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Planning And Hard Work Produce The Fairfield South Experience



by Ann Bullard


Plan your work. Work your plan. Thousands of people have received – or given – that advice. Fairfield South’s Marsha and Gary Garone are proof positive that the axiom is a good one, no matter how many side roads and ‘starts-over’ one may encounter along the way.


Marsha and Gary Garone


The Garone story is very similar – and quite different than the sagas of many of their peers. Marsha’s parents had dreamed of having a Morgan Horse operation in Vermont. When their daughter was eight, they established Fairfield Farm.


Marsha was in horse heaven. Her family hired a trainer and established a 4-H club at the farm. At 12, Marsha Coombs began her teaching career.


Little did they imagine that a youngster who joined that group would play such an important part in family history. Gary Garone describes himself as “a horse-crazy kid who worked a paper route in order to have horses. I had all of those Johnny West plastic animals. Four or five of my school friends and I joined 4-H; that’s when we started riding.”


He was Marsha’s star pupil. When she began taking kids to shows, Gary stepped up on her Morgan mare, Fairfield Flirtation.


“We would go every weekend to open breeds shows all over New England and show in everything we could,” Marsha said in an earlier Saddle Horse Report interview. “Gary would show and have two or three blues. I would show and get fourth.”


According to Gary, their good record was a matter of happenstance. “We had no clue,” he said.


New England shows featured Saddlebreds and Morgans. In 1971, Marsha convinced Gary’s parents to invest in an American Saddlebred. The two riders and Gary’s $275 mount made shows during the rider’s high school years.


“I found out it liked to jump,” Gary said, adding, “We got pretty good after a little while. Sometimes, I would forget the course. It may have been my subconscious way out of taking a four-foot jump. My horse may not have been a good example of the show horse breed, but it did have a division it was good at.”


The few years’ difference in Marsha and Gary’s ages meant little – until it was time for her to go off to Colby Sawyer College in New London, N.H. Her mind remained on the horse world. A star member of the school’s hunt team, Marsha took a horsemanship course from a transplanted Tennessean and ‘old Saddlebred man’, the late Ralph Gillis. A week’s field trip to Kentucky introduced Marsha to the late Jim B. Robertson, Don Harris and Charlie Smith. She knew Saddlebreds were her destiny. The horse Marsha fell in love with at Robertson’s farm went back to school with her and home for the summer for her to show on the New England circuit.


Marsha spoke of her that first season. “Mimi won the year-end award for our circuit. That’s when I [felt like] I was somebody.


“My parents really got involved with my showing when we got Mimi,” Marsha said, explaining Saddlebreds became another of her family’s horse passions.  “Until then, Gary and I had only showed in Vermont. When we got her, they stepped up to drive us all over New England. My mom even showed Mimi once or twice.”


Gary took over the reins with the three-gaited horse the next season. Again, success, including a repeat circuit year-end award came their way.


Marsha showed Sun’s Amber Lee in

five-gaited classes during the 1970s.


Through their high school years, Marsha and Gary had been more than teacher and student. Although not ‘sweethearts’ in the traditional high school sense, they certainly were boy and girlfriend. Marsha’s transferring to Fern Bitner’s Lindenwood School ended that relationship. The horse she brought with her went to the late Marion Brown’s stable in St. Louis, Mo.


Gary pursued a higher education briefly. “I started to go to college but didn’t follow through with that. I had a little exposure to Saddle Horses at a high level and decided I wanted this and went for it.”


‘Went for it’ meant pulling up stakes and moving to Missouri to help Marsha show. Gary Garone was on his way up.


“I realized there were career opportunities in this business and it was something I really enjoyed. I think the career chooses you,” Gary said.


The two were back together – and doing what they loved best. During this period, Gary worked first for Brown and then for the late R.S. Palmer.


