I’m always fascinated to learn the history of successful individuals – be they human or one of God’s equine creations. One thing that brought that to my attention this week was a blog I wrote on May 11, 2011:
The inspiration for that blog was a column written by Steve Haskin, a noted columnist and turf writer for The Blood-Horse, who wrote about Animal Kingdom and the idyllic environment at Fair Hill Training Center. From time to time, I check my blog history and this month the above mentioned blog is by far the one most read. Why all of the sudden that blog is so popular has peaked my interest. But I’m not surprised.
Anyone who’s followed my blog for any length of time knows that much of my study of Thoroughbreds has been greatly influenced by Burchard von Oettingen and Federico Tesio. Von Oettingen was the director of the German Royal Stud and Tesio was a world-renowned owner, breeder and trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses. I’ve written numerous blogs about them and chronicled their story in Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes – a book I co-authored with Kerry Thomas, founder of the Thomas Herding Technique.
One thing I’m most proud of is that the dominant theme throughout Horse Profiling is the importance of providing for the physical and, especially, the emotional wellbeing of the horse. Creating a natural environment, in contrast to keeping horses cooped up in stalls, is the foundation on which all great stables are made and it is a key element in nurturing the natural herd dynamic in an artificial, domestic environment.
Both, von Oettingen and Tesio were pioneers in making farm life as natural as possible for horses in their care. Here’s an excerpt from Horse Profiling:
The Benefits of Nature Nurturing the Horse:
Burchard von Oettingen and the Royal Trakehnen Stud
One of my favorite authors on the benefits of making the farm environment as natural as possible for the horse is Burchard Von Oettingen who, at the turn of the twentieth century, was Director of the Royal Trakehnen Stud, where the Trakehnen breed evolved, in what was then East Prussia. Von Oettingen was a world-renowned expert on horse care, and in his book, Horse Breeding in Theory and Practice (Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1909) he outlined the benefits of pasturing horses. Although written over 100 years ago, the universality of his writing, extolling the benefits of nature nurturing the horse, bears repeating here:
Even the best soil requires, in order to derive any benefit from its advantages for breeding good, capable and sound horses, two very important factors, i.e., paddocks and permanent pastures. …But the method of rearing in the stable without paddocks and permanent pastures, which is still so widespread in Germany for all kinds of breeds, threatens to ruin many breedings. … Paddocks and permanent pastures serve, therefore, as a contrast to the method of rearing in the stable, to keep the breeding material as long as possible outside the stable and in conformity with nature, to nourish same. The following advantages thus arise: -
1. The influence of Light. The recently well recognized beneficial influences of light consist principally in destroying many very dangerous microbes, especially tuberculosis bacilli, and in increasing the energy of life by multiplying the red corpusculli and the haemoglobis.
2. The influence of good air. The air rich in oxygen in the open is a primary condition of every healthy development. The continuous remaining out in the open increases the need of oxygen, and in order to satisfy their needs, horses must, by deep breathing, make a greater use of the lungs. Accordingly, the lungs will be extended and strengthened, and also the energy of life increased.
3. The influence of wind and weather. The constant skin massage by wind and weather strengthens the whole nervous system. As a matter of fact, wind and weather preserves the whole animal organism in a continuous and beneficial training through frequent and sudden changes, and forces it to get accustomed to outside circumstances for the sake of self-preservation. In conjunction with the beneficial influence of light and air, wind and weather, owing to a normal and strengthening development of the nervous system, favour the health in such a good and energetic way altogether impossible in the horses are brought up in the stable.
4. The influence of exercise. A voluntary, continuous and mostly slow excerise on the meadows is necessary when seeking their food. By this means the sinews, muscles and bones are under the influence of a favourable slow, continuous and effective training quite impossible outside of the meadows. The longer grazing is possible, …and especially night grazing, the more distinctly is to be observed a favourable development of the formation of the body, especially of the shape of the limbs, as well as that so important to correct walk. The voluntary desire of the horses to visit distinct parts of the meadows, the possibility of their moving about as they please, and so noticing all that is going on around them, the attention which is required for observing changes, the many chances to caper and play with their companions – all these strengthen the intellect and senses, and are the best and only preventives against timidity.
5. Food grazing. The advantages of grazing on the meadow, as against green food in the stable, lie, firstly, in the fact that the horses never get as much in their mouth in the meadow as in the stable, and that, therefore, sudden overloading of the stomach is avoided; secondly, many and just the best and youngest grasses lose their taste between the time of being mowed and eaten; thirdly, the useful combination of amids are, for the most part, in the younger plants, and these are the most difficult to mow, but the horses whilst on the meadow get them easily. For the good preservation of pastures it is very important that they should be grazed alternately, as far as possible, by horses, cows or oxen (but not by sheep).
