Saturday, November 12, 2011

Point of Pride - Stallion Mothers, part 1

While I know that it is very important to breed with the best mares and mare lines one can afford, it wasn't until I had my own stallion go through the Hanoverian Stallion Licensing and Market in October this year, that I realized just how proud breeders are of their stallion mothers. 

Crescendo SF, by Canstakko is out of SPS Casandra by Contender.  Casi had produced Elite Auction horses and successful competition horses, but not a licensed son.  People would ask about the mother of my stallion and then comment, "well, maybe Casi will become a stallion mother afterall". It was clearly a point of pride to own a mare which had produced a licensed stallion.

In the US, the mothers of stallions are rarely discussed; the sires are deemed most important.  This is partly due to the fact that we have been breeding warmblood horses for only about 50 years so have not really developed mare lines.  In Germany, all the breeders know, or have access to information, about which mares and mare lines have proven themselves by producing successful performance horses, state premium mares, and licensed stallions. 

Sylvan Farm has produced 3 licensed stallions over the years.  I would proudly like to recognize these stallion mothers in this article.  First,

                                               Pia Blanca
Pia Blanca by Pik Solo o/o Ambling Picture xx by And Behold xx, born 1984
Pia is the mother of Agincourt by Abdullah.  Agincourt was licensed in 1994, successfully completing the 100 day stallion test with a score of 126+ in jumping.  He went on to have a successful career in show jumping with Joe Fargis and Hap Hansen up to the national Grand Prix level.  Following his jumping career, Agincourt competed in dressage through Prix St. George with scores in the mid-60's. 

Pia's mother was the Thoroughbred mare Ambling Picture xx by the successful jumper sire And Behold xx.  Ambling Picture xx was a line bred Teddy xx mare.  Dr. Peter Birdsall's research into the pedigrees of world class competition horses reveals that there are six 'Universal sires' which appear in over 50% of world class competition horses, whether jumping, dressage, or 3 day eventing.  Teddy is one of the Universal sires.  He was one of the first Thoroughbreds used in the German warmblood breeding program and is listed as the founding sire of the 'M' line and the 'T' line stallions for the Hanoverian horse. (taken from 100 Jahre Hannoversches Stutbuch by Dr. C. Freiherr von Stenglin and Dr. W. Hartwig)  Some especially noteworthy competition horses with Teddy in their pedigrees were (in dressage) Olympic medallists Ahlerich, Angelo, and Amon and the international jumpers Jet Run, Idle Dice, Touch of Class, I Love You and Bean Bag.  In addition to Pia, Ambling Picture xx produced multiple Champions in dressage, hunters and jumpers.

Pia produced many successful offspring and her daughters carry on the tradition.
   >Far Star, by First Gotthard, represented the US and AHS at the 2003 World Championships for Young Jumpers with Olympian Laura Kraut in the irons.  They finished 24th out of 161 jumpers from around the world, never had a rail down.
   > Elite Mare Francesca, by Wanderer, competed successfully through level 6 in the jumpers; finished her Mare Performance Test with a 7.72, with 10/9 for jumping.  She is in the AHS Jumper Breeding Program, as is her daughter Fiona.
   > Elite Mare Fair Lily, by First Gotthard is a full sister to Far Star above.  She completed her Mare Performance Test with an 8.11, with 9/9 for jumping and is in the Jumper Breeding Program.

Animation's 2011 filly foal by Ramzes SF
   > Animation (Andria) by Abdullah, winner at Spruce Meadows, multiple Championships at Indio, PHR Horse of the Year. 

In the next part, Elite Mare Pikante' will take center stage as a stallion mother.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Henk Glijn Clinic at Pumpkin Farms

For those of you that have not visited Pumpkin Farm, it is a lovely new facility.  Great facilities for visiting horses and their owners.  Large longing sheds and a full sized indoor with  good footing for the horses.

I am familiar with Henk from many, many years ago when he had just arrived in North America from Holland.  Nancy Benton, Susan Hilpert and others had him down from Canada to teach.  I was impressed then, and after this weekend, I'm still impressed.  These are just a few of my observations.

Saturday was a first ride with Henk for Blair and Ramzes SF.  Blair has been riding for us since September.  She has been riding Zach  for the last couple of months.  It was a real pleasure to see Zach relax through his back into the work.  Blair is used to starting and riding our young horses, so has slightly changed her seat  more forward to be light on the youngsters backs.  Henk pointed out that this was good for youngsters but not as effective on the mature horses such as Ravel and Ramzes. Henk suggested that Blair shift her seat slightly back in the saddle and the results were immediately visible. Zach moved more thoroughly through his back with more active legs.  One more new tool for Blair's tool box.

