As we enter the final foaling months, it is the perfect time to turn our attention towards preparation for Inspection Season. For Sporthorse breeders across the United States, mare, foal and stallion inspections serve as pivotal moments for the horses within their breeding programs. Here are a few thoughts on properly planning out your Inspection Day.
Choosing Your Inspection Site
Begin by mapping out which inspection site you will be attending. Eligibility for inspection and studbook entry will be contingent upon your horse’s pedigree and their parent’s registration status, but registries such as the American Hanoverian Society, the Oldenburg Horse Breeders’ Society, KWPN-NA, ISR-Oldenburg NA, and a handful of other options offer inspection sites throughout the country every year. If you aren’t quite sure where your horse is eligible for inspection, you should contact the registry offices by email or phone with your horse’s information so they can provide you with some direction.
The official website of your registry of choice should have an Annual Tour Schedule that lists individual inspection dates and locations with contact information for each site’s host. Decide which site works best for your situation, and then contact the host to express your interest in attending and whether you will be needing stabling accommodations. Double check with the host to figure out what documentation you will need to bring with your horse to their facility – many require a current Coggins as well as a record of vaccination history. This is also a perfect time for any inquiries regarding photographers/videographers and availability of handlers.
Handling and Prepping Your Horse
Many owners choose to enlist the expertise of a professional handler to present their horses for inspection - which is a great idea! Professional handlers are well-versed in highlighting the strong attributes of their horses and ensure a positive experience for both horse and owner. Some sites will provide handling services for outside horses, while others do not. If your selected inspection site does offer handling services, make sure to start a dialogue with the handler: let them know how your horse reacts to new people and new environments and ask what things you can work on at home to best prepare them for inspection day. Even if the inspection site does not have the resources to provide a handler, the host can often help you in connecting with one if needed.
For our own horses, I put a lot of focus on teaching them how to move away from pressure as well as being able to adjust the gaits (i.e. big walk, slow walk, big trot, slow trot). Having a horse that is adjustable within the gaits in hand means they are also adjustable within their mind and are tuned into working with their handler. Most inspection judges utilize the concept of a “triangle” to assess the horse’s movement - the short sides (moving in straight lines away from and towards the judge) are used to evaluate the correctness of the gaits, while the long side (directly opposite from the judge) is used to evaluate the quality of the gaits.
It is also beneficial to familiarize your horse with being able to stand quietly in an “open stance” (when viewing a horse from the side, the two furthest legs are perpendicular to the ground, and the closest legs are slightly “open” so as to be able to see all four legs at once) for conformational analysis. I prefer to keep in-hand work to a minimum so as to not create a horse that is bored or de-stimulated. It is essential to have a happy and confident horse that is still “sensitive” enough to show off to their full potential in a relaxed manner when the big day arrives.
Making Sure Your Horse Leaves a Positive First Impression
For me, there is nothing more important than a well-executed presentation on inspection day, which starts with a properly turned out horse. Make sure your horse has a well-fitting bridle or halter depending on your registry’s requirements, and make sure they are familiar with working in it! As a handler, one of my biggest pet peeves is being handed a horse that is unhappy due to being thrown into an unfamiliar environment with a bit in its mouth for the first time - this will definitely affect the general impression of your horse, so practice beforehand. If you are presenting a foal, spend time getting them used to wearing a foal halter and being led around at the walk with their dam.
Clean both your tack and your horse appropriately. All of our horses get manes trimmed to a manageable length for braiding, clipped, and are bathed thoroughly the night before inspection. Pack all of your best grooming supplies beforehand to ensure that you are adequately equipped with anything you might need.
If you aren’t comfortable braiding, contact the site host to see if they have recommendations for braiders. Nice professional photos of a well-groomed, braided horse on inspection day can be imperative to successful promotion of your horse or program.
Keep track of the schedule for the day so that both you and your horse are ready to enter the ring at the necessary time without undue stress. Once the whirlwind of preparation and anticipation has passed and your horse enters the ring, take a deep breath and remember to have fun.
Having Fun and Building Relationships
At best, we are paying for another individual’s opinion of ten minutes within our horse’s life, so I always make it a point to enjoy the moment and remain receptive of critiques and the opportunity to learn. Use inspection day to build your presence as an active participant of your registry’s membership! It is a great time to learn more about your registry of choice, what they are striving for in their breeding stock, and how other breeders and owners like you are influencing the sporthorse world within your community. Some registries have regional clubs that operate within them, which can be a fun way to meet new people with the central emphasis of horses.
While not all inspections announce individual scores, most judges will speak at length to the crowd about each horse presented and may be available for further consultation on your horse at the conclusion of the day. Judges often have extensive knowledge of generations of bloodlines and can offer great insight as to what parts of the pedigree seem to be primary influences in your horse and can also give advisement if you are considering breeding. Even if you are not interested in breeding per se, inspections are a good tool to see what lines are producing performance horses as well as how to select performance horse prospects. At its core, inspection day is a great springboard for the continued growth and development of the Sporthorse in the United States.