From the strengthening of bones and tendons as well as the heart, lungs and limbs by exercise over varying terrain, to the continuous beneficial nurturing provided by environmental stimuli that the casual observer, man, long ago ceased to rely on for survival, indeed, there is no better nurturing process than that provided the horse by Mother Nature. It is not practical to breed or train the equine athlete without fully understanding a view from the hoof and the necessity of nature’s beneficial nurturing of the horse. Only then can one hope to grasp the reality of the horse and the Equine Circle from the vantage point of man, and do one’s best to provide the setting, albeit artificial, where the equine athlete can prosper.
Burchard von Oettingen’s work at Trakehnen and other stud farms owned by the Prussian state, such as Beberbeck and Altefeld, was exemplary. During his tenure with the Royal Stud until his retirement in 1920, von Oettingen diligently worked to improve the training and stud operation. He rebuilt several of the structures at Trakehnen that had been destroyed by the Russians during World War I, and he designed Altefeld to be a self-sufficient training and breeding facility on a model similar to Trakehnen. Von Oettingen traveled throughout Europe and America to study the operation of other stud farms and racing in those countries.
The Trakehner breed is based on a small East Prussian horse called the “Schwaike,” which was known for its phenomenal endurance and versatility. Through the years this local breed was crossed with various larger “imported” stallions to provide mounts for warfare, for general transportation and for agricultural work. After the establishment of the Royal Stud, select English Thoroughbred and Arabian stallions were purchased and added to the breed. One of von Oettingen’s crowning achievements for the improvement of the Royal Stud was the purchase in 1913 of the English-bred Thoroughbred Dark Ronald for £25,000 (about $40,000). It was, definitely, money well spent as Dark Ronald became a foundation stallion of the Royal Stud and one of the most influential sires in the history of Germany. Dark Ronald sired the German Derby winner Herold, and his sire line produced other notable Thoroughbreds such as Alchimist, Birkhahn, Surumu, and Acatenango, all of whom were classic champions and important sires. In all, the sire line of Dark Ronald has produced 25 German Derby winners, and his influence has even recently been seen in the United States – as Acatenango is the broodmare sire of Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby and Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Male.
In addition to becoming a tremendous influence on the German Thoroughbred, the sire line of Dark Ronald also is a powerful worldwide influence on the European Warmblood. The highly regarded Moorlands-Totilas, viewed by many as one of the greatest horses in the history of dressage and a triple gold medalist at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, is a direct sire-line descendent of Dark Ronald (fig. 4.6). In the show jumping world, Dark Ronald is a direct sire-line ancestor of the deceased jumping champion and influential improvement sire Cor de la Bryére and his sons Caletto I, Caletto II, Caletto III, Calypso I, Calypso II, Calypso III, Calypso IV, Corrado I, Corde-Star, and Cordalmé Z.
The result of von Oettingen’s study and labor was the establishment of a first-class breeding and training operation that relied on the foundation principles of making the farm environment as natural as possible in order to produce the healthiest, soundest horses. His efforts were integral to the development of the Trakehner as a performance horse, as it went on in the 1920s and 1930s to win countless medals and awards in jumping, eventing, dressage, and steeplechase.
Federico Tesio and the Natural Herd Dynamic
Perhaps, the greatest stud master who understood the Natural Herd Dynamic and agreed with von Oettingen about the importance of making farm life as natural as possible in order to produce happy, healthy and sound horses was Federico Tesio. Australian bloodstock agent and author Ken McLean, in his book Tesio, Master of Matings (Horwitz Grahame, 1984), wrote that Tesio viewed von Oettingen’s Breeding in Theory and Practice as a “marvelous stimulant” noting that Tesio “gleaned many inspirational ideas” from its pages.
