The news that Louella Stud is no longer to stand stallions came as a surprise — a shock, even.
The notion that one of the UK’s oldest and most successful sport horse studs will no longer have stallions seems inconceivable. Especially so, given that — since the stud’s inception 80 years ago — it has stood some of the country’s most successful sport horse stallions, long before we used the term sport horse.
The stud was possibly the first to stand a Hanoverian. Not that many of us knew what a Hanoverian was, only that it was a lumpy foreign thing, useless at hunting. It was also among the first to stand coloured stallions — again a strange idea; coloured horses pulled carts.
But look at the databases now and see how far even the first of those bloodlines, such as Ferdi and Duellist, have travelled through generations of British-bred sport horses to the present day — let alone those of more recent warmbloods such as the influential Louella Inschallah II (pictured).
Louella has of course been synonymous with thoroughbreds: Louis Massarella always searched out the best, and for years his name was inscribed on the Macdonald Buchanan trophy presented at the HIS [Hunter Improvement Society] spring stallion show for the champion young stallion new to the scheme.
How everyone looked forward to seeing his latest acquisition. The stud’s thoroughbred sires have always been popular, and not just by sport horse breeders.
But times change. The past 15 years have brought about a huge change in sport horse breeding, in the main due to the refinement of reproductive technology and the change in the sport horse.
How many sport horse breeders actually send their mares to stud now, as opposed to an AI [artificial insemination] centre? How many routinely use a thoroughbred? How many stallion owners let their stallions cover naturally when you can now collect and freeze semen outside of the competition season?
And why even go to look at a stallion when you can watch it on video and order semen through an agent via your iPad?
Breeding is a global business. Gone are the days when UK-based stallions could expect a book of 100-plus mares — a book of 30 is respectable, and most don’t make double figures.
The issue is not dissimilar to that facing independent bookshops, which must compete with the purchasing power of global chains, rising internet sales and competition from ebooks. Just as you can sit in your kitchen and buy a book online, you can now buy an equine embryo via an online auction.
It is pointless trying to fight technology: we all use it, and although it is still early days for the internet sport horse auction business, we may see more and more selection and purchasing of embryos online in the future.
While we are all dismayed that a big stud is closing, we are all guilty.
Just as few of us have never bought a book online, there are few UK sport horse breeders who haven’t used a stallion that stands abroad.
It would be surprising if more UK studs don’t follow suit and close their doors to standing stallions. Perhaps, in hindsight, Louella will have simply been doing what it has always been good at — being two steps ahead of the rest.
This column was first published in H&H magazine (9 October 2014).