The road between Missouri and the present Fairfield South was filled with twists and turns. After Marsha and Gary returned to Vermont, they realized at least one of them needed a ‘Kentucky education.’ Gary’s introduction to the ‘big time’ came when he worked for Charlie Smith at the World’s Championship Horse Show. He spent day one cleaning tack. When one of the lead grooms left, Gary took over her horses.


Gary got his ‘post-graduate’ equine education working for Smith and Hoppy Bennett. Between the two, he learned about working horses, hard work – and salesmanship. They have stood him in good stead throughout the years.


 “I decided I wasn’t doing Kentucky anymore,” he told Saddle Horse Report editor Bob Funkhouser in an earlier interview. “I learned a lot, but I didn’t have a life working for Charlie and Hoppy.”


Meanwhile, Marsha had been successful showing her family’s Morgans. When Gary returned, the two knew their future was working horses together. In 1982, they found a beautiful old home and acreage in Richmond, N.H. They designed and built the 17-stall barn that has served Fairfield South for more than 20 years. They opened the doors with some yearlings and two-year-olds.


The couple became engaged in 1983 and married in 1984, when Fairfield South got its ‘official beginning.’ In 1985, their only child, Devon, was born. She has become an integral part of the farm’s success.


A very young Devon Garone


“Marsha and I have known each other for a long time,” Gary said. “I’m not sure that when we got married and started the business we thought it would grow to what it has become. [The business] is so time-consuming, it requires so much attention.”


A trainer’s personal show ring success helps establish his (or her) reputation. With this in mind, the Garones borrowed the money to buy Fairfield Valley Belle from Marilyn Childs. Within a few months, they added Count Bay Sea, a horse they left with Gary Guz through the Ohio State Fair. Renamed Part Of The Plan, he became their first blue-ribbon winner. Good performances at the UPHA Spring Premiere earned the Garones the recognition they were seeking.


When judging a 4-H show, Marsha met Heather Johnson, a young lady Marsha says “stuck out like a sore thumb over all the rest.” Johnson was the first of many Fairfield South junior exhibitors.


“She got us started,” Marsha said. “We bought her Private Practice and later CH Burning Tree’s Starcroft.”


Word of mouth and hard work brought more juvenile and amateur riders to the farm. Sarah Wright (Lettre) stepped up on Mei Pooh Bear and showed in the East Coast shows. When her horse got sick at the 1997 World’s Championships, she borrowed Starcroft from the Johnsons and won the American Horse Show Association Medal class.


Trainers and instructors say that few things are more challenging than teaching your own child. Devon first ‘sat’ on a horse – or more properly, a pony – at two weeks of age.


“A lot of our success has come through Devon,” Gary said. “It’s almost been a two-edged sword. It’s an accomplishment in itself to get along well enough to teach your own child.”


“Teaching my own child was wonderful,” Marsha added. “A lot of children in the barn taught her when she was six. By the time she was eight, everyone knew Devon was a very tolerant individual and could take instruction. I taught her until she was about 10.”


Tag-teaming with Devon worked well. If she and Gary had a conflict, Marsha stepped in. If she had a bad phase with Marsha, Gary took over. At six, Devon showed at Roanoke. She made her Louisville debut at age seven and in 1994 won the first ever 8 and under walk and trot world’s championship offered.


Devon amassed an enviable show ring record. From riding walk and trot, she moved into the 11-year-old competition. In 1997 she earned one of her early world’s championships in the junior division, a feat she repeated the following year. She won a Senior Equitation World’s Championship in 2001 – at age 15. And few will forget the picture she and Heartland Sundust presented as they raced down the rail to win the World’s Champion Junior Exhibitor Roadster Pony 14-17 and World’s Champion of Champions in 2001 and 2002. She has also proven to be equally talented in catch-riding Fairfield South-trained horses in every division.


Devon and Heartland Sundust


Growing up as a trainer’s child – particularly when you want to ride and show – can be a bit frustrating. Riding with one’s parents presents special challenges. Devon, Marsha, Gary and their customers handled the in-the-horse-family competition and stresses as well as almost anyone in the industry.


