Polly Bryan travels to Denmark to meet the super sire Blue Hors Zack and the other stallions set to keep this stud’s star rising for many years to come
Strolling through one of the spacious, airy barns at Denmark’s famous Blue Hors stud, I spot a bay horse cross-tied in front of me, having the mud washed off his legs. I do a double take – this is Blue Hors Zack, one of the most renowned breeding stallions in the world and a serious medal contender for the Tokyo Olympic Games, now in 2021. Here at home, just in from a morning in the field and bottom lip drooping as he relaxes and enjoys the attention, I barely recognise him.
Blue Hors breeding manager Martin Klavsen chuckles at my reaction to seeing Zack “out of context”.
“All our horses go in the field every day, even the top stallions,” he tells me. “Horses are built to go outside and move, so they all come out at least twice a day.”
It’s refreshing to hear. Back outside, we stand among the cobblestones and striking red walls of the original stable block – now the stallion barn – and gaze over the quaintly rolling hills that seem to come from nowhere in this pancake-flat part of central Jutland, Denmark. It’s January, grey and chilly, but I can picture the summer scene, with young horses roaming the paddocks. With just over 300 hectares, Blue Hors makes all its own hay “so we know exactly what we’re feeding”.
Blue Hors is a stud that is both time-honoured and forward-thinking. It owes its reputation largely to the legendary Donnerhall son Don Schufro, an Olympic medallist for Denmark who helped shape dressage breeding in the country and beyond. Sadly, Don Schufro was put to sleep, aged 27, just days before my visit to the stud, but he is immortalised in a life-size bronze stature, which Martin tells me is accurate down to the last physical detail and even includes the great horse’s real shoes.
The death of Don Schufro, the king of Blue Hors, represented the end of an era for this long-standing stud, but there was a new king waiting in the wings. We watch Zack strut into Don Schufro’s old stable, where he has taken up residence, clearly relishing his promotion to the position of Blue Hors’ flagship stallion.
Currently 26th on the World Breeding Federation of Sport Horses sire rankings – and the joint-youngest horse in the top 30 – Zack is also ninth on the FEI dressage rankings with Blue Hors’ head rider Daniel Bachmann Andersen, and it’s this steep upward trajectory of both his breeding and sport careers that stands this stallion apart from others.
The son of Dutch stallion Rousseau – himself a silver-medal winner at the world young horse championships – Zack impressed Blue Hors’ then-breeding director Esben Møller so much as a three year-old at his KWPN stallion show that the stud purchased him then and there, in the lorry park, for €430,000 (£391,590). The following day, Zack was crowned champion of the show.
“He was a cheeky horse, happy and fresh as a youngster, and kind too. His Dutch breeders, Trudy and Bas Wilschut, knew he was special when he was born, but at that stage could only dream,” Martin tells me. “He has such a good temperament and is just such an easy horse – he’s the perfect stallion; a new breeding legend.”
Martin explains that Zack has never struggled with juggling breeding duties with sport, and this is proved by his top 10 individual results at both the 2018 World Equestrian Games and the 2019 Rotterdam Europeans, while also breeding alongside. He and Daniel also qualified for the past two World Cup Finals, finishing fourth in 2019.
Shortly after H&H’s visit, it was announced Zack would take a break from breeding in 2020 to focus on his Olympic campaign, but with the Tokyo Games now rescheduled for 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s back to the day job for Zack, who will be available fresh and chilled this year.
“Zack has such a big personality,” says Daniel, who teamed up with the stallion as a six-year-old. “I love to take him out cantering in our fields, although you have to stay awake!
“He’s not a horse you can make a mistake on, as he will tell you if you’re doing something wrong. But I know him so well and he always fights for me. He’s almost human sometimes – you can talk to him and it’s like he listens.”
As if on cue, Zack swings his head round to look at us with mild curiosity, the excess movement compensating for the fact that he is blind in his right eye, since a metal headcollar clip hit him in that eye as a six-year-old. It resulted in him being some years behind in his early education, and Daniel still has to help him in busy collecting rings, but it has not held him back, either in sporting or breeding spheres.
Zack now boasts 39 licensed sons, and it’s the calibre of these sons that’s impressive, rather than just the number. The 12-year-old Glock’s Zonik (x Romanov), himself sire of the late 2019 six-year old world champion Zucchero OLD, is the medal-winning ride of the Netherlands’ Edward Gal – father and son Zack and Zonik have competed against one another at multiple championships.
Then there’s Sezuan (x Don Schufro), triple world champion as a young horse and now training up to grand prix with Sweden’s Patrik Kittel, plus scores of other Zack offspring already making waves on the world stage. These include the grand prix horses ZigZag, Zidane, Zap Zap, Blue Hors Zatchmo and Blue Hors Zepter – Daniel’s other potential ride for Tokyo, who is already pushing 80% at grand prix. Then there’s the younger set, spearheaded by the exciting six-year-old stallion Blue Hors Zackerey (x Sandro Hit), whose foals have fetched up to €59,000 (£52,500) so far.
“Zack passes on real power and strength; he is mechanically very strong and suits longer mares as he is very compact,” says Martin.
“Zackerey is a lot like Zack in terms of his functionality, but we wanted to add in a bit more swing and we get that from the German blood. It’s why crossing Zack with Don Schufro mares has produced so many good offspring, such as Sezuan.
“Zackerey is a really top-class stallion and very modern,” he adds, recalling how the horse received a standing ovation at his Danish warmblood licensing.
