“Will Britain ever breed top dressage horses?” ran a cover line of the H&H sport horse special in 2003. The answer, just 11 years on, is yes.
Congratulations to Jon and Julie Deverill of the Half Moon Stud, who bred Half Moon Delphi. The horse, in 16th place, is I believe the highest ranked British-bred dressage horse since the World Breeding Federation Sport Horse (WBFSH) rankings were initiated.
In fact, the Dimaggio daughter — who won British team silver at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) with Michael Eilberg — was already born when the feature was written. And there is no reason to doubt she will be a one-off.
The signs are that more will soon join her in gracing the top echelons of the dressage rankings. Of course, Delphi is of German bloodlines put together in the UK by two astute breeders who invested in proven European bloodlines.
I include the owners of Dimaggio, who had the foresight to purchase the stallion as a two-year-old from Germany. He has since become an influential sire in the UK and his home country.
Cob stallion a web sensation
Meanwhile in America, a horse of very British bloodlines has hit the dressage headlines winning
a grand prix freestyle.
The winning routine of the American-bred Welsh cob stallion, North Forks Brenin Cardi (pictured), has proved a huge internet hit, perhaps because he is an unlikely grand prix candidate in today’s dressage world of warmbloods.
Both Delphi and Cardi’s achievements have been made possible for various reasons, not least the globalisation and growth of breeding and the sport of dressage, as well as access to better training.
Cardi’s success shows what can be achieved with a horse that has correct paces, an amenable temperament and, importantly, correct training.
Many native breeds or crosses certainly have the first two and, for many of us of a certain age, British natives, thoroughbreds and their crosses competing in dressage is nothing new.
Prior to the arrival of warmbloods in the UK in the 1980s, these horses were what we bred and competed on.
Britain’s first Olympic dressage riders Brenda Williams and Lorna Johnstone competed on thoroughbreds; in 1961 Brenda was third in Aachen on the part-Connemara Little Model (behind the 1960 Olympic champion and German champion). At the 1972 Olympics, Lorna and her former winning hurdler, El Farruco, were 12th overall (out of 33 riders). In the 1980s the backbone of our team was thoroughbreds and Anglo Arabs.
More recently, Shire-thoroughbred crosses have competed at grand prix. In New Zealand this year, former British trainer and rider Bill Noble won the New Zealand dressage horse of the year at grand prix with a Clydesdale-thoroughbred cross.
Let’s not pretend that most thoroughbreds or native breeds will beat top dressage-bred horses such as Half Moon Delphi — and yes, the class North Forks Brenin Cardi won was small. That is not to denigrate his achievement. Far from it. His result should serve to inspire, especially those British riders who have a British native or part-bred.
Many believe that dressage requires a horse of European bloodlines. That may be so for aspiring team members. But most riders do not compete beyond medium level, well within the capabilities of well- trained British breeds. Give me a first-rate, tough, sensible, British native or cross any day over a second-rate imported warmblood.
Ref: H&H Thursday 5 December, 2014