Tuesday, November 12, 2013

France's Camargue Region

The final stop on my 2013 equestrian tour of Europe was to the Camargue region of Provence in southern France. The sturdy little white horses that originated in the Camargue marshes, known simply as Camargue horses, are raised for riding horses and as stock horses to work with the bulls the region is also noted for. They say they originated in the marshes, but my money says they came from Spain or Portugal. They have a decidedly Iberian or Lippizan look to me. I love their compact size, and despite being a small gene pool, they remain hardy and correct with almost indiscernible differences between individuals.
The bird life is vast in the Camargue, with dozens of species along with flocks of flamingos that have taken up residence.
And of course, the Camargue also produces the world's most prized gourmet sale, fleur de sel or "flower of salt," which is harvested from the Camargue's marshes.
The black fighting bulls are distinct to the region. The fields are full of large herds of them, beautiful to behold. On a walk from the 1700s farmhouse I stayed in, down the lane past their pastures I enjoyed pausing to look at them. Of course every ear and eye was turned toward me, as they are alert and wary and have been trained since youngsters to consider humans as sparring partners. When I stared too long, they all began lowing in their throats and advancing toward me. They are used for bullfights but with a wonderfully humane twist. The bullfights do not involve killing the bull. Instead, a medallion is fastened to the horn of the bull. At the end of the "fight" whichever possesses the medallion, the man or the bull, is the winner. If it's the man, he receives the prize money. If it's the bull, its breeder receives the money. Bullfights were over for the season, but I was lucky enough to arrive in town on a weekend when there was a special festival of bringing the bulls onto the beaches of Saint Maries de la Mer for a herding exhibition.
White horses, black bulls and pink flamingos! Ah, the fantastic color scheme of the Camargue.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Haras de Couvains and Haras de Hus, France

A brief stop in Paris to visit friends was followed by a trip west to Normandy, to pay a visit to the Haras de Couvains. I was most interested to meet Sophie Levallois, whom I began doing business with last year when I began selling the frozen semen of the excellent Selle Francaise stallion, Diamant de Semilly. The Diamant semen is sold by the individual straw, yet it has an excellent conception rate when used deep uterine. This stallion is one of the kindest, most generous of horses and is in the top percent of the world's best sires of showjumpers. Their temperaments and characters are excellent, not at all the hot, hard to ride type that some have come to associate with some of the Selle Francais lines. Sophie mentioned how different this line is from the lines that come from Alme Z and Galoubet. I saw several Diamants last summer at Spruce Meadows and was very impressed by their type, jumping style and the correctness of their legs and feet.
I plan to offer two more stallions from the Haras de Couvains in 2014, as a source of blood, which North American showjumpers are in need of according to some experts. They are Calypso D' Herbiers (Hurlevent / Double Espoir), who features a wealth of impeccable Thoroughbred jumper blood.  Calypso D' Herbiers was the winner of the Grand Prix CSIO and the Derby de La Baule 2004. He was the triple French Champion of Hunters, Dressage and CSO at four, triple French Showjumping Champion at four five and six and French vice champion at seven. He is ranked "elite" at eventing and "very good"  as a Selle Francais jumping and dressage stallion.
Also available soon via frozen semen is Herald 3, a 3/4 Thoroughbred son of Heraldix xx, out of an own granddaughter of Ladykiller xx. Herald's sire, Heraldik xx, is the leading sire of event horses in the world and his Holsteiner dam, Alissa, is a direct granddaughter of the great Ladykiller xx, making Herald a 3/4 Thoroughbred of the most exceptional breeding. He is a multiple international Grand Prix winner, reactive but with a cool mind, tested at the top level.
The Selle Francais lines should be of special interest, due to their ability to impart blood through a slightly different way than strictly Throughbred crosses.
The French/German cross seems to be working very well, as evidenced by the recent success of the sires Diarado (Diamant de Semilly / Contendro) and Balou du Rouet ( Baloubet du Rouet / Continue by Contender).
I also stopped by the Haras de Hus, a showplace stud farm if ever there was one. Their dressage stallions, Don Juan de Hus and Solimon de Hus, are making names for themselves as dressage sires, but they have begun to produce showjumper stallions that we will no doubt be seeing more of in the future.

