This is a story about a line of horses–a paternal line: father and son and grandson and so on, down to the present time. The tale should be of interest to all livestock breeders, even those who don’t know a Belgian from a Clydesdale.
It was Darwinian evolution in its highest form, but these horses not only survived, they appropriated their breed, took it over for themselves. What should impress is the rapidity with which it happened: five generations.
Read on. You will meet the folks who made it happen–the Pierces, the Sterns, the Orndorffs, and particularly Mrs. Matilda Wilson and her manager, Harold Clark. Mrs. Wilson owned the Meadow Brook Farm at Rochester, Michigan. That is where it started.
The greatest Belgian stallion of all time? Not so fast. Farceur was the most influential Belgian stallion of his generation, to be sure, but he was a horse for his time. No more and no less. Any breed of livestock, as long as its adherents make the right kinds of breeding decisions, progresses. And so it was with the Belgian horse.
In 1929 a stallion named Elegant du Marais appeared–a horse that in some respects was Farceur’s superior. Other staunch stallions of that era were Alfred de Bree Eyck, imported by Henry Lefebure and, according to some authorities, was second only to Farceur in breed influence; Mon Gros, another Lefebure horse, who was three times Grand Champion at the International; and Rubis, who among other worthies, sired Pervenche, twice a Champion at the Chicago International and a broodmare of considerable influence.
As this is written, we live in the age of Conqueror and Conquest, those being the Belgian stallions who, under the direction of Harold Clark at Meadow Brook Farm, changed the breed. So strong was the blood of this father and son combination, and so pervasive, that these two stallions in the words of Maurice Telleen, “have appropriated the entire breed.” (A Century of Belgian Horses in America, 1991.)
I will say right off that the Meadow Brook Farm was a major source of much that was good in Belgian genetics, as important as was Mount Victoria in the Holstein realm or the Langwater herd of Guernseys.
Progress, the first Meadow Brook stallion to leave his mark, is the place to start. H.C. Horneman of Danville, Illinois, was the manager and one of the owners of Sugar Creek Creamery in that city near the Indiana/Illinois line. He was a wealthy man, even in 1932, the worst year of the Depression. He owned several farms near Danville and others a few miles east. He was a 1909 graduate of Iowa State College of Agriculture who believed that improved livestock and profitable farming went hand-in-hand and he did something about it.
Horneman was putting his Kenfleur Belgian herd together and had chosen Progress to head the project. Progress was bred by a man named Mitchell who farmed at Monroe, Indiana, and what he lacked in pedigree he made up for in appearance. By the time Horneman bought him, he had passed through the ownership of three well-known horsemen and had been exhibited at the Chicago International by two of them. Then along came J.C. Hanmer, a professor at Iowa State College. “I have found a yearling colt and he’s just the herd sire for you,” he told Horneman. The recommended youngster went by the name Jay Farceur. He was a Farceur great-grandson bred by another obscure farmer-breeder, J.W. Hillman, who hailed from Grand Junction, Iowa.
So Jay Farceur came to Horneman’s stable where he shared stall space with Progress and another stallion, Rowdy De Or. A year later, Horneman, awakening to the realization he didn’t need three herd sires, transferred Progress to Mrs. Matilda R. Wilson, the owner of Meadow Brook Farm. Both Horneman and Wilson took their two-year-olds to Chicago in 1933. Jay Farceur topped the class, Progress was second.
The placing was reversed in 1934 with Progress coming out on top. Five years later Progress, showing as an aged stallion, found himself in the top slot at the Michigan State Fair, but had to be content with the Reserve Grand Championship behind Elegant du Marais II, brought out by Edward Porath.
When Harold Clark arrived at Meadow Brook in 1942, Progress was in retirement mode while Marino du Marais and Lowenstein were being used heavily. Clark was much impressed with Progress’s first progeny. One of them was a gelding named Firestone who was being used as a farm horse. Clark saw more in him than he did in the offspring of the other two stallions. He took Firestone to the shows and was met with considerable success. In the meantime, he was on the lookout for Progress’s successor. He found him in his own stable.
