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Mark Taylor Bio
Welcome to BloodHorse.com’s Talkin’ Horses Podcast. My name in Ron Mitchell. I’m the online managing editor for Blood Horse. Today’s guest is Mark Taylor, vice president of Taylor Made Sales. Taylor Made is the leader in North American sales each year. In addition, Taylor Made operates a multifaceted breeding and stallion farm near Nicholasville, Kentucky.
Good morning Mark.
Mark: Good morning Ron. Thanks for having me.
Ron: Thanks for agreeing to do it. First, I think we would be remiss not to start this chat without mentioning Marion Gross. He was the long-time stallion manager at Gainesway Farm where your father was manager for more than 40 years. Can you just share some thoughts on Marion and recall some of your times together and what he meant to Gainesway and the industry.
Mark: Well, Marion was just an extremely hard worker, and he’s a great example of just somebody living their dream and finding something they’re passionate about and then becoming the best at it. When he came to work for Gainesway, I could hear my dad telling a story right now about there were a whole crew as kind of a backbone that helped my dad run the farm and Marion was one of the main ones. He was the guy that came from the country and came up there and times were tough and they were just looking for jobs, and he came in there and started at the very bottom, doing anything that needed to be done. My dad would tell stories about Marion Gross and Orville Huff and these guys up in the trees trimming limbs… just do any job on the farm that needed and then work with the horses and just were so passionate about it and the work ethic was so good that they rose to the top.
Marion was a great horseman and he loved those stallions. Stallion management is a little different than any other kind of horse management in that these stallions have a lot of nuances to their personalities in trying to keep them happy and thriving. He was great about keeping a stallion alive a long time. I mean, those stallions that they had out at Gainesway, they would live forever and I think a lot of that is attributed to Marion keeping them happy, knowing their routine, keeping them in that routine, and he was just like a soul mate with that horse. He know every little thing that horse liked, whether it was the way it was brought in and fed every morning, his schedule, turning him out, putting him in the paddock where he wasn’t going to run the fence or get nervous – he just knew every single one of those horses inside and out and catered the whole management to that horse’s individual needs. He was just an amazing person, amazing work ethic, and he's a real loss to the industry. I just hate to see him go, but there are a lot of wonderful memories of him.
Ron: Yeah, it’s gonna be hard for anybody to replace him. Those are big footsteps to follow in.
Ron: Let’s go on with the chat, Mark. First of all, let me just ask you, obviously the economy is on everyone’s mind these days and certainly, horse farms are not immune from the effects of the downturn in the horse industry. How is Taylor Made coping with it and what are some of the things you are doing to adapt?
Mark: Well, as the cycle of the economic crisis we’re in evolved over 2008, one thing that was fortunate – and if you want to look at the bright side of this situation which isn’t easy – is that a lot of our customers and then a lot of our competitors, everybody, we got a lot of yearlings sold last year before the full scope of the crisis hit. The stock market didn’t just completely tank and the whole thing blow up until the second week of the September sale and then of course, it’s continued to get worse since then. But we got a lot of our best yearlings sold in 2008 at what I thought were fair prices. They weren’t stratospheric prices like we were seeing a couple of years ago. So, that kind of set the stage and then everybody braced themselves for November. We advised a lot of our clients to scratch horses. We said “hey, if you’re absolutely not wanting to sell this horse, cull this horse, put a very realistic reserve, don’t put it in because we think the market’s going to pretty soft.” We did that change and got through 2008 with all our limbs intact and I think most of our customers did too.
Now 2009, we’ve got the whole year and the whole cycle where this is right on top of us, and the things we’re trying to do is on the portfolio management side, we’re trying to help our customers make the best decision they possibly can on matings going forward and then culling mares that don’t need. So that’s kind of what we’re doing for the customers.
