Thirty years ago the Hackney industry was blessed when a well-established Saddlebred family was introduced to the world of ponies. The Waldron family’s Bent Tree Farm, Shawsville, Va was home to some of the best American Saddlebreds in the country with daughter Karen winning numerous world’s championships under their Hall of Fame trainers. When the matriarch of the family, Evelyn, decided she wanted to start showing, her husband Elbert suggested they go to Lexington Junior League and see what was out there. There she saw the harness pony Wildfire and fell in love. When she first sat behind him, showing ponies became Evelyn’s love. In 1982 she and Wildfire captured the Amateur Harness Pony World’s Championship.
Tijauna Princess was purchased as a Christmas present for Karen’s dad. “This was all about my parents but then I stepped in and started showing them as well. Their passion turned in to mine,” said Karen. In 1983 Tijuana Princess won the World’s Grand Championship, the Reserve World’s Grand Championship in 1984, and in 1985, Ben Lester showed her to the Amateur World’s Champion of Champions title.
In 1990, Karen purchased Vindicator from the Ed Wilson family and her became the foundation for the Ben Tree breeding program. Soon, Night Editor, My Sweet Georgia Brown, and Julianna also joined the Waldron family under the direction of home trainer Lee Adams.
At Louisville 1997 Karen saw Heartland Ooh! La La. “She took my breath away,” stated Karen. “I did something I have never done before; I stood at the gate and grabbed Darrel (Kolkman) as he came out of the three-year-old class and told him I had to decide whether to go back in the junior stake or the big stake.” She was the 1997 World’s Grand Champion.
While at Devon Horse Show in 2000, Karen purchased her first Hackney Horse, Heartland Blizzard who was three at the time. She showed her immediately and won the Devon Championship. That fall they did an embryo transfer and the resulting foal was Shelburne, who like her dam, has won multiple World Championships.
Bent Tree’s relationship with trainer, Larry Ella, began with the purchase of Spirit Of Success and at that time they saw Par Excellence and asked for first refusal. Karen Waldron and Shawn Ricci were married in Toronto on August 5, 2000 and next day on the way to their honeymoon they purchased Par Excellence. The next year he and Karen won the World’s Champion Of Champions Junior Harness Pony title. In 2003, the reserve World’s Grand Champion and the World’s Grand Champion in 200 with Waldron, followed by two more reserve world’s titles in the following two years. Sweetheart Of Success was purchased in 2005 and she too won a World’s Grand Championship. In 2007, Vindicator, returned to the ring looking like a youngster. Karen and the regal stallion paraded around Freedom Hall to great applause on their way to the Amateur Harness Pony World’s Champion of Champions title. The next year Karen drove On The Mark to the World’s Grand Championship.
“There is nothing I love more than riding a good five-gaited horse but the kinetic energy of sitting behind a really game, brilliant Hackney pony makes you use your brain, unlike a horse where the energy is in your hands, your seat, your legs, : explained Karen. “With a pony all the energy is in your fingers. I remember the first time I drove Ooh! La La. She rolled her neck so far back and her whole body was electrifying. The electricity ran from her body through my fingers. I was laughing and crying at the same time; it was so thrilling. If you’re sitting behind something looking through their ears, you know when they’re on fire.”