“My parents were great about my horses,” Devon said. “They understood why I occasionally might want to sit out a show; that wasn’t a big deal. They handled [my riding] so well. I’m sort of surprised when we see children who don’t ride with their parents. I understand it is difficult. Today, my parents and I are very close and riding had a lot to do with that. We’re lucky it worked out for us.”


Devon showed walk and trot for two years. For Devon’s seven-year-old year, the Garones purchased the multi-titled Spumanti! from Lillian Shively, a lady Marsha says has always supported Devon in every way she could. The following season, she showed Desert’s Sundance, winning a walk and trot equitation title. At age nine, Devon stepped up to a five-gaited pony.


“It was hard to be cantering when I was nine and 10,” Devon said. “It’s difficult to find a perfect horse for someone at that level who still is so young. We had CH Net Worth for a customer in the early 1990s. We had sold him to the Pettrys. When I was 11, my parents bought him back for me.”


Gary campaigned CH Net Worth in three-

gaited competition during the early ‘90s.


Marsha told of the decision to buy CH Net Worth. “I learned he was going to be for sale after Kansas City, and really wanted him for Devon. It was a big chunk of change for a horse trainer. Sarah Byers’s encouragement helped convince us we had to make the step for Devon. Tom Pettry knew we didn’t have money, but let us take him home and pay for him over a year. He and Sarah played a huge rule in Devon’s early career.”


Net Worth “cemented” Devon’s love for equitation. “I got hooked by him,” she said. “When I was 12, we sold him to the Flynns.


“Dad and I going to look at horses were some of the most fun memories I have. It was a fun time to spend with him. We went to a couple of shows and had asked about Duplicate Copy. I rode him at Tanbark. When we got back in the car, I knew I had to have him,” Devon said.


Devon won the Saddle Seat Equitation

Senior World’s Championship in 1997

and 1998 aboard Duplicate Copy.


She showed Duplicate Copy in equitation during her 13 through 16-year-old years. Her final season, she rode Sultan’s Savannah Anna, a horse Devon says was “new to the equitation game. “She wasn’t equitated, but we took that risk. We started to come into our own in the late summer. I was starting college in the fall but we decided to get to the Finals and see if we could pull it off.”


Devon ended her equitation career as USEF Saddle Seat Medal National Champion and reserve champion in the UPHA Challenge Cup Finals.


Life at the University of Kentucky proved an eye-opener. In high school, she had played three sports (varsity field hockey, varsity ice hockey and varsity lacrosse) and help teach lessons. Marsha and Gary pledged to attend each of Devon’s games – whether at home or away, a commitment they kept for four years.


“I think when you live on a training farm it takes up a fair amount of your time and energy,” Devon said. “College was a real 180. I still met my parents at shows. Other than teaching for Nancy Brannon for a short time, I didn’t teach or work for anyone. It was sort of a shock to just be involved in college life. I loved UK and Lexington.”


Devon graduated from UK in May 2007, with a major in marketing. Not surprisingly, she has her eyes on life in the Saddle Horse world.


Marsha and Gary helped Devon celebrate

her graduation from the University of KY.


“I think I’d like to stay in the industry,” she said, explaining that equitation is her passion. “I would love to be able to contribute back to that division as it shaped my life a lot. I’d like to see the equitation finals numbers get back to where they were when I was younger.”


Devon realizes most of her experience is from working with her parents. “I would like to work for some other people, to get their input and see where it takes me,” she said, explaining she liked the South and Kentucky a lot. “Eventually I would like to be on my own.”


She spoke of growing up as a Garone. “It was great, but very challenging. I think being a student and also their child made everything a lot more rewarding. I was excited for myself and my parents when I did well – and vice versa.


“My parents are very relatable to all the kids. I did miss getting the extra relationship, the extra friend with my instructor that others have,” she said. “Going home at 4 p.m. and still frustrated about a bad ride or show didn’t help put it behind me. When things go well, being their child makes it all the more rewarding. Looking back, I definitely wouldn’t change it. Things went fairly smooth. I was very lucky to have some great horses, which helped make the whole process a lot of fun.”