Conqueror seemed the answer to Clark’s prayers. Foaled in 1944, he was sired by Progress and was out of Shirley Belle, an Elegant du Marais daughter. In 1946, the first year of serious show ring competition since 1941, Conqueror won his class at Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and stood second at Chicago. As a 3-year-old in 1947 he placed first at Toronto and Illinois and third at Waterloo and Chicago. In 1948, in his last show venture, he slipped to fifth at Toronto, but by that time, his foals were hitting the grass. They were exactly what Clark had been looking for.
Norene de Papelotte, a Meadow Brook broodmare, was a sorrel with a white dot on her forehead. Foaled in 1933 on the farm of Frank Habegger, Berne, Indiana, she was sired by Canari de Pape and was out of a mare named June. Norene left six recorded offspring: two by Progress, one by Flash and three by Conqueror. One of the first Conqueror foals was Linda, born in 1947. Linda was named Grand Champion at 20 major shows starting with her first such title at Michigan as a 2-year-old in 1949, and capping it off as a 7-year-old at the Royal Winter Fair. Not many mares–or females of any livestock breed–have been such consistent winners for such a long stretch.
In 1951 Norene came with Linda’s full-brother. They named him Conquest. Here was the most successful Belgian stallion in show ring history. He started by winning two out of five times as a foal, after which he was never defeated in class. He was shown every year for seven years and during this time was 29 times a Grand Champion at Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Waterloo, Chicago and the Royal.
As a produce of dam, Conquest and Linda were impossible to beat. An important win was at Chicago in 1952 where Conquest, showing as a yearling and Linda as a 5-year-old, won the Grand Championship and, obviously, the progeny of dam class.
Conquest’s breeding accomplishments amazingly equalled his show ring achievements. He appears in all the modern pedigrees, practically without exception.
Some of his show-topping offspring are pictured, but if we showed them all, it would fill a book the size of the Toronto telephone directory.
Margie du Marais was one of several outcross mares brought by Clark to the Meadow Brook band. A daughter of Tripsee du Marais and Mary de Malmaison, Margie in short order proved to be a superior dam. She was the progenitor of ten daughters. Four of them were Margot, by Conelrad; and Margret, Margie II and Marlo, all by Conqueror.
Margot, the oldest daughter, was by Conelrad, a son of Conquest out of Conelda, a Conqueror daughter from a Jan Farceur dam. Margot started a respectable show ring career as the winning yearling filly at Illinois, Ohio and Toronto in 1966; as a 2-year-old she was second everywhere and Reserve Jr. Champion at the Royal for the second time. Showing as a 3-year-old she was Reserve Grand at Ohio and Illinois and first at the National, and the next year as a 4-year-old was undefeated in class, taking the Reserve Grand Championships at Ohio, Iowa and Illinois. She finished her career as Reserve Grand at Ohio and Indiana in 1972.
Most important for our purposes, Margot was the dam of a male christened as Constrico.
The youngest of Margie du Marais’ three Conqueror daughters (and also her sire’s last) was Marlo. She had a decent show ring score, topped by winning the 4-year-old class at the National in 1972. On May 25 of that year she dropped a foal by Constable. They named him Conquerais.
It is interesting to note that Constrico and Conquerais were out of maternal sisters Margot and Marlo and were sired by half-brothers by Conquest: Continue and Constable.
The other Meadow Brook stallion who proved as potent a breeding proposition as Constrico and Conquerais was Congolaise, the result of a half-brother/sister mating. He was a son of Conquest and out of Miss Matilda, a daughter of Conqueror and Matilda Farceur.
Foaled in 1959, Miss Matilda was a show ring participant every year until she was 12 years old. She was the dam of four Conquest colts. The first was Conceur, first as a foal at the National and undefeated in class both as a 2 and 3-year-old; and like his dam, was Grand Champion at all of Meadow Brook’s regular stops throughout his career. Proven by Bob Dunton, Saranac, Michigan, Conceur established himself as one of the top sires of the breed.
Miss Matilda’s fourth and final Conquest colt was Congolaise, a chip off the old block, he was undefeated as a yearling, 2 and 3-year-old and like Conceur, his full-brother, and Miss Matilda, his dam, wore the royal purple on his bridle many times. Congolaise stood at the head of the Orndorff herd in Pennsylvania for many years with an influence that was phenomenal.
