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The Blessing/Curse of the Home-bred Horse

Your starter question for 10, no conferring:
The London Olympics Dressage, Show-jumping and Eventing competitions were unique for what reason?

I’m sure you can think of lots of reasons, but the answer I’m looking for is that in all 3 disciplines, there was a rider competing on a horse they had bred. At that level, considering the number of top Professional riders with serious horsepower all vying for positions on their National teams, that is pretty amazing.

Go on then, who were they? (Answers at the bottom of the article.)


Daisy, half an hour after being born.

Anyway… I’ve been trying to breed a 4* horse for decades. Literally, decades – I started back in 1991. I have always used the best stallions I could find, and just bred a foal here and there, from a nice mare (with good breeding, good conformation, good temperament, usually a decent competition record with me) always with high hopes but mixed with a healthy dose of realism.
I’ve heard a couple of very experienced horsemen say that about 1 in every 100 horses they have on their yard is potentially truly top class. So, breeding one at a time, occasionally, what hope do I have? But I still keep my hopes up.

My current eventer, Daisy (The Opposition Rose), out of an Irish x TB showjumping mare, by the legendary Fleetwater Opposition, is my fifth attempt to breed a horse capable of getting to 4*. Yes, I fully realise I’m delusional, but it keeps me going! In spite of the difficulties so far, and the fact that she is, at times, an opinionated little witch, she gives me more hope than any of the others have… 😉



The poor thing had to endure quite a lot of this, over the years… witness the long-suffering expression!

When you’ve planned a horse – spent months/years deliberating over your stallion choice, taken the mare to stud, had her covered (always by AI, with my stallion choices, so never cheap!), prayed for her to take, coughed up ££s for vet care, stud care, and covering costs, cared for her for 11 long months, had many mostly-sleepless nights on foalwatch, then delivered the foal, (huge relief at this point), delighted in it, had a million cuddles, taken a million pictures… nurtured it, weaned it, painstakingly taught it to be a reasonable horse to deal with (respecting people, being good for the farrier, being led around in a civilised manner, tying up, being patient, loading, etc etc, all of which takes hours and hours of patience, good decisions, and sometimes very good reactions!) done your best to keep it in one piece in spite of its instinctive Equine Suicidal Tendencies, then eventually backed it, got it going nicely (and at this point my personal story with Daisy goes a bit off piste, because I need to add in “been fired almost into orbit off it in spectacular style for no apparent reason, spent months on crutches, had to have your knee operated on, been told the horse is a total write-off as a riding horse due to pelvic/sacro-iliac issues, done your very best to get it right again with the help of physios, McTimoney Chiropracty, and many many months of Dr Green, started riding it again (not without dire warnings from friends and relatives, and fairly serious misgivings)” and, back to the norm… done hours and hours of planning and training and analysing, finally started competing, and then finally, finally launched into the wide ocean of Affiliated Eventing… well, you get the picture.




My first homebred, Canoodle (Twiggy), at the top of her ability at CCI**

This is just the saga to date of Daisy, who is my current eventer. Of the other 4 I bred before her (at least of couple of which looked hugely promising), the best I managed was that the first one, Twiggy, got to 2* and reached her absolute limit, in terms of scope and soundness. I’d very patiently turned her from a mare who was decidedly wussy at BE100 and Novice levels into a rock-solid Intermediate horse, and we had a lot of fun together. We never hit the deck, she was supremely straight and honest, doing direct routes that hardly anyone did all day, and she retired sound, and is a super dressage/hack schoolmistress and still going strong in her 20s.
So, although I was indescribably gutted that we didn’t get further, I have to be very proud that we got that far at all, and that I controlled my vaunting ambition and never asked more of her than she could give. She was right at the very limit of her scope over an Advanced fence… she jumped a few on 2* courses and only had about another 2″ of scope left, by the feel and look of it!
The other youngsters, for various reasons (colic, headshaking, congenitally weak tendons (read: new definition of heartbreak)) never even made it to an event. A huge amount of time, money, effort and love went into those ultimately going-nowhere horses, as you can imagine. 


Daisy: the proof of the progress so far…

So, it really means a LOT, to event a totally self-made horse. It’s a huge accomplishment, just keeping one in one piece for that long, and producing it to that level!
Those who manage it to 4* level have my most enormous, undying respect. Riding a horse that you have, basically, created from scratch… it’s a huge deal, and a huge pleasure.

Who was the last person to win a 4* event on a home-bred horse? Mary King at Rolex Kentucky in 2011, I think, on Kings Temptress?  Other top riders who ride home-breds: The Algotsson sisters (who rode a mother and daughter at the Greenwich Olympics, one into individual Silver), our own e-V team member, Victoria Madsen with By Crikey, who went clear at Luhmühlen 4* in 2o11, Charlotte Agnew and her Out of Africa Two. Any others to add to the list?

So, after all that, what are the main differences between a home-bred horse, and one you’ve bought?

Firstly, they are 100% reflection of you, because you absolutely can’t blame anyone else for their behaviour! But… with this caveat: they arrive with their own attitude (I bred full brothers, 2 years apart, and their different temperaments were absolutely clear within an hour of birth, and stayed pretty much constant. Big lesson there.)

You know everything they’ve done. They will still surprise you, of course, but you won’t inadvertently stray into an area where they had a bad time in the past.

You will, very probably, have your rose-tinteds locked in place every time you look at your home-bred. Because you bred it, and raised it, you WILL probably cut it quite a lot of extra slack. I know I do.

Trainers must absolute dread the words “it’s a home-bred” in clinics. Generally it’s probably shorthand for “it’s a rude, undisciplined, objectionable, spoilt rotten animal” and “it struggles to jump a cross pole but I am utterly convinced it is going to win Badminton.”  By the way, I do my absolute best to make sure mine do not fit into that category. 😉 😉

I must admit that I give a home-bred all the time it needs – sometimes, arguably, too long. I don’t want to sell them (I detest selling horses, I am far too soft-hearted.) Eventually though, I do expect them to step up to the plate and do something useful. And when they do, it really is incredibly special. It’s possibly the toughest, most frustrating way to try to get to 4*, and breeding definitely doesn’t save you any money, but there are huge rewards too.



Answer to “Who were the three home-breds competing at the London Olympics?”

Dressage: Nathalie Zu-Sayn Wittgenstein with Digby
Show-Jumping: Ben Mayer with Tripple X
Eventing: Sara Algottson with Wega

Hats off to them!

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  • Andrew Nicholson is last person to win a four-star on a homebred (Avebury). Louise Harwood/Mr Potts are another pair competing at top level. Can’t think of any more off top of my head.