Excitement was high in the lead up to this year’s two week Hanoverian Breed Orientation Course based at Verden in Germany, when the participants were guests at the Elite auction and saw Bundeschampion Lemony’s Nickett sell to the US for a mind-blowing 900,000 Euros.
Then it was down to business for us - we were a select group of nine from the UK, Finland, the US, Norway, Switzerland and India (where warmblood breeding is very much in its infancy but will soon take off if our new friend Harish has anything to do with it!).
Dr Ludwig Christmann, (left), who is in charge of breeding abroad and development and was our mentor for the course, kicked off proceedings with a comprehensive introduction to the Hanoverian breeding programme. The figures are impressive. Some 40,000 broodmares were registered in Germany in 2010, nearly 19,000 of them Hanoverians. Within the Hanoverian Society there were nearly 10,000 active breeders; over 10,700 mares were covered - about 94% by AI - and last year there were 547 registered stallions, of which 145 were from the State Stud. This is a business on a big scale! However I was surprised to learn that the average for the individual breeder is just two mares, that being the maximum owned by 80% of breeders.
We learnt about the history of the breed and the breeding aims, with special mention of temperament and rideability. ‘We strive for horses which, due to their character, their rideability, their conformation, their movement, their jumping ability and their soundness, are suitable as performance and pleasure horses.’ Dr Christmann discussed the conflict between top competition horses and amateur riders’ needs, and the emphasis on breeding for either dressage, jumping or eventing (though as we heard later some bloodlines provide successful horses in more than one discipline). ‘It does not make sense to breed dressage blood into the jumping horse but it makes sense to breed jumping blood into the dressage horse’ he said, though he pointed out that not all jumping blood was suitable.
Although around 7,000 Hanoverian foals are born, this mighty machine has not been immune to recession – breeding has gone down 20% over two years. We moved on to the selection process for foals (for the auctions) and mares and stallions, including performance tests. This course is run annually, but switches between the autumn stallion licensing and performance testing and the summer mare shows, so this time we were to see more of the stallions.
By lunchtime, our heads were buzzing with information, so it was refreshing to head off to meet Isabel and Jorg Clasen, important Hanoverian breeders, and some of their horses. Visits to studs formed a major part of the course and we were made very welcome. The stallions Argentan I and Argentan II were born on this farm.
An excellent dinner to welcome us rounded off the first day’s proceedings, with good food and plenty of wine, and I decided I would need one of those massive German coldblood horses to carry me by the time I have eaten my way through the fortnight!
Above: Jorg Clasen shows his horses
The next day, it was back to the classroom for a detailed look at bloodlines and their influences. This was a fascinating session looking at the stallion lines in the Hanoverian Society: seeing what traits came from certain lines and individuals, which are refiners and which pass on weaknesses, which stallions disappointed and which were used more towards the end of their breeding lives when the talents of their stock became apparent. We looked at the origins and influence of the A and E line, the F line, the D line and the G line, and also newer bloodlines. The advantages and disadvantages of introducing stallions from other sources were considered, and how these can be used to make improvements without losing the Hanoverian identity.
Our next outing was to Adelheidsdorf to see the final two days of the 70 day stallion performance test. A Contendro/Stakkato son caught the eye and had good marks throughout, and Sporcken (Sir Donnerhall/Lauries Crusador) got high marks for everything except his jumping. Floratio (Florencio I/Landadel) showed an extraordinarily uphill canter for a young horse and some of us were surprised to see the canter awarded only 7.75. (Our surprise was shared by his breeder Axel Windeler, who told us later that the horse had been talented spotted by the owners of Sunrise, and that Imke Schellekens-Bartels thought the canter was exceptional).
Above: Cross country at Adelheidsdorf
The horses were presented first by the rider who had been training them during the 70 day training and then by the two test riders, who showed an interesting contrast in styles.
The first test rider was more demanding and pushed for a little more cadence and expression which some of the horses could show but not sustain at their young age. The other rode them in a longer outline which demonstrated what the horses could produce naturally. Both approaches were informative.
All the stallions end their test with a cross-country round – some looked more at home in this phase than others!
Back to the classroom for a lecture on the judging of horses. Grading covers breed and sex type, conformation, correctness of gaits, impulsion and elasticity (trot), canter, walk, free jumping, and general impression and development. This was followed by a practical judging session and it is certainly not easy! I am used to judging dressage but have never judged ‘on the triangle’. Conformation alone includes six different marks for head, neck, saddle position, frame, forelegs and hind legs.
Our next stop was the breeding station Gestüt Famos. Wow! No expense has been spared on this fabulous and luxurious set-up. Even the loos were palatial!
Above: The horse complex at Famos Above: The horse walker at Famos
Among the horses we met there were Don Marco (Don Frederico/Pik Bube I), of interest to me as I have one of his sons in my yard, and he did not disappoint, and the great Contendro I, who clearly knew he was a superstar. Once he got his pose right he did not move a muscle while our cameras clicked around him. His street cred was not dented by the fact that he has a fluffy bunny toy hanging in his stable. We were told that his super temperament is passed on to his offspring.
Above: Contendro I