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Magnolia Stables - “Judge Us By The Fun We Have”

by Leeann Mione
Posted March 22, 2002
Joie de vivre. In Webster’s dictionary it means joy of living; keen or buoyant enjoyment of life. In the Saddlebred industry, it means the Austin family, of Magnolia Stables, in Wake Forest, N.C. Dan, Jr., and Brenda Austin, and their children, Laura, Aimee, Dan III, and Pam, have made loving life an art form. They are living proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Austin family has brought that same keen, buoyant enjoyment of life to the Saddlebred industry. Believing strongly that nothing is worth doing if you can’t have fun doing it, the family has been having a ball owning their own barn and showing on the very competitive Carolinas circuit.

Dan and Brenda met at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla. Dan graduated with a degree in sociology and Brenda graduated with a degree in elementary education. They were married on March 8, 1981, and soon started raising a family.

As the children grew they all participated in various activities, but never stopped talking about horses. Brenda started looking around Raleigh for some place where they could take riding lessons. As luck would have it, the children's pediatrician just happened to be Dr. V. Watson Pugh, the husband of well-known Tara Farm owner and long time Morgan breeder, owner and exhibitor Frances Pugh. Frances Pugh told Brenda "Give me a week and I'll find you an instructor." True to her word, in 1993, Pugh found Pleasure Horse Farm in Durham, N.C. The barn, owned by Alice Markunas, was still under construction and Midge Hunt was the instructor. The kids took to riding immediately and soon started showing in academy which they continued throughout the 1994 season under Hunt's direction.

It was, right from the start, truly a family affair. Laura, Aimee, Dan and Pam were joined by Brenda in the show ring. Dan, Jr., was always the loudest and most ardent cheerleader on the sidelines. Their fan club also included a large extended group of family and friends. Brenda's parents, Robert and Pat Ward, live in Raleigh and attend many of the Carolinas shows. Her older sister, Lisa, also lives in Raleigh.

Dan works with his dad as builders/developers/property managers at their two main companies: Quail Properties, Inc., a residential and commercial property management company, and Dan C. Austin & Associates, a residential and commercial building company. In fact, Dan built the family's Raleigh, N.C., home in 1989. In addition to working together at their Wake Forest office, Dan and the family spend time with his parents in Hilton Head, S.C. on their boat "The Jettin' Joanne" named after Dan's mom Joanne. Dan's brother Stephen also works in the family business and Dan's sister, Gail, lives in Raleigh as well.

From successful show ring performances in the academy division, under Midge Hunt's direction the family started showing their entries in the performance division. Eventually the group moved with Hunt to Brasswood Arabians in Durham, N.C. It was at this location that Midge Hunt Stables was established. Hunt then moved her operation to Raleigh. In 1998, the Austin's built their 19 stall barn, calling it Magnolia Stables. A name derived, not from the popular flower, but from a beloved mare named The Steel Magnolia. Hunt remained with the Austins through the end of the successful 1999 show season. In 2000 Catherine Boyd took over as trainer and the Austins and the customers of Magnolia Stables compiled a winning record in the show ring throughout the year and into 2001. When Boyd left to return to her father's Lenwood Farms in Kernersville, N.C., the Austins began searching for the trainer they knew was out there. A trainer who could take them to the next level. They found that trainer in Robert Lucas, son of legendary Carolina horseman Johnny Lucas. Robert Lucas, recognized as one of the industry's up-and-coming young trainers, had a tremendous impact on the family right from the start. At the 2001 North Carolina State Championship, the first horse show for the group with Lucas as trainer, the Austins knew they had found the right person for the job. His soft spoken, no-nonsense approach to preparing and showing horses resulted in top ribbons by shows end. His talent with the horses and the incredible rapport he developed with not just the family but all the customers of Magnolia Stables instilled tremendous confidence in his abilities. Lucas was joined at Magnolia by riding instructor Shannon Green. Green manages the lesson program and handles busy weekends with customers, parents, and students with ease.

With the season debut at the Raleigh Spring Premier Horse Show rapidly approaching, the group at Magnolia is hard at work fine-tuning their respective mounts for the show. Laura Austin will ride her three-gaited pony Scotty's Lace in that same division in 2002. Aimee Austin will again compete in the equitation division with her horse Woulda Coulda Shoulda in addition to competing in the junior exhibitor three-gaited division. Pam will show her new horse Social Worth, purchased from Don and Phyllis Brookshire, in the junior exhibitor five-gaited division. Dan III will join his parents cheering from the rail and Brenda will also compete in the ring this season.

Customer Casey Armstrong is the eastern vice-president of the North Carolina Horse Council and is hard at work in preparation for the upcoming Horse Promotion Assessment Referendum on March 19, 2002, but still has time to cheer on her daughter, Sarah Jordan, who will compete in the 13 and under junior exhibitor show pleasure division with Splendido. Anita Starnes just purchased the coming-four-year-old Starlette Memories from Shiflet Stables for her five-year-old daughter Ashley. Robert Lucas will be seen in the ring with the Austins prospect Finn MacCumhail.

New teams, new trainer, new customers, new horses and a new show season should add up to a new sense of anxiety and anticipation. At Magnolia Stables however, it only means a new challenge to be met head-on and a new reason to continue laughing and smiling - joie de vivre. After all, that's what the Austin family stands for; a keen or buoyant enjoyment of life.

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