Eight foals whinny as they wait for Lena Hedberg to deliver their morning grain. Lena is living every horse enthusiast’s dream as the owner of Hedberg Hall, a 221-acre thoroughbred breeding farm that has produced national and international racing champions.
Her love for horses started when she was a child in Sweden.
“The farm hands thought it would be cute if I would ride one of the work horses,” recounts Lena, 65, who was introduced to horses on her great aunt’s farm. “My little legs would stick straight out, and I would hold on for dear life.”
Lena moved to the United States in 1973 when she was 20 and studied equine science at Virginia Intermont College. She worked at the Thoroughbred Record (before it was a magazine) and exercised thoroughbreds for three years in Lexington. She purchased the farm, originally a cattle farm, in 1985 while still married.
The first foal was born at Hedberg Hall in 1985, and Lena has since witnessed dozens of foals make their entry into the world.
“I have a 100-percent rate of getting the mares back in foal, which is really rare,” Lena says. “I brag on my averages, but I’m here all the time.”
To Lena, every foal is “the one.” However, it was one lucky foal named Kantharos that put Hedberg Hall on the map in 2005. Kantharos was born from a mare given to Lena, who took the risk in breeding it. The result is the dream of every breeder: Kantharos won the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs and has since sired a strong line of racehorses.
“He’s special,” she says, beaming like a proud parent.
She sells her thoroughbreds to clients in Europe, Central America and South America.
A horse-breeding farm is not a nine-to-five operation, especially during the spring when mares are expected to foal. It then becomes a round-the-clock production. Ranch hand Sam Johnson is an invaluable part of the process. His agriculture background compliments Lena’s equine knowledge, but Sam didn’t think he would last very long when he first started.
“I had never heard of someone going for an interview to work on a farm,” says Sam, recalling how he met Lena 15 years ago. His experience raising cattle and maintaining a farm has been an asset to Lena who reciprocated the favor by educating Sam in the thoroughbred industry.
“I’ve learned a lot from her,” Sam says. “She’s treated me better than anyone I’ve ever worked for.”
Lena admits that maintaining the farm isn’t as easy as it once was, but she doesn’t plan on calling it quits anytime soon.
“The question isn’t how long do I want to keep doing it. The question is how long can I do it.”