Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Friday, November 4, 2011
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George Brenna and Broad Bahn, right, pulls away from Whiskey Tax (6) on the way to winning the Hambletonian harness horse race.
Broad Bahn, a Standardbred trotter bred by Mark Mullen ‘79, winning the $1.5M Hambletonian harness horse race at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. (Photo by Lisa Photo, Inc.)

As an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Mark Mullen ’79 was a pre-veterinary student with a fondness for horses, who’d come up from New Jersey to experience the lure of the Granite State. And while his career path diverged, his heart stayed true to horses and his wife Laura ’80, a zoology and psychology major, whom he met when she serendipitously answered his ad at the Memorial Union Building for a ride share to upstate New York. They spent three years together studying their respective subjects and, every summer, Mark would return home to groom horses for trainers at Fair Winds Farm, his parents’ 600-acre equine boarding and breeding facility in Upper Freehold Township.

There is a palpable memory in circling a rubber curry into the warmth of a mare’s neck to loosen the dirt, flicking it off with the dandy brush, and smoothing her coat down to a glossy shine. Simply being around horses, one is surrounded by sensory impressions: the coarseness of a mane, the smell of sweet meal, warm breath exhaled into the palm of your hand. For Mullen, those summers were a time of hands-on work with athletes: the spritely Standardbred horses, with an inborn competitive nature, which were trained to trot and pace in prestigious races held across the country.

In recalling a horse that would follow him around, Mullen says, “There is an attachment you form. When a big animal recognizes and responds to you, it’s not something you easily forget.” These days his work is much less hands-on. As the current owner of Fair Winds Farm, he is responsible for managing the very best broodmares and breeding truly remarkable offspring. One such trotter, a 3-year old colt named Broad Bahn, raced in the Hambletonian at the Meadowlands last August. He was driven by the renowned “The Minister of Speed” George Brennan to a $1.5M win. While Fair Wind Farms continues to breed award-winning offspring from Broad Bahn’s mother, there are many other prodigious colts and fillies that have contributed to the collective earnings of the farm, totaling nearly $4M this year alone.

Despite such successes, the lagging economy has impacted the entire horse industry with a particular burden on sport horse owners. It has been increasingly challenging for horse lovers to maintain their animals and many have had to make the wrenching decision to sell them. “The cost of grain is up 35%,” says Mullen. “The economic situation really separates the casual horse lover from those who are deeply committed.” In fact, at Fair Winds Farm, the decision was made to eliminate the stallion side of the business and renovate a stud barn into a state-of-the-art medical facility to house the practice of nationally-known equine orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Patricia Hogan.

Mullen has long been impressed by the commitment horse lovers demonstrate in maintaining their connection with the animals. “It’s a lot of work to own a horse. There’s a love there; a real commitment. This is a live animal that needs daily attention,” he says. “It has always been impressive to me that people can work all week long and still find the time to go out and compete in an event. The people who drive for hours and sleep in their vans love their animals. They love the camaraderie of fellow horsemen. They love the competition. I have always been impressed by their effort.”

The reverence Mullen has for the commitment of those in the horse industry, along with a strong personal ethic of giving back, fuels both his and Laura’s interest in sustaining the Equine Program at UNH. Together they established The Fair Winds Farm Equine Scholarship Fund in 2001 to ensure the support of undergraduates enrolling in the two and four-year equine programs within the Thompson School of Applied Science and the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture. The awards, which are based on financial need and academic merit with preference given to students demonstrating a strong interest in pursuing careers in the Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing industry, have already helped many students obtain the education they need in order to make their dreams for the future a reality today.

For more information, contact Sarah Hamilton, Director of Equine Program, at 603-862-1356 or sarah.hamilton@unh.edu.