Jan Vriend: ‘Never giving up our calling card’

Since early this year the Breeding Council has a new chairman: Jan Vriend. The pensioner from North Holland breeds on a small scale: Friesian horses, showdriving horses and chicken. ‘Breeding is in my blood.’

His Friesian mare Voekjen Crown AAA (Teeuwis 389 x Tamme 276) has just given birth to her eleventh foal: Renske fan Meren-State (Wibout 511). ‘The foal came a bit early but everything is fine’, Jan Vriend says with relief. Pairing his 15-year-old fertile mare from pedigree 8 to a low-kinship stallion was a deliberate choice. ‘Having all those foundation sires like Beart 411, Tsjalle 454 and Norbert 444 around I prefer using a few low-kinship stallions, if not I fear we might find ourselves in a blind alley at some point in the future.’
Apart from being a keen breeder, Jan has been Chairman of the Breeding Council since early 2021. ‘In recent years we have achieved a great deal regarding the communication of information about breeding’, he points out. The tests for the hereditary disorders hydrocephaly and dwarfism in 2014 he considers to be an important mile stone. ‘Innate disorders and health problems in Friesian horses are brought to the table at virtually every meeting of the Breeding Council.’ People are concerned about it and therefore it has the Breeding Council’s attention. ‘We all, as soon as possible, want tests for aortic rupture, sweet itch and oesophageal dilation’, he expresses everybody’s wish. ‘Those are however, disorders with a complicated hereditary pattern and these require more scientific research in order to produce reliable veterinary tests. We are taking little steps in the right direction, it’s always on the agenda but it’s a long process.’

In that light, choosing low-kinship stallions is one of the actions that breeders can take themselves in their efforts to breed foals that have the best-possible health, is his argumentation for his own breeding programme. One such example of a useful tool is the total index, which incorporates kinship. ‘That really helps if you wish to maintain a broad spectrum in breeding. With stallions like Omer 493 and Wibout 511 we have low-kinship stallions that also have good results in breeding. Because low-kinship without performance achieves nothing. So if it works out well with a low-kinship stallion that’s an extra bonus.’ By the way, breeding values are a tool, he emphasises. ‘You know your own mare, have a certain intuition about a stallion and know what your priorities are. And of course you check the breeding values, especially for young stallions we still know little about.’ And yes, Vriend too opts for younger stallions. ‘Society as a whole evolves much faster and so does breeding.’ Is there a risk of going too fast? That’s an issue the Breeding Council is going to address this summer. ‘In dressage a horse is considered young when aged eight or nine. We see a 3-year-old as being young.’ The research into the training load of the young stallions, launched last autumn, is going to provide us with some scientific tools. ‘The Presentation Days show us that the stallions are subjected to a considerable training load at a young age, they are barely three years old. After that they have to complete the Central Examination which lasts 70 days. The purpose is to estimate their aptitude, not to produce a complete sport horse. I have a feeling that we could shorten the duration of the CE now that the Presentation Days carry more weight.’