SHOOTING STAR FARM
KWPN Mare – Bay – 2009 – 1.64 m – KWPN 528003200907300 – keur
KWPN keur pref
My interest in the Dutch Harness Horse started in the late 1990s when I made my first trip to the KWPN Stallion Show in s’Hertogenbosch. I’m a New Englander, so I grew up in Morgan country. I also rode at a Saddlebred barn for a couple years when I was a kid. When a Morgan or Saddlebred enters a park saddle or park harness class, much of what you see is manufactured through shoeing and, often, questionable training methods. Imagine how blown away I was the first time I saw the Dutch Harness horses come into the ring for the Oregon Trophy. Holy crap. The expression Morgan and Saddlebred people use for a park horse showing well is, “that horse is trotting on all four corners.” These Dutch Harness horses not only elevate the concept of a four-cornered trot, they take it to a whole new plane of equine existence.( I’ll come back to this concept in a bit.) Although I’m not privy to all the training methods used with the Dutch Harness Horses, I can see for myself they’re not shod that differently than a normal riding horse. Maybe there’s a little more length and heel height to the hoof and a double shoe, but that’s it. These horses are bred to move like this. Of course, in the late 1990s during my first year of attending the KWPN Stallion Show, these horses were a much different type than most of the DHHs today. The heads were big and long; their backs were flat and often too dropped off behind the wither; their croups were short and flat; and, their tail set was really high. If you had told me 22 or 23 years ago that I would have purchased a DHH stallion for crossing with my dressage mares, some of the best dressage-breeding mares available for breeding anywhere, I would have laughed.
Consequently, to begin with, I just enjoyed watching the DHH classes at the Stallion Show. I didn’t pay attention to any particular horse or line. The first stallion I remember really sitting up and paying attention to as an individual was Patijn (Kolonel x Renovo x Indiaan). He was a little smaller than many of the DHHs of the day, but of a much more modern, athletic type. He was the first DHH I remember looking at and thinking, “that’s a beautiful horse”. And, the movement…again, holy crap. He was so athletic in the use of his body, had a really strong and quick hindleg, and an extraordinary front. I saw Patijn a number of times in Den Bosch, and each time I had the same impression. He’s the reason I started paying more attention to the names and pedigrees of the DHHs. Regardless, at that time, I still hadn’t even thought about crossing a DHH stallion with a dressage mare. I just kept thinking that I wished some of my Morgan-breeder friends could see these horses.
Eebert was the game-changer for me. What a horse. The only two horses that have made a stronger impression on me at first sight in performance are Totilas and Jovian. That puts Eebert in some exceptional company. The horse just oozed suppleness, power, and expression. His whole topline had that supple, athletic lift so necessary in a dressage horse. Every time I saw Eebert perform, I kept thinking what he would look like under saddle. That’s really when the seed of crossing a DHH stallion on a dressage mare began to germinate for me. This is probably a good time to talk about what I look for in a dressage horse, and how the DHH can both contribute and detract from my goals.
Horses naturally carry more weight on the front legs than they do on their hind legs.They are built downhill. In dressage, as a horse progresses through the training scale, he or she gradually learns to carry more weight on the hind end, in order to execute the highest movements of collection and to free the shoulder to be more expressive. A horse that is bred to naturally lift in front and carry more weight behind, less downhill, has an easier and, normally, quicker progression through the levels, making the rider’s job easier. The recent trend in breeding dressage horses has been to breed horses with a longer front leg, the thought being that this will contribute to a horse’s ability to transfer the weight to the hindquarters, and, to some extent, provide more expression in the front leg. Although I like a horse with sufficient length in the front leg aesthetically, the length of the front leg is not what determines a horse’s ability to carry weight from behind. It is the loin connection. It doesn’t matter how long the front leg is if the horse doesn’t have a strong loin connection; he or she is not going to be able to carry as well as a horse with a short front leg and a strong loin connection. The muscles in the loin are the hinge that lifts the front of the horse and transfers the weight onto the hind quarters.
Think of it this way, I want to see a dressage horse naturally move as if it were an airplane taking off. From the first step, the horse should fire a leg under the point of gravity and lift through the loin connection, elevating the wither. It’s important to note here that I wrote, “elevating the wither”. Many horses arch their necks upward, sink their backs, and throw out their front legs. This is not lifting in the wither. It may be fun to watch and look like fancy, “going to sell this horse for a whole lot of money” expression to an inexperienced eye, but it is detrimental to dressage breeding. A horse whose first reaction is lower the back completely contradicts the goals of dressage training. This is also the point at which I should discuss the potential negative outcomes of using DHHs in dressage breeding.
Above, I mentioned the phrase, “four-cornered trot”. This is the expression Morgan and Saddlebred people often use to describe what they’re looking for in a horse. Basically, it means, as a literal interpretation would indicate, that all four legs are equally active and bending–near equal amount of expression in the knees and the hocks. Often, in a four-cornered trot, the back stays level. As matter of fact, a level back is even desirable in the Morgan world. After discussing the traits I’m looking for in breeding dressage horses, it’s easy to recognize that a flat back is counterproductive to my goal of having a horse in movement looking like an airplane taking off. This is one of the dangers of using DHHs in dressage breeding. Although breeding for an expressive front is one of the goals in DHH breeding, not all DHHs achieve that by lifting through the loin connection–many achieve it by cranking their heads back, sinking behind the wither, and throwing out their front legs. They don’t “use” their backs in their movement. Such movement mechanics also tend to produce horses that carry their hindlegs slightly behind the body, so their hocks point up under the tail as they move, instead of bending under the body and creating that lift from the loin connection to the wither. Although many of these horses are fantastic fine harness horses, they don’t belong in dressage breeding.
Eebert became an obsession for me. I loved that horse, so I started doing some research on his pedigree and on the pedigrees of other DHHs I really liked. Atleet (Patijn x Waterman x Farao) turned out to be the common denominator in almost all the pedigrees of the horses to which I was drawn.. Consequently, since I didn’t yet have the cojones to breed one of my dressage mares to a DHH stallion, I decided to start looking for a DHH mare to cross with dressage stallions. It took me almost three years to find the one I wanted (and could afford. There was one top mare I wanted, in Holland, but she was 30,000 Euro…), but I found her, and, believe it or not, I found her in the USA. Emaldine OMHG keur (Atleet x Manno x Goya).
Pedigree-wise she’s perfect for what I wanted–she’s by Atleet, she’s out of the same mare line as Eebert, and she has Goya in the fourth generation. Goya is an important horse in Laura Grave’s top international Grand Prix horse, Verdades (Florett As x Goya x Renovo). Florett As was a nice horse, but he never produced anything of importance other than Verdades, so it’s fair to assume that his natural abilities for upper level dressage are coming through the mare line. Movement-wise, Emaldine is also perfect for what I want. She has a strong and quick hind leg that fires under her body at the very first step, she lifts through her whole topline so the wither is the highest point, and she has a canter. On top of all this, she has a super brain. We bred her to Gaudi SSF in 2019 for our first dressage x DHH foal, and it would be difficult to be more pleased with the result. Piadine SSF is one of the best-moving foals we’ve bred. She has really good balance, a super trot mechanism, and a very uphill adjustable-looking canter.
Emaldine is back in foal to Gaudi for this year with the baby already reserved. Since her 2022 baby is also reserved, we will repeat the cross yet again.
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