There is something to be said for successful dressage horse breeding. Dressage Olympian Jan Brink rode the Swedish Warmblood stallion Briar in a long and consistently successful partnership at the international Grand Prix level. Jan Brink and Briar participated in three Olympic Games and eight World Cup Finals. Jan Brink and Briar won four medals at the European Championships and have been Swedish champions seven times. As the breeder of this world famous stallion, Hans-Yngve Göransson has received much attention for dressage horse breeding. At his Dalhem stud farm in Fuglie, outside of Trelleborg, the southernmost town in Sweden, his dressage horse breeding program continues with the same methodology that has proven successful for decades.
The Dalhem Method
Göransson’s philosophy is to let horses be horses. He firmly believes that box-stall isolation is bad for the mentality and strength of the growing horse. “Young horses that are isolated and treated so carefully so that they won’t get hurt are being killed with love instead of letting them be horses,” he says. “They are always worked on perfect, flat footing. Everything must be just so. They are like hothouse flowers. Take them out into the real world and they may wilt.”
At Dalhem, all horses live outside on grass 24 hours a day until the winter weather becomes too harsh.
The farm produces about 10 foals a year. After weaning, the youngsters are divided into groups by age and sex. During the winter, each group comes into the barn and shares a large communal stall, as is common in many European studs. During their time inside, they are handled, separated from the group and the older ones are free-jumped several times a month. “This gives us a chance to evaluate them not only physically but for temperament and trainability as well,” says Göransson. Groups are turned out simply by opening the right combination of gates. “This is a big time saver as opposed to turning each youngster out individually.”
Young stallions are kept together until they are 3- or 4-year-olds. “Naturally, the stallions play and have nicks and scrapes, and some people don’t like that,” says Göransson. “But they really use their bodies and become well-muscled, developing their joints and tendons. Plus, they get good socialization. The uneven ground helps them develop balance and strength. Of course, if there is any serious fighting then they are separated.”
The young horses are brought in and separated when they are started under saddle and go into work. When the youngsters are ready to show, it is in moderation. “When Briar was young, we only did about three competitions a year,” says Göransson. “I think the young-horse competitions we have these days are good, but one needs to look at the individual and his growth to determine if it is right for the horse. It is too easy to get caught up in going from one show to the next, especially with a talented horse for which things are easy. You must pace him so as not to burn him out. Too much too soon will kill the spirit of the horse.”
Göransson believes in a variety of work for his horses and includes galloping on a racetrack and jumping, even for dressage horses. This variety is especially important for upper-level horses that already are quite skilled. “It’s more a matter of keeping them fit but not bored,” explains Göransson. He tells how Brink regularly worked outside the ring with Briar, and it kept the stallion guessing. One day, he might go into the ring and just warm up, jogging for 10 minutes or so. On other days, the pair would do intensive ring work. Still other days would find them riding outside in the woods. “This way, the horse never knows what he will be doing in the ring—a light, relaxing jog or some heavy work—and he doesn’t associate the ring with constant hard work.” Göransson believes in getting young horses outside and having variety in their work.
Breeding a Champion
Göransson grew up on a breeding farm and has been involved with breeding horses all his life. Briar was the culmination of a lifetime of careful bloodline selection based on competition results. The line that produced Briar started in 1926 with the importation of the East Prussian mother line that produced the mare Diana (also the grandmother of Amor, an important stallion in Dutch Warmblood breeding). That mare line was then crossed with such Swedish luminaries as Drabant and Gaspari to produce the mare Medea, purchased from Flyinge, the Swedish State Stud, by Göransson’s father in 1971.
Looking to add some elegance to their mare, the Göranssons chose the imported stallion Illum by Hanoverian foundation sire Der Löwe xx, a Thoroughbred. “At the time, there was a strong nationalistic tendency in breeding,” says Göransson, “and we were heavily criticized for using a foreign stallion and a half-Thoroughbred as well.” The resulting mare, Mickaela, became one of the foundation mares of Dalhem’s modern breeding program.
In choosing a stallion for Mickaela, Göransson looked to the Swedish stallion Krocket. “This was in the early 1980s when the fashion was to use stallions from abroad,” he notes. “This time we were criticized for using a Swedish stallion. Krocket was fantastic, a really good stallion,” he remembers. “Eddie Macken was jumping him in the warm-up at Falsterbo as a young horse before he retired to breeding, and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. He was so impressive.”
Krocket was a grandson of the imported Hanoverian stallion Utrillo, who was one of the top producers in Sweden. He also had Thoroughbred blood on the dam’s side. Unfortunately, Krocket was not used much by other breeders. Göransson believes two factors led to this: “It was at the turning point where shipped semen was becoming the standard, and the owners of Krocket only stood him for live cover.” Also, Krocket went straight into breeding instead of having a competition career, so many mare owners never saw him. Both of these factors caused him to lose mares, and he never had much impact on the Swedish breed as a whole. But for Dalhem, the stallion produced two mares that Göransson kept for his program. One was Charis, the dam of Briar. For her, Göransson chose Magini, a local stallion he had been watching for several years. Magini, a Utrillo grandson, had good gaits and jumping ability and seemed to stamp his offspring. Briar was the result of that breeding and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Frequently Briar is [criticized] because he is a Swedish stallion,” says Göransson. “But if you actually look at his pedigree, you will see he is a truly international horse with a mixture of Swedish, Hanoverian, Trakehner and Thoroughbred blood.” Briar is now approved by the Hanoverian, Oldenburg and KWPN registries, among others, and he has 10 approved sons in different registries. He breeds more mares abroad than in Sweden. In 2011, he stood in the Netherlands so he could be more accessible to Europeans during the recession. Standing in Holland means an easier and less-costly process for customers. Briar is also one of the few stallions whose fresh semen can be shipped to the United States from Europe (Tailwindsfarm.com).
Following the Trends or Not
As a longtime breeder, Göransson says he is disappointed in what he calls “the fashion” in breeding. “Breeders want the new young stallions from the stallion shows, and they breed to a handful of the high-scoring stallions at the approvals even though they are totally unproven in sport. It’s sad that the top stallions in sport do not get as many breedings as the current hot young stallions. Many times the top stallions at the approvals with the flashy extended trots are not seen in sport, at least at the higher levels. The stallions that don’t score quite as high are often the ones who are successful in sport.”