At $90,000, the 5-year-old Belgian stallion L-Valley Double Powerball clinched a spot in the history books on February 23, 2017 at the Mid-America Draft Horse Sale. That price makes him the third highest-selling draft horse at public auction, behind only McIlrath's Captain Jim ($112,500 in 2003), and the Percheron YY Extreme ($105,000 in 2008). It also distinguishes him as the second highest-selling member of his breed.
Bred by Elmer E. Kauffman Jr., L-Valley Belgians of Christiana, Pennsylvania, Powerball is out of Dixie and by SB Power Play. At the time, SB Power Play was owned by Cush Farms of Bolivar, Ohio. Jonathan Cush recalls that in 2011, "My good friend Elmer Kauffman had expressed interest in breeding a few mares to SB Power Play and asked if I would be willing to go through his broodmares and choose the ones I thought would cross the best. Dixie was my first and most desired choice. She had a lot of the characteristics I like to see in a broodmare. She had overall correctness and balance, a good foot, a sweet hock, nice shape to her hip and set to her hind leg. Dixie was sired by Prince Charming, making her an Orndorff’s Congolaise Supreme granddaughter, which is something I love to see in a broodmare pedigree. She had a daughter sired by Produce Acres Director that possessed a lot of Dixie’s broodmare traits, proving that she had the potential to somewhat replicate herself. I was confident that the cross would preserve her good points, while possibly adding a little more stretch and front end. Elmer agreed, however Dixie had torn her cervix and there was uncertainty whether she could carry another foal. I told Elmer I was willing to try if he was. She did not catch the first year, but thanks to the Elmer’s persistence, we got her in foal the following year.
"The resultant foal was born during the 2012 Gordyville Sale, on Friday–when Belgian mares sold. Elmer and his brothers had made the trip to the auction, leaving Elmer’s daughter in charge of watching Dixie. When Elmer called home for a status report, his daughter said the mare had been trying to foal for several hours. He immediately instructed her to get help from her uncles, which she did. They had to pull the colt, as the mare had given up, totally exhausted. Miraculously, the big stud colt was alive, strong and determined to stay that way.
"After hearing from Elmer about his new addition, I called my good friend and mentor Nathan Yoder of Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania. Nathan had known about the project Elmer and I had been working on. I told him the moment had arrived and asked if he’d inspect the colt. It wasn’t long after that I got my report. 'Dixie had a big, correct, proud and smart colt.' Nathan was impressed and mentioned if I had any thoughts about owning him, I'd better get on it. I called Elmer immediately. He wasn’t sure if he was 'in the mood' to sell the colt at the time, but he did offer me first chance if he changed his mind. I believe at that time I may have put a bug in his ear about possibly showing the colt.
"Elmer and I kept in touch, talking about the colt's progress. His front end and stature had been impressive from the beginning, but the one thing that seemed to amaze the Kauffmans the most was his disposition and intelligence. Elmer and I eventually came to an agreement for me to show the colt that summer. I made the trek to southeastern Pennsylvania soon after and that was the first time I saw the colt in the flesh. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
"The colt came back to Ohio freshly weaned and without an official name. We began calling him 'Elmer’s colt,' which was eventually shortened to just 'Elmer.' This handle stuck for the next few years. As show season neared, Elmer called and said he’d come up with a price for the colt ... if I was still interested. Marissa and I discussed it and not much before the Ohio State Fair, L-Valley Double Powerball (a.k.a. 'Elmer') was officially transferred to us.
"After a few months of prep, show day finally came. Powerball was big, impressive, powerful and showed like a champion. He ended up Junior Champion at Ohio, 1st and Reserve Junior Champion at Southern Ohio and the Keystone, 1st at the Michigan Great Lakes International (MGLI), and 2nd at Indiana. He became the 2012 Gold Merit Winner. As a yearling, Powerball was 1st and Reserve Grand Champion at Ohio and Southern Ohio, Grand Champion at the Keystone, and 2nd at Indiana. At the end of 2013, he repeated as a Gold Merit winner and also became the All-American Yearling Stallion.
“'Elmer' had a way of getting people’s attention at shows. During that 2013 show season, he was a 17.2 hh yearling that could quite comfortably stick his head over the stalls at most shows. If you failed to see him, there was a good chance he'd toss his infamous Jolly Ball right over the stall in your direction. During the MGLI, we were stabled beside Trippcrest Farms, managed by Chad and Rhonda Cole (Pennwoods Percherons). Chad didn’t fail to notice the colt and thought perhaps he might even be a 2-year-old."
Long story short, Chad enjoys a good challenge, so before the show had ended, it was agreed that he'd break Powerball (sans the Jolly Ball). "Jonathan and Marissa dropped him off shortly after the first of the year," recalls Chad, "and I thought 'let the fun begin,' and it did. The horse had really grown. I thought for a 2-year-old, he was quite big, long-necked with his head stuck straight in the clouds, though he lacked some foot for his size. I waited until Jonathan and Marissa left to start working on the horse, thinking he was going to be a problem, but to my surprise, he was anything but. Powerball was a natural hitch horse; always wanting to please and he loved to drive. I called Jonathan and told him Powerball was a big-time hitch horse."
"At that point, says Cush, "we still owned his sire, Power Play, his half-brother by Power Play–CF Culprit–and five Power Play daughters." While they hadn't put a lot of thought into selling the horse, it seemed like a better and better idea. When they got to Centre Hall to fetch the horse, Chad asked if they wanted to sell him.
