Shock Horror – WEG tix scandal


The 2018 Tryon WEG prices go up by the minute! Despite the promises of organizers at Tryon that rampant profiteering (like we saw at the Lexington WEG) would not occur, it would seem that the Americans can’t help themselves. Prices for the WEG seem to go up by the minute, and the tickets are not on sale yet!!! A dressage four day pass was originally listed at $200, then it went to $250 and then $300!

3pm today (October 16) the prices on the website were DRESSAGE SEASON – $300, EVENTING SEASON – $215, JUMPING SEASON – $350

After 3pm they rose for some unknown reason to

$322, $225.40 and $368

Not a good look, especially when we still don’t have a price indication for the opening or closing ceremonies, and there seems no provision to choose the seat you want.


Andrew Nicholson Reflects…

Rebecca Ashton interviews a modern great… and took the photos

When I arrive at top Kiwi eventer Andrew Nicholson’s Wiltshire property, one of the horses is out racing around the field having the time of its life. Grooms are busy getting on with their jobs, as if like clockwork, pushing straw around and fluffing it up into big beds, moving horses on and off the walker while Andrew’s wife Wiggy is readying a horse for the dressage arena. Andrew is way off in the distance popping a grey over some jumps in the field. It’s all business as usual…including the fact that we have to have the interview done by 12:00 as the tight schedule means it will be time to take a lorry full of horses to do some gallop work and then there are four horses that have to be at Blenheim for the trot up at 08:00 in the morning. So you can imagine how grateful I am for Andrew to take time out of his frantic day to chat to me. The day might be busy, but Andrew is as calm as a a zen monk.

Another win at Badminton in 2017, this time with Nereo. Nereo, Quimbo, and Jet Set are bred by Spanish event horse breeders, Ramon & Ana Beca:

Despite the massive highs (Olympic medals and a win at Badminton this year), Andrew has also experienced some substantial lows too, culminating in break down with Team NZ which saw him miss a trip to Rio last year as well as a serious fall a couple of years back where he narrowly avoided paralysis.

Youre obviously a very determined person, but thats a pretty big emotional roller coaster youve been on over the last few years. How do you cope with that?

You get the knocks at the early stage of your career. You get more knocks than good days and I’ve always been able to pick myself up and carry on and it’s pretty much the same now. You’ve got to make the most of the very good times when you’ve got them because you know there’s going to be some very bad times and there’s always more bad times than good.

Competing at the Kentucky Rolex event back in 2001 with Mallards Treat

I’ve always been self-motivated. I came to England when I was 18 and I didn’t have lessons because I couldn’t afford them. I worked at racing stables and rode horses at lunch time. I’ve always learnt to make do with things. As I got more competition horses, I didn’t need someone to tell me to work that one hard, I wanted to get the results and I didn’t have very good horses. You took whatever you were given to ride and made the most of it. I’ve always been very happy to keep trying to make them better and sell them and keep moving up the ladder a bit. You have to be determined to make it work.

Do you think your upbringing has something to do with it? Ok, so maybe Im biased, but I think Kiwis and Aussies are a bit like that anyway.

I think it is quite a bit of the upbringing and the way of life when you’re young. When I think back now, to leave New Zealand with a five-year-old horse that had never evented, and coming over to be an event rider, that’s gaga isn’t it? I mean all the money I had went into the flight for the horse and I knew I had a job at a racing stable and they had a place for my horse and a place for me, but I wasn’t banking on them to pay VAT and import duty when I arrived at the airport. Luckily the trainer I went to work for paid it…and kept taking it off my wages months on end. But that’s sort of the upbringing, isn’t it? I didn’t even know where England was at the time!

I think now if one of my children at 18 said they were off to the other side of the world with a horse…

Rebecca caught up with Andrew training at home with Byrnesgrove First Diamond, a nine year old three star eventer. Irish bred by Carrick Diamond out of a Thoroughbred mare.

Why eventing?

I’d seen a movie about the World Games in Lexington in the village hall, they had an evening where someone had a film of it and just seeing the American riders and the English riders and then I happened to meet this English racing trainer from Kent. He was in New Zealand buying racehorses and he had his backer who was financing it, his main owner Stanley Powell, and they’d come to look at some of my brother’s potential event horses who were chuck outs from racing. They were chatting away and they asked me what I wanted to do and I told them I wanted to be an event rider. So he suggested I go to England and he’d give me a job and two weeks later I was on a plane with the horses. That’s how fast it was.

I hated England. I left New Zealand at the end of January, probably the hardest time of the year. I arrived in Gatwick Airport and it was sleeting. It was freezing cold and then going into a racing stable and riding out in the mornings when your toes are cold, your hands are cold; I absolutely hated it; hated the weather, hated everything. I was homesick, I couldn’t wait to sell the horse, but I had to event the horse to sell it. It got to Intermediate level in five or six events and sold him to a Dutch rider. Then it was October and I was on a plane and this Stanley Powell said to me, “You’ll go back to New Zealand for a few weeks and you’ll want to come back.”

I said, no way, but sure enough, I got back to New Zealand and in a few weeks had forgotten how cold it was in England. I kept doing that for a couple of years, travelling back and forward, then I stayed through a whole winter here in ’83 while I was breaking in race horses and I learnt to cope with the cold a bit more. I was here permanently by ’85.

Badminton this year would have to be the highlight?

For sure, especially considering the circumstances and whatnot. It was the first event I went to when I came to England. I asked Toddy if he needed a groom. He comes from the same place as me in New Zealand. He said I could come up for the week, so I met him up there, and he went on to win it. I thought every event in England was like Badminton, with all those people and it was very easy, you just turn up with your horse and win it just like Mark had done. A hundred years later I find out it’s not so easy.

Nereo at the Normandy WEG, Andrew rides for New Zealand

35, 36 goes at it?

It’s a long time. There were a lot more goes than what they say. The ones I add up are only the times I finished. There’s a lot I didn’t finish and I’m too embarrassed to tell you how many of those there are!

I think I read somewhere you said it took you 10 years to sort out your mistakes.

 I still haven’t sorted my mistakes out. Can you ever sort all your mistakes out?

I was going to ask you, was there anything that was always reoccurring? When youre as good as you are, does it finally just come down to luck at the end?

You make your own luck, don’t you? You make mistakes when you’re young and naive for being a little bit too ambitious. But then that comes back again when you’re experienced and successful, and you’re wanting to win it, not just wanting to make the numbers up, and you start pushing the boundaries a little too far. So yes, those things keep occurring. You can either stay in the steady lane when you’re very experienced, and get a place, or you can pull out into the fast lane now and again and have a chance of winning, except when you do that, mistakes can happen.

What was your self talk in the start box this time?

The last few minutes, I run through the course in my head. Some people might think I’m a little crazy because I’m pointing and prodding the air with my finger, counting out the jumps, talking through their approaches, and how I’m going to tackle them, counting strides. The starter is telling you – you have one minute – and people might be watching thinking you’re doing something weird, but in my mind I’m just quickly going through tactics, visualising.

What would be your advice for riders new to Badminton?

Self belief. You have to really believe in yourself. I’ve never had lots of lessons. Purely because in the beginning, I didn’t have the money to pay for them besides, I always think I’d be a very difficult pupil, even now. You have to be confident in what you’re doing, even if you’re doing it wrong, if you’re confident, you can change it. You’re better off to be doing it wrong but positively, and then you know if something’s not working – I’ll try this other thing. I’ve gone through my career trying to copy other riders, watch other riders in the dressage, in the showjumping, the whole works.

I know to try to replicate is probably impossible, but you try to pick up different things. I think copy-learning is how I learn best. I see the younger riders now and they’re lost without their trainers. At the end of the day, when you walk into the start box, you’re on your own. When you go into the dressage arena, you’re on your own.

Nowadays you even see the trainer take the earpiece off them as they head over to the dressage arena and at the show jumping warmup to send them into the ring. And the coach has been counting strides for them at the practice fence. That’s like having a little kiddy with the bicycle training wheels on it and taking the training wheels off and saying now go onto the motorway and see how you get on. But that’s the modern world, isn’t it?

But that then brings me to another questionin countries like Australia and New Zealand theres always the talk that one of the things that hinders us, is that were so far away from the action. Could you not turn that into a positive? Maybe its a good thing that we have to work things out on our own a bit more.

I think New Zealand is getting as bad as the rest of the world. The best investment I’ve had are the mirrors down the end of the arena. But even they, after a while, become a bit of a crouch. When I have pupils come to work, at the beginning I try to get them to look in the mirror quite a bit, but after a while, you have to tell them to stop because they become addicted to the mirror. They’re trotting around looking at the mirror and they’re trotting, then halt and they’re looking in the mirror, the halt isn’t square and they give the horse a boot whereas if they were looking straight ahead and sitting straight into the halt, and feeling if it was square, and then looking in the mirror, it would have been good, so they create the problem a bit.

So what makes a good student?

 Someone who really tries.

What are you like as a coach?

I don’t coach a lot, but I’ve always had working pupils. Some of them have gone on to win gold medals. I think they learn more about life in general and making a living out of horses here. The majority of the ones who have carried on make a living out of being event riders, and that’s hard to do. They don’t come from wealthy backgrounds.

Even Jonty Evans, he worked for me for two years and I told him to go off on his own. He wasn’t confident to do it, but I told him at least you’ll find out and then if you can’t make a living, you go and be the accountant your father wants you to be. I feel very proud of them when I see them out there. They may not be winning everything that’s going, but they’re surviving and they’re doing something they’re passionate about, which in life, now that I’m a bit older, I appreciate. I’m lucky to be able to get up in the mornings and have a job I absolutely love doing, whereas a lot of people get up in the mornings and fight with the traffic to go to an office that they don’t really want to go to. Whereas I have no problem getting up in the morning and riding all day long.

So you still love it?

 Yep. I don’t go to ride a horse to go for a ride in the woods. There’s acres of bluebell forests right here next to us. I never go in there….not even when the bluebells are out! And it’s beautiful.

So its the work you love? Is that what got you back in the saddle after your big accident a couple of years back? I understand there was something like a 98% chance you could have been paralysed? You could have retired, walked away and become and coach and everyone would still think you were the best thing ever.

Nereo, perhaps he’ll be back next season

I had Nereo and Avebury and a bunch of other ones going pretty well. It’s also in your head that you’re not happy with how you rode the last one. I just felt that I should be able to do it all. It was quite easy to wait though. I couldn’t do some things for three months, and another for four months and something else for five months and after six months I was told everything should be stronger and I could start off. It wasn’t as if I was in a hurry. I accepted it all and when I started riding again it felt the same as normal, although I had a few issues with balance and what not.

But it’s very tough for my wife and family. Very, very tough. Most people wouldn’t realise. A lot of people think that I just chipped a bone in my neck or something and it just had to heal. It wasn’t quite like that. I’m probably very selfish to be riding actually.

But then arent you an inspiration to your kids that youre doing what you love?

That’s what I think. I can do it still. You can quite easily have your number pop up doing other things, can’t you? That’s the excuse I use, anyway, but I’m not sure it goes down well!

Has the training of your horses or yourself changed since then or over the years?

My training of the horses has changed quite a bit since my accident. Before I would work horses for half an hour on the flat whereas with all the work I had to do myself to get everything working again, I appreciated why you do only so many replicate movements, then have a short break and big breath. Before then, my body could work quite happily as a machine, and I expected my horses to work like machines. I think that has altered quite a lot. Now I’d perhaps work them a little harder while they’re working but they keep getting little breaks. They might do 10 minutes then walk for one minute. It sounds simple but I never used to do that, because I had a lot of horses, but really what’s two minutes walking out of 20? It’s nothing really, is it?

Do you still do exercises yourself?

 No not now, but I was strict after the accident. I’m not overly clever so I thought everything was fine. I came out of hospital five days after the surgery. I was up walking about straight after surgery and I thought everything was fine. Then the surgeon said to Wiggy that it was very important that I got a neurophysio as soon as possible.

She got one who had worked with a lot of soldiers. She went all over me to find where I had feeling. I thought I had feeling everywhere, but it turned out I didn’t have feeling in my fingers, I was using my eyes. She was very strict, so she made me take a jar of rice and in it put a 50p coin, a 10p coin, a stamp, a little bit of newspaper. Then I had to grab hold of it and say what it was then pull it out of the jar and the 50p coin would turn out to be the bit of paper.

