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14 October 2009
 

FLASH IN THE PAN?

by Tom Reed
Horse International Vol 8 2009

Now that the results are in from the two most widely followed young horse championships – the World Breeding Federation Championships (WBFC) and the Bundeschampionate (BuCha) – it is a good time to step back and gain some perspective on these events. I offer these thoughts as someone who has had horses I own and/or bred compete in these championships a total of four times and been invited to compete a total of five times. Breeders who look to the World Breeding Federation Championships and the Bundeschampionate for insights into what stallions to use in their breeding programs need to ask if they are seeing dazzling stars of the future or flashes in the pan.


WBFC versus BuCha
These two championships require very different types of training and development of young horses. That is why we see lower participation in the WBFC by the best German-bred horses than we would expect given the number of foals born into the German studbooks each year.

The German system for producing young horses resonates well with what is required to excel in the BuCha – this is to be expected, of course! – but it resonates very poorly with what is required to excel in the WBFC. In BuCha showjumping, for example, the horse should be easy to ride, exhibit excellent technique over the fence, provide appropriate scope given the size of the fence, and show a balanced and big canter that can be lengthened and shortened between the fences (as appropriate for the age class). Speed and going against the clock is not an issue: in the 6-year-old Bundeschampionate at Warendorf, for example, horses are not asked to go against the clock until the very last round on the very last day of the show. We usually do not see flapping of arms and reins or hooting and hollering in the horse's ear at the BuCha!

In contrast, a young horse can only do well in showjumping at the WBFC at Lanaken if it is very good against the clock. Jumping technique, rideability, and a good canter are not absolutely required for success in the WBFC or in the competitions used by most studbooks for selecting horses to compete in the WBFC. If the horse can jump clear and fast it will achieve success in the WBFC but that does not necessarily mean it is a good horse. Often horses that do well at the WBFC seem to be those that have been pushed in their development and training.

The Germans use the BuCha as the selection process for the WBFC: in showjumping, for example, the BuCha Finalists are selected for the WBFC. But very few Warendorf finalists are usually seen at Lanaken. Why? The very best young German equine athletes have been trained in a way that is antithetical to the training that is required for success at the WBFC. So the Germans – and their BuCha Finalists – often are not seen at Lanaken in the latter part of September.

A Means to an End or An End in Itself
One of the difficulties with both the WBFC and the BuCha is that success in these young horse championships has become an end in itself to some owners and riders. This is particularly the case when it comes to stallions competing in dressage (and, to a lesser extent, showjumping). Stallion owners know that a victory in dressage at Verden (or in showjumping at Lanaken) can result in potentially hundreds of extra breedings to the stallion over the next few years. So an industry has developed whereby very talented and, in some cases, gifted dressage riders have put aside careers in upper-level sport to produce dressage prodigy for the WBFC and the BuCha.

Sometimes these champion and vice-champion horses are allowed to continue in sport but many times we see these young stallions retired to the breeding shed so as not to tarnish the memory of their achievement or because some of these horses do not possess the complex set of attributes required for success in upper level sport.

What's a Breeder to Do?
My best advice is not to be swept up in the hype that surrounds either the BuCha or the WBFC. Many young horses, and especially stallions, are being produced specifically to excel in these championships. And particularly in the case of the WBFC, the results we see may not be truly indicative of the horse's true potential for sport. My gut instincts tell me that the BuCha has better predictive value than the WBFC.

The top-placed stallions in these championships should be examined by breeders: the spotlight that falls on them can be useful to us if we take the time to critically examine their genetic endowments and critically assess their athletic abilities. But the success of these young stallions in these particular championships should not cloud our vision. We should not be blinded by the light or burned by the flash in the pan.