Combining colour with performance

By: Horse Deals

Combining colour with performance
The horse who started it all, Sambertino, is based in the UK

Horse Deals meets Cheryl Mitchell, founder of Flax Lion Stud, home of successful coloured sports horses

Running one stud efficiently takes exceptional organisational skills and commitment, but overseeing two operations in different countries is a challenge only few would take on and succeed at.
Cheryl Mitchell of Flax Lion Stud is a dynamo of sport horse breeding. She breeds primarily for the dressage market and has built a reputation for colour too, while running established ventures here and in Germany.

The UK base is a small yard in Steeple Morden, Herts, home to the much sought after approved stallion Sambertino (Samber-Wellington), who passed his 100- day performance test in Germany with flying colours.

In Germany, Gestüt WM was set up in 2006 in partnership with Eckhard Wahlers and is an EU licensed semen export station. Former show jumper Eckhard is a professional dressage rider, having trained at the Hanoverian state stud for 10 years, gaining his riding and breeding qualifications. He also travelled the world as one of the Celle stallion display riders, was an auction rider at Verden and now trains young horses and competes at the Bundeschampionat.

"As our stallion breeding facilities are in Germany, Sambertino stands at Groomsbridge Stud in Cambridgeshire during the breeding season," explains Cheryl. "As well as collecting and shipping chilled semen from him, Groomsbridge provides packages including foaling down, walk in inseminations, full AI livery and, from this year, embryo transfer in conjunction with Rossdales."

Semen is quality checked before it’s despatched from the German base and is sent overnight direct to AI centres throughout Europe. Semen is also frozen at Gestüt WM from resident and visiting stallions for worldwide export.

"The stud’s based in the heart of the Hanoverian region, so is ideally placed for competitions and breeders," says Cheryl. "Verden, the Hanoverian breeding centre and famous auction venue, is only 30min away and is where the World Championships for Young Dressage Horses are held.

"Flax Lion handles all orders for Gestüt WM stallions and deliveries arrive in the UK from Tuesday to Friday. All mare owners are given a parcel tracking number, which allows its progress to be checked on the Internet and means we also chase these too!"

The German stud is run alongside Eckhard’s competition livery yard, where the team prepares young horses for licensing, performance testing, auctions and competition.

There have been several British-owned horses trained there — the 2009 WBS licensing champion has recently arrived at Gestüt WM to be backed and will be competing with Eckhard next season and several horses have been sold to the UK too.

Among them is Lennox, competed by Daniel Greenwood and on the World Class Pathway scheme. He was bred by Eckhard’s brother and prior to being sold won the three-year-old Hanoverian Championship with Eckhard at the World Championships in Verden.

"All our horses are first and foremost competition horses," says Cheryl, who runs the UK base with just one employee, Jenny Griffiths, who has been with the stud for six years and is known as "Mary Poppins", as she combines talents as diverse as riding and designing websites.
"But our mares and stallions are also fully graded for breeding and most of all, they have to have good temperaments. Talent is no good, if you can’t ride it!

"We breed for dressage first and if we get colour too, then it’s a bonus. There are several people in the UK breeding excellent coloured performance horses, although there still seems to be some discrimination against them in professional dressage circles.

"Tamberonie, a coloured stallion by Sambertino, is currently competing at intermediate I with his owner/rider and is also on the World Class Pathway programme. There are a few others coming along, so no doubt things will change over time. Coloured dressage horses are also rare in Germany, so we’ve been particularly pleased by Sambertino and Samaii’s competition and progeny success over there."

Cheryl reveals that the stud, which prides itself on being user-friendly, started "a bit by accident".

"Sambertino was bought as a competition horse, but as he was approved and performance tested, we decided to continue breeding with him via frozen semen. It’s only in the past few years that he’s been available with chilled. His children have been very successful and last year a daughter was ranked second by the US dressage federation at inter I and prix st georges and also won the Horse of the Year title.

"We try to provide a comprehensive service to mare owners, many of whom have become good friends. Some are first-time breeders and we’re able to suggest AI centres local to them, as well as help with foal registration form filling, showing and selling.

"Each stallion has an additional page on our website for foal photos sent by breeders and we have information about various breed shows/studbook inspection dates, as well as the BEF Futurity dates and venues, on a dedicated page."

Cheryl is justifiably proud of her stallions and their progeny, especially the home-bred five-year-old Oldenburger Samaii (Sambertino-Brentano II), who featured on the front cover of Horse Deals last year and was the first British-bred coloured stallion awarded a Premium and life approved for warmblood breeding in Europe.

"Samaii, who stands in Germany, has also been very successful in dressage with Eckhard, with wins and high placings at novice and elementary level, scoring up to 80%," says Cheryl. "His first two crops have been well received at their foal inspections by the Oldenburg and ZfdP, with a high proportion awarded a Premium. Two foals qualified for the 2009 ZfdP national coloured breeding championships and took the championship and third place and champion mare was awarded to a mare in-foal to Samaii.

"Another German-bred foal by Samaii was champion and best in show at a regional show and in the UK, one of only two foals born here in 2008, a coloured ZfdP Premium colt, was champion competition yearling at the 2009 Equifest."

Cheryl is looking forward to an exciting 2010, as more and more of her stallions’ progeny are attracting attention and showing promise.

"We are a bit unusual in that we’ve only bred six foals so far and now have just one broodmare, Elite Berolina, who’s had four foals to date. Her first was sold to a grand prix rider and was reserve champion WBS stallion and we still own the other three. Samaii was her second foal, the third was a colt by Don Ricoss, and Samaii’s full-sister, an Oldenburger Premium foal, was born last year.
"We also bred Veritas, a coloured KWPN filly by Democraat who was sold to the USA as a three-year-old and is now successfully jumping with her owner."

And Cheryl has another extremely exciting home-bred horse — coloured, of course.

"In 2008, I leased a German mare by Ex Libris [sire of Carl Hester’s Olympic performer Escapado] to breed with Samaii. I was lucky enough to get a coloured colt, Stevie Wonder, so giving us three generations of coloured boys!" she explains.

"He’s now in the UK with us and his grandparents and will stay to be shown here until he goes back to Eckhard for competition and, hopefully, stallion licensing."