Bert, Jack and Herbert—Part 5: Thoroughbreds Are At The Heart Of Horse Sport

Nov 21, 2010 - 2:51 PM
Lauries Crusador is just one Thoroughbred with a huge influence on modern sport horse breeding. Photo courtesy of

A story of special connection between three of the greatest coaches of all time that can help us all today.

The best rider in the world is nothing without the right horse.

Legendary coach Jimmy Wofford has never been slow to recognize this and explain it in his own inimitable style. A few years ago I produced a celebration of the Irish horse called “Ride On,” to which Jimmy made this contribution: Whatever success I attained during my riding career was due to Irish horses. They have incredible courage, scope, intelligence, a sense of humor, and an endearing capacity to forgive their rider’s mistakes. Lord knows, I tested all of the above qualities and never found them wanting in an Irish horse. The multitude assembled for this celebration will agree that in the unlikely event of my appearance at the Pearly Gates, those gates will be tightly closed to me. Undaunted, I will gather the reins of my best Irish horse, Carawich, break into a gallop and aim him at the top rail of the gates. Whatever the outcome I will be content, for all true horsemen know that to ride an Irish horse is to already be in Heaven.”

The Thoroughbred Horse Connects Them

The ability to consistently find great horses is a gift bestowed upon very few. However, I’m convinced that trainers of the caliber of Bert de Némethy, Jack Le Goff and Herbert Rehbein can make good horses great. I believe they demonstrated this throughout their careers, and I would argue that this is a superior and more productive gift than finding great horses.

As one examines and compares their horses, it isn’t surprising to find that in each case their horses were loved and cherished, but there is one more extraordinary and surprising connection between Bert, Jack and Herbert: the Thoroughbred horse.

All horse enthusiasts should know of the great band of Thoroughbred horses that Bert worked with on the U.S. show jumping team. It included the championship and grand prix-winning Sinjon (George Morris), Aberali (Kathy Kusner), San Lucas (Frank Chapot), Snowbound (Bill Steinkraus), Good Twist (Frank Chapot), Idle Dice (Rodney Jenkins), Jet Run (Michael Matz), Touch of Class (Joe Fargis) and Gem Twist (Greg Best).

It is also a fact that the majority of Jack’s event horses were Thoroughbred or at least three-quarters Thoroughbred, because that is what the sport requires at the highest level, both then and today.

But few probably realize the importance of the Thoroughbred horse in dressage.

Pik Bube Was Half Thoroughbred

When I first went to Herbert Rehbein’s training base at Gronwoldhof, I was delighted to find that one of the retired equine residents was Alwin Schockemöhle’s great show jumping world champion Donald Rex.

However, I was even more delighted to watch an athletic 4-year-old working who was the apple of Herbert’s eye—his name was Pik Bube.

It was no surprise that he went on to become world famous, both as a multiple Grand Prix winner and as a dressage stallion. His success further cemented the reputation of the Hanoverian studbook in the dressage world. However, it will surprise many that the “Hanoverian” Pik Bube was half Thoroughbred, as was Reiner Klimke’s greatest dressage horse, the “Westphalian” Ahlerich. Most think of Pik Bube as just one-quarter Thoroughbred, having Pik As as his grandsire. But with another cross of Pik As, a cross of Der Lowe and a phenomenal 24 crosses of Kingdom in his back breeding, Pik Bube is actually almost exactly half Thoroughbred.

The Thoroughbred Influence In Dressage

Of course Herbert’s more respectful and harmonious style of training lent itself to more quality horses, and he was also one of the first to be aware of the need for more quality in the dressage horse. As Dr. Thomas Lehmann, former head of the Westphalian State Stud from 1966 – 95 said: “You must have Thoroughbred blood for elasticity.”

Now most modern competitors realize that the wow factor of dressage is enhanced by the quality and lightness of the Thoroughbred. For example, in Verden, Germany, last year, Westpoint was judged the 6-year-old World Dressage Champion. He is half Thoroughbred, carrying the genes of the Thoroughbred horses Furioso, Dark Ronald, Le Val Blanc, Anblick and Hyperion.

In addition, the British born Lauries Crusador (1985), a grandson of High Top, is a producer of real dressage talent and has had an enormous impact on the Hanoverian studbook. The fact that he was proclaimed Hanoverian Stallion of the Year in 2006 at the Hanoverian Stallion Licensing in Verden is proof that German breeders are more open minded than many give them credit for. Lauries Crusador has had a considerable influence on the Hanoverian breed with 349 mares registered into the Studbook, 103 of which are State Premium mares. He has also sired 50 licensed sons, 13 of which are registered in the Premium Stallion register.

