Sports Ponies How We Started and Our Aims

by Penny at Bathley Hill Stud

Having owned, bred and shown ponies for a number of years, we heard about the Sports Pony Studbook Society (SPSS) via a dressage trainer and decided to find out a little more about the society. Knowing very little about Sports Ponies, we decided that it was something we ought to investigate further. After a phone call to the Society, we found out about the aims and thoughts, and having taken these on board, we decided it was a superb way forward for us.
 
The ponies we saw presented in the Show Ring had a very different way of going, with limited athleticism, and we decided we wanted to aim for the dressage arena with our ponies, so we started to study movement, paces, temperament and bloodlines of ponies presented in the teams both in the UK and Europe.
 
This really was started by our stallion who is a Welsh Section B - "Thistledown Copper Lustre" - who was already a County Show winner in the show ring. We backed him and rode him on with the intention of presenting him in the dressage arena. At 12.2hh, we thought we were asking an awful lot of him to be competing against the big moving warmbloods, but he stood his own ground in the classes and competed up to Elementary level with fantastic scores, averaging 70% every time out. We presented him for grading with the SPSS as a four year old, newly backed, and he achieved a licensed status and gained a permanent status with them for his results and progeny.
 
We started to investigate further about the direction we wanted to aim for. Always loving the Welsh B's and Partbreds we decided that that was, for us, the way forward: we wanted to produce ponies for the dressage arena with strong Welsh bloodlines. After studying the German Riding Ponies and how they were "achieved", the heavy influence of Welsh blood in their pedigrees soon became clear, many of which went back to the same bloodlines as the ponies that we had in the yard. With this in mind, knowing that the German Ponies were all very well established and proven in their performance, movement and temperament, we decided to try and follow, in our selective breeding programme, what they had already done.

We had some fantastic bloodlines already in the yard, and decided to cross back to the German Ponies, as well as to utilise the most fabulous bloodlines of ponies in the UK. We wanted to breed ponies that would be successful in the show ring but which had enough scope, ability and presence, alongside a fabulous temperament, that could go forward to be presented and successful in a discipline which suited - primarily the dressage arena, but with lineages coming through for both showjumping and eventing - with the main aim of eventually breeding "Team" ponies.

We never look at any pony as being the ‘finished article’, and breed to go forward every year; when our foals are born, we already have a plan in place to move them forward and improve. With this in mind, we have expanded our mare herd over the last few years to include not only our strong British breeding but also purchased-in Dutch and German mares. Our native breeds strongly influence the European ponies and they have been bred specifically for chosen disciplines in the European countries, adding Warmblood breeding to our strong British ponies’ lines. They have fine-tuned the best points and discarded the weaker points, so we therefore thought it would move our breeding programme on by purchasing stock already at the point nearer to the ‘finished article’.

Over the winter months, our thoughts every year turn to stallion choices to improve our established mare herd and to better our youngstock coming through. Each mare is individually assessed for any weaknesses and a stallion is chosen to complement and improve her. Movement, conformation and most importantly temperament are taken into consideration, as we believe that, as these are to be "children’s ponies", they have to be trainable and our biggest priority is obviously that they are child friendly!

With some of the mares, especially those older proven mares from whom we know what tends to be produced, we may choose younger stallions that have good potential to get a proven competition record. We take note of the studs who own them and the likelihood of them competing, along with good bloodlines, and conformation to complement the mares we might use them on. This has been successful for us as the choices we have made previously have all come out and achieved superb results in whichever discipline they have been presented in. Careful thought has been given to these stallions: we follow each of them closely and enjoy seeing them achieve. This is also a major benefit to the foals we have bred, as often there are few foals on the ground by them until later in their career, but ours have already grown and are either backed and ready to go; also, we may decide to breed with any fillies we are lucky to have born, and so have grand children on the ground when other breeders are just deciding to use those stallions for the first time!

On our younger fillies, we tend to use more established stallions to eliminate risks taken. They, of course, already have stock on the ground to look at, and the pluses and minuses of the stock being produced help us decide whether they would be suitable.

The futurities held by the BEF are invaluable to us, as although being highly critical of our stock, it is an outside view with trained evaluators and vets who give their unbiased opinions. It is so easy to think, as a breeder, that you have the best ponies and to have a professional opinion on them is always a massive bonus. Every horse or pony has faults and we have found that, over the years, our ‘eye’ has improved and we know how to present stock and what is required to achieve the higher scores. We are obviously always looking for that perfect score, but if we ever achieved that, we would wonder if the evaluators were having a bad day! Nothing is perfect and can always be improved in various ways - that is always, we feel, the most exciting part of breeding. If we achieved the perfect ‘10’, in real terms we would be thrilled, but of course then not know how to move forward! This also goes for the SPSS mare grading and show which we attend with a full to bursting lorry load for the annual event!

We all want the most perfect ponies but we also want to move forward in our breeding plans and produce better every year - a little more movement, a perfect height, an even better temperament and so on. It is almost heartbreaking to sell any fillies as they are our future breeding stock, but of course for the Bathleyhills prefix-bearers to be seen out competing and doing a fabulous job for children, some have to be sold, and they all make us proud.

We are still a relatively new stud but our ponies are proving themselves now to be super fun and successful in their own right; we have ponies out showing to a good level and also showjumping at BSJA, even in Ireland. They are all proving to be trainable with super conformation, and, above all, the temperaments are fantastic.

We try very hard to keep the ponies until they are backed and ridden on, to achieve the best start in their lives. Our youngsters are all educated from an early age, are handled well and learn about yard life. They are turned away as a herd and allowed to mature slowly, being brought in to compete on occasions in the showing arena as and when required, so that they have an established education for their future years. We like them to go out at points during growing up so they have some education in the outside world. It is easy to forget what a major thing it is for youngsters to be turned away, forgotten about until backing then expected to go to a competition and behave accordingly. We strongly believe that the odd occasions having trips in the lorry give them a firm foundation for their future years. With that in mind we feel therefore our ponies will have the best long term superb prospects for the future competition world, both for children and parents alike.

We welcome anyone to come and see our ponies and be surprised at how friendly (too friendly at times!) and well adjusted the youngstock are; they are all ready to come and see visitors and introduce themselves. We know each and every one, who they would suit, how they will back, and how they will go forward in the competition arena. This is the most important aspect at our stud – well-educated and superb ponies ready to excel in their chosen discipline.

Penny
http://www.bathleyhillfarmlivery.com

Photographs, further details:

Bathleyhills Dream In Colour yearling on left - 2nd Foal Futurity CHAPS Champs 2008(Rohey Sparkling Maydream x Acado) - Bathleyhills Flashlight on right - 2 year old (Aklah Twilight Star x Thistledown Copper Lustre)3rd place overall 2 year old BEF Futurities 2009 Graded Mare with SPSS. Winner at County Level.

Hilkens Mighty Gold (Mona by Joldis Charmont) yearling

Bathleyhills Chanel Allure (Chanel V graded with SHB(GB) by Thistledown Copper Lustre) Yearling - Winner of Male Youngstock at SPSS show 2009
 
Ridings Princpe - Reserve Champion Mare at SPSS Mare Grading 2009

Bathleyhills First Dream out of Rohey Sparkling Maydream

Bathleyhills Sea Urchin - (Loveden Sea Swallow by Thistledown Copper Lustre)- Left Of Photo

Bathleyhills Chocolate Dream 2 year old (Rohey Sparkling Maydream by Thursden Vallye Raphael) 4th place overall BEF two year olds 2009
 

SPSS - http://www.sportpony.org.uk/index.shtml 

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