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A Blending Of Two Worlds -- Andy and Lynda Freseth

by Bob Funkhouser

It has happened before and it has happened since, but it doesn’t always work. In fact, most betting people that knew Andy Freseth and Lynda Williamson probably didn’t put money on the favorable side. However, the Old South met up with the North and what has become of it is a success story second to none.

Married now for ???????? years Andy and Lynda have gone the extra mile to make their personal life work. They have also done the same thing to make their business work. Hollow Haven Farm shows, buys and sells as much or more than any barn in America. And many more times than not, they are quite successful at it.

Andy’s story began in Fall City, Wisc., close to Eau Claire. Raised by his grandparents, he was first introduced to ponies by his grandfather who had had standardbred race horses, but was out of it by the time Andy came along.

“He had what he called road horses,” explained Andy. “They weren’t show horses like we have today, but the horses that people drove to town. People used to say he had the fancy ones.”

Nearby was the Eau Claire Bit and Spur Horse Show which was a big deal in those days. It was an all-breed show that had hunters and jumpers with Saddlebreds and grade horses. Andy was five-years-old when he had his first exposure to the Bit and Spur show.

His grandfather got his first pony for him and when Andy was too big to ride it any more, his grandfather helped him teach it to drive. The Bit and Spur show had road ponies and Andy was always fascinated with them so teaching his pony to drive was extremely appealing.

The North Central Pony Club also put on a show at the Eau Claire grounds and they had classes for grade ponies so Andy made his first show around the age of 13 or 14 placing second. He said there were several pony people in the area including Dana Sibbet’s [of Radon fame] dad.

Andy was stabled next to Jack Timm and his Timm’s Pony Farm. They had a pony that wasn’t broke real well, but could really use his legs. Andy liked the pony and approached Mr. Timm about buying him. He didn’t have enough money, but they let him buy the pony anyway.

“I bought that pony on time and my grandfather helped me with him,” recalled Andy. “The pony’s biggest problem is that he didn’t like to be hooked so we figured out that if you just long lined him at home and hooked him at the shows you could get along. I did well with that pony and soon Mr. Timm took notice and asked me if I would like to work a few ponies for him.”

Andy had converted his grandparents cow barn making a couple of stalls for his ponies. His association with the Timm ponies was going really well and he was becoming thoroughly entrenched in the pony business. It was a trip to Chicago with Mr. Timm that changed the young boy’s life for good.

“He took me on a weekend trip to Chicago and we visited three Saddlebred barns,” said Andy. “We went to Lloyd Teater’s who was at Valley View Farm. Then we went to Chat Nichols and then Tom Moore’s at Knolland Farm. I left there that weekend knowing that’s what I wanted to do. It just fascinated me.”

He went to work at a barn in Elk Lake ran by Chris Reardon’s brother-in-law. The barn had mostly Quarter Horses and gave lots of lessons and trail rides. The barn was then sold to a college professor when Andy was a junior in high school and the sellers told the new owner that Andy could stay on and help.

“I was the barn boy,” said Andy. “They had lots of Quarter Horses that were shown in halter. I was long lining and conditioning those horses for showing in hand. There was one Saddlebred in the barn and I broke him. I never had riding lessons. I had ridden horses around the farm, but nothing formal. Soon I was leading trail rides and doing lots of riding.”

Along the way his grandfather had taught him how to shoe horses as well and that came in handy for making extra money. He used his skills to help improve the Quarter Horses as none of the area blacksmiths knew anything about pads or helping a horse with shoeing. He tried college for a short time, but soon Andy was back in the barn.

“My grandparents didn’t care what I did as long as I got an education and enjoyed what I was doing,” said Andy.

Back at the Quarter Horse barn the lady who owned the one Saddlebred had to sell it. It just so happens that another lady by the name of Jean Vaughan was new to the area and she came out to visit. As it turned out she was the second cousin of Cynthia Wood the famed California owner/breeder/exhibitor.

“This lady was thrilled to find out we had a Saddlebred in the barn and she bought it. Then she wanted me to work it,” said Andy. “As things progressed she wanted me to teach her kids how to ride. Soon she bought a road pony for me to work and we bought a four-year-old pleasure horse at Hollow Haven farm to take to the shows. Then, we bought another horse from Hollow Haven.

“About the third year she built some stalls and a ring and we were in business. She’d be out there and tell me how Bud [Cynthia Wood’s trainer Bud Kinney] did this and how Bud did that. In the winter I’d be shoveling snow out of the bull ring so I could work horses, but we did really well."

