Ola Yoder (pictured above along with his empire Kountry Land Standardbreds property) started his involvement in the Standardbred industry in 2019 and has accumulated a few stallions and 30 broodmares since. His successful cabinet-making company in Indiana (Kountry Wood) has allowed him to make the investment in breeding and Yoder (along with his team) is poised to make a big splash at the fall sales in 2023 with about a dozen yearlings.
We pulled the septuagenarian away from his daily duties at the cabinet company long enough to ask him about his path in the Standardbred industry, how he sees the path of Kountry Lane Standardbreds progressing and Amish life. Enjoy!
How did you get started in harness racing?
I’m not really into harness racing. I’m into breeding mares to raise yearlings for the sales. I started four or five years ago by buying mares for Roadsters. I was just spinning my wheels with that. Back during the fall sale at Harrisburg (2019) White Birch Farm was selling out and I saw that they had a lot of good mares. I was always told that it was a good time to buy when there is a dispersal like that one.
What made you decide to go after those mares and start breeding Standardbreds?
There is more money involved and it is more profitable. I’m a businessman. If you invest in something you want to be able to get a good return for it. I found out that if you get better quality mares with good records and better families behind them, that is what people want. I thought broodmares and stallions would be a good investment. If you invest in the stock market, that goes up and down all the time. I like to invest in things where you know where your money is rather than with some broker.
Can you tell us a bit about your day job at Kountry Wood?
It is a cabinet company that builds over 1.2 million cabinets a year. Next year we’ll be celebrating 25 years and I’m going to sell out to my boys and some other guys.
You’re 77, right? Why start a new enterprise in your 70s?
Yes, I just turned 77. You have to do something. Plus, I have people around me. This isn’t all about me. I bought a horse farm when I was 75 and Duane Miller’s family is managing it. I have a younger generation involved in it as well. I’m kind of just an investor and I enjoy horses.
Under the Kountry Lane Standardbreds moniker your sole focus is on breeding top-quality yearlings. Why did you decide to stay away from the racing side?
I’m not a racer. That is for other people. If you try to be everything it doesn’t work. I decided to stick with broodmares and I have 30 right now.
How much would you say you’ve invested in mares since starting your breeding operation?
I’d just as soon not talk about that. I don’t like to talk about money.
Is it safe to say that the Shartin N-Captaintreacherous filly that will sell this fall is the one you are most anticipating?
We are looking forward not only to that one but also others. We have a Plunge Blue Chip that I think is from Chapter Seven. We have about 12 or 13 going to different sales this fall. When we go to the sale we have no reserve on our horses. We are there to sell.
Which sales do you plan to sell at?
I’m hoping to sell most at Lexington. I have a couple that will probably go to the Hoosier Classic Sale. Maybe some will go to Harrisburg.
Is this your first season selling?
Oh no. I think I’ve sold for three years at Lexington already. One year I sold one. The next year I sold about four and last year I sold four.
You are Amish, right?
Yes I am.
I’ve seen a number of Amish people at the horse sales. Are there a lot of Amish people in the industry?
Yes, there are a lot of them. The Amish buy a lot of horses off the racetrack, like the ones that don’t make it. Some of them are used for Roadsters. They have their own sales in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Illinois. I was out in Illinois two weeks ago and Amish people are all that was there. There are a lot of Amish that sell to the racing industry, especially in Indiana.
Sometimes you hear people on the backstretch say ‘we are going to Amish that horse’ like it is a bad thing. It sounds like a negative thing, is it?
I wouldn’t say so. Maybe it is a negative for the racing people but the horses get fed good. If you every go to the Amish sale, they have all good-looking horses. Part of our religion is to take care of animals.
Do you attend the races? If so, which is your favorite track?
Not really. Some Amish do but I don’t.
If one of the horses you bred made it to the Hambletonian, would you make the trip to The Meadowlands?
I doubt it. I’ll let the people who buy it get the attention. I’m not in this for ego. My thing is to just sell yearlings at the sales.
What is one thing about you most fans/bettors don’t know?
I’m just a regular guy. Nothing really stands out about me. You’d have to ask other people.
What is one word that describes the harness industry for you?
I don’t know. I think it is a good sport. I’m not into the gambling part. I just like the idea of competition and to be able to see the great performances of horses.
You also have some stallions in Enterprise, Temporal Hanover and King Of The North. What made you want to be involved on the stallion side?
If you have broodmares you are always buying breeding shares. Actually, I bought Enterprise before I had any mares. The guys in Ohio got me to invest in the stallion. That kind of got me started into the broodmares and that got me to buy more stallions. Sometimes you try to get into good stallions and you can’t because the books are filled. The stallions were an investment. Temporal Hanover and King Of The North, I bought when they were still racing.
Are you happy with the stallion investments so far?
Yes. We syndicated both horses [Temporal Hanover and King Of The North] and sold some shares. Down the road we’ll probably sell more. At least that got us started in business. I don’t do the breeding myself at the farm, but we have a couple of good places to put them.
You don’t stand your own stallions. Do you house your mares in Indiana where you live or at another locations as well?
We do. We have a farm here and we have some down in Kentucky. We kind of trade them back and forth so they can be Kentucky-eligible. They have to be there 180 days.
What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten or given about harness racing?
Keep your eyes open and watch your back [laughing]. Nah, it is not that bad but you have to be wise and not get hyped up because other people do. You have to try to make good choices.
If you had the power to change one thing in the sport, what would it be?
There are some things that I think could be changed but my job is to make sure I do the right things. To be honest with what I’m doing.
Is the whole “be honest with yourself” thing an Amish trait?
I don’t know if it is an Amish thing but it is my thing [laughing].
What is the Amish lifestyle?
I’ve been Amish my whole life and I don’t have a dull moment.
All the stuff about no electronics and stuff. Is that just a myth?
Amish have electronics. They might not be the latest phones but they have computers and stuff, especially the businesses. I went down to the yearling sale in Indianapolis and it really opened my eyes how many Amish Standardbred breeders were there. That’s one thing about bringing Temporal Hanover here is that it will be a boost for Indiana.
How do you view the future of harness racing?
I think the industry has a good future but you have to be careful what you buy. What I found out is that it is much more than raising a foal. You have to have a good foal. The foal almost has to be perfect. They x-ray the yearling and do things to check them that they don’t do with just raising horses. It is almost a perfection industry. The legs have to look right. The conformation has to be right.
Where do you see Kountry Lane Standardbreds in 10 years?
I’m hoping we’ll be set pretty good and be profitable. I don’t think we’ll want to get real big. We try to invest in the better mares and stay around 30. We just want to be in the business and have fun doing it.