Swettenham Breeders Profile – Jen Fowler at Merrivale Farm
Victorian breeder Jen Fowler is her own “tour de force”.
Flying solo, she is a true example of the hard work and dedication shown by many in the thoroughbred industry, only equalled by the passion she shows for every one of her horses.
Horses have always been a big part of her life, her father in Standardbreds and her grandfather in Clydesdales. Jen enjoyed pony club and competed at state level. Even when managing a demanding corporate career in software and IT, often based abroad, she continued to campaign her Anglo’s and Warmbloods.
Known to be straight to the point, Jen says, “A good horse, is a good horse” and her late introduction into the world of thoroughbreds was in the form of a very good horse indeed.
“My first racehorse was the brilliant First Command. I was incredibly fortunate, as he won a Group 2, ran in Group 1 Company, and retired just short of a million dollars in prize money.”
First Command is now Jen’s schoolmaster and valued nanny at Merrivale Farm. Healthy and happy, he teaches her weanlings to come when they are called, to stand for the farrier and help them settle in the barn during their first prep.
Affectionately known as “Dudley Do Right - will do the right thing” during his exceptional racing career, he continues to live up to that name at Merrivale Farm.
“He is a fabulous asset, as he becomes their father figure and during the middle of a thunderstorm, all the horses, old and young, mares and foals, will run to old Dudley for comfort, safety and protection.”
Based on 160 acres at the base of the breathtaking Strathbogie Ranges in Gooram, Merrivale Farm was originally one big cow paddock.
“Over the last five years, the fencing, trees, house and stables have all been built from scratch. I lived in the shearing shed for roughly the first three years, and for the first ten months, I had no running water. I used to nick up to the truck stop for a quick shower and meal, and hope I didn’t run into too many locals!
Now well established, Merrivale is a beautiful colonial working farm, framed by the gum trees, Strathbogie hills and running creeks.
“I did have to consider my finances, so nothing is fancy, but it is practical and safe with lit foaling yards, double fencing, private paddocks and stables. I designed the farm so I could handle the babies and manage vetting the mares on my own.”
“I never want to get any bigger than this, as I have my hand on every horse, every day. It is so important to stay connected with the horses.”
A tireless worker, Jen handles all the night shifts, the foaling, the walk-outs and the vetting, with support from good friend Kathleen Alford.
“Nobody looks after my horses as well as I do, but I trust Kath would.”
Passionate about her thoroughbreds, Jen is also a vocal advocate for the Victorian breeding industry.
“I am in full support of Victorian breeding as this is where I live, this is where I breed and this is where I sell.”
“The Victorian studs are only going to get stronger. No more good stallions will be lost to the Hunter and providing the Victorian breeders support them with their good mares; they will have every chance to succeed.”
“The Victorian breeding industry as a whole needs to work together, and instead of following the highly competitive model of the Hunter, we need to look to the New Zealand breeding ideal, where all the studs take a share in their neighbours stallion and support each other.”
Jen’s broodmare band now impressively numbers 18, and this year, not one will cross the border.
“That is thanks to Adam, Brian and Rachel and the Swettenham team who have been wonderful and helped me enormously with my mares and their matings.”
When choosing a stallion, Jen likes to emphasise the physicality of a horse.
“We have so much blue blood in our stallion pedigrees, so I tend to put more emphasis on type. As I aim to sell yearlings, if they don’t have the engineering when they get to the sales, it doesn’t matter who they are bred by.”
And on the topic of type, she is just trilled with her Toronado colt out of her magnificent imported Indian Ridge mare, Rose Pompadour (IRE), a close relation to Dancing Rain.
“I can’t wait to take him to Premier next year. He’s a rich bay, with plenty of bling; white face, white legs, and he thinks he is pretty fabulous.”
Also off to Premier is her Americain filly out of her High Chaparral mare High Tea (NZ), a close relation to Nom De Jou (NZ) and Jou De Cartes (NZ). Having already produced the very promising last start winner, Tea for Choux, she has plenty of presence about her.
“She is a well-grown beautiful feminine filly, with flashy white markings.”
On the foaling front, Jen is eagerly anticipating her Zabeel mare, Zazie, to foal her Trust in a Gust. Zazie is out of the well-bred Woodnook mare, Joolzy, who produced the outstanding Hong Kong Galloper, Laugh Out Loud.
“I can’t wait to see my Trusty, and with the combination of my mares breeding and his racetrack record, it’s going to be a real racehorse.”
“My mares are going back to Toronado, Trust In A Gust, Rebel Dane and I have an early positive to Mshawish for my lovely American mare, who ran second in the Canadian Oaks. Thanks to Swettenham, I will have yearlings and babies from all their boys.”
In the short time Jen has been breeding, she has bred two group winners. They include Almighty Girl, from her mare Sybarite, a half-sister to South African champion Laisserfaire, and the talented dual Group 2 South African galloper Zodiac Ruler, along with a dozen multiple city winners.
Tremendously proud of how she offers her horses for sale, Jen was rewarded at last year’s Inglis VOBIS with the “Best Presented Draft”.
“I was so embarrassed, I thought they had made a mistake, but it was so nice to get the acknowledgement. My horses do want for nothing, and I was so proud of how healthy, well behaved and beautiful they all looked.”
“If believe that if we are going to bring horses into the world, you have to be accountable for them. I produce sound, happy horses that have been well handled, to ensure that they are well equipped to deal with adversity and change, and can go onto productive and successful careers.”
“Every time you touch a young horse, you teach it something.”
Certainly not going back to corporate life anytime soon, Jen appreciates every moment she gets to share with her “kids”.
“I know its hard work, and it’s 24 hours a day, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I am doing the feed run, I sometimes just sit on a bucket and let all the foals come up and have a scratch. I may be looking at the bottom falling out of my trousers, but I feel incredibly rich.”
“I am humbly grateful how people help each other in the horse community, and I think everyone in the industry knows how hard everyone works and how tough it is. The Victorian stud masters are really trying to help the local mare owners, and as breeders, we all need to march together.”
“Good friend and vet Caroline Duddy said once “It’s amazing how well you know your horses, you hear a neigh, and you know who it is and what they are saying!” - I think that was almost the best compliment I have ever received.”
“I just love it, and I won’t leave here unless they take me out in a pine box.”