Others in the area took notice and thought Andy was doing a good job also. A couple of people tried to hire him, the first being Paul Priebe. In fact, he rode his first five-gaited horse while visiting Priebe’s.

“I ended up going to work for Keith Bartz at Hollow Haven,” said Andy. “I went there to learn to ride a five-gaited horse. I was only going to stay for six months.”

Bob Jensen was the trainer at Hollow Haven when Andy went to work there. Jensen was just leaving for a month long vacation when Andy started so he was working a lot of the horses and started cleaning the place up. The job was kind of thrown in his lap but he made the most of it. When it came time for him to leave Bartz wanted him to stay.

“I said ‘no’ at first,” explained Andy. “There were too many riding lessons for me. It was 1976 and I ended up staying. Hollow Haven is the only professional job I’ve ever had.”

Whether he knew it or not, lesson programs had been good to Andy. Gene Gallmeier’s college was involved in a lesson program with the old Quarter Horse barn that Andy was associated with and both Mary Gise and Carrier Warner were in the lesson program at Hollow Haven. Today, all three are with the Freseths.

Even though Andy was in Minnesota he was still receiving a top education while working for the Bartz family at Hollow Haven.

“We never went to Louisville, but we did go the American Royal and I got to observe all the top horses and trainers there,” said Andy. “Also at the time Ed Teater was at North Ridge Farm and Tom Walsh was at Brandywine. I can’t say enough about both of those guys. Ed and Susie [Teater] were really good to me. Very encouraging and helpful.

“Ed once gave me a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten. I was so fascinated with how bright his string of horses was. I would go up to watch him work horses on my day off and here would come Sultan’s Supremacy and Denmark’s Spitfire and they were all so bright and expressive. I asked him, ‘Ed how to you get these horses to be so bright?’ He turned and looked at me and said, ‘You buy them that way.’

He remembers another trip and another learning experience. “Dave Patton was another local trainer who was extremely supportive,” said Andy. “He was at Stony Hill and I went to visit him one day because I wanted to learn more. After watching horses work all day Dave asked me, ‘So, what did you learn today?’ I told him I learned what works for you is what you should do.”

Andy was lucky in that he had a great support group of trainers and then there was Keith Bartz to teach him about the business.

“At first I was just the trainer,” said Andy. “Soon I was running the help and then when Keith left to run the Saddlebred Museum I had to become involved with the running of the barn. After a while of Carol [Bartz] and I running the barn Keith wanted to know if I wanted to buy it.”

According to Andy it took over a year of wearing Bartz down on his price to get Hollow Haven bought. He considered it a great learning experience, especially with the help of two customers, Guy Warner and Mary Gise’s dad. Bartz had always encouraged Andy to buy property. He said that was the only a way a horse trainer was going to make anything was with property.

He not only learned about interest rates and property values, he was also learning to be a pretty good horse trainer. During that time there were such horses as Ubiquitous, Supreme’s American Lil, Hearty Burgundy, Mountjoy’s American Spirit, One Step Above and American Express.

During these same formative years, miles and miles away in the hills of Virginia there was a little girl growing up fascinated with horses because her daddy would take her trail riding every Sunday after church.

“My daddy just liked horses,” said Lynda. “I learned to ride with him and we would go to the local shows and watch. They told me when I was three they took me to a show at Hollands College and they used to bring these ponies in for kids to ride. They let me show in my jeans and I won. Mom didn’t like the horses much, but it just evolved.

“When I was eight I went to a camp in Union, Ky., and they had Saddlebreds. We got to go to the Lexington Junior League Show and I was so fascinated with the animation of those horses. When I was 10 I got my first Saddlebred for Christmas. It was 16. I showed it in equitation and three-gaited, but eventually we had to sell him, I needed more stock. Mom wouldn’t let me sell him so we turned him out. Then he ran through a fence and broke his leg. That’s why I frown on kids keeping them forever now. Get attached, but move on.”

Unlike Andy, Lynda never made a conscience decision to become a trainer. It more or less evolved out of teaching local kids to ride. She taught Karen Waldron at an early age and showed in the state championships. Teaching was something she was really enjoying. After getting married, Lynda was teaching two afternoons a week, then on Saturdays and then some of those people wanted to start getting horses. Francis Lowe who had a stable in Roanoke wanted Lynda to teach her daughter and soon her daughter’s friends were wanting lessons to the point she was giving 25-30 a week.

“I was self taught and a self starter,” explained Lynda. “I would go to horse shows and sit there all night long and watch horses work. One night at Louisville I saw Charlie Crabtree hand walk La La Success with stretchers and all kinds of stuff and I thought that was just the coolest thing I had ever seen.”

