By Kim Lundin
Photography: Courtesy VDL and FEI
He gave an entire studbook wings and the strength to rise as his influence provided a positive injection and his offspring have taken SWB to real ranking progress. It is not yet possible to emphasize Cardento's significance for Swedish jumping breeding in general. A white legend, immortalized through championship medals and for his legacy of successful offspring.
“There is only one stallion who has had a similar career and meant as much to his studbook as Cardento meant to SWB – and that is Cornet Obolensky. His importance to German Westphalia equals what Cardento meant for Swedish breeding: International demand, sporting successes, and good placements in the rankings.” These words came from Wiebe van de Lageweg, the eldest of three sons of the VDL stud’s founder Wiepke van de Lageweg, and today a living encyclopaedia about everything related to European jumping.
During his years in Sweden, Cardento covered a lot of mares but far fewer than he might have. He participated in four championships during the breeding seasons in Sweden, and his results are historically etched in stone: Three team medals at the European Championships and Olympic Games. A career that should have been crowned by the World Equestrian Games in Aachen 2006, but it did not happen. However, a career topping moment came with an Olympic team silver in Athens 2004.
After virtually filling the quota of the six best horses from each studbook for several years to create the WBFSH rankings, it is easy to be led to believe that a large proportion of Swedish Warmblood’s studbook is filled with Cardento offspring. And with such unprecedented sporting success, there must be a large number to choose from, right? No! Cardento sired only 2.88% of all SWB horses born between 1998 to 2020. However, with that in mind, his offspring's success in the sport becomes even more remarkable, so let’s take a walk down memory lane... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber
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Cardento’s path into Swedish breeding
In many ways, several different stakeholders worked together from their field of play to position Cardento on Swedish soil. Hans Barkevall, longtime chairman of the SWB stallion committee and legendary judge, remembers the shift in the period around 1996-1997. “The Breeding Association (SWB) changed its breeding goal to include the declaration that the horses bred should be internationally viable in sport. It changed our whole view of which stallions were needed. Inge Wilhelmsson, fellow committee member and judge, and I agreed that we needed additional international jumping blood,” Barkevall recalls. At this time, the Swedish horses’ quality could not compare to the level of showjumping internationally. The split between mares with a jumping pedigree versus dressage pedigrees was different from today. Back then it was an almost even number between the two, compared with today’s majority of jumping mares in the SWB studbook.”
The Dutch VDL Stud was in an expansion phase to several countries and Wiebe van de Lageweg had partnered with Helena Hugosson and Jonas Persson with the stallion Everest who made his first season in Sweden in 1992. “In the family we agreed to try and get more stallions to Sweden and with Cardento in mind, we asked Jonas to help us find a good stallion station with a good rider with whom we could work. Cardento was not approved in KWPN and needed a skilled rider. Jonas suggested the former state stud Flyinge because there was one of the world's best riders – Peter Eriksson,” Wiebe explains.
According to Jonas Persson, “My first memory of Cardento is from a visit to VDL early in 1995. Dennis van Tilburg and I had just loose-jumped a horse in VDL’s small indoor, and the obstacles remained at 1m30-1m35. Cardento came in, then three-years-old, very gangly, and angular, just discarded by KWPN, and took the whole series in trot, it was fantastic to see. I had heard through my German friends that Capitol as a sire was great blood, but for me the stallion in front of me was mostly a green young stallion who really could jump. On behalf of VDL, I started suggesting to Flyinge that they include VDL stallions in their program. At that point in time VDL had moved into more sport-oriented performance breeding, and in their world Peter Eriksson stood for everything that was right, just everything.
“I showed video of Cardento to Hans Barkevall and he was all fire and flames. Barkevall was the one who convinced the former state stud Flyinge that this was a stallion worth investing in.”
Flyinge, which had gone from a state-owned stallion depot to Flyinge AB, needed stallions but had zero cash. Dr Ingvar Fredricson, director of Flyinge from 1983-1998, was looking for more internationally proven jumping stallions for Flyinge’s stallion roster. “We had no money to shop, so it came down to persuasion and I had an ace up my sleeve: Peter Eriksson could ride, train, and compete the stallions that came to us. It was hard currency,” Fredricson said.
