‘For a small-scale breeder, every foal has to count’: Meet the breeder of one of Britain’s most exciting young horses

  • An exciting young British-bred dressage horse emerged as the top-scorer from last weekend’s Equine Bridge event, run by British Breeding. Stolen Secret, a six-year-old Uthopia daughter, out of the Riccio mare Raico, came away with the highest marks of the weekend partnered by international grand prix rider Sonnar Murray-Brown.

    The mare was bred by Michelle Dawson of the Stolen Silver Sport Horses stud, and has been with Sonnar for training since she was a three-year-old. The pair have gained good results at the NEXGEN young horse championships last year, as well as the Winter Dressage Championships, and have had scores up to 80% at novice.

    “I’m only a small breeder – I breed just two or three foals a year, and it’s absolutely fantastic that Secret has won the Equine Bridge,” says Michelle, an anaesthetist in the NHS who says she used to work up to 100 hours a week, but has now cut down to “just 36”.

    “Breeding is so hard with so much that can go wrong, and when you only breed a few, every single foal has to count,” she explains.

    Finding the right rider for Stolen Secret

    After Stolen Secret finished runner-up as a two-year-old in the Futurity series, Michelle began her hunt for a professional rider to take on the promising youngster, but found it harder than she expected.

    “I knew that as a small breeder I wasn’t going to get a big name rider coming to me to buy a horse, so I was going to have to find one myself,” she says.

    “I researched about 100 British dressage riders, and shortlisted 12 of them who I then contacted with videos of Secret. I have a job that means I can afford to do this, and I was willing to become an owner and pay all the bills. But of the 12, only two riders replied to me and one wasn’t interested. Luckily, the other one was Sonny and he was actually the one I really wanted to ride her. He is a world-class rider, a total professional – he always has horses bursting out of their skins with energy, but also portrays so much elegance.”

    The Equine Bridge

    The aims behind the Equine Bridge, which was relaunched in 2019, is to promote British breeding, and to identify and nurture future Olympic horses by bringing together riders, owners, breeders, trainers and the sports’ governing bodies. Inspired by the performance tests found in countries such as Germany, the two-day event also involves evaluations by a vet, master saddler, a master farrier and a qualified nutritionist. Michelle feels this kind of holistic approach is important when it comes to the production of young British-bred horses.

    “The Bridge shows that producing a dressage horse requires a multi-disciplinary team,” she says. “In the NHS, patients are always treated by a multi-disciplinary team as no one can be an expert in everything, and you need to look at the whole picture. As well as the training and quality of the horse, everything else needs to be in place.”

    Secret isn’t the only exciting horse that Michelle has bred – the rising three-year-old Stolen Beltara (by Belissimo M, out of a mare by Rousseau) was the top two-year-old dressage horse of the Futurity series in 2021. Michelle has two foals due in 2022, one by British stallion Royal Rubin, out of Secret’s dam, Raico, and Michelle says that if it is filly she hopes it will become a successful broodmare in the future. The other is by the British Trakehner stallion Kaiserdom, out of Woodcroft Kristabelle, Michelle’s own competition horse who is trained up to grand prix.

    “Hopefully that pairing will produce something special, but it comes down to a lot of hope and luck,” says Michelle. “Breeding really is a form of gambling!”

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