Cool Na Grena Sporthorses
I have been a breeder here in the US for over 25 years, and have had a fairly successful event horse breeding program in that I have bred a 4* horse, as well as 3* horses, advanced and intermediate horses, and good number of prelim and lower level horses. Even with that success, it has been difficult in the past for me to find and attract buyers for my event bred horses. I know other breeders have the same problems. Because I also compete (at the lower levels), I also often hear upper level eventers say they do not know where to find talented young horses in the US - they feel they must go overseas to find them. Obviously, both sides need to connect in order to support both our breeding programs and our upper level riders. Discussions centering around this need have led to the concept behind the US Event Horse Futurity.
First, I have to admit this was not really my idea, but I seemed to have inherited it :-) The purpose is to bridge the gap between breeders and riders in the US. I know a lot of breeders who don't know where to go to get youngsters trained or how to find riders for them. Hopefully, we can create a program that attracts trainers to promote our US-bred horses and lets both sides make connections that may align our different, but related goals. We foresee that trainers will look for prospects to partner with, riders will find breeders who produce nice youngsters, and everyone will benefit. We also want to showcase some trainers and riders who aren’t well known but do a great job, so that they will benefit as well.
I already have at least 5 riders (some of them 4 and 3*) that have expressed interest in training. What I really need now is for breeders to take a step and commit to trying this out. I think that deals could be worked out that would lessen the cost for the breeder, but you have to put your money where your mouth is and spend a little to get your horses and your name out there. We are such a tight fisted group - we will send money on stud fees and mares, but when it comes to training....
Here is an outline for the US Event Horse Futurity and how the program will work.
US Event Horse Futurity 2019 (Horses born in 2015)
Understand that this is a pilot program that will be organized and run by volunteers – mistakes will be made and we will all learn how to improve the program as it evolves.
Two consecutive months of not posting will eliminate a contestant from the program - no refund will be given. Transparency is to be encouraged. Not every horse will be mature enough to participate in the Championships, and not all training will go to plan. These setbacks are to be acknowledged and worked through in a visible manner. It is our hope that a trainer will develop a following, not only by winning the competition but also by developing the young horse to the best of their abilities.
Awards to Entrants
Awards will be presented at the East Coast Young Event Horse Championships in October 2019 to the highest scoring Futurity Entrants. They do not have to be the overall winner, but must compete and finish the competition to be eligible for the prize money. Monies collected will be distributed in the following manner after expenses are met (awards, etc).
Why did I decide to run with the project (besides being caught in a weak moment)? I bred a horse that was selected to represent the US at the World Championships for Young Event Horses at Le Lion d’Angers in France this past fall, and was lucky enough to attend. The best young event horses in Europe were there, as were the best riders. And at the end of the day, my US-bred horse (the only US bred in the over 100 horses that were there) was just as competititive as the best Europe has to offer. There are many more of these horses in the US - we just have to get US riders to find them and get breeders to find the trainers and riders. It’s simple, it’s just not easy....
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Managing Director, Hilltop Farm
The big topic of discussion this spring and summer for many sport horse breeders in both North America and Europe has been Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome (WFFS). The news first broke in March when we released the carrier status of one of the Hilltop Farm stallions. For a syndrome with a very low occurance rate, has the response been overblown or are we not doing enough? In the four months that have passed, there have been many developments that I feel are important for breeders to know and understand. It is the voices of breeders that will direct how this and future genetic testing is or is not utilized within sport horse breeding.
The initial responses from the North American sport horse registries was quite positive. They acknowledged member concerns and encouraged mare owners to test. An especially significant development out of this support from the registries was that UC Davis started offering the WFFS test as well. As you probably are aware, UC Davis handles the DNA parentage verification for almost all the registries in North America. The ability to cross-check on identity verification, the opportunity for a large-scale population study to better evaluate the carrier rate, and UC Davis's excellent reputation all are important components in the significance of this development. Many of the breed registries have negotiated discounted rates on testing and you can often use DNA that is already on-file at UC Davis if your registry requires hair samples for proof of parentage at time of registration.
The Dutch (effectively immediately) and Swedish Warmblood (have begun testing but not mandatory until 2019) registries in both Europe and North America are going to require testing of all approved stallions and are openly publishing testing results. The American Hanoverian Society (although notably not the Hanoverian Verband) are encouraging stallion owners to test and will include testing status in their yearly directory. ISR/OldenburgNA has requested stallions to be tested, but hasn't yet announced if/how those results will be published. Other registries are taking a more cautious approach, recommending testing but not going so far as to require it and a few registries are completely silent on the WFFS question. WFFS and genetic health in general will be a major topic of the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses annual meeting this year and it's likely we'll see some registries waiting to make an official decision until after that meeting.
Notice none of the registries are requiring testing for mares at this time, although those that have made statements have encouraged mare owners to test. I feel this has been an underemphasized step to-date. WFFS is an autosomal recessive trait, meaning a foal can only be affected if the foal inherits the disease from both parents. When the Friesian breeders were facing similiar sorts of recessive traits they have taken the approach of testing the mares as the top priority. That way a breeder was guaranteed knowledge for at least one side of the breeding equation. While a stallion is likely to have a much larger impact on the population as a whole, it is our mares that have the largest impact within our own breeding results and as such we need to know everything we can about them. A breeder that tests their own mares will know either that their mare is clear of the mutation and regardless of the stallion’s status a foal would not inherit the actual expression of the disease OR that the mare is a carrier and while she herself won’t have any health risks, it will be important to know the status of potential stallion combinations for her and choose only to breed to a stallion who is himself clear of the recessive allele.