Henk stresses that aid should be suble but achieve a reaction.  If you ask and the horse does not respond, ask yourself if it's because the horse does not understand, finds the movement difficult, or is resistant.  Each might require a different action from you as the rider.  If the horse is just being lazy or resistant, you ask again, with the third time the 'charm'.  If you have to ask a third time, it's a quick, sharp aid that demands a response.  But no nagging. 

Henk also had the horse and rider take breaks, loose rein walk, when things has been going well. With a younger horse, he said if the ride is going well, don't fall in to the trap of thinking, 'let's do a little more, maybe something more difficult'.  He said stop, let the horse enjoy the good ride and be eager to come back to work the next day.

This was Zach's response when he came out to work on Sunday.  He was focused and seemed to remember the lessons from the day before.  He was soft and elastic working better through his back.  His movements were bigger and more active.  When he became a little resistant on one side of his jaw, Henk had Blair very softly and subtly play the bit with her fingers. 

Another thing Henk emphasized was how to correctly use your seat, not as a driving aid.  I'll leave that one for Blair to explain.

Blair and the boys will be at the next Henk clinic in June.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What about a discussion?

Here is an article I wrote several years ago for magazine.  I would be curious if you, as breeders and owners, think this information is still accurate or not.  If not, what do you think has changed?

Culling and the Long View

A recent poll asked US sport horse breeders to rank, in order of importance, those factors they use in choosing a stallion to breed to their mare.  Interestingly, pedigree was chosen as the most important factor by a majority of breeders responding.  Pedigree was followed by conformation as the second most important factor.  Only about 1/3 of the respondents listed performance of the stallion as the most important factor for selection, and fewer than 15% mentioned successful performance of offspring in sport as being important.  But to paraphrase a respondent’s comment:  ‘What use is a supposedly great stallion if he has never performed, and if he is incapable of passing on his heritage?  No use at all.’

It is surprising to see that successful performance of the stallion and/or his offspring was far down in the rankings.  Yet, breeding a horse that will be successful in sport should be the goal of every breeder.  Many years ago, I was touring with the late Dr. Walter Hartwig.  Dr. Hartwig was recognized internationally as an expert, and was then President of the German Hanoverian Society.  At one location an exceptionally beautiful mare with an impeccable dressage pedigree was presented for inspection.  Her conformation, general impression and type were scored 8’s and 9’s. She was then asked to move on the triangle.  We stood there with our mouths clamped shut.  The mare moved like a sewing machine with her legs pumping up and down – no elasticity, no freedom of movement, covering very little ground.  Later Dr. Hartwig exclaimed, “That mare ought to be shot, stuffed and hung on the wall.  She is like a statue, of no use”.  Harsh? Yes, but it points out one of the major differences between the US and European approaches to breeding – selecting and culling.

The majority of US based sport horse registries have some type of inspection process.  This has been a positive development that has helped improve the quality of sport horses over the last 25 years.  Having observed over a 100 inspections, one problem I see keeping the breeding industry from progressing even faster, is apparent:  most American breeders are not very good at hearing and accepting criticism of their horses.  Thus they are reluctant, or refuse, to accept the fact that some mares and stallions are not good enough for use in breeding.  Dr. Mary Giddens, DVM, breeder, former Executive Director of the NA/WPN and representative to the WBFSH, has observed sport horse breeding in the US and Europe for many years.  Dr. Giddens’ observes, “that good … breeders in Europe have taken a far less sentimental approach than American breeders. Horses are another agricultural commodity. As such, the breeding program becomes less emotional. This has enabled them to accept a system that requires inspection and culling in order to be successful.”

Patricia Donohue has also observed the sport horse breeding industry in the US for many years.  Ms. Donohue is the former Executive Director of the American Holsteiner Horse Association, past President of the North American Federation of Sport Horses, and is the Registrar of the American Hanoverian Society.  While Ms. Donohue agrees with Dr. Giddens, she has another interesting take on the industry.  Horse breeding in Germany is in the context of agricultural farming…horses are a ‘crop’ along with cattle and pigs… In this country, my sense is that we are more oriented towards ‘riding’ than breeding. Most horse owners in the U.S. are not farmers or breeders…they own a few horses on a few acres, breed to what-ever stallion is the favorite flavor of the month, without much regard to their mare’s pedigree, conformation or breed suitability.”  She continues, “My experience as registrar for two different warm blood registries has been that there are many one-time breeders, breeding for their one riding horse.” 

