Is there an all-U.S. bred, trained and ridden team of Olympic horses in our future? Can our American breeders beat the Europeans at their own game? Horse Sport International’s Kim MacMillan asked a group of up-and-coming American sport horse breeders about their experiences and how best to bring on a fledgling of all-U.S. bred horses. First up in our three-part series covering the efforts of those breeding for the Olympic disciplines, are show jumper breeders, Cayce Harrison and Cara Raether.
PART I: SHOW JUMPING
Historically there have been all-U.S. bred Olympic teams but they existed only in the early days of equestrian sports, when all team riders were military officers. The early team horses were products of Thoroughbred race breeding and U.S. Army Cavalry re-mount programs. The USA fielded its last all-military team at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Sixty-four years later, by the 2012 London Olympics, our U.S. riders in all three disciplines were mounted on horses bred in other countries.
The last two U.S.-bred Olympic show jumpers were both Thoroughbreds: For the Moment (pedigree unknown, 1988 and 1992 teams) and Gem Twist (by Good Twist, out of Coldly Noble by Nobel Jay, bred by Frank Chapot, 1988 team).
The European Warmblood “invasion” began in the late 1950s/early1960s. European breeders and studbooks offered purpose-bred sport horses and easily arranged buying trips to Europe where prospective purchasers had the chance to see many quality horses, conveniently and cost effectively.
That certainly was the case years ago but as the sport of show jumping has grown, the availability of well-bred, super talented horses with championship potential has decreased. Demand has outstripped supply and consequently prices have soared. So why not grow your own?
Double H Farm- Cayce Harrison
Amateur rider Cayce Harrison and her husband Quentin Judge, a professional jumper rider, preside over activities at Double H Farm, owned by Cayce’s parents Jeannie and Hunter Harrison. Cayce, 29, won the North American Junior Young Rider Jumping Championships in 2002 on Jashar. She later competed successfully in the jumper divisions on Coeur and other Double H Farm horses, including their foundation stallion, the Belgian Warmblood Orlando (Heartbreaker – Darco).
The farm has two locations: a renovated 20-acre facility completed in 2009 in Wellington, Florida, and an 87-acre historic farm in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The farm stands seven Warmblood stallions including HH Rebozo (Mexican Sport Horse, Tlaloc La Silla – Ramiro Z), the 2010 WEG and 2012 Olympic partner of Brazilian rider Rodrigo Pessoa, who winters his horses at Double H Farm’s Wellington location.
“We started breeding because, for us, it made sense,” says Cayce. “We owned a nice stallion, Orlando, and had a very nice Grand Prix mare that was retired. We also had the facility to accommodate breeding a few young horses. We started small with the notion that we were giving ourselves a good opportunity for success by breeding two top-quality, carefully selected horses,” explained Cayce.
Double H has bred five foals, with its sixth on the way, a number which fits with the plan to keep the breeding program fairly small and to focus on quality, not quantity. “We would like to breed only top-level sport horses. The mares we use have been Grand Prix horses and are well-bred. We obviously like to use our own stallions, but not exclusively. If we feel a mare is best suited for a stallion we do not own, we do not hesitate to breed the mare to the best-matched stallion. Beyond this, we are trying to create a young horse development program that is consistent and gives each horse the greatest opportunity to develop properly. Lastly, we would love to contribute to the goal of U.S.-bred high-performance horses and encourage other Americans to do the same.”
While she is confident that U.S. breeders can also produce horses to compete at the Olympic level, Cayce thinks that it is a goal for the distant future. “First of all, we need to change our mindset. So many people write off the idea of breeding programs in the U.S. because, compared to Europe, we are behind in many ways. I would like to see more people explore and believe in the idea that the U.S. is capable of producing Olympic-quality horses. This is a long-term goal that involves a group effort between our governing bodies, show organizers, breeders, riders, trainers and owners. Obviously, this entails growing the number of sport horses bred in the U.S. each year and supporting U.S. breeders, their stallions and young horses.” She believes increasing education in all aspects of breeding and producing young horses is vital for the creation of a U.S. high performance breeding industry.
Cayce says the USEF and the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) have a role to play in this. “Most importantly, I would like to see costs controlled for young horses competing in the U.S. Currently, it is simply too expensive to develop young horses. It would be so helpful if horses under a certain age could compete at a nice show for a much discounted rate. I would also encourage the continuation of programs like the USHJA’s Emerging Athletes. It seems important to create a larger network of horseman that are interested in breeding and are equipped to develop young horses.”
She also thinks that more education about breeding topics should be made available, “Speaking from experience, it is very difficult to find resources to learn about topics like equine reproduction, stallion contracts, pedigrees, and the list goes on and on. We are very lucky to work with the group at Select Breeders, who are constantly helping and teaching us.”