It was the nerves. The mind tells the hand the feeling and it will register it. The vertebrae that smashed was the one where the nerves for the arms and hands come out. (Andrew then shows me his slightly turned out hand, the restrictions he still has as well as the improvements made with the small motor skills he’s worked so hard at.) I used to see people who had had paralysis trying to walk, and you think, why don’t you just take a step? It was the same with me trying to lift my fingers up. I then appreciated the problems they have. The exercises have allowed me to get the movement back, if not fully.

I used to overdo it though. The physio would say, do five reps to tell the mind how to work the hand. So, I’d do 100 and then two hours later, the nerves in my shoulders and arms, it was like poking hot needles in me. They’d go ballistic. She’d come back a few days later and say, “I’ve told you five, four times a day! You aggravate them and they go in the wrong direction.”

I had no idea that the nerves and muscles worked quite like that and that’s what made me rethink my work with the horses.

What would your advice be to your 20-year-old self?

I think you’ve got to find things out for yourself. People can give you advice and point you in the right direction, but at the same time, you have to suck things and see, don’t you? It’s no good taking all the advice everyone dishes out, because you’d be totally confused and you wouldn’t get anywhere. I think the advice is that I would get rid of bad horses much quicker. Now I bin them very quickly. I used to think I was losing money doing that, but now I think I’m saving money because you’re not feeding it the next day. That I think has been the main thing…to not think that you can turn every one of them into a champion because the hours you spend on it never really are worth it.

What do you look for then when they come to you as three year olds?

You get a feeling very, very quick. Just to look at them, they might not be the most handsome looking thing, but there’s something about them. The head is the most important bit because that’s the first thing you see every morning. The body you can change with the work. The conformation, they don’t have to be perfect…if everything looks like it matches up. When you start to ride them, it’s the same, you start to get a feeling very quickly, whether you think they’re athletic.

Best horse?

Nereo and Andrew at the WEG in 2014

Nereo. Just to do what he’s done year after year. (Nereo is now 17)

But thats good management too surely?

Yeah but he’s tough. He’s one hardy, tough person. He comes from a tough family. He’s got a full brother called Armada and another called Fenicio that went to the World Games when he was nine and another called Oplitas that Giovanni Uggolotti rode at Badminton. They are a strong family but he’s very special. He’s come out of Burghley well, and he looks good so you never know about next season, but also he’ll have a few months off now and you never quite know after the winter, they can sometimes age a lot. But he likes being worked, he’s into that system. He’ll probably come in in the middle of December, and if we decide he doesn’t event anymore he’ll still be kept working because that’s the system he’s in. The way we work horses today, we pretty much humanise them, don’t we? They get fed at a certain time, they get worked at a certain time.

Andrew and Quimbo at Pau in 2013

Who have you been most inspired by?

Mohammad Ali. I used to just love listening to him talk before his fights. In his early days, he used to be on the radio and I used to listen to his fight and his chat beforehand, and the way he used to be able to back it up in the ring was unbelievable. I said this to a journalist once before, when I competed with Nereo at the World Games in Kentucky in 2010, in the men’s toilets, they had lots of little sayings and I found those were very, very helpful. There were three lines of the sayings on the wall, things like, “It’s not what you do today, it’s what you’ve done all the days before.” Those sorts of things. I did think of nicking them…I could have picked the three of them up and carried them out, but no, I refrained.

Is the whole Team NZ debacle still hanging over you?

I’ve gotten used to not being involved in the World Games and Olympics, that’s quite easy to accept, not doing that.

So youre not after that Olympic individual? Youve made peace with that now?


I guess Badminton probably did a lot of healing?

 Even before that, I think the way my federation has treated me hasn’t gone down that well with me.

Would you ever switch sides? Team GB?

 I was tempted. Not for an Olympic Games, but then I thought, a lot of the English riders I’ve known all my career have all been very good to me even if I don’t get on well with them. They’re very genuine and I just thought if I then changed, it doesn’t matter if I say I don’t want to take a spot at the Olympics, it does sound like you do.

So youre happy to keep going, doing what youre doing?

Yeah. If someone comes up to me and says you look like a real monkey…

Who would you listen to?

 Anyone who came up and told me.

Anyone? No you wouldnt.

I would. I’d be impressed that they came up to me and said it! There’s a couple of the riders, and I’ve said to them, if I start looking like that one over there, let me know. They look at me and say, you’ve got to be joking.

It would seem your daughter Lily might be following in your footsteps?

 She’s very, very determined. She’s only 12 but she’s looking good and she’s hopped on and ridden the likes of Jet Set, Nereo, Quanza at home here and she can look very tidy on them.

Andrew and Jet Set at the World Young Horse Eventing Championships

Thats gutsy!

 Or naive. But that’s a big step up from a pony, but they are very polite horses. They’re used to the grooms. The grooms ride them in the woods and I don’t watch. I don’t go in there with them, it’s the horses’ downtime. They can go in there and walk or trot with their heads up in the air if they want. They’re allowed to. It’s amazing how quick the horses learn, and how gentle they are with the grooms who aren’t such experienced riders. The young horses don’t do it, just the ones when they get to about intermediate level. It’s good when I watch them walk out and head down the lane and I see one that I might be a little bit nervy about putting a certain groom on it and three strides of it walking you see it just take a deep breath, ok, be gentle. It’s the same with the children if they go and pat them in the stable with their head over the door. The horses are very gentle. It’s only when you intimidate them that they stand and become aggressive. The young ones for sure can be naughty, but the older ones….

Is that good training or just horses?

I think it’s animals in general really. Dogs, whatever. But Nereo, if I walk in to the stable, he’ll stand to attention. He’s ready. The groom can walk in and he’s like a donkey. I take hold of him and he’s ready to go. I ride them. I don’t go and cuddle them and give them polos. I respect them. They learn very quick that you do a serious job and that one over there feeds me and pampers me.

Is it important to have the distinction between the two people so to speak?

I think it is. But you see riders who just have one horse and they’re successful with it, but it is pretty much then the horse is in control, but then the rider is sometimes in control. But it’s a partnership and that works as well. But they normally don’t get another one, do they? They normally just have the one and you can’t replace it, whereas I find it very easy to find the next horse because I’m used to making them.

And there’s that self belief. But it’s belief founded on hard work, self analysis and a lot of experience. Andrew Nicholson shows what is possible when you put the effort in and are honest with yourself. May we see him flying around those four-star courses for many more years to come.


Andrew and Nereo, on their way to their 2017 Badminton triumph… 

A Tribute to Clinton

Clinton back in 2015 at the Nijhoff stud, where he lived for many many years…

One of the great modern showjumping sires has died – Clinton

Clinton is one of that seemingly endless line of grey Holstein jumping machines, and he combines the two great C lines of modern Holstein breeding: the careful C of the French import, Cor de la Bryère and the sheer power of Capitol I. His sire, Corrado I, was an international jumping star with Franke Sloothaak

His mare line is solidly Holsteiner – his dam, Urte I is by Masetto who is described as thus in the Stallion Book of the Holsteiner Warmblood Breed by Dr Dietrich Rossow:

“Large framed, cleanly made stallion. Striking appearance, a great deal of presence. Smooth top line, lots of substance. Heavy bone, correct legs and feet. Excellent mover, somewhat close behind. Great jumper but not with the form desired today. Produce: Offspring are solid, correct horses of his type. At times, good jumpers a little lacking in bascule. Absolutely had to have mares with a lot of Thoroughbred blood. Unfortunately, in his time, these were not at his disposal in great enough numbers.”

Masetto produced one approved son, and 50 approved daughters before he was gelded in 1984. Masetto was from the line established by the Thoroughbred stallion, Manometer.

When he went to stud there were great hopes for Manometer as he was by Abendfrieden, a full brother to the very successful Thoroughbred sire, Anblick.

Romedio, Graf von Thun-Hohenstein, had this to say about Manometer in his work, The Holsteiner Horse:

“Even though he was not perfect in the set of his shoulder and withers, he improved upon this, without exception, in all his get. Manometer also passed on the great jumping ability which is so characteristic of this line. At the very least, his influence in no way diminished the Holsteiner’s natural talent for jumping. His undisputed strong point was his production of performance horses… Of all his sons, Maximus won the greatest number of FEI competitions. Maximus’ absolute soundness, honesty, quiet temperament and gentle disposition deserve mention.”

And sure enough the line to Clinton runs Maximus – Moltke I – Montanus – Masetto.

Clinton’s grand-dam, Ohra, was a star in her own right. Competing as Olympia, with Karsten Huck and Dirk Schröder, she won more than DM50,000 – she too is richly bred, carrying the blood of the great Ladykiller plus Raimond, who was by Ramiro, the most influential son of Ramzes.

Clinton was bred in Holstein by Rudolf Wieck but sold to Dutch breeder, Henk Nijhof as a young stallion. Rather than put him up for licensing in Holland, Nijhof followed the same path he’d taken with Heartbreaker, and sent him to Hubert Hamerlinck in Belgium to be licensed with the BWP:

“We bought him at an inopportune moment and could not present him in The Netherlands that winter anymore, but I still wanted him to start covering.,” Nijhof told Horse International. “So I sent him to Hamerlinck as well, which again worked well. Here in Holland it possibly wouldn’t have worked out well either. Clinton is a boisterous stallion and if we had put him though the performance test here, chances were that he’d have come home again pretty quickly. You had to think very carefully about how to get some stallions in the circuit. If we had tried the KWPN straight away with Heartbreaker and Clinton, we might not have them as breeding sires now.”

Thanks to the modern trend of combining stud and sport horse careers, Clinton managed to star in the arena and the breeding barn. At the Athens Olympic Games, he carried Dirk Demeersman to fifth in the overall ranking over massive courses. In his final year of competition, 2006, he won at Beervalde, and was 2nd in the Lumen Grand Prix and 4th at Wiesbaden.

Out of his first crops, some super talented young jumpers have emerged, including Undorado Tibri and Unette in Ireland. He is already the sire of eight approved stallion sons, including Upsilon, Utrilo, President, Windows and Vuitton, but far and away the most impressive has been Cornet Obolensky.

Cornet Obolensky, Clinton’s most famous son

Clinton was a licensed stallion in the Belgian Warmblood, KWPN, Holstein, Zangersheide, Oldenburg and Selle Français stud books.

Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo competing at the London Olympics

Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo competing at the London Olympics

On the 2013 WBFSH rankings, Clinton is 11th with 34 representatives, the most successful of which was Beezie Madden’s Coral Reef Via Volo (Heartbreaker). His son, Cornet Obolensky is ranked 6th. On the 2015 standings, he has fallen to 37th place with his most successful offspring Darlon van Groenhove (Heartbreaker).

On the 2014 German FN rankings of stallions with a reliability of 80 to 89%, he has a breeding value of 154, which puts him in equal 8th place, equal with the great Darco. On the 2015 standings, he no longer makes the top liste.



Would you like to visit the stud that made Clinton famous?


A Tribute to De Niro


De Niro has died

Earlier in 2017 THM asked Hanoverian Verband breeding expert, Ludwig Christmann what made De Niro such an exceptional sire:

“I think you should probably talk to the riders and trainers, I think it is the minds that they like. When I talk to Mr Sprehe about Desperados and he says the horse is always fit, even if it is 35 degrees like in Rio, he always does his job. They have the talent for collection and the higher movements, but it is the mind that makes them so special.”

Dolf-Dietram Keller had a special relationship with De Niro, here winning the German Professional Champion rider in 2001.

Here’s what he said about the stallion in 2014:

“De Niro was very trainable. He learned the one-tempi changes in only two days as a six-year-old. He did them every day from then on. We tried Piaffe and Passage very early at home. De Niro accepted the aids very well. Because of his great talent, he never really encountered stress during his entire training.”

How did Burchard Wahler find De Niro?? As usual there is a story:

When I interviewed his owner, Burkhard Wahler in 2007, he was rightly proud of his horse:

“Some people might disagree, but in my opinion, there is no son of Donnerhall as successful as De Niro. He is only 14, the oldest progeny are ten, four are already placed in Grand Prix. Twenty-four are placed in Prix St Georges and Intermediaire. The offspring last year won almost €195,000, in just one year. When you start thinking that next year there will be more horses, at a higher level, that means they will probably win even more – and the stallion is still very young. My daughter Theresa competed last year with him in Grand Prix, and she will ride him again this year.”


