The “Breeding for Gold” symposium at the Royal Agricultural University (9 March) provided food for thought. The presentation by Dr Ludwig Christmann of the Hanoverian Verband was particularly interesting, not only because of the fascinating history of the breed, but because of the underlying emphasis on the Hanoverian system used to produce this successful horse. I was particularly intrigued to learn that any Hanoverian breeder wishing to breed their (already graded) mare has to register her each year and pay to do so. Imagine the outcry if any British breed society made that a rule.

Why is it that we applaud the European systems but dislike anything similar being initiated here in the UK? Most British mare owners baulk at grading their mares, yet grading is a fact of breeding life in Germany and just a part of the accepted system.

Where are they now?

Jan Rogers, the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) head of equine development, and her assistant Lauren Brown provoked further thought, through their presentation based on data provided by 10 years of the BEF Futurity.

While the Futurity is but a snapshot of the British sport horse industry — as it is not compulsory, and therefore only covers around a third of all sport horses born each year — nonetheless I suspect that Lauren’s study into young horses after the Futurity was representative of the UK young horse population as a whole.

Her study found that, of the majority of Futurity graduates that are competing, most of them compete in unaffiliated competition. This is despite many of them being earmarked, a few years earlier, for greater things. The main reasons owners cited for this were the costs of production and affiliated competition, and/or the lack of a suitable rider to take the horse to a higher level.

While there is no horse in the world standing in a stable wishing that it had a better rider — horses just want to eat grass — it does seem a waste of British-bred equine talent, especially as these horses were presumably bred with competition in mind.

Systematic training

What came out of the discussion among delegates was the lack of both a system and riders aimed at producing young horses to a recognised standard. A post-symposium discussion led to the suggestion of a national school — not only for young horses but, more importantly, trainers — that would provide a benchmark qualification. As it was pointed out, racing has the British Racing School (BRS) for those wanting to work in the racing industry.

The obvious obstacle to such a centre is funding — it costs £3m a year to run the BRS. Needless to say Germany has a national centre (Warendorf) and a rigid system of qualifications for riders and trainers that is divided into professional and amateur. All professional trainers there have undertaken a three-year apprenticeship under a master trainer and have to pass exams.

While the British Horse Society (BHS) does have a system of teaching qualifications, these are optional. They seem to have fallen out of favour and are perhaps not specific enough for those training young horses. As Jennie Loriston-Clarke highlighted at the seminar, anyone in the UK, of any age or experience, is allowed to call themselves a trainer.

Would breeders and aspiring British competition riders and trainers support such an approach anyway — or is it just too much of a system? But do we not owe it to our young horses, breeders and the confidence of future owners to start implementing and be more accepting of a system?

Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 March 2016