Here at Volatis Stud we aim to breed athletic, tough, well-made sporthorses, with the temperament to allow great trainability. I spend hours viewing stallions here in the UK and in mainland Europe, and I try and keep up to date on mare gradings, stallion gradings, and sports results, as I hone down my own personal likes and dislikes when it comes to pedigrees. The theory is, if I choose the right mare and stallion combination, I will breed saleable foals that someone else is going to love just as much as I do. After all, we are a commercial operation, if only a small one still, so the foals need to be sold.
But every year, there is always one that I cannot bear to part with. My long-suffering partner Andy always raises his eyebrows when I come up with excuses why so-and-so should not go on the market, why they are so important to retain. But I think I can justify those decisions!
It all started just over 4 years ago, when we bred a very smart coloured colt out of one of our foundation mares, Dee Dee G. Dee is a broodmare worth her weight in gold, well made, plenty of bone and room to carry a foal, but retaining the quality you would expect from her predominantly Thoroughbred pedigree. The colt she had that year by the coloured stallion Goshka Ringo, whom we named Devlin, just wowed me from the minute he was born – strong, robust, beautifully marked and full of quality. Somehow I got Andy to agree that we should retain him and see if he would mature into stallion material. Well, his older full brother was a graded stallion so it was not an impossible thought!
As a yearling, he went through the normal yearling gangly stage, but still everyone who met him fell in love with him. He had the nicest temperament, and was so easy going, and when he was awarded a First Premium at the BEF Futurity, we felt we were on track. At the start of his 2 year old year, it was time to step back and assess: did Devlin have what it took to be kept entire? If he was entire, we would need to find somewhere to stand him, not having the facilities here ourselves. But fate intervened, and a friend fell in love with him and bought him off us for her teenage daughter. Looking back, it has been a great decision, as Holly and Devlin have progressed and learnt together, and he is absolutely adored. But I do sometimes think what fun I could be having on him right now, had we not sold him.
In 2006, we had 3 fillies born, and we had already made the decision to retain the best one as a future broodmare. Of course both Andy and I each had our favourites, and so in order to save any arguments, we placed all the fillies on the market and left it to fate. Maybe not the most sensible way to decide, but it was the only way to avoid a stalemate! My favourite, a part bred Trakehner filly we named Callista, sold instantly, and so Andy got to retain his filly, Cleio. Cleio was another daughter of Goshka Ringo, but her dam was a Trakehner broodmare I had on lease, from a truly fabulous motherline – that of Elite Stallions Consul and Connery.
Cleio has always had exceptional movement, she uses her joints beautifully and steps right under – a horse with a natural aptitude for collection. As a foal she was Reserve Champion Part-Bred Trakehner at the annual breed show, and went one better in 2007, winning her class and taking the Championship. As a 2 year old, she had 2 outings, being awarded a First Premium and the Highest Score in her section at the BEF Futurity held at Arena UK, and winning her class and Reserve Champion Coloured Horse at the NCPA Rutland and Leicestershire show.
Now a 3 year old, she is a really deep-bodied and well-made filly, and has started her ridden career with the same laid back attitude she has always had. Her motherline continues to produce great champions in the Trakehner breed, and I don’t regret for a minute the decision to retain her, despite turning down some good offers.
The year Cleio was born, I decided to re-cover her dam, Fleetwater Caprice, but to a Trakehner stallion this time, with the aim of breeding a purebred filly to retain as a representative of that great motherline. When you are breeding to sell, there is always a consideration in stallion selections, that if you use a relatively unknown stallion, the resulting foal will be harder to market. So I had to weigh up the possibility of using a stallion that produces outstanding daughters against using a more commercial name, as if I bred a colt, it would need to be sold.
Of course I decided to take the riskier option and found a British-based stallion that fitted my criteria perfectly. Bluewood Stud in Sussex had the Trakehner stallion Tycoon, a big powerful horse, with masses of charisma and enormous movement. Known for producing outstanding daughters, Tycoon complemented Caprice physically and on paper, so we covered her and crossed our fingers for a filly.
11 months later, Caprice foaled a beautiful chestnut filly, who was named Casiphia (a Hebrew word for money), so our prayers were truly answered. Not only did Casiphia have the pedigree of a superb breeding prospect, but was correct, elegant, typey and wow - what a mover!
We took her to the BEF Futurity even though she was quite a late foal, and she not only won her section on the day, but at the end of the year was the highest scoring junior dressage foal across the country. And more importantly to me, one of the evaluators told me afterwards that I really must retain her as she had ‘stallion mother’ written all over her.
So we had the 2008 foal crop, and once again I started the year with good intentions of selling all the foals due to be born. I knew that one day I would retain a filly from Dee, but as I did not want to increase our herd numbers anymore, I purposely bred her to a stallion that I felt was a good commercial choice but as a Sandro Hit grandson, was not a bloodline I would want to retain. The stallion I chose was Showmaker, a magnificent Westfalen stallion by the Grand Prix horse Show Star and grandson of another in Fidermark. Showmaker had been in the headlines a lot, winning up and down the country in young horse classes, and his frame and power would complement the mare very well.
What I did not expect to happen was for Dee to foal the night we were rushing another foal to Newmarket, fearing the worst. Under telephone supervision, a friend foaled Dee down uneventfully and we got home in the early hours of the morning to find a truly beautiful coloured colt – Defiant, or Jack as he is known at home. I know I shouldn’t be a sucker for a pretty face, but Jack really is the male model of the stables. Huge soft eyes peer at you from under a forelock that always seems to be that bit too long. Big and strong but with quality and that wonderful temperament Dee always passes onto her foals, I have tried very hard not to fall in love. But now 18 months on, and Jack is still here, and looking every inch the stallion prospect.
So I have in the last few years retained two broodmare prospects and one stallion prospect - surely that would be enough? But once again this year I have had my heart stolen by another beautiful boy. In 2006, I was looking to buy a new Trakehner broodmare. I purchased one, an older proven mare and already in foal, and carrying the bloodlines of one of my favourite stallions, Consul. As chance would have it, there was also a 2 year old for sale at the stud, by Casiphia’s sire Tycoon and also out of a Consul mare. Feisty, full of spark and attitude, we were all blown away by her movement and so Harmsworth Elfinesque (Elf) joined the herd too. We bred a very nice filly from her by Latimer, and then delayed backing her after I had a serious accident, so put her in foal once more, this time to the 2005 Grading Champion – Herzensdieb.
Again this was a foal bred to sell, and when Elf produced a stunning dark brown colt, I was pleased it wasn’t a filly to tempt me. The colt Czar is, however, everything I could have wanted. Well made, great joints, typey, a really uphill mover, and, of course, simply beautiful. He is also the friendliest foal, always first over for attention. We have had him assessed by one of the Trakener Verband’s judges who advised us that he would be worth keeping entire and presenting for grading as a 2 or 3 year old. And so I’ve done it again, added another homebred to the ‘Not for Sale’ list – well, there is always one, isn’t there!