After 30 years of running their Pegasus Ranch thoroughbred breeding operation, Tom and Kathy Bachman are preparing to move on to other things.
Their final 159-acre parcel along Lakeville Highway, which overlooks the Petaluma River, has been listed for $9 million. It was taken off the market for the holidays, but will go back up for sale again soon, they say.
“My son is going off to school, and the family is shrinking,” Tom Bachman said. Until the property sells he’s content to use it for “raising a few good horses and growing some decent pinot.”
Now 63, Bachman has been a large presence on Sonoma County’s horseracing landscape. Originally from Michigan, he spent his high school years attending a military high school in Indiana, specifically for its highly reputed equestrian program.
One stand-out memory of his teen years was finding himself among the school’s 100 uniformed “Black Horse Troop” selected to ride down Washington D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue in Lyndon Johnson’s 1963 presidential inauguration parade.
After graduating, Bachman enrolled in Boston University as a business major. Although he has always considered himself more of a horseman, he refers to what he learned there as “ ‘forever’ knowledge that I’ve always been able to use breeding and selling horses.”
He refers to his first job out of college, as a pro rider in Aspen, Colorado, as “my weigh station to get to California.”
Bachman considers his strengths to be “understanding a horse and being able to judge an athlete.” (In the show-horse business, horses are referred to as athletes.)
“I’m not paid to ride. I’m paid to develop my product through my riding.”
Pro riders have three extremely narrow windows of opportunity, Bachman said: playing polo, jumping horses and racing as a jockey. Odds are clearly against success in any of these categories.
So, once deciding to make the horse business his career choice, Bachman needed a strategy to beat the odds. He made the rounds of second-level horse races, going as far as Denver and Oregon, he said. His plan was to seek out disgruntled race-horse owners.
After a lost race, he said, owners would have seen proof that their animals weren’t of racing caliber and would be willing to sell at a low-ball figures, just to get out from under the upkeep and training costs. Then Bachman would instead train them as show horses, jumpers or polo ponies and sell at a profit. He also used these horses as his entry into the breeding business.
He found himself needing a facility large enough to house the business, and in 1972 Pegasus Ranch came into being, growing to 800 acres in Sebastopol. Bachman gave it the name derived from Greek mythology after a horse he had owned back in Michigan.
Local families boarded their children’s horses at Pegasus, but when it came time for college, many owners wanted out from under the upkeep costs. Once again Bachman was able to purchase low and sell high.
Ready for a break from the complex operation,Bachman said he disbanded Pegasus as a commercial entity in 1987 and bought a three-year option on Rocking H Ranch, owned by the late Bob Dupret, Seaview Lumber founder. Meanwhile, Bachman began to sell off land to fund his new smaller operation and home.
His porchview of commercial barges hauling freight on the Petaluma River informs his pragmatic viewpoint on river issues. Bachman said he applauds the work being done by Petaluma Friends of the River. “There’s a real understanding of open space and what a gem this area is.”
He traveled to Kentucky earlier this month, seeking out the right stallions to breed some of his mares. “The challenge there,” Bachman said, “is guessing at a product that incurs nothing but expenses for two years before the horse can even begin to prove its potential worth.”
He described his overview of the yearling buying and selling process this way: “I sell dreams for a living. Some come true. Most don’t. Reality is a whole lot tougher to sell than a dream.”
Then, with a grin, Bachman posed the question. “But what more could you want than making a living out of a hobby?”
— Sheldon Bermont, Petaluma Towns Correspondent