Stallion Performance Testing and the Complexities of the North American Industry: Redefining the Future

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The time is flying and we find ourselves four weeks out from the conclusion of the 2015 70-Day Stallion Testing. The stallions’ fitness levels are improving and now we are training outside regularly on the cross-country and over the stadium-jumping course in addition to the flatwork. It has been fun to watch the stallions progress and every year the group of stallions present their own challenges and rewards. There are many aspects to hosting the North American Stallion Testings, not only with the day-to-day training but also education, public relations, media coverage, and coordination of breed registry involvement and acceptance. This year was a pivotal turning point for stallion performance testing for many reasons.

There is no doubt about it…the scene of this industry is rapidly changing and we must change with it or be left behind. North America has a unique situation with its own set of complexities that challenge the sport horse community. Of course geographical distance is the obvious challenge we face here, but it certainly is not the biggest. The most daunting challenge is the fragmented system – the disconnect between breed registries and sports federations, between various breed registries, and lack of a unified governing body setting the standards for the country as is done in other countries. The success of the North American Stallion Tests at Silver Creek has been largely due to the opportunities it provided stallion owners with the possibility to obtain lifetime breeding licenses with multiple registries in the US and Canada through one avenue. This is accomplished through our cultivation of extensive acceptance of the stallion testing and also the universal stallion Keuring (licensing) that also is hosted at Silver Creek following the conclusion of the stallion tests. In fact, the North American Stallion Testing is the only location in the world where multiple registries stand together in the same arena to license sport horse stallions.  However, that is all about to change.

The stallion testings, that are hosted here at Silver Creek, have always been run in a format that is accepted by the breed registries with reciprocity to Germany. It is already public knowledge that the format for the stallion tests in Germany has changed now. There actually have been a several changes made in the last four years – removal of the bell curve, addition of the breeding index, removal of the breeding index, reduction in number of days, removal of the cross-country element, separation between tests for jumping and dressage stallions, and now there is talk of a short 20 day test that will be required of stallions when they are three years old before they are allowed into the breeding program. However, we were advised by Dr. Klaus Miesner (FN) and the various breeding directors of the German breed registries to continue in the same format (70/30 Day) while revisions were being made to ensure a system could be found that would work internationally. This year, stallion licensing and performance testing has come to a crossroads on many levels:

  • There is no common consensus in Germany as to the acceptable format of stallion testing and thus, the breed registries with reciprocity to Germany can no longer agree on acceptable format for stallion testing. The GOV is wanting to branch out from the other German based registries to run their own stallion testing here in America, whereas the other German based registries (AHS and RPSI) are willing to continue on with the current format until a system is found that integrates well internationally for all daughter/reciprocal registries. Challenges associated with the new GOV concept are:
    1. Requiring 3 year old stallions to ship across country for a 20 Day Test before they are allowed into breeding
    2. Possible multiple locations (ex. – one on west coast and one on east coast) and having enough entries to support the testing locations
    3. Separation of jumping/dressage stallions and breeders not having complete data from both disciplines on the stallions
  • With the newly introduced separate GOV testing, there would be a total of 5 separate stallion testing formats in North America thus making it more complicated for stallion owners to receive multiple licenses
    1. 70/30 Day NA Stallion Tests (Accepted by AHS, RPSI, ISR/OLDNA, sBs, Westphalian, AHHA, CWHBA, CSHA)
    2. ISR/OLDNA – 10 Day Test (Accepted by ISR/OLDNA)
    3. KWPN – 21 Day Test (Accepted by KWPN)
    4. GOV – 50/20 Day Test (Accepted by GOV)
    5. CWHBA Short Test – (Accepted by CWHBA)
  • Stallion owners, especially at the forefront of the industry are more interested in pursuing licensing through sport even if it means that the stallion will lose his license with various breed registries and not be available to those breeders until if/when the stallion completes his performance requirements at Grand Prix (jumping or dressage). This is dramatically reducing support for the stallion performance testings and making it unsustainable. (Disclaimer: As the official stallion testing facility for multiple breed registries, we highly encourage stallions to participate in sport and continue their career in sport after completion of the stallion test. The Stallion Testing is not designed to be an end all means for lifetime licensing. The data obtained about a stallion during the testing should be combined with his results in sport to give a well-round opinion of the stallion when making breeding choices.)
  • There has been a big movement to improve/create new young horse competition platforms that have international reciprocity. There are now multiple WBFSH recognized registries operating within North America that are willing to license young stallions that meet age appropriate levels of competition requirements without stallion performance testing.

