A tender breeze transcends over gently rolling hills near the northern tip of Hernando County, just across the county line. It is a picture perfect scene of a quiet farm with lazy pastures, a comfortable multi-level farmhouse, and a cozy barn.
The sign outside the 70 acre farm identifies the property as Sugarbrook Farm, a renowned hunter pony breeding farm. Within its white placard-board fencing and pristine pastures, serene broodmares graze effortlessly among the manicured greens.
Most of these mares have produced their share of beautiful foals, artificially inseminated by one of two prized stallions, Blue Who (Hootie) and Sugarbrook Blue Pacific (Traveller), who live on the farm. Both stallions are responsible for helping Sugarbrook Farm reach national recognition.
Beyond the barn, standing alone was Hootie, a majestic figure of gallant white. His elegant grey mane draped like silk across his muscled neck.
“Hoot hoot,” Sandy Holbrook chimed from the barn in a chirpy tone to get the stallions attention. Hootie stood statue straight for a moment; ears erect and pointed forward, until he spotted his owner. Then he dashed forward in a graceful sweep toward the gate, driven by his impervious love for peppermints.
Holbrook beamed with the kind of pride usually seen in the presence of a mother and her child. Hootie, Holbrook explained, was born on the farm 13 years ago. The scene, therefore, is particularly tender when Holbrook described how tiny Hootie was as a colt.
Standing just 11.2 hands at maturity, Hootie packs a solid form in a compact package. But his impressive bloodline is anything but small in the grand scheme of hunter pony stud service
Sandy Holbrook has been breeding hunter jumper ponies for more than 20 years. An avid competitor on the horse show circuit, Holbrook’s passion for horses rubbed off on her two daughters, Lori and Kelly, when they were growing up. In fact, it was the daughters’ showing that got Holbrook involved in breeding.
Kelly’s horse, Revelie, contracted an eye infection that eventually led to blindness, Holbrook explained, ending the mare’s competitive career. “Revelie was such a lovely show mare,” Holbrook added. “Our trainer suggested we breed her.”
The resulting foal, Rose, now 26, grazes in one of the pastures. “She has had 9 foals,” Holbrook said. “She is the daughter of our foundation broodmare, how we started into breeding.”
For years, Holbrook used outside stallions to breed her mares. But when Blue Who (Hootie) was born, everything changed. She remembered thinking, “There’s my breeding stallion. His breeding was the best in the country.”
Sugarbrook welcomed their second breeding stallion a year later, show-named Sugarbrook Blue Pacific (Traveller), now 12. Similar in markings to the infamous Traveller who was ridden into battle by Robert E. Lee, Sugarbrook’s Traveller is every bit the close replica in strength, beauty and grace.
Standing almost two full hands taller than Hootie, Traveller packs quite the impression. Yet like his resident rival, Traveller is calm, disciplined, and respectful of Holbrook who handles him with the precision of a true professional.
Holbrook is a petite woman, with a gentle voice and animated eyes. The passion she displays when she speaks of her horses dispels any doubt. She is living every moment in paradise.
But the breeding farm is a 24 hour a day under-taking. Barbara Lewis, Holbrook’s Barn Manager, works alongside Holbrook to help keep things running smoothly.
A few afternoons a week, Holbrook works in the family business, Holbrook Dentistry in Brooksville, with husband, Bill Holbrook. But Sugarbrook is her main priority.
Maintaining a functional and highly acclaimed breeding farm requires daily commitment. Ovulating broodmares are brought to the farm for the insemination. Some remain until after they have foaled, taking advantage of Sugarbrooks Foaling and Mare Care.
Those who can’t make it to the farm can have collected semen shipped to the ovulating mare. In fact, Sugarbrook Farm ships across the country.
The process is quite involved. Holbrook explained that the stallions never come in direct contact with the mares. Instead, a teaser mare is used to entice the stallions. Then the sperm is captured using an innovative technique, controlled by a licensed veterinarian, and either immediately inseminated into an ovulating broodmare or shipped overnight in protective containers.
Sugarbrook Farm’s history began on Lake Lindsey Road where the original farm was located. The Holbrooks moved to the present location ten years ago and continued to build on Sandy Holbrook’s dream.
Bill Holbrook admitted the breeding business is best left to his wife, who needed no help promoting the unique work that takes place on the farm. “I know my place,” Bill Holbrook said with a sheepish grin.
And Sandy Holbrook knows hers. “It’s my passion,” she said.
Biz at a Glance
Name: Sugarbrook Farm
Address: 13198 S. Pleasant Grove Rd.
Telephone: (352) 637-6777 or 232-2795