Growing up in Colorado and Oklahoma, Sandy Hatfield was far removed from the Thoroughbred industry. Horses were a big part of the family's lives and livelihood, though. Her father, Don Hatfield, made a living by taking people on mounted hunting trips through the high country in Aspen, and from a very young age, Hatfield was at home on the back of a horse.
“My uncle had a bush track in Ponca City, Oklahoma. We raced Quarter Horses, and as I got older I galloped the horses in the mornings,” said Hatfield. “I watched the Kentucky Derby like every other person, but I was a Quarter Horse girl.”
Hatfield was interested in pursuing a career with horses and enrolled in the animal science program at Oklahoma State University when Jim Rudolph told her about his plans to build an equine department at Murray State University in western Kentucky.
The opportunity presented was appealing, and what sealed the deal was Rudolph's offer of a full-ride scholarship. Hatfield loaded up her belongings, which included a Quarter Horse, and made the cross-country drive to Kentucky.
The coursework was challenging — but interesting — and the location opened up an entire new world of horses to Hatfield.
“Some friends of mine were packing up to go to Lexington to look for summer jobs,” she said. “It was 1980 and that ended up being my first job in the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry – rubbing yearlings for Spendthrift Farm and working at the July Sale for them.”
In 2008 Hatfield gave an interview to the University of Kentucky Library for its oral history collection (the full transcript can be found here) in which she discussed being young and working the sales at the time.
“…[I] topped horses off and then the showman took 'em – and most of them were showmen, most all of them were men that showed the horses…I would pick their feet and make sure their manes and tails were brushed out and they didn't have straw on them…during the sale [the showmen] would take them up to the show ring and hand them over to the person who shows them in the ring…I remember I was so thrilled because we were really busy and Spendthrift at that time was right at the edge of the sale where you walk up…I took care of a colt and [the showman] let me lead my colt back to the barn by myself and I was just so excited that I got to do that…I try to remember those things as I've gotten older and become a boss, how exciting those little things were that people let you do.”
Hatfield graduated from Murray State the following year, but she'd found her niche in Lexington and moved to the Bluegrass full time to pursue a career with Thoroughbreds. Her first job was at Gainesway Farm as a yearling groom, and at the time, her ultimate goal was to someday become yearling manager for a medium to large-scale Thoroughbred operation.
Eventually, she ended up at W. T. Young Farm (which became Overbrook) as a yearling groom. Little did she know that would provide one of the foundational turning points in her career.
“At that time the farm was small and we did everything,” said Hatfield. “I mucked stalls and rubbed horses. I even schooled Barbara Young's show horses over fences.”
It was at that farm Hatfield first met Melvin Cinnamon. Cinnamon had been the manager at Calumet and had never worked with or hired women in the barn. Needless to say, he was skeptical of Hatfield, but she was up to the challenge of winning him over.
“That was a big thing for me career-wise,” said Hatfield. “Earning Melvin's respect was huge for me. He later offered me a job, which I couldn't accept because of other obligations. It meant a lot to me then and means even more now.”
In 1983, Hatfield made the move to North Ridge Farm, and it was there that her career goals changed. Hired as a yearling groom, Hatfield eventually was promoted to Training Barn Manager, where her work focused on starting young horses and rehabilitating the farm's racehorses when they needed it. She was good at pulling manes, often doing that for the farm's yearlings before they went to the sales.
“One day I was asked if I'd mind pulling the stallions' manes,” said Hatfield. “I started helping in the breeding shed, eventually running the shed, but I wasn't at the stallion barn full time. Finally, I became a stallion groom and moved to the stallion barn full time.”
Dan Elliott, the farm's general manager, saw something in Hatfield, and when the position of stallion manager came available, he offered it to her.
“I told Dan he'd catch a lot of flak for putting a woman in that position,” said Hatfield. “I was a woman in a man's world at North Ridge. He said that was alright because he knew I could do the job and do it well.”
Hatfield worked as the stallion manager for North Ridge for two years before making the move to the famed Calumet Farm as the yearling and broodmare manager. She thought that was where she would spend the rest of her career, but the very next year, the farm was sold and Hatfield was in search of employment elsewhere.
“After Calumet sold, I went to Gainsborough to talk with them about a job,” said Hatfield. “I was thinking I was interviewing for the broodmare manager position. He asked where on a farm I felt most comfortable and I told him it was actually with the stallions. He said they were actually interested in hiring me as the stallion manager. I'm nothing if not honest, and honesty pays off. I was there as the stallion manager from 1991 until I started at Three Chimneys in 2000.”
That is where Hatfield has remained, working with stallions like Seattle Slew, Slew O' Gold, Wild Again, Dynaformer, and more recently with the farm's newest acquisitions, Will Take Charge and Strong Mandate.
“Even when I rubbed yearlings, I liked the colts better,” said Hatfield. “Horses' personalities are kind of like people's in that the guys are black and white and girls are pretty gray. With stallions, you have them year-in and year-out and can really get to know them and have a long-term relationship with them.”
It's not just the horses Hatfield builds relationships with in her position at Three Chimneys. Over the years, she has become one of the most prominent faces of not only the farm but also the breeding industry. She was named the 2011 Kentucky Farm Manager of the Year and is called upon regularly to mentor students hoping to become part of the next generation of Thoroughbred industry professionals. Her input and expertise, as both a female in the male-dominated world of Thoroughbred breeding and as the stallion manager of a premier farm, is highly sought-after and well-respected.
One of the people who has depended on that advice the most is stallion groom Veronica Reed, who works for Hatfield at Three Chimneys.
“I see a lot of myself in Veronica,” said Hatfield. “She worked with yearlings, too, and showed she wanted to work with stallions. She was serious, she works hard. She went back to school to earn her degree and has become an excellent horsewoman.”
Veronica's tenure at Three Chimneys has afforded her many opportunities, including several trips abroad with the farm's shuttle stallions to Argentina and Australia, both places where women are not found working in the stallion divisions.
“It was the open house for Darley Australia, and I was the first woman to walk stallions around in a parade on open days. Over the open mic, the announcer mentioned that he wasn't trying to be sexist, but he was glad to see a woman at the end of the chain,” said Reed. ”After the parade, the public is invited to come in and see the stallions, and a journalist approached me and said, 'You are the Australian Sandy Hatfield!' There is no better compliment I have ever had.
“In all the time I've worked for her, she has never let being a woman in the stallion barn be an issue. She has made me what I am with stallions, and how I am with people. I have been traveling with horses all over the world and whether they speak English, Spanish or Japanese, someone knows about Sandy Hatfield. She has made an amazing name for herself.”
Both Hatfield and Reed acknowledge the world of Thoroughbred breeding, specifically stallions, is still dominated by men. The best way to combat that perception, says Hatfield, is hard work and determination.
“I remember when Calumet closed, I was told that I would probably not be able to find a farm that would allow me – a woman – to work with stallions,” said Hatfield. “It's still hard to work with stallions in this town if you're a woman. You have to work hard at it and it's not going to happen overnight, but if you put in the time and the effort, you can get where you want to go.”
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