Therefore, we have reached a pivotal time in North American stallion performance testing for licensing when these new factors are combined with the existing responsibilities:

  • Management and training of stallions that are all different ages, breeds, fitness and training levels
  • Regular communication with stallion owners and constant availability
  • Management of breed registry relations and staying current with every organization’s licensing requirements
  • Public education regarding stallion performance testing and licensing
  • Media relations
  • Recruitment of stallions to fill entry quota
  • Finding qualified trainer/riders that can and are willing to school young and often green stallions over jumps and proper flatwork
  • Hiring judges and judge riders whose scores will be acknowledged internationally

Thus, the concept of hosting a stallion performance test is not a simple one. It is easy to say that it is possible, but in order to retain the value for stallion owners and breed registries alike, it is a delicate and difficult balance. Any individual arbitrarily promising the ability to “organize and run a new stallion test” is not fully informed as to the relationship between the registries, stallion owners’ opinions, proposed competition formats, and changing industry trends. The promises of these individuals should be regarded with caution and their promises considered unfounded. With the changes being made in the industry, both nationally and abroad, it is inevitable that big developments are imminent. It was my pleasure to attend the WBFSH meeting this year in Vienna and discuss many of these elements with representatives of the various countries. These developments will be discussed with the various breed registries that will be in attendance during the conclusion of this year’s testing. Above all, it is my unwavering belief that now is the time for North America to no longer be behind the curve and to come to the forefront on the international stage and I look forward to continuing to work toward that objective. North America may be complex, but it is also full of possibilities and potential. Yes, the industry is changing…and now it is time to adapt with it and be progressive. We will find the way!

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Stallion Performance Testing and the Complexities of the North American Industry: Redefining the Future

American Breeding, Stallion Testing, Performance Careers, and the International Stage: The Big Picture

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The first two weeks of this Stallion Testing have been enjoyable to watch.  As I have seen the stallions start working in this 2015 70-Day Test, I have constantly had one word in my mind – “Why?”

It’s the question I hear throughout the entire year.  “Why do you host the Stallion Testing?  Why should I send my stallion to the Test?  Why do the breed registries require the Stallion Test for licensing?  Why does it matter if a stallion has a lifetime breeding license?  Why is the Stallion Test a valuable option when I can get a breeding license through performance?  Why does having that type of data affect the American competitions?  Why is it good to understand the breeding world when I am a rider and not a breeder?”

And no…the answer I’m not going to give you is “because Europe does it”.

There are a lot of changes developing internationally regarding the evaluation of sport horses for performance.  The undeniable truth is that North America is young in its development of sport horses for international sport.  There are breeders among us that are swimming upstream in the pursuit of producing internationally successful North American bred horses.  There are riders investing in young North American bred horses and spending their time and finances to develop these horses for international competition.  Of course, we also have the national competition formats – hunters and equitation, and one of the most important facets of our horse industry – the grass roots.  So when you take a step back and look at the big picture, there are a lot of facets to take into consideration to develop an internationally reciprocal system that would be successful in all of these aspects here in North America and it can be daunting at times.  But through the years of hosting the Stallion Testing, breed inspections, standing stallions and competing our homebreds both nationally and internationally, I have found the secret.

