Blog posts about breeding
THE DRAMA OF DARTMOOR
Translation of my blog for Dutch equine magazine, the 'Hoefslag': THE DRAMA OF DARTMOOR
DICK FRANCIS OF THE MOOR
Why does Dutch equine magazine the 'Hoefslag' publish the possible new policy for the wild ponies on Dartmoor? Because the Dartmoor Pony is very much loved by many Dutch youngsters.
And why does there need to be a change of policy? Not too long ago the moor was overgrazed and limits were put in place in such a way that the bureaucracy of it did not make things easy for the hill farmers and others keeping ponies on the commons.
Through no fault of their own many were pushed into gradually losing heart to keep their ponies which could potentially become a serious problem. Together with the sheep and cows, the ponies are maintaining a landscape and ecosystem and it would be a tragedy if it were lost.
So the reoccurring problem of how to keep the numbers just right needs to be correctly addressed time and again.
I felt compelled to find out more, so I allowed myself an exploratory little trip in order to indulge on the beauty of a countryside I love so much and where some 30 years ago, sitting on a tor, I made the decision to move from the flats of Holland to the green and lush hills of the Southwest of England.
Of course I was also hoping to find some 'pony people', who could shine their light on some of the issues I did not quite understand.
Ha! After yesterday I could start a new career as the Dick Francis of Dartmoor. There's all kinds of intrigues going on in this rugged part of Devon; only, sadly the ponies are the victims...
A DARTMOOR PONY OR A DARTMOOR HILL PONY, THAT IS THE QUESTION!
Just to make things clear for those who didn't know yet. The Dartmoor Pony is a breed with papers attached and the Dartmoor Hill Pony is the wild pony who through an evolution of some 4000 years has learned to survive on Dartmoor. It comes in all colours and sizes unlike the Dartmoor Pony, which has to be bay, brown, black, grey, chestnut or roan, no piebalds allowed and excessive white markings discouraged.
A contraception program for the Dartmoor Hill Pony mares was brutally put on hold by a dramatic and long-winded investigation, which was a huge blow for the volunteers of the charity organisation 'Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony’, who were in charge of the execution of this potentially great solution of not having to shoot some 400 foals every year.
After yesterday I know quite a bit about the commitment, the management, the fights; in short, the problems of humans and beasts on Dartmoor. This, because on my six-hour adventure I quickly found two of the key figures involved...
EVIE AND LILY, CHLOE AND ROSIE
But not until I had met little Chloe and Rosie on the backs of their two delightful grey ponies, Evie and Lily, led by their patient mum. Evie and Lily were typical Dartmoor Hill ponies, happily re-homed after having been rescued. Not every person buying a hill pony knows what they are getting themselves into, which causes for some terrifying animal abuse.
'If you stroke Evie you must stroke Lily also', Rosie told me with a very serious face.
THE LADY IN THE PUB...A HORNETS NEST DISCOVERED
After leaving the two frantically waving mini horse riders, I drove through Two Bridges to Hexworthy, slowly passing Huccaby farm, gazing with nostalgia at the few tents in the little field on the river Dart. This is where my then boyfriend and I used to camp nearly 40 years ago among the South Devon cows with Bertie, the bull, who decided to check out our tent one evening.
I went to the same small hotel 'The Forest Inn' where we used to have dinner on a rainy night, when cooking outside the tent was not fun. There, at the bar, used to sit some locals with their pints; very likely the hill farmers I was hoping to find. Wrong time of the day for that, of course. 'But', said the landlord, 'that lady at the food bar will tell you everything.'
Well, This lady, SJ (short for Sarah-Jane Norris) was keen to talk. An enthousiastic hands-on woman with two long black plaits gave me a waterfall of information and not all was that uplifting.
Having lived and worked on Dartmoor for many years, SJ was now the photographer at all the events organised by the ‘Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony’. Also at the traditional drifts in the autumn where the ponies are gathered in the pounds. There the owners can divide their ponies into what gets sold, what goes back on the moor and, sadly, what will have to be shot.
Have a look on SJ's timeline; her photographs are stunning!
