Sport horse breeding in North America (Part 2)

Jean-Yves Tola of the SF (NA) and North American Studbook (NAS)
Credit : Supplied

Wednesday 16 January - 09h06 | Ian Clayton

Sport horse breeding in North America (Part 2)

Today, part 2 of our look at sport horse breeding in North America. 

A unique context for breeders

A unique context for breeders - Sport horse breeding in North America (Part 2)

A Selle Français evaluation in the United States
Credit : DR

Part 1 is here. 

Questioned more broadly about how breeding has evolved in the United States in recent years, Jean-Yves Tola says that things have changed quite a bit: “I would say that one of major changes has been the use of frozen semen. Ten years ago, a few people used frozen semen; today, most people use frozen semen. That’s a huge change. And there are a huge amount of stallions that are available via frozen semen in the U.S. If you want a stallion, you can pretty much get it.”

One of the main routes for that has been through semen importers such as Carol Austin’s Superior Equine Sires in Washington State, founded in 1999, whose motto is ‘Your Foal is our Goal.’ “I am proud that the semen I have imported through the years has had a profound positive effect on the North American sport horse industry,” notes Austin on her web site.

In parallel with that development, Tola says that veterinary experience in this field has grown significantly as well. “Ten years ago you really had to do some serious research to find a veterinarian who was comfortable dealing with frozen semen,” he explains, “and now most are. They did it themselves and found out how it worked, and the success rate has gone up a lot. I also think the internet has helped people a lot to find out more about bloodlines and increase their knowledge of horses – who they are and what they’ve done. All of that stuff has merged together to make breeding in the U.S. more globalized.” One downside to that, he adds, is that the demand for fresh semen from American stallions standing in the country has gone way down and thus their owners have lost quite a bit of business.

Another factor which has affected sport horse breeding in North America is the continent’s vast size and relative lack of young horse shows like the Concours Modèles et Allures in France – especially in the discipline of Jumping (Dressage and Eventing have more developed systems, Tola explains). In response, the French SF agent and NAS founder has created a circuit in states such as Texas and Florida where any breeder can show their horses in two or three classes for a couple hundred dollars, an amount he would eventually like to reduce to $100. In addition, he notes that the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) finally created a new rule last year whereby young horses have to have registration papers and proof of age in order to compete. “Even today, somebody with two five-year-olds called me and wanted to go in a five-year-old class, and they asked, ‘What do I need to do?’,” he recounts. “And I said, ‘Well you need to prove to me that your horses are five, because they could be four and they could be six, and if they are they don’t belong in that class.’”


LOOKING TO THE FUTURE - Sport horse breeding in North America (Part 2)

Megan Lane rides Caravella at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016
Credit : Scoopdyga

While North America has produced some of the best riders in the world in the three Olympic disciplines and hosts numerous world-class FEI competitions, its homebred horses are still relatively absent from the WBFSH rankings (which it must be noted have been called unfairly Eurocentric by some critics). For example, in the June, 2018 rankings for Dressage, the top-ranked horse from the continent – 52nd in the world – was Caravella (Contango x Riverman), registered with the KWPN NA - KWPN of North America. For Jumping that same month, Quirado RC (Quinar x Corrado I) of the AHHA - American Holsteiner Horse Association came in at 149, while in Eventing, Happenstance (Hunter x Ramirado), also with the AHHA, was 58th and Foxwood High 74th.

At the same time, Tola points out that just like in France, 90-95% of North American riders are amateurs, and breeders have to be clear about their objectives: “What we try to do with the Selle Français and the North American Studbook – and this is not to say, ‘We know everything and you know nothing’ – is educate people a little more in-depth about what is really going on out there and how you can be satisfied with your breeding program. Do you want to breed a pretty horse, a commercial horse, are you breeding for yourself, are you breeding to sell? All of that stuff is important.”

“What’s going on a little bit here,” he adds as a caution, “is that because of all this opening up to blood from the world, from Europe, we’ve got all these amazing stallions – Diamant de Semilly and all these beautiful, super horses – but their offspring are not necessarily the easiest horses to deal with. And if you’re an amateur, and if you don’t have the proper staff and the proper place, you’re going to get overwhelmed very quickly. And there’s a lot of those horses out there, Kannan or Balou, Quick Star, Big Star… they’re super horses, but they’re like Ferraris – super-sensitive, super-fast, super-powerful, super-quick. If you don’t know how to drive a car like that, you’re going to crash, and it’s the same thing with the horses. So you end up seeing these amazing horses, but they can’t do anything because people are not equipped to deal with them."

Looking ahead, the North American specialist remains nevertheless confident about the evolution of sport horse breeding on the continent. “I do believe that in the next 10 years we will have a great breeding program with development classes and systems,” Tola says, “and really start to produce some top-notch horses.”

Further reading...