The answer – data and information.  Its the standard answer in making any industry successful.  When you have data, you are empowered.  Empowered to be educated, to produce a better product, and to be competitive whether it is on national or international platforms.  And what is the biggest challenge here in North America?  Collecting and assembling data and information in order to make more informed breeding decisions, more informed horse purchases, and create better competition platforms.  I have heard the statement so many times before that “you don’t ride the papers”.  In many aspects that’s true.  Every individual is different.  However, it is another thing entirely to understand the “common characteristics” of a bloodline.  That is why…generally speaking…Europeans stay ahead of the game.  They understand the likelihood of the horse they are riding to have a certain characteristic or talent because they can understand their pedigree and see from competition records the individual horse’s record in competition.  This creates the winning formula for Europe.

However, that is all about to change.  We are on the precipice of a huge movement.  North American breeders and riders are no longer content to produce horses that fall through the cracks, pay premium prices, and make uneducated purchasing decisions.  By the same token, the competition Federations and Associations are becoming invested in young horse development, tracking horse identification, and supporting North American breeders.  It has been a change in the making for decades.  But the time has arrived.

Among the various updates about the 2015 Stallion Test, this series of blog posts will focus on answering these questions, showing the big picture, and revealing some huge plans that are in the works.  As many of you may have seen on our social media page, this year marks the end of an era worldwide.  But it is also the beginning of a new chapter in North American breeding and production of sport horses.  There will be some very exciting announcements coming soon.  So stay tuned!!!

American Breeding, Stallion Testing, Performance Careers, and the International Stage: The Big Picture

Value of the Pony Test

71f67488b0857639cee631943a3fc6fa_L-1This year was historic for us.  For the first time since we have started hosting the test, we had two pony stallions in the test – Adonis and Highlife’s Bulgari Boy.  In years prior, we only had one pony in the test per year.  So, needless to say, it was very fun and exciting for us to have two excellent ponies in the test together.  The Pony Test often fades into the shadow of the 70-Day Test due to the minimal number of entries.  So we felt it was necessary to explain how important it is, and the level of expectations the ponies are expected to meet.

In the Pony Test, the pony stallions are expected to train and be judged in all of the same areas as is expected of the 70-Day stallions – Rideability/Gaits, Showjumping, Freejumping, and Cross Country.  Except there is one big difference…they only have 30 days instead of 70.  The challenge these ponies rise to every year is incredible to watch.  They run the exact same cross country track and jump all the same obstacles (minus the largest rock wall) as the 70 Day stallions run, they jump the same showjumping course at the same height as the 70 Day stallions (of course the ponies this year were large ponies, and when we have smaller ponies we adjust the height of the course accordingly), and they have the same Rideability/Gaits judge riders.  It is a very thorough testing.

The scoring of the pony test is calculated differently than the 30/70 Day Tests.  The ponies receive scores in the different areas and then an average is calculated for each area: walk, trot, canter, jumping, etc.  If you look at the raw score sheet you can see the scores received in the left column, the percentage that score weighs in the final overall score, and then the individual components then calculated of the overall score from the raw scores in the right column.  When you add all of the numbers in the right column, you arrive at the overall score the pony stallion receives in the test.  Every year there are different conditions for the test – different riders, different judges, etc. Therefore, scores given each year can provide excellent information about the ponies, but it is impossible to compare the results from year to year, as is the case with the 30/70 Day Tests as well.

We are very thankful to the owners of these wonderful pony stallions for sending them to the test.  It was a pleasure working with these talented ponies and we are looking forward to continuing to provide the option of the Pony Test every year!

