Written by Barbara Newtown
Original Publish Date October 2015
Delta Ventures Equine Center in Vinton, Louisiana, is hard to miss—it’s just half a mile from the Delta Downs casino and racetrack, at 2560 Delta Downs Drive. The new barn, the elegant gates, the sturdy and safe fencing, and the lush pastures all point to a first-class business.
“We didn’t open until August 1st,” says owner Shelley Broussard, “which means we missed most of the deadlines for sales prep. We didn’t want to open until everything was ready.” Getting ready took a lot of work: the entire acreage had been piney woods with no buildings, no fencing, and absolutely no pasture.
The new foaling and prepping facility is a family venture—in fact, Shelley and her husband Jason and Shelley’s parents Marilyn and Allan Anderson have their homes on the backside of the 33-acre farm. Allan Anderson owns a commercial lending company and pitches in with strategic planning for Delta Ventures Equine. Shelley’s brother Cullen, a registered veterinary technician, is the facilities manager. “I do the heavy lifting,” Cullen says.
Shelley is the guiding spirit and prime mover for Delta Ventures Equine. She fixed her sight on a life with horses early on: when Shelley was eighteen months old, Marilyn warned Allan that he’d better get his checkbook ready, because Shelley couldn’t be pulled away from the fence where the horses were.
The Anderson family, originally from Harlingen, Texas, has been involved with horses for over fifty years. Marilyn grew up riding in local shows in Texas, but Shelley took the next step and showed in All-Around AQHA classes. She and her horses collected three AQHA World Championships, four AQHA Congress Championships, and many Top Ten and Finalist awards. She has also trained successful performers in everything from halter to barrels to hunt seat equitation.
In 2008 Shelley found her niche: showing in AQHA performance halter classes. The combination of “prep” necessary to create a winning halter horse and the training necessary to create a winning performance horse made the best of both worlds, she felt. Performance halter horses have to possess excellent conformation and muscling appropriate for an athlete. Before they can compete in the “halter” part of performance halter, they have to prove themselves by winning performance points. In 2011 Shelley and her gelding Mister Terrificcandy won the AQHA World Championship. “He was a true all-around,” she says.
Shelley received two Bachelor of Science degrees from Texas A & M: Animal Science and Agricultural Science. She bought a horse she trained at A & M, a little bay mare named Belle. She also fell in love with a foal she met in the Equine Reproduction class, which she named Rabbit, because the little filly sucked on Shelley’s ear before she sucked on her mother. Shelley bought Rabbit, too. (“Most of the horses that the students work with at A & M are for sale,” she says.) Shelley didn’t compete with the collegiate equestrian team because she and her family were so involved in showing their own horses in the AQHA classes.
While Shelley was in college, her family moved to Simonton, Texas, near Houston. After she graduated, Shelley taught agricultural science for a while in high school, but she left that career to follow her dream of running a foaling and prepping business. Mother Marilyn, father Allan, and brother Cullen all jumped on board to follow the dream, too.
The latecomer to the equine dream is Shelley’s husband Jason. Although he grew up in Vinton, home of the Delta Downs track, he never had a horse or spent time around them, although, he says, he loved them at a distance.
When he met Shelley, he was running the “Night Stalker,” a night fishing boat on Calcasieu Lake. Shelley and her parents came on board expecting to spend the evening catching speckled trout and red fish in celebration of Father’s Day. But the real excitement was the immediate connection between Shelley and Jason.
“We were married eleven months later,” says Jason. He adds that he was excited by the prospect of becoming part of a horse-crazy family. And Jason’s native state of Louisiana worked its magic: within a year the Andersons had left Texas behind and made Vinton their home.
Shelley is teaching Jason how to work with foals and yearlings. Jason is not new to the joys of working with animals. As a hunting guide, he has worked closely with dogs, and he trains retrievers for duck hunting. “My passion is duck hunting,” says Jason. “Grays, teals, mallards, pintails. The retrieving is the most rewarding part.” But Jason foresees a day very soon when dog training will just be a hobby, and horses will take up most of his time, and that’s fine with him.