CHARLOTTE FAULKNER, DRIVEN AND A FORCE TO RECKON WITH
With a huge amount of respect SJ talked about Charlotte Faulkner, the unstoppable engine behind the ‘Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony’, a registered charity. Charlotte has been battling for years to drop the numbers of foals which are denied to grow up. She has been working tirelessly to try and make life for the hill farmers as easy as possible in order for them to want to carry on keeping ponies, to improve the life of the ponies themselves and with that maintain the Dartmoor ecosystem, with all the little plants and butterflies that go with it. Not only the sheep and cows, but also the ponies who don’t mind eating gorse and other prickly things, play their part for Dartmoor to survive the way we love it so very much.
One of my questions to SJ was: why not the ‘pony pill’, which I had read about? Why this new idea to keep the ponies up to three years, when there is still the issue of slaughter? And, by the way, are people really going to eat horse meat in the local restaurants?
SJ said that, although she wouldn't be able to eat horse meat herself, that she saw the reason for trying to give it a go. But the surprise of the day was when she talked about the contraception project.
'Have you not heard of the investigation?' SJ became clearly emotional when she talked about how this project, which had already been proven to be successful in its very first year, had been obstructed in such a vicious way. But she felt that Charlotte had to tell me this herself.
When I left, SJ thanked me warmly for listening, 'this was fate,' is what she said...
UNJUST AND UNDESERVED
Back in my little car, I marvelled at the colours, even on a rainy day, cruising slowly through one of the bleakest and dramatic parts of the moor so as to end up in Ashburton where I found Charlotte at the hairdresser. An unusual place to meet, but otherwise I would have missed her altogether.
Charlotte Faulkner, a formidable woman, with a beautiful natural presence. Her hands tell the story of hard work, not spoiled with fancy garden gloves.
Hair wet, with the hairdresser quietly working away, she explained, how some charities for whatever reason took offence to her contraception project and drug her into an unjust and undeserved investigation.
After having done endless thorough research, Charlotte was given the official permission to inject the mares with a dart gun without needing to have a veterinarian present. Why these charities found it necessary to demand a ‘government agency investigation’ against a scheme already having proven to be successful, Charlotte doesn't really go into that. She clearly is still very angry but does not want to lower herself to wild accusations.
Charlotte paid for her own defence, but the point is... she won!
BACK TO THE PILL BUT SLOW PROGRESS
So the 'pill project' has been started up yet again but it's slow go. Sadly, through this wearing and messy investigation, many hill farmers and owners got scared off. It has given the pony community more exposure than these people, of whom many live a lonely life, cared for. Charlotte will have to work hard to convince as many as possible to join the scheme again.
And this is why the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association has now launched the scheme to let the youngsters live up to 3 years-old before a decision is made about their future. Yes, some will still have to be culled, but if at least their meat is used, they have had three good years and not died for nothing. Also, it gives Charlotte the chance to oversee their well-being during transport and at a small local abattoir, where the promise was made that the ponies will be received early, when all is still quiet, so as to make the process quick and as little invasive as possible.
THE TRAGEDY OF A DRIVEN WOMAN
Charlotte told me, and I could read the sadness in her eyes, that it never was, nor will be, the goal of the organisation to produce ponies for meat. Only, it is a temporary measure to cover the time it takes for the contraception project to become generally accepted. This had not been necessary if she had not been stopped in the first place.
And of course there will be foals...only not too many!
GET RID OF THE STALLIONS
Yes, why not get rid of the stallions, some say? Dartmoor is a vast country with a difficult terrain. No matter how well you tried, there will always be a clever little colt (like the little one in the picture having a pee) hiding behind a big boulder of granite in order to bounce from behind just at the right time in spring and do his fruitful job.
Charlotte said, 'really, to decrease the amount of foals, it would have to be the other way around; very few mares and lots of stallions.'
LEGENDS, ROMANCE AND DRAMA HAND IN HAND
Somewhere I read that in the 16th century Henry VIII wanted to get rid of any horse under 15 hands, because they would not be able to carry the heavy armour. This caused for the farmers to let lose any small horse they had on the moorland where hopefully they would be safe. This was part of the evolution of the Dartmoor Hill Pony.
