Going From Strength to Strength Brendon Stud

by Ginny Smith

Brendon outdoor_arena

Coming over the bridge that crosses the dual carriageway A23 from the little village of Pyecombe in East Sussex, you are met with a sight that must gladden the heart of any horse owner: for there, resting in a deep natural bowl carved out of the South Downs is the impressive spread of Brendon Equestrian Centre. There is a grass arena with a derby bank; the enormous international all-weather surface outdoors arena, stabling complex and indoor school. At this time of year the youngstock are all inside, but there are still a number of broodmares visible on the grass fields stretching up the side of the valley.

The Centre was first established by Cyril and Valerie Light in 1965, and at that time consisted mainly of the riding school and livery, with a small dealing business on the side, most of the horses being bought in from Ireland. The name comes from Val’s first pony, Brendon, so called because he was an Exmoor who originated from the Brendon Hills. The first competition successes came when Cyril started to buy sport horses in the late seventies, with the then stable rider, Paul Miles, winning the Elizabeth Ann Kitchens Grade C at Wembley and The Hickstead Salver.

The birth of the stud came with Cyril’s acquisition of the ISH stallion Sussex Diamond, a son of the famous RID stallion King of Diamonds, in 1983, and later Magic Motion (Ballyard Light), who went on to win a Gold Medal at the Pan Am Games in the 1990s with his new owners. The Brendon broodmares still carry the bloodlines of these foundation stallions.

The stud today, in spite of having expanded enormously since those first days, is still a family enterprise, with Cyril supposedly retired, but still very much present and often to be seen (and heard!) giving advice on the breaking of a young horse or zooming around on his Quad bike. His daughter Shirley now runs the stud side of the enterprise, with her long-established team, and her sister Caraleen and their mother Val deal with the all the paperwork and administration involved in running a busy equestrian centre which not only encompasses the stud, but is also a prestigious competition centre.

Shirley is a qualified AI technician, and she and her team work very closely with the Equine Veterinary Centre, Arundel, and in particular with Ed Lyall, the senior partner and specialist stud vet. Brendon have a fully equipped and modern laboratory on site, and during the busy breeding season Ed can be seen at Brendon almost every day, arriving in the dawn light, and often not leaving until late on in the day – evidence of the popularity of the Brendon stallions! And of course the current stallions are very different from the foundation sires – the first move to stand warmblood stallions was made with the arrival of the Trakehner Tropic Star (Furioso bloodlines), succeeded by the BWP Maestro Nativio, whose lines go back to Native Dancer on his TB sire’s side, and Alme Z through his dam. Maestro Nativio, an International Grade A, jumped International Trials and the Hickstead Derby before being sold abroad.

Currently there are 10 stallions standing at the stud (although this number does vary, depending on whether a buyer has made Shirley an offer too good to refuse for one of her boys!), with some very well-known names now amongst them – Unbelievable Darco, (“Fred”) who Shirley bought as a foal, and is still her best loved, who has a long and impressive list of successes to his name, in spite of having had his career interrupted several times by severe colic attacks; Caretino Glory, who apart from the success of his offspring in showjumping, is proving increasingly popular with event horse breeders, with Ann Burnett using him to produce two foals with her well-known mare The Tourmaline Rose;

Lou and El Thuder Lanakan 3

Louise Pavitt on El Thuder

at Lanaken 2009

Nederland F, recently sold for an undisclosed sum, a prolific winner in his own right, with progeny excelling in the sport – Scott Brash (who also has Sebastian, bought from the Brendon stable) competing Nederland Magic successfully to qualify for the Newcomers final at HOYS and Annette Allen’s Ballyzach qualifying for the RIHS and two Blue Chip Finals. A coloured son of Nederland F’s is now standing at the stud - Nederland Esquire - and turning quite a few heads!

Shirley Light


Shirley with a 2009 foal by Warrior, Brendon Stud's Foxhunter 2009 Qualifier

I caught up with Shirley recently at her local gastro-pub, the day after she had returned from the FEI World Breeding Jumping Championships at Lanaken with the young stallions Warrior, El Thuder and Don VHP Z, to talk to her about her breeding philosophy, her ambitions for the future, and, of course, how things had gone at Lanaken!

She described Lanaken as being on a par with the qualifier at Addington for the first round – the height about 1.20 to 1.25 - but the courses were more technical, and the time was very tight. She felt that the same timing should be run for the selection at Addington in the future.

Shirley drove the lorry out to Lanaken with her stable rider, Louise Pavitt, (“She’s great, she just loves every horse, and they love her – AND she can plait!!”) to arrive the day before the competition. She was pleased with the way that the horses had gone, although the days were very long - there were 258 starters for the 6 year old class, for instance! El Thuder (“Amarillo”) was very fast, and Don VHP Z, who has previously been ridden by Damian Williams, finding himself with a rider 5 stone lighter, was joyously towing Louise down to each jump on the first day. Louise is not large, and “Paris” is, measuring in at 17.3hh! The solution was a change of bit to provide more control, which worked wonders on day two.

Warrior and Louise at South of England Show 2009

The affection between Louise and Warrior is obvious at the 2009 South of England Show

Warrior, the young stallion by Tangelo vd Zuuthoeve out of a Heartbreaker/Burggraaf mare, who has had an extremely successful year in 2009, on the return from Lanaken was heading for HOYS, where he had an uncharacteristic number of poles down - maybe “end of season-itis” - while Paris and Amarillo were turned out for their holidays together (photo below) “to just enjoy being horses” as Shirley described it.

Don VHP and El Thuder on holiday Sept 09

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