PALMYRA, Pa. — Fifty years in the rodeo, demolition derby, concert, bluegrass festival and monster truck show game.

The game ended in 2019 when Rich Miller sold Mountain Springs Arena and its approximate 70-acre tract in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania to a developer. He said the offer was simply one he couldn’t refuse.

The transaction forced Miller to look high and low for a new property that could house his cattle operation and Thoroughbreds that he breeds. He landed on a sprawling 200-acre property in Palmyra with three farms and housing.

“I was lucky enough to find this facility (now named Mountain Springs Farm),” Miller said. “We had looked for a year-and-a-half for another facility that I could move right in. I didn’t want to start over again.”

Miller has been involved with horses since 1960 when his father, Nelson, purchased 10 ponies and they traveled around to the fairs to give pony rides. The business transformed into a riding stable with trail rides and an amusement park of sorts at the Little Dutch Farm just below Shartlesville. They ended up settling in at Mountain Springs in 1968.

“I had taken over all the horses once we moved to Mountain Springs. Anything horse-related including trail riding,” Miller said.

A visit to the winner’s circle came quickly for Miller as a Thoroughbred owner. The first Thoroughbred he purchased, Exulting, won at Pocono Downs on Aug. 25, 1978.

“I bought my first Thoroughbred at New Holland (Pennsylvania), took him home and galloped him and he won the first time out,” Miller said with a chuckle. “That sort of hooked me.”

Thoroughbred breeding was no more than a hobby for Miller for most of his life. He started in the early 1980s with Thoroughbreds, but he had bred Quarter Horses and Appaloosas prior to that at Mountain Springs.

“We would breed a few mares and raise a few babies and it wasn’t the greatest back then because we didn’t have the stock we should have had,” Miller said.

The property on Coon Creek Road has allowed Miller to transform his Thoroughbred breeding business over the past three years into more than just a hobby. The most recent update by the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA) has Miller leading the state in breeder’s awards through April 30. The PHBA awards bonuses to breeders of registered Pennsylvania-bred horses and additional bonuses for those horses sired by registered Pennsylvania stallions.

Emperor Tiberius, the son of an all-time great sire Storm Cat, has led the way as Miller’s most successful stallion to date. Miller acquired the stallion in 2016 and his progeny can normally be spotted with names starting with “E T’s” such as E T’s Super Star. His fillies are typically named starting with “Empress” as in Empress Deona.

Empress Deona is out of Miller’s broodmare Deona. The speedy 4-year-old mare has two wins from 13 starts and could test Pa.-bred stakes company later this summer at Parx Racing in Bensalem. While Miller does sell some of the babies he breeds at the farm he did not sell Empress Deona. She has earned $89,677 on the track and has the most earnings of any horse that Miller has ever owned with the exception of his hard-knocking mare Formal Class who earned $268,951 with six wins from 58 starts.

“That’s the excitement,” Miller said with pride. “Running (a horse) that you raised and you brought up all the way. That means more to me than claiming a horse and running them.”

This stretch for Miller, who turns 70 this month, is his most successful run in the Thoroughbred business and it appears that it will only get better. He’s added the stallion Tight Ten, a son of 2014-2016 leading sire Tapit, and Uncle Benny, a son of European turf star Declaration of War, who finished second in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Tight Ten’s oldest foals are only weanlings while Uncle Benny has some yearlings at the farm.

“We have increased with the pedigrees and we have been claiming a few broodmares here and there,” Miller said. “We have almost 20 broodmares right now.”

Mountain Springs Farm has plenty of room with a beautiful aisle barn situated on top of the hill looking down at the mares with their babies in the field. Miller handles the breeding and foaling himself and his foals usually are born in April or May.

“I don’t foal real early anymore. I am getting too old to sit up in January and February,” Miller said.

The foals that Miller keeps to race won’t race as 2-year-olds. Miller believes that the horses are best served being broken at the end of their 2-year-old season and then sent to the track as a 3-year-old. He has the same refreshing patience when it comes to his current horses in training. If a horse needs a break to rest due to injuries or fatigue, he wants to give it the time away it needs.

“(They) are not machines,” Miller said. “You can’t just fix something when it goes wrong. They need time. If you don’t give them time, you aren’t going to have much horse left.”

Miller has a lot on his plate as he takes care of the Thoroughbred horse operation while his daughter, Jenna, Miller, and her husband, Chris Wonderly, take care of a feeder cattle and team penning cattle leasing operation.

“I was supposed to be semi-retired,” Miller said. “Then I buy more mares and I have more horses now than I have for a while. At this point, if I don’t feel like doing it I can back down. It’s basically seven days a week here. Knock on wood, we have been pretty healthy. I feel good. You have to stay active, too.”

Miller added with a smile, “I just like this game.”

Cover Photo Credit to Brooke Keller

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