He’d previously had contact with VDL founder Wiepke van de Lageweg with regard to borrowing the Nimmerdor son Ahorn for Sweden, but the arrangement stalled. Instead came the opportunity to take an unproven Capitol son with extraordinary scope. Together with Peter Eriksson, Flyinge's Birgitta Bentzer, the stallion committee chairman Hans Barkevall, and committee member Inge Wilhelmsson, they drove on a stormy evening in November 1996 to Bears in northern Holland, where the VDL Stud is located.
Ingvar Fredricson took up the story: “It rained in the morning, we were out early, and at this time VDL did not have an indoor arena big enough for jumping. It was a rather obnoxious stallion we got to see, immature in his body and still quite skinny, in addition to being grey which at the time was not so popular.”
Peter Eriksson's test riding and jumping with the then four-year-old Cardento became a real eye opener because there was something special in the young stallion. Continuing, Ingvar Fredricson explained; “I knew that his pedigree was of the best brand, but what we saw before he started jumping may not have been so convincing, but Peter Eriksson's enthusiasm turned everyone in his favour.”
Cardento came to Flyinge in January 1995 and Peter Eriksson prepared him in the best way, during the years that followed, not least with the help of dressage international Kyra Kyrklund. “He passed the SWB stallion test in February and was then put into training under Peter. Many breeders questioned what we had brought home – ‘an effing coat hanger’ – as he certainly did not look much as a young horse.”
With Hans Barkevall, the impressions from the young Cardento live strong in his memory: “Both Inge Wilhelmsson and I thought he was a good fit for Swedish mares; a good size, a good way to move for a jumping stallion, and above all a very good jumping technique. We were so enthusiastic that we discussed buying him ourselves if it didn’t work out with Flyinge. We were both so impressed by this young stallion who jumped in such a way that we just had to take care of such an individual.”
Peter Eriksson turns Cardento into a legend
“Without the slightest doubt, Cardento is my once-in-a-lifetime horse, the most successful, the horse I’ve had the longest, and the one that has meant the most to me. He has given me my best moments on the course and my worst.”
The now legendary and crucial test ride of Cardento is etched in Peter Eriksson’s memory. “It was a nice autumn day in November, it immediately felt like it was a talented horse, a four-year-old. I jumped an obstacle of 1m50 with him, maybe not strictly something that is really advisable with a young horse, but he made it as simple as it could possibly be. He had incredible capacity and scope, a very capable horse.” Eriksson continued by saying; “As I recall, the stallion committee representatives were more hesitant about his particular movement pattern. I was very enthusiastic, to say the least, but he moved differently, this was 1996 and the whole concept of performance stallions was new.”
When Cardento came to Sweden and Flyinge in January 1997, Peter Eriksson began to prepare the stallion, as a five-year-old and with a good 100-day test from Germany on his resumé, he was entered as a performance stallion into the SWB stallion test that year. “It was jumping before the board, and that same year a number of stallions were approved who later did well in the sport: Levantos II (Liostro - Andra II x Cantus); Greve Molke (Irco Marco - Ultra x Utrillo); Cagliostro (Calando I - Zilia x Liostro); Calino (Calando - Larissa x Landgraf I); King Marco (Irco Marco - Caravelle xx x Carnoustie xx); and Lord Alberth (Little Boy - Algebra x Aladin Z).
“Cardento was in demand in breeding immediately, even though he still looked a little undeveloped as a five-year-old. He did well in young-horse classes the first two years, but it was only when he was seven and the obstacles became higher that he started to be exceptional. When we started to jump up to 1m40, his results and rideability improved, and he had it very easy from that level on. In fact, in the autumn of his seventh year he went to the indoor Swedish championships and finished sixth. He could not cope fully yet; it was early in his development. In Falsterbo, he finished third in the seven-year-old class, which that year had international seven- and eight-year-olds, and there were only two eight-year-olds ahead of him,” Eriksson explained.
The results started to get better, and one reason was the training from the national team coach Henk Noreen, but above all it was the work that Peter Eriksson put into building the stallion that paid off. They worked a lot on his rideability, placing great emphasis on groundwork and lengthening and shortening his canter strides. According to Eriksson, “The groundwork with a lot of dressage strengthened him, he could do pirouettes and two-time-changes and this improved his gaits. Once I could shorten and collect the canter more, his course results also improved, becoming so good that we were selected for the Sydney 2000 Olympic team. But I then thought that as an eight-year-old he was too inexperienced and not strong enough, so as a rider I made the very difficult decision to decline the spot. In retrospect, it feels good, but at the time you want it so much, but it was right to decline. Instead, I went to Gera in Germany where we won the Grand Prix class, for the first and only time internationally.”