As far as our day in and day out operational management, we’ve done some things on the farm to enable us to keep all of our current staff in place and not lay anybody off but also try to run it more efficiently. Normally at Taylor Made all our guys out in the farm get one day off a week. We’ve gone to a mode of operation now where every other week, the guy gets the whole weekend off or it might not be a weekend. It might be a Thursday and a Friday, or Wednesday and a Thursday, or whatever it is, but every other week, they get two days off. That doesn’t sound bad to me, but a lot of these guys want the hours. It’s a little bit of a sacrifice for each one of them so that nobody loses their job, which I think it’s helped us maintain our staff in place.
We’ve also looked at a lot ways to try to minimize the cost to the customer. We’re looking at just everything, from being more frugal on vet treatments, and our vet firm, Rood & Riddle, has worked very cooperatively with us on this, to try to analyze everything we’re doing and say “hey, if the horse needs it for their welfare, to get your mare and foal or to keep that foal healthy, we’re going to do it, but if it’s anything outside the scope of that, that’s we really don’t know the efficacy of something”… you know, in years past we’ve been very aggressive here at Taylor Made in trying to head off any potential developmental x-ray problem with any kind of supplement that’s out there. We’re really analyzing that stuff and saying hey, if we don’t have clear-cut evidence that it definitely makes a difference, we’re going to go back to the fundamentals of raising a horse and let the chips fall where they may. So, we’re doing things like that, but I think in the whole scheme of things, our team has really bought into the whole team effort and that we’re like family, and we’re going to try to keep everybody here working hard and having a job to do every week and we’re just going to have to get a little leaner and a little meaner over the next 12 months before we see how this thing shakes out.
Ron: It sounds like you’re making some prudent business decisions to not only weather the storm, but also position yourself for the rebound.
Ron: Kind of related question that we have from John Underwood. As you assess the current commercial market, how does a breeder decide if he has mares he should not breed this year?
Mark: I think that every breeder is in a slightly different situation. Like for instance, some breeders have their own small operation. They’ve got kind of a backyard operation. They may even have a day job they’re doing but they’ve got 10 or 15 acres and they’ve got a couple of mares and they’re doing that and those people can control their costs and they don’t have so much overhead.
For the people that we mainly cater our services to, on the mares that board here at Taylor Made and we’re just telling them say hey, you cannot be boarding a mare at Taylor Made and trying to raise a foal if you’re going to get an A+ individual and for it to bring $100,000. If you get an A+ individual you need to have the quality of the mare and the sire power to where it can bring $250,000 and the conformation is going to carry you along. If you’ve got an A+ individual and it still can’t bring $100,000, then that means you don’t have much pedigree.
Now as a general basis, I would say that any mare that’s not worth $10,000 for my money, I’m not breeding her. I think that’s a very loose number to throw out there. I had a mare this year that I sold in the January sale that I had myself that I had bought last year and paid $27,000 for her, and I had bought a season at a charity auction and I put that in. It was $15,000 season.. I had $42,000 in her, plus expenses, I probably had $50,000 in her going into the ring, and I sold her for $20,000. I’m not interested in playing that game anymore. I’m not going to buy those kinds of mares. If I’m going to buy a mare, it’s going to be one that’s really good looking and could run and if she doesn’t have black type, she better have a bunch of family up close and some name-brand broodmare sires in there that’s really definitely got some quality.
Ron: So just try to position yourself to have a stock that you could make money on rather than a wing and prayer.
Mark: Exactly. I think we’ve had over production – with what we’re going through in the industry, now it’s been just magnified and really just exaggerated by the economic crisis. But this was going to happen, even if the global economy stayed good, some of the effects of these lower end horses, we were going to feel them in the near future anyway, in my opinion, because we’ve got over production. We’ve got a lot of mares being bred, and with these huge stallion books and people not being very selective about what kind of mares they take – they just take any mare who came in there with ovaries and breed her, and I think you’re really just getting into breeding a bunch of bad horses that nobody has a desire to buy at the end of the day.
Ron: So in a way, the world economy problems just maybe hastened this shakeout a bit in the horse industry.
Mark: Yeah and made it worse. I mean it wouldn’t have been quite that dramatic without the thing, but it was going to happen, it was going to be more of a slow insidious decline, as opposed to just an immediate atom bomb effect and just blow everybody out of the water. But I think the main thing is you’ve got to try to focus on quality and if you can't afford to play at a certain level of quality, you’ve got to really control your costs and try to raise the best looking individual you can to give yourself a shot to even break even.
