Stud Visit : Louella Stud

By: Horse Deals

Stud Visit : Louella Stud
Lucy Watkins with Primitive Academy

Running a stud is usually a lifestyle choice and so it was for the late Louis Massarella, who more than 70 years ago decided to go into horse breeding after selling his ice cream business. Now in its third generation of family ownership, the Leicestershire-based Louella Stud has not only stood the test of time but is also well and truly performance-tested. It is synonymous with stallions that tick the right boxes and, more importantly, produce the goods.

Lucy Watkins, the granddaughter of Louella’s Italian founder, is now at the helm. Lucy oversees the stud and the seven stallions currently based there, albeit with much assistance from long-standing on-site stud racing manager Jonathon Dodd and his wife Deborah, without whom, says Lucy, she "simply couldn’t operate".

Just a stone’s throw from the M1 and M42, the stud couldn’t be more conveniently situated. But apart from the smart entrance bearing the name, on arrival there’s little to suggest horses — it is one large, industrial-sized building. Once inside, however, it is clear that what Louella Stud lacks in visual aesthetics it certainly makes up for in ergonomics and it was clearly designed for efficiency and comfort of customers, horses and staff.

The building houses everything; the office and meeting room, tackroom and 40 large boxes for mares and foals on one side and 20 stallion boxes on the other, as well as an indoor walker and two covering enclosures. Behind and beyond are 130 acres of fields and paddocks. Apart from the stud’s own broodmares and youngstock, at this early part of the stud season these are mostly empty, awaiting the imminent arrival of visiting broodmares.

Louella now stands three of Primitive Rising’s home-bred sons; the Thoroughbreds Primitive Academy and Primitive Proposal — the latter already making his mark as an event sire — and the half-bred grey Primitive Star, another making a name for himself as a sport horse sire.

Along the passageway are the national hunt sires Rainbow High, Denounce and Nomadic Way, still covering aged 26, and until his recent death, the well-known Thoroughbred sire Criminal Law was here for 20 years.

In the heyday of the HIS, Louella stallions would cover up to 120 mares each every season. Nowadays, due to the massive increase in stallion numbers, any sire — especially those covering sport horse mares — is doing well to get 30 mares. Primitive Proposal, however, does buck this trend with around 70 mares a year.

"In general, our stallions are covering about 200 mares a year between them and we’ll have about 40 mares to foal down," says Lucy. "It’s a long season for us, as we can start with Thoroughbreds in February and still be covering sport horse mares in August."

But Louella isn’t just about Thoroughbreds and, way ahead of his time, Louis Sr was probably the first to import Hanoverians into the country, long before most British breeders even knew what a warmblood was.

A trip to Germany in 1960 resulted in the purchase of two colts, Ferdi and Duellist. The latter was sold as a foundation stallion for the Maple Stud and became a well-known sire of the times. His influence lives on: Laura Collett’s Badminton entry Ginger May Killinghurst is out of a mare by Duellist, as is her half-brother Lord Killinghurst, one of the most successful event horses of recent years.

Another of Louella’s better-known imports was the grey Inschallah II, awarded a Supporters of British Breeding lifetime achievement award and in the days of the British Horse Database the only stallion ever to feature in the top five sires in eventing, show jumping and dressage. Lucy regrets not keeping offspring from the mares by this wonderful sire.

"I should have kept the line going. I had a super mare by him but during one clearout sold all her progeny, as she was only 10 and I presumed there’d be more," she recalls ruefully. "Unfortunately, she died unexpectedly. I now retain a filly out of all my mares specifically to keep lines going."

Consequently, there are two fillies in the field by Primitive Rising. Another mare Lucy hopes will continue a line is Nomadam, the half-sister (by Nomadic Way) to Cool Mountain. Nomadam’s first foal by Primitive Proposal has already been sold as a potential eventer and she is currently in-foal to Primitive Rising, thanks to some particularly valuable frozen semen from two collections when he spent 24 hours at West Kington Stud just before he died.

"If she had a colt I might consider keeping it entire but in general we don’t tend to keep colts as the market’s so competitive."

One that has been kept as a potential sport horse stallion is the home-bred two-year-old Dom de Niro by the Donnerhall son De Niro out of a Thoroughbred Royal Academy mare.

"We’ll see how he turns out, but promoting a sport horse stallion is very different to in Granddad’s day, when stallions weren’t even expected to compete — it’s all about marketing now," says Lucy. "I feel sorry for a lot of today’s stallions — they have to be everything. They have got to be masculine yet at the same time they’re not allowed to be masculine and have to behave impeccably — a stallion simply isn’t allowed to rear any more. And competing doesn’t always fit in with breeding. Proposal did some eventing for a couple of seasons but it didn’t last as, more importantly, he had a stack of mares waiting for him."

Clearly, covering mares is important to the Louella Stud and is what has kept it in the limelight for such a long time. Louella’s achievements have been noted by its peers. In 2008 the stud received the top award for an outstanding contribution to British breeding at the British Breeding awards dinner.

"We’re a big family and hopefully the stud will carry on with the next generation," says Lucy, who believes that ultimately there is only one way to success.

"I think one of the reasons Granddad Louis and Louis Jr made the stud successful is that not only did they find the right stallions but in the long run it’s best to let the horses do the talking."