The Billy Stud: A New Era For Showjumpers An Interview with Donal Barnwell

By Caroline Ironside (May 10)

Donal Barnwell is the joint owner of the Billy Stud based near Petworth in West Sussex in the UK with William and Pippa Funnell, both top international riders who have represented Great Britain in Show Jumping and Eventing with great success over the years. Between them they have a wealth of knowledge that is second to none, as reflected in the success now being achieved by horses in both disciplines carrying the ‘Billy’ prefix. Donal controls the breeding operation of the Billy Stud; his knowledge of blood lines is legendary, and the Billy Stud is expecting 60 foals this year.

Donal with 2 year olds

Donal with the herd of 2 Year Olds

William and Pippa Funnell have had, and are having, great success with the progeny of the Billy Stud, in both the showjumping and eventing fields.

Horse Breeders Magazine would like to thank Donal for taking some time out of his very busy schedule to give us an insight into the background of the stud, its aims, and where it is heading in the future.

Donal gives us some background to the Billy Stud.

Billy two year olds at the stud

“The Billy Stud was founded when we brought a mare Tatum; she was a good jumping horse and sustained an injury, so we put her in foal to the KWPN stallion Animo. The foal she produced was Billy Orange. This was, unbeknown to us at the time, the starting point of The Billy Stud! This was in 1997.

We started breeding our own horses as we had one mare in foal anyway so we thought by having another, the foal would have a comrade! Then the business just grew and grew.”

I asked Donal what he felt were the most important aspects to running a successful breeding operation:

“The most important aspects of running a Stud Farm are that you choose the right stock to breed from and that you don't keep a mare to breed from for the sake of it! From previous experience, I have noticed that people tend to sell the best and breed from the rest! I do this completely the opposite way and breed from my best mares.”

Vechta competing with William Funnell

Donal went on to speak about the first stallion that they owned.

“The first stallion that we owned was Vechta. We found him in Norway, and he had a very good jumping career with William Funnell - he also sustained an injury jumping in the Grand Prix in Rome. He had very good bloodlines (by Voltaire); he was also very good looking, had lots of blood, a lovely brain and was a fantastic jumper.

He is now the sire of our outstanding young stallion Billy Congo amongst many others and so therefore has made an outstanding contribution to our breeding programme.”

I do not think that there are many people in the UK who have not only heard of Vechta but seen him in action with William Funnell over the years. I certainly remember watching him on TV and being extremely impressed with his jumping talent, and one could not fail to be impressed with his scope. I went on to ask Donal about the other stallions that the Billy Stud have:

William Funnell & Vechta

“We are a relatively new stud with regards to stallions. We had Vechta (see above) and now stand Cevin Z, Billy Congo, Billy Mexico, and Billy JJ. All these are young stallions and so have not had a massive impact on the Sport Horse industry yet but we are very excited about the future.”

I was interested to know whether Donal had any personal favourites among his line of stallions:

“There are no favourites; they are all here because we think they all deserve to be stallions and are proud for them to represent our stud both in competition and as breeding stallions.”

Billy Congo competing with William Funnell

William Funnell & Billy Congo

Cevin Z front page possibility

As they stand several stallions, I asked Donal what he felt was the most important aspects for standing a stallion:

“A stallion must tick ALL the boxes ... Looks, Movement, Quality, Jump, Temperament and be conformationally correct.”

Donal went on to explain how they select the stallions for their breeding programme and whether this has changed over the years:

“We do not buy older approved stallions; we select from our own stock of foals and have faith in our own breeding programme. From the outset we have specialised in breeding a quality type of jumping horse, and have not changed our breeding choices over the years.”

Cevin Z

As with my other interviewees, I asked Donal what he thought was more important, a stallion who is a good breeder, or a stallion that does well in sport:

“A stallion that does well as a breeder is more important to us, but ideally we would want a successful competition career record as well.”

Mares and Foals

Moving onto their breeding mares, I asked Donal what they look for in a potential mare for their breeding programme:

“We look for a mare with a nice head and eye - as this is the first thing that you see! She must be a good athletic mover and have good conformation. The temperament is important as this would be passed on to the offspring. She must also have good jumping ability and the pedigree is important."

"Most of our breeding mares originally have come from Ireland. However we have bred quite a few over the years and I would say that it is now about 50/50 between homebred mares and bought mares. However we do still keep buying good Irish mares.”

I found the fact that the Billy Stud still feels the Irish bred mares are an important part of the equation for producing top showjumping horses very interesting, due to watching more and more European stallions and mares finding their way to Ireland, when Ireland are still producing good quality Irish bred showjumping stock. So for me, it was very good to hear that good Irish-bred mares are still seen as an important part in the breeding programme of the Billy Stud.

I went on to ask Donal how they go about choosing the mare and stallion combination:

“I know what the end result needs to be, so I weigh it up in my head. For example, if a mare was compact I may chose a scopier/rangier stallion and likewise if a mare is a bit plain I may choose a blood stallion and so on...”

With the combination selected, I asked Donal what he looked for in a good foal:

“The foals must have good presence and stand out! Like the parents, they should look good and be conformationally correct.”

Four Billy Mexico foals

Four Billy Mexico Foals

Past Issues

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