Veronica Reed had just graduated high school when she met Sandy Hatfield, but that short introduction left a life-alerting impact.
Born and raised in Colorado, Reed moved to Lexington to pursue a career in the Thoroughbred industry. While working in the yearling division at Three Chimneys Farm, she was sent to pick something up from the stallion barn. Peeking into the breeding shed to scope out who was in charge, she quickly noticed that a woman was in command. She was petite–at least, compared to the powerful studs she handled–with a blond braid and a sharp eye that took in every detail of the session.
From that moment, Reed had a goal. She too would be a stallion manager one day.
This year, that dream came to fruition as Reed has taken over as stallion manager at Three Chimneys. As stallion manager emeritus, Hatfield is still a fixture in the barn–at least for this year’s breeding season–but Reed is now at the helm.
When Reed first approached Hatfield about working for her almost 20 years ago, Hatfield told her to gain a bit more hands-on experience and come back. Reed did just that, working with the yearlings at Three Chimneys while attending Midway University, before eventually joining the stallion team. When Reed graduated college in 2008, Hatfield asked her to escort Point Given to Brazil.
The job came with many challenges, but Reed enjoyed the adventure of going to a new country where the only thing familiar to her was the stallion on the other end of the shank. She spent several years shuttling stallions between hemispheres, including a five-year stint going back and forth between the U.S. and Darley Australia.
Of course, whenever she arrived at a farm, she was not exactly what her new co-workers were expecting.
“The first time I moved to a Southern Hemisphere location was Argentina,” Reed recalled. “It was not only a new culture, but it was a new language and new people. So when they saw a girl come off the airplane, they were as confused as I was. But the best part about it was after working sessions and showing that I was there every day, I earned their trust in the shed. I think you just have to give people time to realize that, yes she’s a girl, but she can do it too. I think it was a lot of just being a good person and working hard, and in the end they don’t care what gender you are.”
Reed’s predecessor was a pioneer of the industry as she pursued a career in a very male-dominated stallion business in the 1980s.
“When I first came to town, there were a lot of breeding sheds that wouldn’t let a woman in the breeding shed to watch,” Hatfield recalled. “I mean if you took your mare to the breeding shed, they made you stand outside. There were a lot of times that people came and walked right past me and went to the first guy they saw. Once people realized that I knew what I was doing and could take care of their mares in the breeding shed and make sure they got a good cover, I think they understood.”
Hatfield acquired a love of horses from her father while working on their ranch and racing Quarter Horses in Oklahoma. She moved to Kentucky when she received a scholarship from Murray State University’s equine program. She spent a summer prepping yearlings at Spendthrift Farm and instantly fell in love with the industry. After graduating, Hatfield moved back to Lexington to pursue a career as a yearling manager. She was working at North Ridge Farm when the farm’s general manager Dan Elliott asked her to go to the stallion barn and pull manes. It wasn’t long before she was back in the stud barn for every breeding session and Elliott was asking her if she would be the farm’s stallion manager.
“I had asked him, ‘Are you sure? You’re going to catch a lot of flak for this.’ But he told me that they knew I could do it. So they gave me a great opportunity and I was stallion manager there for two years.”
Hatfield would go on to be the yearling and broodmare manager at Calumet Farm and the stallion manager at Gainsborough Farm. In 2000, she was offered the opportunity to move to Three Chimneys.
“It was just the most magnificent place I could have thought of,” Hatfield explained. “Dan Rosenberg was a great manager and horseman and Robert Clay and his family were all great. It was just the epitome of what I wanted to do and it was the best decision I ever made.”
From her early days with Seattle Slew, Dynaformer, Rahy and Wild Again, then later to Big Brown and Smarty Jones, and on to today’s headliner Gun Runner, Hatfield has been at Three Chimneys for them all.
Hatfield hesitates to pick an all-time favorite stallion, but ultimately coins Silver Charm as a special one. She even adopted one of his offspring, Silver Indy, who resides at her own farm today.
“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve had a few gravestones go out there,” Hatfield reflected. “There are so many of them that you make friends with, especially as they get older and you spend more time with them. You get to know them and appreciate them.”
Hatfield has always made a point to participate in many of the tours at Three Chimneys. While most visitors have little idea of just how unique Hatfield and her prominent position might be, or the significance of her contributions to the breeding industry, Hatfield said her goal is to leave them with a positive impression of the business.
“People have a different perspective when they first come here and you try to explain to them about how much we really love our horses and how we take care of them. I think I’ve changed some attitudes about the horse industry.”
