Is British breeding on the up? Finding top Continental bloodlines at home

By: Horse Deals

Is British breeding  on the up? Finding top Continental bloodlines at home
Farouche, the filly Lynne Crowden thinks is the best she’s ever bred

Can you shop at home for those top Continental bloodlines? Carolyn Henderson examines how British breeders are catching up with the competition

While many British buyers prefer to go abroad for potential top-class competition horses, a growing number are staying at home to shop for Continental bloodlines. You might not get the quantity, but you can get quality, as leading breeders are proving.

"Some buyers have woken up to that fact," says Lynne Crowden of Woodlander Stud, whose working partnership with the Eilberg family produced a clutch of British Dressage national champions last year. "We certainly don’t have trouble selling our horses."

Lynne, chairman of British Performance Sport Horses and Ponies (PSHP) and a committee member of the Warmblood Breeders’ Studbook UK (WBS), sticks to a simple philosophy.

"People still breed from indifferent mares and give the stallion too much to do," she says. "Use very good mares, then you’re unlucky if you don’t get a good horse."

Lynne believes that while show jumpers are more open to British-bred horses, dressage enthusiasts may still be missing out.

"In jumping, there isn’t the same mad dash for foreign horses there is in dressage," she says.
But can you buy a horse here as good as those abroad, at the right price? Lynne saysthat if you have the knowledge and are prepared to spend time travelling, the answer is yes.

"You will see more good horses in a shorter time in Germany and Holland than you’ll find here, simply because there are more horses," she acknowledges. "In Hanover alone, they breed 10,000-12,000 foals a year. But British buyers are increasingly prepared to look at British-bred horses because, in general, they’re better than those of 10 years ago. There are more horses with pedigrees and people are starting to understand bloodlines better."

Lynne says that while buyers might have to drive further to see fewer horses, there are advantages that offset that.

"British-bred horses potentially have a more natural upbringing," she says. "One of our strengths is management, so things like trimming and worming may have been done better. And you can usually have the chance to look at a horse more than once."

Lynne says Continental breeders excel in marketing and "packaging" their horses, skills some of their British counterparts could improve.

"In Germany, I’ve seen very ordinary horses made to look good because they’re so expert at producing them," she says. "It’s something British breeders need to think about. Keeping a horse in the field is fine, but don’t expect potential buyers to be impressed if you bring it in with a mane down to its knees and it won’t stand still to be looked at.

"The Germans and Dutch can get higher prices for horses that perhaps wouldn’t get a second look in this country. We must stop thinking everything abroad is better — it isn’t!

"There are more and more top broodmares in Britain and more and more futurity and foal shows. People should get their stock judged so they can tell at an early stage how they’re doing. German judges who come here don’t understand why shows are poorly supported in what they look on as a ‘horse country.’"

While it’s impossible to give hard and fast rules on prices, you may find buying British gives you better value for money, especially if you’re a private buyer looking for one or two horses. Lynne says breeders and buyers must be realistic about relating price to the quality of the animals.

"Exceptional means just that," she says. "Many horses are ‘normal’, some are at the top end of normal and a few are exceptional."

Lynne and her husband Dave have been breeding horses for 25 years and she says their four-year-old Farouche — owned in partnership with the Eilbergs and Alison Walton — is the best she’s ever seen — as well as the best she’s bred. By Furst Heinrich out of last year’s national advanced medium dressage champion Woodlander Dornroschen, Farouche was 2009 British Hanoverian Horse Society mare performance test champion, youngstock and overall show supreme.

"We hope Michael or Maria [Eilberg] will ride her, but she will be sold because her value’s life changing," says Lynne. "She’s a half-a-million pound horse."

Scotland has its share of well-bred, potentially top-class horses, but breeders there face even more of a challenge in persuading people happy to go to Germany or Holland it would be worthwhile to visit. Sandra Low-Mitchell at Balcormo Stud, near Fife, thinks one reason is the universal misconception that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

"People who live in Germany go to Holland and people who live in Holland go to Germany," she says. "Though having said that, if you do persuade people to see you’ve got good stock, it’s worth it. We get a lot of repeat sales; people buy a youngster, like it and come back.

"They also like the fact that they can see a horse more than once, something you often can’t do abroad. And if something does go wrong, you’re not dealing with a seller in another country."

Sandra appreciates the need for good marketing and in March, eventing legend Mark Todd will join her for a special presentation at the stud. A selection of horses bred and produced for sale will be shown off and Mark will ride them when appropriate, assess them and tell the audience in which discipline he thinks their futures lie.

"We did a similar thing some time ago with Mark and so many people said to us: ‘We never thought we’d see so many nice horses in one place,’" says Sandra.

While most people want horses backed, ridden away and with a little experience of the world, not everyone can afford them. If you want quality and breeding lines and are prepared to wait, one popular answer is to buy at a very young age.

"Many people buy a foal or yearling and leave it here until it’s three," say Sandra. "That can be a big advantage for them. A lot of the ones we breed are sold untried and we probably miss future stars by selling them too early."

The rise in use of frozen semen means bringing in top bloodlines is as easy for British breeders as their European colleagues. While Balcormo has kept pace with modern demands, it also finds a ready market for stock and frozen semen from its great show jumping stallion Secundus, who died in 2004 at the age of 28.
Secundus, by Rigoletto, was bought as a three-year-old from his Dutch breeder by Sandra’s father, Dugald. He was the first stallion based outside the Netherlands to be awarded Keur Pref, the KWPN top status and, says Sandra, the stud still has a good selection of youngsters by him, as well as by other top sires.

Deciding where to buy often comes down to the numbers game. For professional sellers who want a constant supply for a particular market, buying from trusted sources abroad might be more practical and convenient.

However, it isn’t the only way. Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, take a new look at the home market because you could get the best of both worlds.

All in a name

To be eligible for registration with the WBS, a horse must be foaled in the UK. It doesn’t matter whether it’s classed as Hanoverian, Holsteiner or any other warmblood breed.

Sue Wason, WBS chairman and director, says this ties in with other countries.
"For instance, in Denmark they have lots of breeds such as Trakehner or Hanoverian. But horses born in Denmark are classed as Danish Warmbloods," she says.

Sue says buyers are becoming more aware of bloodlines: "I’d say people are looking at the pedigree rather than what a horse is marketed as — and at the end of the day, the pedigree IS the horse. There’s more understanding and less of the ‘It’s from Germany, so it must be good’ attitude.

"There are now serious, large-scale breeders in Britain and someone who owns a single mare can also breed the best quality."