A TROUPE of 39 devout breeders and producers accompanied Teagasc equine specialists Wendy Conlon and Seán Keane for the latest Teagasc equine overseas educational tour, timed to coincide with the finals of the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses in Lanaken, Belgium.

After the championships, the group commenced three further days of farm visits in The Netherlands with eight farms, almost 650km travelled, innumerable horses seen, stories shared, questions asked and answered, and plenty of humour.

Animal Embryo Centre Maria Hoop with Ton and Twan Vullers was the first stop. Insightful explanations of Embryo Tranfer (ET) and ICSI where the merits and downsides of both were shared followed by a display of mares and foals from simply world class damlines.

At Keystud (SR prefix), Erik and Marie José Sleutels showed off their foals and shared personal insights into the challenges of breeding commercially. The compromises and opportunities when utilising advanced repro technologies and their effects on the market, not all positive, were discussed. A reduction in average sales returns is being experienced in general within the foal market there.

A both entertaining and educational audience with charismatic Leon Thijssen (father of Sanne, Mans and Mel) concluded Monday. The phenomenal Con Quidam RB, bucking and galloping in the paddock, greeted on arrival. The relevance of rideability and attitude, high quality all round horsemanship with oversight and responsibility of riders for all aspects of horse care, and time to develop individual pathways for horses (not pushing too hard too soon) and much more were discussed.

Made with the ‘heart’

Tuesday began with father and daughter, Joop and Yvonne Breukink (JB prefix). Awarded KWPN breeder of the year 2019, Joop has almost 50 years of breeding experience. Yvonne rides and produces any youngstock retained. Breeding decisions are made with ‘heart’ and aspirations for the sport first and foremost, sometimes taking less popular and less commercial decisions.

A selection of foals, mares and two-year-olds were proudly presented out of dams including Just Me JB; Challenge JB; Expression JB, Impression JB and more. The hospitality was homely, generous, and the chat was peppered with humour and candour in equal measures.

Next, at Hengstenstation de Radstake with Henriette and Johan Venderbosch, Tangelo v/d Zuuthoeve, his son El Salvador and other stablemates were presented, followed by a selection of the stud’s approximately 20 mares and foals. Johan stressed the importance of only breeding from sound mares, then assessing requirement for scope or a sharper stallion as appropriate.

Olympic audience

An audience with Olympian Willem Greve at his charming yet functional stable yard wrapped up with Willem sharing his views on the sport, producing young horses, and emphasised the importance of time and patience to develop and progress. Also discussed was the importance of horsemanship and understanding the horse’s character to mention just some of the topics touched on.

Stal Brinkman was first to greet on Wednesday with Marco and Koen Brinkman. Eternal Sunshine (Emerald x Kashmir van Schuttershof) was put through his paces, popping a few small fences in a very easy manner. Mr Cornet de Regor (Cornet Obolenksy x Kannan) and O’Blue (Chacco Blue x Chin Chin) were among other young stallions viewed. The selection process for colts, challenges for stallion owners presented by ET/ ICSI, and the juxtaposition of using the young stallion for accelerated genetic improvement versus the proven sire for commercial return were discussed.

With fewer breeders using the younger ones and certain genes predominating, this presents great challenges not only for stallion masters, but also longer term for genetic progression.

Concluding the trip was Dressuurstal Van Baalen and Van Baalen Farms. The facilities for rearing youngstock are modern, functional, and horse friendly. Labour saving equipment, high priority of light, ventilation, solar panels on shed roofs were viewed, with freedom of movement and welfare of the youngsters being the main focus.

Across the road at Dressuurstal Van Baalen extra-large stables and wide welcoming aisles presented a calm and restful environment for horses and humans. Marlies Van Baalen and Jos Hogendoorn explained their system, again emphasising progressive production, albeit for dressage sport, with high importance placed on knowing the individuals from foals upwards, as well as readiness to press pause to ascertain ‘why’ if a horse is not progressing as expected.

Airport bound with much to ponder and considerable chatter, volume tour 2023 was over. Wendy Conlon thanked all who contributed from the farms, the group and most especially to colleague, horse enthusiast extraordinaire Jacques Verkerk (The Netherlands) who helped compile the itinerary, and whose accompaniment added significantly to the knowledge exchange throughout.