Time For Change?

Victoria Wright

We’re only three months into 2020 and the world has already been exposed to some of the most challenging situations of recent history, especially the UK. First the uncertainty of Brexit on the British economy as well as the everyday life of British people, followed by the current global pandemic of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the whole country (and majority of the world) is quite rightly in lockdown.

The equestrian governing bodies have followed Government advice and cancelled all events until further notice and all training is halted. Under BEVA guidance stud work for vets is deemed non essential, which is also having a huge impact on the breeding industry, considering it will shortly be getting into the full swing of things. The only saving grace right now is that the majority of sports horse breeders don’t usually want February foals so breeding work in the UK tends to be slower in March regardless. Our plan after lockdown on April 20th is to move both our stallions to Oakham Vet Hospital to resume fresh and chilled collections for breeders, which allows Oakham to follow their strict biosecurity measures and means none of us are present. Considering we are likely to resume in a state of lockdown beyond that, this seems the best option and I think BEVA is going to have to deem stud work essential as it is on the continent as many mares will be due to foal and be inseminated at this time. However if restrictions are still in place we have to adhere to them, it’s about protecting the NHS, our families and vulnerable people so we fully support all restrictions in place.

But what does this mean for our breeding industry in 2020?

Semen agents, vets and studs have reported that semen delivery from the continent is still functioning albeit with slower delivery times (stud work on the continent is deemed essential), frozen storage tanks are full and inseminations and foaling services are still offered at some studs that are not governed by veterinary guidelines.
However, when restrictions allow all breeding to continue in the UK, could this situation be a blessing in disguise for our British Breeding industry and does it provide a unique platform to change this industry for the better?

Social media platforms are a good indicator to see how members of our breeding industry make their decisions of what stallions to use and the thought processes behind it. Following several posts, the conclusions are “as varied as the pronunciation and consumption of scones”, an excellent quote from Martin Schleicer.
A large part of our community favours the support of British based stallions and there are now a large number of stallions being offered for fresh and chilled semen based in the UK who have similar quality and lines as those based on the continent. Surely the majority who regularly use semen from abroad and have encountered or will encounter a disruption of the usual service should welcome the trend of very good stallions being imported, bred and offered in the UK. Even new businesses are now offering a guarantee of same day delivery service of semen within the UK, obviously not when in lockdown, but is something to consider going forward.

So what next?

As much as the idea of using British based stallions is favourable, it in turn generates more opinions, ideas, questions and changes that in an ideal world would be beneficial to the British Breeding movement.
Many breeders have commented on the ‘quality’ and ‘assessment’ of stallions based in this country. While the majority have acknowledged and appreciate the presence of UK based stallions that have either been approved through performance testing abroad or have high level performance records, the general opinion was that the ‘testing’ of stallions in this country was indeed not adequate or recognised enough to validate a stallions quality for breeding. This then affects the level of interest and prices commanded for foals and young stock. If we had a much stricter way of grading and performance testing stallions in the UK, would this ultimately over time not help sale prices to increase and also give more accreditation to foal auctions and young horse sales?

For a stallion to be performance tested and to undergo the full European recognised studbook grading, the owners of successful young stallions in the UK are expected to export them to Germany for the performance test. For many breeders and stallion owners it is unthinkable and financially unfair to expect them to send a potentially valuable animal abroad, where they may not know anyone and may be unsupported by the British sister studbook. Surely, if a grading is offered in this country, the applicant should be offered the chance to complete the process in the same country?
The current reason a performance test is not offered in the UK is partially down to finances of the individual studbooks and expertise of offering a performance test in the UK. These are valid points, but if UK based studbooks worked together and constructed a universal performance test according to the Dutch/German system, could this then be developed and recognised by the continental umbrella societies? And would it assure a certain quality control of stallions based in this country and ease the financial strain on each individual studbook.
Follow-up equivalent individual criteria to the German Bundeschampionat qualification or the Dutch Stallion competition series could be implemented, not only validating the quality of the stallion but also continuing to support UK governing bodies, in this case, member bodies of the British Equestrian Federation.
A stricter system of assessment should surely result in the confidence of British breeders to use British based stallions without compromising the marketability of the offspring. In fact, we believe it would strengthen the trust of the buying public in the stallions assessed and the quality of the offspring.

Conclusion

Maybe in this time of turmoil, it is not just about recognising the crisis but maybe the opportunities the crisis may present for the future in the hope that the UK develops into a more lucrative horse breeding nation. In the meantime, support UK based stallions, as there are many that rival European counterparts in quality, grading and performance and help British breeding to continue to grow and develop. In terms of grading and supporting young stallions coming through, we have to get rid of this fear of change or the attitude that it has been this way for so long that nobody expects it to be any different. Now is the time to look forward to 2021/2022 and what important steps we can take now to begin to make a difference then.

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