Nestled into the small community of Creedmoor, North Carolina, Seaborne Farm has been in the business of horses for decades. Established in 1990, Seaborne Farm Connemara ponies have been everywhere. From competing in Young Riders to showing their sass on local circuits, the Seaborne Farm Connemaras are stunning examples of a niche breeding business built on the expertise of farm owner Denise Hill and trainer Lauren Hill.
Seaborne Connemara ponies have made their way around the country, from winning the USDF Clifton Trophy for high scoring Connemara ponies to landing the cover of Hunter and Sport Horse Magazine, they’ve done it all! Trainer Lauren Hill reminisced about the humble beginnings of Seaborne’s Connemaras with a smile, “Denise found an ad in the News & Observer (a North Carolina newspaper) about a four-year-old Connemara pony that needed to be ridden. Definitely a little saintly pony.” There you have it: both Denise and Lauren were smitten!
Seaborne Farm rests on multiple acres where space isn’t lacking. Denise was able to begin a breeding program that could thrive because of the large pastures and flexible barn space. “Hideaway Greystone’s Covergirl was the first Connemara mare we owned and bred. She’s the mother of Seaborne’s Schooner, our stallion. There was a lot of research done to find a stallion who fit our chosen disposition and that happened to be Grange Finn Sparrow who had an extensive career in Ireland, and then stood at stud with Harry DeLeyer.” Harry DeLeyer was known for his partner and show jumping extraordinaire Snowman. Does that mean Connemaras might be known for their jumping?
“Absolutely! I’ve never met a Connemara who didn’t love to jump, and who wasn’t fantastic at it!” Hill said. She has a collection of hard earned coolers, medals, and trophies aboard Seaborne’s Schooner, a pony stallion who clearly loved his job. But before going too far past Schooner’s accomplishments, how did Denise decide Schooner was the man for the job? Lauren remembers young Schooner as a reliable, safe, and easy to work with. “His disposition even as a young guy was fantastic. He had a great work ethic; riding and breeding were two different worlds to him, so he’d think differently and become very rideable and manageable once he realized it wasn’t time for the ladies.” Though they had bred their mare to Grange Finn Sparrow and the Hills were felt the offspring were athletic and talented, the foals lacked type that Denise was looking for.
What they were looking for, they found in Schooner. “He was very type-y, had a great disposition, a great work ethic, and a pretty face.” That description alone makes a lovely horse, but Schooner’s babies soon proved they were worth the spotlight, too. “His babies are proud, outgoing, and inquisitive. They have this empathetic nature that’s so human friendly; none of his babies would hurt anyone.” Many mares, just like any momma, have traits evident in their babies, but Schnooner’s personality truly showed through the Seaborne foals. Seaborne’s Schooner made a name for himself in North Carolina at the Bryan Jones Equitation Medal Final where he was piloted to first place with Lauren Hill in 2003. Winning the equitation medal was naturally exciting, but Lauren explained that the only thing better than enjoying a moment like that for yourself is watching it happen for someone else on one of your home bred horses.
“Schooner’s babies and the other Seaborne foals have been competitive. Seaborne’s Billabong was voted best horse at the 2015 IEA Nationals. Seaborne’s Tell Tale (Fiona) did a lot of Childrens’ Pony and made it to zone finals. Seaborne’s Flagship even went to Young Riders as an event horse, and retired at Averette University. Connemaras are good at anything, especially if it gets their feet off the ground.”
The Seaborne Connemaras are bred at home, raised on the farm, and trained by Lauren Hill, certified USHJA trainer. As she recounted what it was like growing up with the breeding program, Lauren also mentioned what remains the hardest part of the breeding business. “It takes a lot of time, and it’s unpredictable. One of the mares we had serious health complications, and she still had to give birth. Weaning can be difficult because you have so much time to wait, and there are so many unknowns. The baby could get its feet hung… you hope they learn some things from their mothers, but you just don’t know. There are some very difficult decisions you might end up having to make too. Dory needed colic surgery as a weanling – do you do it? We had the space to give her the surgery, let her live, and see how she would be. For someone else, she might not have been able to be something.”
For that someone else, Lauren had some advice. “Don’t set out to create a breeding program unless you know what you’re signing up for. There are so many little things that can drown you financially.” But Lauren and Denise have heartwarming moments to make it through the difficulties of running a breeding business. “There’s nothing more rewarding than breeding the baby, raising it, and having it become this talented horse. You know them inside and out, how they got the way they are… It’s a bond like nothing else. The only thing more rewarding is seeing other people love them as much as you do.”