Ron: Right. We’ll stay on the same subject because we have a couple of more questions from our reader along these lines. This is from Joe – as a breeder, my main concern is the health of the market. Any advice on a reasonable approach to a breeder who has two graded stakes producing mares who were stakes winners and graded stakes placed themselves?
Mark: Well, Joe is in a lot—call him Joe the Breeder, not Joe the Plumber. So, Joe the Breeder, he's got a very viable situation. He's got two mares that are – they're graded stakes producers and they’re stakes winners themselves and graded stakes placed so, he's in a part of the market that I think is still going to hold it’s own. Now, it still may be tough if you don’t get a good individual. I don’t care who your by, who you're out of or who you're half brother to, if you don’t get a good individual, it’s still going to be tricky. I think he's got a lot of options. The stallion market has never been more friendly to breeders than it is right now in my lifetime, so I think he's got very viable product that he can go out and get a very good deal on the stallion season right now and breed those mares, and his options are wide open.
Depending on the age of the mare and what they were, you could swing for the fence, and you can go for a top end stallion. Like if you take the Distorted Humors, the A.P. Indys, the Unbridled Songs of the world, you know, those horses can be bred to at 50 cents on the dollar or what you might have had to pay a few years ago for the elite stallions. There is no Storm Cat out there that’s $500,000. So, they’re kind of the top of the wood pile right now, and you can breed two of the $150,000 ballpark stallions. A.P. Indy is obviously a little more. I think you could swing for the fence on one of them, and then maybe take the other one and go to a young first-year horse that’s got a lot of sizzle if you think it’s a good physical mating and go to a horse like a Curlin or a Street Sense or something along those lines that is young, upcoming, and the price is right. So, I think that his options are wide open, and I think you just keep plugging along.
One thing I will say is that mares, even with the quality that he’s talking about, selling those mares, you might not get a premium for them because there seems to have been a dropoff, even for mares that are graded stakes producers. Once they hit 13, they’re not worth what they used to be. People want those young mares with the production in front of them, so you’re better off probably just hanging on to them and riding it out and getting the best foals you possibly can.
Ron: Your answer there is a perfect lead in into our next question from Lisa Markham – With the current economic downturn, should breeders turn to more proven stallions? Or is it okay to take a shot with a newcomer and how do you decide that?
Mark: Well, I think that in the old days when my dad was working with Mr. Gaines out at Gainesway, the proven stallion was a hot commodity and even the horses that were proven but not the very elite. So, you had horses like Crimson Satan and Bold Bidder that were out there and they were very popular horses that got a full book – but they weren’t the absolute premiere horses of their time. That whole thing has kind of changed where now you get a lot of very solid stallions that get caught kind of in no man’s land that they’re not young anymore and they’re not elite, but they really can get you a good nice solid racehorse. But those horses are kind of just stuck there in the middle where commercially, they’re just not that viable.
What I would say is that if you have the option to raise the horse, if that is an option, if you have the infrastructure in place and you can do it yourself, or you can afford to raise horses then I think the time is right to breed to horses that are proven to be able to get a lot of runners, lot of stakes horses very affordably and I think that that is a great move. If you’re a strictly commercial breeder that says hey, I cannot under any circumstances afford to raise these things, then I think you’re better off going with a young unproven horse with some sizzle to him because that’s what the market’s responding to. If you’re a breed to race person or at least have that possibility, there are various horses out there, like E Dubai, that gets a lot of runners that is reasonably priced you should consider. We’ve got Northern Afleet over here, very reasonably priced horse. It’s a lot of runners. You can breed the horses – like even Forestry this year – he’s $40,000 and I mean you look at what he's done and what he's done in the market and on the racetrack, it’s amazing. He’s gone now, but like Storm Boot was over at Crestwood. These are good hard knocking solid racehorse sires… Even Theatrical is still going. You can breed to him cheap over there … I don’t know about cheap, but you can breed to him a lot less than you could have five years ago. He's even older horse and very viable and gotten a lot of great horses. I mean there’s horses like that that can be found.
