All champions contain great ancestors in their pedigrees, but it’s the unions of excellent sires and dams and the mingling of bloodlines that produce an outstanding individual. The same goes for human dynasties, none more exemplified than by partners in life, love, and business, Brandon Rice, 33, and Alexandra de Meric, 32. The Ocala, Florida-based pair purchases, trains, and sells clients’ horses as RiceHorse Stables.
Rice’s parents are Bryan and Holley Beattie Rice, trainers and consignors who run Woodside Ranch in Ocala. Relatives on both sides of his family are trainers and jockeys. Growing up in Ocala, Rice’s chores involved galloping horses and prepping yearlings for summer sales throughout college.
While obtaining a degree in finance from Florida State University, Rice also honed his equine expertise. Bryan Rice commented that “it was not much of a surprise” that his son decided to join the horse world, adding, “We wanted him to explore other options, but certainly know that he was welcome to join us.”
Galloping horses for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas–a longtime friend of his grandfather Clyde–Rice also worked under his maternal uncle, trainer Todd Beattie, and paternal aunt, trainer Linda Rice; he even gave riding lessons and shod horses on the weekends.
After graduating, Rice spent two years in the Darley Flying Start program, learning about the horse business from experts while traveling the world. But he never forgot his first love: molding growing animals’ minds.
“I loved training young horses and teaching them from the very basics, from first time with a saddle to grooming their minds and living on a farm and having 300 acres at our disposal to teach ’em on,” Rice recalled, adding that he appreciates the type of business his parents ran, which provided new equine charges-and challenges-every year.
As it turns out, Rice’s perfect partner was someone he already knew.
The younger generations of the Ocala equestrian clans all knew one another from working at the sales; thus, Rice had met Alexandra “Ali” de Meric, the daughter of conditioners-turned-consignors Nick and Jacqui de Meric, years earlier. The two went on a few casual dates in grade and high school, but parted ways so each could travel and study.
Like Rice, de Meric spent her youth helping her parents with their equine charges. As a child, she laughingly recalled she didn’t know that the sky got dark at nighttime–after all, her days began at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m.
Nick de Meric recalled fondly, “When she was in school, as a youngster, she would be absolutely mortified if I should leave for the barn on the weekends [without her]…[Ali] was always a fixture at the barn and a fixture in our business, very much integral to what we were doing.”
Drawn to international sales, de Meric delayed entering college, instead working in England, Ireland, Japan, and South Korea.
“For [a] 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-[year-old], being paid to go to a new country and being paid to work with horses, it was a dream,” she remembered, noting that knowing what to do with a horse “made the world less big and scary, in a way.”
Though she loved her job, by the time she hit 21, her father wanted to make sure she got her degree. Nick de Meric landed on a clever idea, his daughter said: “He bought a little house in Tampa and basically bribed me to go to school. He said, if I went to school, successfully graduated in whatever I felt like [with a] four-year degree, that the house would be mine.”
De Meric could either keep the house or sell it, but, if she took the latter option, Nick mandated that she had to use the resulting funds to put a roof over her own head.
She accepted the bargain, graduating from the University of Tampa in 2009. Yet her heart always remained on the farm.
“I quickly realized when I was in school and living in Tampa, a relatively medium-sized city, that I was a farm girl and I loved the farm,” she said. “And I knew very quickly that corporate or busy city life was not for me and that I would be right back on the horses.”
She also reconnected with Rice during her junior year, after he returned from Flying Start. In the fall of 2009, the young couple invested together in several horses.
“It was just like anybody else in Ocala–everybody has a weanling or a yearling or a 2-year-old that they’re going to try to buy and sell and trade,” Rice said.
During their first year as business partners, they bought a yearling son of Limehouse for $7,000 at Fasig-Tipton October. They pinhooked him the following year at OBS April, selling him to Sagamore Farm for $200,000. Eventually named Humble and Hungry, the gelding became a graded stakes winner.