There can be no question that these three Meadow Brook stallions–Constrico, Conquerais and Congolaise–were the dominant Belgian sires of the 1980s and ‘90s. Their dominance has extended to the present time. Any stallions who seriously challenged them were relatives from the Conqueror line. Nearly all of them represented some sort of amalgamation of the blood of Elegant du Marais and old Farceur, through Jay Farceur and Master Farceur. These three stallions we will now discuss...
Born in 1970, Constrico was Margot’s son by Continue, he the Conquest son of Matilda Farceur, a Jan Farceur daughter. The latter was a great-great-grandson of Farceur himself. Matilda Farceur’s dam, Lady du Marais, was sired by Elegant du Marais II.
Campaigned as a juvenile, Constrico won three major shows as a yearling. In the spring of 1972 he became the property of Edgar and Lois Ann Stern, a young couple from Richmond, Michigan, who owned a small stable of registered mares.
Mr. Stern wasn’t a showman and usually sold his foals at an early age. “I couldn’t say that the Constrico colts showed unusual promise, but I could say that they did right well for others,” said Stern. “We had a mare named Ribbon Farceur, a Master Farceur Jr. daughter. In 1975 she came with a stud colt by Constrico named Con Mark. Sold to Doug Palmer, Schomberg, Ontario, the horse did very well, undefeated as a 3-year-old and Senior Champion at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and Royal in 1978.”
The next year Ribbon Farceur had a filly by Constrico named Sunny Acres Kate. Stern traded Kate and a stud colt to Al Stankewitz, Armada, Michigan, for an aged mare, then Stankewitz sold her to John Bontrager, Shipshewana, Indiana. Then Bontrager made a deal with Palmer and she came to Ontario. In Palmer’s hands, she was Junior Champion at Detroit and the Royal Winter Fair in 1976 and as a 3-year-old, was Grand Champion at the same shows.
Another mare of Stern’s was Sandra, by Conelrad. Her Constrico daughter was Sandra’s Missy who Stern sold to Bontrager as a yearling. One of the stallions Bontrager stood at his farm was Bonnville Missy’s Mike, Missy’s son by Condor. He topped the Belgians at the Columbus, Ohio, sale in 1981, going to San Francisco Ranch, Polson, Montana, with a $19,000 price tag.
By the time her fourth Constrico foal arrived, Sandra was the property of Bill Schmucker of New Haven, Indiana, a talented livestock man who would end up owning Constrico. This Constrico/Sandra colt was a stud. Schmucker named him Collegian. In the 1982 Columbus sale, this horse sold to David Carson, Listowel, Ontario, for $6,100.
Another Stern mare was Fair View Janie. The top side of her pedigree went back to Conqueror and Don Rubis; on the bottom side she went back to Master Farceur. Sunny Acres Condrea was Janie’s Constrico daughter born in 1975. On the day she won the foal class at Sterns’ county show, Doug Palmer bought her. Two months later he paraded her at the Royal where she won again. Back at Toronto in 1978, she topped the 3-year-old class and was named Grand Champion Mare.
In December of 1976 the Sterns sold all of their Belgians to Arlyn Snyder, Bowling Green, Ohio. A year later, Bill Schmucker purchased the lot from Snyder, including Constrico and several sons and daughters.
The man who first shoved the Constricos into the public consciousness and having done so, kept them there, was Douglas Palmer.
He hit the grass on May 25, 1972, on the Mahogany Farm at Howell, Michigan. Mahogany was owned by William L. Brittain, a businessman who owned a fine herd of Angus cattle. Brittain had bought the old Meadow Brook Farm sometime following the death of Matilda Wilson in September of 1967, so for a brief period the Meadow Brook Belgians became the Mahogany Belgians. Harold Clark, Meadow Brook’s long-time manager, continued on in charge of the horses.
Conquerais was sired by Constable, a Conquest son, and out of Marlo, the Conqueror daughter of Margie Du Marais, so in effect was a Conqueror double-grandson.
In the summer of 1973 Brittain transferred most of his Belgians to Harold Clark, who kept a few at his farm near Millersburg, Indiana. The rest he fitted-up for the sale of the Meadow Brook Belgians which took place at the fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana, on September 19, 1973. It was the greatest draft horse sale in decades–42 head of horses, 11 foals included, averaged $1,706.