“People were surprised that we didn’t put him forward for the young horse championships last year, but it would have been too much pressure for him. He doesn’t need it for the marketing and we know that he is good enough to get to the very top of the sport, so why do it if we don’t have to?”
Zackerey is both impressive and friendly – a lofty, regal bay who I’m told will rest his head on your shoulder while being walked in hand, like many of Zack’s offspring.
“He’s another with a big personality and a big heart, and he’s so fun to work with,” says Daniel fondly. “All the Zacks are like that – in fact, I’ve never known a stallion from Zack
who is ‘stallion-like’.”
The next generation
Later that day, I watch Daniel working the seven-year-old Zack son Znickers in the vast main arena at Blue Hors. The walls are lined with huge black and white prints of the stud’s most prolific horses – the likes of Don Schufro, Matine, Cavan on one side; the next generation of Hotline, Zack, Don Olymbrio on the other – almost like a Hollywood Boulevard of Danish dressage.
Znickers (Zack x De Niro) belongs to the latest generation, and I feel as though I’m watching through an exclusive window into the future as Daniel puts the leggy chestnut gelding through his paces. He looks nothing like his sire, being narrow and tall.
“He was gelded and backed late as he is just so big at 180cm,” explains Daniel, who has been working with Znickers since he was a three-year-old. “But now he is turning into a superstar; he has no weakness and can go big, small, sideways… I’ve never had a horse like this before – he’s the biggest talent I’ve ever sat on. I really believe he can be one of the best horses in the world.”
Znickers is another example of the Blue Hors’ strategy of mixing Dutch and German dressage lines, to produce the best of both worlds – something Martin is passionate about.
“It’s very important to look at sport and breeding – we want to make a difference in both here,” Martin says. “Rideability is so important – it’s needed by the hobby riders, but the professionals want it too. We want to make horses that find the sport natural and easy.
“I like to look back through the generations of pedigree, but we also have a forward vision when planning bloodlines,” Martins adds, explaining that while Donnerhall, Negro, Jazz and Ferro have featured heavily in Blue Hors breeding thus far, he is hoping to inject some new bloodlines over the next few years to help keep their breeding programme current.
He takes me across to see some of the stud’s youngsters in the neighbouring building – all slick lines and pale wood like the main dressage barn. I meet the playful young stallions, who live on a long yard along the side of the arena, in the midst of the activity.
“Stabling them here helps them get used to having everything going on around them in the way it is at stallion shows,” explains Martin, taking me to meet the class of 2019 – a bunch of gangly yearlings who almost certainly have future champions in their midst – and pointing out the nearby farm where Blue Hors’ breeding mares are kept. He is keen to show me every inch of the stud, reflecting the importance the team place in transparency and honesty.
“Transparency is part of our philosophy here – we don’t have secrets,” says Martin.
This honesty helped boost the stud’s reputation in 2018 when Blue Hors became one of the first major studs in Europe – and the first in Denmark – to reveal the results of its testing for warmblood fragile foal syndrome. It was a courageous move, with three of the stallions on the stud’s fresh semen roster that year testing positive as non-affected carriers of the recessive gene, which causes fatality in affected foals. These were Londoner, Veniziano and Emilio, with Don Schufro also later testing positive.
“It was a really stressful time,” admits Martin explaining that, while positive stallions can still breed to mares who have tested negative, “we had to be realistic about how many mares our positive stallions would get. Some we took out of the breeding system. But right from the start we wanted to be open and test our horses, even though we didn’t have to. It encouraged other studs to follow.”
Indeed, Blue Hors has long led the way in Danish dressage breeding, and there are no signs of this dominance abating. The stud’s sport manager, Ulrik Gerstorf Sørensen, is excited for Denmark’s team chances at next year’s Olympics, always looking for ways to help push the sport forward. The stud places great importance on the health and wellbeing of its riders, with a gym on site and fitness kit such as branded Swiss balls joining the Blue Hors range of products.
“Times are changing and we want to be a part of the progress and evolution,” Ulrik says. “But we always ask ourselves, is what we are doing good for both the horse and the sport?”
Blue Hors Zack is currently available chilled to UK breeders for €2,400 on a pregnancy basis from elitestallions.co.uk
Blue Hors stallions to watch
While Zack and his sons are the undisputed “kings” of Blue Hors, there are plenty of other stallions at the station worth keeping an eye on this year:
Farrell (9yo, Furstenball x Dacaprio): despite missing a year of breeding and training due to a broken leg as a four-year-old, Farrell has already had seven sons licensed in Germany and a daughter named Danish warmblood mare of the year. Now competing at PSG level, he is proving to stamp his stock well. “Farrell makes a great type – we always know a foal by him,” says Martin.
Kingston (5yo, Glock’s Toto Jr x Turbo Magic): this young stallion has been busy – he covered 150 mares in 2018 and his foals have fetched high prices at auction. “He has a lot of great qualities – his rideability and his talent for the collected work,” says Martin.
Monte Carlo (3yo, Dream Boy x United): this powerful young stallion is new to the Blue Hors roster for 2020, having been awarded the status of premium stallion at the KWPN licensing at the beginning of February. His damline has produced a number of grand prix horses, while his sire is the popular Dutch team horse Dream Boy.
Vivaldi (18yo, Krack C x Jazz): this hugely influential Dutch stallion – already sire to numerous top international grand prix horses – has been leased to stand at Blue Hors for the 2020 breeding season.
Ref Horse & Hound; 2 April 2020