As a nine-year-old, Eriksson and Cardento make their championship debut and rode in the World Cup final in Gothenburg that same year. At the European Championships in Arnhem, it was a team silver and the beginning of a successful era.
Eriksson recalls; “Arnhem was the first attempt at a championship, but Cardento got a little tired physically as he was not fully grown or fully trained. The combination of breeding work and the big classes was a little too much. He could feel it in the hindles, and sometimes towards the end of a competition weekend it was affecting his results.”
Many were the Flyinge open days when Peter Eriksson and Cardento delighted the audience with training stunts other than high jumps. Not least they showed the training that had changed the stallion’s entire expression and conformation, doing dressage-quality pirouettes. Eriksson explained; “He was a stallion who could do things you’d never consider with other horses, jumping through a ring of fire, and one year over a car! But it took at least four years to strengthen Cardento to the level that he could do a canter pirouette. It [training] doesn’t move so fast; all horses must be strengthened over time.
“Cardento had maybe an honest 5-5-6 on the gaits or even 5-4-6 for walk-trot-canter. He learned to canter and carry his rider, then came up to an 8-graded canter. If you cannot develop the canter, there will not be much of a horse in the end.”
Following initial discussions about Cardento's gaits, specifically walk and trot, the topic died, although Eriksson still had certain challenges with his walk, saying; “It was difficult to get the walk clean, he wanted to go in pass, you had to take care of it and actively work with the walk. This is quite tough for many Capitol horses, some very famous championship horses such as Carthago for example. When horses are long-legged and at the same time short in the body, it is difficult to get enough room.”
The success from Arnhem was repeated at the Jerez 2002 World Equestrian Games with another team silver. At the European Championships in Donauschingen in 2003, the result was dire for the team, but on the final day, Peter and Cardento won the final individual class, and said; “It was here that I felt that this is it. Now he is strong enough, now we can get serious.”
At the same time, VDL wanted Cardento to end his career on a high note with the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Eriksson’s best and worst moment
“The team medal from the Olympics in Athens is my absolute best memory with Cardento, it was huge. It was the first and last time I had a refusal with him, on obstacle three in the first round of the team class, an evening class. I still have no idea what happened. Then we went into a jump-off, extremely unusual after two rounds, we were not allowed to walk the course. When I rode into the Markoupoulo Stadium, I saw a shortcut that saved a lot of time, and we jumped over one of the decorations on the course. I’d had a revelation, then and there, things like that happen,” Eriksson revealed, adding; “Standing on the podium at an Olympics was our greatest achievement.”
After returning to Flyinge there were negotiations with VDL Stud who then thought the 12-year-old Cardento should go into the breeding box full time. Thanks to a compromise between VDL and Flyinge, 2005 would be dedicated to breeding, but Flyinge and Eriksson got to keep Cardento with the goal of ending his career at the Aachen 2006 World Equestrian Games.
Cardento spent a few months in the Netherlands while Eriksson maintained his training and competed more sporadically without championship participation in 2005. Eriksson explained; “We kept to the plan and had good results in the beginning of 2006 from Gothenburg and the Aachen competition in May. In Falsterbo, a Swedish thank-you-and-farewell ceremony was arranged, we knew he was going home so it was a big ceremony, very emotional. In terms of competition results, Cardento and I were placed in both Hickstead and Falsterbo, which were the final competitions before WEG. Everything was set up for one last moment in the spotlight at WEG, it was both mine and VDL's dream, and after the event we would drive via the VDL stud in Bears and unload him at home.
“That year Sweden didn’t have a team as strong as previously, for example, in Jerez 2002. Cardento was in the shape of his life, he jumped fantastically in training before WEG and I was optimistic. Henk Noreen took out the team and announced that Cardento and I had been selected as reserves, the fifth combination. It was an incredible disappointment, I do not know even today why it happened, I really thought we had the results to take a team place.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in sport, so damn heavy, we had 10 seasons together and this had been our goal for so long. It was almost as difficult to get over as when I took the wrong path in the World Cup final. The farewell ceremony in Sweden was supposed to be a half halt, in Aachen where they build the courses so big, we could have done something magnificent. It was a difficult trip to the Netherlands, to unload him and leaving him there burned in my chest as he’d been my partner for a decade.”
