Sport horse stallions – does breeding or sport come first? *H&H Plus*

  • Selene Scarsi investigates the factors that make up a stallion’s career, and asks whether it is breeding or competing that contributes most to his value

    BREEDING or sport – which comes first for a stallion? Is it a better commercial strategy for a stallion to be the “hot new thing” – fashionable and successful as a young horse – then retire from sport in order to focus solely on breeding to maximise his gains as a sire? Or, conversely, is it more beneficial for a stallion to compete to higher levels – with less likelihood of competitive glory but more exposure?

    Most stallion owners in the three Olympic disciplines are unanimous in preferring to prioritise sport over breeding, both as a way of increasing their stallions’ value, and as the most effective advertising campaign for their stud. Indeed, it is rare that a stallion is deemed so valuable as a sire that he is retired early from sport. But a stallion’s career path is dictated by many elements, not least the logistics of collecting semen, which forces some breeders – especially in Britain – into an either/or situation.

    Woodlander Stud’s Lynne Crowden feels strongly that stallions should compete, but explains that it can be a struggle to balance breeding duties with competition training for logistical reasons.

    “I don’t think anyone in this country has the kind of set-up that’s common in Germany, Denmark or the Netherlands, where the dressage stallions are ridden and breed from the same location,” she explains. “Here we have some fabulous stallions but in order to collect semen, we need to travel them to a different location, and that makes it a harder process.

    “Our Woodlander Rockstar, for example, had only frozen semen available as an international grand prix horse, as it was logistically impossible for him both to breed and train,” adds Lynne. “You have to be able to either compete and collect your stallion from the same place, or make a strategic decision to sustain interest in the horse by taking him out of breeding and putting more training in, so that you can build his competition credentials.”

    Working from home

    EVEN at large studs in Europe where stallions can, effectively, work from home, the priority firmly remains on sport. Saskia Conredel of Gestüt Bonhomme, the German dual-purpose stud standing, among others, D’Egalité and Grey Flanell, explains: “Some stallions, like Morricone or Cadeau Noir, don’t have any problem having two jobs, so we can easily keep training and collecting fresh semen at the same time. Other stallions find it harder, and in those cases our priority is the sport.

    “For instance, our dressage stallion Fiderdance was having a hard time concentrating on his grand prix training while breeding. To make it easier for him, we decided to make him available as frozen semen only, precisely because we want to concentrate on the sport,” says Saskia, adding that the 12-year-old Fidertanz son will return to breeding when he retires from dressage, but emphasising that he will not be retired any earlier than if he was not a breeding stallion.

    “Irrespective of the discipline, our priority is always the top sport – whatever that means for each individual horse, as obviously not everyone is going to reach grand prix and, while one jumper might get to 1.60m, another’s limit might be 1.45m or 1.50m.

    “When we look at a young stallion, we try to make our best assessment of his future potential – looking for a great hindleg, outstanding temperament, and so forth – and then, after that, we’re actually quite chilled. We take everything slowly, and do not aim for the Bundeschampionate or other intensive young horse classes at all.”

    Bonhomme pride themselves on keeping their stallions healthy and motivated, and are careful not to do too much too early. Dressage stallions tend to start competing towards the end of their four-year-old year, having bred lightly from three, while their showjumpers might not compete until they are five.

    “In some cases, we leave it even longer. Our jumping stallion Zinedream was so cool and easy-going that we knew he wouldn’t need to show much – he only started to compete properly at six.

    “We become more interested in competitions when they are seven or eight, and their bodies are more able to cope with the pressures of training,” adds Saskia. “But we are lucky to be in this position because the stud owner, Rebecca Gutman, runs various businesses. The stud needs to be viable, but it’s not a tragedy if a stallion has 200 fewer mares in his first year because he hasn’t competed as much as others of his age. Other studs have to do what the market dictates.”

    Desperados at the Rio Olympics 2016

    Desperados FRH competing at the Rio Olympics 2016.

    Lynne agrees that success in young horse classes will not usually be enough to create a sustained, lucrative breeding career. She points to the example of German Kristina Bröring-Sprehe’s Olympic medallist Desperados FRH, whose lasting popularity as a sire came only after he reached the very highest levels of the sport.

    “Either you keep changing your stallion roster so that you always have the ‘next fresh thing’ – but that’s something that only very large studs can afford to do – or you invest in training to high levels. I always tell would-be stallion producers that they have to invest in the capital value of the stallion, because in the end they will go out of fashion,” Lynne says.

