Stallion preparation, selection and training is a giant industry in Germany. Thousands of breeders anxiously await the year’s new stars and savour established, legendary sires.
Although sometimes accused of hothousing, not all German studs operate an uber-intensive regime.
Gestut Westfalenhof, 90 minutes south of Vechta, is a large, tranquil place with fantastically contented horses.
It is home to dressage stallion Belissimo M (we have a full stallion profile of this amazing horse in the first 2016 sport horse special magazine, out 10 March) and the jumping sire Vancouver D’Auvray, the full-brother of Toulon — as well as a number of up and coming younger stallions.
It is run by the delightful Sven and Kathrin Sudhölter, an unassuming couple who do nearly all the producing and riding themselves, him the jumpers and her the dressage horses.
It’s overwhelmingly peaceful in the stables, and we’re all welcomed into every stable to pat and coo.
The stud is preparing for their public show that night, so horses are being plaited and bathed. In one open stable a freshly-clipped chestnut is being prepared, his bottom lip drooping.
I ask Kathrin who it is and she laughs.
I visited the stud a couple of weeks previously and was awe-struck to meet Belissimo. With his huge crest and long winter coat, he looked like the grandpa of the yard.
“It’s Belissimo,” she grins, aware that he now looks unrecogniseable post-haircut.
Our group is smitten with him and swarm around him. Kathrin — who is plaiting him herself — unclips him from the cross-ties completely so he can better pose for photos. This horse is a true gent.
We also fawn over Dantano (pictured, top), a dinky Diamond Hit son with a face and character as cute as a button. He’s had some down time and is looking a bit tubby, but he’s playful and attentive. Kathrin tells us that the best thing about him is his on and off switch. She can ride him in the arena and dial up the power, then go out for a hack in the woods on the buckle.
The Sir Donnerhall son Sweet Hero — Sweetie to his friends — hangs out of his back window craving attention. He stretches his neck as I rub his face and nudges me each time I stop.
These horses are mannerly and friendly; that’s pretty unusual for a barn full of testosterone.
Westfalenhof has fantastic facilities; being an EU stallion station (they have a license to ship semen throughout Europe) they have quarantine rules in place and they show us round the immaculate labs where the semen is collect, processed and then shipped.
Tullis is part of our group and is himself in the midst of a major expansion and building project at his Shropshire base.
He too is impressed by the facilities and explains just how important it is to have options when it comes to stabling stallions. Some get upset if they see other horses passing their window, while others need to be able to put their heads out completely. It’s this attention to detail that sets Westfalenhof apart.
We drank some violently strong coffee, wished them luck with their show and clambered onto the coach for the next leg of the magical mystery stud tour.