If you want to race, you can really go after it and get a lot of value for your money, but if you’re just breeding for the market, I think you’re better off in backing up and going to those horses that you’re either a first, second year or maybe betting on a horse like the horse with good two year olds of this last year. The people who in 2008 bred to the Tapit, or Candy Ride, or Speightstowns, Medaglia d’Oro – they’re all reaping big benefits so that’s another angle to take just try to bet on the come on those horses with big props of two year olds coming up in the year breeding and take shot if they hit it, and you could get lucky and hit the goldmine.
Ron: So in a way, kind of what you're saying is, especially if you’re breeding for the market you’ve got to be thinking more about what’s fashionable, and when breeding to race you could think more about what’s going to get you just a great solid runner.
Mark: Exactly. And there’s tons of value. If you can race, you’re in an enviable position because there’s so much more value out there if you look around. It’s incredible, the deals you can get.
Ron: Richard Jackson asks whether or not if the 2-year-old sales continue to be down, how much will that affect pinhookers who are buying yearlings this summer and fall?
Mark: Well I think that it’s going to affect us a lot. The pinhookers are a very, very important part of our market for yearlings, especially up here in Kentucky. That group of people – the pinhookers – have really asserted themselves over the last 10 years and they’ve become a big part of the middle market. You look at all of those folks that buy horses from us, I mean we sell a ton of horses to Hartley DeRenzo, Mike Mulligan, Becky Thomas, Lance Robinson, and Jerry Bailey, Niall Brennan, Nick de Meric, Tony Bowen and all those types of guys – John Brocklebank – I mean they all step up and even they may have put a little lower ceiling on what they have spent last year, but they’re still on their swing and on those good looking horses in the price ranges anywhere from $25,000 to $300,000. They’re so critical to our business, and what I’m afraid of, and I’m not an economist and I’m not a banker but what I worry about is a lot of those guys – I’ve got so much respect for them because they’re great horsemen and they play this game with their skin in it. They’re not playing on trust fund money. These guys have made every penny themselves and they’re out there every year. They either make money, break even, or lose money and it’s usually not a lot of money but had some great years a few of them but they’ve got to go back to the bank and refinance and do it all over again. And they’ve got to just rely on their horsemanship to get them there. I think that they’re going to have a tough year this year. Hopefully they’ll get through it okay. But what I’m worried about is that you actually get a little bit of the banking crisis come home to roost right here on own industry where these guys can’t get their lines of credits renewed, or at least to the extent that they have in the past. They’ve got the guts and the courage and the confidence to come in here and buy but they just don’t have any money. So I think that’s a real concern, and I got my fingers crossed and I hope that they get through it. I know that there’s a lot of buzz going on around about this upcoming Calder sale but it’s the best catalog that they think they’ve had down there and they’ve got a lot of people coming in for the sale so I hope they have some success and then come back. But if they don’t, it’s going to put a major dent in our yearling market.
Ron: So really like a lot of other industries, they’re probably hoping especially later on down the road as we get into the yearling sales, hopefully the banking purse strings will loosen up a bit.
Mark: Exactly, and hopefully that they’ve got enough track records with the people that put the money up where they know that these guys know what they’re doing, they might have to adjust their business plan, but they’re going to come through on the other side if they just stick with them.
Ron: Our next question concerns sales integrity task force. The sales integrity task force decided against mandatory disclosure of conformation-altering surgery and procedures on young sale horses. Do you agree with that decision?
Mark: Well I agree with that decision, but my agreement is mainly based on the logistics of it and trying to avoid legal disputes in the sales ring. I mean, the one thing that I am so grateful for in our sales market is that sure, you'll read in the Blood Horse that you’ll have a lawsuit here, a lawsuit there but in general, for the amount yearlings and bloodstock that goes through the ring, most of those transactions go very seamlessly and buyer and seller feel like they got treated fairly and the sale is done. When the gavel falls, you don’t have to worry about it. You go back to your farm and go back to work.