Wiebe van de Lageweg remembers the ending clearly and is not a man of strong, harsh words. But even so many years later the disappointment is clear in his voice when he says; “I was not happy about the team selection, and didn’t agree with it, but that’s how it turned out.”
Ironically, that year, Sweden recorded one of its worst WEG team results; 12th place.
The legacy: Successful sport horses everywhere
Cardento's covering numbers are an unusual sight, a popularity that persisted for many years with high numbers. There is often talk of the importance for SWB and it is undoubtedly unique in its kind, but Cardento has more offspring in other studbooks than in SWB, so should be considered a global stallion. His number of internationally competing offspring is huge, and since he has been a high-volume and sought-after sire for the past 10 years, his line of sport horses is likely to run for many years to come.
In conclusion, Peter Eriksson stated; “His offspring have had an ability and a strong will to jump and handle themselves well. Cardento has worked with very different mares, a lot of not-so-good mares. He has delivered with all kinds of mares, good and bad. For the offspring, everything in jumping seems to be quite simple for them.”.
Even though the covering figures are impressive, Jonas Persson can still feel that it is a little strange that more Swedish breeders did not use him, saying; “Some may have had no choice, he competed so much that some mares only got one round of semen and then the mare owner had to choose another stallion. We jokingly formed a concept, half joke, half serious, after a few years: ‘Breeding is Quite Easy – use Cardento’. He really stamped quality in all his offspring, regardless of the mare.” The joke became extra fun when his stablemate at Flyinge, Quite Easy often had to take over mares that could not get their ordered Cardento dose.
Why did Cardento's imprint on the SWB studbook become so massive and positive?
Wiebe van de Lageweg: “He matched the Swedish mares very well right from the start, he gave them that little extra they needed to produce sport horses. In principle, Swedish breeding received an extra injection to produce showjumping horses at exactly the right time, thanks to Peter Eriksson, Cardento developed into a world-class stallion. We’ve used him ourselves for several years and continue to breed on his sons and daughters. Part of the success lies in the fact that Cardento was ahead of his time and, at the same time, quite timeless, still relevant, just as Nimmerdor could be used for a long, long time. Cardento's light type and thoroughbred elements in the pedigree made him extremely useful in combination with his scope and capacity.”
Ingvar Fredricson: “Peter Eriksson's faith in and positivity about Cardento made many breeders interested early on and convinced. Peter's skill and judgment weighed heavily. Throughout Cardento's career he mainly got mares from breeders who were genuinely interested in jumping and who followed all Peter’s results. They believed in our, Flyinge’s, and VDL's selection and ignored how the offspring were judged in terms of type and gaits.”
Few approved sons
The vast majority of global stallions with thousands of offspring sometimes have well over 100 sons shown to stallion committees around Europe. Cardento has fewer than 60 approved sons, a handful of them are SWB-registered and, unfortunately, several are deceased. By way of explanation, and having ridden a large number of Cardento offspring, Peter Eriksson says; “There are few sons shown and approved – they may not have the ‘right conformation’ already at three to four years of age. They may not be quite ready to be shown at stallion tests with the right rideability as the age of four or five either, so then they will not be approved. His offspring can be both early in development – do well in young-horse tests and loose jumping – and then be slower developed in terms of rideability and need time to strengthen.”
According to Wiebe van de Lageweg; “A less favourable appearance in terms of type and expression has occasionally affected the young stallion prospects, it has taken time for them to grow into themselves. It is still a parameter of stallion approval, but for sport horses it doesn’t matter. I think it is a factor in that the number of approved Cardento sons is so few.”
It is hardly a surprise, however, that Cardento's most influential sons come from the VDL stud themselves, both among those who have been used in SWB and internationally. There are primarily three stallion sons who are currently in the Netherlands with offspring on their way up in sport classes: Carrera (2006: out of Vantiels Esprit x Baloubet du Rouet), Dakar (2008: Nisolde x Nimmerdor), and Grand Slam (Wonder AS x Heartbreaker), all with the VDL ‘surname’.
WvdL: “All three have inherited slightly different characteristics, give a better type than their father, but what they have in common is that they convey the same will to work and jump to their offspring. Grand Slam VDL is on his way up in classes, although the break in competition due to the pandemic has meant that all class climbing has slipped behind, but we expect a lot from him.
