In Germany, stallions are grouped together into large breeding stations, so a three-day trip there allows viewing of dozens of sires without much agro or hours spent motorway-pounding.
This annual trip, organised by the semen import agency Elite Stallions (no, they didn’t pay for my trip) has become quite the calendar event for the two dozen or so breeders who make the pilgrimage every February.
On day one we visited Sprehe Stud, home of Diamond Hit.
This is the third time I’ve been to this large, slick facility and I’m yet to see a dressage stallion properly under saddle. There’s always a pretty legitimate reason – like the stud had its public stallion show the previous day so all the horses are having a day off – but it’s a little frustrating as a breeder.
This time, we saw a glimpse of the magnificent black 10-year-old Fürst Wilhelm through the cafe’s viewing gallery windows as we sipped on tiny glasses of vicious yellow German liquor named after his sire, the late Fürst Heinrich.
The young girl riding – one of the few wearing a hat – walked him for 20 minutes, with the rug casually draped over his quarters perpetually threatening to slide off.
We waited in anticipation for her to ditch the rug and show us some action; Fürst Wilhelm is trained to inter II and was apparently the dressage star of Sprehe’s public show in Vechta the previous weekend. But he was taken out untacked without breaking into a jog. Apparently his regular rider – who wasn’t there – has banned anyone else from riding him out of a walk. I was especially miffed as I have a three-year-old by him to back this summer and wanted a taste of what I might hope to find when I get on board.
Anyhow, they did show us a number of stallions in-hand, all of whom looked in exceptional health with shiny coats and bright, alert expressions.
The elegant Hickstead White – the only licensed Hickstead son in Germany and with a distinctive yin-yang face marking – impressed with his short-coupled, unstuffy type. Sue Jaggar of Millfield Stud – a member of the Elite Stallions group – who had used him as a fist-season sire last year – remained pleased with her choice and is eagerly awaiting the foal, due any day.
Diamond Hit was playful and friendly as ever. Last time I saw him, a year ago on a visit to write an H&H feature about him, he looked a bit lean and scurfy. But this time he seemed to have adapted contentedly to retirement and had a little pot belly and better overall coverage.
He is a remarkable little horse; he had a successful international grand prix record (under Britain’s Emma Hindle) and retired from sport sound. He’s a smart choice for long mares as he is so short-coupled and passes on his active, well-angled hindleg and willing temperament. He really is teacher’s pet.
He’s also one of the few stallions (the Vivaldi son EyeCatcher being another that springs to mind) who is ‘normal’ size, at 16.2hh.
The German breeding direction seems to be pushing towards ever more height, with legs that go on forever. But what about us average height mortals who are probably best suited to a compact, good-moving 16hh horse? Who is catering for that sector of the market?
Anyway, back at Sprehe, the supermodel Millennium – a black Trakehener by Easy Game – was absent as he injured himself at the show a week earlier and is receiving treatment.
Step forward his three-year-old son Million. Wow. Jet black with a beautiful sea-horse head, this stallion is hard to fault in type, with an incredibly harmonious topline and showstopping beauty.
His sire Millennium’s semen didn’t deliver the best pregnancy rates for mares covered in the UK last year, so perhaps Million – who is a steal at €600 – might help bridge that gap. Cue jokes about breeding a substandard Million foal and having to call it ‘Hundred’, or even ‘Dozen’.
We also saw the jumping stallion Longines, a beautiful son of Los Angeles x Calico. At just three years old he is almost completely white already, which is unusual as the fading effect of the modifying grey gene usually takes its time – just as in humans.
His fellow grey Coupie (pictured, top), a Coupe De Coeur x Cornet Obolensky six-year-old who we did see ridden on the flat, is a chunky, sporty model who didn’t mind one bit when 20 of us trooped into the middle of the arena. He comes from a very good damline; his mother First Cornet having produced four licensed stallions. He’d suit mares carrying a good dash of thoroughbred (so-called ‘blood’ mares) and those needing a more unified topline.
The final stallion of the afternoon – before we went back inside for cakes the size of your face – was a raw three-year-old by De Niro x Florencio. He looked much more like the rising three-year-olds we’re accustomed to in the UK; gangly, rangy and very baby-like. The stud only bought him in October – out of a field – and the stark difference between him and the stallions who spent most of last year being prepared was eye-opening. The other three-year-olds looked like finished, made horses, which just goes to show how much work goes into the prep of these youngsters.
The only problem with seeing so many good stallions is that it often serves to add to rather than refine my stallion shortlist. Maybe I should just get some more mares?
We didn’t see a showjumper jump a fence or a dressage stallion take a stride of trot, but it was still a good visit. Sprehe wins the (fictional) prize for the weirdest shape outdoor arena, which is like two triangular-like squares tacked together. They also have acres of paved courtyard area which many yard owners in Britain would kill for. It’s all purpose-built so everything’s in perfect order.
The stables are all eight inches lower than the gangways and the horses are deep-littered, with not a bank in sight. The partitions between the stables are all hinged, so once every few months a tractor comes in and removes all the bedding. Saves a lot of time.
The most bizarre thing about Sprehe is the catalogue. It’s glossy and black and chok full of stallion porn. But the horses aren’t the Sprehe family’s main income stream; they are meat distributors. You often see their lorries in Germany, complete with decals of chicken, pork and salami. In the catalogue, stallions are interspersed with pages showing plates of steak or chicken breast. Personally, I like to entertain the idea that these are actually the horses who didn’t make the grade…