‘Her dam was incredible’ – breeder tells remarkable story of William Fox-Pitt’s Badminton ride, and her dreams to create a clone

  • Grafennacht – the ride of William Fox-Pitt at the Mars Badminton Horse Trials – may currently be the talk of the town, but her breeder believes her dam could have been even more brilliant. The breeding of Grafennacht is an extraordinary story.

    Suzie Banyard was given Grafennacht’s mum Nachtigall when the mare was 18, and started eventing her at 19. They won the BE100 top horse and rider award that year, and went on to compete at advanced, despite Suzie never having evented before.

    “Nachtigall was given to me by my friend Nicky Killon to look after and maybe hack around,” says Suzie, who has also showjumped to Grade A. “I started playing with her and taking her to do some local things, then realised she was too good to just do dressage and showjumping, so I decided to have a go at eventing. I was turning 40 and she was 19 – neither of us knew what we were doing, no clue! She had no competition record at all.”

    Grafennacht breeding: magazine of eventing report cutting

    An article from Horse & Hound when Nachtigall retired from eventing.

    Suzie continues: “She was a very beautiful horse and a fantastic, fantastic jumper. Went advanced in three or four seasons, and never had a stop cross-country. I’d never even sat in a dressage saddle before, and the only cross-country fences I’d jumped were as a kid. She was incredible. I’d say if she’d started at the right time, she would have been at least as good, if not better, than Grafennacht – a wonderful mare.”

    Nicky had originally intended to use Nachtigall as a broodmare – she’s by the German thoroughbred sire Narew, who was used a lot to lighten German warmblood lines. However, Nicky never managed to get her in foal.

    Suzie quickly decided to have a go at an embryo transfer as it was “too late” for a 19-year-old mare to carry a foal, especially alongside her new burgeoning competition career.

    “It took a few tries and fortunately we were lucky enough to have Lillie [Grafennacht],” Suzie says. “But I tried again for another three or four season afterwards and never managed to get the mare to conceive again. So Lillie is a complete one-off.”

    Grafennacht breeding: could the line continue?

    However, Suzie was so keen to “extend Nachtigall” that when the great mare’s life ended at the age of 30, a couple of years ago, she’d had the foresight to keep her options open.

    “I have Nachtigall’s frozen DNA in a lab in France,” Suzie says. “I really want to find somebody who wants to take that on and potentially create a clone.”

    When Lillie was born, she spent the first four years of her life with Suzie, who remembers her as “very precocious”.

    “She was pretentious, she knew who she was right from the beginning,” Suzie says. “She was very single-minded and I can’t count how many times she had us on the floor as a foal. If she was going somewhere, she was going.

    “Being an embryo transfer foal, she had a surrogate mother, and they could not have been more different. The mare was a real plain Jane, and Lillie was beautiful. And she was so athletic as a baby doing these crazy gymnastics in the field, and this poor old mare looked like she was saying, ‘that’s not my child’ – of course it wasn’t. Nachtigall meanwhile was in the next door field, and had no idea who the foal was.

    “Lillie looks similar to Nachtigall, although Nachtigall had more white on her. She was absolutely stunning. I chose Grafenstolz because I wanted to keep Nachtigall’s dressage ability as well as the eventing. He tends to stamp all his stock with his looks. Luckily a lot of the prettiness of her mother came through to Lillie.”

    As if the Grafennacht story is not remarkable enough, she is the one and only foal Suzie has bred.

    “I was just trying to breed a very good horse, because I could never have a full career with her mother because of her age,” Suzie says. “So Lillie was a way of extending Nachtigall.”

    We’d say it’s worked out pretty well indeed.

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