Scotland is increasingly becoming a hotspot for successful sport horse breeding, from both in terms of results in competition, but also commercially. So what are the Scots doing to generate this success and what can we learn from them.
I spoke to three dressage breeders, Reay Campbell of Caledonia Sport Horses, Caroline Ironside of Morayfirth Stud, and Jennifer Gilchrist of Romanno Stud. To my mind all three of them have 2 essential elements that have contributed to this success. They have all invested in broodmares from exceptional motherlines, and all three of them have spend many years learning about the genetics behind the best horses in sport.
Reay moved to Scotland from her native New Zealand in 1979, where she had bred thoroughbreds. Once settled into Balblair Farm in the Scottish Highlands, and with her youngest son ready for school, Reay decided it was time to start breeding again. She went to view some mares at a local stud that she knew had some Hanoverian graded Thoroughbred mares and through some sad but fortuitous circumstances she ended up with not one mare, but the whole herd. It was one of those original mares that Reay picks out as one of the 2 most important mares in her breeding program.
Palacegate Lady was a Thoroughbred mare by the sprinter stallion Lochnager, who had great size and strength. He was the damsire of the great mare Lochsong. She was an older mare by the time she came to Reay along with her daughter Florentyna (by Friedensherr). Florentyna’s genes are firmly entrenched in the Caledonia mare herd, through her two Don Schufro daughters Donner Dancing and Donner Midnight, and her granddaughter Sugar Plum Fairy (by Sir Donnerhall). Sugar Plum Fairy is the current dual Scottish Winter Regional champion at Novice.
The first foal that Palacegate Lady bred at Caledonia was a filly by Welt Hit II. Welt Hit II was a son of the great Weltmeyer out of the half Thoroughbred mare Cileste and one of 6 licensed full brothers. That filly was called What a Lark. What a Lark’s most successful offspring to date is Don Caledonia who has national titles at Medium and Advanced Medium Open Freestyle and a host of regional titles.
The other mare that stands out to Reay is Loretta Live. This really is a regal motherline, as this Royal Dance daughter is the full sister of Royal Hit, and the half sister of Sandro Hit and Diamond Hit, the last two in particular are two of the most influential stallions in German breeding. Loretta Live is already the dam of Helgsrtand dressage’s good young horse Super Mario (by For Compliment) and another son was 3rd in the Belgian Young Horse Championships. Her first Scottish bred foal by Franziskus has been sold to European Team Young Rider Robyn Smith.
I also asked Reay if she has a golden rule for stallion selection. For many years she wanted to see a stallion that had produced a stallion son from his first crop before she would consider using him. It was applying this rule that lead her to use Don Schufro before he became a household name. These days she is more willing to take a punt on young stallions as she has more mares and knows them and their families so well.
A stallion still has to come from a strong mare family, but has to have that little bit of magic about him. Reay strongly believes you have to set your own eyes on the horses and so she travels extensively round Europe to see as many stallions as she can. When I ask her to recommend one stallion to follow for 2017, she is torn between Carl and Clair Hester’s U-Genius, who combines the bloodlines of Uthopia and Valegro but in the end plumps for another British bred stallion – Franz Ferdinand. She is really impressed with the foals he is siring already, and he is the full brother to young horse sensation Woodlander Farouche out of the Grand Prix mare Dornroschen. Although Franz Ferdinand stands with Ingo Pape in Germany, he is still part owned by his breeder Lynne Crowden ofWoodlander Stud.
When I ask Reay which foal she is most excited about for 2017, understandably she struggles to pick one. For a start she has three embryo transfer foals due from Loretta Live, by Dream Boy, Franklin and Floriscount. And 2 embryos due from Weidyfleur II (the full sister of Valegro) by Carl Hester’s London medallist Uthopia. But in the end she settles on a Sezuan foal that is due any moment out of Love Song. Love Song hails from another famous mare family, that of Love Story and Sezuan is one of the hottest young horses around, after his world championship successes. The day after I spoke to Reay, Love Song foaled an eye catching chestnut filly.
Having fully sold out in 2016, Reay already has buyers interested in this year’s foal crop.
I finally asked Reay what did she feel where advantages and disadvantages of being based up in Scotland. She explained it wasn’t a conscious choice to base herself there, but she has plenty of good free draining land, and low disease risk. The farm is based in an incredibly beautiful area with lots of lovely clear days especially in winter, which aid the horse’s health.