Mr Wahler liked the cross of Donnerhall on Akzent II:

“I love to buy the Donnerhall blood but I don’t like the very popular Donnerhall / Pik Bube cross – very heavy big horses, and I didn’t like that so much because I am from the other side, from the Trakehner side and I like more an elegant horse. I really liked De Niro, because he was out of a mare with Wiesenbaum / Akzent breeding. Akzent is through Absatz, Trakehner, Wiesenbaum is from Thoroughbred – so in my opinion, this was a very interesting bloodline.”

The story of how Burkhardt Wahler acquired De Niro is entertaining, and bears out Burkhardt’s maxim that with every stallion comes a story…

Wahler’s Klosterhof Medingen stud is in the middle of Hanoverian breeding country, but had always stood Trakehner stallions. He found the Hanoverian breeders would only visit his farm – once:

“We thought, okay we have so many Hanoverian breeders but they don’t come back – because they used our stallions to breed F1 – half Trakehner, half Hanoverian, then they go back to a Hanoverian stallion and not to a Trakehner again. We had to buy a Hanoverian stallion.”

“It was the first time I’d been to the Stallion Licensing in Verden, and in the catalogue, I had three stallions marked – and one of those three was De Niro.”

“At that time, Celle (the Hanoverian State Stud) could choose ten stallions for a certain price and it was not possible for private breeders to buy those stallions. When I looked at the stallions, there was only one I wanted to buy, that was De Niro. Then I asked Mr Jahncke, the President of the Hanoverian Association, do you think the state stud will take him? Yes. Probably he goes to Celle.”

“It’s always the same weekend with two stallion licensings – Verden has the Hanoverians, Neumünster has the Trakehners. So I left Verden and went to Neumünster. I called the next day after the freejumping – is he going to Celle? No. They thought Dr Bade didn’t take him because he is by Donnerhall, and Donnerhall was a private stallion, and he didn’t want to make private stallions popular. In this time they took Weltmeyer, Weltmeyer, Weltmeyer…. Every year twelve Weltmeyer stallions. So then I called my partner, Tönne Böckmann from the Böckmann stallion station, and I said, I am here in Neumünster, you go and buy that stallion…”

“It was in the days when they didn’t have a proper auction for the licensed stallions, just the people who are interested used go into some rooms of the Verband office and bid amongst themselves for the stallions. Paul Schockemöhle was on the phone to the Hanoverian breeding director, Dr Wilkens who was doing the deal. The price went up to 150, 170, 180 Deutschmarks – so 80/90,000 euros – and Schockemöhle asked, who’s bidding against me? Oh it doesn’t matter… No, who is it? Böckmann. I want to talk to him… Okay, Paul said, I stop now, you buy him and we can talk later. But what he didn’t know was that Böckmann already had a partner!”

“Then on Monday the telephone was ringing, Schockemöhle’s manager was ringing Böckmann wanting to know how they were going to make the arrangements for the stallion. There’s one problem, Böckmann said, I have already a partner, and you have to talk to him. Two days later Paul calls me and says, listen I stopped bidding. And I said, yes Paul that was very nice, we have been friends for a long time… but now I have him and I am not interested in having a third owner in him. You should think about it, Paul said. At the end, I had no more arguments, and I didn’t know what to say, so I said, I really can’t decide – I have to ask my wife!”

“Paul said, are you crazy? Böckmann says ‘I can’t decide, you have to ask Wahler’. Wahler says ‘I can’t decide I have to call my wife!’ At the end Böckmann and I had De Niro ourselves. We got very lucky…”

According to Mr Wahler, De Niro crosses over a wide variety of mare lines:

“We have bred a lot with Weltmeyer mares, in Oldenburg with many Rubinstein mares. Okay with the Donnerhall blood, once in a while they could be a little heavy, Donnerhall himself produced some heavy horses, that can happen – that’s why we try all the time to make sure we don’t get too heavy mares for De Niro. He makes very good dressage horses, especially with a good hindleg.”

Karin Rehbein and Donnerhall, founder of the modern D line, and sire of De Niro

In 2000 Mrs Rehbein said:

“Donnerhall was always a good horse to train. Good in the head, he was always straightforward and learnt everything really quickly. He is still fantastic, he could still go out and win right now. He was very soft. Sometimes you had to hold him a little bit through, but you have to do that with every horse.”



De Niro is a prolific producer of young horse winners, and top level Grand Prix horses

Daily Pleasure, a young horse star who went on to Grand Prix

D’Agostino and Fabienne Lutkemeir, from Young Riders all the way to Grand Prix together 

Annabel Balkenhol and Dablino, members of the German team at the 2010 WEG

Representing Spain, Beatriz Ferrer-Salat and Delgado at the European Championships and two Olympic Games

Donnerfee and Claudia Fassaert, competing for Belgium at the London Games

Australia’s Kristy Oatley and Du Soleil, World Cup representatives

Dancier, De Niro son and producer himself, now also deceased

Members of the Gold Medal Team at Rio, Kristina Böring-Sprehe with Desperados, who is also a breeding stallion

For more on De Niro

De Niro is available in Australia this season, don’t miss the chance to breed to him, contact International Horse Breeders now:

or ring Glenis on: Phone 03 5439 7251  Mob 0427 400 357


1971 – 1997 Brown 1.69

Back in 1997, in the first ever sample issue of Breeding News, Belgian equestrian journalist, Leen Devocht celebrated the Selle Français stallion, Fantastique – and no wonder!

That year Fantastique had celebrated his 25th birthday, and he was one of only two sons of the great Ibrahim alive, the other being Gibramino, who was also based in Belgium. The truth is, while the French breeders shunned Ibrahim, the Belgians were happily buying his progeny to boost their fledgling Warmblood breeding industry. Alas, 1997 was also the year of Fantastique’s death but in his last season he produced the third of his 1.60m competitors, Tijl van het Pallieterland (out of a Codex mare). The other two were Jeremia (Grandissime) and Vagabond (Fredy du Fief).

The French finally realised what Ibrahim had to offer, but by then some of his good sons had slipped out of their grasp. Alexis Pignolet, owner of the famous Studfarm d’Elle remarked: “Fantastique is a very good stallion with an outstanding production record. His offspring is solid and robust, very often they come with the same charming and beautiful head as their sire. Typical for the Ibrahim line, Fantastique devolves to his offspring lots of strength and energy and on top of that a very big heart. Maybe he isn’t the most fashionable stallion these days, but from the point of view of quality of production, he remains one of the best. He is ageing well, at 25 still the very picture of health and in good shape, again proving his qualities.”

Fantastique was bred by Lucien Esnault (Sartilly) in 1971. This stallion made his journey to Belgium in 1973 – the year Ibrahim died – when Marcel Van Dijck bought Fantastique from Alfred Lefevre, the legendary French horse dealer. Luckily the sale was completed before Fantastique was shown at the French stallion selection in Caen and Saint-Lo, otherwise the stallion, a full brother to the state owned Ukase, at stud in Saint-Lo, might also have ended his days in a French Haras National. It was reported that Alfred Lefevre, when he sold the stallion to Marcel Van Dijck observed : “Fantastique is Ibrahim’s only son who, perhaps, one day, might replace him.” But then again, horse dealers tend to say things like that…

Fantastique – on the left holding the wooden horse is Marcel van Dijck

Fantastique was approved by the Belgian Warmblood Association (BWP) on 20 February 1974. Two years later he passed his performance test with flying colours and, at the end of the second test in 1977, he rightfully claimed the title of Champion. In his early years he jumped successfully with Harry Van Dijck, Marcel’s eldest nephew.

By the end of 1995, 1,064 progeny had been registered: 1,042 BWP and 22 SBS.

Right from that very first year (1975) Fantastique has produced top flight showjumpers like Vasco, renamed Favorit, and international performer under the saddle of Franke Sloothaak and Terry Rudd who, based upon his results in sport, was accepted as a stallion within the Oldenburger studbook – standing first at Paul Schockemöhle’s in Mühlen, later at Links der Weser’s stud farm in Bremen.

In the 1995/96 stallion rankings of the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH), Fantastique, represented by eight offspring, occupies 24th place, making him the highest-ranked Ibrahim son (Almé held 36th position with 11 progeny).

Famous showjumpers by Fantastique include: Elastique, bred by Michel Desmet and ridden by Nelson Pessoa and Georgio Nuti ; High-Flyer, bred by Jan Meurrens and ridden by the Mexican Luis Yuren; Ingo/Cyrano, bred by Aimé Claessens and ridden by Federico Fernandez; Barough C.R. bred by Roger Caphaert and named Vagabond under the saddle of Canadian rider Terrance Millar, and Vagabond King ridden by Erina Yanabe; Ibrahim, bred by Karel Aerts and ridden by Joris Meulemans; Jannique, bred by Jaak Maes and ridden by Ludo Philippaerts; Jeremia, bred by Ils Smit, who was one of the revelations of the 1995/96 Volvo World Cup season under the saddle of Urs Fah ; Jumbo, bred by Maurice Bossaerts and competing with Geoff Billington under the name, Mancuso.

Jeremia and Urs Fah at the Atlanta Games….

Fantastique was also a noted sire of brood mares: Didi (Colorado X), bred by Walter Roosen out of Wiske and ridden by Michael Whitaker and Ludo Philippaerts; Fonda (Lido Minotiäre), bred by Danny Tops out of Belina and an international showjumper with John Whitaker; Hilton by Romeo, bred by Frans Meeusen out of Widit, showjumping internationally with Dirk Hafemeister.

Didi won the Kings Cup at the 1989 Royal International Horse Show with Michael Whitaker

 Even today, his influence as a mare sire is being felt. Eldorado vh Vijverhof (by Thunder vd Zuutthoeve) 13th on the Hippomundo standings (6/10/17) with earnings of over €600,000, with five star wins in Valkenswaard, Paris and Lyon, is out of a grand-daughter of Freia by Fantastique.

Gregory Walthelet and Eldorado (Photo – Stefano Grasso)

Fantastique was certainly appreciated in Belgium. Arnold de Brabandere, Belgian breeder of Jus de Pomme commented: “Fantastique was the first sire to be imported in Belgium representing the new modern type of riding horse. He also was the first French-bred BWP stallion capable of producing genuine showjumpers, fit for top level competition and good looking as well.”

And the riders loved him too! Ludo Philippaerts enthused: “I consider myself very fortunate that a few very fine products of Fantastique belonged to my stable, the most famous, of course, are Alwit and Jannique. Fantastique’s products are remarkable for their gentle nature, their good character and their willingness to work – very fine horses indeed. At 25, Fantastique remains a good and valuable choice for high-bred mares.”

Ludo and his Grand Prix star, Jannique, the mare he describes as ‘somewhat complex’…

Alas at the time of Leen’s tribute, Fantastique’s illustrious career was coming to an end, but not before he’d played a key role in the emergence of the Belgian Showjumper…

BundesChamps Seminar to end all Seminars – Six and Five Year Olds

The Seminar to end all Seminars – We last looked at the Basics with younger Dressage Horses. We move on to the Five and Six Year Olds, with some very special riders, horses, and trainers, in Warendorf…

Kathrin and Rassolino

The next rider is one of my favorites – Kathrin Meyer zu Strohen is so elegantly tactful, and I loved her horse, Rassolini (Rubioso / Silvano) when he was 4th in the six year old dressage class at the weekend. It’s Kathrin’s husband, Hans-Heinrich on the mike:

“What’s happened you are asking? This horse is muscled like a seven year old – but the truth is that some stallions get their muscle earlier.  There is good natural activity in the canter, it could be a little more up in front, but I say, wait, wait a year – when you have time, you have a chance of success.”

Here’s Rassolino and Ann-Kathrin in the final of the six year olds

“We train so we get absolutely clear rhythm. When you see the walk you say ‘oh my god what a big walk’ now it is a ten but later when you get the horse together, come the problems. But if you wait, if you get activity  and contact, then you find you can shorten the walk and the takt is absolutely clear – see even when he does a 360 pirouette, when he walks out, he is absolutely clear.”

“In the canter there, he was a bit lazy in the flying change, so we ask a bit more forward – it doesn’t matter about straightness at first – more important is the rhythm. Sometimes we find one side is good, one side is shit. Then we train the shit side, but we don’t train the flying change – we train the rhythm, the bend, the looseness… and then we try the flying change.”