Then in 1980 Lynda made a career move. Marilyn Macfarlane had become a good friend and she told Lynda that Raymond and Lillian Shively were looking for someone. It was a very calculated move on her part: she and her son Jeffrey were starving in Virginia. This was after she had looked around at other jobs in Maryland and New Jersey.

“Daddy helped Jeffrey and I load up and we took a few things and some horses and headed to Indiana,” said Lynda. “Daddy and I pull up at the house by the barn and Daddy says, ‘Well, I guess this will do.’ Lillian’s Dad comes out to greet us and Daddy tells him he wants to look at my house. Lillian’s Dad said that was fine, it was over there [pointing in another direction]. We went over to look at it and Daddy said, ‘There’s no reason to get the furniture, you’re not staying here.’ But I did.

“I had never been around a big barn like that,” she continued. “It was a bigger circuit, grander everything. I had to work at keeping my mouth shut and just listen to Lillian and how she related to kids. I also learned a lot watching Raymond work road horses and gaited horses. I worked horses, taught lessons, drove the truck, whatever was asked of me.”

During her three years at DeLovely, Lynda was fortunate to be associated with a lot of top horses and riders including Jama Hedden, Kathy Jo Thompson, Kara Mitchell and the Meissingers. Lynda won a novice gaited class at Rock Creek while at DeLovely, a win she will always treasure.

“I thought I had done something,” she recalled. “I won that class and then we sold the horse to the Durants.”

After three years of advanced education at the DeLovely school of horsemanship Lynda returned to the Roanoke area and among other things, taught Challen Cates for Mrs. Waldron at Bent Tree Farm. After giving lessons locally for about a year it was time to move on again.

“It was 1983 and I was looking to leave Roanoke and the Antonacci family from Wildwood Farm called about me coming there,” said Lynda. “They had lots of borders, the Antonnacis had five horses and the Stranos family had one. I wanted to practice what I learned at Shivelys to see if I knew any more than when I went there.”

As it turned out this was a great move for Lynda who now had a chance to combine both her love for teaching with working some nice stock. She had a great group of riders to teach and that started with the Antonacci children: Alicia, David, Paul and Kurt. They were gathering a group of horses which included Lordstown, Tallwood’s Wild Fancy, Golden Deliverance and Beau First. The name Wildwood Farm was turning up in winner’s circles everywhere from the local shows to the biggest. It was also at Wildwood where Lynda began honing her skills buying and selling horses. Finding the right horse for juvenile and amateur riders was becoming an art form. “When I went there lots of people were telling me Springfield was not a good area,” said Lynda. “We were five hours from an academy show and there was no one around until you got to the Chicago area. Well, I thought I could make it work and business started picking up. My goal was to put two new people a year into the business and I did that every year except one, and that year it was three. I love to teach and introduce new people to the business. One of the grandest rewards is to make a difference to a child.”

As Lynda was busy taking the Antonacci kids, the Stranos family, Anjanette Camille, Mary Jo Curry and others to the major shows and buying and selling their horses, a trip to Minnesota to look at a horse at Hollow Haven Farm would be a trip that would change her life, although she didn’t know it at the time.

“Lynda came in to look at a horse on Super Bowl weekend,” remembers Andy. “She told me she had so much money and I showed her this horse and she didn’t like it. I said okay and thought we were done. Then she says, ‘I want to see The Estimator.’ I told her I had already worked him and that she couldn’t afford him. ‘I still want to see him,’ she says. I should have known right then I was in trouble.”

“I looked at him again the next morning and loved him,” added Lynda. “I wanted him, but I didn’t have enough money. Andy said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’ I went home to Mr. Antonacci and told him we had to have this horse. I got a little more money out of him and we traded a horse and got The Estimator bought. Alicia won at Lexington with him and then was second to Lindsay Lavery at Louisville.”

“Then I bought Champagne Toast from Lynda and soon we were trading back and forth,” added Andy. “She came up and gave a clinic at Hollow Haven and later she came back up and helped at Tanbark.”

As the story goes, one thing led to another and soon they were dating.

“We just talked horses a lot,” recalled Lynda. “We loved talking horses and it was obvious we were both very passionate about the horse business. It took two years of long distance dating, but he finally asked me to marry him. He put the ring in the bottom of a glass of champagne. I’ll never forget it.”

Although the trainers from different worlds were crazy about each other and wanted to get married, it was an extremely rocky start. Lynda’s dad was extremely sick at the time. He died the Sunday she came home from Kansas City. They buried him on Wednesday and she and Andy were married on Friday.