In the story my great friend Brian Webber, farrier and born and bred on Dartmoor, told me, romance and drama meet yet again.
'In the sixties, during one of the fiercest winters Dartmoor has ever known, the hill farmers were not able to reach their ponies for weeks because of the vast amount of snow. When finally the thaw kicked in, they found circles of dead ponies.'
'The older ponies had circled the little ones in order to keep them warm, but in their desire to save them their feet had frozen to the ground.'
Brian was a great story teller; whenever he was shoeing my horses he would just tell tales, often about life on Dartmoor, which made me love it even more…
A HELPING HAND
These days, not only the quad bikes help to reach these little survivors when the going gets tough. Social media also plays its part. On Facebook I saw a post for donations of hay this winter, when the moor was not anymore able to supply anything decent.
But the ‘Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony’ need more. All volunteers pay their own costs; every penny they get goes straight to the ponies.
I have done my best to give you my story and I so hope you will want to help SJ and Charlotte and all those other wild pony lovers who dedicate their time and endless effort to keep the hill ponies happy.
It is because of them that we can enjoy a day, or a weekend, or more in this soul haunting piece of ancient countryside, Dartmoor.
Top picture: Dartmoor Hill Ponies near Princetown
Second picture: Chloe and Rosie on Evie and Lily
Third picture: a little colt recovering after castration
Fourth picture: this tiny thing, having a pee, could probably next year's rascal covering the entire neighbourhood!
Bottom picture: one of SJ's stunning pictures
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THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER... , from Amor to Valegro
In Cornwall, I do not have to travel very far these days in order to find Dutch Warmbloods with decent breeding. Show-jumpers Andrew James and Adam Ellery, for example, breed, buy and sell horses of which many are quality warmbloods. One of my favourite pupils Martyn Humphrey is in the process of backing his lovely young horse by the famous stallion Johnson (standing at Team Nijhof and competed at Rio with Hans Peter Minderhoud) out of one of Claire Rushworth's mares, how exciting is that? Oh, and I met Lorna Wilson from Newton Stud in Devon this year in February at the KWPN stallion show and have seen some beautiful foals with excellent breeding pass by on her Facebook page.
Further up the road are Edward and Clissy Bleekman with their competent daughters involved in the eventing sport. Edward in his younger years was often behind the wheel of the lorry with stallions such as Amor and Pericles, belonging to Johan Venderbosch at stud 'De Radstake'.Over the years Edward has had several good performing Dutch stallions at his stud in Devon with the stallion No Limit being the latest addition.
The States have been importing Dutch horses for many years and so are now Russia, China and Qatar, and with good results, too.
So...when the post delivered a flat book-size package the other day my heart beat just a little faster. I knew that in there was the first touchable result of quite a bit of research and long talks with great people.
In February 2015 I spent three whole weeks in my home country the Netherlands, first visiting the Dutch national KWPN stallion show and after that several international renowned studs, with stallions such as Heartbreaker, Johnson, Clinton, El Salvador, just to name a few, and also some top trainers I knew from my youth. I wanted to hear their great stories. Stories of how they lived in those early days, how stallions such as Voltaire, Pericles and Amor came to their studs and of how early competition life was an adventure without the luxuries of today.
When I knew these people in my adolescent years none of them had the slightest inkling they were part, even instrumental, to the development of the Dutch Warmblood into the international phenomenon it has become today. The province of Gelderland, the 'stomping ground' of my youth, happened to be the hub of this exciting time and it was normal for me to watch one of these great stallions jump off the lorry in the farm yard of some of my friends in order to cover their mare. The mare probably still competing up to a few weeks from having the foal and back at it a few weeks later with the foal waiting impatiently in the trailer for a drink between classes, as that was how it was done in those days!
It was the time of lots of excitement in the world of the Dutch Warmblood with Gelderland in the very middle of it. From the moment the thoroughbred had been introduced the results were breathtaking. When Henk Nijhof Senior showed me the picture of the stallion Heraut from grandfather Nijhof, taken in 1946, it really did bring home to me how in just a relatively short spell of time the heavier horse transformed into the sport horse which we now all have learned to love. We have just seen Valegro win the freestyle in Rio, their second Olympic victory; we have never forgotten Totilas. They, however, are only the tip of an enormous iceberg of great competition horses.
