By Caroline Ironside (Mar 10)
"Brendon Stud" is one of the leading showjumping studfarms in the UK, you will hardly be at a show in the UK that does not have one of their young stallions or showjumpers competing. They have been producing showjumpers for years and are a leader of the game. Their horses speak very loudly for the breeding programme of the Stud, both in the UK and Internationally. Shirley Light has to be one of the hardest working Studfarm owners I have ever met. She has so much passion, enthusiasm, drive and commitment for what she does on a daily basis. I have had many conversations with her over the years, and what she manages to do in a day never ceases to amaze me. She is the kind of person who calls "a spade a spade" and "what you see is what you get", and she lets her horses and success do the talking, which they do on a yearly basis. Her stallions are some of the most popular standing at stud, and who would not use them, for their sporting and breeding achievements are exemplary.
Shirley leads a very hectic life with not only the Stud, but the competition centre which is run in conjunction with this. The whole complex is certainly a family concern, as her sister "Caz" is the backbone of the competition centre. So we were very lucky that she took the time out to speak to us exclusively for Horse Breeders Magazine.
I asked Shirley about the background history to Brendon, and how it all started.
"My parents, Cyril and Valerie Light first set up in horse business way back in 1965, with a riding school and a dealing yard, with horses bought in sales or directly from Ireland. Later Cyril moved onto more serious competition horses, with the first big wins coming in the late seventies with then stable rider, Paul Miles. Among these wins were the Elizabeth Ann Kitchens Grade C at HOYS [at Wembley] and The Hickstead Salver. The stud started in 1983 with the purchase of the ISH stallion Sussex Diamond, a son of the famous RID stallion King of Diamonds."
For nearly 20 years Brendon solely concentrated on teaching local riders and dealing in Irish horses, so I was keen to know what made the move into breeding.
"Cyril, my father acquired "Sussex Diamond", it's that simple! We then purchased a good few mares and nature took it’s course."
(Cheenook x Glorieux)
Brendon Studfarm is one of the most successful in the UK with their stallions doing exceptionally well in National and International showjumping, so I was keen to find out from Shirley was she felt was the most important aspects to running a thriving Studfarm?
"Quality stallions primarily, closely followed by experience and customer service, I was born and bred into horses, my parents have been involved with horses for 45 years. You also have to embrace change and move with the times."
(Thunder vd Zuuthoeve x Larome)
I decided to go right back to the start of this breeding operation and asked Shirley more about their first stallion, how they found him, and what contributions he made to their breeding programme.
"Sussex Diamond, my father bought him out of Ireland as a 3 year old off a farmer, where he bought most of the horses back then. Stanley as he was known, had a great mind, was a classic King of Diamonds stamp and he could jump. That was all that mattered back then, [not so different now!] He bred some super types that had a great heart to them, I still breed from mares with his blood in them now."
Tell us more about the stallions that you have had over the years, which ones you think have been the most influential to sport horse breeding both in the UK and world-wide?
"After Sussex Diamond we had Magic Motion, he went on to win a Gold Medal at the Pan Am Games in the 90's with his new owners. Then a trakehner, Tropic Star [known as Dinner, I had just watched the film - A fish called Wanda!!]. Dinner was a winner at Hickstead amongst other shows, he suffered a fatal injury too early in life.
Next was Maestro Nativio aka Supper!!, he carried a lot of thoroughbred [Native Dancer] and blood lines to Alme Z; he shares the same dam as Ludo Phillephaerts' World Cup horse: Parco. He was a step forward being a more modern blood type. An International Grade A, he jumped International Trials and the Hickstead Derby before being sold abroad. His progeny have been successful in all three of the major disciplines, his best known son being the aptly named “Buddy Bunn”, winner of the 2004 Hickstead Derby for Mr Douglas Bunn when ridden by John Whitaker. Times Square was an advanced eventer and Brendon Stud offspring have won and qualified for the Blue Chip Winter Finals, RIHS and WBFSH Young Horse show in Lanaken. I would love to still have this one.
After Supper came Hamilton III, another Belgian warmblood carrying the blood of Elf III, Mourne Mountain xx, going back to Hyperion xx. Hamilton is the sire of many BSJA jumping horses as well as Eventers. All the mentioned stallions reached Grade A with the BSJA, proving they were winners!"
Buddy Bunn with John Whitakker
2004 Hickstead Derby Winner
With the amount of stallions that Brendon own, I wondered whether Shirley had a favourite.
"That has to be Fred! Aka Unbelievable Darco. That’s a terrible question though as I love them all...ha ha ha.
Hamilton Tropics and Nederland Esquire are also special as we bred them.
The young ones grow on me year on year, but I love them all, I wouldn’t keep them otherwise!"
(Darco x Grandeur)
With the amount of stallions on Brendon's roster currently, I asked Shirley which one she would choose to represent her Studfarm just now.
"Only one? I’d have to choose Warrior. As an upcoming star I believe he has it all: talent, type, temperament, pedigree and performance, his first crop of foals  have good limbs/conformation and nature. "
Numerous wins in competition so far up to 1.40m
(Tangelo vd Zuuthoeve x Heartbreaker)
I then went on to ask Shirley, as a stallion owner, what do you think is important to standing a potential top class stallion.
"I love the young stallions, so the potential talent is VITAL and has to be there, along with rideability, then it’s training them and they have to prove they can win for themselves. For me pedigree is actually last, after all there are plenty of superstars on paper that can’t jump out the way of their own shadow!"
As Shirley has bred and purchased several stallions, I wanted to find out what she looked for in a future stallion and how she made the selections?
"When I very first see him, I must think “ Cor, I hope this one jumps”- he’ll already have the walk that says look at me. When I see him free schooled I’m looking at paces and presence. I’ll also listen hard, they have to be sound in the wind to be a breeding stallion. "
With regards to her stallions, I asked if she bred the majority or purchased as foals, or if she will look at purchasing an already Approved stallion?
"Breed and buy young ones, I’m not rich enough to buy ready made ones, I wouldn’t enjoy that anyway, the real horse people produce them too!"
As with my other interviews, I asked Shirley about specialisation in horse breeding and whether this has influenced her breeding choices over the last few years.
"Yes, to an extent. Showjumpers have to be super super careful these days with such light materials being used. But they still have to have courage and be able to dig deep for you when needed."
Next up I asked Shirley what she thought was more important, a stallion who does well in the sport, or a stallion who does well as a breeder.
"Good question. You don’t truly know the second answer for at least 6-8 years, so I’d have to say one who does well in the sport, a winner with a brain and rideability is half the battle. I think you must also remember while we’d all love to breed an Olympic horse, in reality if you had 5000 riders, how many could actually ride an Olympic type horse?"