Shelley doesn’t miss horse show competitions. “I love taking care of the horses. I’ve always like getting them ready more than the actual showing!”
Her passion now is bringing healthy foals into the world, turning them into good citizens, and building them up with good food and appropriate exercise so that they will catch the eyes of buyers. “It all starts with how you take care of that momma,” she says. “You treat her with the respect she wants and deserves. She provided you with something, and you hope she continues. Why not take care of what you have?”
Marilyn says, “We develop a rapport with every mare that is brought in. If that broodmare is extremely comfortable with us, that baby will be far more comfortable with people. You can’t erase that early training on a baby.” Shelley and her family do imprinting: they start “messing” with the babies as soon as they are born. “We towel them down and run our hands all over them. We continue to do it, and by the second or third day they start to realize that people are OK,” says Shelley. Marilyn points out that the reaction of the baby to human touch rests on the mare’s relationship with people. If the mother is calm, the baby won’t get excited.
Although the family worked with Quarter Horses for years, Shelley points out that all horses are the same at the start: they need to be handled every day when they are babies. “The different breeds don’t faze me,” she says. “A horse is a horse!”
Shelley says that her family decided that they could help the industry best with quality mare care. The sales prep season comes along after foaling season and is an added bonus. An owner will typically bring a yearling to Delta Ventures Equine 60 days before a sale, which is enough time for Shelley to give the young horse a healthy glow and correct muscling. Although there are broodmare sales and two-year-old training sales, Shelley says the farm’s main focus will be foaling and yearling prepping.
Shelley has firm ideas about proper prep. The farm feeds more alfalfa and hay than grain, because horses are designed to be fed forage. Shelley prefers to give the horses sweet feed…because it’s tastier. “Well,” she says, “I’d rather eat sweet feed than pellets!” Yearlings receive 14% protein and broodmares and foals receive 16%. Supplements are given rarely, if at all. When you add supplements, says Shelley, you are breaking up the ratio of nutrients in your feed. “If you have good quality hay and good quality grain, you shouldn’t need supplements.” Broodmares and weanlings eat Omolene 300, yearlings eat Omolene 200, and maintenance horses eat Omolene 100. All horses receive a flake of alfalfa twice a day. And they are turned out on pastures seeded with Bermuda grass.
For improving fitness, Shelley alternates between the round pen and the treadmill. When she and her mother were showing in performance halter, they used an underwater treadmill. Now Shelley prefers a “dry” treadmill. She believes that soaking the hooves every other day with swimming or working on an underwater treadmill will make the hooves too soft. Weight-bearing exercise will also produce stronger bones. Limb fitness and cardiovascular fitness will proceed at the same rate. The imposing treadmill has another advantage: the process of training a yearling to load up onto the treadmill and to tolerate having a gate latched behind him is excellent prep for getting on trailers.
She starts the yearlings on the treadmill at 5 minutes and an incline that is much less than the 15% maximum. The sides are solid, so there is no danger of a horse getting a foot caught. “We always wrap legs before they go on the treadmill. They wear a halter, but I don’t tie the lead rope. I’m up above, watching all the time. You start slowly and see how much they are comfortable doing. I don’t want to push them too hard, too fast.”
The round pen gives the horses a different fitness experience. They learn to respond to the trainer’s voice commands and body language and they learn how to turn. Shelley doesn’t worry about the footing in her round pen becoming too hard, too deep, or too wet. “We’ve got good quality sand in there, but these race babies are going to have to run rain or shine. They’ve got to keep going, even if the ground is not 100% that day.” The round pen is 60 feet wide, and she doesn’t ask for more than a long trot, so there isn’t excessive strain on their legs.
The family behind Delta Ventures Equine is poised to make a significant contribution to the racing industry in Louisiana. Jason says, “Come by and visit. The people that have visited so far are clients now!”