Sport horse breeding in North America: an eye on the future (Part 1)

Selena O'Hanlon and Canadian sport horse Foxwood High
Credit : Scoopdyga

Tuesday 15 January - 15h23 | Ian Clayton

Sport horse breeding in North America: an eye on the future (Part 1)

Apart from Mexico’s Alfonso Romo, the world’s top breeders of sport horses today are based in Western Europe. German, Dutch, Belgian, Irish and French horsemen have helped build the continent’s leading reputation, while studbooks like KWPN, BWP, OS, SF, HOLST, WESTF, HANN and Z dominate the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH) rankings. But over the years, many leading actors in the sector have also been paying attention to the North American breeding market and establishing a presence across the Atlantic. A look at the evolution of sport horse breeding in the New World, originally published in Grand Prix heroes magazine.

 - Sport horse breeding in North America: an eye on the future (Part 1)

The North American horse breeding scene continues to evolve

When Canadian Olympic Eventer Selena O’Hanlon first met Foxwood High, a.k.a. ‘Woody’ (Rio Bronco W x Arabacus, XX) in 2011, the rider was impressed. “I’ve loved Woody right from the start,” recalled O’Hanlon last year after the now 15-year-old bay gelding was named Equestrian Canada’s Canadian Bred Horse of the Year. “He’s all heart and has the biggest fan club of any horse I’ve ever met. People from all over the world write, call and want to visit Woody. What’s not to love? He’s tall, dark and handsome, tries his guts out and is sweet and easy as pie to work with.”

Foxwood High, with whom O’Hanlon won the 2017 CCI 3* Fair Hill International in Maryland in addition to competing in the CCI 4*s of Kentucky and Badminton and picking up the 2017 USEA Advanced Horse of the Year title, was bred in Ontario and is registered with the CSHA (Canadian Sport Horse Association) studbook. “Woody is an incredible ambassador for Canadian-bred horses,” said the awards committee, “and a testament to the world-class breeding programs within Canada.”

The roots of those programs, in the form of the CSHA registry, date back to 1926, and the organisation says it was the “first open studbook in North America to include European warmbloods in its pedigrees.” Indeed, while Foxwood High’s sire was also born in Canada, his grandsire Rio Grande (Raphael x Windhuk) was brought to the country from Germany as a three-year-old Hanoverian colt by German immigrant Augustin Walch.

That kind of transatlantic pedigree is of course common in elite Jumping, Dressage, Eventing and Hunter horses born in North America today – that is, when riders have not themselves travelled to European stables to purchase their horses. As the CSHA puts it, “European warmblood horses have gained an undeniable supremacy [in] the sport horse world in competition circles.”

Moreover, many of the major European breeds are now well-represented across the Atlantic, like the American Hanoverian Society in Kentucky, which describes itself as an ‘affiliate’ of the German Hannoveraner Verband: “While working independently in support of its membership, the Society enjoys a strong bond and a mutually beneficial working relationship with the Verband. The Verband endorses the AHS by-laws, breeding rules and the manner in which the AHS conducts bloodstock inspections, resulting in full Studbook reciprocity for US-approved stallions and mares. The AHS has representation and a vote on the Verband Board through our membership in Hanoverian International.”

The Selle Français – a renewed presence overseas

The Selle Français – a renewed presence overseas - Sport horse breeding in North America: an eye on the future (Part 1)

Jean-Yves Tola
Credit : Supplied

Other studbooks such as the Selle Français have also been building up (or rebuilding) their North American operations in recent years. “The Selle Français has a fairly good image [there] but has not been present enough on the ground,” said its technical director Benoît Chaigne at the 2017 Normandy Horse Show. To help remedy that, a SF office was set up in the U.S. after the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington. “We offer breeders a selection program derived from our own,” he explained, “with the possibility of registering foals, approving stallions and certifying brood mares.”

Jean-Yves Tola represents the SF in North America today, after the studbook’s previous office there closed in 2004. In fact, Tola – who grew up in the southern suburbs of Paris and now lives in Kentucky – began working with the SF after creating his own North American Studbook (NAS) in 2009, at a moment when European studbooks across the Atlantic were declining due to their prohibitive costs for American breeders.

On the line from Lexington, Tola, who started breeding horses as a hobby in the 1990s with his wife, explains how he got involved in the industry. “I started to see a lot of problems within the U.S. breeding industry and the studbooks – just a lot of things that were missing,” he says. “But I also quickly realized that this was a bit of an old-fashioned, closed world. Unless you were connected with certain people, there was no way in. So being who I am, I just said, ‘Well, I’ll just start this myself!”

HIs goal from the outset with the NAS was to create a more open, affordable and breeder-friendly studbook: “I thought it was important to have a studbook based in the U.S. with multiple bloodlines mixed together in order to create a breeding program that is a typical American melting pot, just like with its people from all over the world.” In addition, Tola wanted to simplify the process for breeders, given that less than 50% of foals in the country were being registered at the time, leading to horses with no papers, registration and pedigree.

“Back then, like 10–15 years ago, you had to go to inspections, you had to follow complicated rules and bring your mares in order to get your horses registered,” he says. “America is huge, and to travel three, four, five hours with a mare and foal [for an inspection – editor’s note] is ridiculous. It’s dangerous, it’s costly and it’s really unnecessary. So from the beginning with the North American Studbook, we would always register without an inspection – as long as your paperwork was in order, we would give you papers.”

At the same time, Jean-Yves Tola says he has always felt it important to have the big European studbooks present in the U.S. and Canada, adding that he encourages owners to register with established ones like Selle Français or Holsteiner if they have bloodlines related to those breeds. After that, he says, people are free to choose, although in any case the general goal is to increase registration (Tola notes that the Canadian situation is in some ways more coherent and advanced than in the U.S., due to its smaller-sized and more easily manageable horse breeding community).

Tomorrow: Part 2

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