Ms. Donohue’s comment that many breeders are looking to breed their one riding horse, highlights another major impediment to the US breeding industry – most breeders do not take a ‘long view’. She notes, “There are very few breeders who have been in the business for more than 40 years.  And, aside from those breeders, there is still a real lack of understanding of what the warm blood breeding model seeks to do. Bottom-line, it is going to take years to progress from a relatively uneducated back-yard mentality to that of an educated breeder objectively tracking the bloodlines and performance of their mares… Breeding the best to the best, with the hope of producing a superior performance horse should be our goal…even for the owner of one mare.”

Taking a long view means breeders must look at their current breeding stock in terms of future generations.  Dr. Giddens comments on this idea, “Europeans seems to have more willingness and ability to think several generations ahead. Instead of thinking about simply the next foal or the next generation, I see German and Dutch breeders being able to grasp the idea that you have to do ‘this’ before you can get ‘that’. They seem to be able to better understand the concept that progress needs to be made in steps and that the immediate product of a breeding choice is not necessarily the end result. They understand that success is always a ‘moving target’ and that you must continue to make adjustments in order to improve your product.” 

These ideas of culling mediocre breeding stock and taking a long view toward breeding top performance horses should be seriously considered by every breeder.  These ideas are not easy to implement, especially if you love your horses as much as most breeders do.  However, if US breeders hope to produce and sell outstanding horses to top riders here and abroad, culling and taking the long view are necessary for the industry.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blair attends Jeff Moore's clinic at Osierlea

This past weekend I attended the bi-annual Osierlea Extravaganza in beautiful San Juan Bautista, CA. Judy received an email about two months ago from Jeff Moore about this event and suggested that I should go. I was all in. Learning more in my discipline and hanging in California?! I think that sounds great! Anyway, I took away many great tidbits and gained a new perspective on the actual "training" of the horse. It shouldn't be an emotional battle between trainer/rider and horse. Jeff was constantly telling us all that horses do not DO things to us on purpose. They simply do not think in that way.
The major focus of the entire clinic was core, core, core. If you do not have a strong core muscle it is nearly impossible to have a steady horse. In order for your horse to be cooperative and respond easily to your aids, the core muscle must be stable and engaged. Several key signs of a weak core (according to Jeff and his program) are Unsteady hands, pulling hands, unstable legs, unsteady trunk, shoulders held too high, and twisting in the upper body. These are just a few, of course there are many others. 
And here is a simple exercise to help strengthen your core! It is called "the squeeze" and fairly self explanatory. You could do this while sitting in the office chair, while driving, and even while standing still on your horse. If you are in a chair, move forward so that your back is not touching it and exhale. Think of pulling your belly button in and up towards your spine(in the direction of your throat). You could also think of narrowing your waist so that your waistband is no longer touching your skin. Continue to breathe normally WITHOUT letting your core relax. Every few seconds concentrate on your belly button to be sure that your core is still engaged. Do this 3-5 times for 60seconds each. 
You'll be sure to have a super strong core after a few weeks of that!
 All of this broken down bio-mechanic theory cleared my mind of some unnecessary pre-set ideas and I'm confident that all of my horses are going to appreciate my new outlook! I'm extremely grateful to Judy for not only pushing me to further my education but helping to support it as well. I look forward to the upcoming show/clinic season and am very excited for what is yet to come!
by Blair Niemcziek

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What a week- Thank you, Mike

Blair, our working student and professional in training, leaves in two days to attend a Jeff Moore seminar at Osierlea, on bio-mechanics of horse and rider, the psychology of training and challenges of motor skills learning.  Blair is an accomplished young rider; this course will help her develop more skills for training and teaching.  She is also riding monthly with well known top level trainer Henk Glijn from British Columiba.  In the April clinic she will ride her own PSG horse Ravel and Ramzes SF.

While I sit here writing, we are have the MOST AMAZING storm - thunder, lightning, hail, and rain are slamming down! The horses are all safely in the barn. Including the new quarter horse foal born last night.  Thank goodness the owner sent the mare to us to foal out as the foal was presented upside-down and backwards. Cannot thank Mike enough; his years of experience saved the foal and the mare.  Both are doing quite well, and we can breath a great sigh of relief.