“It’s the same in the shoulder in and the half pass – keep the rhythm. When the rhythm is clear, the movement is okay. All the time, the rhythm must be clear…”

Dorothee and the stallion, Florinero

Once again, Dorothee Schneider and the six year old Hanoverian stallion, Florinero – by Fürst Heinrich out of a mare by A Jungle Prince. The pair were second at the World Championships in Verden, but at the Bundeschampionate, finished in equal 4th, in a somewhat puzzling judging decision. Later in an interview with Christoph, Dorothee made it quite clear that she thought the stallion should have placed higher in the class than her mare, La Noire, who finished in second place. “Wait until they come out next year in the Burgpokal, then you will see…”

Over to the judge’s point of view. Dietrich Plewa has asked Dorothee to show some shoulder-in, and he tells us, the judge must focus on the quality of the trot: “In shoulder-in the most important thing is the rhythm and the quality of the collected trot – you should mark down errors of rhythm because they show the horse is losing balance. Now you see in this half pass, that the horse is very fluent. The first question in half pass is, is the horse able to keep the quality of the rhythm? You see now, a half pass with great crossing and rhythm.”

read on…

There had earlier been some discussion of the way in which many horses lose the four beat quality of their walk in the walk pirouette and some discussion of where the marks for the loss of rhythm ought be deducted. According to Christoph: “Dorothee is a good rider, and she took the risk, her walk pirouette was very small but she kept the four beat rhythm. If they don’t, they should be punished in the submission mark.”

“In the six year old class, it is not really that the horse stands square, it is more important that the horse is happy to stand… not like some Grand Prix horses…”

Christoph is back on the mike: “You see how difficult the test is for the six year olds. At the weekend, we saw last year’s winner of the 5 year olds, Imperio, last year he did one of the best tests for a five year old that I have seen, but this year, he had to do four flying changes, and that was the problem. There are only 28 horses in the six year olds, I am sure many did not come because they had problems in the shoulder-in, half pass and flying changes.”

Showing the Five Year Old Dressage Horse

Hans-Peter Bauer had a horror ride in the Final of the 5 year old dressage horses, when his mare, Rock’n Rose (Rockwell / Pinocchio) actually fell during the test. Hans-Peter, who is a large lad, kept his cool and his seat, and the mare came off the dirt with him in place, and continued the test. She had, not surprisingly, lost  a lot of confidence…

Confidence booster needed for Rock’n Rose. Christoph says’ Light trot, natural trot with a positive tension – that comes from suppleness.”

Christoph is sympathetic: “This horse has had a difficult week so today we do a bit of basic training. Maybe she didn’t have a good feeling when she left the ring yesterday, today, we try to get her 100% happy and relaxed.”

After some nice walk, Christoph asks for trot: “Light trot, natural trot with a positive tension – that comes from suppleness. When the horse is supple, then the rider can ask a bit more, the moment of suspension a bit longer, then we have better swinging, better impulsion. See with this rider, he is nice, he gives his horse the chance to look around.”

“This is a natural  trot  with very positive body language. Yesterday in the test, the horse was against the left leg in the canter. Circle and then a little shoulder in tendency to make her straight. There should be no more than one or two goals in a training session, and after yesterday, the main goal is to make her happy.”


The next horse in the arena was one of the real stars of the Bundeschampionate, Eva Möller’s five year old champion, Blinkpunkt (AMAZING that the organizers of the Seminar could get horses like this to come back after five long days at the Bundeschampionate). Again, husband Ulf is doing the commentary: “Even in the warmup on the long reins, you can see he has a super active hind legs – that comes from nature, it cannot be made. I say to Eva, you must be more strict, and she says, no, we do it our way. This horse is very shy – he’s not bucking or anything, but he takes everything inside but because of the confidence he has with the rider, especially in the ring where he is alone, it isn’t a problem. There is just something between this horse and this rider.”

“I bought this horse when he was four, five weeks old, and even then, he trotted like this, it was not hard to decide…”

Dietrich Plewa took over the commentary to talk us through the test:

“A very good halt, square. Now look at the activity of the hindlegs, the balance, impulsion, steadiness and the contact in the serpentines. We are looking for natural cadence and this horse has an optimum natural cadence.”

“The horse has a huge medium trot without getting quicker. The mark for the trot? Nine or more – ten? What more do you want? Such a clear rhythm, balance, activity of the hindlegs, it is all of the highest quality that you can imagine.”

“The walk is clear, four beat, over-tracking three footprints, coming from the shoulder in a relaxed lengthening with the neck following the bit. It is not a huge walk but a walk you can use for higher competitions… now we can discuss the mark, but between 8 and 9.5.”

“Very active canter. Not too lazy, not too slow, and showing the ability to collect. When he collects, the nose is always in front of the vertical, the poll the highest point, and really straight with a light, steady contact – straight in the counter canter with no loss of balance, and now with the reins longer, there is no loss of natural cadence. I must say, I am deeply impressed. The canter, a mark between 9 and 9.5. Submission, the same, 9.5. General impression – 9.5.”

“I’ve been riding him for three years,” Eva says. “The most important thing is that the horse feels good, sharp in the mind. It is the rider’s task to support the horse and let him feel strong.”

The canter, a mark between 9 and 9.5. Submission, the same, 9.5. General impression – 9.5.”

Want to breed movement? See the range of top stallions available from International Horse Breeders: Stallions like Fürstenball

Ton de Ridder – his life and times

Story – Christopher Hector                   Photos – Roslyn Neave

Ton de Ridder: Case Study – A lesson with Maria Caetano Couceiro and Biso Des Lezirias

Portuguese dressage star, Maria Caetano Couceiro is one of my favorite riders, trained by her famous bull-fighter father, Paulo, she is quiet, classical and effective. Even though she rides unfashionable Lusitanos, she has forced her way into the top fifty world dressage rider rankings, consistently scoring 70 at major competitions, like Aachen. For the past twelve months she has had added help in the form of Ton de Ridder – we caught up with Maria and Ton as they had their final workout before Aachen.

The first horse Maria rode was ‘Pinkie’ aka Biso Des Lezirias, an 11-year-old stallion. We saw him 18 months ago competing in the Small Tour at Jerez, since then he has built up and matured. To get to the outdoor, he had to pass a paddock complete with a mare in season, and you see the breed bonus, natural passage.

Once down on the arena Ton is working on the frame – “Open the neck. Make it a clear shoulder in, don’t bring the shoulder back too soon, you can even ride it through the corner. Now get him really long and deep.”

This is fine tuning time, and Ton is ever the technician: “Make the transition more fluid, he stops a little bit with his body. Now half pass, and remember the judge on the centre line sees if it is tricky, or if the horse goes right to the line. Shoulder in before you start the half pass…”

Time to polish the pirouette – “Ride a little forward when you finish, more forward, hands out, don’t sit too heavy. Neck down, out the nose and immediately forward…”

“Now it is time to relax…”

And how did it look at the horse show?

Ton de Ridder: A Life

Beatriz Ferrer-Salat, Chris Hector, Ton and Alexandra De Ridder

Ton de Ridder is an interesting guy – for someone who is so quick with the witty response, so finely-tuned to the trend of the action, he is also very happy to stay in the background, quietly polishing his riders and their horses, seamlessly setting them up with the best possible opportunity to compete. So much so, that even though I’ve known Ton for quite a few years and had many conversations with him, I knew nothing about his own equestrian background…

How did you get involved with horses?

“We lived in Holland, in a farming area and a lot of friends of mine came from farming families and they had ponies at home. I liked riding and we started together at the Pony Club – that was the beginning of the disaster.

Did your family want you to go and having a proper education and a job?

“Absolutely not. I started to study to be a lawyer but I decided I wanted to be with horses. I went to Münster, did my Bereiter examinations with Paul Stecken – one day a week I went to school and the rest of the time I was at Paul Stecken’s stables. After three years you do your examination, so for all three years I was with Paul Stecken.”

Paul Stecken – the Master (Photo Jacques Toffi)

He was a great teacher…

“He was not only a great teacher but there I really learned to work with young horses – really proper long and deep and working over the back. What he gave to us was really respect for the horse. I think he made a lot of very good professional riders. Udo Lange is one of them and he was there at that time. Still I think about what I learned there, and respect for the horse.”

Case Study 2 – Fenix de Tineo

Maria’s next horse to join Ton in the dressage arena, is another stallion, Fenix de Tineo (by Rubi). He is only seven years old, but he already has an international win, in the Inter I at Munich – he too is another natural mover. Once again, it is details, details, details.

In the half pass left: “Look to your left, sit to the left, in the half pass look where you go. Make it clear, finish in shoulder in, don’t stop before the letter.”

And, “forward your hands, show some lightness, that’s what the judges want to see – not this Dutch riding.”

“In the canter, deeper neck, loose in the back, really jump. Never forget you get points for what they see, not what you feel.”

Once again, the ring-craft: “At Aachen that change in the Prix St Georges is where the horse can look out and see the warm up area, it’s the same in the Grand Prix in the rein back, so you must be thinking ahead.”

Training is dialogue: “Maria, give me a score for these changes…”

“I started too late.”

“Then you lost the quality of the canter at the end when you collect. Make sure you go right to the marker, show the judges you can control every stride. On the snaffle rein so the horse is uphill in the changes.”

“It is important not to forget the small details, to take the points from the first halt. That was not forward enough, the first impression for the judges must really be forward.”

And at the horse show?

Maria Caetano – working with Ton de Ridder

How long have you been working with Ton?

“It’s coming now the second year. He was a long time friend. From the shows we knew each other. My father and I looked at his training, and it was very much like our way of training, equitation – dressage or equitation. Very classical and very respectful for the horses. Always respecting the balance of the Lusitano, that is also very important for us because we ride mostly Lusitanos. Sometimes I saw other trainers very strong and pushing too much the horses – and we like to respect the age and the stage of each horse, so Ton attracted us very much.”

“The first time we trained together, I felt like it was my father training, but adding much more experience from the shows. Ton is looking at every detail, which is very important. Because my father and I are working together on a daily basis, sometimes we forget those details but Ton is very strict with small details.”

“My father cannot come with me to every show and Ton will be there, and sometimes Ton comes to Portugal to see the evolution of the work. In the competition he is very positive and helps the mentality of the rider.”

Do you find it harder because you are showing Lusitano horses, and the judges are used to looking at Warmbloods?

“For me it is a pleasure to be able to show the horses from my country and to try to show them to the world of dressage because they are not so well known as the Warmbloods. In the beginning, like ten years ago, they were completely unknown, and they were strange for the judges’ eyes but now I think we are in a very good time for dressage judging. They judge on what they see, and if the horse is supple, and going well, then I think we can get the points we deserve.”

But you are riding quite a special type of Lusitano, you can still see in Portugal the very old type with not very good natural movement… You look for special lines?

“Yes. For example two of my horses are sons of Rubi, who was already a very successful horse in dressage. Of course I look for those special lines because we had a completely different selection in the past, bullfighting, working equitation, and now the breeders are trying to change a little bit, and I think they are doing very well especially as we have a very small number of mares compared to Warmbloods. I am lucky to have three Lusitanos who can compete internationally with the Warmbloods, and you can look at them, not as a traditional Lusitano, but as a sporthorse.”

But you never seem to get upset when you ride, when you came in with the young stallion, he was really jumping around, and you just sat, quiet…

“I know my three horses very well and I compete a lot abroad, and I know they are really excited with mares and with other horses, but that is just their way and in a few minutes, they will be working. It is not for me to get aggressive with the horses, that is not the way. We have to understand them and then step by step they relax, and they forget about the mares, and they know it is working time – but to fight them is not the way.”

Portuguese horses but the other essential is an Australian – Bates – Saddle…

“I was lucky the Spanish representative of Bates saw me riding at some shows, and asked me if I wanted to try – and I love the saddles. They fit very well to my horses, and Lusitanos in general. I am very proud to be sponsored by Bates.”

Ton de Ridder – From Eventer to Dressage Coach

Ton started his competition career as an eventer…

“I was at that time an eventer. Paul Stecken was very involved in Eventing – not a lot of his students got a chance to compete, but at that time, he bought a horse from the auction and I could ride that horse, and we built it up over three years, and I competed with this horse.”


“Also yes.”

In the German team?

“No no, but I was not too bad. At that time around Münster there was a lot of eventing, famous riders like Horst Karsten – we were a big group together. At that time the courses were totally different and not so technical like we have now. For me, it was a great time!”

What was the next stage in your equestrian career?

