Friday, October 26, 2012

The Stallion Station Sosath of Gerd and Inga Sosath is situated near the shipbuilding town of Lemwerder, Germany. We arrived in the morning while a half dozen riders, including Gerd on Landor S, were excercising. They walk the horses for ten minutes after their excercise, and this is "office time" for Gerd. He pulls out his cell phone and multi tasks during the cool down. We had recently seen him at the Hanoverian Gala, narrating a demonstration of top jumpers via a microphone headset, grinning each time his Grand Prix jumper, Catoki, gave a few enthusiastic bucks.
Landor S is but one of the quality stallions we saw. Watching the Sosath crew training in the morning was a great treat. The farm turns out competitive jumpers for all the levels.
Having recently seen some drop-dead gorgeous Stedinger mares at the Hanoverian auction, we were most anxious to see their sire. The nearly 18-hand stallion sires horses amazingly uphill and light footed for their size. They are truly elegant and also pretty "spicy." My favorite of the young jumpers is Levisonn, a smooth, classic-looking gray by Levisto, out of a Lennon mare.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Entering the yard of the Klosterhof Medingen, one is greeted by the lifesize statue of the great Trakehner stallion Caprimond. And it only gets better from there. The stud is situated in the center of the tiny village of Medingen, the "kloster" or nun's cloister gives it its name. We were greeted by Jessy, my contact for semen sales, who very kindly had groomed and prepared the stallions for our viewing. This was quite different from many studfarms where the stallion's stall door is opened and you get to see his head, neck and legs, which is all that's sticking out of the blanket. Or at some stations, you are lucky enough to catch the stallion after excercise and before re-blanketing. Unless one asks, this is often how stallions are shown, unfortunately.
But at the Klosterhof we waited in the yard while each stallion was led out for us, beginning with the venerable old Trakehner, Caprimond, with the perfect quarter moon on his forehead. Truly, this stallion is so noble and kind and lovely that he brought a tear to my eye. As he posed, and we fawned over him, Jessy told us the 29-year old stallion is a perfect babysitter with the Wahler grandchildren, and yet still might try to give a little buck with an experienced rider. His son the Trakehner Hohenstein followed, and again, we were awed by the beauty and nobility of this gorgeous, black stallion, number one purveyor of type in the Hanoverian breed. Like stallions accustomed to being stars on center stage, he too "struck a pose."
Then came the man of the hour, 2008's Hanoverian Stallion of the Year, De Niro, who had six horses qualified for the Olympics this year. Like Hohenstein, this stallion's influence on modern sport horse breeding is inestimable. The thing that struck me the most about the K-M stallion collection was the similarity between them, whether Trakehner, Hanoverian or Oldenburg. All were the same beautiful type with lovely expressions, correct limbs and often black color. In my opinion, this uniformity of type is the true mark of an exceptional horseman and breeder.
When I first got in the business, Trakehners were in a slump. It is nice to see that Burkhard Wahler has stuck with them and has preserved some very important bloodlines for the future of horse breeding. A former event rider, he has a couple of  super jumping Trakehners in Abendtanz and Come Close, a stallion with Russian blood top and bottom.
All of the horses we viewed, young and old, had the same outgoing but mannerly demeanor. Jessy said that since the area of the stud is small, the mares and foals must be taken to pasture. But no trailering for this farm! Several people each lead four or five mares and the foals follow them through the center of the village, in the midst of cars, bicycles and pedestrians. I can imagine that this lovely village, secluded in a forest swale, loves the sight of their famous studfarm's mares and foals passing through.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Last weekend was Hanoverian Verband immersion weekend. We began with a tour of the grounds of the Hanoverian Verband, the go-to place for Hanoverian breeders. We listened to a talk by Dr. Ludwig Christmann, the North American liaison, on the history of Hanoverian breeding and then toured the facilities developed for training, riding, showing and selling Hanoverians. It is a very organized society which culminates with the stallion approvals and auction next weekend.