    “Not to mention that, financially, you are much more likely to get revenue from selling a stallion as a grand prix horse rather than through stud fees. So you have to think of competitions not only for their advertising potential, but also because at some point, a stallion might no longer be desirable in breeding, and will need to have a value, and that value will depend on his competition success,” Lynne concludes.

    A career in both camps

    BUT the market can be wildly disorientating, with demand for young stallions varying between disciplines and countries, making it a challenge to work out how to structure a stallion’s dual-career.

    At the beginning of the breeding programme at Gestüt Westfalenhof, the home of renowned dressage sire Belissimo M, stud manager Kathrin Sudhölter was adamant that she would focus on getting the Dimaggio son Desario, then seven, to grand prix before focusing on his breeding. It was Andreas Helgstrand who retorted that for Desario to become a successful foundation stallion for the stud, he should breed while he was young.

    “Guess who was right? Andreas,” Kathrin says. “A lot of breeders on the Continent want the latest fashion, the most recent licensing champion. I think this is connected to the fact that a lot of dressage breeders don’t really care about breeding a grand prix horse, but want a foal with a flashy trot and spectacular front legs. Those breeders are less likely to be interested in a proven grand prix stallion, as they tend to go for the next hot thing.”

    But Kathrin believes that this is quite discipline-specific, and that jumping breeders tend to be more performance-orientated.

    “In showjumping, things are totally different: the stallions get mares when they reach the highest levels of the sport,” she explains. “A case in point is our Heartbreaker stallion Vancouver D’Auvray, who didn’t breed for years, but excelled in sport. Breeders started using him when, and because, he became successful internationally.

    “You also don’t tend to get quite so much money for a showjumping foal, so you have to invest more in the training,” she adds. “That’s why jumping breeders want to breed more international sport horses, rather than foals. A showjumping breeder has to invest in the future; it’s a totally different world.”

    Performance is key

    ULTIMATELY, allowing a stallion to reach his own competition potential is something that stallion owners owe breeders. British dressage team member Lottie Fry, who rides the Van Olst stallions in the Netherlands, stresses that, despite many dressage breeders’ desire for flashy foals, the sport is always more important than breeding for their stallions.

    “The goal for every horse is grand prix – even for those stallions who are extremely successful in young horse classes and start breeding at four. If they are successful only until they are six or so, that’s not very exciting for a breeder,” she explains.
    “Those breeders who do use our young stallions like to continue following their journey all the way to grand prix.”

    While a stallion’s early popularity with breeders appears to vary between disciplines, it is clear that it is sporting performance that drives success as a sire.

    “Breeders who choose your stallion need to be able to talk about the father of their foal and say, not, ‘Oh he was a pretty horse and I used him in his first year,’ but rather, for example, ‘He had three internationally licensed sons, and now he’s training for grand prix’,” concludes Lynne, citing the example of her stallion Woodlander Wild Child. “Then, they can look at their own Wild Child and say: ‘Yes, that was worth doing.’”

    Career spin-offs

    Some stallions’ career paths veer in unexpected directions. Catherston Stud’s popular stallion Timolin was bred for dressage, but is proving a popular eventing sire, producing talented progeny in both disciplines equally.

    Jennie Loriston-Clarke says: “We first noticed that he had an amazing jump in him when he loose-jumped for his grading; Totilas, his father, does have jumping lines on the dam side. He ended up eventing at intermediate level. Now we’re focusing on dressage because, at 10 years old and with small tour wins under his belt, he’s nearly reached grand prix.

    “But he’s proved himself as an eventing sire as well as a dressage sire, producing trainable and bold offspring, and is perhaps right now even more popular as an eventing rather than a dressage stallion.”


    Timolin is proving popular as an eventing sire. Credit: Peter Nixon

    Sometimes the decision to put competition first is taken away. Suzanne Lavandera purchased Dimaggio, one of the leading dressage sires in the history of the sport, as a three-year-old, and admits she wanted “a competition horse we could breed with”.

    Suzanne went on to win the five-year-old World Breeding Championship with him in 2000, but aged eight Dimaggio contracted hormonal laminitis, which put an end to his sport career and he became a breeding stallion.

    “We never stopped him being a competition horse; his laminitis did that,” points out Suzanne. “The competitions were the priority, but it was amazing that, when he wasn’t able to compete anymore, he still could enjoy a career as a breeding stallion, producing dynamic movers who are also trainable.”


    This exclusive feature is also available to read in H&H magazine, 18 March 2021 issue

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