As you know I have some horses in Germany. Everything is in flux.  My yearling filly will be moving to Heinrich Heemke's for raising as Gudrun is cutting back on outside clients - too much work with 30 horses.  The two years old colt will either go to Heemke's for another year on the pasture, or Han-Henning von der Decken or Stefan Blanken to prepare for stallion selection.  The 3 years old filly will go the Verden Riding and Driving School to be backed and then to Rainer Schmerglatt's to be trained as a hunter.

Finally, I'm now working part-time for a manufacturing firm as a project/operations manager.  And I'm enjoying it.  Not sure I needed more work to do, but it's refreshing to be talking about something new.  Haven't worked in corporate America for a really long time ;-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

AHS symposium continues

On Saturday, the group moved to the beautiful DevonWood facility, for a day of demonstrations. Maren and Stefan were charming and humorous while sharing with the audience.  Maren did a mini-clinic on how to show a horse in-hand from correct use of the reins - she shared a few new techniques - to running and whip handling.  With Stefan as the 'student', there were some funny moments when he did things wrong and Maren would correct him.  She teased him often.  The audience had questions and one lady offered to be a second 'student' taking her turn around the triangle.  Everyone learned some new techniques and had fun.

 Next Stefan worked with a couple of jumping horses - one inexperienced and one lower level Grand Prix horse.  The first horse was Wooster, owned by Jessica Wisdom, and bred by my good friend Maggie Clark. Wooster is a high energy, black gelding who belies his pedigree. By Wolkenstein II o/o Miroirs by Maurice (Matcho AA), Wooster should have been a dressage horse.  But no, he prefers jumping and shows power and a lovely bascule.  Several people laughingly commented, after seeing him, that they would like to see his DNA results!  Stefan worked with the rider to start slow and low, establishing balance and cadence before and following the fence.  As the horse gained more confidence, Stefan asked for a small vertical and then oxer.  The horse was mostly worked on curves, rather than in long straight lines, to the fences.  One this day, not every technique was successful with Wooster; however, the schooling lessons should provide good basics over time.  The second horse Landha is well-known on the local jumper circuit.  She is owned and ridden by Alexandra Holmes.  Landha is by Lanthan o/o Falkenbraut by Falkland (Wanderer).  Although Lanthan is usually thought of as a dressage sire, he has sired many jumpers; and Falkland/Wanderer are known equally well for producing both dressage and jumping horses. This pair knows each other so well and has lots of experience so that Stefan did not have to do much but raise the fences.  Landha was a delight to watch.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

more on the meeting

On Friday, Maren Schlender of the Hanoverain Verband gave a talk on their Young Breeder Clubs and competitions.  This appears to be similar to pony club or 4-H but the training and competing is from the breeders perspective.  They learn all the basics of good horsemanship, in addition to bloodlines, showing sporthorses in hand and taking many quizzes.  They have local, regional and in Europe an international competition for the kids that qualify complete with a breed shows, and a 'know down'.  What a great way to introduce kids to breeding and horses.  Most of the kids go on to compete as amateurs and/or breed one or two mares. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Home from AHS meeting

Returned home from the AHS annual meeting late on Sunday.  Mary and I had organized a training session for the Mare & Stallion Committee judges.  It was held at Deborah and Marvin Hausman's wonderful facility Quailhurst.  Deborah went over the top to make this session a success providing many of her wonderful horses for demonstrations and ending the day with a tasting of Quailhurst wines.  Dr. Christmann from the Hanoverian Verband in Germany was the clinician with the help of top German trainer Stefan Blanken and Maren Schlender, who coordinates the Young Breeders organization.  Our mare Chatarina (Contendro I/Fabriano/Lemon Park) was used as a demo horse for freejumping, finishing with a fence 1.5 m high and nearly 2 m wide!  No problem.  Our young Escudo I/First Gotthard/Pik Solo) jumped well but was not up to form.  He'd had a BIG week with his first body clip, first trailer ride, and first trip away from the farm - he was not as confident as usual.  Good training for him.  After the jumping, the judges reviewed a riding test using Chatarina, ridden by Morgan Barrows, and La Jolla (Linaro/Pik Solo/Windy Sands xx) ridden by Blair Niemcziek.  The girls rode well, showing the horses to their best advantage.  The judges were most appreciative.  More news on the annual meeting soon.