Klosterhof Medingen

A visit to Klosterhof Medingen is always a special treat. To see the Wahler family horses at their home stable, interacting with their handlers is a delight. And, as always, they present the king of Klosterhof Medingen, Caprimond, to his adoring fans. He knows he's a star and is very good at posing for the cameras. This year, at age 28, he's finally starting to show his age and is buckling over a little on the knees. Though his handler, Peggy, says he is her favorite horse on the farm, states that he is still okay for the grandchildren to ride a little. Truly a grand old gentleman.
In adddition to seeing the stallions presented for our inspection, we were lucky enough to have a chance to watch Theresa Wahler schooling the Trakehner stallion Herbskoenig under the watchful eye of the master of Klosterhof Medingen, her father, Burkhard Wahler. Theresa warmed up the beautiful, typey young stallion and then schooled him in the beginning of passage. Mr. Wahler, mounted on his riding horse, watched from the middle of the arena and spoke to us briefly about his stallions and his theories on breeding. Of course, everyone at KM is exceedingly proud of the status of senior sire De Niro as the number one sire of dressage horses in the world, according to the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH). Last season he bred over 800 mares in Germany, which was 300 more than the year before, and which was 300 more than the year before that. Yet, you can scarcely find one for sale in Europe, so coveted are they as performance horses and breeding stock. Mr. Wahler elaborated as he watched Theresa. To paraphrase, he said it's hard enough to raise a superior horse when you start with two superior animanls, let alone when you begin with less than brilliant animals. But, he went on, even when you have two excellent animals, the result is sometimes not as good as you hoped for. Even though all breeders know this, it was good to hear it coming from one of the world's premier breeders. After all, how many people ever own a stallion that leads the world's WBFSH standings?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Impressions of the October 2013 Stallion Licensing

The Hanoverian stallion licensing, Oct. 24--26, was a welcome upward trend for German breeders. I attended with a lovely tour group that included three Americans, including my assistant and our able driver, Stephanie Law, who lives in Germany, a Canadian and three women from Botswana, Africa. We immersed ourselves in the process of over 100 stallions being presented for licensing. The first day occurs outdoors on the triangle, where the stallions are walked and trotted in hand and posed in front of the judges for evaluation. Keep in mind that these stallions have already been selected for this phase by a pre-selection committee.
The second day, the stallions are presented in the arena loose and all are free jumped, even the dressage stallions, though they don't raise the bars as high for them. It's interesting that some of the dressage-bred stallions actually have quite good jumping form, but the poles are never raised as high as for the jumper bred stallions. They are jumped to give the judges another impression of their willingness and athletic ability.
The loose presentation of the dressage and jumping horses allows a look at their gaits, conformation and attitude to their handlers and surroundings. Most take it pretty well considering the excitement and noise level, but there's always at least one who tries to jump out of the jump chute or over the flower decorations.
They are brought back in groups of six to eight for a final walk ring in front of the judges for a last assessment of conformation and the walk (extremely important in the selection process). Then, it is announced which stallions are licensed and which are not. Even if not licensed, the stallion can still be auctioned, and in fact this is where many a good future gelding is purchased.  At the end of the day they determine the premium stallions from those which have been licensed.Those will be the first auctioned on the final day.
The next day the horses are presented on the lungeline which offers another impression of gaits, athleticism and shows suppleness and how well the stallion responds to the trainer.
Stallion licensings are an excellent opportunity to see what the stallions that I offer frozen semen from are siring. With a group of stallions by the same sire, it is possible to get a good impression of what that stallion is doing particularly well or where he is lacking a bit.
The auction itself was exciting and inspiring. After several years of downturn in the number of horses produced and falling prices, the 2013 licensing auction was a welcome reversal of that trend, as this auction summary shows.
I was extremely impressed by the Fuerstenballs. They were fantastic--elegant, refined, beautiful with three balanced gaits. They are quick behind with good reach under themselves, their trots are balanced with supple shoulders and reaching strides and their walks are long-strided with swing through the body. I cannot say enough how beautiful these horses are. I am wondering if he is homozygous for black as I don't recall seeing an offspring of his of another color. And based on what my clients say about his offspring, it seems they have exceptional temperaments to match their stunning good looks. Based on the uniformity of his offspring from a wide variety of mare bloodlines, I'd say he is a stamping sire. And he has excellent semen quality and conception rate.
Another stallion I was very impressed by was Diamond Hit. From a variety of mare bloodlines, he made beautiful, elegant, typey foals, usually of dark bay color. You just couldn't fault them on their gaits, presence, style or quality. I am very excited to have him on my 2014 roster, as his reputation for good conception precedes him.
The Danciers continue to be sought out and also sold very well. The are gorgeous, light footed horses with style, good gaits, lovely toplines and heads and incredible presence. You can always tell when a stallion is going bigtime, when every stallion station in Germany is adding one to their lineup, which seems to be the case with Dancier.
The De Niros were of course good, there just weren't many of them in the sale, which has to be because everyone is holding onto theirs. He bred over 800 mares in Germany last season.
The Fuerst Romanciers continued to impress with their size, conformation, light-footed movements and good presence and kind demeanors. They also sold very well.
The lone Totilas colt of the auction was booed by the crowd when he was licensed. A Verband official told me that though he has heard the crowd boo when certain stallions were not selected, he had never before heard booing when a stallion was licensed. The colt was knocked down for 100,000 euros to Edward Gal, so it will be quite interesting to see how he develops as a dressage horse.
From a wide selection of jumpers I preferred the Stolzenburgs. He sires horses more leggy and modern than his legendary sire, Stakkato. They are impressive jumpers: powerful, careful, scopey, with good techinique. The Valentinos were also on their games. And of course a high-priced Diarado was a highlight.