Three of Lauries Crusador’s sons are outstanding: Laurentianer (1994) won the 2000 World Young Dressage Horse title at Arnhem, while the exquisite Londonderry (1995) was champion of the Hanoverian stallion licensing in 1997, and went on to win the 4-year-old class at the Bundeschampionate in 1999. His son Londontime was sold for the sensational price of more than $700,000. Finally Laurentio (1999) is also making a big name for himself as a dressage sire and was in great demand last year.

Bolero Was Mostly Thoroughbred Too

The three-quarters Thoroughbred “Hanoverian” stallion Bolero (1975) has also had regular success with his offspring at the highest level of dressage, often from half bred mares.

All these horses are registered as Hanoverians even though they have a majority of Thoroughbred blood. His offspring, known as the “Bolero Boom,” continue to make their mark on the dressage scene. As of 2004, there were 364 Bolero offspring competing—285 in dressage, 65 jumpers and 14 event horses. Three of his descendants, his granddaughter Brentina, son Beauvalais and grandson Bonaparte, all medaled at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, with Beauvalais winning the individual bronze medal. He has sired the champion 3-year-old at the German breed championships an amazing five times.

Good Genes Will Out

Bolero is by a Thoroughbred stallion named Black Sky, who just happens to be a half brother of Camenae, who was the dam of High Top. Therefore he is related to Lauries Crusador whose dam sire is High Top. In addition Black Sky’s damsire was Court Martial (a grandson of both Fairway and Hurry On), who is also in Lauries Crusador sire’s pedigree.

The story of the good families and the right genes continues. To my great delight, my successful event horse family, led by Mandiba (Karen O’Connor) and High Kingdom (Zara Phillips), are also strongly related to Bolero and Lauries Crusador with a number of sires in common including Djebel, Hyperion, Court Martial, Tourbillon, Hurry On, Umidwar and Pinza.

All these horses are also related to two of the most successful Thoroughbred sires of performance horses in Europe, Julio Mariner and Master Imp. In particular the dressage sire Lauries Crusador and the jumping sire Julio Mariner are strongly related, while Julio Mariner and the event sire Master Imp share the genes of Djebel, Phalaris and Hyperion among others.

The Bloodlines Come Full Circle

And surprise, surprise, there are also many genetic connections to that list of Bert’s great show jumpers I started this article with—Sinjon, Aberali, San Lucas, Snowbound, Good Twist, Idle Dice, Jet Run, Touch of Class and Gem Twist.

And make no mistake, despite what the various studbooks tell us, it is a fact that the Thoroughbred connection in performance horses continues to this day. Close analysis of the genes of the top modern competition horses show that the majority of top event horses are three-quarters to full Thoroughbred, while the majority of top jumpers are one half to three-quarters Thoroughbred, and the dressage horses are one quarter to one half Thoroughbred. In continental stud books the Thoroughbred blood is quite often substituted by Arab or Trotter blood.

I would suggest that the reason for this is not just because of the physical strengths of their common Thoroughbred ancestors but also because of their mental strengths. Their combination of courage and determination, aligned with great generosity and intelligence makes the Thoroughbred horse stand out.

It is an extraordinary fact that exactly the same combination of mental strengths brought Bert, Jack and Herbert to the forefront of their sport. These mental strengths are their real legacy for future generations of riders and coaches, and what better investment can we make than standing on the shoulders of these giants.

This concludes William Micklem’s five-part series connecting Bert de Némethy, Jack Le Goff and Herbert Rehbein. Be sure to read the earlier articles.

Bert, Jack and Herbert—Part 1: Simplicity Equals Success And Safety

Bert, Jack and Herbert—Part 2: Why Acceptance, Not Submission, Is The Key

Bert, Jack and Herbert—Part 3: Classical Principles And A Classic Partnership

Bert, Jack and Herbert—Part 4: Impulsion And A Good Brain Create A Happy Successful Horse

William is an international coach and educational and motivational speaker. He is a Fellow of the British Horse Society and author of The DK Complete Horse Riding Manual, the world’s top-selling training manual. He found Karen and David O’Connor’s three Olympic medalists Biko, Giltedge and Custom Made and breeds event horses, including Karen O’Connor’s Olympic horse Mandiba and Zara Phillip’s High Kingdom. He is also the inventor of the Micklem Bridle, which is now approved for use in dressage by the FEI. 


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