The situation with these corrective surgeries is at present we don’t have the consensus built to start microchipping our horses where all medical data can be put on the microchip and that’s something they’ve been exploring, but it’s still a ways off and there’s a myriad of problems like even down to the people who tattoo the horses at the sale have their own union and they lobby with HPBA and they don’t want microchipping because it will put them out of business. There are so many layers of problems which I don’t know everything about.
Anyway, until we can get microchipping, it was a situation with these surgeries where all these foals are having periosteal elevations done which is a very innocuous surgery on joints to just stimulate growth on one side. It’s not in the joint. You just go in, you make an incision over the periosteum to allow that side of the horse’s leg to catch up and speed up its growth a little bit. Those things have been happening and there are thousands of them happening and there are subtle adjustments to the horses’ conformation. Then we’ve evolved into actually putting a transphyseal bridge which is done to shut down the growth plate on the side of the leg that’s growing too fast. Each joint has a growth plate that runs across it and the horse leg grows from both sides. If you slow down one side and speed up the other, it can straighten the leg out, and you’re trying to get the straightest leg you can.
I think it would be fine to document all this stuff and disclose it, but all we had was a system where, let’s say a weanling goes through Keeneland. The guy puts it in there. He turns in a little slip at the repository, piece of paper and it says I did a periosteal elevation on this foal when it was 60 days old. And then a person buys it out of there. There was no way to track that. There was no database that was created and there was no money available to create this thing and to hire people to oversee it. So when it goes to the yearling sale, you’re just relying on that buyer’s integrity that he’s going to still disclose that, not lose the piece of paper, not forget about it and get it through as a yearling. Then when it goes through as a yearling, you got someone who buys it taking it a 2-year-old sale. Same thing again. Then he goes in races, wins a couple of stakes. Does the guy buying it as a broodmare get the access to the same information or has that piece of paper been lost along the way and nobody remembers it.
So there was no way until we get all this stuff computerized and in an ideal world, I think that our business is better the more information that’s available to everybody because from what I’ve seen from selling thousand of horses, good horses come from everywhere. Good horses came that had screws and wires, good horses came that had surgeries, good horses came that had pneumonia. A good horse is a good horse and the more information we put out there, the more it’s going to educate everybody to that fact and I think in general, the market will become less obsessed with what’s the horse had done to it and more obsessed with finding a horse they really like and then go on and put it in the best hands possible and trying to have some success with it.
I’m a big information person, and I would like to get it out there but as of right now, if we put it out there, I think we open ourselves for all kinds of litigation where a person’s going to find out five years later that, “Oh, I talked to that farm manager, he said he stripped this mare when it was foal, and now I want to go back and sue the guy that sold it to me as a yearling because he never told me…” It would just be a constant litigation you’re involved in over a subject which I don’t think should really causing a lot of problems right now.
Ron: So you think if they’re able to work out the logistics, the caretaking of the information, the consistency of it, then certainly it’s something you and probably others would be in favor of.
Mark: I think so and I think that eventually, if you’d fast forward 15 or 20 years, that horse is going to have a microchip in it and you’re going to basically be able to download the information off that microchip and get the horse’s entire medical history and you’re going to know everything about it. If it had a hernia repaired when it was young, if it had had to have EPM medication when it was 10 months old, then it had colic surgery, it’s all going to be there – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think it’s going to be shocking to people to see how good these horses turnout and what they do, even though maybe they’ve had … and we sell a lot of horses so we have our own in-house research project that we follow and it’s amazing. The best horses we’ve sold, none of them had just a smooth sailing from birth on. It seems like all the good ones had a lot to overcome and they still did it whether it’d be sickness or surgeries or corrective surgeries or whatever you know. Those good ones they just have that intangible and they rise to the top.
Ron: I guess the one surgery that they’re not doing yet to improve on the horse is to be able to do heart surgery and that I guess, one thing that sets the good ones apart regardless of any physical infirmities is the heart.
