If you’ve never been to a stallion show at the Oldenburg headquarters at Vechta, Germany, as I hadn’t until last weekend, it’s an eye-opening experience. The 20x60m indoor hall is decked out in red and blue drapes and national flags, fringed with faux greenery and red ribbon and packed to bursting with loud and appreciative breeding enthusiasts. The buzz is unmistakeable — helped along by the variety of bars downstairs — and that’s before the first horse has burst through the sliding doors into the spotlight.
What struck me most was what a huge deal these events are compared to the UK equivalents — the Schockemöhle show (11 February) in particular was completely packed out. And what a show they put on. It’s an impressively slick operation right down to the professional filming crews, with everything run to the millisecond and every horse made much of. They switch several times between jumping and dressage, a small, perfectly branded army appearing at each transition to seemingly whip a course of fences or loose jumping line out of thin air, and then magic it away again. Best of all, the music’s loud, the drinks are flowing and the clapping and wolf whistling is unrestrained. And it’s fantastic!
The show was the finale of my three-day trip through Germany and the Netherlands, visiting various top studs, and the Sosath show at Vechta the day before, along with 50 breeders on a trip organised by Elite Stallions. I had lost count of the number of stallions we had seen presented — it was certainly nearing 100 — but I was still gripped by every single one.
The appearance of Emile Faurie and his Olympia star Delatio (above) was a personal highlight – this 14-year-old by De Niro x Rubinstein I has bags of talent but has been somewhat underused as a stallion until now. He really is exceptional — a complete grand prix horse without a single weakness — and I predict a surge of popularity in him as a breeding stallion. Anyone who thinks a horse can’t be sexy has clearly never seen Delatio.
Foundation, too, made me draw breath. This 10-year-old Fidertanz son, currently unbeaten in nine international small tour starts with Germany’s Matthias Rath, is very impressive, a real unit of a horse with a solid neck and massive engine. Having seen the 16-year-old Fidertanz himself looking magnificent earlier that day at the Böckmann stud (below) it was easy to see how much Foundation resembles his super sire.
The other major British star to make an appearance was Big Star (Quick Star x Nimmerdor) — receiving piercing wolf whistles as he whirled around the arena, thoroughly enjoying himself, though looking a little odd without Nick Skelton on board.
The gorgeous nine-year-old grey jumper Caroly (Calido x Contendro I) impressed with seemingly endless scope, and Chacoon Blue (Chacco-Blue x Cartoon) made nothing of the huge fences, with the cups sitting right on the very top of the sizeable wings.
One of the biggest stars of the night was the great Sandro Hit, gleaming and full of life at the age of 25. The legendary stallion fully deserved his standing ovation and looked to enjoy second of it.
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Of the younger dressage stallions, two rising three-year-olds particularly caught my eye — the elegant, uber-straight chestnut Fürst Jazz (Fürst Romancier x Painted Black x Jazz), and the Dante Weltino x Sir Donnerhall son Dante’s Jr, whom I had skimmed past in the catalogue, but who I couldn’t keep my eyes off once he appeared in the flesh. While not the flashiest of movers, he was incredibly correct with excellent mechanics, and just looked an absolute pleasure to ride. I wasn’t the only one who thought so too – he received more whoops than any other young stallion of the night, and every breeder on our trip that I spoke to afterwards singled him out as one of their favourites.
That was one of the greatest joys of a trip like this: endless breeding discussions with a variety of enthusiasts and experts, chewing over every stallion at the post-show cocktail bar and on the coach home. I’m still fairly new to the role of H&H’s sport horse breeding editor, and I devoured every single titbit of information that came my way, pressing others for their thoughts and opinions. Opinions differed of course, in places quite wildly, but those core values — conformation and attitude — remained true all round.
If only the average rider and horse lover in the UK was more tuned in to breeding. We don’t all have to be experts — far from it — but breeding is the crux behind developing horse sport, and welfare. The UK industry needs far more unity — something the Foal Registration Tour, launching this year, aims to promote — but it also needs more support. If you’re ever thinking of getting into breeding, or even if you’re not, try to get out to one of the many stallions shows and events around the country. Or even better, head to Vechta as well.
Don’t miss H&H’s sport horse breeding special issues, out 1 March and 5 April