The late, great Puissance – a stallion with a special legacy *H&H Plus*

  • Following the news that successful sire Puissance has died at the age of 32, here is an exclusive feature (first published in our sport horse breeding special issue in March 2019) in which Pippa Roome visited Ballyquirke Stud, Co. Kilkenny to meet the stallion, his son Imperial Tiger and Michael Hutchinson, the man responsible for them both...

    TWENTY-SEVEN years is longer than many marriages last, but Michael Hutchinson’s relationship with his star stallion Puissance is continuing strongly well into its third decade.

    “I always loved the horse because he always kept you thinking as a rider,” says Michael. “He’s been good to me, so it’s my job now at this stage of his life to be good to him.”

    Puissance is 31 years old and he sports patches of grey on his face and neck, but he heads off for a roll and a buck about when Michael turns him out in the field.

    “A stallion’s got to get out in open space every day,” says Michael. “Generally my stallions are quiet because they get to blow off their steam in the paddock. I’ve always believed that if you give competition horses a certain amount of freedom they tend to be happier horses — and it’s the same with stallions.”

    Puissance has the first stable in a row of four stallion boxes at Ballyquirke Stud, Co. Kilkenny. Next to him is his son Imperial Tiger and beyond that the Sadler’s Wells grandson Sea Moon — a syndicate-owned winner of three Group Two races — and Winston, a former 1.60m showjumper by Heartbreaker.

    “Four stallions is manageable by myself — I don’t want to get involved in staff,” says Michael. “Even if they are quiet they are still stallions and I always fear somebody is going to get hurt.

    “I’ve got bashes and bangs myself from stallions but I think if you treat them as normally as you can, they become more normal. If you get over-protective, you maybe have to deal with a temperament issue. I would be tough on a stallion if they step out of line, but not in a vicious way. You don’t want to control stallions, you want to get respect from them, that’s all.

    “I like trying to figure out a stallion’s brain because they are all individuals.”

    Ballyquirke Stud isn’t smart, but Michael clearly loves his horses and there’s a friendly welcome as we chat easily at the kitchen table. His Swedish wife, Eva, is away, but we are joined by Orla Hughes, who helps with the stud paperwork.

    Puissance stallion as a sport horse: “competitive and brave”

    Puissance was bred in Borris, Co. Carlow, by Jim Whitty. He is by the thoroughbred Imperius — also sire of another leading eventing stallion in Master Imp — out of the Irish Sport Horse mare Lady Marlane, by the King Of Diamonds son Diamonds Are Trumps. He was bought by barrister Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe as a yearling and was broken in and hunted by Ollie Hutchinson, one of Michael’s five siblings.

    Puissance was approved by the Irish Sport Horse Studbook as a four-year-old and moved up through the grades as a showjumper with Michael, competing at the top level nationally.

    “He was always competitive,” says Michael. “He was quick, nimble and brave — there were times I was probably over-brave against the clock, but you never had to worry about him quitting or frightening him.

    “I’ve showjumped a lot of horses by Puissance and they were always brave. When you went against the clock, if you turned back tight and you didn’t really have the stride, they were always going to try for you.”

    The big, outdoor arenas and atmospheric occasions suited Puissance, even though he was only “16hh and half an inch, when he was competing — he’s shrunk a bit now,” explains Michael, who is 6ft tall.

    “He had a hell of a stride and I think if you’d had him competing today he’d have been better because combinations are almost a metre longer now than then. I was half choking him coming to them.

    “But I never walked a course and said, ‘That’s a bit big.’ I was never short of scope.”

    When Puissance was 12, Stephen and Michael decided he should focus on stud duties.

    “He’d achieved all he could here in Ireland and it didn’t make sense to start travelling internationally with one horse,” explains Michael. “I’m a bit of a home bird and I preferred competing young horses. In Ireland we’re brought up to sell horses; it was about making a living, not glory and honour.”

    Back problems prompted the end of Michael’s competitive career and, as he became more involved in breeding, his interest grew.

    “I won’t become a millionaire but I’m happy doing it, which is probably more important,” he says.

    At one time Michael had 12 or 14 mares, but he’s now cut back to two. He believes the dam is of primary importance in breeding and likes to breed from mares which have either proved themselves in competition or produced successful progeny.

    Puissance’s stallion services are now only available via frozen semen (stud fee €800), having shown he was uncomfortable covering two years ago, and Michael has never wanted his stallions to have a huge book of mares.

    “You’re better off having a steady influx of 40-50 mares a year, because it’s supply and demand — it’s better not to flood the market,” says Michael.

    “I never got into the big end of advertising. I like to let a stallion prove themselves. If they are good enough people will use them. I’ve had a lot of stallions over the years and if they don’t pay their way, I don’t keep them.”

    Michael initially thought Puissance would be a showjumping sire, but he has excelled in eventing. His progeny include Francis Whittington’s Sir Percival III — who was in the top 10 seven times at four-star (now classed five-star) — as well as Michael Ryan’s perennial top-level campaigner Old Road, and Sam Watson’s first championship horse Horseware Bushman.

    Sam has ridden numerous Puissance progeny, including Belinda Keir’s Horseware Ardagh Highlight, who he steered to team silver at last year’s World Equestrian Games, and says there are similarities.

    “A real attribute I’ve noticed is a good-quality canter, which is a great thing to have in an event horse,” he says. “I’ve also found them to be sound — most of them don’t have an extravagant trot and I think that helps with soundness, so I see it as a positive.

    “They have an appetite to work, which is brilliant when you are looking for a top horse to keep galloping on cross-country and come out the next day and showjump. You’ve got to get their energy and intelligence working with you, not against you, though — on a young horse who doesn’t want to go near a puddle, it can be a difficulty. They are more suited to professionals than amateurs.

    “They are clever horses, with good footwork on cross-country and once they understand their job they look for the flags. They are a little bit spooky, but I like working with their minds.”

    Full silblings shine

    Horseware Ardagh Highlight’s has catapulted Puissance into the spotlight, but he is just one of a remarkable set of full siblings — including Imperial Tiger — who are integral to the stallion’s story.

    Michael bred a mare called Gentle Servant, by Kings Servant, who was put in foal to Puissance when she suffered a career-ending splint. As Michael was more focused on competing than breeding at the time, he sold her to Tom and Teresa Walsh, with first refusal on her foals. He subsequently bought, broke in and sold many of Gentle Servant’s offspring.

    They are an incredible family, including grade A showjumpers Lee Ann and Little Elle, as well as successful eventers — the three-star (now four-star) horse GFG Rambo Man, two-star (now three-star) campaigners Harthill Percy and Chanterelle II and the horse who was 12th at the 2015 European Championships for Sam Watson, Horseware Lukeswell.

    Michael made a point of buying Gentle Servant’s final foal and after showjumping under Michael’s son — Michael “Tjossti” Hutchinson — in Belgium, Imperial Tiger now stands alongside his sire, offering mare owners the chance to use a handsome full-brother to a world medallist for a stud fee of €600.

    “When he was younger he was very like Lukeswell and Ardagh Highlight — a pretty horse and a good jumper,” says Sam. “Recently, I like the fact he now looks more like a stallion; a stallion needs to look tough, have a bit of arrogance and know they are the king.

    “Puissance has very strong genes. I’ve seen lots of his progeny out of different types of mares and he really stamps his attributes on his offspring. I hope Imperial Tiger will do the same.”

    Puissance may be in his twilight years, but with a tiger in the tank, his story is set to continue.

    H&H, 14 March 2019


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