H&H's sport horse editor visits northern Germany for two stallions shows in Vechta and finds thousands of punters eager to see the quality stallions
For the past two days, the hall in Vechta has been packed with enthusiastic crowds eager to see some of the best jumping and dressage stallions Germany has on offer.
Paul Schockemöhle’s show (pictured top) was oversubscribed and punters were still begging for tickets, so they made the large food and party tent next to the hall ticketed too. People can’t get enough of it over there.
The hall in Vechta holds 4,500 people — and was sold out for both the Sosath show on Saturday and Schockemöhle on Sunday. In fact, the Schockemöhle stallions are presented twice — two weekends running — such is the demand to see these superstars.
There’s a real party atmosphere, with acres of German sausage being consumed alongside great beer that’s cheap as chips (of which there are also loads, smothered in mayonnaise).
At these shows, the dressage stallions and jumpers are mixed up. In every change-over between the two disciplines, an army of helpers all in matching stud uniforms comes sprinting out, and before you can say “my God, how many of them are there?” the arena is empty once more. Similarly, to get fences up, they swarm in and within nanoseconds there are three chunky jumps, complete with fillers, poles and topiary (pictured above, mid-removal, with the mighty Mr S himself looking on).
It’s really impressive. Some of the kids are tiny and I’d love to know what their involvement is. I can’t imagine an army of small people doing the same thing at Hartpury for the BEF’s stallion parade. But is that because of the lack of joined-up thinking in Britain?
All the pony-mad kids I know couldn’t be further removed from elite sport horse breeding. Is there scope here for the BEF to work with the Pony Club to build that relationship? It would have the double positive of educating enthusiastic youngsters about breeding from a young age and could provide a sizeable pool of agile volunteers to help at the BEF’s show. It seems like a win/win.
A flying visit
During my brief 48hr visit to north Germany, I met Diamond Hit for a Horse & Hound magazine sport horse breeding feature, then joined a group of around 30 British breeders — spearheaded by James Crawford from Elite Stallions — for the two formal shows, as well as private tours and shows at Sprehe, Böckmann, Klatte and Lodbergen studs.
There are more than 250 licensed stallions in the immediate vicinity: Vechta and Verden are to dressage and jumping what Newmarket and Lambourn are to racing. It’s unavoidable; even those not really interested in horses know what’s going on.
It’s a million miles from sport horse breeding in the UK.
Quality and quantity
What really stood out in Vechta was the high quality of the stallions. That’s not to say they’re all perfect. Far from it; I saw some really funky shoeing with what looked like silly putty (in all sorts of silly colours) sticking out the back of heels and more what I’d describe as ‘remedial techniques’ than you’d hope to.
What’s eternally fascinating about breeding though, is that even two dressage breeders, with similar aims, will have totally differing opinions on the same stallion. No breeders’ trip is complete without overhearing one breeder gush about a stallion, only to be told by the other that its hindleg isn’t good enough.
These continental horses undergo rigorous public grading systems, so only the very best of the many forward are approved. As an amateur breeder, I very much had kid-in-sweet-shop syndrome.
Still, with so many stallions available, there’s something for everyone. Some personal favourites of mine included Antango (Ampere x Jazz x Ulft), a beautiful eyeful of a horse who stands at Sosath; Sprehe’s black diamond Millennium (who apparently hadn’t covered himself in glory under saddle at the stud’s public show a week before, but who was simply breathtaking in terms of type and conformation and already has 10 licensed sons to prove he’s no fluke) as well as Danciano and Sir Donnerhall from the Schockemöhle show. And I can’t ignore Magic Cornflakes: a tiny pony who sailed over fences the same height as the big boys. What a dude.
The only downside is that breeders hoping to come away from this weekend with finalised stallion decisions were so dazzled by the array of tottie on offer, that most long-lists had only grown by Sunday evening. But abundance of choice is a lovely problem to have.