By Caroline Ironside (Jan 10)
I first came into contact with Sarah Steggall, owner of Bernwode Stud when we purchased a sports pony stallion. With her help we acquired the Westfalen Approved Pony Stallion "Nibelungenheld IV". Sarah persuaded us that this was something we should try, due to the ever increasing popularity of sports ponies in the UK, and the excellent lineage that the stallion came from. So with her help we imported the stallion into Scotland.
"Nibels" as he was affectionately known at home was a member of one of Germany’s most successful families. His dam, "Nibelungenlied" was an Elite State Premium mare and several times Bundeschampion. She produced four sons all of whom are Licensed stallions having excelled at their grading, and six daughters who have all been awarded Elite State Premium status at grading. "Nibels" sire, Nobel was a multi Champion having won the Westfalen licensing in 1981 and being represented by no less than 10 children at the 1998 and 1999 Bundeschampionat. One of Nibelungenheld’s full brothers was three times National Champion and jumped as a member of the German European Team whilst another was the Bundeschampion at five years old and is also sire of the Bundeschampion Nobelprinz II.
"Nibels" competed successfully with us in showjumping before we sold him (with the help from Sarah) to well known entertainer Noel Edmonds for a future sports pony for one of his daughters.
Bernwode Stud is situated in an idyllic location in Somerset and has had incredible success over the years. Their aim - to help the excellent grass root systems by providing 'up and coming' riders with realistically priced, British bred ponies capable of competing at the highest levels. Not only is this their aim, but the realisation is taking place of her breeding programme, as her prefix "Bernwode" is becoming eminent in the world of Sports Ponies.
Thankfully for us, Sarah has taken time out of her busy schedule to give our readers an insight into her breeding programme and her thoughts on what it takes to get to where she is today. What follows is some very interesting information on the background and future of Sarah and her stud Bernwode.
To start off the interview I asked how she first became involved in horses and more importantly sports ponies.
"I was a horse obsessed child growing up in London, my only outlet being that my parents owned the model horse company, Julips. Looking back on it now I was busy creating my model stud at ten years old and, at that time, was lucky enough to have access to any Julip stallion, mare or foal of my choice!
On leaving school I swapped the rubber version for the real thing and spent several years training and working with International event horses until my interest in breeding led me to The Pendley Stud in Buckingham. This was an excellent learning ground and I gained valuable experience in all areas of stud management and in the breeding and production of children’s’ ponies."
The "Julips" Dressage Horse
Now how many of us had a "Julips" horse? I know that I did, so can fully understand the pleasure that these figures made to a young horse mad child! My next question for Sarah was finding out what gave her the push to specialise in breeding sports ponies.
"Many years later my youngest son was selected for the original National BYRDS Scheme which, at that time, included all the top pony and rider combinations competing internationally. This was my first insight into specifically bred ‘warmblood’ ponies and it became obvious that Germany, in particular, was years ahead of the UK in this area and that few of our top pony riders were competing British bred ponies!
I was breeding a few warmblood horses which took me to Germany and gave me the opportunity to research the successful pony lines, make contact with German pony breeders and study their strategy for grading mares and stallions for breeding. So many of the European ponies were based on British bloodlines, in Germany the Welsh Section B, and in Holland the New Forest, but they had been selecting their breeding stock for movement and athletic ability rather than ‘showring type’ and had freely injected some warmblood horse lines that were known to throw small.
Whilst not wanting to disturb the great British showing culture or our valuable Breed Societies I felt we also needed to recognise the value of our ponies as a base for creating a ‘British Sports Pony’ through the European grading structure which was proving so successful in Germany. "
"In 2000, this led to the inception of the Sports Pony Studbook Society for which I have to thank Celia Clarke and a team of tireless supporters. The motivation has been to provide GB’s talented children with affordable, British bred ponies that can realistically compete on an equal par with those imported from mainland Europe and, selfishly, to have a structure that would recognise the value of ponies I was trying to breed. "
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From here I asked her what her first ever pony stallion was and what important factors she felt were needed to stand a world class sports pony stallion.
"Bernwode Brokat. I had been searching for a young German pony stallion to compliment the diverse mare herd I had imported and Brokat ticked all the boxes!
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I am not sure that any pony stallion can be termed ‘World Class’ but what I feel is important as a stallion owner is to offer a personal and efficient service to ones mare owners. The stallion should be readily available to visit and time should be spent showing his youngstock from a variety of mare types. I like to leave visitors alone with Brokat and, when possible, show him loose, loose jumping and ridden."
"Mare owners have often travelled many miles and need to leave feeling they have gained some real insight into the stallion and what he is likely to produce from their mare. During the stud season it is essential to maintain an open point of contact so that semen can be sent out promptly when required or, if the mare is resident at the stud, to keep the owners well informed on a regular basis. I am always genuinely interested in the progress of Brokat’s children and enjoy receiving news at all stages of their development."
Seeing the success that Sarah has had with her "flagship" stallion, I wished to know more about how she selects a potential stallion, and what criteria she uses to finding a stallion.
"When bringing in new blood I prefer to use stallions that have enough progeny on the ground to allow me to assess their ability as a sire and most will be stallions I have watched competing with a number of young riders.
The important factors I look for are the conformation required for soundness and one that allows the pony to do its job effortlessly. A well set on neck and the ability to flex through the poll is important in this respect and the stallion needs to have a supple, athletic way of moving with the ability to bring the hind leg well under the body whilst remaining supple over the back and lifting through the shoulder.
I like to see a potential stallion loose to assess his true movement and the activity through his body and limbs. The exciting ones remind me of a round bouncing ball that could move in any direction on the next stride. I have become less inclined to use stallions simply because they are ’high profile’ and to trust my own eye. There are some very beautiful and impressive pony stallions but if they do not have the ability to really engage from behind I will not be swayed by impressive results."
Naturally to follow on from the stallion, I asked Sarah what qualities she looked for in a breeding mare, and what she classed as being the most important aspects when looking for a mare?
"My conformation and movement requirements are much the same as for that of a stallion and I take a good look at the success of her dam line and whether her sire breeds better through his sons or daughters. In addition it is essential for a pony mare to have a generous temperament.
My mares all have very different qualities and quirks but I would not breed from any mare that would not allow me to build a trusting relationship with her. Unless there is any need for veterinary intervention my mares all foal down alone with me and have to accept that I am part of the team! Foals learn so much from their mothers in the first few months of life and ultimately most of them are going to be handled by children. "