Gary spoke of their relationship from a personal, not a trainer’s viewpoint. “I’m very proud of who Devon has become more than what she did. However, I don’t think it wise to spend lot of time doing this together now. If so, we could revisit some of the mother/daughter, parent/child stuff we went through in equitation. Devon needs to get other perspectives, to follow the path guided by other teachings, other professionals.


The little girl who showed ponies and equitation

has grown into a mature young lady.


“She may have taught me some stuff; we have both learned to compromise. Looking back, I have only fond memories of our all working together. We’ve had many hours of driving, of going to shows. Those memories are terrific. I truly believe equitation and showing horses is a large part of the person she has become. Devon never got overly excited by a win and let it get to her head. Rarely did she let defeat get under her skin enough to get her down. You have to be able to ride through the storms and not get too cocky when you have success. It all comes around; it’s just a big circle – on top, hit bottom, come back on top,” he said.


One of many young people whose life Devon has helped influence is Kyle Gagnon. Riding as a 17-year-old, Gagnon will finish his equitation career this season. He joined the Fairfield South team seven years ago. He ‘inherited’ Duplicate Copy for his equitation mount.


Gagnon wants to be a horse trainer. “I’ve been around to see the hard part instead of all the glamour,” he said, explaining he still has goals to accomplish as a junior exhibitor. “I’m ready to move onto something else, to ride performance.”


Gagnon developed his horse passion with his grandmother, Beverly, who always “had horses.” Initially, his younger brother, Gavin, was unsure about the sport.


“Gavin was five or six when Kyle first moved to the barn. No one expected him to start riding,” Devon said. “Their family put a video of Kyle’s riding history together for his grandmother. Gavin realized Kyle had not always been so successful, but had to learn and go through the same things Gavin would in the beginning. He began to realize riding is something he could do as well.”


‘Could do’ is an understatement where Gavin is concerned. He started in leadline three years ago; in 2005, he rode on his own. That first season, he won a few classes, a reserve in the UPHA eight and under championship at Lexington and a third at Louisville. In 2006, Gavin followed his world’s championship ride in the walk and trot equitation for nine-year-old riders with a reserve in the nine and 10-year-old championship. He finished the season as the UPHA Walk and Trot Challenge Cup 10 and Under National Champion.


The Gagnons may be among the latest Fairfield South junior exhibitor and equitation stars, however, Molly Codeanne is coming up right behind them. The Garones recently purchased CH Callaway’s Buttons And Bows for the fourth generation rider of the Larson-Harvey-Codeanne family.


These young riders have quite a tradition to uphold. They follow many others who helped cement the Garones’ place in the industry. From early stars such as Sarah Wright (Lettre,) Hillary Kenyon, Kathleen Minor, Kathryn L’Heureux and Molly DeStasio to Stevie Bagdasarian, Heather Stacia, Dana Litchfield, Erica Savary, Katie Pastor, Amanda O’Keefe and Brooke Hovey Graves, young Fairfield South riders’ names have remained in the headlines. Some have continued in the industry after aging out of the junior exhibitor ranks; others are raising children who someday may follow in their footsteps.


Rick Daigle joined the Fairfield South team about five years ago after he closed his training operation in Maine. Making a transition from owning a major training barn to becoming someone else’s customer can be difficult. Daigle says the Garones made it a pleasant change.


“No matter how many customers they have, no matter what division one is in, everybody gets treated equally and fairly,” he said.


At the time Daigle made the move, he had the five-gaited pleasure horse My Hatteras. After two years with the Garones, he was ready for a new mount.


“I had been looking for a three-gaited horse when I went to the Del Mar show. I saw one with a rider much more proficient than I; they were having a terrible time. While watching the amateur fine harness class, I saw a young bay horse trotting by. I didn’t pay too much attention. A couple of weeks later, I wondered, ‘Who was that horse?’”