Mark: Yeah and pain threshold. I mean, you can see it growing up. I mean a lot of these horses, if you get a big snow storm and it’s out there and it’s cold and they come in… you can just see it. The tough ones they’re right there at the gate wanting that first bite of sweet feed and they get in there and they’re just hearty and they do it despite adversity. I think the same thing can be said when you’re doing these surgeries out in the stuff too. I mean most of these horses are very resilient and they come right out of it and do good.
Ron: Our own Anne Eberhardt Keogh asked this question – From the perspective of horse and land management, growing up as the son of Joe Taylor must have been an incredible experience. What advice of his made the most impact on you as a horseman?
Mark: That’s a great question – because my dad he had so much impact and pretty much shaped the way my brothers and I do just about everything, from land management to horse management to customer service. It was basically like a training ground from birth on -- how to be in the horse business and try to do it they way he believed but when I thought of that question, and I know my dad had a real close friendship and had a great relationship with Anne and her husband James, but I thought I would read from my dad’s book called the Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Racehorses. The final paragraph of the book, which is just in this little section at the end called Thoughts on Life of a Horseman, here’s what he said, and I think this probably sums up the whole total of my dad’s impact on shaping me and then all of the other people that he had mentored, including Marion Gross out there at Gainesway. He says:
“Remember your family and your values. All the racing success in the world can't begin to replace the small accomplishments of sons and daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters. Make time for them. Make time for going to church, for doing charity or volunteer work or whatever is in your power to make this a better world. Be thankful for what God had given you and be at peace with what He has not. If you are kind to your horses and your family and grateful to God, you are a success already. Make time for God and family.”
I think that just sums up my dad’s philosophy on life and horses. He got up everyday of his life and was totally grateful and completely in awe of the opportunity he had to be around horse and then as time went on, to be around great horses. I think it just absolutely was the thrill of a lifetime everyday to go out there and have Blushing Groom and Vaguely Noble, Lyphard, and Green Dancer… right on down the line, Bold Bidder, Crimson Satan, Cozzene all these horse and he absolutely loved them.
He always said that the thing he liked about horses that were different than any other animal is that he could feel the emotion they reciprocated, that when you did something for a horse, he really felt like their gratitude for him. If a horse had a foot abscess and you were down there working with the blacksmith and you got that thing relieved, where all that pain was out or if that horse has been out in the field and you get it up, and it’s a cold morning, and put feed ration in there, that he really felt the emotion coming in back from the horse. I think that kind of drove him from the horsemanship thing. He always wanted to care for them and make them as good as they could, being given everything they need. So we’re obsessed with that too. When I walk through the barn, if something’s not just right, it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the horse has an empty hay corner and there’s no specific reason why you want to pull the hay – that’s not good. You want that horse having everything they need at all times and it’s almost become an obsession. My brothers and I, the people that work for us, it drives him crazy because we’ll see little things and he had so much attention to detail, it’s like he’s still there on our shoulder going “What on earth is going on over there, go fix that immediately.” So it’s kind of a compulsion. I feel like he’s still kind of riding shotgun with me most days.
Ron: Mark that quote that you have from your father’s book, it’s very sage advice and something that these days when we could get all caught up with day to day rat race, so to speak, and get so hell bent on trying to earn our keep and that type of thing, we forget about.
Mark: Yeah, without question. It’s something that was good for me to read yesterday because sometimes you can get so fixated on the economics and are we going to be able to keep our business prosperous in these times and all that stuff. I mean, you’ve got to just turn back inward and say hey, you know I can get up every morning, do the best that I can for my customers, try to provide an opportunity for my employees and be appreciative of what we do have. Even though we’re going through tough times, we’ve got a lot more than a whole lot of people around the world. So we gotta’ be grateful and do everything we can to make the most of it.
Ron: Mark, continuing on more of a personal note here. Barry wants to know of all the different jobs you’ve held in the racing industry or horse industry, which one have you enjoyed the most?
