By Caroline Ironside (August 2010)
Not many people will have heard of Southern Cross Stud......YET! I say the latter because I do not think it will be long before their name is mentioned a lot. With their first stallion having already qualified for the Bundeschampionate in Germany under rider Wolfram & Brigitte Wittig, I think it is only a matter of time before they are more widely heard of.
The Stud is owned by Jill and John Walker and are set in the beautiful North Downs of Kent. They specialise in producing world class dressage horses and work closely with their German partners to select the finest bloodlines and use correct training to produce future champions.
Their success is already showing with several young horses doing well in the UK, including - Bobbi Dazzler (Breitling W x Donnerhall), Berita (Breitling W x Regazzoni) and Zananke (Ferro x Inspekteur) - with the first two having done well in the Shearwater Young Horse Qualifiers this year. Also their young stallion Baron de Ley (Breitling W x Diego xx) having qualified for the Bundeschampionate this year, and who is also a Licensed Oldenburg stallion.
Jill kindly took some time out to give us background to her Studfarm, and her hopes for the future.
Jill starts by giving me background history to Southern Cross Stud....
"The stud was founded around 5 years ago; as a family we had become more and more involved in dressage and had been doing research on bloodlines that could produce the type of horses that we would like to own ourselves. We had purchased a couple of Hanoverian foals as long term replacements for Jill and John’s current horses and really enjoyed the process of assessing the youngsters, their parents and bloodlines. John’s business background led him to think about a potential stud in commercial terms and the idea began to snowball."
I went on to ask Jill how they first became involved in horse breeding, and more importantly was the catalyst was that ignited their breeding programme.
"Having done our homework when purchasing our own youngsters, we had a pretty clear idea of the type of horse that we were after and wanted to see whether we would be able to produce this ourselves. We initially purchased two young mares on the advice of the expert horse finder Christian Heinrich and our friend International rider and trainer Daniel Watson. We were incredibly excited about the prospect of creating our own foals and were very fortunate to have their input. Christian is an experienced breeder and had clear ideas on which bloodlines and types tend to match well and Daniel was able to offer a top rider’s perspective on what he looked for in a potential competition horse."
Their Studfarm has had some excellent results recently, so I asked Jill what she thought the most important aspects to running a successful studfarm was.
"For us it is not compromising on quality. It has taken us time to build up our stock of mares and youngsters as any potential additions have to be of a very high standard."
Their first stallion is the current beautiful bay Oldenburg stallion Baron de Ley, I asked Jill more about him.
"Baron was bred by Wolfram Wittig, the successful Grand Prix rider and trainer of Isabell Werth. Wolfram is also very involved in breeding and we were invited to visit his farm to view his stallions working at home, as we were using some on our mares. Wolfram was keen to show us horses at different stages in their training so that we could get a feel for what the bloodlines were producing. Baron was in the process of being backed and my husband Jules and I were smitten as soon as we saw him. Although we are not breeding from him at present we are excited about doing so in the future. He comes from such a proven family that we are sure he will pass on some of their successful qualities. We have seen some really outstanding youngsters by his full brother Bertoli and have been told by both Wolfram and Christian that they are keen to use Baron later on their own mares, which is a great endorsement."
Baron de Ley with Brigitte Wittig
Having already had great success with their first stallion purchase, I went on to ask Jill what they looked for in a future stallion and how they made their selections.
"At present the only approved stallion that we have purchased is Baron; he had just been approved by the Oldenburg studbook and was in the process of being backed. He had bags of charisma and came from such a proven line that we felt he would be a real asset to our stud. It would be great to have some breeding stallions of our own but we are in no rush. Quality is our primary concern, and if any of our young boys coming through is good enough to present for licensing then fantastic, but our primary focus is on producing the best quality competition horses that we can, so we won’t be rushing any immature colts to get them ready in time. If the quality is there, we can always present them later on."
Baron de Ley with Wolfram Wittig
As Southern Cross Studfarm is a relatively young Stud, I wondered if their breeding choices had changed much in the short period of time.
"Not too much as yet but we are still pretty new! We look for a proven history of success, good conformation and athleticism. A good canter and a great walk are important to us, as is a trainable temperament."
From what Jill has spoken about so far, it seems quite apparent to me that their main goals at the moment are to breed top quality competition horses, that will go on and do well in the sport of dressage. This also seems to be the case with their young stallion, making sure that he has been developed well in a correct manner, and that his breeding career can easily wait until he proves himself in sport. So I asked Jill what aspect she felt was more important in a breeding stallion, one that does well in sport, or one that does well as a breeding sire.
"Both! It depends what your priorities are. For example, Baron is focussing on his competition career and in these early stages we all agreed that we didn’t want to place extra pressure on him by combining this with breeding. He is only 5 now so we have plenty of time but our ultimate aim for him is to see him competing internationally at Grand Prix. If he is able to combine this with limited coverings along the way, great, but his training takes priority for now. As a mare owner, again both qualities are important. It depends on what other strengths a particular stallion has and whether you think they will work well with your mare. I wouldn’t discount a stallion who had a glittering career in sport but limited numbers of offspring so long as all the other qualities I was looking for suited my mare."
Berita a 5 year old mare by Breitling
A Breitling x Florestan colt foal
Moving onto her breeding mares, Jill explains about the qualities they look for.
"We like to use mares who have strong dam lines, are well put together and, if they have had previous foals, have produced good quality offspring. We look at a lot of youngsters and ridden horses whilst visiting other studs and competing our own horses. This gives us a feel for what certain bloodlines can produce and the types of horse that we like or dislike and are successful. We look for mares with these qualities and whose bloodlines will enhance our breeding program."
Jill goes on to explain where she has found her breeding mares.
"We have bought mares both here in the UK and on the continent. Three of our mares had already had foals when we bought them; the rest were purchased as foals or youngsters and a decision was made on whether to retain them as broodmares or to back them. We haven’t yet bred from mares that we ourselves have bred as they are not old enough, but we have a few earmarked already so it will be exciting to see how they turn out, and whether we still feel they will add to our breeding program when the time comes."
Barracuda one of their broodmares by Sandro Hit x Metall