Nick Skelton's Big Star, who won in Rio with such a brave and daring round,is another great one worth mentioning. KWPN-registered and with that the prime example of what the breeders who tell their stories in my book have achieved, Big Star is the ultimate result of an open studbook with only one thing in mind: breeding the best sport horse ever, no matter where the stock to produce this can be found. He is a mix of Selle Francais and Holstein with only the father of the dam, the great stallion Nimmerdor, being KWPN registered. But then again, also Nimmerdor is already a mix with only his mum being Dutch and his sire Holstein.
So why were the Dutch so very successful with stallions they found in Germany, France and England? It was the regime of daring to cull. An open but very strict studbook with extremely high standards which made anything which had not performed, both in the sport and producing consistent offspring, useless and a waste of time and effort. I once read an interview with a highly regarded German breeder who said: 'If it doesn't do the job we eat it', and that is more or less the hard and slightly uncomfortable truth, but it worked!
I so loved writing this little book. It is such a great story and the many lovely pictures I was allowed to use are quite private; a little bit of gold dust, adding such atmosphere and making the book 'alive'. And I very much hope that many of you who have learned to love the Dutch Warmblood will enjoy reading 'my Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World'.
Top picture: Book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...
Bottom picture: Henk Nijhof Senior with the stallion Naturel winning the championship at the National KWPN stallion Show in 1979.
You can order my book by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org Cost: £7.50 + delivery
Below an extract of:
THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER....
Picture:How times have changed...the stallion Heraut approved by the studbook in 1946 and sold by the grandfather of Henk Nijhof Senior for the amount of 45,000 guilders to the regional studbook association. That was a lot of money in those days!
3 STUD, BREEDER AND TRAINER; EACH CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT THE OTHERS
The first riding clubs in The Netherlands started to appear just before and during the Second World War. It amazed me time again, when listening to so many different stories, how, despite all the terrible things that happened, the hunger and the fear, people still carried on trying to achieve things and some even tried to have fun.
I guess, from listening to the arguments of my own parents, my mother a little girl in a city, my dad a youngster growing up in the east and more agricultural part of the Netherlands, that life in the country was somewhat less stressful than life in town - but on the other hand, any farmer or person relying on their horse for their livelihood ran the risk for their horse to be taken by the Germans.
After the war, when life gradually took on a more normal pace and with the relief of freedom freshly ingrained into every single person, businesses and agriculture started to grow and with that, for many, wealth grew steadily. The tractor gradually replaced the workhorse and, for many farmers, the opportunity arose to use their mares, now without a job, entirely for breeding riding horses in the hope that this would be profitable.
Initially, most who bred also rode their own horses. More often than not, the breeding started on old-fashioned mixed farms where the main income came from milk and keeping pigs. If the farmers could not ride themselves for whatever reason, there were always sons or daughters who were happy to do so. Also, youngsters from villages and small towns found their way to these farms, begging for a ride. Often those who managed to find their way like that, turned out to be talented and they were certainly driven.
This is exactly how, for example, trainer Roeli Bril found his way into his uncle's coal-merchant yard and, using the horses that pulled the coal carts during the week, started his own riding education on a strip of grass in the middle of the small town of Zutphen. When his professional riding career was established, he became crucial to the development of many a great horse and rider, directly and indirectly adding to the success of studs and breeders such as Henk Nijhof and Johan Venderbosch.
Jan Oortveld, son of a baker, was supported by his parents in his desire to become a professional horseman. He had the opportunity to take his formal education at the, then, new and famous equine centre in Deurne in the south of Holland. His youth was very different to most people’s because of it and most of his contemporaries would have walked away from such a tough and lonely existence as he lived in his younger years. Jan, as trainer and instructor, has put his stamp on the Dutch horse world with tremendous dedication.