I can understand the breeders taking the position of not wanting to test, but I do not agree with them. Yes, there are many far larger issues confronting breeders that we need to be concerned with in our breeding choices and yes, the incidence rate of affected foals is very low. But with all we spend on our horses, why would we not reduce the risks of something going wrong when we can? This test is easy and inexpensive. If we test breeding stock in this generation, we'll have a lot of offspring for subsequent generations that won't need tested as it automatically applies that if both parents are free of the gene mutation than the offspring are as well.
For those of us with carrier horses, we now have important information we didn't have a few months ago. While there is a 50% chance a carrier horse will pass along carrier status to their offspring, as long as we avoid carrier-to-carrier breedings we can prevent any potential foal losses due to WFFS. There are strong opinions on both sides for allowing or not allowing carrier stock to be bred but the cautious, longview approach that has been adopted by all other registries in dealing with similiar situations has been to require testing, avoid potentially risking combinations, and focus on education of breeders and the general riding public.
For those of you who have tested, been active in the online discussions, or contacted your registry with your thoughts - thank you! Please continue to do so as we are a long ways from all the registries having full plans in place for handling the question of WFFS testing. I fully expect we'll be having similiar discussions in coming years regarding other genetic traits as testing becomes more available and how we respond to WFFS will shape how future tests are integrated as well.
Report by Alice Knox
The inaugural Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival was warmly welcomed to the Southern California dressage scene in January, and already many are looking forward to the event’s return next year. WCDF president Scott Hayes described the festival as “Not only competitions, but a gathering place for the dressage community to socialize, learn, and grow brands and businesses in this spectacular part of the horse world.” Designed primarily as a means to provide multi-week, winter-time FEI competition without having to fly horses, clients and supplies to southern Florida, the San Diego tournament handily accomplished the mission.
The location was the beloved Del Mar Fairgrounds, fondly referred to as “Where the turf meets the surf”. The showgrounds are regarded as the best on the West Coast, with permanent shed row stabling and roomy stalls. Arena footing is maintained by the same equipment used on the adjoining race track, site of the 2018 Breeders Cup Championships. The sparkling Pacific Ocean is directly to the west, and the charming village of Del Mar to the south. To the east are equestrian communities where San Diego’s resident dressage Olympians, namely Peters, Seidel and Traurig, have their training barns. The weather was typical for southern California at this time of year - warm, dry, sunny days with crispy cool nights. Wear short sleeves during the day, and put on a puffy jacket when the sun goes down.
Show management’s attention to detail included dressing up the indoor arena with classy black linens and glowing table lamps on the VIP box seat tables. The ringside Hospitality Lounge didn’t disappoint and provided a lively meeting place for riders, trainers, owners and friends. The comfy couches, full bar and view of both the competition ring and golden Pacific sunsets were quite inviting. Hungry? A café just outside the lounge prepared fresh, made-to-order breakfast, lunch and dinner items.
The four weeks of top competition, along with Master Class exhibitions, attracted exhibitors throughout the West Coast and British Columbia. Those who wanted to experience the event but couldn’t attend were treated to free livestreaming on the horse show’s Facebook page, with expert commentary provided by retired FEI 5* star judge (and San Diegan) Axel Steiner. Master Class clinics featured equestrian celebrities Monty Roberts, Boyd Martin, Laura Graves, Helen Langenhanenberg, and Charlotte Dujardin. General admission to the presentations was simply a suggested donation to the international animal welfare organization Brooke USA. By making the show easily accessible to so many, the West Coast Dressage Festival created an instant fan base that will happily support the event next year.
The USSHBA was well represented at the festival. Congratulations to breeder and USSHBA board member Maggie Neider of North Hill Farm in New York. During the show’s final weekend, Maggie’s home bred Rosalut NHF (Rosenthal x Legacy x Salut) continued his success in the dressage ring by winning the CDI 1* Intermediate 1 class with 70.41%, out of 14 entries. The 8 year old Oldenburg was ridden by Carly Taylor-Smith of Malibu, California for owner Nikki Taylor-Smith. USSHBA was also an event sponsor, and our full page, color advertisement in the show program introduced the West Coast dressage community to our organization.
More information on the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival info can be found here.
There is no one-stop, comprehensive database at this time that crosses all sporthorse breeds, disciplines, countries, etc. With the crossing of bloodlines across registries, you’ll need to be very resourceful and explore multiple research options to gain a more complete representation. The following resources are listed as some suggestions to get you started along with some notes as to why/how we use various sites. There are pros and cons to users being able to edit data so remember to use caution when evaluating/relying on data on sites that do allow that option.
Depending on the information you are looking for, the bloodlines, and the discipline, you'll find your favorite sites to utilize. We'd love to keep adding to this list, so send in your recommendations or helpful hints to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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