my boss is Jason Hope (who used to work for both Barry and Mark Purdon and Tony Herlihy), he is very understanding about needing time to pop home and change covers or meet the vet”, Debbie says.

“I start at 4.45am when the horses are in the stables, mucking out and feeding breakfast, so Mark does not have to do this job when he comes home then I go to my ‘day job’ at 6.00am. I have a staff member, Leah Sinclair, who mucks out at lunchtime if the horses are in the stables and feeds up or lets them out and changes covers. Leah and I meet up at 3.00pm when I finish work and will groom/wash and walk the horses. “

“The final feed for the horses is around 6.00pm and then I put top covers on and put hay out at 9.00pm.”

Debbie and Mark sold their first horse at the sales back in 2000, which was a Live Or Die colt they bred out of a mare they had purchased from family members. And Debbie’s equine background helped her prepare the colt as she had experience in eventing, hunting and equestrian pursuits. She felt yearling preparation was a natural progression for her.

From the sale of that colt Debbie and Mark were able to purchase Sly Soky from David Phillips. She was to become instrumental in Shard Farm’s heritage, and is the grand dam of Smiling Shard, Pemberton Shard and Mach Shard.

Shard Farm is set on 30 acres of land just north of Invercargill, and its name came after enjoying Chard Farm Wine in Central Otago.

“We just changed the C to and S and hence Shard Farm was born,” explains Debbie. “The farm is now home to the sale yearlings, four mares and foals, five rising two-year-old cattle and six calves, all other horses are out grazed.”

Shard Farm is perfectly set up for the farm’s dual purpose, with extra care taken to protect their investments.

“Our facilities include five stables in a barn, two larger stables in a side barn, attached hay shed, new yards with serving crushes and cattle loading ramp.  We have seven post and rail 55m x 20m colt paddocks and one larger colt paddock completely incased in deer fencing.  All built for safety of valuable animals.  The entire property is deer fenced, electric outriggers and excellent water supply.

We use Wai Eyre in Canterbury where three broodmares graze all year round and Macca Lodge in Northern Southland for foaling, they do a magnificent job.  Foals come home with their dams at ten days old and we serve at home which has been productive in the past couple of years.”

And Debbie and Mark aren’t afraid to try new things in the breeding game either.

“This year we put an empty mare under lights mid-August and she cycled early, was served on 23 September to Art Major, and positive at the first scan so we are in for an early foal next year.”

This year Shard Farm will present seven yearlings for the sales, and the Smiths are currently breeding from seven mares with another to be added to the breeding programme next year. All seven mares are now in foal to proven and new promising stallions; Bettors Delight, Art Major, Sweet Lou and He’s Watching.

The hard work starts with the stock when they are as young as ten days old with the mares that are based and served on the farm.

“All foals are fed,” Debbie explains. “ I took the lead from Pat Corboy in the 70’s & 80’s (a Thoroughbred trainer from Timaru who trained the legendary Grey Way) he always fed his foals hard feed from the day they were born so that when the racing pressure came on as an older horse they went back to what they are used to – eating. 

It seems to work, as all of our yearlings eat everything, all the time and want more.  Then at six to eight weeks old they will see the farrier if required, their feed intake is monitored to ensure they are not overfed.  We also wean around ANZAC day, this year four foals will be weaned, usually takes about three days until they are out in the colt paddocks, starting to lead and usually tied up once leading safely as we do not allow out weanlings to pull back, it is not good for their necks.

And all in foal mares at the farm are fed regularly to make sure all vitamins and minerals are supplied to growing fetuses,” says Debbie.

Debbie and Mark have two staff that assist them on sale day, Haig McGoldrick and Brittany Willis.

“They are both hard working people who enjoy the sales, and are breeding one of two of their current broodmares for the sale in future too”, states Debbie.

Mark’s role with the sales is integral in terms of the marketing side of things. He records the list of buyers who have visited the farm to inspect yearlings, so he can inform the owners when it comes time to set the reserve prices for the sale.

He is always promoting the stock to buyers, inviting people to inspect the sale consignment at the farm and manages the horses that are being taken out for viewing.

“If one horse is not being seen as often it will be targeted for extra walking, and these types of horses do not sell in their stables,” Debbie expains.

When it comes to goals for the yearling sales, Debbie says the most rewarding aspect is seeing happy owners selling their stock for a good price.

Getting them to the sales safely is also a major goal, especially when dealing with young stock.

“The most challenging part of yearling prep is putting all the work into the yearlings and then something unexpected pops up with a yearling that prevents it from going to the sales.  Quite frustrating for us, we treat all the yearlings as if they were our own.  This has happened to one of our own sales yearlings for the past two years, this year so far so good.

From a personal point of view, the reward is seeing the positive changes, both physical and mental, to the yearlings from coming to Shard Farm as scared babies and at the end of 80 days prep, to leading them up onto the Majestic transporter as the start to their professional careers as racehorses. What an eerie feeling seeing the farm empty when they leave”, Debbie says.

When it comes to recalling favourite horses, Debbie reflects on the impact that Sly Shard has made for them.

“Smiling Shard, Pemberton Shard and Mach Shard have all won group races.  I remember Smiling Shard being a small compact yearling. We have sheep gates raised off the ground as gates for the colt paddocks, he used to lift his front feet onto the bottom of the gate so he could look over the top when the feed cart came around.  He would jump up and down calling out so we did not miss him.”

Debbie has not seen Smiling Shards progeny as yet in person, but the reports to her have been positive at this stage.

And when it comes to producing the perfect yearling, Debbie knows what she likes to see in them.

“I like yearlings to be well-conformed with straight legs and to stand properly with a foot in each corner. Good yearlings learn quickly and have a competitive edge when teaching them manners and walking them with others, it is important they work with you and not against you.  A happy yearling is a healthy yearling.”

So as the final polish is applied and the yearling tour attendees cast discerning eyes on the juvenile horseflesh on offer, Debbie and Mark Smith continue to deliver the goods.

The Shard Farm story is one of passion and inspiration. Of hard work, and an unfailing dedication to the harness racing industry.

And how just one mare can make a breeder realise a dream for generations to come.

- Shard Farm is proud to be a part of  the successful marketing campaign, Southern Bred Southern Reared