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My First Horse – Robyn Louw

My first contribution to Equilife was going to be super sassy, staggeringly well-researched, fantastically funny and just a little quirky. And then, as the Facebook meme goes, “THIS happened….”.

Charlotte, Anky, Carl – if you guys are reading this – exhale. Not because of the horse (obviously), but because of the rider, who is still trying to get to grips with the fabulousness that it is my privilege to partner.

 

If you were ever lucky enough to be of the generations that had mercury in your thermometers, you will know the predatory fascination of holding quicksilver in your hands. It is there, it isn’t, it’s fascination, it is out of your frame of reference, it’s desirable, it’s wholly uncontrollable, and wholly out of your reach. I think this is what having children must feel like (if not, I apologise – it has not been my privilege).

The closest I’ve got – for a variety of reasons – is breeding my own horses. With 6 foals to my credit, I now consider myself something of a veteran. But, as with so many things in life, there’s nothing quite like your first.

I suspect if one knew the inherent dangers – physical and emotional – of most things in life, it’s likely that we’d give them, a stealthy wide berth, instead of running headlong at them, laughing in the face of danger. I have found one’s early to mid 30’s about the best period for this – when you have too much in the way of means and too little in the way of common sense to help you know better.

This may not be everyone’s journey, but so it was for me with breeding my first horse. My first horse. The words still send little theatrical chills down my spine. I’d had horses before of course, but I wanted more than just buying one off an advertisement or inheriting a track hand-me-down with a free bucket of issues to sort out. I wanted to make it myself (and yes, I realise what a total twit I sound) and as a vague afterthought I made going to our first show together my ultimate goal.

I started out with a picture in my head of the final product and worked my way back from there. As it turns out, this is a pretty useful strategy for many things. Unfortunately it can rarely be applied to genetics. At least, not the first time round! So, the picture in my head was of a bright bay colt with black points and a star. That was my order to the universe. My heart horse, perfect in every way, if you please. I helped myself a little by starting with a bay mare. And then I read and researched and gathered as much information as I could on bloodlines and temperaments and conformation. I rang people up and asked for advice, I looked up previous generations and inspected existing progeny. Finally, after hours of agonizing, my prized (chestnut – cue alarm bells) selection was made, allowing for more hours of day dreaming of how all his best characteristics would transfer into my colt.

Send mare to stallion, mare conceives, bake at body temperature for 11 months and voila, right? Not quite, but we did finally get my mare successfully in foal. Then, almost as an afterthought, I was recommended Phyllis Lose’s Blessed Are The Broodmares. If you are considering breeding your mare, may I advise against reading it. It WILL give you sleepless nights about losing your mare, losing your foal and quite possibly losing your mind. If you have bred your mare, may I still advise against it as it will make you realise just how close you are sailing to the wind.

When the time came, being a responsible owner (and having had the bejeezus frightened out of me by Phyllis), I chose to send my mare to a maternity farm to receive expert care. We saw her just a few hours before the birth, and chatted to the farm manager about the mare, the pregnancy and what I was hoping for. “Bay colt”, I reiterated firmly. As is their habit, my mare waited for us to be safely an hour away having dinner before producing her prize. By the time we made it back, in the drizzle of a September KZN Midlands night, there was a little wet bundle on the ground. The universe had got my order muddled and delivered a chestnut. Filly. And about as rough and angular and far removed from my heart horse as it was possible to get. But as they say, you may not get the horse you want, but you do get the horse you need. And as she stood up and wobbled around in the drizzle, that funny little long-eared red bundle slipped right into a hole in my heart I didn’t even know I had.

People talk about bonding with their horse. It wasn’t something I thought about when I set out to do this. I just wanted a horse that was mine. A totally new, untouched little being that I could well, be with from the start. I wanted all of it. Every high, low, snot nose, awkward phase, growth spurt, winter coat, you name it. What I didn’t realise is that when you choose to link your life so closely to a horse, you also become theirs. In a way that I couldn’t even begin to process at the time, in that moment we made a connection. That funny, long-eared, chestnut filly (of all things), was *my* horse. And I was hers.

And so started our adventures. From the ground, to the saddle and beyond. We have moved homes and yards, we have lost friends and family and gained new ones along the way. It hasn’t all been a bed of roses. In fact, as one might expect with a large, wilful chestnut mare, and a small, equally wilful and not altogether fully prepared owner, probably very little of it has. We haven’t always liked each other. She’s put me in hospital and frightened the living daylights out of me and made me scream and cry and swear a lot more than I’d like to admit. But all along, no matter how revolting things got, we were still connected.

We did go to that first show together. She was revolting and tried to buck me off and flatten a judge. C’est la vie. She still has long ears and rough angles and thoroughly inelegant everything, but in that weird breakable / unbreakable way that quicksilver has, although we splinter apart from time to time, we are inexorably pulled back together again. We are always there for each other.

While there are still days that she makes me want to tear my hair out – and I have no doubt she feels the same – Oh my, on the days that she doesn’t….

We recently had one (hence this column – ta-daaa). Having moved on from my naïve, energetic 30’s, I’m now, well, a little more blessed in the numerical department and from that lofty height, being flung off a 16hh wall of chestnut gets less appealing the further one climbs the ladder.

Time in the saddle is supposed to be sacred, a meditation between you and your horse, free from all the detritus of mundane, a to b, one foot in front of the other of life. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and life frequently follows you into the tack room, onto the mounting block and right into the saddle, getting between you and your partner. Somehow all the things that you used to arrange neatly around your riding time, won’t fit so neatly in their allocated spaces anymore. They threaten to reach up and choke you if you don’t keep feeding them and time at the stables is reduced to ‘once this is finished’, ‘just another half an hour,’ ‘oh well, maybe tomorrow.’ If you’re not careful, it’s enough to fling you right off your horse.