The influx of cash from that pinhook provided a platform for the couple, who had just moved in together, to build their sales and training venture while both holding down regular jobs. They worked until noon each weekday for other people, then conducted equine business until dark each night. By their third year as business partners, Rice and de Meric found that several of their clients wanted them to train horses for the track and the sales. Around that time, for an Irish partnership, they pinhooked a War Front filly for $275,000 at the 2013 OBS April sale. At that same auction, de Meric’s brother, horseman Tristan de Meric, pinhooked the sale-topper.
By their fifth year in business together, de Meric and Rice made the move to focus on horses full-time. This leap of faith wasn’t easy, said Rice, but their personal and business partnerships were rock-solid. After all, they became partners on horses a full three years before marrying in 2012.
“You’re either all in or all out,” Rice quipped. “That’s kind of how we did our relationship…It’s felt good that we’ve had lots of return customers, people that appreciate us. [We’re] trying to go the extra effort of [sending] professional, typed-up reports with photographs and having a hard videographer to share video of our horse and training.”
De Meric added, “The biggest lesson from my parents was doing good business and being honest people.”
Rice and de Meric work Woodside Ranch with his parents, splitting the property’s 300 acres in half.
The junior Rices, who reside about a mile down the road from Woodside, currently work with between 40 to 55 horses–12 of which they own a share in.
“I think that this year has been a purposeful spending more money on fewer horses,” Rice said. “A great horse will always sell great. The intermediate horses that are maybe just a single cut below, they’re tough to find the attention for them, so we’re trying to be in the superb caliber…Good horses make us look good.”
One of their best has been multiple Grade I winner I’m a Chatterbox, whom Rice and de Meric fell in love with at the 2013 Keeneland September Yearling sale. When the Munnings filly failed to achieve her $30,000 reserve, the couple pursued her breeders, Fletcher and Carolyn Gray, eager to get involved with the filly in some way. They wound up training the chestnut from the yearling stage to the spring of her 2-year-old year.
While I’m a Chatterbox’s success on the racetrack is “free advertising” according to Rice, he said he is well aware of how challenging the business can be. 2-year-old sales in particular represent their own unique challenge.
“It’s a routine that is a little relentless and you have to really be perfect,” said Rice. “It’s probably much like a trainer’s sigh of relief after the Breeders’ Cup.”
One of the most promising prospects the Rices are working on is their 14-month-old son, Preston. True to form, husband and wife have incorporated their latest addition seamlessly into their daily routine.
“We were very conscious of the lifestyle we wanted to have as our family,” said de Meric. “The farm life is a little less glorified, but we definitely purposely chose farm life just for our family and for the future that we could see together.”
Having built a solid clientele base and the support of an excellent team, they can dictate their work hours and who surrounds them as they raise their family. On an average day, Preston wakes up at 5:00 a.m. with his parents. The three head out to the barn together, the toddler bundled up and the car nearby as a nap zone if needed. Rice and de Meric swap out parental duties with horsey ones–one cares for him while the other rides sets. Already a horseman, little Preston–who received a pony originally belonging to his de Meric cousins for his first birthday–safely rides along with his mom in a backpack. The gentle motion rocks him to sleep for a short nap before Ali drops him off at the local Montessori school at 8:30 a.m. She picks him up at 11 a.m. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Preston’s paternal grandparents are just up the road.
The Rices integrate their parents’ models of working together into their business.
“From Brandon’s side of the family, Holley and I are equal partners, also,” Bryan Rice said. “Both [Brandon and Ali] grew up around families whose parents were equally involved, and so it’s not a surprise that they are engaged the way they are.”
Proud of both Ali and Tristan de Meric’s successes, Nick de Meric observed, “I think what’s very gratifying is the recognition that they independently have garnered quite outside of their relationship with us, but on their own merits, and both of them in their own separate ways have a following, which is nothing that Jacqui or I have handed to them.”
RiceHorse competes with the de Merics or senior Rices at the sales, albeit without animosity. Brandon and Ali both learned from their parents and added their own experience to the mix to create RiceHorse. But one thing is for sure–on a path that runs parallel to their family life, Brandon and Ali are a team in every sense of the word.
“Now that we are doing this and raising a kid together, it would be impossible to do it the way we want to do it without each other,” Brandon concluded.