“The next stage was when I got the opportunity to go to Dr Bauer who lives in the south of Germany. A very interesting, difficult, gentleman – at that time I think he was almost eighty. Paul Stecken sent me there and said, there you can learn a lot. Not always on riding, I will never forget it in my life – I learned that you have to be very strong, also to your employers, but still you have to respect the employers, and be to your employers, straight. And he was not every time, honest or straight. At a young age, you learn everything a little bit.”

“Then I had an awful accident on a cross country course. A little bit later, Martin Plewa saw me on course at an eventing competition, and he said, Ton what happened? You are not riding so forward any more, are you scared? I said, no I am not scared but I have a little bit respect. He said, then stop it, you can see it in your riding, you had a dreadful accident but you are young enough to find something else, so stop it.”

“Then, Paul Stecken again, he talked to Udo Lange, and I went there.”

What did you learn from Lange?

“To work very hard, to ride very precisely, never give up even when a horse has problems, always try something else – that’s the main thing.”

Had you started to ride dressage rather than eventing?

“I was doing medium level in dressage and young horse classes but then we went really to dressage.”

next Maria’s Grand Prix star

Case Study 3 – The Grand Prix Star – Coroado

Time for the star now, Coroado, another by Rubi. Maria’s Grand Prix star and today we are fine-tuning the one times changes.

“You should feel good to do the one times changes. We don’t want to make a mistake, the horse doesn’t want to make a mistake, but don’t trust the horse in the changes, don’t believe that it will just happen, aids for every change. It’s going to be different in the arena, and you need to ride every change. After the ones do some twos, and open your leg at the last moment, and show the judges lightness, both hands forward, show the judges. And show the judges that after the half pass right, your horse is so supple he can immediately change to the left.”

“With the extended trot to passage, take the activity to into the passage.”

“Piaffe quicker, piaffe quicker, piaffe quicker, last steps the quickest. Stay in the piaffe, flex to the left, flex to the right, work in the piaffe.”

“Stop. It’s a long week, don’t make him tired. Loosen him, then one time to extended walk, now a loose trot down the centre line, let him know that the centre line is not always stress – piaffe / passage – that he can relax on the centre line.”

“Neck down in the transition to walk, extended walk doesn’t mean hurried – and make sure he is not behind the vertical in collected walk. In the extended walk, play with the contact on the snaffle rein, and then a clear transition to collected walk, with his nose on the vertical.”

At Aachen, the pair starred and finished second in the  4* Grand Prix to another pupil of Ton’s Beatriz Ferrer-Salat.

Ton de Ridder – Dressage Coach

Were you a good dressage rider?

“That I don’t know, you would have to ask other people. By my nerves, to be honest, I was not the best competitor. When I look to my wife, she had much better nerves than I had, and I am very lucky that my daughters have the nerves of their mother.”

Background: Ton’s wife, Alexandra is a super star in her own right, and competed at the Sydney Olympic Games on the beautiful Chacomo, and was part of the Gold medal winning German team.

Alexandra and Chacomo were stars at the Sydney Games

The German Gold Medal Team at the Sydney Games, Isabell Werth, Ulla Salzgeber, Alexandra Simons De Ridder and Nadine Capellmann

Did you ride Grand Prix?

“I did some small competitions with very young horses, Inter 2, and short Grand Prix. My wife and I moved to Aachen, and there we started with young horses. My job was to look after my wife, I worked for her father. We were a little bit unlucky, in a very short space of time, we lost three Grand Prix horses. One had poisoning, that was a little hard. We found some other horses for my wife to ride, but not horses for me. Perhaps I stopped too early, to be honest, but I trained a lot, did a lot of Young Riders, Juniors, and I was happy with that.”

When did Chacomo arrive?

“Chacomo I found at a farmer’s place. I saw him at twelve o’clock at night, a friend of mine, he’d also been at Paul Stecken’s, and he said Ton, I have to show you a horse, I think he is very interesting. I saw the horse free walking, and I will never forget, there was a jacket hanging next to the door, and the horse saw the jacket, he didn’t stop but his front legs came really up when he saw the jacket, and I said, wow, stop him, I want to buy him. I said to my friend, I want to buy this horse, and he said, it is not possible, I bought him for my wife as a birthday present. One year later, he called me and said Ton you must come quickly. Why? I cannot say it on the phone, but you have to come. I went there and he said, now you can buy Chacomo, my wife is pregnant. I said, you are the best stallion, you did a super job! So we bought Chacomo when he was almost four.”

Was Chacomo an instant success with your wife?

“We’d had some good horses before him, like Champus, but this horse was really special. He was always with the rider, never against the rider. He had a very good walk, very good trot, very expressive canter – at that time I think he had one of the best extensions in trot and canter. Good in passage, normal in piaffe, but he improved there. Alexandra and I were very lucky at the time, we had a lot of help from Jo Hinnemann, he gave us new inspiration, new ideas. Altogether with Johan, we were a really great team.”

And then you were very unlucky, you lost Chacomo not long after the Sydney Games…

“Yes. First he had a problem in his stomach, very difficult to explain, and afterwards, we found he had a lung tumour. But I think the main problem was the stomach, and a lot of cancer problems, like with people, come out of another problem. The main problem was the stomach, and that we found too late.”

You seem to have a special talent for stepping in with riders who are already well trained, like Beatriz Ferrer-Salat, who had spent time with the Theodorescus, and Jean Bemelmans, and it is the same with Maria Caetano, who is very well trained by her father – you seem to have some special skill at doing that final fine tuning…

“It’s a little bit the same as with my kids, you are looking every day, then someone else can bring in some new ideas. Every trainer has his special ideas, for me it is bending, flexion in the corner. Looking very closely before the competition that they are riding point to point – that I have learnt from all the time I have trained juniors and young riders here in Germany, and they get the points at the European championships, that they are really riding from point to point, collected trot is really collected, the medium trot ends exactly at the point with a nice soft transition. I think with Paulo Caetano it is very special, he trains his daughter, and I give my input, some ideas, some details, nothing special.”

But there is nothing different – nothing ‘Portuguese’ about the way Paulo trains?

“Absolutely nothing different. For example, what you saw today when I worked with Maria, sometimes I am a little bit particular about the tempo, but that we discuss. Also to say very clearly, okay we are getting closer to Aachen, it is very special to ride a seven-year-old in the Prix St Georges and the Inter I, not only the breeding, but also the age of the horse, so we have to try very hard to take every point we can.”

You are even thinking about where a transition or a rein back, is in relation to the gate and the horses in the warmup arena…

“Yes – a good teacher should not only teach, he should be a little bit like a manager, and I know after all the years I was visiting Aachen, training in Aachen, that the arena is very special, especially on the short side where you know the horse can look at the horses warming up arena, when you come from the left hand side, sometimes there is a little bit of noise at the back of the horse and I try to make the riders as strong as possible in their mind, to put the horse in a little bit shoulder in position, to keep him busy so he is not looking at the warming up arena. This is part of the trainer’s job.”

And it is part of your job as a trainer to work with the rider’s mind?

“Yes, to get them ready on the day and make them strong. Like what we did today, specially with the St Georges, four tempi from the left, three tempi from the right, then also two tempi, transition collected canter, collected trot, you can get there a lot of points.”

Do you talk to them much when you get into the competition situation?

“No, they are already prepared, which means we have spoken about the special details of this arena and it is not necessary to say this in the last moment, and they don’t understand it, and everybody gets upset. I think preparing for the competition, everybody has to be so quiet – the mind of the rider has to be really prepared, not trying to start in the last moment.”

Do you have to work very hard to give them a positive message?

“You can be positive about the competition, but you should not lie. We had a little bit of an accident at Munich with Maria’s Grand Prix horse. She was going from the stables to the warming up, when there came a lot of polo horses, the riders were a little wild and Maria’s horse jumped around, and he hurt himself a little bit. In the beginning, I thought the horse was sound, but you have to be honest, and in the test, the horse was not sound, so we stopped after the Grand Prix. Still all the team has to be quiet and not yelling and make everyone nervous. We say shit happens, and that was a really unlucky moment. With the other horse, the seven-year-old in Munich, everything was perfect, second in the St Georges and he wins the Inter I, that’s pretty good.”

Is it harder for Maria riding Lusitanos? These horses are very natural movers but they still look different from a German warmblood…

“Yes, but you saw what we did today, with horses with this breeding, you have to give attention to the good position of the neck, you have to show the things they can do, and be very accurate to get every point you can.”

Now you are closing down the stables next to your house – the end of an era?

“It was a very interesting period, a very hard period, also a very successful period, but there have been a lot of developments around our property, they were getting closer and closer, and my parents-in-law have a beautiful property in Belgium and we want to concentrate more on one spot, one place, Alexandra and I, we get a little bit older and sometimes we need a little bit of free time. The last few years, we worked almost seven days a week. Okay we want to do the training a little bit better, more concentrated and not with that many people any more.”

Beatriz and Delgado at Aachen

Beatriz Ferrer-Salat is one of those good clients, You have trained with some wonderful trainers, what does Ton add?

“For me the most important thing is that Ton gives you a lot of confidence and he supports you. It doesn’t matter what happens, you know he is supporting you and that is amazing for me. I’ve had pretty good trainers, and sometimes when there are problems, they just leave you there. Ton’s support is really great.”

“He’s very good technically. You can have a discussion with him, I think this is better like this, and he explains why he thinks it is better like that, there is always a dialogue. He is a perfectionist and he pushes a horse, but not too much. He pushes it to the right point, I think.”

The final words from the man himself:

What is the future for Ton de Ridder?

“My future will not change a lot. I get now a little bit older. I have already for a long time, grey hairs, and get now a little bit more quiet – and try to enjoy life more, not only at the horse competitions. I still have very nice, very good clients and we will continue.”

A note on the breeding of Maria’s horses:

Two of Maria’s horses are by Rubi (Batial / Xaquio CIP). Rubi was ridden at the London Games by Goncalo Carvalho, and he looked great, finishing 13th in the Special to go all the way into the Freestyle.

Rubi at the London Games

I asked Maria – Do you find it harder because you are showing Lusitano horses, and the judges are used to looking at Warmbloods?

“For me it is a pleasure to be able to show the horses from my country and to try to show them to the world of dressage because they are not so well known as the Warmbloods. In the beginning, like ten years ago, they were completely unknown, and they were strange for the judges’ eyes, but now I think we are in a very good time for dressage judging. They judge on what they see, and if the horse is supple, and going well, then I think we can get the points we deserve.”

But you are riding quite a special type of Lusitano, you can still see in Portugal the very old type with not very good natural movement… You look for special lines?

“Yes. For example two of my horses are sons of Rubi, who was already a very successful horse in dressage. Of course I look for those special lines because we had a completely different selection in the past, bullfighting, working equitation, and now the breeders are trying to change a little bit, and I think they are doing very well especially as we have a very small number of mares compared to Warmbloods. I am lucky to have three Lusitanos who can compete internationally with the Warmbloods, and you can look at them, not as a traditional Lusitano, but as a sporthorse.”

It turns out that Maria doesn’t just ride these new dressage style Lusitanos, her father, Paulo is one of Portugal’s most famous bull-fighting riders and has been instrumental in the development of the breed.

“I started breeding horses in the 1975. I was already a rider, a young rider, but I started very early. My uncle was a rider and bred horses and then I started by myself. I started by buying, in my opinion, some of the best mares Portugal had at that time. They were bull-fighting mares, Lusitano mares, but they were mares with the kind of movement that I looked for. The most important of these mares, and of all the horses of this time, was Quieta. I bought her when she was six years old. She gave three very important sons – Xaquiro, Altivo and Capote.”

“Altivo was a fantastic horse, he could canter doing one tempi changes towards the bull, twenty flying changes and then relax perfectly. He had such nice movement, swing in the trot, he already was a dressage horse. So I started to breed with him – nowadays his genetics are still in dressage, for example his son Altaneiro is one of the best Grand Prix Lusitano horses competing in Spain. Then there was another son, Capote – he was bigger, with more ‘blood’. I sold this horse to a very important breeder in Portugal – José Manuel de Mello. Altivo gave also another important son, Jalisco, who went on to the Grand Prix champion of dressage in Belgium. He was one the first Lusitanos to make a real name in dressage. Everything came from Quieta, she was big for a Lusitano in those times. Super swing, a ground covering canter.”

If we look at Maria’s Grand Prix stallion, Coroado, he is by Rubi, whose dam sire is Xaquiro – out of Luxelia, who is by Xaquiro.

