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As British Dressage awaits Valegro’s retirement thoughts turn to finding future superstars. Speaking to Caroline Griffith at the nationals this year she reminded me what a challenge there is ahead. At the recent World Class pathway viewing day they were searching not just for grand prix horses but superstars of the future. Horses with the potential to reach near 80% — just to help us stay in the medal zone.

It was heartening to see how many breeders attended the Oldenburg stallion licensing earlier this month in Germany to research the young stallions and interesting to hear from a breeder’s perspective what they are looking for. As a rider I’m looking for potential grand prix material, but the breeders have to balance what will sell alongside the potential grand prix horses that often blossom later.

Some of the stallions that created a lot of crowd reaction did not fill me with joy; there is a certain kind of slow-tempied but extravagant trot that fills me with dread to train for the higher levels. I don’t understand the trend for slo-mo on sales videos at the moment — trust me vendors, most horses are too slow anyway.

Those awkward years

I don’t mind a bit of a shuffler or a sewing machine trotter — a lot of grand prix horses have small trots in the beginning. International competitions can resemble pony trekking extravaganzas in the warm-up until the riders find the balance and push the turbo button. These horses that save themselves often stay sounder longer, but people tend not to want to buy them as they are not flashy enough.

To be fair, in the in-between stage they can be slightly embarrassing. We have one promising six-year-old who always starts out as if he has his front legs tied together. He does have a big trot “button”, but it’s not established and we don’t ask much as he’s not strong enough — so he did half his novice test at the nationals in his very small trot, and then volunteered his best Totilas impression towards the end, which was confusing for the judges.

He already shows very good half-steps though, and did his first one-tempis the other day, so the future’s bright. Interestingly, I’ve sat on his sire, who had absolutely no ability whatsoever for the piaffe/passage.

Quirks and foibles

The potential grand prix horse is likely to be a bit of a strange character in the box. Reputedly Valegro is not a weirdo, but that in itself makes him one, as most of the others are weirdos.

We have one who flips an Ikea bag over his head and enjoys bashing himself round the face with it. Another grand prix horse lies down literally all day, and has done since a three year-old. Princess (Die Callas) will eat only if the food is separated into several different buckets. One has a penchant for rubbing one front leg with the other very delicately after work, right up to his elbow, looking a bit as if he’s practising Riverdance. Another tried to load himself into the boot of his owner’s car, up the dog ramp.

Intelligence is a mixed blessing. Smart is good, but you have to be careful what they learn. Some of the smartest people are criminals. As with all things in life, looks help, and to a certain extent size matters in a big arena, but — if it’s good enough… it’s big enough!

Ref Horse & Hound; 8 December 2016