This was the beginning of yet another era. Now that many farmers were in the process of fully converting to horse breeding and studs had moved a similar direction, there was room, no, a great need, for good riders with a decent riding education. The professional rider was now a fact and fully part of the horse breeding and producing business that the Netherlands was creating.
The time has come to move on and learn more of the personal lives and dedication of some of the entrepreneuring horsemen of Gelderland.
4 JOHAN VENDERBOSCH
Close to the German border, in 'de Achterhoek', a rural area in Gelderland, farmer Venderbosch was a proud man when he walked around his fields to check the livestock on his fifty-acre farm, 'de Radstake'. The fields were managed well and the stock fencing was in good shape. He liked a tidy yard as well and so, on Saturday, the broom came out and every corner was swept out meticulously so that everything would look pristine for the Sunday. Sunday was a rest day and family or a friendly neighbour might visit for a cup of coffee, often followed by an 'advocaatje' for the women and a ‘jonkie met suiker' for the men.
It was a decent-size farm for the area situated on a centuries-old trade route from Germany, hence the fact there was also an ancient tavern on the premises. Although Venderbosch kept some pigs and chickens, the main income came from the tavern and from the milk produced by his thirty-odd dairy cows. There was also a fine team of Groningen work horses and the little pony Liesje, which pulled the cart with the milk churns to the corner of the lane, from where they were collected to go to the milk factory.
Often his young son Johan would play with this pony, teach it tricks, sit on it or tie it to his little sleigh during the winter when the snow had arrived. He was certainly the son of his father and loved the smell of a horse equally, which gave Venderbosch tremendous satisfaction.
From early on in his life, from well before the war and before he became a husband and a father, whenever the work was finished for the day farmer Venderbosch would always spend time with the draught horses, even when they'd already been all put away for the night. He would give them an extra brush, talk gently to them or have put their beds to right once more; he would dream of being able to ride properly and he hoped one day to breed a riding horse using his best draught mare.
As soon as there was talk of setting up regional associations in order to organize the breeding of horses in a more professional way, Venderbosch put his name forward so that he could have some input. He had put a lot of thinking time into what he thought was the way forward and wanted his ideas to be used. Like other associations in the country, his association 'De Toekomst' sold shares to the vicars, doctors and notaries in their area, in the hope that they would grab the opportunity to one day have a smarter and faster horse to pull their carriage because that was their means of transport. It was hoped the more well-off farmers would buy shares as well because the work horse could also do with some organizing. The studbook VLN was for the Gelderland horse, the finer-framed work horse. The NWP studbook was for the Groningen horse, the stockier of the two, used for the work on the heavy clay ground.
The first stallion to arrive for the Association was the Gelderland horse Amburg, an exciting start to a whole new era. From then on, all associations agreed on a universal selection process, with regional grading shows to be held regularly. All information was gathered nationally in order to create much greater control on what farmers were up to with their mares and stallions. Soon, the penny dropped that breeding from a mare without papers had no future and did not make any money, and stallions were cut as soon as their progeny did not perform to the required standards.
On Saturdays not just the yard was swept but also all tack got cleaned because often, on Sundays, there would be a carriage-driving show somewhere in the area and Venderbosch would be on his way, often before dawn, with carriage and horse gleaming from tip to toe and Venderbosch in his best suit.
But he still wanted to ride and there were other young farmers with the same aspirations as him; some meetings were organized and soon the riding club 'Varsseveld' was the second official riding club in the country with farmer Venderbosch being one of the founders. All would meet up on their horses for weekly group lessons in a fenced-off piece of land. More riding clubs were formed and soon driving and riding competitions were combined and organized regularly all over the country with a national championship at the end of every year.
The war had been over for several years now and young son Johan was growing up fast, helping his dad on the farm after school. The little old pony was retired out in the field with the calves because it wasn't needed any more for shifting the milk churns. The tractor, by now a common sight in the fields, did all of that rather than the loyal work horse.