So there I was last Saturday. I hadn’t put any work in during the week and knew I didn’t have any right to lower my sorry behind into the saddle and demand a good ride. And yet, when I did, there was my friend. Waiting patiently to see what we were going to do today and doing her best to make her huge chestnut self as small and smooth and soft as she could be. I guess it just hit home that my funny little awkward bundle was all grown up in so many ways and that when it matters most, my horse, *MY* horse, really does carry me.

 

~An accomplished all-round horsewoman, breeder, racehorse owner, & the Sporting Post’s ‘Louw Flyer’, ‘Robyn Louw’ robyn@racingmuseum.co.za

 

Callaho crowd breaks the bank

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Recession… what recession?! The horse industry is alive and kicking in cold Christiana, South Africa, with the Callaho 2016 auction seeing a record-breaking R11 510 000 come under the gavel this weekend. Riding horses averaged R261 829 a head over the 41 lots, with a low price of R80 000 and high of R730 000, and R70 456 over the 11 broodmares (with three lots being withdrawn).

Lissabon continues in his sixth breeding season here to reproduce his trademark flashy looks, with many of his progeny shopwing versatility over all disciplines. This is no surprise, as he finished his breeding career in Germany in the top 1% of all jumper sires and top 10% of dressage stallions, making him on of the best dual-purpose sires of warmblood stallions across all studbooks. The Lourdanos son retired last year from his show jumping career, and will be debuting in the show arena with legend Clare Marcus’s daughter Alexandra next month. The highest price of the auction, R730 000,  went to his son, Callaho Lucetto, out of a Cassini I / Caletto II line.

 

But the second highest price , R600 000, went to the leggy Lot 23 Callaho Coneisha, a Con Coriano / Granulit / Esplendor xx daughter. Con Coriano continues to breed excellent bold jumpers, earning his keep after having been retired from competition under Callaho rider, open show jumper Rainer Korber. International dressage sensation Benicio sees his limited-edition children going for good money, not only because of their paces and sensitivity, but because as all good athletes they continue to show ability over fences as well as on the flat.

Other stallions used in this vintage include Namibian sire Consuelo, Lord Z, and the now deceased crowd-favourite For Joy, all extensively proven stallions both in their own right and in breeding.

Callaho continues to improve their breeding pool by passing on broodmares in foal to their exceptional stallions; indeed this is the only way to get your hands on any possible Callaho stallions, as they do not sell semen direct to breeders, and geld all colts before sale. They do this to consistently upgrade their own dam lines, which saw international damsires in Weltmeyer, Zeus, and Escudo I, to name but a few within the immediate pedigrees. As any good breeder knows this is utterly essential, with geneticists estimating more than half of a foal’s quality being influenced by the dam as opposed to the sire.
A few older horses were also available, perhaps being left to mature or establish schooling before sale, as well as a couple of lots who were sold “voetstoets” with disclosed veterinary issues (such as a broken molar), under Callaho’s generous offer of only paying once they are vetted 100% sound again.
Many horses went to previous, obviously-happy Callaho buyers, and several top-money youngsters were bought as junior prospects.

Highlights of the event include the free-jumping on the Friday evening, as well as the stallion parade on the Saturday prior to auction, a prime opportunity to see stud stallions Casparon, Larison, Corinth and Sampras in action under their competition riders, as we have yet to see their progeny on auction (and are waiting in anticipation!).

  • Callaho Larison (Larimar x Ma Cherie I x Calido I)

 

There was a lovely tribute to their aging Calando mare, G-Cerise, who produced six wonderful progeny for this auction alone, obviously through their embryo transfer programme run by De Bruyn Equine Reproduction Specialists. In her honour, Highveld Horse Care reproduced a grey fluffy “Harriet” The Horse, who was auctioned off to help contribute towards their hospital facilities currently under construction.

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Harriet the Horse going on Auction

 

 

The evening culminated in the traditional braai, booze, and boasting in the indoor, as everyone congratulated or commiserated together on yet another incredible weekend in Christiana, a credit to the Callender-Easby’s and the fantastic hand-picked team who show what happens when knowledge and quality meet one another in ambitious development – top production of horses for amateurs and professionals alike.

THINGS TO CONSIDER AT AUCTION –

  • Find out what ‘extra’ costs you are in for. Most auctions you need to factor in VAT at 14%, as well as administration fees which can push the price up by as much as 20% on top of the gavel price.
  • Although horses have been ‘vetted’, this does not guarantee the cleanness of vet check. Try get hold of the full report and x-rays ahead of time for your own veterinarian to check out.
  • Understand what level the horses are being sold under – many auctions sell horses in various states of schooling, from just-backed to competition-ready. Consider that you may need to hire a professional to produce the horse further for you once it is home when you are considering what to spend.
  • As such, take the time to try the horses on the specific ‘try-out’ days. It is not enough to ask someone else what the ride is like; just like your best friend wouldn’t want to marry your husband, you may not like the horse once you sit on it!
  • Try not be subjected to fashions: overseas black horses can go for up to 15% more than chestnut horses, based on looks alone! New sires, taller horses, and pretty horses all tend to fall into this category, so you might get more value for money with the more-talented but less-handsome horses.
  • Have a budget and stick to it… have a strict wife sit on your buyer’s card if need be. Yes – this really happened!
  • Try not to drink too much at auction – this sounds obvious, but there are a few impulse purchases every year that are only remembered the next morning at breakfast!
  • Remember how much time is normally taken with private sales. People usually try, vet, and bargain extensively before committing to a horse, so beware of ‘auction fever’ and the misleading idea that “oh, it’s just another ten grand” when you are already way over budget. It is well documented over ALL types of auction where suddenly buyers are pitted against one another, and no horse should be considered a regret.

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