A journey through Holstein
Part One: Tradition
Story – Chris Hector
Pix – Roz Neave
Holstein… the wind swept marsh country in Germany’s north has its own rugged beauty, and here you have the feeling of time standing still. It’s an impression that is reinforced by our first stop-over, the Haselauer Landhaus in the little town of Haselau on the outskirts of Elmshorn. Haselau has been serious horse country for some time now – back in 1570, the brothers Benedict and Wulf von Ahlefedt fought a great battle at Haselau over the grazing rights for more than 100 horses on the fine pasture outside the dikes along the North Sea!
That’s Capitano on the left…
The Holstein Stallion station was officially established at Haselau in 1906, and stood the stallions, Omar and Steffen. In the years after WW2, it has been home to such famed stallions as Anblick xx, Aldato, Roman, Ladykiller xx, Consul, Rigoletto, Farnese, Marlon xx, Capitano, Calypso I, Cathargo, Cor de la Bryère and Corofino.
One of the early jumping stars, Sigrid
The station has produced a number of international jumping stars – starting with Sigrid (born 1920) and the roll call includes: Hans Günter Winkler’s Valet, Hermann Schridde’s Ilona, Eddie Macken’s Boy, Hugo Simon’s Landgräffin, Otto Becker’s Lucky Luke and Sören von Rönne’s Cantaro II. Dressage horses include Dr Josef Neckermann’s 1972 Olympic bronze medallist, Venetia and Ladyfee. Several important broodmares were bred at Haselau including Ulana (by Anblick xx) and Diastochen (by Loretto) both of whom produced several stallion sons.
The hotel and stallion breeding station at Haselau has seen fourteen generations of the Lienau family, and Otto Lienau currently maintains the tradition: stallion keeper and mine-host in a splendidly traditional pub. Otto is enormously proud to be entrusted with one of the current jewels in the Holstein crown, Contender.
Now 23 years old, Contender is one of the most successful jumping sires in the world today, and curiously, started his career not in Holstein but in Oldenburg. A winner of the 1987 Adelheidsdorf stallion performance test, he was declared I b main premium stallion in Oldenburg in 1988 as a result of his excellent first batch of foals. Three years later, he moved ‘home’ to Holstein. So far he has bred a staggering 80 licensed stallion sons, and 59 state premium mares.
One of his biggest fans is Marco Kutscher, the 2003 German champion, who has been internationally successful in showjumping with three approved Contender sons: Controe, Conterno Grande and Montender. Other stars are Collin, ridden by Toni Hassmann, winner of the German Showjumping Derby in 2004 and Checkmate winner of the Riders Tour under Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum. In 2007 Contender was ranked as second best sire of showjumpers in the world on the rankings compiled by Jorg Savelsberg for Horse International.
None of which seems to be affecting the grand old stallion as he quietly surveys the pretty graveyard next to his stable.
However, it should be pointed out that he is the only stallion owned by the Verband, living in this traditional style, since he carries EVA and cannot share the modern stallion quarters at Elmshorn.
We dine that evening on one of the most traditional of dishes – Grünkohl – green kale with a selection of smoked and fresh pork – washed down with good German rotwein, all the better to prepare for our visit to one of the classic jumping breeders of Holstein – Harm Thormählen.
Harm’s farm looks as though it is straight out of the eighteenth century, big but somewhat gloomy traditional barns, and of course, the beautiful house, is attached to the stables in the traditional way – but don’t get the impression that this is some simple farmer, the week before we arrived, he sold Cero to Princess Haya for a rumoured 1,000,000 euros! And Harm is well-aware of the need to get his horses out of the barns any chance he gets, and even makes sure that the foals who are kept inside in the bad weather, play on the hard surface of the barn walkway to strengthen their hooves.
They have been breeding horses at the farm of the family Thormählen for 440 years. His father, Rheder Thormählen started breeding jumping horses after the Second World War, and Harm took over the yard in 1973. This has been the birthplace of many famous horses such as Capitol and Cera, and Harm Thormählen is regarded as one of the smartest jumping breeders in the world today.
“Two years ago we had a party – it was 440 years that this farm was in the family – always with horses,” Harm tells me. “Here they used to work with horses always. They had to work very hard, the ground here is very special. If you try to plough one hour too late, then the ground is hard like cement. The horses had to work very hard.”
“In 1950 came the first tractor, and the mares went to the butcher – they no longer needed horses! But my father, Rheder Thormählen was interested in horses – after the war he was an international showjumper, and he dealt a lot of horses, this was his hobby. I don’t remember it myself, but Alwyn Schockemöhle told me, my father was one of the biggest dealers in Europe. His hobby was to buy international showjumpers, famous mares who were Grand Prix showjumpers, and 40/50 years later, comes the result from those famous mares. Even at that time, those mares were very expensive. We only breed for jumping on this farm.”
They are horseman’s horses – and not a plain head in sight. The mares cluster around him out in their yards – soon the weather will have improved enough to let them on the fields. Harm plays a lot of attention to the head and the eye and for this reason he has been less than wrapt in his results from the great French jumping horse, Baloubet:
“My results with the French stallions have not been good – only good results with Quidam de Revel. We have better stallions in Holstein than France. Our clients want a modern type and a nice face with a big eye, and that is a problem with the French stallions. We tried with Pessoa’s Baloubet de Rouet, and the eyes for me are not clever enough, they have a stupid face, and I hate that. All my good horses had a big and very sensitive, clear eye. The foals by Baloubet were out of my best mares, but the face was not clever enough!”