Mark: Well I think the politically correct thing to say is I love my current job and I wouldn’t be doing anything else in the world, which I do. I’ve got a great job. I think the most enjoyable job that I’ve ever had in the horse business was I went out to California after I graduated from college and I worked for a year out there for Ron McAnally and at that time, Ron was absolutely rolling. I mean we just had right down the shedrow graded stakes winner after graded stakes winner after graded stakes winner and we were flying them around the country, winning all kinds of big races. At that time of my life I was thinking I would want to be a trainer. But I really didn’t like the lifestyle as far as moving around all the time and that’s just not – I like to have some roots planted. But just being around that many good horses was just incredible. Everyday ,being around these horses and Ron McAnally, -- he always catches flack because he doesn’t get to the barn as early as somebody and he doesn’t do this and he whatever… -- but when I was there, he just kept it simple. There was never a lot of stress in the barn. He wasn’t a big vet guy, didn’t use much of vet work at all. He had good horses, he kept them happy and kept them sound and had good feeding program, and ran them where they belong and had a ton of success. It was a good learning experience.
I also watched a lot other trainers out there that were coming up through the ranks. I remember Bob Baffert was right around the back of us and he actually won his first Breeders’ Cup, I think the year I was out there with him, he had Thirty Slews. I was really impressed with him – I could tell that he was a horseman through and through. He knew what he was doing from an early time. I watched his evolution go through. There was just a lot of great trainers coming up and it was just a really cool time. It was just a great job but then I had to come back and go back to reality.
Ron: Speaking of that reality, Thomas wants to know that even though you probably knew from an early age that your career was going to be in the horse industry, you went out and got a degree in English from Clemson University. Were you trying to pursue a career in English or did you think the background would have helped you with your communication skills?
Mark: That’s kind of funny. We had eight kids in our family and I was the youngest. My dad he only had like a sixth grade education. I think he had his little bucket list of everything he wanted to accomplish in his life, and he always wanted us to be able to do stuff that he did not do himself. In like sixth grade, his dad was in a farming accident and times were tough, I mean it was back in the 1930s. He had to just quit and go start working to keep the family going. So he always wanted us to go and get college educations. Starting out with Duncan, they’d go to UK, work a while and then Duncan and Mike Shannon started Taylor Made.
Ben came along and he worked a little while, but the farm had grown, they got a new division. Ben had to go run that division. Frank came along, they tried to send him off to some Catholic school down in Texas, and I think he lasted about three weeks and he came back to work.
By the time I came along, the farm was up and going and my brothers had already done great with it and he had said, “I want you to get a degree. I want you to get out of here, don’t go to UK, get far enough away where I’m not going to drag you back in here and make you work.” To, me this sounded great because I was like four years of college as opposed of my dad being right on top of me, making me clean stalls every time I turned around, do this and that, didn’t sound like a bad reprieve. I just picked Clemson because I went to a bunch of schools and I just felt in love with it. It’s right on a lake. It’s a very beautiful campus. They had a great football team, which I’m a huge college football fan. It was just kind of a perfect setting, and I got down there and I had these plans of getting a business degree and how it was going to help me and brother, Duncan was just starting to really kind of distill his ideas about running a business. He said you need to do this, this and this. I got down there, and I tried that for about six months but I didn’t like it and I love to read – I’m still a pretty avid reader and so I would always do great in English classes and I like to write a lot. I took the course of least resistance. My dad wasn’t saying you gotta graduate in this, that or the other. He didn’t care and didn’t even know what they’re teaching me. He just wanted to see a diploma. I took the course with least resistance and went English and it’s paid off in some regards, but I probably would have been a lot better of if I would have stuck it out on a business degree or something a little more concrete that I could have applied. But it’s definitely helped me. And the people I met down there helped me more than anything, just the experience of getting away from my family, not being in an environment where everybody knew who I was, growing up with these people. It just kind of go do your own thing for a little while and get away from a big family. It was a positive experience.
Ron: And you made your father proud.
Mark: Yup. I think he only came down to Clemson twice. He dropped me off and then he came down when I graduated. So, it was all he needed to know.
Ron: Allen H. asks – I noticed that you are now the president of the Consignors and Breeders Association. I followed your organization through the series of booklets that can be found on your website and at public sales. They have been informative and have helped me understand the terminology. What does the CBA have planned for the future?
