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Born to Trot
Jeremiah Tax
June 09, 1958
Breeding tells in a baby foal who will one day be hitched to a sulky and test his graceful gait against other trotters
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June 09, 1958

Born To Trot

Breeding tells in a baby foal who will one day be hitched to a sulky and test his graceful gait against other trotters

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The little fellow on the opposite page is only a month old. Already, however, in the careless innocence of infancy, he is rehearsing his role in life and, in a sense, demonstrating one of man's triumphs over nature. Clearly, he is on the trot, a gait innate to him through generations of careful breeding of his ancestors for the purpose of pitting him against other trotters in races.

This breeding has now made it a commonplace for youngsters like him to be seen trotting or pacing (another racing gait) alongside their dams in open pasture. And nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than at the locale of these pictures—the verdant, rolling 2,000 acres of Hanover Shoe Farm, largest horse-breeding establishment in the nation and one devoted solely to the trotting and pacing standardbred horse.

Eleven miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country of shnits an' nep and shoofly pie and a long stone's throw from President Eisenhower's acreage, Hanover is remarkable for its clean, fresh beauty even in this area of traditionally well-kept farms. Twenty-five miles of fence, requiring 20,000 gallons of whitewash for a single annual coat, surround and crisscross the farm into 40 paddocks to accommodate a horse population that runs as high as 900 in May, as low as 500 in December and averaged 745 all last year. Indoors, these sucklings, yearlings, mares and stallions are bedded down in 700 stalls in 40 barns and on 1,000 tons of straw—where last year they ate 50,000 bushels of oats and 1,200 tons of hay. Each year, too, it takes 300 tons of lime and 140 tons of fertilizer to keep their lush, bluegrass pastures green and growing.

All in all, obviously a huge operation. Yet Hanover's glory is not the quantity of horseflesh produced, but its quality. The records of the sport of harness racing would be empty ledgers if the speed and money-won marks set by Hanover sires and their progeny were erased. A look at the results of last season's Hambletonian and Little Brown Jug—the two top harness classics—is enough to demonstrate this dominance. Horses sired by Hanover stallions won $91,479 of the Hambletonian's net purse of $108,903. And practically all of the remainder was won by trotting sons of Hanover-bred stallions. Hanover-sired pacers won more than $68,000 of the $73,000 Little Brown Jug purse; the first seven horses in the final summary were by Hanover sires. All heat winners in both races (Hickory Smoke and Hoot Song in the Hambletonian, Torpid and Meadowlands in the Jug) were by Hanover sires: respectively, Titan Hanover, Hoot Mon, Knight Dream and Adios.

At this stage of the current season there are three logical favorites in the 1958 Jug, to be raced September 18: Painter, Thorpe Hanover and Raider Frost. All three are by Hanover sires, the first two by Tar Heel, the last by Adios.

There are three favorites in the 1958 Hambletonian, to be raced August 27: Mix Hanover, Gang Awa and Sharpshooter. The first two are by Hanover's Hoot Mon, who won the Hambletonian in 1947 in 2:00 (still the record for this event) and who has already sired two Hambletonian winners. Sharpshooter is by Castleton's Worthy Boy out of—no surprise—Muriel Hanover.

This kind of thing has been going on ever since the farm was founded in 1926. A typical year, 1955, saw Hanover-bred colts and fillies win 2,700 races and $3,900,000 for their owners. It is little wonder that the owners and trainers of all the large trotting stables, and many of the smaller ones, too, make it their business to be in Harrisburg, Pa. in mid-November, when Hanover sells its annual crop of yearlings. Since 1926 the farm has sold 1,910 yearling trotters and pacers—for $5,367,290.

The man responsible for all these impressive statistics is a smallish, Crosby-eared 60-year-old named Lawrence Baker Sheppard. His portrait on the opposite page is a true one in the sense that it shows him with cigaret in hand, coatless and open-collared and with horses near by. These are details—especially the last—which are essential to Sheppard's comfort and well-being, and which are not always available to him through the daily demands of a busy schedule. In addition to owning the farm and directing its myriad activities, Sheppard is president of the $12-million-asset Hanover Shoe manufacturing and retailing company, was for eight years (until just a few months ago) president of the U.S. Trotting Association and is still one of its directors, and participates in a host of other business and philanthropic affairs including a bank, a newspaper and a hospital. But horses, and trotting horses in particular, have been the abiding interest in his life since childhood.

At 16, already a veteran of the saddle and the sulky, he went out to Wyoming where he got a job caring for a string of 10 animal-; used to carry tourists through the Yellowstone wilderness. For two happy years the young Sheppard enjoyed the life of a $3-a-day horse wrangler and guide, and he left it for a reason wholly typical of the man and his love for the outdoors. One day in 1915 he sat his horse on a peak overlooking the meeting of the north and south forks of the Shoshone River and looked down on the first automobiles driving up the road toward Yellowstone. They had never been allowed there before. As he recalls it now: "It made me sick to see cars being driven into that wonderful virgin land. I turned away and never went back. I'll always remember Yellowstone as it was on horseback."

The Sheppards had always owned and raced trotters, and starting the farm was a natural extension of this interest. Lawrence was an original participant in the venture, with his father and C. N. Myers, longtime friend and business associate of the family. With the passing of both his partners, he became sole owner, and is chiefly responsible for assembling the farm's present vast acreage and the 11 premier stallions and 200 brood mares which have made it so successful. For years, too, he was an active amateur driver; in 1937, he drove Dean Hanover to victory in a three-heat trotting race in 2:00�, 2:00� and 2:00�, a world record that still stands. In the same year Sheppard's 11-year-old daughter Alma drove Dean to his 3-year-old mile mark of 1:58�, a feat that may never be duplicated, or even attempted, again.

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