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No horsin' around on Prince Edward Island

Brian Andrew is shown on the grounds of Meridian Farms East in Milton, which is the sister breeding facility to Meridian Farms West in Alberta, where his brother, Bill Andrew, resides.
Brian Andrew is shown on the grounds of Meridian Farms East in Milton, which is the sister breeding facility to Meridian Farms West in Alberta, where his brother, Bill Andrew, resides.

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The sign on a shed on the grounds of Meridian Farms says it in spades: The Way Life Should Be.

And life has been a harness racing dream for the Andrew family for generations, but things really got out of the starting gate in the last two decades with regard to standardbred horse breeding.

Now, if one counts Meridian Farms East in Milton, P.E.I., and Meridian Farms West in High River, Alta., they’re the largest of their breeding kind for race horses in Canada.

“The biggest thing with this family operation is it’s been in the blood for four generations,” says retired school principal Brian Andrew, who owns and operates the Meridian operation with his wife, Carol, and his brother and sister-in-law, Bill and Denise, who live in Alberta.

The Andrew brothers’ grandfather was a skilled trainer/driver — “a true horseman” as Brian describes him.

Their father was also passionate about the industry and started a small horse-breeding business on P.E.I. after he retired from the air force.

So it was only natural that they gravitate toward horses and harness racing.

Bill started Meridian Farms West in 2002.

“We were raised with horses . . . so I guess I got the bug,” he laughs.

“I raced horses before we branched into the breeding (side of it), so it was just a mutual love of the animal.”

Brian followed suit with Meridian Farm East 12 years ago when they purchased their 75-acre spread in Milton.

“You have to have success in what you do in order to build this business,” he says.

“It took a while to build up our brood mares, to establish ourselves as good breeders, and we have done that. Our sales have been on the rise. This year has been our best year for sales and our best year on the racetrack for ones we raised.”

Although Meridian Farm’s primary function is as breeders — raising approximately 50 yearlings to sell each year — they also race a stable.

“I drive about 200 races a year and I have probably about 370 wins and that’s just with my own horses, and then I have a couple hundred training wins . . . ,” Brian says.

“I have a lot of fun and I enjoy it. I like to do everything. And I have some good help, too. You have to have good help.”

Both brothers are heavily involved in horsemen’s associations and have worked with governments and others to try to enhance the industry.

“P.E.I. is probably second to none in terms of our racing facilities. We have beautiful tracks. We have a government that supports this industry. We’re probably a $50-million industry and we employ a lot of people,” Brian says.

“The thing you have to remember here is most owners are in it because they pick that as an enjoyable sport. Some people like to golf, some people like to do other things, but most owners are there because they like the sport and they’re hoping that they may have some success. But most of them are not in it to make money. If you can come close to breaking even and have your fun besides, then there’s nothing wrong with that.”

A decline in demand resulted in a scaling back of the western portion of the operation, but things are definitely on the upswing again.

“There’s a brand new track opening in Calgary, so it’s going to be like a breath of fresh air out there,” Brian says.

“The bottom line is you have to have a first-class race track. That’s what’s wrong with New Brunswick; they need one. That’s what’s wrong with Nova Scotia; they haven’t got one. We have two (on P.E.I.). We’re so fortunate. It’s unbelievable.”

The Andrew family was chosen as harness industry’s family of the year for P.E.I. for 2014. The award was presented at the annual breeders crown banquet.

Meridian Farms is also a finalist for the Armstrong breeder of the year award for the 2015 O’Brien Awards. In 2014, the two farms teamed up to produce the winners of 290 races and $1.4 million in purses.

“It’s a labour of love — long hours but you have to enjoy it,” Brian says of his lifelong love of the industry.

“And I enjoy what I’m doing. What more can I ask for?”

The sign on a shed on the grounds of Meridian Farms says it in spades: The Way Life Should Be.

And life has been a harness racing dream for the Andrew family for generations, but things really got out of the starting gate in the last two decades with regard to standardbred horse breeding.

Now, if one counts Meridian Farms East in Milton, P.E.I., and Meridian Farms West in High River, Alta., they’re the largest of their breeding kind for race horses in Canada.

“The biggest thing with this family operation is it’s been in the blood for four generations,” says retired school principal Brian Andrew, who owns and operates the Meridian operation with his wife, Carol, and his brother and sister-in-law, Bill and Denise, who live in Alberta.

The Andrew brothers’ grandfather was a skilled trainer/driver — “a true horseman” as Brian describes him.

Their father was also passionate about the industry and started a small horse-breeding business on P.E.I. after he retired from the air force.

So it was only natural that they gravitate toward horses and harness racing.

Bill started Meridian Farms West in 2002.

“We were raised with horses . . . so I guess I got the bug,” he laughs.

“I raced horses before we branched into the breeding (side of it), so it was just a mutual love of the animal.”

Brian followed suit with Meridian Farm East 12 years ago when they purchased their 75-acre spread in Milton.

“You have to have success in what you do in order to build this business,” he says.

“It took a while to build up our brood mares, to establish ourselves as good breeders, and we have done that. Our sales have been on the rise. This year has been our best year for sales and our best year on the racetrack for ones we raised.”

Although Meridian Farm’s primary function is as breeders — raising approximately 50 yearlings to sell each year — they also race a stable.

“I drive about 200 races a year and I have probably about 370 wins and that’s just with my own horses, and then I have a couple hundred training wins . . . ,” Brian says.

“I have a lot of fun and I enjoy it. I like to do everything. And I have some good help, too. You have to have good help.”

Both brothers are heavily involved in horsemen’s associations and have worked with governments and others to try to enhance the industry.

“P.E.I. is probably second to none in terms of our racing facilities. We have beautiful tracks. We have a government that supports this industry. We’re probably a $50-million industry and we employ a lot of people,” Brian says.

“The thing you have to remember here is most owners are in it because they pick that as an enjoyable sport. Some people like to golf, some people like to do other things, but most owners are there because they like the sport and they’re hoping that they may have some success. But most of them are not in it to make money. If you can come close to breaking even and have your fun besides, then there’s nothing wrong with that.”

A decline in demand resulted in a scaling back of the western portion of the operation, but things are definitely on the upswing again.

“There’s a brand new track opening in Calgary, so it’s going to be like a breath of fresh air out there,” Brian says.

“The bottom line is you have to have a first-class race track. That’s what’s wrong with New Brunswick; they need one. That’s what’s wrong with Nova Scotia; they haven’t got one. We have two (on P.E.I.). We’re so fortunate. It’s unbelievable.”

The Andrew family was chosen as harness industry’s family of the year for P.E.I. for 2014. The award was presented at the annual breeders crown banquet.

Meridian Farms is also a finalist for the Armstrong breeder of the year award for the 2015 O’Brien Awards. In 2014, the two farms teamed up to produce the winners of 290 races and $1.4 million in purses.

“It’s a labour of love — long hours but you have to enjoy it,” Brian says of his lifelong love of the industry.

“And I enjoy what I’m doing. What more can I ask for?”

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