Conquerais sold as a yearling in that sale. Ross and Dick Sparrow of Zearing, Iowa, bought him. When asked later what they had paid, Dick said, “It wasn’t anything fancy. I don’t recall the exact figure.” The price was not high enough to be listed in the sale report which went down to $1,200.
The females from the line that produced Conquerais, the Margie du Marais tribe, sold well. Conquerais’ dam, Marlo, was second high mare at $3,400; Margret, her full-sister, was fourth high mare at $2,350. Margot, yet another of Margie’s daughters, had already produced a baby boy named Constrico. So the two sires who made the most noise in recent times came from the heart of the same family. That, of course, was not known on that September day in 1973. All that was known was that the Sparrows had bought themselves an inexpensive yearling stud.
Sparrows had another colt coming on, Sparrow’s Ned Contributor. Needing two young studs as much as Warren Buffet needs a car loan, Dick placed his bet on the home-bred, selling Conquerais to his friend Eldred Pierce of Oakland, Iowa. Pierce needed a young horse to use on his daughters of Conqueror’s Bobbie, a Penn State Conqueror son. Harold Clark told Pierce that Conquerais would likely produce some fine colts from his Bobbie daughters, so Pierce bought him.
Silver Belle, Pierce’s top mare in those days, had produced four full-sisters by Conqueror’s Bobbie. One of them, Oaklands Bobbie Belle, produced a Conquerais son named Oakland’s Marcon. Proven by Kauffman Bros., Hazleton, Iowa, he turned out to be one of the best northeast Iowa studs. His full-sister, Oakland’s Marcay, was Grand Champion at the National in 1983 and 1984 for the Hale Bros., Lovington, Illinois; another full-sister, Oakland’s Dixie Belle, was All-American Aged Mare in 1989 and with Conqueress, another full-sister, won the produce class at the National that same year.
Following Eldred Pierce’s death in 1981, Victorine, his wife, kept the horses a few years, but in the fall of 1986, sold Conquerais to Harold and Dale McMain, Delmar, Iowa. Dale McMain was later to say, “Some horses are good breeders and will consistently give you good offspring, but when you use Conquerais, you have the chance of getting that exceptional offspring which most horses don’t have the ability to sire.”
One of Conquerais’ best sons, Lazy P Conquerais, was proven by Dr. A.J. Neumann, Orange City, Iowa. It so happened that Dr. Neumann was at the Pierce farm to vaccinate and worm some horses and Conquerais, Pierce’s new stallion, was the last to be treated. Pierce never had a fancy box stall in which to keep his stallions. He usually housed his studs in a converted chicken coop.
Pierce opened the door and Neumann saw Conquerais for the first time. As he walked around the horse, Pierce pointed to his stud’s good points, explained his breeding and made the statement that his herd sire had great potential.
“Frankly, I was not overly impressed with the stallion,” Neumann said later. “I thought he could use a general cleaning up and that his head could be better.”
A couple of years passed, then Neumann saw the Conquerais colts firsthand, not only at Pierce’s but on the farms of neighbors who had brought their mares to be serviced. Before long, Neumann was agreeing with Pierce’s assessment that Conquerais was likely to be a great asset to the Belgian breed. “When I needed a stallion for my own use,” said Neumann, “I knew I needed to have a Conquerais son. I found him on the farm of Orval Pierce.”
“Lazy P Conquerais was the best stallion I was ever privileged to own,” said Neumann. “On my herd, and for a few outside mares that he serviced, his colts were always far superior to the mares that were bred. Eldred Pierce was exactly right in his choice of Conquerais as his herd stallion, for he passed on to his progeny many of the best attributes we see and need in the modern Belgian horse today.”
Other Conquerais sons who have been in service were Pierce’s Mark, sire of many winners not only for the McMains, but also for Don Schneckloth; two sons who made an impression in Indiana-Ohio country were Lisa’s Patrick and Oakland’s Marc. Another Conquerais son, Oakland’s Major Bruce, could be found in the stallion paddock of Jesse Graber, Middlebury, Indiana. Steve Dinger of Broken Pony Farm in New York centered his breeding efforts on not one, but three Conquerais sons: Evergreen’s Jay, Concession (out of a Constrico daughter) and BPF Constellation.