On the down side, it can be tough getting semen delivered in time, although she now gets an excellent service from DHL. And her vet is over an hour away. You would also think that it would be a disadvantage for buyers to have to travel so far to come and view her stock. However the journey does mean that buyers who do come are very focused and have already done their homework, and so the conversion rate of viewers into buyers is quite high. Having been established for so long, Caledonia also have an excellent reputation, which helps attract clients from further afield.
People also remember the stud for it’s beautiful location. Reay collects buyers from the airport, and puts them up overnight, but has always sent plenty of photos and video footage to the potential buyers beforehand. The stunning location also makes the effort of travelling to view stallions overseas a hard one, but an essential one in Reay’s opinion. She feels it is essential to see stallions and their stock yourself and not rely on marketing information.
Reay’s final comment was one that resonates with all breeders. “It is one thing to breed super horses, but they need super riders to fulfil that potential”.
Romanno Stud is situated between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and just an hour north of Carlisle. Jennifer Gilchrist’s stud has been based in it’s current location for the past 16 years. Although her sport horse breeding programme has produced regional and national dressage champions, they have also had massive success in the show ring, breeding two HOYS Cuddy winners in the last few years.
There is no doubt that the most influential mare Jennifer’s breeding programme over the years has been State Premium & Oldenburg Elite mare Bellevedere (De Niro x Manstein). She is now 18yrs old and was a former finalist mare in the prestigious Oldenburg mare show at Rastede. She has bred 11 foals including live twins and all her foals have received the Oldenburg “premium” award, quite a record.
Her first foal Bonita by Rohdiamant is an Oldenburg Verband Premium & Elite mare. She is the dam of 2 Oldenburg Premium stallions, Sir Niro & Feu D’or. Her daughter Romina also by Rohdiamant is an Oldenburg Verband Premium mare who is a current breeding mare with the stud. Romina’s 5 offspring have also only ever received the Oldenburg “Premium” title and the eldest Blue Diamond by Bonifatius is competing in England and has previously qualified for the BD National Summer Champs. Belvedere’s son Romanno Ruinart, also by Rohdiamant was a Premium approved breeding stallion with the BWBS and in 2009 as a 4 yo was the Shearwater International Dressage Champion & BEF award winner.
Another son Romanno Rafiel by Rubin Star N (Rubinstein), the studs foundation stallion, is a graded stallion with the WBS(UK) and was the BD 2014 National Champion.
Her daughter Romanno Bedriska by Quando Quando was the HOYS Cuddy Supreme In Hand Champion 2012 and was 4th at HOYS in the Riding Horse Finals 2014 and Royal International Amateur Champion. She has recently been sold and will now compete in dressage. Another daughter Romanno Belle De Jour, by Quando Quando (full sister to Romanno Bedriska) is now 6yrs old and a breeding mare at the stud – she is due her first foal this year by Rubin Star N. Belvedere is a very long legged modern mare who has the ability to stamp her stock and breed consistently top class foals.
Jennifer really couldn’t separate her other mares to pick another that was more significant than the rest. She is a great believer in the importance of the damline and has some beautifully bred mares in her collection. These include full sisters to top Grand Prix horses Dablino and Fackeltanz, the half sister to Grand Prix horses Sister De Jeu and Thriller and excitingly a mare from the direct motherline of British Rio Olympic medallist Super Nova II. Jennifer feels that the importance of the damline can never be underestimated.
Jennifer looks for a stallion to tick a number of boxes. His temperament and trainability must be outstanding and not compromised on. And he must stamp his stock. If a top competition horse produces anything less than high standard foals, he is not of value to her breeding programme.
Jennifer gets a lot of satisfaction from using her own stallions on her home bred mares, combining genetics on both sides that she knows intimately. Although she does introduce new lines through outside stallions the best feeling is when a true “all in home bred” does well in the ring.
The foal that Jennifer picks out above all others for 2017 is out of one of Bellevedere’s daughters – Romanno Belle De Jour (by Quando Quando). This will be a first foal for Belle De Jour and is sired by the stud’s senior stallion Rubin Star N. This direct son of the legend Rubinstein has been used with great success already on this mare family and Jennifer feels this foal could be something special.
Jennifer said she has never felt her location to be of detriment to her business. Being just 40 minutes from Edinburgh airport and 1 hour from Glasgow airport and a short distance from major motorway networks, the stud is well connected to serve the whole of the UK.
