“We don’t do a medium, madam,” says the barista in Stansted. “Yes you do,” I scowl.
They do. I know they do. In my book, anywhere that sells coffee in three sizes does one that could, and should, be referred to as a medium. Not so Starbucks. At least the kid serving had the sense not to ask me for my name to write on the cup. At 5.30am my patience is thin.
But it was the obscenely early start that enabled photographer Kevin Sparrow and I to be at the Bockmann stallion station by 11am that day. We joined our group, led by James Crawford of Elite Stallions to start whistle-stop tour of some of the best stallions in Germany at one private stallion parade and two public.
Bockmann’s light and airy indoor played host to breeding greats Fidertanz, Check In and Canto Blanco as well as younger prospects. Horses and riders were immaculately turned out — the professionalism only clouded by the copious cigarette smoke from staff in the corner. Germans smoke. A lot.
The British-owned Dimaggio is here too for his second season — his laminitis meant they wouldn’t bring him out for us, but we were told he still toddles to the field daily and he has the end stable in a barn so he can look out.
In the afternoon we paid a trip to planet Schockeomohle — there’s pretty much nothing you wouldn’t want that they don’t sell in their enormous tack shop, and it all matches.
We also had a quick look round the yard — the value of the horses there, including supersires Metall, Balou De Rouet and Sandro Hit — who was on a treadmill — is mind-blowing.
It’s easy to forget as you leaf through the stallion catalogue each year that in reality they are horses just like yours and mine.
That night was the Sprehe stud show — the first of the two public parades, held in the Oldenburg headquarters in Vechta.
Despite the tight organisation, the show got off to a shaky start when the rising three-year-old Self Control laughed in the face of his namer by getting loose, then the next horse Lloyd George reared up and boxed his handler, sending him running off clutching his face.
If that wasn’t enough, a spectator passed out under the over-zealous heating.
Things settled after he was stretchered out, with attention turning to the quality collection of stallions presented — including Furst Wilhelm and the Cola son Cola Zero, who wowed with amazing reflexes and desire to get to and over the fences quickly and cleanly.
A just-backed three-year-old by Elite D’Olympic proved popular — especially among our group — as he is called Dujardin.
Last in was Desperados, looking tubbier than he had at the Games and more regular in the hindlegs in the piaffe/passage work. He is still a flagship stallion for the stud, but the recent purchase of the internationally proven grand prix sire Diamond Hit takes the pressure off.
Diamond Hit was shown in-hand and presented with a black rug covered in fistfuls of diamonds — powering around sparkling under the spotlight in his mega trot, he looked a million dollars.
Any stud whose front of house guy is called Mr Funke has got to be doing something right.
Stallion shows here are huge social affairs — the hall was packed with a sold out, fashionable, knowledgeable crowd. A major advantage over the British parades I’ve been to is that the Oldenburg base is a stone‘s throw from the centre of Vechta town. There’s also a major party atmosphere and pictures from the arena are beamed onto a big screen in the bar, where there’s lots more smoking. It’s like cross-country day at Badminton for breeders.
One of my favourite touches was the huge Oldenburg brand shaped door handles.
There’s a massive party tent with great big plates of schnitzel, cheap beer, excellent pick ‘n’ mix sweets, dancing and punchy tropical cocktails that come with free luminous bracelets (or, if you like, bracelets that come with free cocktails). In Germany, breeding is very cool.
We have lots to learn.
The introduction of the BEF’s Futurity evaluation scheme has made strides in furthering the cause of British breeding, but the need for the scheme to make money and be seen to be fair (ie the refusal to crown a winner) has jeopardised its power to attract the best and act as a showcase. The recent rule change allowing only stock from graded stallions goes some way towards addressing that.
I wonder whether we could go one better and invite evaluators from a range of studbooks to attend some sort of multi-discipline final? Perhaps three-year-old colts could be evaluated in front of them — and an audience — and inspectors could invite those that impressed them forward to some sort of second-round licensing. It would make for a good spectacle and potentially give the studbooks a chance to add some new blood to their books. Plus the competitive nature of life would mean there would be pressure to make the right picks…
Sure, the idea needs more fleshing out, but I think you get my drift.
What we have now in then UK is child’s play compared to the well oiled, popular and serious machine that is the German industry.