Hurrah, we have a British-bred dressage horse going to Rio. Not that British-bred dressage horses haven’t previously competed at the Olympics, although you have to go back to Seoul 1988, when three of the team — Dutch Gold, Wily Imp and Prince Consort — were British-bred, with Dutch Gold (Jennie Loriston-Clarke) the highest placed in 14th place.

Then European imports became the thing, before a few brave British breeders began trying to match them. And 28 years later we have another British-bred Olympic dressage horse in Super Nova II (pictured), bred by the late Mrs Eva-Marie Kirby, who was one of those pioneering breeders and one of the country’s first Hanoverian specialists (in 1981 she imported the Hanoverian stallion Akkord).

Super Nova II is a second-generation British-bred horse out of Walpurgis (by Weltmeyer), bred by Mrs Kirby from her imported state premium mare Golftaube (by Golfstrom II). Put to the great De Niro, in 2003 Walpurgis produced Super Nova II and the following year his full brother Duke De Niro (now competing for Belgium).

Although her horses won many accolades, how proud would she have been to see her horse reach the dizzy heights of the Olympics? And how satisfying for Spencer Wilton to be making his Olympic debut on a British-bred and -trained horse.

New bloodlines

We know there are fewer British-bred horses in eventing than there used to be and this is reflected in the Olympic team.

Up until London 2012, when the Westfalian Lionheart was the first European import to compete on a British Olympic team, horses were Irish or British-bred.

This year, three of the team — Chilli Morning, Ceylor LAN and Quicklook V, are of European bloodlines — albeit Quicklook is British-bred (from European imports). Good old Jumbo provides the most traditionally bred horse of the quartet in his daughter Allercombe Ellie, who is out of a thoroughbred mare. Bred in Devon by Susie Holroyd, Ellie too is the product of more than one generation of home-breds. Reserve Billy The Biz — the second British-bred Cevin Z travelling to Rio alongside Borough Pennyz — provides the Billy Stud with their first potential Olympic contender.

Sadly there is no team place for a British-bred showjumper this time, although Jessica Mendoza has made the reserve slot with Spirit T (by the British-based Tornado), bred in Yorkshire by owner John Roberts out of a Carnaval Drum mare.

Is there a shortage?

So the number of British-bred, Olympic team horses is three out of 13 (23%), or five from 16 if we count the reserves — and it sounds better.

There will be more British-breds competing in eventing: Jemilla (by Mill Law) and Borough Pennyz (by Cevin Z) have been selected for Ireland and Italy respectively, while New Zealander Jonelle Price has the option of two British-bred mares in Faerie Dianimo (by Dimaggio) or Classic Moet (by Classic).

Four British-bred horses competed for Britain in London — marginally more than this time, a downturn that overall has to be disappointing considering the seeming interest and increase in British sport horse breeding in the last 20 years or so.

There can hardly be a shortage of British-bred horses, can there? Looking at the details of the British-bred horses, however, there are two things that stand out: first, several of those horses, including the ones competing for other countries, are at least second-generation home-breds, proving yet again that breeding is a long-term plan. Second, the majority of breeders are still closely connected with their horses. How satisfying and exciting for them to be so involved.

Thankfully, at least British breeders believe in their horses. If only others would too.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 July 2016