Just after he passed his exams, when he was fifteen years old, his father sent Johan to international show-jump rider, Troop Captain Gruppelaar for several months. Venderbosch was extremely keen for Johan to have every possible chance to develop his horse skills and Gruppelaar had a name for being an excellent teacher. This was an exciting time for Johan because he was allowed to travel with the horses on the train to many different international shows all over Europe and the train journeys were nearly as exciting as the shows themselves. When going to Paris or to Marseille their coach had to be reconnected to another train. Normally this would happen with a big bang, enough to throw the horses over. Hence why a specially assigned young lad was instructed to stick his head out of the carriage and call out: 'Attention! cheveaux!'. This was to ensure that the person in charge of the change-over of the carriages would take care and slow the procedure down as much as possible.
Johan had to work hard because 'the old Grup', as the lads used to call him when he was out of earshot, liked things perfect. He was a typical cavalry man, extremely punctual, well-organized and liked things spotless, with his white glove often sending the lads back to the brush. Still, young Johan had a wonderful time and came home full of stories that his father loved listening to.
Johan was eighteen years old when he lost his dad but there wasn't much time to dwell on this sudden tragedy because from that very day he had to run the entire business by himself. His responsibilities were huge: there was not only the dairy herd and the tavern, but there were also the broodmares and their offspring, which had become a significant part of the farm, and, on top of all that, Johan took on the position of his dad within breeding association 'De Toekomst', which was heading for turbulent times...........
Picture: The stallion In Between with his proud owners, after winning the championship at the 2016 National KWPN Stallion Show. From the left: Johan Venderbosch, In Between, brother and sister Andre and Henriette.
Top picture, chapter 4: Young Johan with pony Liesje in harness.
So much for a little taster!!!
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Stallion show Den Bosch 2016: the times they are a changing
Last year was my first time back at the KWPN stallion show in Den Bosch after some thirty years and I decided to visit again last week as my interest was very much refreshed. I was overwhelmed by what I saw, at the same time realizing that, having concentrated for so many years on my own training as a trainer and competitor, I had completely and utterly lost touch with the Dutch breeding world.
The separation in 2006 of the stallions as jumpers and dressage stallions for a start had not really sunk in until I saw with my own eyes how far apart these two types of stallions had grown. Weirdly enough I found it easier to judge the show jumpers as they seemed to still be more like the horses I remembered.
In Cornwall I certainly come across some very decent Warmbloods as the years go on, however, the young dressage stallions shown on the last two days of the show seemed to be a different breed. One can't be but seriously impressed with the extremely high standard and with that the endlessly adjusted philosophy of some very knowledgeable people. People who have tremendous heart for the Dutch breeding industry, an industry which basically has conquered the world in show-jumping and dressage.
Still, I could not keep my mouth shut at times and was lucky enough to exchange my thoughts with some professional breeders in the stands which gave me a chance to express my worries about the lionesque shape of some of the young dressage stallions: huge fronts and/or hind legs which moved so high that it made me feel uncomfortable.
One of my neighbors was a charming veterinarian,who took the time to explain to me that it was possible to create this movement artificially. I picked up the words chains and elastic bands.... If these stallions would make it to the performance test, this would gradually undo itself and so they would in the end still be judged on their own natural movement.
So in the end the KWPN stallion show was very much a show, whereas during the performance test the stallions would be trained in a uniform way, which would give a clear picture with the added bonus of an insight into their character and behavior. After that very few and only the very best are left.
But what if it actually is their natural movement and this is considered acceptable? What will be the physical future of the offspring of these stallions. Also, is it possible for them to maintain their quality of walk?
This was discussed in the stands as the now 4-year old stallions, who passed their performance test, were shown under saddle and the Novice stallion competition took place. The marks for the walk often exceeded 7 whereas also I could see the 4-takt rhythm was simply not there. Jokes were made about a potential Specsavers advertisement involving the KWPN judges.
Despite all the questions and issues my mind was boggling with, when I left the big arena in Den Bosch, I still felt excited about my visit.The KWPN is an organic organisation always in movement, always trying to improve, always open to new ideas whereas the past has proven that the KWPN is capable to change direction when things don't work out the way they hoped. Long may it last....
Top picture: Heraut, accepted by the studbook in 1946
Bottom: Igor, by Apache out of a Vivaldi mare qualified this year for the performance test and won the championship
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BEF Futurity: can it be the future?
