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. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Feels like home again

I made it home Monday after three flights. The highlight of it was being stuck in Atlanta for a few extra hours and getting to roam around trying to find a good milkshake (no dice) and my new Timbuk2 bag's wheels getting knocked off by Delta (jerks).

I was technically scheduled for more travel this week to Vegas World Cup.  I've had numerous people ask me to go, and while I initially committed to going for another business, I'm happy the obligation was canceled. There's so much that needs to be done, and things that I've been ignoring- such as the clinics, need to be dealt with. So I'm home for at least a month before I adventure out again.

Being home is strange after being away for so long. In one way the familiar comfort of my house and everyone with it is lovely, on the other hand, the mentality I got into while in Europe is something that I don't want to give up, it just simply doesn't exist prevalently in the States on a consistent level.

So, my heart is now on two continents. I find myself in the old routine from Germany, and for the moment, less population.

The competition season is just starting here, and I'm eager to really to start it. I have my first entries printed off and ready to go out this weekend, hopefully the US postal system won't repeat their mistakes last year.

Despite my absence from the show arena several of my sales graduates have already started competing. Reba's Song MF (Rotspon) is back in action after an extended period off due to rider injury, she was out competing at Novice and was once again in the sub-30's for dressage, Sincere G (Savant) has been out on the jumpers with Emily Williams in Ohio as well, producing solid rounds with minimal mistakes and Danzador MSM (Apollo III) is out at the Region 2 schooling shows pushing mid-60's to 70's at Training level.

I'm also reminded I need to do a lot of other things associated with the business (taxes, answering the mail, updating the website, making sure the truck still runs...) and playing catch-up. This first week back feels more like I'm attached to my cell phone more than anything else.

Flying in to Lexington was also a little surreal after leaving at the start of a horrid Winter. I was somewhat expecting to see a more decimated town from UK's Men's Basketball team's loss in the Final Four, and also from what looks like the flood-like rain the region has experienced. While there weren't any fires lighting the runway, we definitely have new lakes. It's also delightfully warm.

My first stop before I even went home was to look in on the pony.

To no surprise, she's fat, happy, shaggy and hard to catch. My first order was to make her look less of a wild pony and more civilized. Slowly and begrudgingly she's reemerging from the winter woolies and embedded dirt. She was ridden, washed and will probably do a lot of that until her new lessor takes over the reins.

I went up to see Flair and Haiku on Wednesday.

Haiku grew another hand and a half, and sports a strong topline and is swimming right along in her progress. Despite looking good, she needs some more calories due to the amount of growth she's experiencing. She's not thin, but honestly she just needs that much support. The Pennfields line has been helping her out tremendously in developing her growth while not creating a hot horse. The spring grass should also help her out. Her attitude is still the same, willing, straightforward, workmanlike. She's not even three, and she's just ahead in so many ways.

Flair arrived back in January after I left. Like many things with her and I we just keep missing each other. She arrived about 200lbs heavy from post-baby and in no shape whatsoever to do much of anything. So seeing her 200lbs lighter, under saddle, and developing with about 40 days under tack is really neat. It's a shame that February in Kentucky was a total loss and parts of March were even worse. Essentially, she is where Haiku was when she started. Give it three months of good work, and things will be fine. But still, there's a long way to go from nothing to our tentative goal of Devon's Five Year Old division is a big leap, but one that I'm really sure that she'll do well to progress towards.

On top of keeping up all the horses there's also catching up with the calendars. My business has started to expand to include teaching clinics around the US. I like to teach, and this allows me to keep up on the daily training of my horses and keeping a serious base of home clients. I will be out in VA in June and August. Plus a few other places as I start setting the calendar for the year.

Also per reader suggestion, I will talk more in depth about all the German breeding, riding, training and all the other things over the next few posts. I just couldn't type out as much on an iPad as I would like. But for now, I'm home.