“My beginnings were with a classic master – Viconde da Corte – and he would always talk about the quality of the movement and the lightness of the horse, and that is why I chose this mare. This is the basis of my breed, and the basis of nearly all good dressage horses in Portugal.”

When did your goal change from breeding horses for bullfighting to breeding horses for dressage competition?

“I have to say that it is not so different, because the capacity for collection, flexibility, the capacity to get energetic, and at the same time relaxed. I never looked for the Baroque horse, I always looked for Lusitanos that were a little bit stronger and more powerful, I think because my Master was more close to dressage than bullfighting.”

“It’s fantastic, now we have three or four bloodlines to work with, not so many horses, but it is working, we are making horses that can compete.”

Were you tempted to follow the example of the Frenchman, Sylvain Massa of the Elevage Massa, to cross Trakehner stallions over Lusitano mares – some of the horses he bred are now doing quite well at Grand Prix….

“I think it can be a good idea but I have to wait and see, because it is easier to work with the genetic that we know very well and manage, then when we start to work with a genetic that we don’t know so well, we have to be careful – but I must admit, I think it’s a good idea. Maybe it is a long term project, not a short term project, but a good idea.”

You are still breeding?

“I am, and right now I have two young horses that I think can become very good Grand Prix horses, we shall see.”

Fürstenball, beautiful, black and producing winning progeny – contact International Horse Breeders for more information:




Hanoverian Breeder, Axel Windeler talks about generations of breeding


Story – Christopher Hector                          Photos – Roslyn Neave and archives

Champions of the world – Don Martillo ridden by  Ann-Christin Wienkamp,
with the proud breeder, Axel Windeler

It was one of those lucky accidents that I found myself sitting next to Hanoverian breeder, Axel Windeler at the World Young Dressage Horse championships in Ermelo, earlier this year. Axel is the breeder of the star of the show, Don Martillo, the five-year-old champion, and really the breeder. The handsome black stallion was the result of a breeding program that goes back to 1987, and one of those mares who can found a dynasty – Wennings.

Wennings – one of those mares that found a dynasty

The truth is, Axel’s first venture into horse breeding was not a raging success…

“I started breeding in 1977. I bought a riding horse, but she was not good, so I tried to breed…”

Always a great idea…

“Not a great idea… I tried with the mare, but it was not very good. I tried then with another mare, and I tried over ten years and I was not so successful. I thought it over, and in 1987, I bought the great great grandmother of Don Martillo, Wennings, she was Wenzel / Shogun xx. She was from Alfred Stahmann, from Doerverden. He had bred many show horses and auction horses, and they also had high prices. I liked his horses, they had very good movement, and they were beautiful, big and a dark colour, dark brown or black.”

Wenzel, one of the first dressage stallions

“So I bought this mare, and in the beginning it was not so good. She had two Rubinsteins, normal trot, I was not satisfied – and then I started breeding with Matcho. The Matcho foal was very good, she was my first mare to go best of the show, three times. Matchos did not have the biggest movement, so I decided for Warkant, because Warkant gave very good movement. Then I brought the mare, Wendy For Ever, to my own stallion, Benetton Dream, and her foal, Black Pearl, to Don Juan de Hus.”

The French Anglo Arab – Matcho

Pure power – Warkant

“In this period, 87 to 93, I bought another five mares, top mares. For example, Windrose, the vice European champion mare in Brussels. With her I had a good start, she brought my first licensed stallion, Winterprinz (by Warkant), who I sold to America for a very good price. With Windrose who was Weltmeyer / Sender, we made a new line. Windrose with Davignon, produced Dornroschen, who bred with Rotspon produced Rotkappchen, who bred to Brentano produced Benetton Dream.”

Benetton Dream at the Bundeschampionate with Holga Finken

And another piece of the jigsaw falls into place, since Benetton Dream is the dam sire of Don Martillo…

“I have another line – I bought Caprice – Calypso/Graphit/Gotthard – and bred to Landadel, she brought a wonderful mare, my favorite mare, Lady Larissa. From this line, we have many mares, I now have twenty mares. Caprice was the mother of four licensed stallions.”

The winning mare family at the prestigious Louis Wiegels Show in 2008 – SPS Lady Larissa, her daughter, SPS First Lady, by Florestan, and her grand-daughter, SPS Royal Lady by Royal Highness – and the man on the right is the one that made it all happen.

Axel finds it difficult to add Thoroughbred blood to his mix, but likes to see it on the pedigrees.

“I tried but it was not so successful. I tried for two or three breedings and then I saw that it was not working for me. I am always looking for a Thoroughbred mare but it is not easy to find the right one. After the War, we had in Germany many good Thoroughbred stallions, like Der Löwe. He was a stallion where I lived when I was young and I rode offspring of Der Löwe. You find his blood in many good mares and stallions.”

Der Löwe – one of the great Thoroughbreds to come to Hanover

“I have the line of Lady Larissa that crosses to Der Löwe. I bred Lady Larissa several times to Florestan, who carries the blood of Der Löwe on his sire’s line – and the daughters of that cross were bred to stallions that also had Der Löwe blood, like Dimaggio, who has himself three crosses of Der Löwe.”

“Of the six mares I bought, I sold three, and continued to breed with my own three lines.”

Benetton Dream was champion at the Bundeschampionate in 2007
and is now competing Grand Prix…

next Axel talks more about the Hanoverian ‘B’ line

Why did you go to Brentano II?

“I liked Bolero, but I came too late for him, he died before I decided for him. I decided for Brentano because there was a magazine with the top ten breeding stallions. There was Donnerhall, Rubinstein, Weltmeyer and Brentano, so when I took my mare to Brentano, I had combined all five of the top – and the result was Benetton Dream. Many people smiled at me, but I wanted to have this combination of the Grand Prix blood. And it was a very special offer from the State Stud at Celle, €450, so it was easy to try.”

Don Juan de Hus, who died in the same month that Don Martillo won his championship

“It was the same with Don Juan de Hus, he was €700 and payment when the foal is there, that was also a good offer. I had sold to Haras de Hus, a five-year-old horse that they took to Grand Prix, and after that we were in contact, and swapped frozen semen from my stallion Royal Classic, for semen from Don Juan, so I have several by Don Juan at my home.”

“I saw Don Juan at the licensing at Münster / Hahndorf, and he was great. Trot unbelievable, canter unbelievable, walk normal. He was a good type – he was Jazz / Krack. It was a little bit luck, this stallion was from Haras de Hus, and I was already in contact with them, so you need a little luck, but he is a great horse.”

You didn’t worry about the Jazz temperament?

“No. I thought at this time, we had a mare with a very good walk and super trot, and I needed to improve a little bit that canter, and he is unbelievable in canter. Don Juan and Benetton were at the same stallion station, and sometimes they were riding both at the same time and I saw this combination, and thought, this is a good idea. And now we are here…”

“As a foal Don Martillo looked very good. Then he grew up and I saw his good movement. When he was three years old, I had to give him a name, and I had read about a Thoroughbred called Martillo – that means ‘hammer’ – and I had this in my mind and said, when I have a good horse, I will call him The Hammer. Martillo in Spanish.”

“We started when he was four years old and he was a winner, but we had to give up because my rider was not good enough for him. Then I decided on Ann-Christin Wienkamp and she rode him one week before the Hanoverian Championships, and four weeks before the Bundeschampionate, and he was the winner. That was very successful.”

Don Martillo on the way to becoming World Champion

“In the mean time, I sold half of Don Martillo to a man who has bought a stud and he has some other stallions – and he wants to have more stallions and a covering station.”

So will Don Martillo’s future be as a breeding stallion or a competition stallion?

“The plan is that we will have a very good education for him and then we have to see what happens. It has a little bit to do with how many mares he will get. This year he has had many mares, next year, it could be more, and we have to see how it develops.”

Another of Axel’s stallion stars, Royal Classic comes from the line established by Caprice, bred to Landadel she produced Lady Larissa, who bred to Florestan, produced First Lady, the dam of Royal Classic.

Royal Classic II

“Royal Classic is by my stallion, Royal Highness.” This is a rare instance of a horse that Axel bought rather than bred, when he purchased the mare, Dorain DV (Dream of Glory / Weltmeyer) she was in foal to Regazzoni, and Royal Highness was the result.

“In 2005, Royal Highness went to the World Championships when Damon Hill was the winner, and Totilas was fourth, and we were sixth, close to the top horses. Isabell Werth was very interested in Royal Highness, but he injured a leg and his competition chances were finished. Royal Highness is a good stallion, and he brought Royal Classic one and two. Royal Classic I has many offspring and he is a good stallion.”

Royal Highness 

Have you changed the sort of horses you are trying to breed over the years?

“No, I but what has changed with the mares is the quality, now all are more or less top quality, very good movement. I do not take my mares to the stallions that everyone goes to – I never have Fürstenball, I have no His Highness. I look for the special stallion, not the stallion that covered five or six hundred mares. I am looking for a stallion that has Grand Prix blood, either they were Grand Prix competitors, or they have offspring that compete Grand Prix. This is very important for me, the best horses are the Grand Prix horses.”

Don Martillo

“I am also interested in Thoroughbreds, and when you want to breed a Derby winner, it’s good to have some Derby winners in the pedigree, it’s not a good idea to breed to 1000 metres quick horses. For dressage you have to breed to stallions with big movement quality.”

“When I was young, sixteen years old, in my holidays I worked in a Thoroughbred stud, Gestüt Fährhof, and there I saw the difference between farmers breeding a few Warmbloods and the way they ran a Thoroughbred Stud, the way they organized everything. Then I became a businessman, but I remembered what I had seen at Fährhof.”

“Mr Jacobs, he had Jacobs Coffee, he started Gestüt Fährhof, and my uncle was laughing – a coffee man cannot breed horses, but Mr Jacobs was very good, he came from business, he was organized, he had money to buy the good mares and he was breeding top German Thoroughbreds, better than all the established Thoroughbred studs. He brought the German Thoroughbred to an international style that we hadn’t had before. He was clever, and his idea was good mares. He put his own stallion to the good mares, and that’s the way he produced Tristan, his first home bred winner, then Surumu, the first from Fährhof to win the German Derby, and Lomitas – Lomitas is the father of the quickest horse to win the Arc de la Triumph – Danedream. I work together with Fährhof, I visit them very often. I found that I was a little bit similar to Mr Jacobs, I had three good mares – he also. The big difference is that he had a lot of money and I had no money!”

Some people are saying that for Grand Prix dressage horses, it is good to have some jumping blood…

“In a special way. I have Lady Larissa, and this is jumping blood, and when I took this mare to Weltmeyer, Florestan, and we had not top, but good results, and everyone was laughing at me, but this was not the normal jumping blood. There was Ladykiller xx, Cor de la Bryère, Calypso I, and he was a good stallion for dressage horses – Corlandus had Cor de la Bryère – so it was not completely new. But you have to look to blood when you do something like this, and take not the stallion that has only jumping blood or you will lose the good movement.”

Everyone says that the market is terrible, everything is downhill the last couple of years…

“No, the market was terrible beginning in 2008, with the global financial crisis, and there were too many horses bred. It was not easy to sell horses. The competition was strong – when I said I want 20,000 euros there were some who would offer horses for 12,000 or 15,000, so it was not easy to sell. But the top horses we could always sell to a very good price, and we have, very often, top horses. Now the breed is reduced by 40%, and the business is much better. Now we have changed a little bit, the people have to decide and buy the horse. Four years ago they were running from breeder to breeder and looking at 20, 30 horses and the results for the breeders were not good. But now, I think we will have good business.”

Axel is congratulated by Andreas Helgstrand and François Kasselmann

Does it still excite you breeding horses?

“For me yes, I am now 65, it was always my dream, but my father had no horses. I rode the horses for my uncle and my dream was to have one horse of my own. When I started with the breeding, it was not so planned. Between the age of 23 and 40, I was a businessman, I was in management, then the company changed, and I changed my life. I built up a new farm and gradually we developed, starting with 12 horses, now we have 70 horses.”

“I remember my dream, to have horses, to ride horses, I was not such a good rider, but with breeding I am not so bad I think. We sold some very expensive horses, we were a little bit lucky at the beginning. We are not rich, we never will be rich because it costs also a lot of money, but we get better all the time, and as long as I can do it, I will.”

