A mare and colt at pasture at Midland Acres.

Running the Race of a Lifetime

If you ask any one of the Mossbargers what their family’s secret to success is, each will tell you the same thing: challenges. The Mossbargers believe that the challenges they’ve faced as a family and overcome together have made their farm, Midland Acres, the successful business it is today. In fact, Midland Acres started as a solution to a challenge.

Dr. Don “Doc” Mossbarger inherited the family’s small farm in Bloomingburg after a train killed his father in 1965. During that time, Doc started his one-man veterinary business as a large animal practitioner. “When a family starts its own business, there are lots of challenges,” Doc’s son, John Mossbarger said. “When my father started his single-man veterinary practice, it was a struggle for the first few years. He sat by the phone waiting for it to ring. And my mother thought he was a workaholic, but he took care of his practice.”

Doc’s practice survived on traveling from farm to farm giving cholera vaccinations to hogs. Since the time they were around 6 years old, John and Jay Mossbarger can remember restraining hogs while their father administered the cholera vaccine. “On Saturdays, that’s what we did; we held hogs,” Jay said. During that time, their father taught them not only how to hold hogs, but how to run a business, with values like good service, honor and integrity. “He taught us that rich and poor come and go, but our integrity remains with us forever,” Jay said.

But in 1968, Doc’s integrity was put to the test. That was the year cholera was eradicated, and the vaccinations, which the Mossbarger family relied on for a steady income, were discontinued. “And with Dad, he just couldn’t start charging his customers more for the rest of the services he offered. He just couldn’t do it in good conscience,” John said.

The family knew it had to diversify in order to keep the farm. It was around that time that one of Doc’s customers suggested he start breeding horses. So, in order to keep his farm and ethics intact, Doc Mossbarger began breeding Standardbred horses, and the Mossbarger family business became Midland Acres.

The Mossbargers insist that the struggle to breed quality horses would have lasted a lot longer if equine practitioner, Dr. Robert Schwartz, had not joined the team in 1971. Because he grew up near Lebanon Raceway, Schwartz brought extensive knowledge of the harness racing industry to the farm. “If it weren’t for Bob, we wouldn’t have had one of our first premier stallions,” John Mossbarger said.

By the mid-1990s, the Mossbargers’ hard work had paid off. They had acquired more than 500 acres and were breeding around 700 horses a year, becoming one of Ohio’s largest horse farms.

Working with horses
“The outside of a horse makes the inside of a man feel good,” said John, who manages the breeding program and maintains the large animal veterinary practice at Midland Acres.”When I was in vet school, everyone would call me the horse man,” he said. Once the horses are born and bred, Jay takes the reins, with the feeding, maintenance and breaking of the horses. “This isn’t corn we’re working with here,” John said. “With corn, you plant the seed and you take care of it for six months. The horses, once we plant the seed, from the time of conception to the horse’s first race, are with us for three years.”

The race track
If you spend just one evening at Scioto Downs, in southern Franklin County, you’ll hear the term “Midland baby” thrown around quite a bit. For the Mossbargers, Scioto Downs is the showplace of horse breeding. “The race track is our marketplace,” John said.

The Mossbarger family’s first time at Scioto Downs was in the early 1970s, when they sold their first race horses. They enjoy racing because of the connection they feel to the horses that they’ve raised. “We consider it sort of a silent partnership that we have with any one of our horses that make it to the track,” John said. “We enjoy watching horses race when we have that attachment to them.”

Horse breeding and the economy
By making a contribution to horse- racing, the Mossbargers and other breeders in the state pour money back into Ohio’s economy; the Mossbargers alone spend $400,000 a year on hay, grain and straw. “We support real people and make real jobs,” John said. “By feeding our horses, we keep the grain farmers fed.”
And it doesn’t stop there. According to the American Horse Council, the Ohio horse racing industry is a $900 million a year business, creating about 25,000 jobs in the state. “The Ohio horse racing industry is a vital component of the state’s agricultural industry,” said Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association.

New challenges
But what used to be the leading horse breeding industry in the nation is now lagging behind as it takes another turn around the dirt track. Lagging attendance at horse tracks is leading to less wagering and consequently smaller purses, said David White, Ohio Farm Bureau senior director of policy research and development. Some owners are choosing to race their horses in other states where additional forms of gambling have been legalized and purses are larger.

This year Midland Acres’ mares gave birth to 264 foals, which is a decline from its birth rates in past years. Profits are also down. Because of this, many horse breeders have chosen to pick up and follow the money out of the state. The Mossbargers don’t want to see the Ohio horse breeding industry further decline. “We just want to pay the mortgage and have Saturday night money,” John said. “And we want to spend that Saturday night money in Ohio.”

They are accustomed to challenges, but admit that this one is different. “We’ve met all the challenges of the past, and now we have to overcome the new challenge of putting the Ohio horse breeding industry on a level playing field,” John said. The Mossbargers believe horse breeding deserves a fair chance at survival in Ohio, and they are going to fight to keep it in the race.

Megan Nadolski is a freelance writer and photographer.