Larkshill Stud: Dressage Breeders At Their Best An Interview with Heather Stack

By Caroline Ironside (Nov10)

Set in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside you will find Larkshill Stud, with the ethos of “breeding tomorrow’s dressage stars”. For me what stands out with this stud is the fields of top quality black beauties that are the core to this business.

The owner Heather Stack is very proud of what she has achieved in a very short time, and who would not be proud if you were to stand in her shoes. All her horses have the most fantastic upbringing, being allowed to grow and mature as nature intended, with 24 hour grazing if they want, along with having access to indoor barns at any time throughout the year. Her horses are raised in a herd environment ensuring they have the best of starts in life.

As Heather states her goal “is to breed world class dressage horses” and judging by her results so far I think that she is not that far off from achieving her dreams of producing a horse that will go to the highest level in the dressage arena.

We are delighted that Heather has taken the time out for our magazine to tell our readers more about her background, achievements and future aspirations.

Cover photo

St.Pr.St. Show Hit
(Show Star x St.Pr.St. Pagera)
In foal to Totilas for 2011

Firstly Heather gives me the background history to Larkshill Stud, along with how she first become involved in horse breeding.

"Larkshill Stud was founded in 2000 whilst I was still working in London as a Business Development Director at a City Law firm. At the time, I was renting a cottage on Lucinda McAlpine’s Stud farm in Henley-on-Thames, and it was there that I got the breeding bug and changed my ideas on how horses should be kept. I had both my Thoroughbreds at livery at the stud, and all the horses at the stud including Lucinda’s Grand Prix dressage horses were kept without shoes, without rugs and turned out 24/7, and, most importantly, in herds. Back then, which was probably around 1997, this was still a relatively new thing and my two boys thrived in this new regime – although to start with, I was hugely sceptical and worried about it!!! Lulu was breeding a small number of horses naturally and allowing her stallions to live in the herd with the mares – they were, I might add, very polite to the mares and it was clear who was in charge of things – the mares, of course! I spent hours watching the behaviour of the horses living as a herd and being kept naturally. It was then that I decided I wanted to breed my own horses, who were bred for performance but who had the “Best Start in Life” enabling them to be well adjusted, confident young horses, ready and eager to work. All my horses live in herds and live out 24/7 with access to big barns so they can get out of the sun or bad weather as they choose to."

Larkshill Stud has already produced several successful horses. So like my other interviewees I asked Heather what she felt was the most important aspects to running a successful Studfarm.

"Well, I think it’s like any business, you need to have a sound business plan, understand your target market and deliver what your customers want, and go for Premium quality in everything you do – whether it be your stock or dealing with customers. I try and approach the breeding process in a very methodical and systematic way."

Photo 1 Larkshill foals 1

Mares & Foals Enjoying the Summer Sunshine

"I do everything I can to maximize the probability of achieving the best genetic combinations, to enable me to breed a successful dressage horse. The old saying is so true: “You get what you pay for” – invest in the very best mares and stallions you can, to produce the very best foals you can – oh, and a good dollop of luck is always useful too!"

If you are to look on Larkshill Stud's website you cannot help be impressed with the quality of their breeding mares, so I went on to ask Heather what she felt was the most important aspects when looking for a mare.

"When I look for a new mare to join the herd, I usually have an idea of the bloodlines I want to complement my existing breeding programme. The mare’s pedigree over a number of generations is hugely important to me; it is essential to look for successful ancestors and family members, whether it be in breeding or sport. I look at the mare’s family’s competition and progeny records – to see if they have licensed sons and Premium daughters. The mare needs a super pedigree full of premiums and very good stallions, and of course the mare herself needs to have the movement I am looking to produce. Lastly, they need to have good conformation and, essential for me, they need to have great temperaments. This is so important to me as I only want to breed from loving, kind mares and, as this is my passion as well as business, I am only interested in having mares with great personalities at home with me – let’s face it, we all like spending time with fun-loving relaxed people, so why should horses be any different!"

Photo 2

Following on from the above I went on to ask how Heather has sourced the majority of her breeding mares.

"The majority of my mares are German bred; over the years, I have built up good relationships with a number of German breeders who let me know when they might have a horse that would be of interest to me. I have only kept one filly so far who will be included in my breeding programme. I would love to keep more but the business needs to be a business, so I must sell my offspring."

Larkshill Supremacy
By De Niro out of St Pr St Show Hit by Show Star
BEF Elite First Premium &
Oldenburg Premium at 2 years old

"The one I have kept is Larkshill Supremacy, by De Niro out of St Pr St Show Hit. At only 3 days old, I had decided to keep her - she was exceptional. She went on to be Elite graded with the BEF Futurity and was ranked the 3rd highest dressage foal in the UK. She was an Oldenburg Premium foal, and this year, as a 2 year old, she was inspected by the Oldenburg Verband who confirmed what we thought: that she is State Premium quality. So I have decided to send her to Germany next year to be produced, performance tested and go in foal either by embryo transfer or have one herself. You never know with these things, but I feel I must give her a chance, so time will tell.

I am particularly pleased with a new relationship with a German breeder whose horses I have been following for a number of years - Georg Sieverding."

"His phenomenal mare family has produced more Champions and Premium mares than any other in modern Oldenburg history. They produced not only the 2007 Oldenburg Licensing Champion Sieger Hit, but also the 2008 Oldenburg Licensing Champion Fürstenball (who sold as a foal for €110,000 as a foal!) and in 2009 the second Reserve Champion Hot Spot owned by Blue Hors Stud, as well as 2 other graded stallions! To breed a licensed stallion is a huge achievement, but to breed one Champion after another is truly extraordinary. And it is not only the colts who do so well from this family: there are countless Premium mares, many of whom are also Elite and go onto produce Premium daughters."

photo 3 machita

Pr St Machita by Samarant out of St.Pr.St.& Elite Madita by Florestan bred by Georg Sieverding

"I met him last year after the Oldenburg stallion licensing, and was lucky enough to be able to acquire one of his mares from this famous family. She is a 4 year old Premium mare by Samarant out of a State Premium and Elite mare by Florestan. Her name is Machita and she comes from 4 generations of State Premium and Elite mares and is a Premium and performance-tested mare herself. I have put her in foal to Rohdiamant, which is due at the end of January so we are very excited to see what her first foal is like. Herr Sieverding also has two more stallions up for grading this year, one of whom shares the same grandmother as Machita, so we look forward to see how it gets on when we are there next week!"

Most of the mares at Larkshill Stud are Performance Tested/State Premium, so I asked Heather what benefits she felt there were in doing this.

"Absolutely, if you can – at the end of the day, the more you can prove your mares have been awarded the top marks possible, i.e. State Premium or Premium and have been performance-tested, the better – it proves you are breeding from quality horses. That’s not to say that if a mare doesn’t get a premium, that she is not premium quality. A lot of it depends on how she performed on that one day – the judges can only grade what they see on the day and we all have off days – including horses!"

photo 4 furst larkshill

To most observers who look at the Larkshill Stud website the first thing that tends to stick out is the fact that all the mares and the selected sires are black, or dark in coat colour. So I was most interested to know why Heather seems to breed mostly with black mares.

"Please can I say loud and clear what I truly believe: “A GOOD HORSE DOESN’T HAVE A COLOUR!!”

Fürst Larkshill by Fürst Heinrich out of Monik by De Niro
Won & Qualified for the Badminton Young Horse Championships first time out.

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