The next night we attended the Hanoverian Gala, a popular local event which showcases the super stars of the breed, riders and horses alike. The show began with about a million ponies pouring into the arena amidst a cloud of smoke. We saw a jumping demonstration, a dressage kur and much more. The highlights of the auction, to be held the next day, were exhibited and there were many tributes to the best horses and oldest promoters of the breed. The highlight of the evening for me was to at last be part of the audience clapping in unison as their favorite stars left the arena in extended trots. The Germans are so attuned to horses that they immediately stop clapping and making noise at the slightest indication that the horse is frightened or confused by the furor. They really are a horse culture in every sense of the word.
Another highlight of the evening was when one of our tour members was high bidder on a gorgeous Fuerst Romancier colt, making us all vicarious bidders. Dr. Christmann very kindly assisted her with every aspect of her purchase, from pre purchase exam to actual bidding, when he sat right next to her and advised her. This is the kind of service visitors from the US can expect when attending a Hanoverian auction.
The prices of the Elite Auction overall were low compared to past years. In my opinion, they are slightly behind us in the global recession. They are just now hitting bottom, whereas North America has already hit bottom and seems to be slightly on the upswing in the horse business.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Langestuet Celle is the must-see visit for the horse person touring Germany. Our group was guided by the current director, Dr. Axel Brockmann, who is a thorough and charming guide. We visited the stallions in their boxes, where Dr. Brockmann was very proud to point out that the stalls are now being significantly enlarged and will have windows cut in them so the stallions can see outdoors. There are a few boxes already with windows that the older stallions like Fabriano and Escudo I are kept, so they can occupy themselves with watching what goes on in the yard.
We had a look at the stored ceremonial carriages that are pulled by the same stallions whose semen is on our roster. They even have ten-up hitches and those stallions never so much as flick an ear at one another. Seeing the Hanoverians so used and also having seen them at Spruce Meadows, tied to their stall fronts while being tacked and untacked, with throngs of spectators within inches of them has convinced me that "you can't beat the Hanoverian temperament with a stick."
While having a look at the carriages, Dr. B. pointed out one used for the coronation of King George I. "The mad King George?" I asked. "All of the Hannovers were mad," he replied with a smile. During our tour a cart with two stallions up went past several times on morning excerecise. We also enjoyed seeing stallions ridden for exercise and worked in long lines.
The landgestuet has been very much affected by the current recession in Europe, and has had to make severe budget cuts. The trend of private stallion stations buying the highest priced stallions for which the state stud cannot compete economically has also hurt them. But the State Stud Celle buys horses for the future--they have a breeding goal that projects decades beyond the present. They are looking at the longterm composition of the breed; they do not buy only the current hottest, most flashy stallion at the Bundeschampionat, which may or may not become a successful sire. For the best breeding value available, in terms of testing, proven siring ability, semen quality and value for your dollar, consider the stallions of the Landgestuet Celle.
A visit to the Schockemoehle Stud was the thing that most people who participated in our tours wanted to do. The internationally famous private stallion station and riding center is very interesting. In addition to the approximately forty stallions always stationed there, the station has an intensive riding and training center. There are several barns of horses in training, each with its own head trainer, riders and grooms. The place is a veritable factory, turning out semen and horses at an incredible rate. Mr. Schockemoehle is a successful business man who owns 14 companies. Driving into the small town of Muehlen-Steinfeld, one passes his transportation company. Each company, including the horse business, runs like a well oiled machine; it's almost like a small town in itself. Efficiency and production is emphasized. In the morning there are several indoor and outdoor riding rings full of horses in training and stallions being exercised. The stallions are brought out of their stalls three times per day to prevent boredom and bad behavior. Once to be ridden under saddle, once to spend about 20 minutes on the treadmill and once to walk in the walking machine. Two full time shoers are kept busy all day. Tractors groom arenas and move mountains of hay, straw and manure. The stud farm employs hundreds of people, from truck drivers to hay farmers to shoers, grooms, riders and trainers. Most of the employees are local and the stud farm is an important economic force in the region. Paul Schockemoehle has changed the face of German horse breeding with his methods. The state run/government studs (landgestuets) cannot compete with him financially, and he usually purchases the best stallions available at the sales and stallion approvals/auctions, leaving the landgestuets to search for bargains amongst the lesser priced stallions. It will be interesting to see how the Schockemoehle influence plays out over time.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I had the best intention to keep this blog up daily--ha! That was before I was sucked into a whirlwind of visiting studfarms, looking at stallions and attending sport horse events. Not to mention finding time to eat and sleep. Germany is truly the mecca of the sport horse. Our group was comprised of 14 equine enthusiasts and two drivers.