Value of the Pony Test

The Final Judging Days are Upon Us

f4b6dca0e2911082f0eb6e1df1a0e11d_LThe leaves have turned an array of vibrant colors.  From the indoor there is a spectacular display of everything autumn.  Inside the indoor stands white dressage fencing, bleachers, and two tables with chairs in the middle of the arena.  This can only mean one thing to us.  The final judging days are here.  The atmosphere in the barn is quiet and somber.  There is a crispness in the air that seems to seep through your skin and straight to your heart because in another short four days, the chilling reality is the stables where 23 stallions once filled every stall will be empty.  The training period for the 2012 North American Stallion Testing has finished.  Members of the team are in the stalls, braiding up the stallions for their presentation today while we perform the 23 vet exams this morning.  These vet exams are performed on the same level as performed at the beginning of the test.  It is a complete physical exam with a soundness exam on the lunge line.  This exam is performed to ensure that the horse is in good condition to be judged.  Later today the first of the two rideabilty/gaits judging days will start.  We will begin with the presentation of the two ponies in the Pony Stallion Test under saddle, and then follow with the 70 Day Test stallions.  Tomorrow will be the second day of rideability/gaits with the Pony Test showjumping judging in the afternoon.  Saturday will be the final judging day beginning at 8am CST with freejumping and followed by cross country in the afternoon.  After all the phases are complete, we will send the scores to Germany to be calculated and make the announcement of indexes/scores on Saturday night.  We will be posting more information on how these final judging days are scored in a similar fashion to the explanation given about the showjumping days in the next blog posts.  Who will be the 2012 North American Stallion Test champion(s)?!  Stay tuned to find out!!!!!

The Final Judging Days are Upon Us

Purpose of Freejumping Sessions

077ab55046ce80eaf9a3ddea999597ca_LDuring the course of the 65 days of training we will have, on average, seven freejumping sessions.  The first session is done sometime during the first week of training to assess the base line for each stallion – their level of experience, their level of confidence, and the talent they currently display in the chute.  This give us an idea for how many sessions we will probably need to have with each stallion, and what type of training they will need.  For example, some stallions may just need to have the routine of going through the chute so they will feel more comfortable, others may have some experience, but we can help them with their scope and technique by setting various heights and types of jumps, etc.  The second freejumping session normally comes in the middle of the test.  This allows us to see if the natural talent they display in the chute has improved from increasing their level of fitness.  As they build more muscle, some stallions may show surprising better levels of scope and technique – just because they are more fit.  If the stallions seem to be on the same level as the first session, then we start to make a plan to see if we can help them with training in freejumping sessions.  When the 30 Day and Pony Tests begin, (we do not have any 30 Day Test stallions this year) we add freejumping to the schedule every Monday morning.  The stallions who are in the 30 Day/Pony Tests only have 27 training days, so they only have 4 opportunities to go through the jump chute before the final days.  This also allows us to have an opportunity to add freejumping sessions for stallions in the 70 Day Test that we believe could benefit from more sessions.  We do not jump 100% of the stallions during these final sessions.  We also do not jump the stallions as high as they can every session.  These freejumping sessions are used to give the stallions confidence and the best technique so they can showcase their highest level of scope during the final judging day.  Another reason for not maxing the height during every session is it is very important to us that the stallions remain sound through the whole training period, so we do not want to risk injury as much as possible.  It is very easy to see the ones that can jump high.  It is not necessary for us to test it – especially repeatedly, and risk the stallions having to take a few days off for soreness or worse.  It is probably also interesting to know that we set up the freejumping chute exactly the same every time.  We may add a fresh coat of paint :), but everything else is set up exactly the same as it has been from day one.  This year we are very priveleged to have a lot of big jumpers in the test this year.  We anticipate that the showjumping days and the final freejumping/cross country day will be very exciting to watch!!!  🙂  (So will the dressage, but that’s for another post.) 🙂

Purpose of Freejumping Sessions

The Turning Point

fd8b0f77d767f1f6640afba6916ff67c_LAnd with a blink of an eye, it seems, we have passed the midway point of the Stallion Test.  This is a very important point in the test.  At this point, the stallions are in a good condition, they understand the type of training, and we can now fine tune the training plan to continue to bring the level of performance from them higher and higher so that in four weeks we will be able to provide the best window into their potential.

