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May 8, 2012

How To Choose From The Breeder's Bridge Semi-Finalists?

The miniature horse at November Hill Farm wasn't one of the semi-finalists for the contest, but Callie Schott wanted to take him home anyway.

In the beginning of May, I headed out to try three of our semi-finalists for the John Madden Sales Breeder’s Bridge to Performance contest. I was on my own trying these three, as John Madden was tied up in Fédération Equestre Internationale meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Beezie Madden had to hold down the fort at home in Cazenovia, N.Y., riding all the horses.

I was excited to try these first three. It is so hard to judge a horse just on photos and video. I was hoping they lived up to our expectations.

My first stop was in Virginia at November Hill Farm outside of Charlottesville. It was a gorgeous day, and owner Rebecca Galbraith was very welcoming. I was able to ride Coral Key, the 5-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Coconut Grove—Kannieke). Coral Key was started in the summer of 2011 and spent three months in Florida over the winter, where in January she got her first show experience in the .85-meter jumpers.

When trying a horse, I try to keep in mind what I’ve seen John and Beezie do so many times in trial rides. They get a good feel for the horse on the ground and in the saddle, keeping a careful eye on temperament and aptitude. John always says, besides a lame horse, the second most disappointing type of horse is one that doesn’t have the aptitude to learn. With this type, you spend too much time retraining again and again because they just aren’t sharp enough to retain the lessons and move forward on their own.

Quite Impressive

I was very pleased with what I saw of Coral Key. She was a very sweet mare and clearly had a fabulous temperament. Her turnout was top notch, and I thought she had a very good mouth.

I started off with a variety of flat work, getting a good feel for her, while paying attention for any inconsistencies in her gaits. She was very willing under saddle and consistent. I moved on to jumping and found her jump to be good, and it seemed as though she were game for anything. There was no hesitation to the fences, and while I didn’t feel the need to push the fence heights, I have no doubt height will not be a concern for Coral Key.

Watch Callie jump Coral Key...

John always stresses that when trying a horse it is important to set them up for success. You want to see a horse at its best, not overface them. Mildly challenging a horse’s scope, carefulness, character, soundness and rideability is important, but it should be done in a limited enough way that it is realistic for the horse. With Coral Key, it was clear to me that she was fairly solid in all aspects, even with very limited testing.

After riding Coral Key, Rebecca gave me a tour of her fantastic farm. The facility was immaculate, and the farm was very peaceful. Rebecca took the time to show me some of their young stock, including three 2-year-olds they bred that are hopefully future jumper prospects. She also had one 2-week-old foal, a miniature horse and some retired horses living out their years at her farm. I was ready to take the mini horse home, but I think Rebecca wanted to keep that one!

After finishing with Coral Key, I headed next to Maryland to spend the night and be ready to try Constant Star the next morning.

She Got Better And Better

Constant Star was at Cornerstone Farm in Harwood, Md., under the management of trainer David Loman. Her owner, Kimberly Clark of Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Inc., was also there, as well as the rest of their team, Susanna Baskin and Erin Root.

Constant Star is a 5-year-old Thoroughbred (Fantasticat—RisenToTheStars) who had a brief career as a race horse but was retired from the track after four races when she showed no talent there.

Everyone at Cornerstone Farm was very enthusiastic and welcoming, and the facility had a great variety of Thoroughbreds. It was very encouraging to see a barn full of happy and healthy Thoroughbreds. As a Kentucky native, I have a real fondness for the Thoroughbreds.

I watched Constant Star be ridden lightly on the flat by Susanna Baskin first and then hopped on. She went in a little rubber snaffle, and although she was more used to going with a very light feel, she had a good attitude about accepting the level of contact I wanted. Over the course of our flatwork she was really accepting of a little more consistent feel.

Constant Star felt very athletic through the flatwork and that feeling continued as we started jumping. Kim and David told me she had just started jumping in November, which gave me a little further appreciation for her talent and the quality of the training she is receiving.

Jumping Constant Star gave me a little feeling like riding Beezie’s Pan American team gold medal ride, Coral Reef Via Volo. Both are small mares, but they are aggressive to the jumps, in a good way. Constant Star was rideable, but you could feel her want to get to the fences.

Watch Callie jump Constant Star...

The more we jumped, the better she got. John and Beezie often say it’s important to pay attention to how a horse leaves the ground; it should be like an explosion. In the air, they want the withers to come up and have a good round trajectory over the fence, not get stiff or flat in the air. They also want to see one that lands forward and light. One that lands too heavy can be difficult to ride in technical courses in the future.

John and Beezie don’t stress worrying about what a horse does with its legs in the air, especially a young one just learning. Horses can learn to put their legs in the right place.

This was the feeling I got jumping Constant Star—good off the ground, round in the air and light on the landing. Her legs weren’t always perfect in the air, but that can be learned. The more we jumped, the better she got. She had a cat-like feel and a very good hind end.

Her team made the comparison between her and Touch of Class, and we can only hope they are right.

Quite An Audience

Next up, I headed to Chambersburg, Pa., to Wilson College to try Golden Altar that afternoon. Golden Altar, or “Zeus,” is owned by Gina Woods, an alumnus of Wilson College. We were lucky to get to use their facility for the trial ride.

The indoor was huge, and although Zeus had just shipped over that afternoon for the ride, he settled into the new atmosphere easily and seemed very comfortable.

I wasn’t expecting a huge audience, but the story of Zeus making the semi-finalist list had spread over campus, and I ended up with a really great group of students showing up to observe.

Zeus was well turned out, and I think he was probably the fittest of the three that I tried this weekend. Gina bought him in 2009 after he won his last race. He is a 9-year-old Thoroughbred (Commendable—Rose Dawn).

Zeus has good conformation and was a nice mover. Flatting him gave me a good idea of his athletic ability. His personality seemed as his owner described him—unflappable with a workmanlike attitude.

When looking for a prospect, it’s clearly important to not only find one with the talent, but also the mental desire. The L.A. Times just published an article about Authentic that discussed his desire to be in the ring, how he’d sometimes try to go back to the competition arena, even after a class was over. He loved to come out and work. That’s an attitude you try to find.

I did a bit more height in my jump work with Zeus than I had with Constant Star and Coral Key. Since he is the oldest and furthest along in his training, his comfort level was a bit higher than the two 5-year-olds.

Watch Callie jump Zeus...

Zeus’ jump felt powerful, and again, height was not going to be an issue for him. Over the duration of riding him, I worked a little on his adjustability upon landing and could tell he was one who had the aptitude to learn. I could feel him improving over the course of the ride.

Looking Forward To The Next Two

Overall, I was very happy with the trip to see the first three semi-finalists. I felt that all three of our prospects lived up to our expectations, if not exceeded them.

It was a great experience to travel to three different facilities that could not have been more different; a private breeding farm, a training facility focused on Thoroughbreds and a college facility. All three were incredible, and it was great to meet so many people who were passionate about the horse and our sport. Everyone I met was enthusiastic about breeding and training American-bred horses. This, coupled with the positive feedback about the contest, was very encouraging. 

Check back next week for an account of my trials on the next two semi-finalists. I flew to California to Branscomb Farm to try Welcome BF and then headed to Long Island, N.Y., to try Charmed. I can already tell this is going to be difficult final decision!

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