“We started in a huge hole,” said Lynda. “We had a lot to overcome...and we have! My son Jeffrey always says, ‘Anyone who gets a divorce is just plain chicken. If you two [Andy and Lynda] have made it anybody can.’ If we hadn’t married each other, neither of us would be the people we are today. I know we are both better people because of each other.”

As only Andy can do, he was very straightforward about the first few years of combining both their personal and professional lives.

“It was absolutely aweful in every way,” said Andy. “If it hadn’t of been for lots of counseling and our personalities we wouldn’t have made it. We still have the counselor’s number and we send her a card and flowers every year on our anniversary. We were both so damn stubborn that we wouldn’t give up. I had been married before and I wasn’t going to fail again. In fact, our counselor said she had never worked with two more stubborn people in her life and that we were the hardest couple she had ever counseled that stayed together.

“It was hard to give up personal identities. She had run her own barn. I had run mine. Her dad died right before we got married and I don’t think I knew how hard that was on her until three or four years into the marriage. She wasn’t able to voice that pain. Also, we did things so differently. She wanted to live on the farm. I didn’t. She assured me I would learn to like it...and I have! She didn’t want to work on Sundays. My customers were used to it, that’s when they came and rode. It was a big issue with us, but over time the customers and I learned to like it as well. They made arrangements to ride other times and then Sundays gave them more time to spend with their families.

“I’ve learned a lot from Lynda. She pushed me to become more worldly, to get out of Minnesota and show at places like Lexington and Louisville.”

“It was a struggle in the beginning,” echoed Lynda. “We are both very independent people. He’d run his place and I’d run mine. The first few years were hell because we were having an identity crisis.

“Now the biggest problem we have with the horses is that And is a very regimented person. He’s got a mind like a computer. Now, he can’t run the computer, but he’s got a mind like one. He keeps up with every horse I’m working as well as his own because he has to synchronize when we are in the arena. God forbid I get out of order. You know how you go to these barns and there are two or three horses working at one time. Not around here. When I’m working I’ll be thinking about something and want to talk about it. Not Andy. He tells me, ‘I can’t work my horses with you talking.’ And with Louisville coming up there is no give. I’ve learned to just block it out and laugh.”

As with any successful merger there is a lot of give and take and after hours and hours of counseling, both have become quite adept at giving and taking. With their personal life on firm ground and their business doing quite well, it was time for another merger. When the opportunity arose to purchase Bonnie Byrne’s facility in Oconomowoc, Wisc., the Freseths made the move. Besides purchasing the farm, they also inherited another string of horses and another group of personalities to blend with their existing customers. For a while Andy was in Wisconsin working the new horses as well as his stock. Lynda was in Minnesota finishing the sale of the place there and working her stock.

Their first outing as the new Hollow Haven Farm was the Milwaukee Spring Show in 1999. They finished the week with 27 blues and tricolors and 11 reserves. The next week they went to the Madison Classic and won an additional 16 blues and tricolors. It was quite obvious they had learned something about making mergers work.

“Now we work together,” said Lynda. “We’ve learned to rely on each other. I guess you could say we’ve come full circle.”

“The best part of working together now is that we’ve learned to enjoy one another. We’re never at a loss for something to talk about,” said Andy. “Working together has forced us to learn more about ourselves. We had to get along. When you work together your shortcomings are right out there for the other person to see. And the other person is not worried about hurting your feelings because they know they aren’t going to get fired. You learn which battles to fight in your day to day living. Lynda and I have come to the point where we know what one another likes and care about it.

“Our relationship has helped me learn to deal with a lot. I never used to enjoy people or horse shows. I hated shows. Now I enjoy both. Lynda brought with her a great deal more passion for family and people than I did. I had a very disconnected family and that’s the way I was. Lynda has helped nurture the idea of family. Now we have people around all the time and I really enjoy it.”

In this business most trainers are judged on how many blues ribbons their horses and riders win. In the case of Hollow Haven that has been numerous and in every division offered: ponies, equitation, performance, pleasure.

“Blue ribbons are wonderful, but that’s not what it’s about,” said Lynda. “Getting input from your customers that what we’re doing makes a difference is what is important to me. And we try to teach that it’s not just us that makes a difference, but the child or adult has to learn to make a difference for themselves.

“We have tried to keep a level head about this winning stuff. I’ve seen trainers win a class at Louisville and then maybe two in a row and then they start raising the bar to where if they go back the next year and don’t win, they consider it a failure. Heck, we’ve won classes I considered a failure. We try to measure against ourselves, not the competition. My goal has been to win one blue ribbon a year at Louisville. I’ve been extremely lucky to have done that the last 17 years. It may have been a Good Hands class or something, but there has been at least one Louisville blue a year. The rest is gravy. The Monday after Louisville I've never known anyone who has lived or died because of their ribbon.”

