There must have been times during the last 30 years when the challenges seemed overwhelming: auction sales that turned out to be an exercise in frustration; fences that needed re-building; housing developments sprouting up on all sides. Dr. Robert A. Leonard, manager, part-owner and founder of present-day Glade Valley Farms, takes it all in stride.
Since the 1960s, Leonard's establishment has produced more good race horses than any other farm in the state, with the exception of now-defunct Windfields.
Now 66, the master of Glade Valley could be set to continue for another three decades. "I don't see retirement in the near future, that's for sure," said Dr. Leonard, a quietly forthright man who practiced veterinary medicine on horses long before he started raising them.
Although he is not nearly as involved in the day-today running of the farm as he used to be—farm manager Paul Fairman and veterinarian Allen Garst having taken on most of those responsibilities—Bob Leonard and his wife Nancy both remain widely active in the horse business.
"In this business you're always looking forward to something," pointed out Mrs. Leonard, who is sole owner of Glade Valley's grand old stallion Rollicking.
Turn back the calendar to 1951, and you can almost imagine Bob and Nancy Leonard—he a serious young veterinarian, she an energetic horsewoman with an long list of accomplishments in the show ring—getting their start here in Maryland.
"I wanted to specialize in horses," said Dr. Leonard, reminiscing about his career. "After evaluating what three horse states (Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky) had to offer, we chose Maryland because it seemed to have more of what we wanted."
Their early days here in Maryland were not spent in glamorous surroundings. They lived in a tiny apartment overtop a dog and cat hospital in Reisterstown.
"Ever since I can remember, I've been interested in animals," recounted Dr. Leonard. "As a boy I had every type of animal I could lay my hands on. I remember when I was 6 years old trying to find things wrong with my dog so I could take him to the veterinarian. That way I got a chance to see the operating table, smell the antiseptics and look at the surgical equipment. There was never a time that I didn't feel confident I would be a veterinarian."
Dr. Leonard's father was a regional manager for the Ford Motor Company. His territory covered 21 states, and the family, including young Bob and his five sisters (no brothers), lived in a number of different places. "We never had a farm, but always a place with a few acres," he said.
A serious rider from early childhood, Dr. Leonard went to a prep school in Buffalo, N.Y. Then he entered Xavier University in Cincinnati, but he had a hard time concentrating on school. "I was riding and hunting three days a week, paying a lot more attention to the horses than to my studies." From Xavier he transferred to Ohio State as a pre-veterinary student, and ended up taking another detour.
"The war was on then," he said, "and the government badly needed veterinarians. I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Medical Administrative Corps so that I could graduate without being drafted.
"But I was young and dying to get into action. So in the middle of my sophomore year I quit college and Dr. Robert A. Leonard has developed Glade Valley Farms into one of Maryland's largest and most successful Thoroughbred operations. Main house, dating back to 1751, stands in green oasis amidst Frederick's urban sprawl. enlisted. I wound up in the 89th Infantry Division which was a part of General (George) Patton's army.
"That took three and a half years. We were all over Europe—France, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany. . ."
When World War II ended, Leonard returned to Ohio State. In 1949, he graduated with a degree in veterinary medicine. But he also found time for his avocation. During his last two years in school, he lived at a nearby hunt club and worked for the late Bill Alexander, a renowned show judge.
At the hunt club Dr. Leonard became acquainted with a pretty English major at Ohio State. Soon to graduate Phi Beta Kappa, the future Mrs. Leonard was "a real top show rider. Nancy won working hunter and open jumping championships by the dozen in the Midwest for a period of years. She had a mare named Fallon who was an absolute marvel. We brought Fallon to Maryland with us in 1951. She was still winning then in the show ring at 18 and 19 years old."
The Leonards were married in 1950. And a year or so later (after Dr. Leonard had grown bored with treating cows and pigs in Ohio) they made their move east.
Dr. Leonard's first employer in Maryland was Dr. I.W. Frock, a well-respected equine practitioner and owner of the Reisterstown Veterinary Center. "In the beginning I was his assistant," recalled Dr. Leonard. "Then we had a loose veterinary partnership arrangement. There were four of us involved in that partnership."
Staying there only two years, Dr. Leonard went on his own, buying a small property in Taneytown. He was in practice for himself only a short time when Larry S. MacPhail lured him away to manage the horse and cattle operations at MacPhail's Glenangus Farm.
"He planned to be away a good portion of the year," said Dr. Leonard. "And I was to be in charge; it seemed like a good opportunity."