Want to breed to a Hanoverian Stallion in Australia? International Horse Breeders has an extensive range available. Go to

Rock Springs

De Niro



All Star – From the Verden auction arena to international limelight

The team competitions at the European Championships in Gothenburg were pretty exciting. What team would be the best? The Irish team triumphed and finally won the title for the first time in the long history of this contest. The Hanoverian All Star was a safe member of team from the Green Isle. The 14-year old stallion and his rider Denis Lynch, have long been among the top, worldwide. Three years ago, he finished ninth at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy and was also a member of the Irish team in Aachen two years ago. All Star obviously loves the Swedish port city, he came in fifth in the World Cup Final last year.

“We’ve made it“ – Team Gold for Ireland – Team Gold for Denis Lynch and All Star. Denis Lynch has been living in Germany for many years. The duo rode for medals in the last round in the individual test. An annoying fault at the first jump marked the end of the dream, but still finished in sixth place.

All Star is a solid team member when it matters. He completed all the rounds showing his tremendous scope. Even though he is normally not known for his speed, according to his rider. When asked what sort of car All Star would be, Denis answered straight away: “Landrover! – something to overcome all obstacles”.

All Star was bred by committed breeders and combines Hanover’s most extraordinary bloodlines. The bay horse was bred by Horst Zöllmer in Südergellersen in the heart of the Lüneburg Heath. His granddam is the legendary Ramiro/Winnetou-daughter Rinnetou Z, one of the most successful jumpers worldwide with Piet Raymakers. His sire Argentinus was a Hanoverian trademark stallion in his own lifetime, with an influence on almost all European show jumping breeds. All Star’s career started at the Verden foal auction in 2003 where he was one of the top foals, sold to an international show stable. He matured into a powerful jumper and was carefully started under saddle by Florian Meyer zu Hartum. He became Hanoverian Vice Champion of five-year-old jumpers in 2008 before he competed at the Federal Championships in Warendorf one year later. He celebrated his first international advanced level placing in 2010 and changed in the same year to the stable of Denis Lynch.

All Star and Denis Lynch – this is the success story of a Hanoverian horse whose career started at one of the Verden auctions, then continued at the international sports level. There will be another opportunity to create new success stories on October 13 and 14 at the 134th Elite Auction. It will be the first time that the Verden Foal Gala Presentation on Friday evening will introduce the auction event. Top-class riding horses will be put up for auction on Saturday and – also for the first time in the long history of the Verden auctions – two-and-a-half year old stallions in-hand.

Find out more about the Hanoverian Breed:


Source Press Release, Hanoverian Verband

Leif Tørnblad – on training and judging

The Danish judge, Leif Tørnblad is one of the most experienced and respected five-star judges in the world, but he is also in his day-to-day life a rider, and a trainer, and now he has developed a teaching format that combines the two. The three days start and finish riding an actual test. It worked well for leading Grand Prix rider, Maree Tomkinson – but Leif also has some firm and controversial views on what can be done to improve international dressage judging as you will find out in this exclusive interview with Christopher Hector.


When did you come up with this format of the test to start the training sequence?

“I’ve actually been doing it for about five or six years. I do it in Denmark quite often. I like the format because I need to see what they are doing, and since I am a judge, this is my reference point, but I also train and ride horses, so I know it from that side too.”

“I haven’t done it so much abroad – I did it in Spain this year, and Portugal, and I am going to Hungary in October. Coming to Australia was Pernille’s idea, I know her mother and father well, they live nearby, but it is my wife who trains her mother.”

Leif’s wife is a famed figure in the world of dressage. As Anne Grethe Jensen she ushered in a whole new world of elegant, soft dressage when she rode Marzog to win a World Championship in 1986. The pair were also European Champions and Silver Medalists at the Los Angeles Games.

Anne Grethe was also the first World Cup winner.

“I am still judging so I am not a trainer. You cannot train and judge the same people. There has to be at least a month after I train them before I can judge them. It’s a good format because you see all sides of them, you see what they are good at and bad at. If they get nervous – some of the riders get nervous when they see me, because they know I am a high-ranked judge, and that’s the same when they go to a competition, they lose a little bit the concentration. So it’s a good intermediate stage, to meet me without being too worried. Some are worried on the first day, but then they relax more and go much better on the last day.”

Maree Tomkinson has a training session next

Ring Saddle-Up to discuss your new saddle now 03 9727 4000

Looking at the session you did with Maree, what areas do you want to concentrate on over the three days?

” I’m not better than the daily trainer, but I come as a new broom, and I see the little habits they have and I can try and get them out of that. Maree has a little difficulty in giving her hand. It was the same with some of the Portuguese and the Spanish, they were all super in piaffe / passage but riding back, and pretty awful in extended, and people say, oh yeah but it is a Lusitano – but it is not, it is their riding.”

But we saw it with Maree’s horse – in the beginning when you asked for the extension, it just came from the shoulder…

“Then it came from behind… It comes from the half halts, take then immediately a soft hand, it’s rhythm, if you have that rhythm in your body then when you take a half halt, you take, sit, then leg and give. Many, they use their legs and their hands at the same time, which is like driving a Ferrari, pulling the brake and pushing the accelerator at the same time – you have to choose. Stop, sit, then you let go, and if it is a very energetic horse, you don’t have to push so much with the legs and if it is a lazy horse, the forwardness comes from taking it back and creating the energy from behind.”

“The hind legs are the engine of the horse, so when you create the energy from behind, like Maree did at the end of the extended work, then she could just sit and let it go. I always say, try and prepare on the short side, try and prepare every movement, the same with the pirouettes. You prepare them with the inner leg and all that, and then do the turning, but lots of trainers say you should use your inner leg in the pirouette, that’s too late, you should have used it before and then you can do the turning, and then you need to open up in front – which is difficult. Because otherwise you cannot go forward, if you start pulling on the brake, that’s where you get imbalances, changes behind, and all that. It’s a rhythmic coordination thing.”

“The riders in this clinic are all good but they just need to focus a bit more on preparation and on the giving hand.”

We were talking about passagey trot, and Maree’s horse started with a hover – is this a problem because we are breeding super talented horses that offer passage so easily?

“No, no, it’s the riding again. It is fantastic that the horses have that movement in them, you should never blame a horse for being able to do passage, but you should not nurture it as a five-year-old or a six-year-old. What you have to do is take the half halt, get the energy and as soon as the horse starts to become passagey, you ride forward so you keep the horse energetic from behind. Lots of riders ride a lot on their own, and it is very nice to sit on a passage, but it is not what we want, it is an evasion in a way. If they are not allowed to do that, then some horses try to avoid going forward with a quicker rhythm and start cantering, you have to correct them and then when the hind legs are working, the back is working and all over a sudden you can sit on them as well.”

How did you get started in the equestrian world?

“I started riding when I was nine. My father was from the Army and he was riding as well. It was in the family. I was riding dressage and eventing and jumping, when I was younger. I started the normal way, in a riding school, then I had a half share in a horse, then I got my own horse.”

“At that time is was not like children getting everything when they are five years old, I was seventeen or eighteen when I had my first own new horse. I did well.”

“I became a judge quite early. I was the best in the riding school, and so they asked me to judge the others. When I was twenty-three, I passed the National Judges Exam but I was still riding lots of competitions. Hanne Valentin, who was an international dressage judge, was the chef d’equipe for the Danish Dressage Team, and I knew her very well. We were at a show and had a good evening together, and she said, could you please take over my job as chef d’equipe? So I did, and I traveled the world with the team, married the star of the team, and of course, Anne Grethe was the best rider in our family so we concentrated on her competing, and I stopped. I was about thirty five then. That was okay, I concentrated on judging, I was still riding at home, and I was never judging Anne Grethe’s class.”

Anne Grethe Törnblad and Marzog

“I was asked to become a candidate judge by the Danish Federation – twenty years ago, maybe more. I was very lucky at that time, my wife was riding Grand Prix so they immediately gave me a lot of challenges in Juniors and Young Riders. So when I was a candidate – what they call three-star now – I was already judging European championships.”

“I think I’ve done fifteen European championships for young riders, juniors, ponies. It gave me a lot of good experience in tackling the families, trainers, whatever, and trying to be fair, not nationalistic.”

“I traveled with Anne Grethe and when she had finished her competing, I sat at the arena and did my own judging. It gave me quick reflexes because I had to write as well as judge, and at the end I could compare with the five judges. It was a super nice learning experience, teaching myself Grand Prix judging. I think I did more Grand Prix judging on my own at that time than any other judge! I usually came right in the middle so I became confident, and at the end the riders started noticing, because my wife was famous and they saw me judging and would come up and ask, what did you give me today? I got a good relationship with lots of riders that way.”

“That was good practice, then Anne Grethe stopped riding so many competitions at the top level – she is still competing – and the FEI appointed me a five-star judge in 2007 and I did the Europeans that year, and the Olympics in 2008, and again the Olympics in 2012. And the European Seniors again in 2013. I’ve done six World Cup finals as well. Even though I’ve been doing all the big stuff, I still enjoy the young riders and the juniors – which I did again this year and judging under 25.”

“Now we have two more five-star judges in Denmark, so I do a little less, but that’s fine because I’ve done enough really and now I’ve started doing these clinics and I enjoy that. I’m a consultant in my private work, and sometimes when you’re judging you think I wish I could go out and tell them how instead of just judging, six not enough or more forward…. It’s a good challenge to see if you can go out and make them actually do it.”

“We have a stable and my wife and I both ride, I’m riding every day at home.”

Do you think it is important for a judge?

“Yes. I have to be careful because there are some judges who don’t ride at all and they still might be very good judges because they are objective and they have a very good theory, but if you really want to be a good judge you should have the feeling when it is good or bad, and you can get that from riding. But there are still very good judges who don’t ride, and there are also judges who are housewives, and I don’t mean to be negative to housewives, but if the main thing is traveling and having nice dinners and seeing the world, if that’s the main thing and the judging is secondary, there are a few of those that aren’t good judges. Some are very good at being political and getting invites.”

“Most judges are sincere and want to do their best…”

But you have judged through several eras of judging, you were judging in the time of Salinero, and still judging when we had the period of Carl and Charlotte – what went wrong in the Salinero era, why was a horse that was so tense able to win so much?

“But it started already with Bonfire.”

Bonfire in Sydney in 2000

He wasn’t quite so tense as Salinero…

“I thought he was the same in a way. In some senses I quite liked Salinero, of course he was a better horse than Bonfire. She’s a very good rider, Anky and she presents the horses well, but there are problems with the whole Sjef Janssen way of training…”

It was awful…

“That’s your point of view, I think Anky did ride quite well, but I think the ones that tried to copy her, didn’t cope. Anky could actually ride them deep and whatever, but when they came into the arena, they were looking okay.”

I can show you so many photos from Aachen, from Olympic Games, of Anky in the ring, and it is awful, and people can say, oh, it’s just a bad moment, but good riders don’t have ‘bad moments’…

“I can assure you if you look at photos of my wife and Marzog, you cannot find one single picture that is bad, you cannot, it is not possible.”

And the same with Charlotte… I’m sorry, I thought there was nothing nice about the era of Salinero…

“I wouldn’t go that far, but he was over-tense, and her passage was more forward going piaffe, but she also had her good moments – she made fantastic freestyles, good music, good choreography, and that was her benefit to dressage at the time when the freestyle came to the front. I think she’s a good rider and she presented well. I’ve been back stage many times, and I saw that kind of warming up and I don’t approve of that – you can see that in the way I train – but you also much remember, at that time, who was the second best? The third best? I judged Anky and Salinero in the Olympics in Hong Kong, where she won, and that is when Satchmo spun around in the ring…”

And got a silver!

“I didn’t judge the Special because we were seven judges, and I did the Grand Prix and the Freestyle. But horses like Bonaparte and Ravel were placing third and fourth and they were not on that level.”

It was a lovely day for dressage at Rotterdam in the Europeans, when Carl and Charlotte came out and said, hey dressage can be like this…

“But if you look back in history, Granat was the first to set a standard, being through. He was never a beautiful looking horse but he was more through and more supple than most at that time. Then came Slibowitz and horses like that, more power – and then came Marzog, and everything suddenly became easy and elegant and light footed, and also Ahlerich was very good. Rembrandt was also in the same line as Marzog, he only had the deficiency that he couldn’t sit, couldn’t take weight on the hind legs, but he was a nice light footed elegant horse.”

