The approval of Ulbe 506 and Yme 507 is a distinctive milestone for the breeders of Friesian horses in Denmark. Is it a coincidence that Danish breeding proves to be so successful? Or do the breeders have an explanation for their success?
The approval of Ulbe 506 (Tsjalle 454) and Yme 507 (Anders 451) in Exloo last September met with huge Danish enthusiasm. A milestone for the breeding of Friesian horses in Denmark. ‘I think the number of very active Danish breeders stops at about fifteen, but they are very much dedicated to breeding and they all mutually stimulate each other. We feel the support of a well-organised association and all pull together to keep improving the Friesian horse’, says Hessel Jan Oosterhof, who bred Yme 507.
It’s now 27 years ago that Oosterhof emigrated from Friesland to the north of Denmark. Together with his wife and son he built a farm that now houses 1300 dairy cows. It’s obvious that he knew the Friesian breed and always considered them to be beautiful horses but Hessel Jan admits that he had ‘absolutely no knowledge about breeding Friesians, I only knew they were very beautiful.’ He purchased some Friesians but with hindsight realises: ‘They were not good enough to make it work.’ So he said to his wife: ‘We need to spend more money on buying good-quality mares.’ A good horse eats and costs just as much as one that’s not so good’, Hessel Jan reasoned. ‘I’m opting for quality, I want to breed first-class horses.’
And so Odilia fan ‘e Suurdreed Model Preferent made her way to Denmark, a Wierd 409 daughter out of Regiena fan Marksate Star (Oltman 317). Via daughter Hadewich Hyllested-Østergaard (Bente 412) Odilia is the granddam of Yme 507. ‘No matter what stallion you use on her, she invariably produces a good foal’, Hessel Jan says about Odilia’s qualities. ‘Enthusiasm for inspections is great, it’s greatly encouraged and we have plenty of people who are keen to help.’
Even top-class riders
It’s the same with the sport, Hessel Jan Oosterhof found out. ‘There are so many people who would like to ride Friesians. Especially now that Friesians frequently achieve good results at dressage competitions. Even top-class riders are keen to ride Friesians and that in turn is a boost for breeding.’ Therefore the sport is a significant selection criterion for Hessel Jan when choosing a stallion. Every year in March a large stallion show takes place in Denmark where Dutch stallions also put in an appearance, he points out. ‘Then about 400 to 500 people can be counted around the ring.’
Their own breeding lines
When asked to explain the success of the Danish Friesian horses, Heidi Jørgensen proves to have her own view on the matter. ‘We do it differently, follow our own breeding lines.’ Heidi and her husband Jørgen own 23 Friesian horses, eight of them broodmares, and have developed a successful breeding stud called Ellemose. Think of Tarok Ellemose, who now goes by the name of Ulbe 506. ‘We saw his sire Anders 451 in piaffe and passage in the long lines and were instantly convinced by his fantastic movement. We thought he was the perfect match for one of our mares, Ulbe 506’s dam.’
This couple purchased their first Friesian horse in 1996. ‘That was a third-premium mare, but we wanted a Star mare, a first-premium Star mare’, Heidi says. ‘Because we had been told that you need first-premium Star mares to breed good horses.’ After a few years of experience they found out that predicates are not indicative of a mare’s capacity to breed well. ‘You can just as easily breed a good Friesian from a second-premium mare, for which Ulbe 506 is proof. His dam is a second-premium Star Preferent mare.’ Heidi points out.
That’s why they have developed a closer interest for the use of good bloodlines which led them to stallions like Ielke 382 and Fabe 348. ‘We have also used stallions like Jasper 366 and Norbert 444 in our breeding but we are looking for something others don’t have. That is the way to breed something more exclusive. Low kinship, long legs and a modern horse, that sums up our breeding goal. We want to breed a sport horse.’ For dressage, and they’re convinced that makes them good show driving horses too. ‘We were pretty surprised at first that Ulbe 506 did so well in his show driving test but then again, it does make sense. When a horse moves so easily with his forelegs, that works well for dressage and show driving alike.’
Another successful breeding couple are Helle and Flemming Fynbo. ‘A couple of years ago we took the decision to reduce the number of horses’, is Flemming’s answer to the question what makes Danish breeding so successful. ‘We had around twenty horses, now only five broodmares. We have selected on quality.’ Fynbo has observed that more colleagues have made the same strategic choice over the past ten years. ‘Before, every Friesian mare was used for breeding but these days only the very best are used.’ So Helle and Flemming’s yard now houses three Crown mares, a preliminary Crown mare and a Star mare. ‘Every year we have a champion at the inspection’, Flemming tells us. ‘That’s where the pleasure in breeding starts. Being successful makes it easier to keep striving for improvement.’
In the selection of their mares Helle and Flemming particularly focus on the dam lines. ‘They are actually more important than the stallions because they have already undergone a rigorous selection process.’ They’re looking for a dam line with a strong reputation in breeding, valuing performances in the sport just as much as predicates. ‘We want to breed sport horses. It certainly helps when dams, granddams and 3rd dams have all performed well in the sport.’
For Flemming predicates are important in the selection process. ‘A first premium means a horse meets the requirements. Scores for walk and trot are less important to us but the score for type counts strongly because it means the horse has that typical Friesian appearance.’
In the course of twenty years of breeding Friesians, Flemming and Helle have developed a more modern horse. ‘Horses with longer legs, more suited to the sport and with more elegance. Height of withers has gone up from 1.60 to 1.68m. I reckon that’s about the maximum height. To be able to do well in dressage such tall horses need to produce a lot of energy particularly from the hindquarters.’