It's not my strong point to be up to date with all that happens in the competition, showing and breeding world. First of all I'm quite happy to stay in my bubble as a dressage trainer. Secondly, I'm still trying to grasp the gradual, however major, changes and approach the KWPN has made in the last twenty or so years in my home country, The Netherlands. This year's visit to the Dutch stallion show made me realize how very much I had lost touch since I moved to Cornwall. Here in the UK, as initially a breeder, I had my hands full trying to work through all the different possibilities of registering my youngsters and was very confused indeed; the HIS, the British Warmblood Society, the Database and more. All with great intentions but so much choice, not to mention the showing of horses, with no other use than that, at agricultural shows.
On Friday I decided to pay a visit to the Tall Trees Arena in Cornwall for a maiden Futurity Evaluation experience. I was surprised by the fact that for a long time I was the only spectator, listening to a very well-spoken judge, with microphone, representing a panel of three. I would have expected more interest. My visit was partly out of a professional interest and partly to start the search for a youngster for a pupil. This seemed to me a good way to see and meet serious breeders presenting their young horses, at the same time figuring out what the Futurity is all about.
The remarks of the judge about each individual horse reminded me very much of how it is done at the Warmblood grading shows in Holland. A clear explanation of the conformation, walk, trot and canter, a mark and a second, first or elite premium. The confusion set in when all of a sudden, smack in the middle of some very decent looking Warmblood foals, a pony appeared with her foal at foot. As the foal was looked upon as a dressage pony for the future it was considered suitable to be judged by the same standards. Then an Arabian mare came in with her foal, this time a prospect for endurance riding. After that more Warmblood foals.
I really did start to wonder how on earth the judges could keep their eye in as by now there was no consistency. The same panel was making decisions about five different types of horses. That must be rather difficult. Would it possibly make sense to have seen those at the beginning or end?
Some of the handling was very professional, some of it was not. Any horse needs a good runner who can keep up in a decent rhythm, so the horse gets every chance to show itself off. A good horse with a lot of action needs it even more so.
Am I too critical? No, actually, if I was now a breeder I would probably choose this system. Its all-inclusiveness of all sports horses is a good idea. However, it could be more refined by having several different specialist judges panels. I would have a lane set up in order to make it easier for the one and two year-olds to show themselves off along the long side when shown loose. Also, I would show the one and two year-olds at least a pole on the ground, in order to see their attitude.
But at least it gives a thoroughly confused country, about what society or organisation to choose, a chance to unite under the same rules and guide lines. At the end of the day the Dutch Warmblood partly became what it is now because of the use of the English thoroughbreds. The UK always has had, and still does have, some very decent stock. More good horses are imported. Frozen sperm is available from all over the world. It just needs organisation. Maybe the Futurity Program can make this come true.
It was such a nice surprise to see some pupils, of the past and present, do an excellent job. Andrew James presenting two very decent and good-looking show-jump foals Lillipep and Lipeppero (both by Peppermill) from broodmares (both by LIBERO H) he jumped himself, with scores of 8.75 and 8.21. His calm and professional presentation brought back memories of how he used to be forever patient with some very difficult ponies as a youngster.
Cara Jasper (picture left) doing a very tidy performance with dressage prospect Donna D'Amour (s: Don Olymbrio) next to her mum by Treliver Decanter, with a great score of 8.70.
Niamh Hobbs being a great helper to Victoria Hunton who ended up with a score of 8.50 for her dressage foal Huntons Furstenfearless by Furstenball out of a Regazzoni mare.
Sophie Turriff being the joint handler of the very fine and tidy moving bay yearling mare Cintrix Du Ruisseau bred for show-jumping (s: Cinsey, ds: Prince D'Incoville), owned by Mrs. M. Douglas and going home with a score of 8.40.
