CYNTHIA HODAK, 58
Cynthia Hodak, owner of Al Dube Quarter Horses in Biddeford, is emphatic. It all comes down to the horses.
For Hodak and her daughter, Nicole Banks, 29, competing on the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) circuit has been both a goal and a reality. And come spring, Hodak plans to pick up where she left off last summer, joining the circuit again after a hiatus both tragic and life-changing.
Hodak and her longtime partner, Al Dube, were for years fixtures on both the NRHA and American Quarter Horse Association scene. Banks has also been a prize-winning competitor. Dube, who built the Biddeford farm that Hodak and Banks now run, was a horseman through and through, Hodak says. When he died unexpectedly in 2011, Hodak and her daughter were faced with a decision. They could dig in and continue building on Dube’s dream, or they could walk away. They chose the horses.
“The horses healed Nicole and me,” Hodak says. “The horses are the biggest teachers we have.”
Al Dube Quarter Horses is a 14-acre farm on South Street in Biddeford. It boasts both indoor and outdoor riding rings, stable space for more than 30 horses, and capacity to store 4,000 bales of hay. Hodak and Banks run it as the base of operations for a grass-fed beef business, hay sales, and, of course, all matters related to horses: boarding, training, lessons.
Now, Hodak and Banks, and Banks’s husband, Aaron, are fashioning a new transition. They will sell the Biddeford property and move Al Dube Quarter Horses to property in Arundel. They will build new facilities on Hodak’s property there, and, on their land right next door, the Bankses will take over the grass-fed beef business. The trio will continue to cut and sell hay on both their own and leased property. Most of all, Hodak says, the move will enable them to focus even more on horses, and she will resume competing.
“I’m going back on the circuit,” Hodak says. “Come hell or high water.”
When Hodak took part in a reining event last summer – her first in three years – “it was just like going home,” she says. “I welled up. I felt like Cinderella.”
The NRHA website describes reining as a “judged event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch-type horse within the confines of a show arena.” In competition, contestants run patterns, which include circles, spins and sliding stops the website calls “the hallmark of the reining horse.” Worldwide, more than 800 NRHA-approved shows, and approximately 150 entry-level reining events, are held annually.
Hodak says competition will enhance her business success.
“I’ve learned that what you do for yourself personally – if you treat yourself well, within balance – reflects yourself in business.”
Hodak and the Bankses have made continual adjustments to the business, which Hodak says will always retain the Al Dube name. Dube’s gifts were around horses, not necessarily paperwork, Hodak says, but he had other talents, too.
“He could fix everything but the crack of dawn and a broken heart, and he was working on that,” she says.
Since his death, Hodak says she has utilized her strong organizational skills to tighten operations. She has also expanded her business repertoire by becoming a Reiki master.
The business runs well, Nicole agrees.
And when Nicole and Aaron had their son, Mason, a year and a half ago, Hodak and the couple simply adjusted. Nicole’s sister cares for Mason two days a week and a sitter comes to the farm the other weekday mornings. Nicole plans her day so that Mason can nap in the car while she runs afternoon errands. Even Hodak, who says she “wasn’t grandma material,” says Mason has brought some much-needed playfulness to the farm.
“What he’s done is, he’s brought the inner child out in me,” she says. “We needed some of that around here. We couldn’t pick up our nose from the grindstone for two years,” she says.
It’s hard work, both women agree, but as Nicole Banks puts it, farming is “a lifestyle.” And she says it’s not about being women doing what is traditionally men’s work.
“I don’t think about it like that,” she says. “This is what we do.”
“Instead of whining, you just put your head down and get to work,” Hodak says. “Then things come together.”