Mark: The CBA has got – we just had a strategic planning meeting and we brought in a moderator and we got together about 35 of industry leaders as far as in the consignment and breeding realm including all the people on our board and it was very productive. We got a lot of ideas on what we can be doing to fulfill the CBA’s mission, which is based on promoting integrity in the game, education, and trying to expand the marketplace where it’s better and more prosperous for everybody involved.
The things that we've kind of looked at for the coming year is we would like to work more closely with the veterinary communityWe’ve recently been in discussions with the vet community and that they’ve been very cooperative and I’ll have them a lot of credit that I think they understand the trying times that the breeders are going through and the increased cost and we’ve actually been discussion with them a reduction in scope and x-ray charges or a cap on those for CBA members and that they would become in essence a preferred provider. So, those talks are still ongoing but that’s one initiative that we’ve been doing. Our thought was that it could be a win-win for everybody. It’s a win for the CBA because it will drive membership and a lot of people that were fringe and didn’t know about the CBA might say hey, it’s a good organization, they’re doing good things and if I join, I’m going to get a little discount over here on my scope and x-rays for my sale yearlings. With the increased membership we get, it makes our voice stronger on issues that are regarding everybody dealing with the sales companies, dealing with legislators in Frankfurt when legislation come up that affects the horse business.
It’s going to be a win for our customers because they save money and it’s actually going to be a win for the vets because the initiatives that we’re doing, educating buyers, providing a voice in Frankfort – those kinds of things are going to ultimately help the vet clinics too. I see it as a very prosperous relationship that we’re forming and I think there are some big things on the horizon as we work in unison with the veterinary community to make the sales and breeding horses better for our constituents.
I also see things on the horizon where we want to become a little more structured in our communication with the sales companies. One of our goals this year is to set up a biannual meeting with each of the sales companies here because they’re both doing a lot of things to recruit new buyers, they’re both doing things, they’re to help our constituents and a lot of the times, the problem is just communicating with this group of consignors and breeders is difficult for the sales companies. So, if we can be the connector, the liaison between the sales companies and our members, we think we’re going to get the word out on what they’re doing and hopefully, we can synergize to get better results.
We were going to talk about other things this year. One thing that we believe strongly in is kind of what we touched on in an earlier question, is that good horses are running out there everyday that are graduates from our sales at the very highest level of racing, winning Breeders’ Cups, winning classic races, that as yearlings where their value has depreciated significantly because of they had imperfections in their scope or x-ray reports. We want to work with the vets – we’ve done a lot of booklets, which I’m sure people have seen online about scoping, OCDs, surgeries, those kind of things – we would like to move that into the video realm and work with some surgeons here in town and some vets to put together a really informative cool video that we could put on like a Youtube format. We could also have it on our website. So if there are yearling buyers out there that say, “My agent is always talking about a horse having a slightly lazy arytenoid. What does that mean, and what is an arytenoids…” and the booklet is good but print can only achieve so much. Video is a more powerful medium. Our thought was to actually show them a horse being scoped, video of the scope and have a vet walking them through it. Now that’s just one idea; eventually we’d like to do them on surgeries, we’d like to show the joint, have a surgeon walk them through exactly what they’re doing, what the joint looks like to try to educate the buyers where they can see that these procedures get done. They're very sophisticated people doing them. There is tons of horses that have had the procedures that go on and performed well so.
Education is a big push this year, increasing our communication and synergy with the vet community is a big push, and then increasing our communication and synergy with the sales companies. That’s kind of what we’ve laid out as big initiatives for 2009 and 2010.
Ron: Sounds good Mark. Good luck with those initiatives.
Mark: Thank you.
Ron: Mark, that’s all the questions that we have time for today. I really want to thank you for your time.
Mark: Well I appreciate it. I probably ran a little overboard on a few of them but once I start talking about the horse business, sometimes I have a hard time, keeping myself in check. I appreciate it and it was a lot of fun.
Ron: And also good stories about Papa Joe.
Mark: Yeah. That’s right.
Ron: Alright; thanks Mark. Good luck.
Mark: See you, Ron. Thank you.