After two years with MacPhail, Dr. Leonard went back to his private practice. Then, in 1955, he expanded his horizons in a new direction, becoming a veterinarian for the Maryland Racing Commission. "I enjoyed that work," said Dr. Leonard. "It gave you a chance to see the whole racing picture. You made decisions on horses in the morning as to whether they were sound enough to run, then in the afternoon you'd watch the races and see how many mistakes you made.
"It's interesting for someone who likes the whole thing on racing. But it's bad for your other phases of veterinary practice. You get rusty. For example, you don't do any breeding work. And no routine work, like tubing for worms."
While he was working at the race tracks, Dr. Leonard continued to have a small private practice. One of his clients was Col. Harry B. Marcus, the owner of Glade Valley Farms in Walkersville, near Frederick.
A venerable Thoroughbred breeding establishment, Glade Valley, formerly owned by W.L. Brann, was the birthplace of champions Challedon and Gallorette in the 1930s and '40s. But it needed sprucing up by the time Dr. Leonard came along. "Col. Marcus wanted out at Glade Valley and he kept urging me to buy it. But I couldn't. I didn't have the money, for one thing. All I had was our small place in Taneytown where we kept a few mares and show horses."
The financial hurdle was cleared at Saratoga in 1959, when Col. Marcus introduced Dr. Leonard to Jack I. Bender, a Washington, D.C., businessman. "He suggested that Bender and I form a partnership and buy him out," recalled Dr. Leonard. "The more I talked with Bender, the more excited I got. It looked like we could really do it. Then when we got enthusiastic, Col. Marcus decided he'd like to be in with us."
In January 1960 the three men entered into a partnership agreement that was later changed to a corporation.
The Leonards sold their farm in Taneytown and moved to Glade Valley, but Dr. Leonard continued commuting to the race tracks for three more years. "My daily routine was to get up at 5, check with the nightwatchman and leave for the race track at 6. I got back from the track about 7 at night. Then I'd do the specking and palpations on the broodmares. After that I'd set up the breeding program for the next day with the foreman. On Sundays I'd do the worming and other routine work."
His hard work soon brought rewards. Glade Valley grew by leaps and bounds in those first few years. In 1964, when Col. Marcus asked to be bought out, Dr. Leonard and Bender had no trouble doing so. And the following year, the two partners sold the original Glade Valley and moved to a larger property nearby on Liberty Road.
Only a short time later, in 1966, Jack Bender died. Although his stock in Glade Valley passed to his family (the farm is now owned in partnership between the Leonards and Bender's numerous heirs), Dr. Leonard ran Glade Valley virtually on his own for 20 years. Jack Bender's sons Howard and Stanley were "busy with their own businesses," explained Dr. Leonard. That changed in the mid-1980s, when Howard Bender and his wife Sondra developed an interest in the horse business. Today Howard and Sondra Bender maintain a large racing stable and take an active interest in the farm.
To outside observers, Dr. Leonard's relationship with Jack Bender and his sons appears to have been one of respect on all sides. "The Benders have always been good partners," he commented, "whether they've spent a lot of time on the farm or not."
One of Maryland's earliest advocates for shed-raising yearlings, Dr. Leonard, who was a president of the in the late 1960s, sees his job as "trying to produce athletes—race horses. Everything we do is geared toward that end result. I'm a great believer in keeping horses in as natural an environment as possible; I also believe in using everything that modern science has devised to lead to optimum growth and development."
Over the years Glade Valley has grown to encompass six contiguous farms, totaling 900 acres. Some of the acreage is leased out to be used for cattle or crops, serving as a buffer zone between the farm and nearby housing developments.
There are facilities for everything from foaling to breaking yearlings. "The only thing we don't do is train race horses," explained Dr. Leonard. The yearround horse population numbers 65 to 70, including 18 to 20 broodmares owned by the farm corporation, 18 to 20 owned by Howard and Sondra Bender, and five belonging to the Leonards.
Glade Valley breeds for the commercial yearling market, as well as maintaining a thriving stallion operation. One hundred and seventy five mares were covered there in 1989. The farm foals about 85 mares every spring.
Standing at Glade Valley this season are the stallions Don's Choice, Hail Emperor, I Am the Game, Rollicking and Shelter Half.
No doubt the single biggest thing to happen at Glade Valley—and in the Leonards' lives there—has been Rollicking. Bred by Mrs. Leonard from the Martins Rullah mare Martinetta, Rollicking was a product of Glade Valley bloodlines, his sire Rambunctious having stood at the farm along with his maternal grandsire.
