There is a lot of talk on social media at the moment about how hard it is to cover the costs of breeding quality sport horse foals, and how many buyers perceive it is better to go abroad to shop, than buy British youngstock. With sale prices often not covering costs, will we see breeders cutting back, giving up, or taking short cuts in the rearing of their stock to save money?
It strikes me that we don’t celebrate British breeding or British bred success passionately or loudly enough. Breeders rarely get mentioned in any official reports or catalogues, the BEF no longer has the funds to support it’s original breeding aims, and with over 50 British Passport Issuing Organisations, the British market lacks a central voice.
I recently returned from one of the best weekends in the German breeding calendar – the Trakehner Hengstmarkt. This is a packed celebration of the Trakehner breed, with fans and enthusiasts from all over the world joining their German counterparts in Neumunster in North Germany. As the name suggests, the Hengstmarkt’s main focus is the licensing of the newest crop of stallion prospects, who are shown on the hard ground, the triangle, loose jumped and free run. Each announcement of licensed or not licensed is met with cheers, applause or wolf whistles if the crowd feels the decision was a harsh one.
The crowning of the Champion is a perfect opportunity to rise to your feet, clapping along to the music, and let the wave of emotion and happiness carry you away. Every breeder there imagines what it would be like to breed the champion, to be called into the main arena and presented with your prize.
The excitement carries through to the auction where the champion sells for big money to a leading stallion station or millionaire investor, and the other licensed stallions find new homes for breeding and sport.
The mares are celebrated too with the top three year old fillies in the country coming forward to compete for the Champion mare title. Every one of such exquisite quality that I admit I covet any one of them to join my broodmare band. There are riding horses to be auctioned, foals to be bought, dressage to be watched and then to pull everything together is the gala show.
The gala show combines everything from slapstick comedy, displays of amazing training and horsemanship and honoring the best in the breed, be that sire or sporthorses. By the end of the night your hands are tiggling with all the clapping, and everyone is wiping away tears at the beauty and athleticism of this wonderful breed. Everyone I have ever taken with me comes away inspired to buy or breed a Trakehner.
So why can’t we do that here?
Why can’t we come together to shed a tear over the retirement under the spotlight of a great British stallion? Why can’t we see the best British bred mares in the country vying for the champion’s crown? Why can’t we offer our top and our aspiring riders, a regular martketplace to source good young prospects? Why can’t we give our breeders a reason to be proud to breed British?
There are obstacles, numbers for a start. We do not breed in the volume they do in Germany or Holland. When you then divide that down between the different studbooks, the numbers are very low indeed, especially when some breeders choose to register foals into European studbooks. Another major obstacle is the reluctance of grading or competition organisers to use a full range of marks when assessing stock in front of them. By overmarking, the distinction between the best, the good and the average becomes blurred.
But the biggest obstacle is a reluctance to come together and celebrate and promote all British bred sport horses under one roof/umbrella. The BEF run Stallion parade that was held every January, drew good audience numbers, but the atmosphere was always a little flat, muted and unenthusiastic. I don’t believe it is because we are too ‘British’ to clap and cheer, I believe it is because we just don’t get excited or passionate enough. We don’t really believe in our product, our ‘brand’. Yes there are individual breeders who do, but as a nation we are lacking the conviction that our horses are worth celebrating.
It’s not all doom and gloom. With every success in international competition, for every British bred stallion that goes to Europe and gets licensed or performance tested, with every sale of a foal to a top rider, there is a little more pride in being associated with British breeding. We are some way off finding the finances to create a central breeding event, with the best stallions, mares and foals (no matter what studbook). An event that brings tears to eyes and fills our hearts with pride. But we need to find a way to make our breeders proud to be breed British.