Summerfield Sales History
Francis and Barbara Vanlangendonck live in Florida, where they are among the leading consignors at Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. auctions. But you also can find them at many of the sales conducted by Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland.
The Vanlangendoncks offer horses through their Summerfield agency at 12 yearling and mixed auctions. Besides their home state of Florida, they also do business in Kentucky, Maryland, and New York.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Barbara of the size and scope of Summerfield’s sales operation. “But it wasn’t intentional; it just happened.”
Added Francis: “It was word of mouth.”
The Vanlangendoncks have been together for nearly 25 years, and when they first met, it didn’t take long to find out they had a lot in common—a fascination with horses, an interest in sales, and similar career goals. They met in Kentucky in July of 1985, had their first date in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in August, and got engaged back in Kentucky during the Keeneland September yearling sale. They married the following February. Both worked at a variety of jobs in the Thoroughbred business prior to their involvement with Summerfield.
Francis Vanlangendonck grew up in Alexandria, La. He got involved with Thoroughbreds as a teenager. He found work at Peter Tattersall’s Rosalie Plantation, building fences during the summer and mucking stalls on the weekends after returning to school in the fall. Francis also helped prepare yearlings for various sales, then accompanied them to the auctions, where he showed and groomed.
Mason Grasty managed Rosalie Plantation and was Francis’ first boss in the Thoroughbred business and he remained with his mentor after Grasty became managing partner of the farm and renamed it Foxfire.
“There never was a credibility gap with Francis; he was always very responsible and a very hard worker,” said Grasty, now the retired executive vice president of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic. “I knew he would always do the best job that he knew how to do. I would send him and Edward Coker out with a van, and they’d drive to Ohio and New York, picking up and delivering horses.
“Another good thing about Francis was that he wasn’t a know-it-all,” said Grasty. "He was eager to learn then, and he’s been learning ever since. That’s one of the reasons he’s done so well.”
"It was just interesting to me that you could take something, develop it, and sell it; it was a lot of fun."
“I tried to work for the best people I could,” Francis said. “I liked the way Lee Eaton was always organizing things. Champ’s horses always looked good. And Jack Winterbotham was very innovative with his slogans. You didn’t always like them, but you’d remember them. He had this one slogan, “Think green,” and everything in the barn was green. The shanks were green; the halters were green. I hated it, but the concept was interesting.”
Wanting to take a break from traveling after four or five years on the road, Francis tried to find a job in Kentucky, but failed. “People told me I was too transient,” he said. Francis wound up in Florida instead, where he went to work for Mary Jane Hunt of Horsefeathers! in Ocala. In the early 1980s, he started a farm, Bedford Hills, with a former employer, Gerald Nielsen of New York.
“Jerry and his wife Joanne and I bought the farm in 1982,” said Francis. “Without question it was a turning point in my career. Summerfield Sales would not be here with the Nielsens.”
Barbara Vanlangendonck was born and raised in Louisville, Ky.
“I had always wanted a horse when I was little, but couldn’t afford one,” she said.
Barbara enrolled at the University of Kentucky as an art major and pre-veterinary student. When she was 21, her father bought her a Quarter Horse.
“I also got into the Thoroughbreds when I was at UK, and they started taking precedence in my life; it’s something that gets in your blood,” said Barbara.
She worked for a veterinarian who treated both large and small animals. She also found a job mucking stalls and caring for broodmares at Mr. and Mrs. Robert Clay’s Three Chimneys Farm. At Nelson Bunker Hunt’s Bluegrass Farm, she was one of the key foaling attendants.
But Barbara didn’t discover her true calling until she started handling sale horses. She prepped yearlings at Mr. and Mrs. Brereton Jones’ Airdrie Stud and worked in the yearling division at Robert Courtney’s Crestfield Farm. She also went to the sales with agent Victor Heerman. In 1983, at the Keeneland July yearling auction, Barbara led a Riverman filly, which sold for $2.15 million, up to the sale ring. Later named Triptych, the filly became a champion in England, France, and Ireland.
"When you sell a horse for a lot of money, it's like winning a stakes race."
“When I got hooked up with the sales I just loved it,” said Barbara, who also spent time working in Mandysland Farm’s office and managing Robert Levy’s racing stable. “When you sell a horse for a lot of money, it’s like winning a stakes race. Sales are fascinating because they encompass everything. You’re in blue jeans in the morning and at night you’re at a formal dinner. There’s also such a wide spectrum of humanity. You meet people who have been grooming horses all their lives, and you meet CEOs of major corporations. They’re all so interesting.”
A NEW PROJECT
The Vanlangendoncks joined with David Hutson, who owned Silverleaf Farms in Florida, to form the Summerfield sales agency in 1994. At the time, Francis was the manager of Silverleaf. Two years later, the Vanlangendoncks bought out Hutson’s interest in Summerfield, and Francis left his job as Silverleaf’s manager to concentrate on the sales venture.
The Vanlangendoncks also use the Summerfield name for their 80-acre farm, located on the property formerly known as Bedford Hills near Morriston, Fla. In addition to selling horses, the Vanlangendoncks are breeders, owning all or part of around a dozen mares.
Francis is a member of the OBS board and the sales company’s vice president, and, according to former OBS board member Brent Fernung., has been one of the company’s biggest movers and shakers. “Francis has kind of stuck his nose in there and made them start doing some things,” Fernung said. “The new roof over the back walking ring was desperately needed, and that was his brainchild. I think it’s the best improvement they’ve made in the place since it was built. Anybody who has ever spent August in Ocala, when it’s so hot, knows that. Francis has also been real aggressive in trying to get OBS to approach its yearling sale with more enthusiasm. He worked hard trying to get people to keep their best horses down here instead of going to Kentucky to sell them. His success in doing that was reflected by the increase in average.”
The Vanlangendoncks have two sons, Arthur, 22, and Andrew, 20.
“Although both enjoyed working in the farm and at the sales, for the time being, both are pursuing other interests,” Barbara said. “Andrew (now serving in the United States Air Force at Ellsworth AFB) is pretty much a clone of his father; he acts just like Francis. He’s looking forward to returning to Summerfield after completing his military service. Arthur (finishing tech school for motorcycles in Orlando) loves motorcycles, and races motocross. He could be a hell of an exercise rider. He’s weighs 120 pounds, he’s got muscles, and he can really ride. But he just isn’t interested.”