Carole Mortimer: Let’s try to work together again [H&H VIP]

Despite sharing the common denominator of the horse, in recent years the horse world has become increasingly divided.

A recent look through old Badminton programmes made me realise just how much racing and eventing have become divorced from one another, having previously shared much in common — not least breeding.

Up until quite recently, some Badminton horses were bred for racing. Many were by National Hunt sires and most by thoroughbred stallions. It was interesting to note stallions that had sired both Badminton horses and Grand National runners — winners even.

Speculator, ridden by the late Richard Meade to win Badminton in 1982, was by Specific, the sire of the 1970 Grand National winner Specify.

Question is another that sired 1969 Grand National winner Highland Wedding, as well as successful event horses. What is the likelihood of that happening now?

Seeking the thoroughbred

Much has changed. With a combined 13 miles of steeplechase, roads and tracks and cross-country, eventing was formerly a sport of stamina. Dressage and showjumping ability didn’t feature as they do now and are two of the reasons why the type and breeding of event horses has changed.

But, despite the changes, breeders are increasingly asking for — and struggling to find — thoroughbred stallions to breed an event horse, which still needs speed and stamina.

It used to be easy. The likes of Specific and Question were just two of the hundreds of premium stallions available to serve thoroughbreds and non-thoroughbred mares through the former subsidised Hunters Improvement Society (HIS) scheme that came to an end in the early 1990s.

Another anomaly is that in the sport horse world, very few breeders now use a thoroughbred; there is little need for them. While there are a few studs left that still stand sport horse and thoroughbred stallions, for many standing the latter is not financially viable.

Tellingly, the large private sport horse studs in Germany — Schockemöhle, Sosath and Sprehe — have just one thoroughbred between them.

It seems to be left to the subsidised Celle National State Stud to supply the thoroughbred. Interestingly, Celle has several, including five available by frozen semen for very reasonable fees.

Fragile breeding industry

So in the UK, thoroughbred stallions are increasingly found at thoroughbred studs that do not breed sport horses. Are there thoroughbred studs that even accept non-thoroughbred mares these days? And of course, there is the huge issue regarding the method of reproduction; sport horse breeders generally prefer artificial insemination (AI), which is taboo in the thoroughbred world and another reason for the two groups moving further apart.

Yet, ironically perhaps, while some are looking for stallions there must be thoroughbred stallion owners looking for more mares. Last year, a report commissioned by the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association* declared the British thoroughbred breeding industry to be “fragile”.

One of the reasons is that in 2013 just 647 foals intended for National Hunt racing were born, compared to 2,400 in Ireland. This means there are some British-based thoroughbred stallions of National Hunt type not doing a lot. Many of these have affordable stud fees.

I am most likely being naïve, but is there not an obvious solution? Could we not join forces to make some of these stallions available to non-thoroughbred mares — just like it used to be? I suspect there are plenty of reasons why it is not possible, but surely someone could initiate a move to bring the two factions nearer together again.

* www.tinyurl.com/BreedingCrisis

Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 February 2015