Breeding the Best in the World

German-based American dressage rider Lisa Wilcox explains how the breeding program works at Gestuet Vorwerk, and introduces her top competitive stallions.
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German-based American dressage rider Lisa Wilcox explains how the breeding program works at Gestuet Vorwerk, and introduces her top competitive stallions.

The Breeding Program
Gestuet Vorwerk, one of the most famous private stud farms in Germany, combines age-old traditions and horse wisdom with modern technology. From before conception onwards, each horse is carefully selected and developed. Semen is collected from only the best stallions, then processed and stored in the laboratory, identified by a color-coded system. All of the mature stallions are heavily booked. (Rohdiamant, for example, breeds approximately 300 mares a year.) Local mares are stabled temporarily on the grounds to be artificially inseminated, while daily shipments of semen go out to mares around the world.

Lisa Wilcox

Lisa Wilcox

Every breeding stallion on the farm is in daily work and competed regularly by head trainer Lisa Wilcox. Meanwhile, Gudula Vorwerk, the stud's owner, is constantly looking for "new blood" to add to the program. Each year, she and her team evaluate the foals at Gestuet Vorwerk and at auctions and other breeding farms in the area. "It's kind of a group job," explains Lisa. "We've got professionals who have been picking out the foals for years, getting them ready for the [breed registry] approvals." Gudula buys between 15 and 20 foals a year, some sired by her own stallions and others whose bloodlines interest her. These foals are raised in pastures until their two-year-old year, when they are brought in and re-evaluated. Those colts who show the potential to be future stallions are singled out. The remaining colts are gelded and, along with the young mares, started under saddle and sold as three-year-olds.

The selected two-year-old stallions are brought into a barn divided into large pens which are bedded "mattress"-style (fresh straw is added every few days and the bedding is removed completely by tractor every few weeks). Here, the stallions begin to be handled again and prepared by a special team on the farm for approvals. Once they have been approved, the "cream of the crop" go to Lisa's barn to train for their 100-day stallion tests. "I don't get them until after they're ridden," says Lisa. "They break them and then I get them shortly thereafter. Then, depending on how far along we've got them, we show them at the show that we have for presenting all of our stallions each January or February in an auction hall 20 minutes from here." After that, the young stallions' competition careers begin.

Walking through the barn of newcoming two-year-olds, Lisa says, "These are my future Grand Prix horses. I'm so busy, I never make it to this end of the farm. I don't even know what I've got! Everybody on the farm is a little bit involved with the selection of the young stallions. But I don't come in all that much, partly because I don't want to get my heart set on something when I know the group is going to make a decision. I trust them to pick out something good, which they always do!"
The Boys in the Barn: Stallion Personalities
Rohdiamant--Lisa's Dressage World Cup Finals partner this spring in 'sHertogenbosch, The Netherlands, where they finished thirteenth. Lisa says she's still working out her relationship with this "very arrogant, self-assured, and extremely talented" stallion. "He sometimes goes on automatic pilot and ignores my aids a little bit: 'You just ride. I'll let you know when we're finished.' He's very intelligent; My trainer Ernst Hoyos says, 'You just need to think faster than he does.' And sometimes I think to myself, 'Apparently, I'm just not that smart!'" Rohdiamant has had many different riders during his development, says Lisa, and "smart horses get frustrated when they're not consistently ridden with the same system. It's not that his earlier riders weren't good, it's just that each one (for example) asked for flying changes differently. This can make communication with him more difficult for me." For instance, Lisa was disappointed with her first ride on Rohdiamant at 'sHertogenbosch. "It felt as if he was saying, 'Not today, I'm tired.' After the first test, we were both fuming. I offered him an apple and he wouldn't take it. Then, an hour later, he was saying, 'Um...do you still have that apple?'"

Relevant, she says, is an entirely different character in public. "He is very shy--'Lisa, where are you?'--like a little turtle, retreating into his shell. When I feel him start to do that, all I have to say is, 'It's okay, I'm here,' and I pat him. Then, when he gets in the ring, the neck starts to come back out again and he looks around: 'All right, I can do this.' It's like we're holding hands. I often even feel his heart pounding. But other people don't see it." What other people do see is incredible talent. As brilliant as Rohdiamant is, Lisa says Relevant is "more spectacular. He got a 10 for his piaffe last year at Wiesbaden [where he finished first in both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Kur]."

If Lisa would admit to a favorite among her baker's dozen of stallions, though, it would be Roy. As well as being very intelligent, the eight-year-old "has had the same system, the same riders--myself and Ernst--since he was three and a half" and he's living proof that consistency pay off. Although Roy has shown the aptitude for Grand Prix movements (which he is training at home) for some time now, Ernst and Lisa refuse to skip steps in his training and he competes up through Intermediaire I. Their goal for him: the 2004 Olympics. As Lisa's Web site says, "In Athens we'll be ten" is her motto for the Games. (Roy will be ten years old in 2004.)

In addition to Lisa's three top mounts, there are the boys who are already making a name for themselves closer to home.

Danny Wilde, age six, and Raoul and Roadster, both five-year-olds, are all qualified for this year's Bundeschampionat.

Revan, a three-year-old full brother to Relevant, just began his show career this summer.

And the farm has great hopes for a black three-year-old stallion who underwent his seventy-day stallion test this summer and who resembles the great "Blackie" (Rubinstein).
You can read about Lisa's successful effort to become a great rider by learning (and becoming part of) the German dressage system from the bottom up in the October 2002 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.