The first time I met Jeannette Nijhof was at the KWPN Stallion Show in Den Bosch a few years ago, she was surrounded by several people at her Studfarm Trade Stand. She saw us browsing among some of the information on the stallions and came across to introduce herself to us.
My husband and I were intrigued with the vast amount of information she had on all her stallions, but also new upcoming stallions that were yet to hit the highlights. I can hear people saying “well of course she must know her own stallions”, but it was not only this knowledge but the extent to which she was able to draw on her knowledge of all the bloodlines, across the board in both dressage and jumping. Not just Jeannette but her brother Henk Junior was also on hand to give us his comprehensive knowledge and what he felt would best suit any mares we suggested.
By Caroline Ironside (Oct 09)
"Keur" Stallion "Heartbreaker" with Henk Nijhof Senior
We have since visited Team Nijhof and got nothing but a very warm welcome from all the family, and to see round the state of the art facilities that they also call home. It is clear to see that this business thrives on the versatility of the whole family.
The time when we visited the Studfarm, we got to meet so many great stallions – Heartbreaker, Calvados, Burggraaf and Clinton to name only a selection of the world greats. Also some of their young stallions just back from the KWPN Selections. It was great to meet them all personally and up close.
"Clinton" Olympic Bronze Medalist
Team Nijhof is a family run business that started a long time ago by the Grand Father, Jan Nijhof. The grand-father started with a dairy farm but they then converted to the breeding and selling of horses. His son, Henk Nijhof Senior along with his wife Aleid, expanded the horse business, and it is now his son Henk Junior and sister Jeannette who continue with one of the most successful breeding operations in the world today.
Internationally renowned stallions such as Naturel, Roemer, Voltaire, Burggraaf, Calvados, Heartbreaker, Clinton, Olympic Cocktail and Florencio I all come from this outstanding Studfarm. Stallions that have competed at the top of their sport, both nationally and internationally and many stand at the top of the FEI and WBFSH rankings as sires.
Having worked in conjunction with Team Nijhof for the past couple of years for our own breeding we can highly commend their true professionalism and honesty, especially when it came to helping us select the right match of stallions for our mares. When we decided to start our new online Breeders Magazine I knew that the first person I wished to interview was Jeannette Nijhof and she kindly agreed.
The first Approved stallion that the family owned was shortly after World War II, and the one that Jeannette remembers well was “Naturel” by “Lucky Boy”. He was born in 1972 and stood an impressive 1.70m and was out of the “Ster Preferent” mare “Durena” by Sportman. Naturel is the grandfather of the late “Mr Blue”, who is one of the most famous producers of showjumpers of recent times and whose stock command top prices at auction.
Jeannette feels very strongly when it comes to breeding stallions. For a stallion owner it is most important to stand only world class stallions, only quality stallions can perform at Grand Prix level, and these stallions can pass on the qualities to their offspring.
"Naturel" by Lucky Boy
When they look for a potential stallion, four elements are fundamental to their selection criteria:
• Conformation (type) of the stallion
• Jumping/Dressage ability (the quality of movements)
• Damline/motherline information
• Health – good x-rays
The above is exactly the same for the requirements of any breeding mares that they have. When they select a stallion for a mare they make a summary of all the strong and weak points of the mare. They try and select the stallion that can improve on the weak points, without losing the strengths of the mares. As many breeders know, this is not a simple feat, but with the Nijhof family this is something that they have proven time and again, so the formula obviously works.
In 2009 Jeannette is strong in her belief that a horse needs to be bred for the sport. A foal or young horse that does well at breeding shows is nice, but for them it is better to breed a potential grand prix horse for the International arena. Without the endeavor to produce the best you can fall behind in what you are hoping to achieve with your breeding.
In foals they again look for the same elements as mentioned above. The bloodlines must be good on both the sire and dam side. The conformation must be good, the gaits true and correct with good action. For dressage bred horses the movements are very important, with them all showing great strength, suppleness and action. For the jumping bred foals the trot is not so important, but must be sufficient.
