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With every new year comes a new challenge and 2017 is already proving no exception. Woodlander Stud is, essentially, a German breeding operation — standing stallions, managing broodmares and foaling and producing youngstock. We have based our activity around the best practice and we would like to think we have improved in many areas of horse care; most significantly farriery, worming and nutrition. I make no apologies for building on a system of production and development that has delivered long-term success for sport horses for over 100 years.

We have foaled down over 500 horses and have bred, produced or both, for licensing and beyond, more than 20 approved stallions. Wavavoom, Supertramp, Clapton, Fransje, Freddie M, Wild Child, Summertime Blues, St Louis, Silver Lining and Debonair have all received German approval and undertaken successful performance tests.

All but Wild Child and Woodlander Wales, who were not sufficiently developed, were presented under saddle as rising three year-olds and none has suffered any ill effects. As usual, we showcased our latest crop of three-year-olds at the recent Bury Farm stallion show. It caused quite a stir online (see Spencer Wilton comment, p69).

All the stallions, including four of this year’s three-year-olds, were of the quality and development to perform for five minutes with little or no effort. Two of this year’s batch will travel to Germany in six weeks to undertake their 14-day tests under saddle, enabling breeding to move forward with the newest young blood.

Are we really objective?

There is no evidence that this practice is detrimental to the stallions. Rather, there is an increasing amount of study of sport horses that supports early conditioning and compelling evidence with thoroughbreds that those first raced at two are sounder than those first raced at three.

Of course, there are opinions to the contrary. But here’s the thing: do most horse owners really study their subject academically? Do they take the time to read a really objective, non-sponsored article on worming? Is there a technical publication on nutrition on their bookshelf? Or do they rely on the anecdotal advice of friends and horsey neighbours?

Standards of care should be the same regardless of breed, but we should also appreciate that the thoughts and rules that were generally applied to the horses bred in the UK 30 years ago may no longer apply to the warmblood types that are being bred today.

Breed aside, every horse is different and will vary in their ability to mature and carry the rider. Every rider is different too, and many are not able to ride the young horse in the way that it should be started. Our own facility starts 10s of young horses every year — some not until four and some younger than that. It depends on the horse.

Starting does not mean endless drilling, but a mix of light work of 20 minutes three or four times a week. This would be true whether rising three or four. An athletic young stallion wants to do stuff, and enjoying what he does is critical to his enthusiasm to do it again. We have had only success with this approach based around the individual. We would wish everyone else the same success.

To drive a car you need a licence; you also need to pass a theory test. We have no such barriers to horse ownership. What a pity.

Ref Horse & Hound; 27 January 2017