Sandra Grose has been a regular visitor at the Futurity Evaluation. She brought her three year-old show-jump prospect Diamond Jubilee by the sire Je T'Aime Flamenco for the fourth time. After a great score of 8.72 in 2013 she was probably hoping to improve on last year's score of 8.27. It was not to be. Of course at this young age some youngsters still change so much by the season and/or mature slower. The dam line going back to Landgraf, son of Ladykiller, is certainly a huge asset to this three year-old's breeding. Being a complete novice I bombarded Sandra with questions which she patiently answered. We agreed on the fact that some of the lower scores were possibly still too high. This might motivate breeders to come back next year, on the other hand it could give them a false believe in the quality of their youngster.
My personal favorite was the very enquisitive and playful dressage filly Woodwick Dancernegro by the Oldenburg stallion Danciano (ds: Negro). As soon as she entered the arena next to her dam she was mesmerized by the white plastic cones and adamant to walk over them rather than around. When she was free she was interested in everything and everybody but her mother and danced and pranced around as a ballerina. Her score was 8.45.
Star of the day was the last one in: the dressage foal Newton Flexitime, a bold and beautiful chestnut filly who seemed to want to tell the judges and audience, by the way she stood and looked at all of us, that one day she is going to be famous. Her dam by Vivaldi and sired by Furst Romancier certainly produced something very special and she scored a well-deserved 9.00.
Despite the lack of a bigger audience one thing was a revelation. Unlike some of the competitions I've visited over the years, the atmosphere was so very friendly. There was a lot of exchange and some good laughs amongst breeders and audience. Very refreshing indeed.
Top foto: Natalie Pote waiting to go in with her dressage three year-old gelding Ragazoo (s:Richelshagen, ds: Chagallo) with a score of 8.20.
Middle foto: Dressage one year-old Janne by Maxamillian Voltucky owned by Sophie Parsons with a score of 8.45. I can't help to mention the very sweet Dutch name of the dam, Blosje, which translates as Little Blush.
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Learning the hard way...
Some twenty five years ago, an old friend of mine, then an upcoming, now an extremely established authority and journalist in the Dutch equine world, asked me with a rather mischievous smile: 'So, what took the Dutch and Germans generations, you are going to do all over again?' My, in hindsight, rather naive answer was an enthusiastic positive head nod.
We were standing next to my one- and two year-old, both out of an 'Irish Draught type' broodmare with unknown background. I bought her as a three year-old as I liked her short-coupled conformation and gentle character. Both youngsters were by the thoroughbred Sousa. I was very proud and didn't exactly like being made fun of. And it did not get any better when his then wife said about the two year-old: 'I do hope she will grow into her head'. Bodrigan's head was indeed rather large, but of course proud mothers have the capability to not see those kind of things.
Well, to cut a long story short, Bodrigan became a well-respected grade-A show-jumper and her sister Marimaid stayed with me and together we competed Prix St. George and trained Grand Prix. We were close to do our first Intermediare when disaster struck and she had to be put down. Also, of the next generation a three quarter bred by the successful eventing stallion May Hill of Mark Todd, competed successfully at intermediate level eventing and with her junior rider was selected to compete in The Netherlands (which is were I'm from, incidentally) as a prospect for the team.
Would I do it again? No! You've only heard half the story. Out of nine, three were put down because of hereditary problems and one died as a just weened foal of a split stomach for no traceable reason. The emotional and also financial strain reached a high (or rather a low) when a three quarter bred beautiful mare by again May Hill turned out to have a behavioural problem of a magnitude that she was likely to kill someone one day. I had her put down as a four year-old after she tried to trample an experienced horseman, who was helping loading her, in a total frenzy. Her mother Marimaid had the same streak but not as dangerous but I now had to recognize I had a problem. It was then that I decided to stop breeding and what a wise decision it was.
Lesson learned: never breed with mares with an unknown background. Use proven stallions. Two of the offspring by a local stallion (who had a minor racing career due to an injury??) had stifle problems which kept them from having a successful sports career.
The Dutch, Germans and other countries on the continent did their homework. As the years went on and specially now that I am freelancing for website Horses International, I understand so much more about what breeds a good horse. Not just proven stallions but proven mare lines which go back generations.
And guess what: the friend who once made fun of me and my aspirations as a breeder is now my boss, Dirk Willem Rosie, editor of many high profile equine magazines in Holland.
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
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