With the diverse change in breeding directions by some Studbooks, that in turn pushes breeders to look at their own breeding programme, so I asked Julia if her breeding choices have changed over the years.
"Without doubt. You live and learn. Originally, I bought highly graded mares. Then I refined my requirements to add the qualification that they were proven performers or proven producers. I now favour proven producers over proven performers as if I’m breeding from them rather than competing them, the only measure that really counts is how good their offspring are. What they did in sport is an interesting and useful indicator, however if there’s performance in their immediate family (siblings etc.) then I would always choose to breed from the dam of a top performer, than from a top performance sport mare, as the first is a proven producer whereas the second is only proven in sport and not in breeding and may not pass the genes that made her great. If you look at the longest established and most successful breeding programme in the world – racing and warmblood breeding, this is exactly the principle they use, and the very best mares may not even compete at all.
Each year I take stock of the foals I’ve produced. I compare them with previous foals and with their parents, and ask myself whether the foal is better, the same, or worse than them. If it’s worse, you don’t repeat the breeding and the mare goes on a ‘watch list’. I either repeat a more successful previous breeding or look to a different bloodline to cross with. If a mare is in the bottom quarter of my herd for 2 years running based on her offspring, she will be ‘culled’. She will either be retired or sold to a programme whose ambitions aren’t quite as high as mine.
With regard to stallion selection I originally primarily chose thoroughbred or British part-breds and did not use warmbloods because they were too heavy and unproven in Eventing. Breeding has moved on and in the last 10 years I’ve seen huge changes in the horses coming out of ‘warmblood’ breeding programmes. Many of them now have large amounts of thoroughbred blood in them, even though they still bear the same brand as the horses I considered completely unsuitable 10 years ago. If you look at the German eventing team, their horses are ‘warmbloods’ from a studbook perspective, but are 7/8ths or 15/16ths thoroughbred. In my eyes, that makes them exactly the sort of horse I’ve always been trying to breed! The ‘warmblood’ breeders have actually adopted the pre-existing thoroughbred based breeding programme for producing their top event horses."