Feature Stories

Running Cedar Spring Farm More Than Horseplay

Charlotte horse trainers Bonnie and Keely Sogoloff are either working with or thinking about the horses in their barn 24 hours a day, they say.

“To work as hard as we do for as little money as we make, you better like it,” Bonnie Sogoloff said. “We’d probably be really bored doing something else.”

Bonnie Sogoloff, 65, and her daughter, Keely, train, breed and sell Morgan show horses at their 26-stall Cedar Spring Farm. It is the horses themselves that keep them going, Bonnie Sogoloff said.

“They’re just an amazing animal. They’re mystical and just totally absorbing to learn about,” Bonnie Sogoloff said. “Riding itself is exhilarating.”

While the Sogoloffs have worked with other horse breeds, they focus on Morgan horses. The breed was developed in Vermont, and Morgan horses are mostly known for the proud way they carry themselves and friendly temperament.

“They’re beautiful, absolutely a gorgeous animal,” Bonnie Sogoloff said. “They’re also people-oriented. They love people. A lot of other horses are more aloof, but a Morgan is not. They love to go places and love to be with people.”

Bonnie Sogoloff started Cedar Spring Farm in 1976 in Essex, at the urging of her husband, Hayes Sogoloff, an optometrist whom Keely Sogoloff called “the backbone of the farm.”

“It is a family affair, he is our manager,” Bonnie Sogoloff said. “We can’t do this without him … he’s our right hand.”

Hayes Sogoloff doesn’t ride or train the horses, but he does everything else, from maintaining the facilities to driving to horse shows, Bonnie and Keely Sogoloff said.

Keely Sogoloff joined her mother as a trainer at Cedar Spring Farm, after looking into a couple different career options, including opening a jewelry store.

“I thought maybe there was something else I wanted to do, and there wasn’t, so here I am,” she said. “You try to get away and they just draw you back in. Once it’s in the blood, you cannot get away from it.”

The Sogoloffs moved their farm to Charlotte in 2005.

“It’s been a great move for us,” Bonnie Sogoloff said. “They really welcomed us and we were thrilled to come here.”

Last month, the Sogoloffs competed in the Morgan Grand National — an eight-day championship show in Oklahoma City. Bonnie Sogoloff said the show “is sort of like our Olympics,” and the Sogoloffs took home the most prestigious prize.

MEM Bailamos, a champion stallion that Keely Sogoloff trained, won the Open Hunter Pleasure World Championship, where approximately 25 horses perform together.

“Cedar Spring has a reputation right now of being one of the best stables in the U.S. for training,” said Bailamos’ owner, Jerry Nau. “(Bailamos) is phenomenal, and I’m very proud of Keely for what she accomplished.”

Jerry and Mary Jane Nau, who own 14 horses, currently have three horses at Cedar Spring Farm. The Naus, who live in Shelburne, have worked with Cedar Spring Farm for about six years.

Jerry Nau, who described himself as “a very young 71” just started competing in pleasure western riding events in the past couple years. Mary Jane Nau said he has “a cult following at some shows.”

“It has been a wonderful relationship where I know that they are taking care of the horses the way I do at home,” Mary Jane Nau said. “The magic of this breed and the caring and concern and quality of what Cedar Spring brings to a horse owner, I think is exceptional.”

While rewarding, the business can also be stressful, the Sogoloffs said.

“You have to live and breathe this place,” Keely said. “You can’t just leave the paperwork on the desk and go away for the weekend. You’re being held accountable for all those lives in the stalls.”

The Sogoloffs charge $900 per month to board and train horses, but their main source of income is selling horses. Morgan show horses can sell from $15,000 up to six figures, Bonnie Sogoloff said.

Although the Sogoloffs can always find buyers for their best horses, business has definitely taken a hit because of the economy, they said.

“I’d say it’s taken kind of a nosedive,” Bonnie said. “But it’s coming back and it’s improving a lot and we think within another year, hopefully we’ll be back to what we’ve been doing.”

This article was contributed by Stephanie Choate.

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