By Katie Navarra
Raised on a ranch in Colorado, Kc Branscomb Kelley grew up riding working cow horses and competing in barrel racing and stock horse events aboard American Quarter Horses.
At 17 years old, she transferred from the University of Colorado to attend college on the East Coast. “I found myself sharing a barn with Norman Dello Joio and Buddy Brown, who were both very handsome and at the top of the hunter/jumper ranks as juniors, and destined for top professional riding careers,” Kc said. “Needless to say, I quickly switched to English and set out to learn hunter/jumpers.”
Even though she changed disciplines, Kc knew careful breeding was essential to a horse’s success in the show ring. “Growing up around Quarter Horse breeders, I was always interested in breeding and how genetic characteristics pass through the generations,” she said. She took that interest with her and, when she could afford it, she had a mare or two in foal hoping to produce a hunter or a jumper.
Breeding in the U.S.A.
As an avid amateur competitor showing in the 1.35–1.40m Amateur Owner jumpers all over North America, Kc imported between 30 and 40 horses from Europe for her own stable and as a sponsor for her trainers. She paid attention to where the horses she liked were bred and what mare and stallion lines they represented. She tried to understand what worked and what had not worked for the great German Warmblood farms that breed top horses for the amateur and professional market. “I felt there was a genuine need and opportunity for a serious commercial breeding effort here in the U.S.A.,” Kc said. “My goal with Branscomb Farm was to bring the best breeding practices and bloodlines of Europe, especially Germany, to buyers and trainers here in the U.S.A.”
Over several decades, Kc visited well-known Holstein breeding farms to learn about the bloodlines and crosses that might produce the caliber of show horse she was looking for. Visits with Magdalena Hell and Thomas Moore of Stall Hell and the late Uwe Bahlmann, were particularly influential in establishing her own farm in Woodside, California.
Elite Breeding in America
Attracted to the Holstein breed’s temperament and powerful jump, Kc committed herself to breeding elite horses for Americans and riders from other countries. “We’re one of only a handful of breeders in North America that consistently follow strict criteria of breeding only dams and stallions that have gained official German Verband [association] approval,” she said.
The Verband registration papers that accompany a Branscomb Farm horse certify that the horse is fully eligible for breeding in Germany or anywhere else in the world. The horse is subject only to the Verband’s inspection criteria as it would be applied to any horse born in Germany.
The farm’s mare lines are primarily the classical Holsteiner stamms, and the farm purchases frozen semen from the Holstein Verband’s stallions. Some of the stallions Kc uses, such as Rebel Z, Corrado I, Cassini II and Acorado, are deceased or very old and no longer breeding, while others are young and popular today including Casall, Connor, Vagabond de la Pomme and Diarado. “We use proven science in equine reproduction to produce embryos and foals of what we hope will be exceptional quality,” Kc explained.
Recently most of the farm’s foals and young stock are now offered with the German passports of the Oldenburg or Oldenburg Springpferdezuchteverband-International Verband.
“We still register some foals with the American Holsteiner Horse Association but because the Holsteiner Verband in Germany does not recognize AHHA papers with full reciprocity in Europe, we found the AHHA papers have limited appeal to buyers residing outside North America and so we offer these full German passports with our foals,” Kc said.
U.S.A. Bred Stallions
While the farm’s focus is on the quality of mares, the farm stands two U.S.A.-bred stallions, Chicardo and Contiano BF, both of whom represent classical Holsteiner lines and have completed German FN authorized 70-day stallion tests, finishing at the top of their stallion test year. Contiano BF was champion of his German FN sponsored stallion test in 2010, claiming a perfect 10 in character and jumping from the German judges and winning the dressage section for his movement. “He’s a young stallion with an old soul,” Kc said.
Each year, Kc breeds only what she believes will match or exceed in quality the top stock from the previous year. She culls mares by placing them in training and offering them for sale. Every mare is trained to ride even if they ultimately are destined for a breeding career. That way, they can have a second career if they don’t continue to reproduce one day. “Our secret, if there is one, is a focus on producing authentically elite quality and bloodlines that are not easily reproduced elsewhere,” she said.
Branscomb Farm is as committed to encouraging the development of young horse professionals as they are to producing top-quality horses. Through an internship program, Kc and Daniel Zilla, head trainer and farm manager, have found a way to give back to the sport they love. “So many young, talented riders can’t afford to buy a million-dollar Grand Prix horse from Europe to compete,” said Kc.
The three- to six-month and year-long internships at the farm offer an all-expenses-paid opportunity for up-and-coming horsemen and horsewomen to learn to ride, train, breed and care for international-caliber young horses. “So many of our great heroes of international sport today, both dressage and jumping, made themselves and their horses up from youngsters, slowly and carefully gaining their confidence, skill and strength as they increased the level of difficulty over many years” said Kc.
Proud of her accomplishments thus far, Kc believes there’s still work to be done. “I was told when I started this effort to become a serious breeder that it’d take 10 years to know if I was going in the right direction and 20 years to really recognize the result I was working toward. I think that time frame is conservative but I plan to live that long,” she concluded.
For more information, visit www.branscombfarm.com.
About the writer: Katie Navarra has worked as a freelancer since 2001. She has been a lifelong horse lover and owns a dun Quarter Horse mare.
Photos courtesy of Branscomb Farm