During the season, John LeBlanc, Jr. is typically awake and on the road by 4:30 a.m. to make it to Woodbine from the farm for the beginning of training hours at 6:00 a.m. Now that LeBlanc, Jr. is saving the 50-minute drive to the track every morning, he’s able to wake up as the sun rises each day.
“It’s a great time for me to catch up on a little sleep that I’ve been lacking,” he said. “Here, I need to get the horses out of the barn and out of their stalls and do my own projects that need to be done around the farm.”
The LeBlancs, John, along with his wife Maggie and son Douglas, have lived on the 92-acre farm since 2003. But the LeBlancs were not expecting to be moving on to their own farm as quickly they did. They had previously lived in a mobile home on a 130-acre farm owned by Maggie’s sister, Martha Scott and her husband, David. When Martha and David decided to put their farm on the market, the LeBlancs quickly needed to find a place of their own.
“They tested the market and put their farm up for sale,” said John. “It sold in two weeks. We were shocked at the situation because there was ample room for both families and we were working together. We had over 45 stalls between the two barns. But the situation presented itself and that farm sold. So Maggie and I had three months.”
With not much time to find a farm of their own, the LeBlancs were able to get a deal done quickly to purchase their current property. The only problem? There was plenty of work to be done and not a lot of time to get the farm up and running.
“We found this vacant farm with a barn. It had a fabulous view and that sold the farm,” noted John. “There was nothing here but a barn. We had no hydro and no water. We had no house. We had a barn that had no stalls. There were no paddocks for the horses. We had to put in the fence posts immediately. That was our first priority before the ground froze because it was December. I had a barn that could facilitate 11 stalls and that’s what I told my carpenter who was renovating the barn. That’s how we started. We were in the first week of February with the horses moved and the mobile home moved at the same time. It was stressful and that last day I remember there were tears flowing from my eyes.”
The farm has expanded quite a bit since the LeBlancs and their 12 horses moved there in 2003. They built a permanent house on the property in 2005, and the horse population has expanded to nearly 40. Most of the horses on the farm are retired racehorses that the LeBlancs care for, a cause that Maggie LeBlanc and Martha Scott have been involved in for a number of years. Both women were founding members of the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society.
“Maggie and her sister have been doing the LongRun thing way before LongRun had its name and charitable status,” said John. “I believe we have 26 or 27 (retired horses) at present. They’re living out their lives. Each paddock has a run-in shed shelter. The horses have water, they have hay, and they’re being cared for. They get to live out their lives unless we find them an appropriate home or another job that they’re suited for, which we’ve done quite a bit.”
A couple of horses the LeBlancs have donated and cared for through LongRun have been adopted by Jessica Phoenix, a member of Canada’s national equestrian team. Phoenix has competed at both the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics, along with the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
“She’s got a second one off us and she loves him,” said John. “A horse off the racetrack needs their downtime. If they’ve retired off the track, it’s usually that they’re not able to perform at whatever level they were at, or they have an injury that needs some time to heal. Most of them heal and are able to come back, but maybe not to the same capacity that they were at. If I feel that they’re not able to continue racing, they could be a riding horse of some capacity.”
The other horses they have on their farm are their own racing stock. Most of John’s training clients are breeders who keep their horses at their own farms once the racing season has concluded. The racing stock at their own farm also primarily consists of horses that they’ve bred themselves.
“We breed a little bit,” LeBlanc, Jr. said. “We have six that we’ll be bringing down to the racetrack next year that we bred ourselves. We usually try to breed only a couple a year. It depends on how the year is going and our numbers.”
With some simple math, it’s clear that space comes at a bit of a premium on the LeBlanc farm. Despite having the 92-acre property, 65 acres is being farmed for crops by a local farmer, with the remaining 27 acres consisting of the house, the paddocks, the barn, and a small forest.
“We rent it out,” offered John. “He farms that property and in return, we get hay. Ideally, he grows the hay on our property, but the crops need to be rotated. He grows the appropriate crops and he has other properties that we get hay from.”
The LeBlancs have now been on their own farm for 14 years, but neither John nor Maggie grew up on a farm. Both were connected to the horse racing industry through their families, however, as John was the son of hall-of-fame jockey John LeBlanc, Sr., while Maggie’s family owned both Quarter Horses and thoroughbreds. LeBlanc, Jr., who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, said he knew he wanted to move to the country when he was a teenager, and has enjoyed the journey of building up the family farm with his wife and son, despite the steep learning curve.
“The farm thing from a city boy was a big eye opener,” he said. “I love the country. I’ve learned a lot. And every day when I feel beat up or tired, as the horse racing business can be, I look at the view, and I’m happy.”