And when one reads Edward Spinola’s introduction to Tesio’s book, Breeding the Racehorse (JA Allen, 1958), it seems quite obvious that Tesio agreed with von Oettingen about the necessity of an “as natural as possible” existence. According to Spinola, Tesio’s Thoroughbred farm Dormello, which was located on the banks of Lake Miaggiore in Northern Italy, had the appearance of an Italian Villa, and it was actually divided into several mini farms complete with their own paddocks and pastures, layered a different elevations among the hills overlooking the lake. In 1933, pedigree authority Friedrich Becker visited several stud farms in Italy, including Tesio’s, and in his book, The Breed of the Racehorse (British Bloodstock Agency, 1936), Becker elaborated on Tesio’s method of raising bloodstock:
[Tesio] ascribes the successes of his mares mainly to the change of climate and environment to which he is exposing them as many times as it is possible during their stud career. …His stud is situated at the banks of the Lago Maggiore, one of the picturesque lakes at the foot of the Alpes, and consists of three parts, the first at level with the lake, the second some hundred yards above that level, and the third still higher up in the mountains. According to the time of the year the mares, upon their return from other studs and abroad, are transferred from one part to the other and provisions made for a cold winter when they would be sent south to Mr. Tesio’s second stud near Rome. No mare is kept longer than a few months on the same paddock and thus absorbs fresh impressions during the whole time of pregnancy...
“I am taking a philosophical aspect of matters,” Mr. Tesio observed. “Supposing mankind would be wiped off from the earth by a terrestrial upheaval and horses stay back, do you think mine would remain in the north during the cold season? Certainly not! They would migrate to milder zones and when the weather there becomes too hot, wander northward again. Anyhow, they would keep on changing quarters the whole year round as their prototypes have done. I have come to appreciate the blessings of such changes from the earliest days of my activity as a breeder of racehorses and mainly ascribe my success to the principles of keeping my mares on the move. That’s the natural way.”
Indeed, Tesio went to great lengths to make Dormello as natural as possible. Tesio’s practice of sending weanlings to southern Italy in autumn where they could enjoy an extended grazing season in the warmer climate and boarding during the winter at the farm of his racing partner Mario Incisa della Rochetta produced two of his greatest champion Thoroughbreds: Donatello and Nearco. During his lifetime, Tesio bred and trained at Dormello an incredible 21 Derby Italiano winners.
Nurturing the Natural Herd Dynamic in the domestic environment is essential in providing for the health and well-being of your performance horses and a key element in ensuring soundness, longevity, and competitive success. Not only are horses who are given the freedom to move more physically fit, but a more natural domestic environment makes for an emotionally healthier, happier horse. An understanding of the true herding dynamics of the equine helps the horse owner become a better host for an animal that was not born to know fences or stalls. The environment is the foundation from which all else stems, and it is very often the keeper of unseen stress and behavior issues we only observe much later. The horse owner has the responsibility to fully understand the environment the equine was “built for” and he must do his best to recreate it. – Horse Profiling, pages 48-54.
Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes by Kerry Thomas with Calvin L. Carter is published by Trafalgar Square Books in the United States and J. A. Allen & Co. LTD in the United Kingdom.
For a sneak peek of the book, please click here.
To purchase the book from Trafalgar Square Books, please click here.
To purchase the book from J. A. Allen, please click here.
2-YEAR-OLD WATCH – DANAUS
I was recently looking at the pedigrees of 2-year-old Thoroughbreds and came upon Danaus (Ambassador-Dulcet Tone by Empire Maker) who is currently in training at Belmont Park. I like his pedigree and look forward to see how he fares during his juvenile racing season.
The Ancestral Herd of Danaus descends from Dark Ronald – the previously mentioned stallion that was purchased by Burchard Von Oettingen for the Royal German Stud. Dark Ronald was a foundation stallion and his sire line was one of the most successful lines in the history of the German turf.
The Dark Ronald Ancestral Herd produced 25 German Derby winners compared to Mr. Prospector's 11 Kentucky Derby winners. So, in the pedigree of Danaus you have two powerful Ancestral Herds in the sire line and damsire line - Dark Ronald and Fappiano, Mr. Prospector.
Time will tell if Danaus lives up to his breeding.
Since the creation of my blog in 2009, my intensive study of pedigrees and Tesio has helped me pick the classic champions Orb, I’ll Have Another, Animal Kingdom, Pour Moi, Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky, and Summer Bird. And in 2012, all five horses I profiled in my Kentucky Derby blog finished in the top five. If you would like to get involved in horseracing, please check out my website:
Classic Champion Thoroughbreds is a unique, innovative bloodstock consulting firm, dedicated to helping clients make informed decisions, eliminating doubt and guesswork, in buying and breeding Thoroughbreds.
Classic Champion Thoroughbreds provides its clients with the important information necessary to achieve their goals and realize their dreams of competing at the highest level. Every evaluation includes a detailed pedigree analysis and a Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile of young horses that may be classic racing prospects. Each analysis and profile draws upon the time-tested breeding theories of great Thoroughbred breeders as well as those of Classic Champion Thoroughbreds owner Calvin L. Carter.
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