The BEF Futurity Evaluations The Future for British Breeding with Jan Rogers & Celia Clarke

By Caroline Ironside (Dec 09)

The BEF Futurity Evaluations has to be one of the fastest growing events in the British Breeding Calendar. In 2009 it saw 900 entries across the country, with additional events being added all the time.

For those who have not heard about this huge event, the Futurity is a programme for identifying talented young sport horses and ponies and for collecting data on British breeding so that British breeders can make use of that information for future breeding decisions.

The Futurity is unique in that it covers the whole of the UK when looking at and identifying young sports horses, from foals to three year olds. Yes there are Studbook gradings but these will only look at a handful of horses in comparison, and the results are not always easy to work out, or sometimes even find!

There are five aims of the Futurity, set out as below:

Find potential elite international horses for British riders. For 2009, owners and breeders of top scoring Futurity horses of all ages will be invited to attend the BEF World Class Equine Pathway training sessions (where relevant).

Improve the quality and breeding of British bred horses and ponies by offering informative detailed feedback from a vet and a team of three evaluators. This aim is called-for in the Strategy for the Horse Industry in England and Wales (2005) and is part of the BEF Strategic Plan for 2009-2013.

Provide accurate pedigree and results information for breeders to use, regarding successful bloodline combinations, which will be available at all times through the National Equine Database (NED). Results data is also used as part of our research projects to develop Estimated Breeding Values which will also be available on NED in due course.

Enable breeders to use the Futurity scores as credible marketing tool for their young horses, adding value to a young horse whilst it is still too young to have achieved a performance record. Many young horses are now advertised for sale as having a “BEF Premium” and many people have purchased young horses because they believe that an independent assessment run by a National Federation has value. Whilst of course this is not a guarantee of future success, the Futurity is the programme which offers the most reliable indicator of potential success which is available at this time. There will be extensive media coverage of each venue, with full reports and photos being circulated to regional, national and discipline-specific media following each regional evaluation.

Continuously receive feedback from participants as to the workability of the Futurity and improve the scheme so that it is a more meaningful, clear, transparent and attainable process for the development of our industry.

Being a keen competitor in the series I was keen to find out more about the background to the Futurity and the future aims and goals. We are fortunate that both Jan Rogers and Celia Clarke have given an EXCLUSIVE interview with us regarding their own backgrounds, how the Futurity started, its current success and where the future lies. Hopefully all our readers will see just what goes into this concept and the benefits of supporting it each year.

Q1. What was your background experience prior to coming on board the BEF Futurity?

JAN - I am a psychology graduate who worked as a groom then went into a career with NFU Mutual, mainly on the equine insurance side. Following this I worked on the sales and marketing of a database for Associa, the former commercial arm of the NFU.

The Futurity is only a small part of the BEF’s Equine Portfolio – the remainder being (briefly!) – publicising British bred results in national and international competition, building a long term equine development process (of which the Futurity is an early part), supporting the breeding of all types of horses and ponies to meet the needs of a growing base of riders, drivers and vaulters, encouraging the use of research in the equine sector, welfare and FEI/EU/Government liaison.

The team consists of me, Jan Rogers, and 50% of Cat Wood (the other 50% of Cat works for NED). Futurity takes up all of our time during June, July, August and September.

CELIA - I studied publishing at what is now Oxford Brookes and then went on to work at IPC (not Horse and Hound though), Pergamon Press and finally as a course editor at The Open University.

I was then head-hunted by the Open Tech and the Manpower Services commission as an open and flexible learning materials consultant and latterly spent much of my time developing management training skills for those in the tourist industries in Eastern Europe, especially Romania, Bulgaria and (Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia.

This experience has been of great help to me in assisting the development of the stringent training and assessment programmes that are now in place for new and continuing Futurity evaluators as has my 30 years experience of warmblood and sports horse breeding and the numerous gradings I have officiated in on three continents and for at least 5 different studbooks over the past 15 years.

As one of the co-authors of the 2001 BEF Breeding Programme Action Plan I have also been involved in the whole development of the BEF’s increasing interest in breeding since its inception, so if there are major problems with any of the main aims and actions of that, they are probably still down to me in the long run as I drafted the original timetable.

Q2. What made you decide to become involved in the BEF Futurity?

