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KWPN Directions in Dressage Breeding

Mar 25, 2020 | 0 comments

Many of you may have noticed how much German blood we’ve been using in our program over the last few years. Wim’s sending me this short video clip of Gaudi this morning and some recent comments from the KWPN reps at the Annual Meeting a couple weeks ago have helped me crystallize some thoughts that may be worth sharing. 


Breeding for me is a lot like cooking. I have an idea in my head, and I intuitively know what to reach for to achieve the general outcome that I want. I may look at a recipe, but unless something calls for exact proportions of butter to flour, eggs to milk, etc., I’m normally going to use the recipe as a guideline, not as a mandate. When I’m thinking about our breeding program and making stallion selections to achieve what I’m looking for in future generations, I’m not pouring over linear score sheets and evaluating every specific conformational or movement component in an individual horse. I’m evaluating how much cayenne pepper I can add to the equation and still get a dish that’s palatable. Well, beyond “palatable”.  I’m a good cook; I’m shooting for deliciously satisfying on a variety of levels. Understandably, in the kitchen and in the breeding world, I’ve immersed myself in decades’ worth of information, observations, failed experiments, and successful meals and breeding outcomes, so my “intuitive” reach for the right ingredients is probably not as intuitive as I think it is; nonetheless, I’m not measuring ingredients or replaying a video 12 times to look at a pastern angle.


Of course, there can be specific things certain stallions or stallion lines bring to breeding that I try to avoid, such as loose stifles, difficult characters, weak pasterns, etc., but, mostly, I’m looking at the whole horse and general trends and types. Now, to contradict myself, sometimes I have to identify “specific” elements that affect a “general” quality.


Two of the general qualities I’ve been trying to address in the Dutch breeding population through experiments within our own program are overall suppleness and scope of movement. The Dutch horses are super athletic, but they’re not always as supple as I like. I want to maintain the strong loin connection, yet, at the same time, see a back that can be soft and swingy. In regards to scope of movement (which is certainly connected to overall suppleness), I love the Dutch knee and electric hindleg, but sometimes it interferes with elasticity and the use of the back, causing more up-and-down movement than freedom of movement. Consequently, I’ve been more focused on the overall use of the body, suppleness through the back, and the power and placement of the hind leg rather than the quickness of it. Hence, I’ve been using more German lines.


Originally, during the modernization of the Dutch horse from agricultural use to sport, we had a lot of success with Holsteiner, Selle Francais, and TB lines. Yet, historically, the German lines, especially the Hanoverian lines, have not crossed consistently well on Dutch mares. It’s been too much of an F1 cross. Interestingly enough, over the last five our six years, we’re seeing Dutch stallions cross really well on German mares, however. I think this gives Dutch breeders an interesting method of improving their breeding stock:  Use the sons approved in Germany or Denmark who are by Dutch stallions out of German mares. In theory, at least, someone else has already taken the risk of the F1 situation, so we should be able to benefit from what these products bring to the next generation. Again, in theory.


My wife would kill me if I told you the stallions in my frozen semen order, but let me say this much, they’re all either sons of KWPN stallions out of strong German mare lines or German stallions out of lines I know cross well on my mares. If you look at my breeding choices from the last few years, you’ll see the same pattern. Someone asked me the other day why I’m not planning on breeding all my mares to Gaudi. My answer was/is that I’ve seen too many programs over the years not achieve all they could have because they breed only to their own stallions. However, Gaudi does fit into the equation, which, conveniently enough, brings me back to why the video of Gaudi became the seed for my writing this journal entry today. Gaudi is Totilas x DeNiro x Romancier. He’s by a KWPN stallion out of a completely German-bred dam, who just happens to be the highest indexed dressage-producing mare in the KWPN right now, as well. 


To further develop my other impetus for starting this entry, the jury members’ comments during the Annual Meeting, I don’t remember the exact words Henk Dirksen used when he was describing one of the new focuses of selection for dressage horses, but it had to do with what I described above as “scope”. It’s a length of movement, a suspension, a use of the back. His explanation was that the KWPN dressage horse has very good technique in the legs, but needs more “scope”, so that is a consideration in selecting new stallions. Well…even this short clip of Gaudi in a relaxed, lazy trot shows how supple he is through the topline and how correct he is in the placement of his hind foot under his body. Look at any of his lunging or free-movement video, and you’ll see Gaudi has the scope in the movement and the suppleness I want in our program, and, conveniently enough, the kind of movement for which the KWPN is selecting, as well. I’m really glad I know the guy who owns him.  Maybe he’ll give me a deal on a breeding or two.