"I called two or three Belgian hitch owners," recalls Chad, "but none of them wanted to take a chance on a 2-year-old stud. Looking back, that was a good thing ... although, I still believe he could have been one of the best hitch geldings around."
In order to market him, Chad convinced Jonathan to leave the horse with him. "We agreed that this was the best decision and returned home with an empty trailer," says Cush. "On the way home, we contacted our 'Chief Marketing Officer' Dave Backman to inform him of the situation and to get him on board. By the week of the Gordyville sale, the rumors of Powerball’s availability had begun to spread. Dave had mentioned to us at the sale that Paul E. Hershberger of Arthur, Illinois, had expressed interest in the colt as a breeding horse prospect and that I should try to meet him. Paul and I met after the last mare sold and we were both getting ready to head home. We discussed it briefly and decided to talk further after a week or so. I think Paul waited about three days before he called me and said he’d take him. We delivered 'Elmer' to his new home the following week and a new chapter began."
Cole says he didn't hear much about Powerball for a year-and-a-half. "In June of 2015," he says, "Rhonda and I were in Arthur for a graduation, and four of us guys went on a local horse viewing trip; one of the stops being Paul Hershberger’s. We saw Powerball that day in his working clothes and I still liked him a lot. The others in the party were skeptical of what kind of sire he would be and I guess I was as well, but I still thought he could have a promising future."
Hershberger kept Powerball for two years, raising just one foal himself–a stud colt out of Country Road Nelli–prior to selling the young stud to Ivan J. Hochstetler, Millersburg, Ohio, in the fall of 2016. Ivan promptly consigned the horse to Gordyville and an intensive promotional and marketing campaign ensued, as the horse went to Robert Hershberger of Dublin Valley Farm to be readied for the sale.
Late in January of this year, Chad Cole crossed paths with the horse yet again. "A friend of mine, Terry 'Woody' Woodring, and I are on a sale horse tour and stop by Dublin Valley Farm to look at some Percheron mares," recounts Chad. "While there, I asked to see Powerball. When they brought him out, he had changed all for the better. Still a big horse with a tremendous top line; his heel had spread, especially behind, and his hocks definitely improved with age. He looked great. Robert offered to drive him and man, did he put on a show. I was pretty proud at the time that I'd had the pleasure of breaking him. As we left Dublin Valley Farm, Woody looked at me and said, 'Thanks a lot for bringing me with you. I think we just saw the two top-selling horses at Gordyville.'
"Returning home after our exciting trip to Ohio, I received a phone call from Junior Fisher, of Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, with lots of questions about Powerball. Junior was thinking about buying him to breed his mares and to ship semen off the horse. In a nutshell, I told him Powerball was an impressive, attractive horse with a great front end and loads of action. I told him that he could probably breed quite a lot of outside mares with the horse for a number of reasons. His great looks and the huge price I figured he would bring will spark a lot of interest, but also the horse’s pedigree. One of my most favorite mares, Gracious, is on the horse’s top side and one of the more impressive stallions that I'd seen (I watched him sell in John Yutzy's dispersal at Ryan’s Sale), Prince Charming was on the bottom side. He went back to some great Orndorff breeding. Many other good horses on Powerball’s papers made him intriguing."
The Mid-America Sale arrives, stirring all sorts of far-reaching excitement, as it does every year. Much of the fervor, chatter and speculation revolves around lot #151, Ivan Hochstetler's consignment. "We've fitted a lot of horses for a lot of sales," weighs in Robert Hershberger, "but we've never had a horse of ANY breed receive as much attention as Powerball. The amount of interest was just phenomenal–and understandably so. He has such a powerful presence and attitude. It didn't matter if it was warm and sunny, or cold and snowy, Powerball was always ready to go and ready to perform."
When the auction starts, the first horse in the ring, a Percheron mare, brings $9,500. Another brings $73,000. The first Percheron stallion then sells for $13,000. The market is obviously nuts before the first Belgian stallion is offered. Junior Fisher is put to the test and comes out of the pressure cooker on top with a new herd sire, setting the pace for a record average for Belgian stallions, as well as a record overall average.
Clearly, there were no regrets (save for maybe the contending bidder). As Robert Hershberger concluded, "It's always nice to get the money, but when the buyer calls you afterwards and tells you how thrilled he is with the horse, it's even sweeter.
"I think Powerball will have an impact on the breed, especially in terms of improving front ends. He's very sound, all around. He's in the right hands and is already breeding some good mares. The Belgian breed should be excited."
Elmer Kauffman maintains that Powerball was an interesting character, to say the least. "He was always intelligent, had presence to burn and very early on, he had 'that look' about him."
"I think everyone who had the opportunity to spend time with this horse would agree that he has an amazing personality," concurs Cush. "He's kind, smart and has a desire to please. He's the kind of creature who couldn’t be happier than waking up every day as a Belgian stallion. He has a way of drawing you in and you can’t help but realize how special he is. It wasn’t an easy decision to let him go, but it ended up being the path that finally put him in the limelight that he so deserves. We are very proud to have been a part of his past and hope that he has a very prosperous and impactful future."
That future, of course, lies with his new owner, Junior Fisher, Lan-Chester Equine of Honey Brook, Pennsylvania. The horse is standing and available to outside mares, at Spring Hill Services of Dalton, Ohio.