In 2000, a big bay colt with extravagant chrome strode into the ring at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and put Ashland Farm on the map in the North American sport horse breeding world. Popeye K, bred by Peter Karneef and developed as a young horse by Paul Morgan and Darlene Tierney, claimed the prestigious Governor General’s Cup and placed second in the Lieutenant General’s Cup. The stallion, by Voltaire and out of Eloretta, a Dutch warmblood mare by Ronald, sold in 2002 to American Rachel Spencer and went on to become one of the all-time greatest four-foot hunters and a prolific sire.

Darlene Tierney and Paul Morgan receiving honours as 2017 High Point Canadian Sport Horse Breeder and Exhibitor from Amanda Stolarchuk (middle).

The Ashton, Ontario breeding farm has bred and produced two other Governor General’s Cup winners since: Roman K (Yavari/Eloretta) in 2005 and Karamel K (Redwine/Primadonna K by Popeye K) in 2018. Ashland also bred Michael Ward’s 2021 winner Rosetta K (Redwine/Gorgeous Girl K).

At least half a dozen of 2022’s Cup class entries had a tie to a past or present Ashland stallion or broodmare. Ashland has produced about 300 foals, registered as Canadian Sport Horses, for the North American market – many have gone on to success as hunters, jumpers, dressage horses and eventers. Stallions Ashland have stood as part of its own business over the years have included Popeye K, the Thoroughbred grand prix jumper Yavari, Roman K, Xavier K, the Holsteiner Chablis IZ and the Hanoverian Redwine, as well as other owners’ stallions.

Ashland partners Morgan and Tierney aren’t content to rest on their laurels – more than 20 years after Popeye K’s Cup win, they continue to produce quality sport horses and to bring top European bloodlines to North America. Currently, there are 10 Ashland broodmares; eight are from the farm’s breeding program including six descended from Eloretta and Popeye K and two from Libero/Lucky Boy and Redwine. Two are imported mares.

“As time went on, the core breeding family got very condensed,” Morgan says.

Ashland is also home to Branley Ash Sport Ponies, owned by Christine Baker, with five imported German Riding Pony stallions on site, broodmares and foals. It will be a busy spring, with 14 foals due between Ashland’s and Branley Ash’s, plus about another dozen for clients. Six of the expected Ashland foals are by Otamendi, a young German-licensed stallion (Don VHPZ/Comme Il Faut/Burggraaf) imported last year.

Morgan was attending a memorial service when he ran into a friend, Ann Matthews, who has partnered with Ian Millar’s Millar Brooke Farm on multiple horses. Matthews told Morgan she was interested in a similar deal with Ashland. With Matthews as a 50/50 partner, “when Otamendi came along, that put us in a position where we could up the ante in terms of quality,” says Morgan.

The goal is to always buy more quality in a stallion. “If you can’t buy better quality, there’s no point in doing it. You can use other people’s stallions or frozen semen.”

New stallion Otamendi showing off his skills.

Otamendi offered the quality they were seeking. The liver chestnut colt was purchased as a rising three-year-old through an online auction. He was a careful and scopey jumper, was mannerly with his handlers and possessed bloodlines not common in North America – his sire Don VHPZ is a successful international jumper.

Morgan says European online horse auctions have become popular with North American buyers, as they can buy without having to travel to Europe. “When you buy online at auctions, you don’t get a chance to see the horses in person or don’t get to assess their personality or temperament,” Morgan says. “But because we bought Otamendi at this auction and he was already licensed in Europe, we could have him semen tested. You don’t have that ability at lesser auctions. It worked out just great and he bred in excess of 50 mares in 2022.”

“He really is breathtakingly beautiful and very sweet,” Tierney says. Since arriving on Canadian soil, ‘Odie’ is so far maturing as they hoped and will soon go to hunter trainer Taylor Brooks to get started under saddle.

Ashland continues to stand Chablis IZ and 23-year-old Redwine is still in the barn (although not currently on their breeding roster). They are also part of the group that owns Milo B, a talented young KWPN dressage stallion by Glamourdale (current world champion ridden by Charlotte Fry), that stands at the farm and recently did well at the North American stallion test. Morgan and Tierney also have three exciting young stallion prospects waiting in the wings – two are results of their own breeding program. Ragnar K (Redwine/Popeye K) is full brother to 2019 Governor General’s Cup winner Karamel K; he and Ridley K (Zoom/Xavier K/Voltaire) are the 2021 homebreds. The third is an imported 2021 dressage-bred colt, Eduard (Escolar/Rascolino/Graf Top).

The flashy Ragnar K, shown as a foal, is now a rising two-year-old, full brother to Karamel K and future stallion prospect.

Typical of many of the horses at Ashland, all three of the young bay colts have four white socks. Morgan is often asked what Ashland’s biggest contribution to the sport horse breeding world has been and he always quips: “White legs.” Both Popeye K and Redwine’s generous white markings have been carried on through the following generations. Morgan puts bloodlines, conformation and athleticism as priorities before colour or markings when assessing a horse of course, but acknowledges that chrome is popular with many buyers. Otamendi is carrying on the tradition with three white legs, a star and stripe.

Last year, the first Popeye K foal since 2003 was born on the farm, a filly out of Mazikeen (Redwine/Libero/Lucky Boy). When Popeye K went to Florida in 2002 as a young horse to begin his hunter career, he sold before they had a chance to freeze any semen. But as ‘Baby,’ as he was known, has always been Tierney’s favourite, she convinced Morgan to buy frozen semen two years ago. While the 2022 filly sold, a full sibling is expected this spring, and both Morgan and Tierney are hoping for a colt to carry on the Ashland/Popeye K legacy.

As with Milo B, any young stallions Ashland retains will be aimed for the North American Stallion Test. “There is more and more emphasis being placed on stallions being produced here in Canada, “ says Morgan. “The gold standard is they have to be able to do the stallion test. It’s not enough anymore to say it’s evented a bit or did some hunter or jumper.”

While Morgan and Tierney are breeders rather than riders (“I don’t have to ride to be part of the sport. The breeding business is our sport.”), their intention is to produce performance horses and they will continue to show their young horses on the line and in the Cup classes if they have a three-year-old they believe can win. Their two earliest Cup winners – Popeye K and Roman K – both went on to have noteworthy performance careers. Popeye K, with Tommy Serio in the irons, achieved hunter greatness while Roman K was trained and showed to the modified grand prix level as a jumper by Paul Halpern. After he was gelded and sold to amateur Lexy Paynter, she showed him for four years as a jumper before switching to the hunter ring, winning numerous championships in Nova Scotia and Quebec. Ashland’s third Cup horse, Karamel K, has been sold and is showing promise in the hunter ring, as is Michael Ward’s Ashland-bred Cup winner, Rosetta K.

While Tierney has affection for many of the horses that have been born or lived at Ashland over the past quarter century, ‘Baby’ is still her heart horse. As for Morgan? He says wryly, “People ask me ‘which is your favourite horse?’ I always say my favourite horse is the one I sell next.”