Granat – not so pretty but through…

“Then came Andiamo who was tense like hell, then the Sjef Janssen era. It swings like a pendulum: strong, power, lightness, strong power and now we are back to lightness again. I think Isabell Werth nowadays is much better than Isabell Werth ten years ago because she has also adapted to the lightness and she is very efficient. Now you see this Cosmo boy, Sönke Rothenberger, fantastic huh? Also the Danish rider, Cathrine Dufour, she is in the same light tradition as we used to have.”

Cosmo – fantastic!

So maybe dressage is going to consolidate in this…

“Lightness – and I’ve had big discussions with my five-star colleagues, I said it cannot be right that we give high marks for horses behind the vertical, with front legs up in the sky and hind legs lagging behind, and of course it stirred up a bit of discussion. I have to be careful what I say, but we see some top placed horses that do not take weight on hind legs in transitions and that do not over-track in extensions still being awarded with high marks. But the fact that I brought it up, created discussion and changed the attitude amongst the judges. I think I have a slight influence… But I am in line with many others who are saying the same things.”

There is all this talk about judging in crisis and all the drastic things we have to do to change the situation, but I think if you look at it historically, judging is probably in pretty good shape…

“I think so too, and I think that is partly because we are more and more open about it, you can see the score sheets anywhere and that makes it more obvious what is going on. Wayne Channon and Kyra (Kyrklund) say the system is wrong, but I don’t think that is correct. It’s not the system that’s wrong – now we are getting into a very long discussion because I am very engaged with this issue. We can start by saying, the selection of judges is too slack. The training of judges is too slack. The exams are too slack. I have just made an exam for the first time for the FEI – I had to create all the questions myself, I had to set all the standards myself. I thought there was a general standard given by the FEI, questions of rules and regulations – no, I had to do it myself. Maybe they were lucky I was a good guy, or maybe they were unlucky and I was not good enough, but nobody controls it.”

“We’ve had good people setting exams, we’ve had Dieter Schüle, Ghislain Fourage, Mariette Withages, Volker Moritz, they were all very good people but they should have set a much firmer standard. Then when you are passed as a judge and you start going away from the standard we like, it doesn’t have any consequences, you are still selected for everything! The good thing is that now you can see that this person is five percent off the average more often than others. You can do it once or twice, you can even be right doing it, but if you are off the mark continuously, someone should look after you, take care of you. There is no somebody today. We have a Judge General, he doesn’t do it. We have the JSP, they sit at the Championships and change a little bit up and down, which is useless. They should be much more out in the field to see who is good, and who is bad, because it is not enough to have the statistics, you have to also see if they are right or wrong.”

“At the Europeans, at Aachen, there were two or three judges that were way out of line, and all of them were selected for Rio! There’s absolutely no consequences.”

Desperados at the 2015 Europeans

The ones that judged up a lame Totilas above the sound black stallion, Desperados, they went to the Olympic Games, they should have been banned for six months…

“Yes, that’s what I mean. That’s the one side. Of course you can’t ban someone for making one mistake, or being different, unless you compare it to the quality of what is going on. Was it right or wrong to have Totilas on 80%?”

Of course it was wrong, the judge at C should have been ringing his bell…

“Sure, but that is not obvious from the statistics, you have to be there to see it. The second thing that is wrong with our system is, in the old days when we had Nybleus, we had Niggli, we had Lette, we had Mariette – Mariette based her strictness very much on Volker Moritz. Today, we don’t know because it is like, anything goes. There is nobody coming in and saying – this is what we want.”

more follows


“I did write to Stephen Clarke. I watched a rider competing in London, and his horse was not for one second on the vertical, mouth was wide open, and he came out and got 80%! I immediately wrote to Stephen Clarke who was the C judge and our Judge General, and asked how on earth can this happen? Either we change the rules and say, this is the way we want it or we judge differently. He took it very positively and we had a little debate about it, and now we have come back a little to the basics. But that’s me, an individual, not in charge of anything producing that result. We need a torch to look upon what is happening so we know what is black and what is white.”

The Dutch way – Totilas and Edward Gal

“It’s not good enough that the Dutch say, we like dressage this way, and the Swedes say, we like it this way, and the Germans say, we don’t want this, we want this. We need to agree on what we want. When we had a dictator like Nybleus, like Lette, we could agree or disagree, but at least we knew. That is the second thing that makes judging difficult. I can say, I want them in front of the vertical, I prefer a little bit with the mouth playing instead of a tight noseband, lots of little things. There are other judges who think the opposite, if the horse plays a bit with the mouth, they immediately go down. We have to make a decision – this is what we want and that makes it difficult.”

“Of course one of the excuses is that in the old days there were maybe only ten judges judging the big shows and they could all meet and talk. Now it’s thirty, and meeting together is difficult. The bigger the sport gets, the more difficult it is, like any organization, but that means we need to have even more emphasis on having a clear view.”

“I can come down here to Australia, and give a clinic and you see what I do, and you like it, or not. The next time someone else comes down and says the opposite – and that can be approved in that person’s environment.”

I don’t believe that for one second Leif, the only trainers that are different and new are bad trainers, all the good trainers – they might use different words – but all the good trainers train exactly the same way. If that had been Jean Bemelmans or Hubertus Schmidt, sitting in the school this morning instead of you, they would have been saying exactly the same things…

“But you are now mentioning the Germans, if it was Sjef Janssen sitting there, or Edward Gal, or Hans-Peter Mindenhoud, they would not say the same things.”

But I don’t think they are good trainers or riders…

“That’s your definition.”

No, it is not a subjective thing, we have a standard of riding and of how horses should go, and this has been recognized since at least the 1936 Olympic Games, and riders in chair seats with ultra-tense horses, are not good dressage riders, and you can see how many of their horses break down…

“That’s your opinion, it is also my opinion, but that’s not everybody’s opinion. Next month, Edward Gal comes to Denmark to make a clinic.”

That’s not a very good idea…

“No, but he still does, and attracts a crowd. If you go anywhere in Holland, or some parts of Denmark, they disagree with you and me.”

The person I spend the most time with in Holland, is Johan Hamminga, and his training is like the good trainers is Germany, if he’d been in the school with Maree, he’d have been saying things very similar to what you said…

“But he’s the old fashioned one. What happened when Anky came out with the deep Rollkur, they actually managed to get more drama, and more higher movements, more fantastic piaffes and things. They did manage to do that – you call it tension – but people in general thought it was fantastic.”

I thought it was just ugly, and it was always irregular because if the horse’s front leg is swinging twice as far as the diagonal hind leg, then one is going faster or the other slower but the rhythm is gone and that is the first building block and the way horses show their tension…

“But it is not everybody who thinks that. Look at the results.”

But if someone says to you, the earth is flat, I don’t say, that’s your opinion so it is a valid way of looking at the world…

“But like I said, the pendulum swings, and all of a sudden it was accepted and now it is not accepted again.”

Let’s hope the pendulum stops swinging for a while…

“Now at the moment the Brits are out, and who is taking over, the Germans, and the top ones are okay. Dorothee Schneider is a good rider and so is Katrina Böring Sprehe.”

But Katrina is one of the few riders who gets to the top, but then gets better still, she was always a nice rider but now she is more effective…

“And softer, but that I think, has to do with Monica (Theodorescu).”

To sum up your day in the indoor school?

“The first day is really hard. That’s why I make them ride a test so I can sit down and see what is the big challenge for them. I don’t know them before, what is their big challenge? If I just start doing a standard routine, then I am not a good trainer. I look and then I might be using some of the same tools, but for different reasons. But I can look at Maree, and go in on some challenges but I can’t do everything at once, or then they get confused.”

On the second day, Maree’s horse looked much much better…

“But there are always more things that can be improved in that horse as in all horses all the time but you cannot focus on everything at once, you have to pull out the most important things and next time, when that is fixed, you can go to something else, but try to put too much in their heads at once, and nothing happens.”


next Maree tells us what she got from her sessions working with Leif

OUR GUINEA PIGS: Maree Tomkinson and Donna Elena

Australian WEG dressage team member, Maree Tomkinson agreed to test the Tørnblad format for us…

I think it is a nice idea of Leif’s, to start the three days with an actual test…

“I think it is a very nice idea. For me personally, and at the moment, bringing the horses here and riding a competition test, without the pressure of an actual competition, was exactly what we needed to do. I haven’t ridden a test for more than a year, the horses haven’t been out for more than that – so it’s really good for them to get out in a competition venue and ride a test under a really well respected five-star judge. It’s a good experience and gives you some new ideas – it’s great.”

I thought it a good idea in that he quickly discovers the problem areas, whereas in the traditional lesson format, it might take a couple of days to reveal the problems and then it’s too late to do much about them…

“Absolutely because training and competition riding are two absolutely different things. There’s a little saying, you have to be a good rider, and a clever rider. The training is good riding and competition riding can often be about being clever, because in competition you don’t always have the horse’s attention, you are not always ready to do it right then and there, and you just have to make the best of what you have got. So I think it is a fantastic idea, it is something a little bit different, and it really focuses more on the test riding, and the training towards that goal.”

Tell me a little about Donna Elena, the mare you were riding…

“I love Donna Elena… we bought her as a four-year-old from Johannes Westendarp. She won the five-year-old and the six-year-old classes at Dressage with the Stars. We’ve basically spent a year at home, training, getting her into a double bridle. She didn’t go into the double bridle so easily, it has taken a bit of time. Some horses have no trouble with the double and go better in it, Diamantina was instantly better in the double – and some of them don’t like it as much. I know that now you can ride tests up to an FEI level in a snaffle but you can’t at FEI level, so they still have to be able to go in a double bridle. Donna Elena just took a little bit of time to get better at that.”

“Normally when we first put them in a double bridle, I just put them in the bridle and ride them with absolutely no pressure. Walk, trot and canter, with a very soft contact – and I try to start them quite early, like five or six years old. They’ve had it on, they know it, you might ride them in it for a few days, then not, then again, and just change it around. I do that even with the older horses, I don’t ride them all the time in a double bridle.”

“When we first got Donna Elena, she was really bad on the right rein, really bad. Even on the video when we bought her, cantering on the left side, she was disunited behind, she crossed her jaw and did some strange things. She’s now a lot better. She’s pretty even on both sides now, most of the time.”

I thought the most interesting exchange between you and Leif, was over the extended trot and I thought there was a big difference between the first extended trot, where the horse was out behind and the movement was coming out of the shoulder and not from the engine – then when he got you to really prepare, prepare, prepare, and rev across the diagonal, then you could see the movement moving…

“Yep, and these are the things that happen when you ride on your own, at home all the time. The difference between medium and extended trot, you feel that, but you don’t see it, that’s why it is great to have someone standing on the ground, pointing it out. That’s something we take away, and we have to ride more for that difference between medium and extended.”

“Harmony, having a harmonious horse and rider combination is so important at the moment, but there is a really fine balance between keeping a horse harmonious and keeping the expression. I often look at horses and think, okay that might be harmonious but there’s nothing there, there is no expression. The horse has to have really good energy, really good expression AND be harmonious. If you have a harmonious horse with no energy and expression, it’s not really dressage.”

“I guess I’ve been working a bit more towards keeping her harmonious and not enough towards the expression, whereas Diamantina was always the opposite, loads of expression but she lacked a bit the harmony. Now I have to work on Donna Elena’s balance.”


“I think Leif’s format is a really interesting variation. I think that we probably weren’t prepared well enough for it to truly do what he had in mind, justice. It was hard with poles on the ground and no markers. I don’t know about the other riders, but I didn’t know I was going to ride the test straight up. I think there were a few things where we were not as prepared as we could have been, but I think it’s a really good idea.”

What was the take home for you out of the three days?

“Going to the clinic offered a few things to me, one was getting my horse out after a long time just working at home, to see where she is at. It was good for me to ride a test again, without the pressure of competition. A lot of Leif’s suggestions as to how to ride the test were extremely helpful. The overall idea that everything has to be a lot more harmonious BUT still with good energy and good quality. A lot of the tests you see are harmonious but there is no quality. Not only do you have to ride a harmonious test is still has to have expression and quality.”

Did you find it a little surprising to be working with a judge who was also a trainer, and obviously, a rider?

“I thought he was an excellent trainer, his manner and the way he worked with me, and the horse, were great. I got a lot out of the sessions, small things that were very helpful. Attention to detail things, like walking with more seat and less legs, small but very useful.”

We should have more judges that ride more and train more…



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