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11 November 2009
 

INTERVIEW WITH DR. THOMAS NISSEN

By Tom Reed
Horse International Vol 9 2008.


After the stallion approval and auction Dr. Thomas Reed sat down for a conversation with Dr. Thomas Nissen, general manager and breeding manager of the Holsteiner Verband.


TR: What were your impressions of the stallions that were inspected and those that were invited to this approval?

TN: There were 99 stallions in the catalogue. We looked at them in the second part of August when we looked at about 480 young stallions. We went to about 15 places around Holstein. It was interesting for us that there was good variation in genetics, not so dominated by Cassini, Contender, and Caretino. And there were some very interesting offspring from the younger stallions like Canto and some others.

It was difficult to select the hundred out of the 480 because the quality goes higher and higher in recent years. It is not so difficult to find the 30 or 40 highest quality but then there were a lot of stallions in the next level, the good level. But we took 99 in the catalogue and 95 are here.

When we start on the first day on the hard ground we already developed good impressions because they all had power in the hind legs and were good movers for jumping horses. Sometimes we have a few specialists for dressage but the main point is jumping horses.

Everyone was waiting for the next day for the free-jumping of the horses. And that was the most important criterion for selection. We are looking for type. Type is a very important point for us along with correctness and movement. But jumping capacity is most important.

It was important that we have genetic variation and out of all the genetics there were very good sport horses, good jumpers. So afterwards it was not easy to get a group of approved stallions that was not too big because we only want to approve the best of them. And also it is important for the market that we have not too many for sale because we want good quality.

For us it is important that the type is not too heavy. Cassini and Contender are more the heavy type, and if you look at the catalogue we have 16 stallions out of half-blood mares with the thoroughbred influence. We have not so many sons of thoroughbreds, only two this year. One we approved – Esquire by Esteban xx. I hope next year it will grow a little bit so we can approve two or three half-blood stallions. It is difficult for the breeders to accept a half-blood stallion because they are always looking to the older progeny's jumping. But I think it is necessary. It is important for us and for me to support the thoroughbred influence because we need it. Our breed can only develop in a good and right way for the sport when the breeders take always a little thoroughbred influence in our population. It is necessary. The breeders are critical. They know that it is important but they say, "OK, but my neighbor can do it!"

TR: Recently I wrote an article for Horse International on the future of thoroughbreds in warmblood breeding. Did you happen to see that article?

TN: Yes, I saw that. I did.

TR: I argued that thoroughbreds are important but their special place is diminishing because, except in the very rare cases such as Heraldik, a phenomenal thoroughbred stallion…

TN: Yes, yes.

TR: and Mytens, who was also very good…

TN: Very good, yes.

TR: …most thoroughbreds today do not have the riding horse qualities we need, and it is getting harder and harder…

TN: Yes, it is hard to find the right stallion for our population.

TR: My argument was that we shouldn't be willing to make too many concessions and that maybe studbooks like the KWPN that are focusing very much on type along with the jump are showing that we can create modern-looking horses with quick reflexes but without bringing thoroughbred blood in all the time. But it is an empirical question; we have to see how it goes. But do you see any thoroughbreds on the horizon that you have real confidence in that they will be the next important contributor to warmblood breeding?

TN: We are looking for good thoroughbred stallions all the time. You know the problem; we know the problem. But with all the problems we have to keep trying. Nobody can say if you go to the racing yards or studs, "That is a thoroughbred stallion that will bring us what we need." We always say we will look for another Ladykiller or Cottage Son but it is so difficult. The times change and the breeds change and in the 1950s and '60s and later in the century we had another basis for the mare and the motherline. We had the older type from the farmers without thoroughbred influence. You know the genetics. It was the cross-breeding of the motherline without foreign blood influence with a thoroughbred that produced the effect, the genetic effect. We don’t have this effect today because the motherlines are already crossed with thoroughbreds so the offspring go in different ways. It is not so easy. We do not have today the potential for the success like we had in '60s and '70s. We have to bring thoroughbreds into our population and we will not find one stallion like Ladykiller because the chance in the breed today is so small for a thoroughbred stallion. Fifty years ago the breeder needed a TB and everyone would use that stallion. It was another situation and another basis.

It is a great mistake if we wish that because today the breeder has to think about the market and the economics of the breed. And therefore it is necessary that they use stallions like Cassini, Caretino and Contender, or their sons, because the sport people, the riders, know these genetics and they like to bring these horses to sport and not thoroughbred offspring.

So I think it is necessary that the breeder use thoroughbreds but use them with very good thinking about which mare is right for the thoroughbred. You need for a thoroughbred stallion your best motherline, with a good background, a good stamm behind it, and good jumping ability. This is necessary. Because in other ways the risk is too big that the result goes this way and that way. The breeder should use a thoroughbred stallion on a mare with a good motherline and hope that they get a filly and then bring that filly to their breeding stock. That is the way. And if they have a half-bred mare they could use a stallion like Contender or a son and then we have the influence of the thoroughbred from the mother and from the father we have the top genetics of a sport horse. I think that is our way forward.

The Second Reserve Champion, the Carlos son out of a Salient xx mother: that was a way for us to get the thoroughbred into our population.

TR: Let's talk about the auction. What I found very disturbing was that if your father wasn't Contender, Cassini or Caretino nobody really wanted to know you. Some very good and promising stallions were sold for little money. And I see a danger that this is going to encourage the breeders even more to use Cassini, Caretino and Contender.

TN: Yes, that is our problem. The market and the sport riders and competition riders are attracted to these pedigrees. Like all people that want to buy a jumping horse from Holstein, they want to go back to their home and say, "I have a Cassini" or "I have a Contender". If they come back with an Esteban everybody will say "An Esteban son? Is he a Holsteiner? I never heard of this before. What is his pedigree?" For some buyers the image is a main point.

