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Meet the lady revolutionising breeding in East Africa — with the best of British bloodlines

Venetia Philipps grew up among the stud farms and racing stables of Newmarket but settled in Kenya 10 years ago, working on a safari. Since taking on the role of stud manager at the country’s Sirai Stud when it was established in 2012, Venetia has developed it into a world class breeding centre, providing modern breeding techniques for the improvement of horses for safaris, competition and polo in East Africa. She has completely revolutionised horse breeding in the region.

The stud is owned by Michael and Sarah Spencer and lies on a remote ridge in the shadow of Mount Kenya, where guests can also enjoy the safari experience.

“Sarah had a dream to run lots of horses on a lovely piece of land,” explains Venetia, who had been used to riding Kenyan-bred horses on safari. “I saw that there possibly wasn’t enough bone in a lot of the horses to carry guests the distance that they were travelling.”

She bought three safari horses from South Africa for Michael and Sarah, a mix of Friesian with the native Boerperd.

“They worked so well that we decided between us that we would start up a stud farm and breed horses so that East Africa could benefit from having different breeds of horses and enjoy something other than what’s always been on the market,” says Venetia. “Generally it’s always been the Ethiopian pony or the Kenyan thoroughbred. Very few bloodlines have been brought in.”

Venetia describes it as a “really exciting and fun project” putting a lot of different stallions to Ethiopian ponies, which are generally small but tough and hardy, and breeding them up.

She made contact with breeding pioneer Professor Twink Allen and Dr Sandra Wilsher, who helped the stud to bring in bloodlines from all over the world and taught Venetia everything from how to ultrasound scan mares to insemination and embryo transfer.

“In the last eight years it’s grown from three horses to just over 50,” says Venetia, who also developed a close relationship with West Kington Stud in Wiltshire, importing semen from some of the best bloodlines from the UK, including some of our native breeds.

Among the stallions that have been used are Powerblade, Party Trick (by Chilli Morning), Irish draught Corrindon Dancer, the Connemara Dark Stranger, New Forest Wayland Cranberry and the Nimmerdor son N Aldato.

“There are lots of different safari operations in this country – there are some that really want to go hell for leather, then there are those that cross huge terrains,” she says. “So to create the ultimate safari horse, which we really want to do, you have to offer different breeds of horses. One breed can’t fit everyone.”

Importing the semen can be a logistical nightmare — shipments usually arrive in Kenya within a couple of days but then it’s a further four to five days to get to Sirai Stud, where they are put straight into their storage tanks.

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The stud’s phenomenal success in a relatively short space of time means that the market for British bloodlines in East Africa is booming and an amazing new establishment is being built on the Spencers’ farm to expand and accommodate visiting mares for embryo transfer and artificial insemination. These are very exciting times for bloodlines and breeding in Africa as they enjoy the very best of British.

You can hear much more from Venetia Philipps and all the work going on at the Sirai Stud in Kenya in this recording of a webinar organised by British Breeding.

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