“We tried with the Hanoverian stallion, For Pleasure, and there we had good results – we bred only two, but they jumped very well, and they had good faces, good eyes.”
“What I try to do is buy the very good fillies when they are foals, then I try to breed a filly out of her, and sell the mare into the sport… sometimes with an agreement that I get her back at the end of the competition career. That way I can keep making the mares better and better.”
Perhaps the most famous colt to be born on the farm is the legendary Capitol – up there with Cor de la Bryère and Landgraf as part of the holy Holstein trinity.
“The Capitol horses have scope – scope and easy to handle. Amateurs can ride the Capitol horses. Sometimes they are not ‘blood’ enough, they need blood. In his last years Capitol was only allowed to breed to mares with Thoroughbred blood. The mare sire had to be Thoroughbred, or otherwise Cor de la Bryère – so Capitol got very good mares. It was top management by the Holsteiner Verband, with very good results in the sport. The children of Capitol have won the most money in the sport of any stallion in the world.”
Capitol was out of Folia, one of the great mares of the farm – her grand-mother Rappel was saved from the knackery by Rheder Thormählen in 1960. Rappel, who was by Heinzelmann, had made herself unpopular by jumping out of paddocks, and was still jumping at the age of 23 when she won an elementary showjumping class!
Herr Thormählen did not know it at the time but Rappel had an earlier foal, by the influential Arabian bred, Ramzes, who as Romanus had won the Grand Prix of Rome with Hans Günter Winkler.
Ten years later, Rappel presented Thormählen with another Ramzes foal, this time a filly, Vase – who went on to be champion mare of Holstein. Vase’s full-brother, Roman topped the German showjumping standings for two years running with Hans-Gunter Winkler. Vase’s daughter, Folia, by Maximus (himself an Advanced showjumper), foaled five stallions: Latus I and II (both by Landgraf), and then the great Capitol.
Capitol is dead, but out there in the paddock is his full sister U Capitola. Although she is 25 years old, and not in foal this year, U Capitola is the dam of three approved stallions Cevin, Landcapitol and Lord Capitol, as well as the mare Birte II (by Landgraf), who is the dam of the stallions Quite Easy I and II.
We’ve checked out barn after barn of exquisite mares, and some very handsome stallions, now it is time for some real fun, Mr Thormählen lets loose a herd of yearling colts and they celebrate with a display of bucking and free jumping over tiny jumps, dashing wildly from one end of the yard to the other… ‘how clever am I,’ Harm remarks, ‘my riders can only exercise one horse at a time, I can work thirty!’
And can he pick the superstars at this baby stage?
“It is not so easy to tell. I look at the yearlings when they are playing, each day it is different, one day this one jumps good, the next day, another one – but some I know jump always bad, they are not clever enough, not fighting enough, you can see it now. But they are only playing at this stage.”
And yes, there is a youngster by the Dutch team horse, Eurocommerce Berlin who looks super every time it goes near a jump…
And while Berlin is based in Holland, his breeding is purest Holstein – by the Capitol son, Cassini, who was an international star with Franke Sloothaak, out of a mare by Caretino (by Caletto II, a son of Cor de la Bryère). Mr Thormählen is obviously prepared to use frozen semen if necessary:
“I use it with horses like Quidam and Berlin – we breed some of the good mares to frozen semen and try to get them in foal – only the good ones, because the semen is very expensive. We are using frozen semen with about ten percent of the mares.”
Has Quidam been a good outcross with the Holstein C lines?
“We have had good results. Quidam has quite a lot of blood, but they are hard hard fighters – sometimes fighting against the rider! Capitol needs blood, so Quidam makes a good mix. We have the problem to find good Thoroughbreds, that’s the problem all over the world for jumping breeders. So it is easier to try with Quidam – he had good results in the sport himself and he breeds good horses.”
“Our task is to make modern horses for the sport for the next ten, twenty years. We must think about it because what we do now, the result will be the horses that go in the sport in ten years time, even twenty years. For modern sport we need horses that are clever enough, with blood enough.”
Do you breed mainly for the German or foreign market?
“Ninety percent go out of Germany.”
The prices are good for jumping horses?
“It is very specialized. The top top are okay but with the normal horses we have big problems. The cost to raise the normal horses is three or four times more than what you can sell them for. We have to sell them very early, get rid of the normal horses cheap.”
The mare, Cera is another of the legendary stars of the stud. Ridden by Paul Darragh and Otto Becker, she was an international star – winning the German Champs with Otto. Her daughter, Fein Cera won many top show jumping shows in the USA, ridden by Allison Firestone before she went to the European based American, Peter Wylde. Together the pair were the out-and-out stars of the WEG at Jerez.
Another star bred at the stud, is the grey stallion, Come On, a tough international competitor with Ludger Beerbaum and Ralf Schneider, yet gentleman enough to be a pleasant partner on the international stage for Princess Haya. Not surprising then that the current FEI President came back to Mr Thormählen, when she went looking for a star for the future… you get the feeling that when you buy a horse there, you are getting a product that comes with the guarantee of history.
Next month we continue our travel through Holstein, and visit one of the most famous of the private studs: Maas J. Hell…