JAN - The Futurity is a core part of the job of Head of Equine Development so there was no decision! Futurity is a pivotal link in the long term equine development process the BEF needs to build by 2013

CELIA - As with all of Jan’s answers this is accurate, clear and to the point, and apart from saying that as far as I am concerned I was involved from the start of the whole BEF Breeding Programme of which the Futurity is a major part I have little to add. From now on I will only add a comment when I think that I can add some detail that explains the philosophy, process and organisation of the Futurity even more.

Q3. What group of people came up with the idea of the Futurity?

JAN - The Futurity came about when I was a volunteer for the BEF on the Young Horse Development Working Group, chaired by Celia Clarke. The group came up with the idea of a futurity to slot in before the former Young Horse Evaluations (YHE) for four year old sport horses. As participation in the YHE declined – because the individual disciplines launched their own series as qualifiers for the WBFSH World Championships for Young Horses - the Futurity went from strength to strength and took over.

Q4. When was the first Futurity and how did you go about setting this up?

JAN - The Futurity started in 2005 with a single venue pilot from which we learned many lessons. It was advertised to breeders and it has grown more by demand from the participants than by generating interest through a marketing campaign – we have spent very little on marketing because venues have largely filled by word of mouth. We have been happy with the way it has grown and it needed to develop steadily so that we could improve it each year and still manage it with a consistent yet tiny team.

Q5. ‘Futurity’ generally means ‘The quality or condition of being in or of the future’. Was this the whole concept about what is being achieved?

JAN - The Futurity set about to identify talented sport horses for the future. We are looking to identify the peak of the pyramid of young horses bred in this country so that we know where they are and their talent can (within the long term equine development programme) be nurtured to provide talented horses for our top riders. Needless to say, not every one we have identified will “make it” – there are too many other environmental factors involved for there to be any guarantees, but we are increasing the odds.

Q6. What was the starting point of the BEF Futurity, and what were the factors that were considered when it first started?

JAN - The starting point was as Q3 (based on the Swedish young horse assessment programme) to which we added elements of futurity systems we found running all over the world. We took the best of each and adapted them for the British culture – starting with the pilot in 2005 and developing from there.

Q7. Did organisers look towards the continent when developing the idea of the BEF Futurity and what would be involved?

JAN - See above and we did look at systems worldwide, as well as on the continent so as not to reinvent any wheels. The United States Eventing Association (USEA) has subsequently used the Futurity to develop their young horse assessment programme – so our own programme is being adopted as a template by others.

Q8. What made them decide on the current format?

JAN - The current format is the product of careful modifications to the original pilot. Each modification is carefully thought through and often the changes are road tested with segments of Futurity participants in advance to check their workability. We have also used two undergraduate theses and four masters dissertations to inform developments as well as a good deal of Futurity participant feedback. We hope to stabilise the process by 2010 – with only minor changes after that so that we can have a consistent data set to work with for statistical analysis and also to determine what elements are working best.

Q9. How is the marking worked out and awarded, especially when narrowed down to decimal places?

JAN - The scoring system has been subject to several iterations, and there will be further changes in 2010 until the system is easier to understand yet transparent and robust.

CELIA - One important point to remember though, both here and in answer to Q 22 is that the Futurity is designed to reward positives rather than assess animals using a fault-finding approach. The specialist training that evaluators receive is designed specifically to develop this skill, which requires a completely different approach from that of the’ fault-finding’ one so prevalent amongst novice and less well-educated judges, in other words an animal is not marked down for a fault, it is rewarded for those things that are correct and those things that are incorrect are not rewarded with a mark. This might seem to be a subtle – almost semantic – difference, but in fact it is key to understanding what the Futurity evaluation system is all about.

Q10. What prompted the use of vets at the BEF Futurity and has their role developed and changed over the years?

JAN - We had thought from the outset that veterinary input was necessary but it has a huge cost attached, yet a participant survey indicated it was a necessity and this was what galvanised our decision to use vets. Their role has moved from simply allocating a mark to providing information and advice and this will be further developed in 2010 with even more feedback.

CELIA - The Swedish Young Horse Evaluations on which the original BEF 4-year-old YHEs were based were actually developed by a vet (Ingvar Frederiksson ex head of the Flyinge Stud, who conducted the first few evaluator training sessions) in consultation with the international showjumper Jan-Olaf Wanius. As a result, the use of vets is so embedded in the Swedish system that Swedish equine insurance companies now charge lower premiums for horses that have achieved good scores for their vet evaluations there. It would be nice to think that we could work towards that degree of recognition in the future.

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