Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My type

I was raised with the idea and notion that European horses were superior sport horses, and that the baseline quality was, and still is to some extent, much higher than that in the US.

How could I not? I was raised with the ISF adverts and being around people who purposely bred with those lines, and constantly imported ones who were added into the genetic and talent pools.

While I will dispute some of that notion (there are a number of North American breeders who in my opinion are out producing Europe- including the one I work for [see SunShine Meadows]), after visiting Holland and starting to develop in Germany, I think for the most part it's accurate.

There's no question that the US has a lot of the same lines within its borders as breeding technology advanced (frozen semen, embryo transfers) and we've come a long way since a lot of the first horses were inspected and approved within our boarders. But still there is a decisive lack of knowledge among riders about pedigree and we may have the sire lines, in general we lack quality broodmares to support those sires.

Compounding things is the idea of breeding itself. It's the idea of breeding is generational versus immediate results. The former instead of the latter is the core philosophy with the people who I was around. They aim for sensational, but at the same time, they have to put the sensational back into the breeding pool to reproduce itself for future generations.

There's also very little sentiment in breeding in Europe, yes, they do have favorite mares and stallions, but it's a practical application on limited resources. You will not find many, if any, Cinderella crosses competing successfully.

In short, pedigree matters, and in Europe it's a very large part of the sport.

To the riders, it's more than a pink piece of paper, its the basic roadmap where quality develops and gives a timeline of how horses develop, it helps price horses accordingly at their raw state, make black and white decisions, and decisions on who gets to reproduce or go to approvals.

There are nicks, lines that cross consistently well, to produce above average and there's a wild amount of access and support to develop horses from in utero to under saddle. It's also hugely political in many ways with the influence of the foal market and who is stamped as a breeder on the papers.

Europe is special in a few ways as well. There's the population, where you can see 50-75 of a stallion's offspring within a few hours' drive, in many stages of development (everything from just born to some cases international horses), there's government sponsored breeding stations (Celle),  there's shows, exhibitions and things to do with your young horse, in addition to coming to know stallions that aren't popular or even represented within the American market (Don Index, Detroit, Destano, Saleri, Sarkozy, United, etc) and how they, and they're offspring have developed.

You don't have a huge frozen market (it's expensive to develop the facilities to freeze), instead there's a lot of fresh-chilled which can be more consistent than frozen and more widely on-demand.

But for the most part, there are a few principle dressage lines within both the Dutch and German books, with repetitive nicks that have produced very consistently over the generations.

While the two countries have developed differently the end goal is always the same, produce good horses for top sport. The irony of it is while they are both very competitive with each other, because of how each of the books have developed, they need each other for outcrossing purposes, which is seeing another generation of sport horses that are realizing the best of everything.

Until recently, my barn has mostly been KWPN. Partially because I work for a breeder, but the other part is I love dutch horses. To me they're very consistent and taking the sport to a different level. The book is very forward thinking, which is sometimes good and bad.

My background with German horses has been the American representation, which I haven't found too appealing for the end goals I want. Are they pretty?, Yes. Are they nice to be around? Sure. They're great horses in their own right. It wasn't until I went to Germany and was in a barn and with a breeder who has that same ideas, did I end up finding the horses I want, and even then, the barn was the exception rather than the rule.

In the Dutch books, the focus has always been on progressive gaits, and more recently adding good rideability. The four stand outs are Jazz, Flemmigh, Oscar, and more recently Ferro. Ferro and Oscar (who bred Uphill) are known for hind ends, producing piaffe/passage/pirouettes, and Jazz, and the Flemmigh offspring are known for front ends. Flemmigh is especially known for temperament.  You see them all crossed very consistently for the upper levels. They're not necessarily horses for the young horse classes or amateurs, but they do have good batting averages for the Grand Prix.

In the German books (Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Westphalian, Holstein, Rhineland), its more about tradition and regionalism. Each book has their own aims and goals, but the overall effect is producing horses for the top level that pretty much anyone can be around. The idea of German breeding is traditionally towards German farmers, versus the Dutch book where it was really the first book to focus in on the FEI sports.

German horses, in general, were bred for every person. A horse in Germany has to be sound, rideable or workable by your average rider, but still have the ability to do the sport at a very competitive level. It really wasn't until nearly two decades ago, did the focus change from producing for everyone to producing specifically for sport. The idea of sticking to tradition, has caused some degradation in the books for dressage, but for jumping, the Holstieners and Hanoverian are still exceptional.

In the Hanoverian and Oldenburg books (what I'm based out of) there's the A (E), F, D, G, R, S and W, lines. You see Donnerhall, Sandro Hit, Rubinstein, and Fidertanz, Weltmeyer, Laurie's Crusador (thoroughbred) very frequently crossed for the sport. Of the lines represented today, the modern D, F, R, S with a background of A (E) is most prevalent with hints of W hanging back.

Donnerhall, and secondly Fidertanz and Rubinstein, is especially represented in a lot of modern pedigrees, with the majority of German horses carrying him at least once or twice within their papers and crossed on everything. Donnerhall, like Ferro, produces hind ends, but he also produces really wonderful temperaments, walks and canters.The F and the R lines lighten them up without loosing the temperament behind the horse.

The last ten or so years both Holland and Germany have been outcrossing more to introduce more blood and variety into the pedigrees. This has been done with varying amounts of success, and it's a trend that I think that will continue on, especially for stallions and mares who don't meet criteria in one book and can in another.  

In the end, the lines and the use of the lines are personal as well as performance based, there's history, and effort to get the horse that you sit on to you. 


Aoife said...

Fascinating reading, thank you so much for the glimpse into euro breeding. It all intrigues me and I can't wait to learn more

emma said...

great read - and interesting that your time in europe both confirmed some of your initial opinions, but also allowed you to better understand other breeding programs