Jan 08, 2024

Behind The Breeder’s Brand: Landmark Farm

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Landmark homebreds. Photo courtesy of Lauren Nicholson

Lauren Nicholson’s eventing career has been made on U.S.-bred horses like Snooze Alarm, Vermiculus, and Landmark’s Monte Carlo, many of which are products of Jacqueline Mars’ breeding program out of her Landmark Stables at Stonehall Farm in The Plains, Virginia.

These days, Nicholson and her assistant rider Caitlin O’Roark can be seen competing several of Mars’ homebreds, including Landmark’s Jungle Gold, who moved up to Advanced in 2023, and Landmark’s Athena, who finished her first season of eventing competing at Beginner Novice and in the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) 4-year-old division.

“I’m a huge believer in the growth of the American breeding system,” said Nicholson. “There is just something a little bit more special about those ones you’ve had from the very beginning. All of them are special at that level, but there’s another level to it when you’ve seen them since birth.”

Sue Clarke has been stable manager at Stonehall Farm since 1992 and has overseen Mars’ small breeding operation from the start.

When it started, Mars had broodmares in Ireland with Jane Bradbury and William Micklem, but in 2005 she shifted the program to her farm in Virginia. One of the horses who was born in Ireland was Harbour Pilot, an Irish Sport Horse gelding (Cruising x Shannon) out of Karen O’Connor’s former competition mare.

David O'Connor's (left) interest in natural horsemanship has given Landmark homebreds a strong start on the ground. Photo courtesy of Lauren Nicholson
David O'Connor's (left) interest in natural horsemanship has given Landmark homebreds a strong start on the ground. Photo courtesy of Lauren Nicholson

“William” went on to much success at the five-star level with Hannah Sue Hollberg before retiring to Mars’ daughter Christa Schmidt’s farm in late 2022.

Clarke helps choose stallions to pair with Mars’ mares. In the past, they’ve bred to top sport horse stallions like Formula One and A Fine Romance, and more recently to Chilli Morning and Diarado.

They aim for three to four foals a year, and Schmidt has started to take a more active interest in breeding too. 2023’s crop included one bred by Mars and two bred by Schmidt.

Nicholson has also taken an active interest in pairings. While the goal is to breed five-star horses, both she, Clarke, and Mars are realistic that not every horse will make it to that level, so they listen to what each horse tells them and will shift their career as needed.

“They’re all solid citizens in their own right,” said Nicholson. “They’re all happy doing their jobs, and their careers last well into their late teens, which I don’t think is always the norm in this sport. She wants the horses, no matter what their talent is, to go on and be solid citizens and contribute, in their way, to society. My mom has ridden [Landmark’s Monte Carlo]. If they’re not going to be five-star horses, they all find their place as an amateur horse or a lot of them have gone on to be foxhunters.”

Lauren Nicholson and Landmark homebred Landmark's Jungle Gold. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“With upper level eventing, of course it becomes a numbers game, and they’re not all going to get there,” Clarke added. “We’ve bred a lot of horses, and you’re not going to see a lot of those at the four- or five-star level; they’ll be more suited to two- or three-star. Some of them in the program have become foxhunters. Miner’s Diamond [Miner’s Lamp x Jungle Tale] and Mochachino [Maxamillion x Tyrrell] both went through the eventing program, and for one reason or another it wasn’t going to suit them, and we were lucky enough to get them [going] as foxhunters.”

Nicholson and Landmark’s Monte Carlo (Formula One x Glamour) have made it to the five-star level, and Kimmy Cecere, who used to help start the Landmark homebreds and is now starting her own business in South Carolina, competes Landmark’s Monaco (Formula One x Glamour) at the CCI4*-L level.

In 2023, Mars bred Marilyn Little’s former five-star ride RF Scandalous (Carry Gold x Richardia) to Herald III, in the Heraldik line, and now has a 6-month-old colt. “Kitty” has since been bred again via embryo transfer to the same stallion, with hopes of adding some Thoroughbred blood in.

Clarke has educated herself over the years to figure out how to balance out the traits of the broodmares they have at the farm.

Landmark's Monte Carlo has competed to the five-star level. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

“[A Fine Romance] had a beautiful stamp, especially for a slightly heavier mare,” she said. “He was Thoroughbred. I found out about him when he was one of the guest stallions at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. We had a mare that was bred by Hilltop, so I called Scott Hassler who was there at the time and said, ‘OK, you know the bloodline better than me. What would you recommend?’ We had a nice offspring that we later sold called Landmark’s Ginger Rogers [out of Gia]. It’s nice to get input, especially if you go to people who really know the bloodlines well and what that particular stallion can add. You’ve got to know your mares really well because you need to know if they’re just going to replicate themselves, are they going to allow some of the stallion traits through? Do they not allow any of their own and just duplicate the stallion’s? It takes a few years to find that out.”

Nicholson added that she’s really come to learn the importance of the mare. “The mares really stamp them I’ve noticed since being involved. I can always tell what mare they’re from,” she said.

Clarke is hands-on at the farm and is with the foals from the time they’re born until they’re in their 3-year-old year when they get sent to Ocala, Florida, for Nicholson and O’Roark to back.

Thanks to David and Karen O’Connor’s influence, Landmark babies are trained in natural horsemanship so they’re well-prepared before they’re started under saddle.

“[Winter is] a fun time to work with the babies at the farm,” said Clarke. “It’s so quiet then, and the weather’s still wonderful in Florida, and no one’s competing, so you can take your time with them and play with them. It’s basically sending them to kindergarten.”