Cayce says that after a successful six years breeding in Europe, they are planning to return their stallion Orlando to the US for the 2015 breeding season. She is also very excited about the home-bred group of youngsters they have coming up: the four-year-old stallion HH Jorlando by Orlando out of their mare Maybelline (by Alexis Z); the three-year-old filly HH Katja by Amaretto D’arco x Quito de Baussy; and two yearling fillies, HH Gloria by Rebozo out of Maybelline and one by Radco. “We are also waiting on the birth of a Tornesch x Alexis Z foal.”
Trelawny Farm – Cara Raether
Jumper rider Cara Raether’s Trelawny Farm is located in Bedford, NY, just a “hop-skip” from New York City. The mission statement for the farm is to foster excellence in show jumping and breeding of sport horses within the U.S. To that end they currently stand six stallions and have a couple of broodmares here and in Europe.
Cara, 33, has been riding since age six and was a member of three medal-winning North American Junior Young Rider Championships teams and the 2007 U.S. Pan American Games bronze medal team. Besides utilizing Cara’s riding skills, the farm also collaborates with riders Eric Hasbrouck, who was Cara’s instructor when she was a young rider, and Beezie Madden, who along with her husband John Madden, are Cara’s current coaches.
Trelawny’s senior breeding stallions are Ublesco (Belgian Warmblood, Darco – Flamingo, Cara’s Pan Games partner), who is currently standing in the Netherlands, and So What (Swedish Warmblood, Irco Mena – Irco Macro), competed by Cara, Eric and Henri Prudent before being retired age 18 in 2009. They also have three younger stallions currently competing with Beezie Madden: Corfilio T (Oldenburg, Cornet Obolensky – Filius), Luganer (Hanoverian, LandClassic – Ramiro’s Son) and Winston (Dutch Warmblood, Heartbreaker – Burggraaf).
Cara explained that they did not intend to launch a breeding enterprise initially, “It just kind of happened.”
Her family has been involved with U.S. show jumpers since the early 1990s. “When we bought So What we decided to use him with some of the quality mares we had, when they were retired. Then, when Ublesco was purchased in 2005 and started performing well, people asked to use him as a breeding stallion. It went from there.”
Cara’s interest grew too. “I personally became interested in breeding – not just knowing the names of the sires, but knowing what that actually meant from a breeding perspective. Ublesco was such an incredible horse for me as a rider; if someone else was able to breed to him and get a horse like that – now that would be exciting!”
The question of how to promote internationally successful sport horse breeding in this country intrigues Cara. “I do think that it is entirely possible that there could be a U.S.-bred international sport horse. I think that anyone out there breeding horses always hopes to breed a horse to have that kind of success. I think that a key element in the approach to breeding is the mare. A lot of the time the focus is placed on the stallion and their bloodlines and the mare is overlooked. The mare is an integral part to producing a quality foal.”
It’s after producing that foal with potential that Cara thinks the governing bodies need to step up. “In America we need a better system to showcase and produce our young horses. There is really nothing to show your horse in before the age of five. By that age, I think that our U.S. bred horses are behind in their education and have much less experience than European-bred horses. This is why I believe most people are drawn to purchase a young horse in Europe rather than breed one and wait five to six years.”
Cara thinks that the USEF and USHJA could help make available more education about breeding sport horses in this country and by providing more competition for young horses. “If there were more opportunities to show our U.S.-bred horses, we might have a better chance in the upper levels of the sport. In recent years the USEF/USHJA have started this process by having a Young Jumper division and year-end finals. However, there is not a lot of spotlight on these classes. I know that Devon holds young horse classes in-hand to showcase your U.S.-bred horse, but there are not many shows that allow you to do this. By being able to see the young horses, people might be encouraged to use the stallions and breed their best mares here in America. Maybe if USEF/USHJA had a few more of these shows throughout the year and gave overall awards for the year, then people might get excited about producing their own horses instead of buying them.”
The USEF’s Role
Ken Ball, USEF Director of Horse Registration and Services, and Kris Knox, USEF Breeders’ Committee Chairperson, agreed that while there were horses bred in this country with international potential, they need to get into the hands of the top trainers and riders who can showcase their talents on the international stage. “We also need to promote and recognize our top young horse trainers so that breeders can get the best possible start for their exceptional young horses.”
The pair said that creating a venue which brings trainers, riders and breeders together would be invaluable for the U.S. breeding industry. To this end, the USEF has a new project in the works. The inaugural USEF Young Horse Championships will be held as a symposium at the Kentucky Horse Park in early November this year but will graduate to a full-blown competition encompassing most of the FEI disciplines in 2014. “These Championships will be a great way to bring the country’s top young horse athletes to the public. Once this program is fully developed, it will lead to more young horse classes at regional and local competitions, and an added excitement about owning a young horse and watching it progress through its career,” Ball and Knox explained.