Successful as a race horse (he won or placed in 12 stakes, earning $196,396), Rollicking, a foal of 1967, turned out to be a gold mine as a sire. Standing throughout his career at Glade Valley, he has been represented by 35 stakes winners, and 30 stakes-placed "Finally, after 30 years, we can say we're finished building," says Dr. Leonard, shown above with wife Nancy and Orion. Octagonal stallion barn (far left), where Leonard and farm manager Paul Fairman pose, is among extensive facilities at the 900-acre establishment. horses. His runners have accounted for $1 million or more nearly every season for the past ten years.
Fourteen of Rollicking's stakes winners have been bred (on their own or in partnership) by the Leonards.
Years ago, the Leonards faced a crucial decision with Rollicking: whether to send him to stud at a farm in Kentucky (the major league), or bring him back to Glade Valley. "Bob felt that he would have a better opportunity in Kentucky," related Mrs. Leonard. "But I said no. I wanted to keep him here at home. Now we both believe we did the right thing. He might have gotten lost in the shuffle in Kentucky."
Rollicking's success at stud and the growth of Glade Valley have often gone hand in hand—thanks to some shrewd moves on Dr. Leonard's part. Some of Rollicking's best offspring have come from mares purchased by Dr. Leonard at auction in Kentucky.
Leonard has sought out young mares, from producing families, that offered a potential nick with Rollicking. "Since the top stakes-winning fillies are pretty much out of our range," explained Dr. Leonard, "I've gone for moderate winners who come from families that have stakes winners under the first and second dams. Most are by good sires, not necessarily top progenitors. I also look for structural soundness.
"I almost never buy older mares. I'd rather gamble early. Then, if she makes it, you've got a mare who has suddenly appreciated in value and has her whole reproductive career in front of her."
Fitting those criteria almost exactly was Empty Nest, a No Robbery mare purchased by Dr. Leonard at the 1982 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale for $45,000. From her Glade Valley bred multiple stakes winners Mister S.M. ($400,098) and King's Nest ($386,424), both by Rollicking.
Empty Nest, still owned by Glade Valley, marks a change in Dr. Leonard's approach. "When we were right, and the mare did improve (after mating with Rollicking), a lot of times I sold the mare for a substantial profit," Dr. Leonard said. "We did that in order to keep building the farm; it enabled us to keep making improvements.
"Now the farm is built. We have all the facilities we need; for the last few years we've been retaining our stakes-producing mares."
Dr. and Mrs. Leonard's schedules still revolve around the major auction sales. But these days they make time for other interests. "We divide our time just about equally between the farm and our home on the Eastern Shore," said Mrs. Leonard. Twenty acres of land at Cox Creek on Kent Island serve as a peaceful retreat for themselves and their hunting dogs.
The dogs—ten Hungarian vizslas and German shorthairs—are frequently used by Dr. Leonard in field trials and hunting tests, and are also household companions and pets.
Although he has lingering effects from a near-crippling hunting injury sustained while out with the New Market Hounds in 1965, Dr. Leonard continues to ride, usually for an hour and a half each day. "Mostly I ride by myself, around the farm," he said. "In the fall, when we're breaking yearlings, I ride along with them. My excuse is that I can learn how they're going, but actually I enjoy riding."
He gave up doing veterinary work around the farm after he had major neck surgery three years ago. The surgery was related to his old foxhunting injury. "Things that I used to do with a lot of facility were getting difficult," he explained. "I found myself being clumsy, which was frustrating."
The Leonards' other longtime interest is sailing. They own a 43 foot ketch that boasts state-of-the-art electronics ("It's capable of doing more than we are," said Mrs. Leonard), which they berth either on the West River near Annapolis or in St. Augustine, Fla., depending on where they are planning to take their next sailing trip.
In the 1970s, Dr. Leonard made a trans-Atlantic crossing from Cape Town, South Africa, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, aboard a 38-foot sailboat. Recently his sailing has consisted of weeks-long trips off the coast of New England in August, accompanied by Mrs. Leonard and their daughter (and only child) Cindy, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. An accomplished show rider during her teenage years, Cindy, 37, works as a medical technologist for a firm that manufactures reagents for use in the medical/technological field. She is no longer involved with horses.
The fact that there is no one in their family to carry on Dr. Leonard's life work is simply accepted by the Leonards. Observed Mrs. Leonard: "No one else could do what Bob has done."
Originally Published in the March 1990 Maryland Horse.