Maurice Telleen, in an article which appeared in the Winter 1991-'92 issue of The Draft Horse Journal discussed Conquerais:
“Speaking now as an Iowan, I think it perfectly safe to say that not since Farceur has any one sire so dominated the Belgian breed in this state. And, as with Farceur, that influence has spread clear across the country, quite literally from coast to coast and border to border.”
His sire was Conquest, so he was an uncle of Constrico and Conquerais, whose sires were the Conquest sons, Continue and Constable, respectively. Miss Matilda, Conquerais’s dam, was by Conqueror and out of Matilda Farceur, by Jan Farceur. He was a full-brother of Conceur, who worked well for Bob Dunton; his three-quarter sister Contilda, by Constable, went undefeated as a filly, yearling and 2-year-old. She set a new record auction price for draft mares when J.M. McKeehan, Greencastle, Indiana, paid $16,500 for her at the 1975 Indiana Sale–when Harold Clark sold out. Contilda would later garner the Grand Championships and Best of Breed awards at most of the major shows.
Congolaise, too, went undefeated as a yearling, 2-year-old and 3-year-old and there was speculation that he would become a Meadow Brook herd sire. But in 1973, Clark sold the stallion to Charley Orndorff, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. At Orndorff’s, Congolaise came after Penn State Conqueror and Marcus du Marais so he had huge horseshoes to fill.
He served as Orndorff’s main herd sire for eight years during which time he produced show winners aplenty and, with a set of extraordinary sons, started a stallion dynasty of his own.
When paired with Orndorff’s Highland Sue, a Marcus du Marais granddaughter from a Penn State Conqueror dam, what popped out were Orndorff’s Highland Congolaise (1978), Orndorff’s Congolaise Classic (1980); and Orndorff’s Congolaise Supreme, born in 1981. The latter was one of Congolaise’s last offspring as he died that same spring.
Orndorff’s Congolaise Supreme
From the beginning of the All-American program in 1988 to year 2000, Orndorff’s Congolaise Supreme sired nine offspring who earned Honorable Mention awards or better. The Orndorffs won the get of sire class at the American Belgian show six years in a row with his offspring. One of the effective crosses in livestock history was made when Supreme was paired with Oakland’s Unifon, a Conquerais daughter bred by Eldred Pierce. The “cross that nicked” produced a stallion named Orndorff’s Supreme U2 and a mare named Orndorff’s Supreme Unity. Both animals were All-American three times. The Supreme/Unifon cross not only stocked Orndorff’s show string, but for many years provided the nucleus of their breeding program.
Considered the best of the Orndorff’s Congolaise Supreme sons was Jay-Lou-Supreme, foaled in 1987. Conqueror appears six times in his pedigree’s four-generations; Penn State Conqueror appears four times; and Conquest is there twice. Bred by Glenn Montgomery, Sarver, Pennsylvania, Jay-Lou-Supreme’s dam, Elegant’s April du Marais, was out of Orndorff’s Congolaise Beauty, by Congolaise. Orndorff’s Penn State Beauty, the third dam in the maternal line, was a Penn State Conqueror daughter.
In a noteworthy career, Jay-Lou-Supreme sired 17 All-Americans and 20 Reserve or first Honorable Mention sons and daughters. His story is told in the Spring 2001 issue of The Draft Horse Journal.
Orndorff’s Congolaise Classic, Supreme’s full-brother, stood at the head of the Hale Bros.' herd at Lovington, Illinois. He pulled down National Championships in 1982 and 1983. H.B. Classic’s Alpha, one of his daughters, was All-American Aged Mare in 1988. She was the first All-American mare to produce an All-American daughter. This was H.B. Fantasia, All-American 2-year-old in 1989.
As Maurice Telleen was to write in A Century of Belgian Horses in America, “Harold Clark neither talked a lot about, nor wrote articles, like Grant Good did on ‘breeding programs.’ But if you study the pedigrees of the horses that came out of Meadow Brook, he was doing as much as Good had done with the Farceurs in an earlier time. Half-brother/half-sister matings were abundant. He was line breeding to Progress and then to his son, Conqueror, as surely as C.G. Good did with his Farceurs. Both were trying to ‘fix’ a type.
“But Harold never made a religion out of breeding theories either. He brought a lot of outcross mares into the program and they produced some of the best stallions of the breed.”
Among those “best stallions” were Constrico, Conquerais and Congolaise–stallions who took the Belgian breed for themselves.