The horses are the easy part, according to Hatfield. Where stallions are black and white, she said that humans’ personalities can be every shade of grey. But the horsewoman who was named 2011 Kentucky Farm Manager of the Year excels at overseeing every type of charge, both human and equine.
“I’ve never asked anyone to do anything that I haven’t done or wouldn’t do,” she said. “I think that’s important. Treating people like people. I remember when I was a groom, the manager would pull up in his truck and honk the horn and expect us to drop what we were doing and come outside. That always made me a little irritable, that they couldn’t take the time to come inside and talk to us. So I’ve always tried to remember that and remember how excited I was the first time I got to lead a yearling to the sale ring or the first time I got to bring a stallion into the breeding shed.”
Hatfield has mentored countless young people who have gone on to succeed in the industry, including several women who now work in stallion barns throughout Kentucky.
“I have two-legged kids and four-legged kids down there,” she said, pointing toward the stud barn. “I’ve watched a lot of people grow up and do great things in this business. It’s a feeling of accomplishment that I’ve watched those people go on to run their own divisions or become farm managers. I mean look at Veronica. She was a young girl, just going to college, and now she’s managing stallions at Three Chimneys Farm.”
“She’s a good horsewoman,” Hatfield said of her mentee. “She is also good with people and she speaks fluent Spanish. She knows her horses, which I think is one of the most important things.”
Reed, who served as assistant stallion manager at WinStar Farm for four years before joining Hatfield back at Three Chimneys, speaks just as highly of her mentor. She said that no matter the continent, whenever Hatfield’s name is mentioned, “basically the red carpet is rolled out.”
“Her reputation in this industry is amazing,” Reed said. “Not only is she a great horsewoman and very dedicated to what she does, but she also gives a great voice to the industry–a voice for everybody, not just females.”
Hatfield’s incredible attention to detail, Reed said, is something that she could not have learned from anyone else.
“I’ve never seen a stallion manager the way that she writes on her sheet. This mare did this or this mare was like that. When you go back to breeding that same mare the next year, you’ve got tons of information from all the years that she’s been here so you can warn the guys that this mare is difficult or this mare is really sweet. Her horses receive some of the best management I’ve ever seen around the world.”
Yet even today, Hatfield and Reed face opposition from people who doubt their abilities in a male-dominated profession.
“There are a lot of people I talk to today who tell me that women can’t work with stallions,” Hatfield said. “I’ve been managing stallions for 35 years, so I know women can do it.”
Asked about her greatest accomplishments, Hatfield said that she is proud to serve as an example for young women in the industry and that she enjoys following the achievements of the people she has mentored.
“Those are great accomplishments,” she reflected. “And being around a horse like Gun Runner is a great accomplishment. To be able to watch him grow and develop and become a great stallion is pretty spectacular.”
Hatfield was present for many of the 2017 Horse of the Year’s shining moments on the racetrack, including his career finale in the GI Pegasus World Cup where she flew home to Kentucky with him afterwards.
“He’s very smart and personable,” she said of the young sire sensation. “He’s not a mean horse, but he will let you know that he is the man. He loves to go out and show off when we have tours. He’s a magnificent horse, to think about what he did on the racetrack and see what he’s doing as a stallion. He’s going to be one of the ones that people will remember his name.”
It was Gun Runner‘s auspicious start at stud that led to the careful changing of the guard in the Three Chimneys stallion barn.
“With Gun Runner‘s presence and who he is making himself out to be as an important stallion, we really felt a responsibility to him to make this transition as smooth as possible,” explained the farm’s COO Chris Baker. “In 2023, we have the benefit of both Sandy and Veronica here. How that changes or when it’s 100% Veronica, time will tell. That’s up to Sandy. She has earned the right to plot her own course through this.”
“Sandy has done a fantastic job over decades, operating at a very high standard and retiring champions from the racetrack and introducing them to the breeding shed,” he continued. “Three Chimneys has been the beneficiary of Sandy’s professionalism and experience. Both Sandy and Veronica are driven by a passion for and a love of the horse. That’s really what makes them so good at what they do.”
The love of the horse is where it starts and ends for Hatfield. Even now, as she is supposedly in the early stages of retirement, Hatfield is up before the sun every morning, layering on coats for another breeding session. After 24 years at Three Chimneys, her love for the stallions she cares for and her passion for the industry keeps her coming back.
“I mean, it’s what I love,” she said. “I love getting to know the horses. I love the excitement of the breeding shed. I love talking to people about our industry and explaining to people what we do, how much we love our horses and how good of care we give all of them. It has been a great opportunity, a great learning experience, and hopefully I’ve done a good job.”
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