We picked up our jetlagged tour members at the Bremen airport and started our tour the next day at Hof Bruening, where Hannes Bruening led us on an excellent tour of his sport horse nursery. The farm has been in his family since the 1400s and has been converted from a dairy into a horse facility under Hannes' guidance. Bruening raises many foals by top stallions for himself, but also for local stallion station owners who do not want to deal with babies. The foals are out on pasture with their mothers until after weaning when they are placed in large groups in an open, airy barn. They receive free choice of a mixture of chopped straw and a very dry silage. They are also fed a 6% protein pelleted feed. The foals receive daily turnout even when being kept in in winter. There are a well developed group and I saw nary a leg problem, so what seemed to me an unorthodoxed feed, i.e. silage, appears to be working well.
After coffee in the beautiful Bruening farm house we drove to nearby Gestuet Famos. This farm was built ten years ago at great expense. Even the house for the nesting swans that floats in a big pond was constructed of brick to match the style of the rest of the place. I was almost not joking when I said, "Oh, look, their duck house is nicer than my house." We visited several stallions including Van Helsing, Quintaro, Providence and the venerable Contendro I. What a charming gentleman he is. One of the best stallions in Germany, he is as kind and gentle as a stable pet. I had been to Famos five years ago and was shocked and dismayed to see it was almost a "ghost stable," with a handful of stallions and not much going on. Many stallion stations in Germany have experienced a similar decline. The global recession begun by several years of our country's "trickle down" economics and bank deregulation has trickled into the German economy. The horse business, according to one longtime horse breeder is off by 40%, which I would tend to agree with after seeing the changes since my last visit.
An impromptu drive up to Dorum, on the North Sea, to visit the stallion station of Jens Meyer and his wife was lovely. They showed one of our tour members some broodmares that were for sale, and then very kindly brought out every stallion for us to view. My favorite was Devereaux by Dimaggio. The brick stallion barn is airy and light and the stallions are all very happy living where they can see each other. Each morning farmer Jens goes out and cuts fresh green grass for them, a pile of which is in front of each stall--another interesting approach to feeding. It works wonders, as all of the stallions' coats are incredibly glossy and covered in dapples. It also really helps them produced the great quality semen Hengstation Meyer is known for. Jens is what we would call a real "corker" in America, very outgoing with a great sense of humor; he gave us many a laugh. We went to dinner with him at a local seafood restaurant where we watched locals sailboarding on the North Sea until well after dark. Jens is a respected judge of Hanoverians and has been in the business since he was quite young, and he shared a wealth of knowledge with us about the ins and outs of horse breeding in Germany.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We are having a blast! Yesterday we drove to visit Hof Bruening, a beautiful farm in the rolling hills that remind me of Kentucky. Hannes Bruening was our guide and showed us their broodmares and foals, a veritable "who's who" of the Hanoverian world. He was great at answering a multitude of questions about horse rearing. It was interesting to see how they feed and manage them. Many here feed their horses a type of dry silage mixed with straw. There was nary a bump on any of their legs, no epiphisitis nor other growth-related issues. They focus on keeping their youngstock outdoors as much as possible, bringing them in for the winter, but still with daily four-hour turnout. Their foals are an impressive lot. They prefer to use more well established stallions rather than the young, unproven shooting stars. After our visit, we went to the Bruening family's hotel/restaurant where we were served a truly German meal of rouladen with cabbage and potato dumplings. Rouladen is a piece of pounded beef with onions, mustard, a slice of bacon and a slice of dill pickle rolled up in it, then browned and baked. Sounds a bit suspect if you're not used to it, but it is a delicious dish.
We also visited Gestuet Famos and viewed some stallions (they keep their youngsters at Hof Bruening) and of course Contendro I was the highlight. What a charming, affable fellow he is, a delight to be around. He is one of the most successful sires in Germany and is the epitome of a dual purpose stallion. We also saw Bruening's stallion Captain Morgan there, as well as Landstreicher, Providence, Quinturo and Van Helsing. Famos is a showcase farm built ten years ago. Even their "duck house," actually for their nesting swans, is nicer than many people's houses!