“We don’t talk about winning blue ribbons,” added Andy. “We talk about what we need to do for this horse and rider to do their best. What can we do so this horse is racking better at the end of the season that he was at the first of the year? How can we improve this horse’s bridle? It forces us to stay on track. It’s healthier than counting blue ribbons. “We’re both the kind of people that pushes ourselves, the animals and the people to be the best we can be. We are competing against ourselves.

“I can remember only one time being so mad at a judge about our placings that I would cancel showing. I hate that about myself that I couldn’t let that go, but I felt he was intentionally tieing us lower.”

It’s obvious the Freseths have made a difference in the lives of many men, women and children over their years as Hollow Haven Farm. And in this writer’s eyes their biggest asset beside making a difference in people’s lives is their ability to buy and sell horses. There’s not another barn in the country buying and selling as much high quality stock outside of their barn as Hollow Haven. And it doesn’t happen by accident.

No one is on the road, or plane, more than Lynda Freseth. There’s not a back road or barn in the country that she doesn’t know about.

“Buying and selling is great fun. It’s a real high for me,” said Lynda. “I love putting teams together. Trying to find something that will work into what we are looking for. It’s a total package. You have to have a vision of what you want. It also helps to have some luck along the way. Just as she was with Andy when she met him, Lynda is relentless in her travels and her ability to get a horse bought.

“Andy says people sell to me just to get me to shut up,” laughed Lynda. “Our customers have been real good when it comes to finding a horse. I used to put myself under a lot of pressure to find a particular horse. If you put yourself under a time table to buy a certain horse at a certain price you’re going to be in trouble. When I was younger I bought the suit before I bought the horse. I wish I hadn’t done that.”

Even more amazing than just finding the right horse for the right rider is the ability to be successful, then sell that horse for a profit and turn around and do it again and again.

“My rule of thumb is two years,” explained Lynda. “Every circumstance is different but usually it’s two years. We try to pick a horse that either needs lots of finish or is ahead of the rider’s ability so it’s a learning experience for the rider. The first year there are struggles. There may be some winning, but it’s still a struggle. We learn how to perfect a skill. It usually takes a year of turmoil to accomplish what we want. Then there’s a year of enjoyment and time to sell.”

Throughout the year you will find the blue and red Hollow Haven banner at shows large and small across the country. If they’re not traveling to shows they’re traveling to find another horse. If you do that with any job it can be tough, especially when your business partner is your spouse. So what do Andy and Lynda do to get away from the pressures of the barn?

For the past two years they have worked together to build a beautiful and spacious home on the farm. Showing their marital comprise that they’ve worked so hard to achieve the home is on the farm, but it's far enough away from the barn that it’s like getting away.

“We worked on the house for a year and now lived in it a year. It’s been great fun,” said Lynda. “Andy is big into architecture and is always reading books about it. Being from the south my passion is for antiques and nice fixtures. We lived in that small apartment in the barn for three years so when I was traveling around the country buying horses, I was also visiting old houses and getting ideas together for ours. I was buying fixtures and odds and ends from all over the country. It was the only thing that kept me sane.”

A visit to the new home will find that Andy and Lynda were as meticulous about that project as any horse and rider they ever put together. One of the appointments that holds great significance for both of them is a stall door that came from the original Hollow Haven barn in Minnesota.

“It was a solid tongue and groove sliding stall door from the old barn,” said Lynda. "It’s a beautiful old door with metal angle irons and the works. We had it cut down to size and it’s on hinges now instead of sliding. It hangs on our pantry and it still has the halter hooks on the front side and on the back side are marks where horses have pawed it. It’s great to have that piece of history in our new home though.”

“The house was a lot of fun and we didn’t even kill each other doing it,” added Andy. “Lynda has got me to do stuff I would have never dreamed of doing like going to New York City. I would have never done that before. Now I love it. We enjoy traveling and going on cruises. We also really enjoy the time we spend with Lynda’s son Jeffrey. My passion is old houses and Lynda indulges me whenever we travel.”

Independent. Stubborn. Strong-willed. People that know Andy and Lynda at all know these things to be true. Those same people also know that the blending of their two worlds has brought about two unique individuals and one very special couple. You can still find lapses of the individuals of old. Lynda will keep at it until she gets her way. Show officials or the barn help will cringe seeing Andy come storming down the hallway. But underneath it all are two hearts of gold that care so much about each other....their horses....their customers....and their friends. All of which they have been richly blessed with.

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