Lauren Nicholson (center) and Jacqueline Mars (right). Photo courtesy of Lauren Nicholson

“Unless they’re really big or really rough, we don’t actually back them until November of their 3-year-old year,” said Nicholson. “They come to Florida with me, and we get them rolling. When they’re 3, 4, 5, it’s really about getting them some life experience. We do a lot of hacking and let them go live out with other horses. We do a lot of ‘bushwacking,’ just wandering through the trails and woods. I hate when people try to put their heads down when they’re 3 or 4. I want their heads up, I want them in their own balance and learning how to carry themselves. Once they have that, then you can ask for a little bit of roundness. When they’re 4 or 5, you probably won’t see a lot of them winning a lot, but it’s just because we always train them for the big picture down the road.”

Many Landmark homebreds have competed in the YEH as 4- and 5-year-olds, most recently Maple’s Spicy Chilli (Chilli Morning x Maple) with Nicholson and Landmark’s Athena (Duk Duk x Landmark’s Artemis) with O’Roark, both in the 4-year-old division.

Clarke enjoys seeing each Landmark homebred from birth through its career, especially when they make it to the very top.

“It’s wonderful. It’s exactly why you do it. The feeling of reward from having them just be an idea through making sure you’ve got a healthy foal and getting them through their first three years, then watching their career start and getting to go to the horse trials and watch them and laugh and enjoy them, then all of a sudden their career starts taking off,” she said. “I remember when Lauren had me do the entries for Patrick’s [Landmark’s Monte Carlo] first Kentucky. I’m a nervous wreck doing these entries for him, and she goes, ‘How do you think I feel?!’ It ended up being a super competition for him. He was the ride of the day and won a lease on a Land Rover for Lauren that year. Although Harbour Pilot wasn’t born here, he’s one we were involved with all of his life. He was a bit of a difficult youngster, and it was wonderful to see him flourish and grow with Hannah and take her so many places.”

“I think it’s pretty special how everyone at Stonehall Farm really feels it when those horses have been born at the farm and get to that level. They’re so invested personally,” Nicholson added.

Unfortunately, foaling season falls during the spring’s big events, so Clarke is usually cheering on her charges from home.

Landmark's Mochachino transitioned to life as a foxhunter after his eventing career. Photo courtesy of Lauren Nicholson

“Next year I’ve got three mares due within two weeks of each other at the very beginning of May, so that takes Badminton and Kentucky out of the picture. That’s the only hard part!” she said with a laugh.

In the last few years, the breeding program has had a bit of a lull, so there aren’t many Landmark horses currently competing, but there are a few who will be ready to be backed soon, including Landmark’s Moon Lord, by Chilli Morning and out of homebred Landmark’s Artemis. “Obviously we don’t know, but he looks pretty fancy!” said Clarke.

Landmark’s Jungle Gold (Diarado x Jungle Tale) is the closest homebred to the top of the sport. He was competed to Preliminary by Cecere before Nicholson took over the ride. They completed the CCI3*-L at the MARS Maryland 5 Star (Elkton, Maryland) in October.

“He’s really lovely, and he’s always been very trainable,” said Nicholson. “He had done a lot for only being 8 this year. He’s a very tall, big horse, and this year went through a couple of growth spurts. When they’re this age it’s about them finishing their growth and getting stronger and getting comfortable in their bodies. He’s always been great on the flat, and he’s an amazing cross-country horse. The show jumping is coming. What makes him so great cross-country can make him a bit casual in the show jumping, but I think a lot of it is just getting stronger too. Hopefully that will come. He’s got all the parts.”

Apr 13, 2024 Profile

Now On Course: AEC Dreaming After a 30-Year Hiatus with Kelly O'Brien

Kelly O’Brien has her eye on a prize. “Pretty much the rest of this season will be targeted towards getting fired up for the AEC,” says O’Brien, 54. She and B E Never Say Never, a 19-year-old Dutch Warmblood, have qualified for the 2024 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds already, thanks to decisively winning all three of their 2024 outings thus far.

Apr 12, 2024 USEA Foundation

Applications for The Event at Rebecca Farm Travel Grant Due June 1

The Event at Rebecca Farm (Kalispell, Montana) is renowned amongst members of the eventing community for its exceptional competition venue, genuine hospitality, and stunning backdrops. The Broussard Family Charitable Foundation and USEA Foundation are excited to share that travel grants to this iconic venue are returning once again for 2024 to assist riders traveling to Montana to compete in the CCI3* and CCI4* divisions at this year’s competition which takes place July 17-21.

Apr 12, 2024 Resources

Heads Up Competitors! Important Information Surrounding Entry Form and Liability Waiver Requirements for USEA/USEF Eventing Competitions

When aiming to compete in a United States Eventing Association (USEA) recognized competition (national competition or international competition), licensed or endorsed by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), understanding and fulfilling the specific requirements for entry forms and liability waivers is crucial.

Apr 12, 2024 Emerging Athletes U21

USEA Names Athletes for 2024 EA21 Regional Programs

The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce the athletes selected for the 2024 USEA Emerging Athlete U21 Program (EA21). USEA Young Rider program members aged 21 and under are eligible for the program. The purpose of the USEA EA21 Program is to identify and provide consistent quality instruction to the next generation of elite event riders.

Official Corporate Sponsors of the USEA

Official Joint Therapy Treatment of the USEA

Official Feed of the USEA

Official Saddle of the USEA

Official Real Estate Partner of the USEA

Official Equine Insurance of the USEA

Official Forage of the USEA

Official Supplement Feeding System of the USEA

Official Competition & Training Apparel of the USEA

Official Horse Boot of the USEA