‘That horse’ was I’m Sky High. Gary showed him early on, with Daigle stepping into the irons in the spring of 2006. After a year of getting to know one another, they earned the blue silk and the trophy in this year’s Lexington’s Three-Gaited Amateur Gentleman’s class.


“I had to learn how to fit in with a large group of customers,” Daigle said, explaining earlier he had been the main act. “There was a learning curve on my part and the Garones certainly made it easy for me. They are definitely different than your perception once you get to know them. They’re really nice, friendly people, a little bit more reserved than some. And they’re absolutely wonderful coaches. They are all about putting the amateur on the best possible horse and making that work.”


As coaches, Daigle says Marsha and Gary are very clear. “Rather than saying ‘tip his nose,’ they will tell me to lift my right hand, spread your hands or other very specific instructions. I may say ‘huh,’ but it’s what I do. They want us to handle our horses; they are with us at every stride.”


The Garones share the farm duties. Each has horses they work, swapping off as the situation may demand. Marsha handles the administrative work, serves on the UPHA Equitation Committee and has become very involved with Nealia McCracken and the UPHA’s fledgling Ride for Charity program.


Marsha explained, “It costs nothing, yet can bring a wealth of good publicity to the American Saddlebred world. We went before the UPHA Board at the January convention and got their approval.


“Riders could gather pledges for themselves and their stablemates in a myriad of different ways. They could do car washes and bake sales as well gather money from friends and family. If they chose to raise money for cancer, they would learn about the disease and ride for it.”


Gary calls his career “an all-consuming job. We’re fortunate enough to have friends with whom we can get away for 10 days or so every winter. That’s a great relief; it fuels us for the next season. We haven’t gone to Florida (circuit) the last few years, but started at Raleigh Spring in March,” he said, adding that starting in Florida often found them, their four and two-legged customers never getting a break until after Kansas City.


Both Gary and Marsha give back to the industry through the UPHA and other groups. He has served as chair of UPHA Chapter 14 for five years, something he really enjoys.


“That gives me an opportunity to work with my fellow horsemen. We do a number of fundraisers. The success of the Symphony [of Horses held in 2007] was an eye-opener. Being able to put on an event like that and promote our horses to the public in such a large way …” Gary paused, thinking of that event.


Continuing successes such as the Garones have had presents extra challenges. One of these: the limitations of their original barn.


“We started with 17 stalls and a 200-foot arena on 130 acres,” Marsha explained. “We are building a new barn on a little knoll at the other end of the arena.


“Our business is really quite at a very healthy point right now,” she continued. “We have a great group of customers, an enjoyable clientele who seem to be in a good situation. We have the opportunity to share our knowledge with them and vice versa – to learn something as we go about trying to teach something. It’s the same with horses and riders. Each has a different personality, a different work ethic. We have to learn to approach them in a way to maximize their potential and the ability to find the key to figuring things out.”


Fairfield South riders enjoy the area’s magnificent

scenery on their annual fall foliage ride. Pictured (l-r)

Gavin Gagnon, Kyle Gagnon, Elke Trilla and Ashley Stine.


They admit they do very little away from the barn. Both immediate families live about two hours north of the farm. Gary concedes they don’t see enough of them.


“In the winter time when there is a little less going on we may do a little antiquing. There are so many opportunities to search for pieces of furniture near here. We have a little pond to cool off in during the summers if it’s hot enough. We don’t have a lot of time to do such things as drive to the beach. The horses keep needing to be fed,” he added.


Gary’s gardening time has produced a

wonderful, bright array of flowers –

as well as being his stress reliever.


Two individuals. Two distinct personalities that have joined together to lead a family and part of an industry. Those phrases describe Marsha and Gary Garone. Yet despite all the years and their successes, Gary sees himself “as an 18-year-old kid who loves horses and has dreams of competing and achieving in the show ring.”

That 18-year-old kid and his life partner have found a way to succeed – and to pass it on.

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