For a dressage horse the trot must be good enough, but for breeding a showjumper it is not so important because as Jeannette says “They can never win a jumping course in trot!!! Canter is much more important in later life. However, for breeders who wish to sell their foals at auction, it sells a lot easier if the foal has a nice trot.”
"Olympic Cocktail" with Anky van Grunsven
One question I put to Jeannette was what, in her view, were the most influential breeding lines in the world of sport horses. Sons, grand-sons and great-grand-sons of Alme Z, Marco Polo, Gotthard, Ramiro Z, Landgraf, Cor de la Breyere, Furioso II, Pilot and Uriel were some of the lines that she highlighted. Also the influence of good thoroughbred blood, but for this to be back in the third and fourth generations.
In current times some of the most influential lines that Jeannette is keen to see are sons and grand-sons of Voltaire, Nimmerdor, Le Mexico, Capitol I, Darco, Zeus, Contender, Lord, Quidam de Revel, Grannus, Burggraaf, Concorde, Indoctro, Mr Blue, Heartbreaker, Calvados, Calvaro Z, Libero H, Guidam and Stakkato.
The lists above read to me as the “who’s who” of the most exceptional stallions that modern times has seen, and I found it very interesting to note that the preference for thoroughbred blood is back through in the third and fourth generations, despite, for instance, the KWPN trying to look for more thoroughbred stallions to introduce into their breeding populations.
If people have not noticed it has become increasingly apparent that the likes of the KWPN are getting more specialised in their breeding requirements. They are no longer looking for an “all-rounder”, but for all horses to be specialised in their breeding to be a showjumper or dressage horse. I asked Jeanette what she felt of the dawn of specialisation, her reply was matter of fact, which is how I have come to know her – “The specialisation has started and cannot be stopped. We have only customers looking for either dressage horses or showjumpers. Nobody is asking for a horse that can do both because riders have become more specialist”.
In fact I came across an interview that Henk Junior and Jeannette did 10 years ago and in this interview they said back then:
“In the past ten years we have started to see the specialisation - the stallion is a good jumper or a good dressage horse, but for quite a long time the aim was the dual purpose horses."
The "Preferent" Burggraaf
To me this shows just how far in front a lot of our European counterparts are, as in 1999 the Nijhofs were already discussing specialisation of breeding horses well before the KWPN even brought it into practice.
The one thing that you can say about Team Nijhof and many of the stallion owners in Holland is that they look far and wide for bloodlines to bring into their Studfarms, whether that be in Germany, Holland, France or Belgium, or sometimes even further afield. They try and find the new bloodlines before anyone else and will purchase young foals by these stallions, so that by the time the stallion is six or seven years old they have nice offspring waiting in the wings to be revealed.
They have an interest in bloodlines and in using other stallions, and continually try and improve their gene pool with the best bloodlines from around the world. Team Nijhof stand by their convictions, in that you not only have to stand a good stallion, but you have to have belief in that stallion and how good he is and that you must promote him well.
This is an important factor for any Stud in Europe as the competition is large and stallions are competing for the best of mares, with some of the most popular stallions receiving up to 400 mares in a season.
I asked Jeannette, who in her view were the most popular KWPN dressage stallions at the moment (that are alive), and rightly so she came back with the famous “Jazz” (awarded Preferent) and “Gribaldi” (awarded “Keur” by the KWPN and “Elite” by the Trakehner Verband), both being ranked in the top 10 of the WBFSH Sire Rankings for dressage horses. With “Jazz” being in first place through the help of his outstanding son “Parcival” ridden by Adelinde Cornelissen, and then the most phenomenal dressage horse of current time, “Totalis” by Gribaldi ridden by Edward Gal who had a world record for his score in the Grand Prix at the European Championships at Windsor.
Likewise Jeannette felt that the most popular KWPN showjumping stallions that are still alive at the moment were “Indoctro” (awarded “Preferent”) and “Heartbreaker” (awarded “Keur”), and again I had no disagreement in this respect as both have produced numerous national and international showjumpers, not to mention several Approved stallions. Both are again ranked very highly in the FEI and WBFSH world rankings.
The "Keur" Heartbreaker