William Funnell: Why British studbooks need to pull together [H&H VIP]

  • It’s that exciting time of year when the grass is growing, the foals are entering the world and our thoughts turn to which stallions to use on our mares.

    But we British are slightly handicapped by the whole process before we’ve even started.

    Over in Germany, Paul Schockemöhle, until now the sole semen agent for the stallion London — who made big news this week with his 8million euro purchase price, allowing Dutchman Gerco Schröder to retain the ride — has been able to employ some innovative breeding techniques.

    This is thanks in no small part to the government funding that many countries on the Continent enjoy.

    Not only is there a complete lack of funding for the industry in this country, but we have five different studbooks registered with the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses [WBFSH]. This is too much of a mishmash and only leads to confusion.

    British Showjumping [BS] did a very good job tightening up on rules that meant stallions needed to be approved to be registered to jump — unless you were prepared to pay a
    hefty levy.

    Previously, the collecting rings had been overflowing with mediocre stallions.

    But now, with so many studbooks fighting for our membership, it’s not in their interests to make the approval process too difficult.

    Stallion approval should mean he is good enough to breed from and, in Europe, it does. But we’re at risk of losing all quality control in Britain if it continues like this.

    At the Billy Stud, we use the AES [Anglo European Studbook], which made it to sixth in the world showjumping rankings. This is something for British breeding to celebrate and underlines how important it is to register with a British studbook to reflect your foal’s nationality.

    But it’s frustrating when you see how well Zangersheide, KWPN and the Irish Sport Board, for example, are able to promote their own studbooks.

    Ours need to have more cohesion — a British breeding co-operative perhaps — to raise the bar and be more constructive. We need to show that breeding can be a business and for the studbooks to help with this.

    An overall body would up the ante and prove that we can produce good breeding stallions — and help breeders know where to find them.


    Safety’s a no-brainer

    There is a lot of discussion in the showing world about the implementation of new rules regarding headwear. Why make a fuss? There is no argument.

    Until last year, when the FEI changed the rules for showjumpers, we didn’t have to wear a hat until we jumped a jump. Now I can’t even walk towards the collecting ring at Suffolk County without my chinstrap done up.

    The only exception seems to be the Global Champions Tour [GCT], where riders are given branded baseball caps to wear in the prize-giving.

    How the GCT would deal with someone falling off and landing on to their heads, I don’t know.

    Jan Tops is doing a great job for his sponsors on TV by arranging it — and each ceremony only includes three riders at the very top of their game, so maybe he thinks they should be capable of riding a lap of honour without falling off — but I don’t see any justification for it.

    We all used to wear top hats and bowlers years ago when we didn’t understand about protection for our heads. Now we do, there is no reason not to make safety a priority.


    Don’t you know who I am?

    I enjoyed Nick Skelton’s guest edited issue of H&H  [3 April] and have one story to add to Graham Fletcher’s marvellous reminiscences.

    Coming back from a show in Europe not so long ago, Nick was driving, with his partner Laura in the front seat, while I was in the back when we arrived at the Eurotunnel.

    Nick passed his and Laura’s passports through the window and the lady at border control looked impressed.

    “Are you Nick Skelton and Laura Kraut, the famous showjumpers?”she asked.

    Nick confirmed with a smug grin that indeed they were. Handing my own passport to a clearly knowledgeable horsey lady, I was hoping for some level of recognition.

    Looking at the name on my passport, she enquired: “Are you Pippa Funnell’s husband?”

    Nick dined out on that story for a very long time…