Caroline Ironside and husband Gordon raise successful dressage and show jumping prospects at Gordon’s family farm in North East Scotland. They met when Gordon sent a Thoroughbred mare that he owned, to a stallion that was based at Caroline’s mother’s stud. Having progressed from a Thoroughbred foundation mare, through to the British Bavarian Warmblood Association, they know focus on KWPN bloodlines, and have a young daughter Abbie Jane as the next generation to take a interest in the family business.
In common with Reay and Jennifer, Caroline has invested in some excellent mare families. In addition to the half sister to Olympic medallist and current world number 1 Desperados, the half sister to international competitor and sire Painted Black, and the full sister to leading sire Vivaldi, Caroline has two further mares that she picks out as being particularly special.
Willisa-Rosa (Emilion x Damiro B) is one of the fundamental foundation breeding mares of the stud. She is dam to the International Showjumping mare “W.Diva Rosa MFS” by Wallenberg who competed in her first FEI World Cup Qualifier several weeks ago. She is also the dam to the 1.30m showjumping son “MFS Don Junior” (Don Aqui). The quality of her offspring are so very high that they are always highly sought after. She is a KWPN, provisional “Keur” mare getting scores
of over 80 when graded as a three year old in Holland. None of her offspring disappoint and they have several more that will be making their mark in the ring very soon. She has the most fabulous temperament and her ability to produce the showjumpers no matter what the stallion is a true testament to her qualities. She is due to foal in 2017 to the exciting young Holstein stallion Chapeau TN.
De Sote Deern (De Niro x Hohenstein) is one of Caroline’s favourite mares. Hailing from a superb dam line in her own right and is a firm favourite with many at the Stud. She is dam to the multiple National and Regional Dressage Champion “MFS Fancyman” (v Fidertanz) ridden and owned by Debbie Murray. She is also dam to “MFS High Fashion” (v Don Aqui) who heads to Hartpury for the Petplan Festival Championships after winning the Novice Silver section at the Festival held in Aberdeenshire at the end of 2016. She has several other offspring who are in very good homes and we hope will also make their mark on the dressage arena. This mare is due to foal in 2017 to the Stud’s own stallion Don Aqui.
Caroline says it is hard to select just two rules for stallion selection as there are many contributing factors as to why they select the stallions they do. First is cost. They try and select a Stud fee between 1000-2000 euros. Any above this wouldn’t be discounted but with up to 20 mares to inseminate in one year cost is an important factor. Then looking at the stallions themselves. Conformation, height and build all come into it to see if they will complement the mares. Then looking at results, whether that is from their performance test or within sport. Caroline & Gordon use a lot of young stallions who are just starting out in their careers, so their stallion performance results are important, as are their bloodlines, and whether those bloodlines will compliment the mares. Finally availability, whether semen can be shipped in and what the quality is like.
One stallion Caroline is looking forward to using this year is the newly Approved stallion “Sensation” (Sir Heinrich x Casparino) who is owned by Lodbergen. Although he may only be suitable for the slightly smaller mare due to his size, she loves his way of moving and mechanics. He reminds Caroline of the top stallion Revolution. She is also looking forward to the young KWPN stallion “Highway M TN” (Eldorado van de Zeshoek TN x Chellano Z). This young stallion received super results at his performance test and showed exceptional talent in the KWPN Stallion Competitions. They loved his sire whom they used twice and are very excited about this stallion’s ability for the future.
Trying to get Caroline to narrow her choice of her two most exciting foals for 2017 is impossible. With so many to choose from, it’s not surprising.
“It’s very hard to pick just two out of all the ones we have due. We already have two colts born, one by the KWPN stallion Rhodium and one by the International Grand Prix stallion Glock’s Johnson TN. Both colts are already sold at just a few days old. We have many exciting foals due for 2017. We are very much looking forward to the Chapeu TN foal due by Willisa-Rosa. If this is a filly it will be retained. Chirana-Utopia (full sister to Vivaldi) is due to For Romance I, so that is something we are excited to see. Elegan-Zitchy is due to Fidertanz and he is one of my most favourite stallions of all time. Then we have Danzmusik (half sister to Deperados) who is also due to For Romance I. ”
Moryafirth Stud is located near the coast where the climate means high quality grass growth and few flies in summer. This means the foals and youngstock really thrive.
Being located just only 40 miles from Aberdeen Airport means they can collect buyers and they can come and stay and spend time with the foals. Quality pictures and videos help buyers keep in touch with the foals as they develop. This has helped them sell to clients as far abroad as UAE, America and Italy.
On the flip side, the winter weather means mares and youngstock are barned in winter and turned out when the weather allows. It is also a long drive to breeders events and stallion shows.