A horse from a younger stallion or a thoroughbred stallion could have better qualities but the buyer wants horses with the pedigree of Cassini, Contender, and Caretino. Therefore it is necessary for us to promote the younger stallions. But I think we are on the right track with stallions like Canto – he makes a very good jumper. He had three sons approved including the champion. Canto himself is a very nice horse and is good in sport. We also had here the young stallion Coco Jambo by Contendro I that sold for €195,000. And the Carlos son, Carlo: OK, I think stallions for €60,000, €70,000, €80,000 is also an amazing price. Not every one can sell for €100,000, €150,000 or €200,000!

So we try to find a way with our breeders and they know this. They say we need the young stallions and we have to use them. We will do it. And we also want to use with one or two mares Cassini or Contender. And if they have 5 mares they send one to this stallion, one to a thoroughbred, three to younger stallions. They say if I have one Cassini that is good for the market if I want to sell it. Then later they come and say, "Look, the Cassini is not the best! The best is from this younger stallion." And the buyer says, "OK, I will buy that one." So that is a tactic we use.

TR: What was the approval commission's thinking on the two For Pleasure sons? I liked both. The one that was selected, For Ever Jump, I liked the best.

TN: Yes, he was the better type, a good topline, nice head. The grey one was a little bit stiff and not as correct. But he also had a lot of scope.

TR: I wonder why the commission did not take the second For Pleasure instead of taking another Cassini. Take the second For Pleasure despite his difficulties – and every horse has difficulties – because we could get 50% different genes. But the commission didn't feel this way.

TN: OK, but we know the market here in Holstein. The buyers don't want to buy a For Pleasure son in Holstein. They go to another area for that – Oldenburg, but not Holstein. This influence should be only a little bit. We try such a stallion to develop a new line and not for the market: only to develop a new stallion line. It is very difficult. We try it with French stallions for years and years. You can see the Quidam de Revel line has become important. But it was with a lot of problems to integrate these stallions. It was not so easy. But I think we are on a good path with Quidam de Revel. We have a lot of his sons and grandsons. We have to find now the right stallion for our population.

TR: The other French stallions in the breeding experiment…

TN: Yes last year we had a fantastic champion, the Diamant de Semilly son Diarado.

TR: But Diamant himself as a producer?

TN: Yes, OK, OK. But you never know until you try it on the Holsteiner motherline. It could be a good combination. If we get that stallion and he brings us good offspring that is enough because we don’t want too much influence from foreign blood. The market is for Holsteiner pedigrees without too much mixture of all the others. For that they can go to Oldenburg where they do that, where they have everything. The people come here because they want the special Holstein genetics.

TR: A little bit of spice once in a while!

TN: Yes, yes.

TR: What is your view of the relationship between the Verband and breeders outside of Holstein? One perspective might say that the Verband really wants people to come and buy stallions, buy mares, and buy foals but is really not very interested in selling semen outside of Holstein. Essentially – and please don’t take this negatively – but speaking as an economist you want to create a monopoly, to maintain a monopoly. And that is a very different strategy compared to all the other German breeding associations. I wonder whether my characterization is correct and if that strategy is sustainable in the future?

TN: To understand the situation in Holstein one must know that we are a small breeding region and we developed a very special breeding program in Holstein to produce jumping horses, to look for our type of horse, to look for our special genetics. We think our main point is to do a good job for our breeders in Holstein. Because if we go outside all over the world we will lose the line, we'll lose the foundation, in Holstein for our breeders. That could be the greatest mistake we ever make because you need the good foundation in Holstein. You cannot produce the best Holsteiners in America: they must be produced here. Therefore we need all our attention focused to make good horses here in Holstein.

Now in the last two or three years we know that there are breeders outside of Holstein who are very interested in making good jumpers and to get the good genetics and the semen. We started this year to open it and we have a new worker in our association, Dr. Stephanie Walker, who is for the breeders outside of Holstein. This summer I went with her all over Germany and we judged foals and took mares into the studbook. That was an enormous step for us because my office in Kiel is not big: we were created for the breeders here in Holstein. But now we start to go outside of Germany this year to two or three places such as Belgium and Denmark. Next year we will go again. Our breeders know that it is necessary that we concentrate our attention on Holstein, not outside, because if we do that we will lose the foundation. If you become bigger and bigger and bigger you lose. We said the main point is for us to do a good job here in Holstein. The other is to go outside now step by step in Germany and to integrate the other German Holstein breeders. And we have begun to also integrate people from Denmark and Belgium and Switzerland; they are also in our delegate system. Two weeks ago I was in America for ten days where there is the American Holsteiner Horse Association and we conducted stallion approvals and marebook selections. So we have contacts. But we are not able to bring all things from Holstein to the outside world. People have to accept this. If people cannot accept this then we say you have to go another way and not with us. We have good unity in our association. If there are members who are not willing to do this with us then we say you have to go another way.

TR: Are there ways for breeders in other countries that have Holsteiner studbook mares and are using Holsteiner approved stallions to get their foals registered by the Verband and to become more involved in the association?

TN: If you want to breed original Holsteiners that get our papers and our brand it is necessary that the father is an approved stallion in our association, in our stallion book, and the mare must also be in our mare book. If you have such a mare and a stallion and you make a combination you can do it in Ireland, you can do it in Switzerland or Denmark, etc. Today we have no plan to go to Ireland but next year or in two or three years we could go there and register horses in our book that will get the Holsteiner brand and Holsteiner papers. But the stallion and the mare always must be a part of our book. That is necessary because if we start to integrate stallions that are not approved with Holstein then we will create problems. That will not happen. We have to help the breeder control a high level of quality. If they don't have it there will be no market for that horse.