By Heather Blake, West Virginia News
According to his father, Kent Hersman has "always loved horses." Now Hersman has an opportunity that few horse lovers ever get; this Saturday he will watch a horse that he raised compete in the Kentucky Derby.
Growing up on a farm near Clintonville, Hersman got his first horse, a little colt named Ginger, when he was only three years old.
As a teen, Hersman's enthusiasm for horses grew. His father, David Hersman, regarded the interest as an opportunity to teach his children responsibility and coordination, and encouraged them in their pursuits.
After graduating from Liberty Christian School, Hersman joined the military, pursuing one of his other passions - flying. He served in the Air Force for three and a half years before flying Black Hawk helicopters in the Army. Hersman currently flies "fixed-wing" planes in Korea.
Despite his profession, Hersman's interest in horses has remained.
Hersman and his wife, Tracy, owned Thoroughbreds for several years before "realizing that in order to operate in an effort to make a profit we needed to buy bloodstock that had a good chance of success." They established a business, Flying H Enterprises, and began to research bloodlines.
Hersman couldn't afford a big-ticket purchase, but was convinced that he could "competitively enter the market without emptying [my] wallet" by being particular about the horses that he chose.
After performing research on bloodlines, Hersman knew what he was looking for - "a mare with the Relaunch bloodline that was in foal to [pregnant with] a son of Storm Cat." Relaunch and Storm Cat are both Thoroughbreds.
The Hersmans found the horse that they were seeking on the Internet, listed for $25,000. Her name was Laun Shaw, and she was expecting a foal to Tiger Ridge, whose father was Storm Cat, according to www.pedigreequery.com.
"I told Tracy that this was exactly what I was looking for and that [Laun Shaw] was a bargain at that price," commented Hersman.
Unfortunately, the Hersmans were only prepared to spend a maximum of $10,000. After waiting for eight months, they engaged in a bidding process by phone since the mare was located in Florida. Amazingly, the Hersmans got Laun Shaw for a mere $7,500.
"The agent on the phone said, 'You just got yourself a horse, and she looks like a pretty good one. I think you did well!' I couldn't believe what I had done - bought a horse over the phone," Hersman recalled.
Laun Shaw gave birth to a colt, Storm in May, on February 3, 2004. Immediately the Hersmans realized that Storm in May had problems with his right eye. Several surgeries proved unsuccessful, and the colt's right eye was deemed blind.
Despite his eye problems, the Hersmans decided to train Storm in May as they had planned before they knew of his disability.
"We risked the $17,000 for training fees to send the colt to the best conditioners in Florida, John and Jill Stephens. During the time that Storm in May trained, Barbaro, another of the Stephens' graduates, blazed the 2006 trail to the Kentucky Derby," said Hersman.
Because Storm in May runs with the rail on his left side, he uses his left eye to race, explained Hersman's father, maintaining his viability as a race horse.
In 2006, the Hersmans sold Storm in May at Ocala Breeders' Sales in Florida for $16,000. The buyer was trainer Bill Kaplan, and Hersman felt that Storm in May was "placed in good hands." Kaplan is also the trainer of Imawildandcrazyguy, another competitor in Saturday's derby.
The Hersmans still own Laun Shaw and recently sold another of her colts, who is expected to also perform well as a race horse.
When Storm in May wins in Florida, the Hersmans continue to receive "breeder's awards," which consist of 15 percent of the winnings, according to the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and
Owners' Association Web site (www.ftboa.com).
Kent and Tracy Hersman are parents to two children, ages 5 and 18 months, and are expecting a third this fall, after being told that they were unable to have any more children.
"We are certain of the fact that God has a plan for us and that every detail of our life matters to Him," Hersman affirmed, referring to the faith that has sustained them.
Hersman and his family traveled back to the United States from Korea to attend Saturday's event at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. Although he would receive no portion of the winnings if Storm in May should win, Hersman is overjoyed to be a part of the horse's legacy.
"After you spend hours helping an animal recover, you are thrilled just to know that you were a part," Hersman stated. "My reward is watching this horse run."