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What happens to all those fabulous young horses we see sold at auction?
It bothers Ulf that so many exceptional horses never really go on and make their mark, and is so often the case with Dr Möller, he has thought deeply about the question.
"I think there are two things that happen. One thing is the stallions go to the Bundeschampionate for public relations and if they place in the top three, then it is really good PR, and maybe to go to another competition will bring them down - they might not be so good as five or six year olds - so they never compete again. That is the case with the stallions from the State Stud in Celle, they appear in the three and four year old class at the championships and are never seen again. That is one factor."
"Another is that after the championships, a lot of horses are sold, and you have no way of influencing who gets these horses - if they go to the States or to England, then normally you don’t see them again because those countries don’t have a system to build the young horses up."
"The third factor is that especially the expensive horses go to a training establishment where the owners don’t give the time for the horse to develop, to get over the stress of the auction. They often want to see the horse looking exactly as it did at the auction. Often they buy the video from the sale, and Sunday morning before they go to visit the horse, they look at the video at home over breakfast, and they have that image in their mind when they come to the trainers."
"When they arrive the horse looks good, the horse looks relaxed, the horse moves super, the horse is learning shoulder in, half pass, whatever - but the gaits are not like the video! That’s what happens. If you start with shoulder in or half pass, or a little bit of collection, then the big movement is gone. It will come back when the muscles are there, but for the moment it has gone. If the horse is moving really big, it is very difficult to do a half pass, so you slow them down to start with the half pass. Then the owners are saying ‘What is wrong? The horse is not moving like I remember’ - so they take the horse away from the rider, or the rider starts to pressure the horse."
"A top horse is like a sensitive person, top horses are sensitive and cannot cope with pressure all the time, you must give them time. You must know that for a four, or five, or six year old horse, the aim is the championships, the Bundeschampionate - so if you qualify a horse for the championships in May, you can give them all that time to be at their top in September. I see a lot of horses in the qualifiers, and I think, that is much better than my horse - but they don’t go well at the Championships because they are too over-trained and they have problems there."
You were saying that sometimes the less expensive horses have a better chance?
"For example, Rudolf Zeilinger’s first horse, he bought absolutely cheaply, trained him, and started winning Grand Prix then sold the horse for a lot of money to Sven Rothenberger. That horse was never under pressure. You can afford to play with a horse like that, he is not expensive, if he doesn’t learn something, then you have only lost say DM20,0000, not DM200,000. Look at Gracioso for example, he is not such a big mover but he has power in piaffe and passage. Rusty has a big medium trot, although the rest of his gaits are not what you dream about, but he does everything. As a three or four year old, Rusty cannot be expensive. You can find it very often. One year, no-one wants the horse - and twelve months later, you cannot afford to buy him. There are riders like Holga Finken, who can make a young horse look absolutely perfect - then there are riders who go Grand Prix, and they don’t know how to make an English trot - rising - they can only sit. They can ride a flying change, but they cannot ride a corner with a young horse!"
You were saying that if you wanted to look at the young horse classes with an eye to a future top competition horse, then the bend in the hock is critical?
"Next to the type, next to the gaits, if you have two top horses, in the end it is the one that is using its hocks that is the easier horse to work with. Look at the pirouette, look at what they have to do for piaffe… for collection after the medium trot, when they come back they have to bend the hock. In an extended canter they have to canter with the hock right under them. Every horse can do it, but the horse who really flexes in the hock and who puts the hock under its body - then it is a lot easier."
How soon can you see that hock action - can you see it at five days old?
"Normally with a foal you try to look at it at three weeks, then I think you can see it. We look at 60,000 foals to choose thirty. The problem is that the top foals everyone can see and they are expensive. In the end if you pay DM20,000 for a top foal and it becomes a star, then it is cheap. You would not be able to buy it as a three year old because then it is too expensive. The important things are the hock and the back, they work together. If the hock naturally flexes, then the horse can use the leg more, and this is vitally important for a top dressage horse."
"The horse’s neck must be light, after the ears. The head you can forget; what is in the head, that is important. The neck must not be too deep from the front legs, it must come up high enough - then you can build on it. The shoulder is important, then the back is in my opinion, the most important thing because it is the bridge from the front legs to the hind legs. Then look how the horse is using the hind legs, that the flexion of the hock is under the horse not out behind the horse. The horse that can flex the hock, is never wide behind. In the end a horse without that flexion in the leg can still be a super star but the other horse is easier. The same way, a horse with a big heavy neck can still be a superstar, but it is more work. The horse with a bad back, then you really have a problem."
"The next very important thing is the balance of the horse. When you see a horse running free, and it changes direction and it does a flying change, every normal horse can do this - but when you sit on a horse they lose balance. With a horse that is light and balanced, then you never have a problem with the flying change or the half pass. Balance is important, but balance comes from a strong back and from a good hindleg."
If someone goes and buys their nice dressage horse from the Verden or PSI auction and they take it home - you were saying don’t put it out in the paddock?
"For a young horse, the auction is like the Olympic Games. They are trained for six to 12 months for this sale. You cannot have the sale on Sunday, then on Monday, send him to the paddock, that is absolutely wrong. You have to train them down. They are riding horses, they get food every day, you have to ride them - but bring the head a little more down, bring the back up, ride forwards and straight, let them buck if they want… that’s good for a young horse. Putting them straight out in the field is absolutely wrong - that’s when they can injure themselves. Maybe after you have ridden the horse, you can put it out in the paddock, but after, not before riding and not instead of riding."
"Just ride it intelligently and don’t expect too much at first…"
Article courtesy of The Horse Magazine, interview by Chris Hector
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