By Lauren R. Giannini
Brownland Farm owes its place in the horse world to “Sissie” — born Margaret Brown — Anderton. During her childhood in Franklin, Tennessee, she set her sights on an equestrian career although her family specialized in agricultural crops. In 1963, she founded Brownland Farm and began teaching lessons. Then, she met Mack Anderton, a like-minded horseman who shared her dreams.
“My mother’s the matriarch of Brownland Farm. It was her vision,” said Robin Anderton, Brownland’s farm and show manager and Sissie’s eldest son. “She’s the one who started it all in her late teens out of her love and passion for horses. She’s the reason why she and my dad started building Brownland 53 years ago. I’m extremely blessed that I’ve been given this opportunity to carry on their life work, and I take it very seriously.”
Today, Brownland Farm boasts 400 permanent stalls, four show rings with excellent footing and their own schooling areas, and a 4-acre multi-use grass field. It’s quite a complex with camper hook-ups, vendors at each show, many on-site amenities and loyal sponsors. Prize lists offer divisions from leadline to Amateur Owner hunters, Children’s Jumper to Grand Prix, and a series of nine $5,000 Hunter Derby qualifiers for the season’s $25,000 Derby finale. With all that, plus Brownland Farm’s signature southern hospitality (including a huge party for everyone at the start of each show), it’s obvious why the 10 U.S. Equestrian Federation AA-rated shows attract an average of 500 horses each week.
It All Started With Sissie
“When I knew Sissie Brown, we were freshman at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and we’re still very good friends even if we don’t see each other for six months or a year,” said Betty Oare, lifelong equestrian, top hunter rider and USEF “R” judge. “Russ Walther’s dad (the late William Russell Walther, Sr.) taught in the riding program at Converse, and Sissie rode that year. She loved being at the barn, loved the horses, and I think she always knew she was going back to the family farm in Tennessee and to horses.”
Sissie stayed one year at Converse and returned home to begin teaching riding. She met Mack Anderton — horseman, polo player, rodeo competitor and farrier. He was intelligent with a great sense of humor. They married in 1969, leaping into their life’s work that combined family, horses and breeding ponies. Mack built 200 permanent stalls, 2 show rings and a big schooling area. They welcomed their first son, Robin, in 1969, and hosted their first Nashville Charity Horse Show in 1971. More shows followed, and another son, Peter, was born to them. Their numbers increased when Casey, Mack’s son from a previous marriage, joined the family.
Mack and Sissie, good old-fashioned horsemen, put great effort into everything they did. Their homebred ponies were highly desired mounts for junior riders and contributed to the growth of their lesson program, which increased demand for more local shows.
“Sissie and Mack’s ponies were properly broken and trained and also given the time to develop to be truly rideable by children,” said Bill Moroney, USEF Interim CEO. “I think it was a substantial loss to the horse world when they stopped breeding ponies. It’s unfortunate when we lose people who are as dedicated as they were to producing the right product in the end — a pony that’s well-trained, likes to do its job and can do it for children.”
Their pony stallions were Brer Jeremy Fisher, Conway High Honors and Brownland’s Peanut. “Jeremy was my favorite, hands down,” said Sissie. “We had a tragic fire and lost several animals, including our only stallion at the time, a Thoroughbred. Mack was out of town, shoeing horses in Alabama, and he called to tell me he was bringing home a 10-month-old stud colt, which was Jeremy. If I could clone him, I would. His babies had the talent, brain and good attitude that made them so easy to work with. We had a great sense of pride seeing all the successful ponies. Knowing we had a part in that always brought us happiness.”
“Sissie and I have been friends for over 50 years,” said Sue Ashe, lifelong equestrian and USEF “R” judge. “She’s special, very outgoing, a sweet southern woman. I don’t think she’s ever met a stranger — everybody loves her — she opened up her heart and her home. Sissie and Mack hosted the 1997 Pony Finals at Brownland Farm. While they were very busy preparing for it, I took over training all their ponies.”
Molly Ashe Cawley, Sue’s daughter, rode many Brownland ponies, because they lived only three hours away. “But my biggest memories are of Sissie and Mack,” said Molly. “They’ve been like family to us since I was old enough to remember. Mack was a big guy, but he was really a teddy bear. At first sight, you thought he was intimidating, but he was the sweetest, kindest person. Sissie is one of those rare types you meet in life — so kind, loving and caring, just a really gentle, sweet soul. Unfortunately, Mack passed away [April 27, 2011], but Sissie was in Florida in early May, visiting with my mom, so I got to see her.”
Of the 1997 Pony Finals at Brownland, Sissie has many memories, but the one she recounted illustrates her dedication to making sure everything’s just right for visitors to Brownland. “We had just completed construction on our home prior to the Pony Finals and we were trying to have the house ready to host the opening dinner for up to 500 guests,” said Sissie. “There was not a speck of grass on the lawn!”
The 1997 Pony Finals — Betty Oare was one of the judges — were deemed a great success, enhancing Brownland’s reputation as a family-friendly venue. From 2005–2012, Sissie served as co-chair of the Pony Finals Task Force, the first five or six years with Mindy Darst. During their tenure, entries increased from 400 to 700 ponies. Today, about 1,400 ponies compete in the Finals, now based permanently at Kentucky Horse Park.
Riding Into the Future
“Sissie and Mack were forces of nature, and their breeding program really did influence pony showing in the U.S., but our stallions were getting up in age and we had started phasing it out before my father passed away in 2011,” said Robin. “Our business evolved from breeding and training to more horse shows, and it was getting harder to keep up with the breeding. The shows started to win out. I’ve been in the horse business all my life. I went to college, earned a business degree, worked a little and came back to Brownland. This is what I know.”
Robin’s wife, Michelle, is director of marketing and public relations. In the summertime, their teenaged sons help out on the farm and at shows. Sissie remains active in day-to-day operations and still teaches a few people. She’s easing toward retirement.
“I learned from the best,” said Robin. “There aren’t many folks who do what we do or accomplished what my parents did. They wanted to put on horse shows with a friendly family atmosphere, each day ending at a decent hour. It’s a great destination with lots to offer. People can relax and enjoy themselves.”
Sissie started everything, and the tradition continues. At Brownland Farm, the welcome mat is always out.