It has been a little while since the last blog entry, so I will take the opportunity to fill you in on what happened last week.  Last week the stallions repeated the program of two days in the cross country, two days of flatwork, and two days of jumping.  However, we also took one of those jumping days and fully set the course, so the stallions have now started training the course in entirety.  Also, on their second day in the cross country, we added riding in the second pasture that is included in the course (there is a total of three).  Pasture number two formerly included the “log stack” jump.  Now, a new “rock wall” wooden box element has been added to replace the former “log stack” jump.  We have not started schooling that element yet, but use that pasture to ask the stallions to go at an extended trot for one round and then a forward canter on the second round.  This has been successfully used in all the years before to bring out the bigger gaits in the stallions.  It also improves their fitness and endurance as well as getting them acquainted with another section of the cross country course.  On the day when the stallions started schooling the showjumping course, the course was set at 1.0m. or less.  On the showjumping judging days, the final height of the course will be 1.0m with the one vertical and one oxer where the judge riders will have the option to test the stallions at a higher height.  Next week we will start testing the stallions under saddle to see what is the appropriate height that the judge riders will be allowed to ask to test the stallions over at those two jumps.  A factor that is taken under consideration when planning the training for this is the talent that the stallions show in the jump chute.  They do not have to jump the height they jump in the chute under saddle.  But, if they exhibit superior scope and technique, then we do our best to gear the training towards the judge rider being able to have the same impression under saddle.

The last 30 days of training is the most intense of the Stallion Test.  Because the first 40 days are used to increase the fitness of the stallions, they are able to handle this program.  It is gradually increased to this point, and still is individually tailored to each stallion.  To try to bring over 20 stallions to the point where they are at their peak of fitness and performance all on the same 5 judging days in three different disciplines is no feat short of a miracle.  They all have to be very rideable with enough power to show their scope for the showjumping course, be very fit with a lot of endurance for the cross country, but at the same time also show the biggest gaits they have while being very soft and rideable for the rideability/gaits portion. To train for all of this, while maintaining soundness for 70 days is very time intensive with a lot of attention to detail.  So, that explains why there was a little bit of the lag in posts.  🙂  Also, we are pleased to announce that we had two ponies ship in for the 30 Day Pony Test, and both successfully passed the initial vetting and have been accepted into the test.  The countdown is on!   Two and a half weeks till the showjumping judging days!!!!!

The Turning Point

There Can Be No Comparison

c9b002fe1bb0320831a8ae78670fdb6f_LOne of the biggest misconceptions we often hear is that one year of the Stallion Test can be compared to the others.  The 65 day training period is different for every test.  As mentioned before, we construct that training plan to fit the individual needs of the stallions.  We have no idea what condition they will be in when they arrive, what their rideability and personality is like, or what life experiences or foundation they are coming into the Stallion Test with.  In addition, they are coming in with a wide range of talent and experience. In the same year we can get stallions who have come straight from professional training barns or national championships and others with only 90 days under saddle.  Or, we can have a different year where the large majority of stallions are very inexperienced for their age, are very difficult to work with, or vice versa, in which case they develop much faster than the years before.  Every year presents its own challenges, and we never know what we will be working with until they actually step off the trailer and we have the chance to put the riders on and work with them regularly.  From time to time we have heard people say “It was at this point that the stallions had trouble” or “this part of the Stallion Test usually…”.  There is no way these statements are accurate.  Every year is an ever-changing, evolving process of its own.  It depends largely on the work ethic of the stallions, their condition when they come in, and how quickly they progress physically and mentally in their training.  So each year progresses at a different rate and in in a different manner.  We do not have the same training schedule, and different training methods may be used.  (Also, on a side note, some of the training also depends on the weather…)  In addition, the work ethic or the personality of the stallions may change drastically (either for worse or better) once they are more fit.  Ones may come in with small bad habits, and are very well behaved at the end, and others may grow increasingly resistant once they have more power.  Again, that is another wild card that is thrown our way randomly at any point in time during the test.  We are very happy to say that the field this year has been a lot of fun to work with and have here at Silver Creek.  We have started the test with 22 stallions, and (knock on wood 🙂 ) on Day 44 we still have 22 stallions in the test (24 with the two ponies in the Pony Test)!  But, I do have to say that even though each year  feels as though it is a blind leap of faith, it is one of the best feelings in the world to work with such talented stallions every year!!!

There Can Be No Comparison