“Carrera leaves to his offspring the will to jump and wants to make his rider happy. His offspring are very athletic, easy to handle and to work with. They are alert and careful horses with a good mentality for competition.”
“Dakar looks a bit like his father. He has a really good canter and a large scope. Unfortunately, an injury has shortened his own competition career. His offspring are making some really good results, and are also very alert and careful.
“Kintaro VDL (out of Guioletta M x Guidam), who is in Sweden, I believe to be one of Cardento’s three best sons. He has lots of scope, good rideability paired with a nice mentality, and jumps well. After all, it is one of Cardento’s brands – they are not all beautiful, but they have what it takes to become excellent sports horses.”.
Will there ever be a new Cardento?
Dr. Ingvar Fredricson is quite clear in his opinion. “No, Cardento became a new breakthrough for showjumping breeding in Sweden, a second wave after stallions like Cortez, Robin Z and Irco Marco. It is not likely that there will be a new stallion with the same influence again as breeding today is so fragmented that no stallion has such a big impact.”
WvdL: “It is not easy to produce a new Cardento with such a sport career combined with breeding along the entire journey. It is difficult for stallions to achieve such dominance and impact today; we try to get new stars but quite honestly, I am hesitant. I keep him up there among the top five of the legends we had in the stable along with Nimmerdor, Jus de Pomme, Indoctro, and Emilion. Cardento has supported himself and ‘put dinner on the table’ for us many times over. He is eternal.”
Jonas Persson added, with conviction: “He stood out in so many ways, not least with his health during his active competition years, I cannot even remember that there was ever a veterinary bill. Then again, I'm not sure that Cardento would have become the same star in another studbook or at another stallion station. Peter Eriksson really let him flower and flourish, developed and managed him better than anyone else ever could.”
And it’s certainly true, the white legend Cardento's success story is as much based on magic around a jumping course as the breeding results in the shape of superb sport horses.
• Cardento (1992/Holsteiner Capitol I - B-Estelle x Lord (B-Estelle - Restelle x Sacramento Song xx x Marconi); 171 cms.
• Bred by Reimer Witt in Germany
• Owner: VDL Stud, the Netherlands
• Stationed at Flyinge 1997-2006, declared ‘elite’ stallion in SWB in 2006
• Made over €53,000 in prize money in Germany alone
• Groom: Lina Campbell/2001. Jenny Talinsson from 2002, and onboard for Jerez 2002 WEG (nowadays stable manager at Grevlundagården, home of Peder Fredricson)
• Offspring: Close to 3,600 shown in public records
• Horses in the SWB studbook with Cardento-lineage:
Direct offspring/2.88% of all SWB horses born 1998-2020 (in total 52,350 – SWB source)
• First and 2nd line:
6.24% of all SWB horses born 1998-2020 with Cardento as sire, damsire or grandsire – SWB source)
• Prizemoney from Cardento offspring internationally January 2015 - March 2021:
€7,283,396 (619 competing offspring 2015-2021)
• Most influential approved sons:
SWB (registrered offspring)
Algot (2000/deceased x Corland)
63 horses, 2 competing internationally;
Canvas Plus (2008/deceased x Cortez I)
38 horses, 2 competing internationally
Corporal VDL (2006 x Grosso Z)
238 horses, 9 competing internationally
Cosmopolite S (1998 x Roderik)
57 horses -
Cyklon (2001 x Cortus)
64 horses, 7 competing internationally
Kintaro VDL (born 2015 x Guidam)
Carrera VDL (2006 x Baloubet du Rouet)
807 horses, 47 competing internationally
Dakar VDL (2008 x Nimmerdor)
553 horses, 31 competing internationally
Grand Slam VDL (2011 x Heartbreaker)
549 horses, 3 competing internationally
• Approved sons: 58
• Selection of famous offspring (in sport now and top ranked)
Catch Me Not S
Flip’s Little Sparrow
Katanga v/h Dingeshof
• Previous stars:
H&M Kirlo van de Bosrande
• From Cardento’s first generations: 1998-2003 – Kiara La Silla; Classic Lady; Carisma; Carat; Algot; Caramell KS; Cyklon; Cadence; Glory Days; Matrix, Cafino’. [/s2If]