By Raigo Kollom (ESHB/ESH)
Photography: Haide Westring
The Estonian Sport Horse Breeders Society has borrowed this headline slogan from the business world. We are one of the newest WBFSH member studbooks, launched in 2000, from impoverished beginnings – both financially and genetically. Estonia has traditionally been a country of much-loved, hardworking horses, with the Toric breed being a good example of a multi-disciplinary equine for both agriculture and for driving to church.
More recently, another tradition was thinking of Trakehners as the ideal riding horse, as they’ve been popularly bred in Estonia since 1968. The country has certainly not had a reputation for jumping, and Estonian riders were not happy with the available choice of horses, although some more talented home-bred Trakehners rose to 1m50, and even 1m60 classes.
So, in 2000, a group of 25 small-scale breeders with riding roots and future ambitions founded a new studbook, using the performance goals of the KWPN and Zangersheide studbooks as examples based purely on performance. The new studbooks principles were quoted as ‘European breeding without borders’, and ‘A breed is not a goal but a tool,’ on the road to producing better horses.
Although Estonia was not then a member state of the European Union, they complied with all the EC regulations and achieved good support from government officials, including minister for agriculture, Ivary Padar (now a member of the European Parliament).
The studbook’s first task succeeded in creating an electronical database for AI, and identifying contacts within Western European studbooks. The first supply of imported semen to be used in Estonia was from Voltaire (Team Nijhof), which produced two foals. Today, around 40% of the foals in the ESH main studbook have been born using imported semen. As Estonians are, or think they are, very individualistic, almost every breeder tries to buy something different from his neighbours, so between 2015 and 2017, a total of 79 international stallions were used to produce 112 foals. Only one BWP stallion, I’m Special de Muze, had 11 foals during this period, while all the others had only three or less. the neighbours have. Principally, any stallion licensed with a member studbook of the WBFSH is accepted for AI.
So Estonian don’t form their own stallion lines, nor do they imagine they have a special breed. According to Board Chairman Raigo Kollom, “In reality, we are a small studbook within the great big European sport horse breeding world. We make the same kind of selections as most studbooks, but maybe sometimes we take more risks. For example the most influencial stallion in the pedigrees of our best horses are: A Pikachu de Muze (2000: Kannan x Cin Chin, WBCYH six-year-old champion) was licensed only because of his jumping ability (10 points), with seven points or less in other criteria. Verso de Paulstra (1987: Almé x Furioso xx), with 61 foals is the most popular stallion, although he was licensed according to his pedigree – related to Jalisco B – because he’d suffered an injury.
“On the other hand, we sometimes don’t take risks at all: Spartacus (2003: Stakkato x Grannus) we licensed at first sight. But we prefer to use the stallions selected by the best studbooks according to stricter and more reliable testing. Among the ESH horses competing internationally, the descendants of Verdi, Clinton, and Heartbreaker are ranked highly.”
Paradoxally one reason for the success of ESH horses is that, lacking wealthy sponsors, all the best products are owned by their breeders and/or riders. Kollom continued: “From the one side it is bad, and we are sad to see the wonderful BWP mare Ibelle van de Grote Haart jumping now for Brazil. In the World Cup Final in Paris our rider, Urmas Raag, finished eighth with her in the final and most difficult class. From the other side, this situation compels our best riders to jump mostly with ESH horses, who have shown themselves to be better than, or at least equal to horses from other studbooks.”
In Soviet times, and for some years later, the majority of Estonian riders were competing with Russian, then German, Dutch or Belgian horses. Now, the Russians and riders from Italy, the USA, Great Britain, Poland, Ireland, even from Turkey, Bahrain and Argentina have had international starts with ESH horses, as have the Estonian riders themselves.
In recent years, Estonian riders have definitely discovered the qualities of ESH horses, and have been competing internationally with 47% Estonian-bred horses. For four years in a row, Estonian horses have won their own showjumping championship, and every year between 2012 and 2017 in dressage. The ESH studbook is in the Horsetelex rankings for jumping horses in 36th place, while the Bodjonny breed from Russia, once so admired by riders, ranks 83rd. It’s gratifying that our best friends in neighbouring countries, once so far ahead of us in breeding, are now a little behind us. The same can be seen in the WBFSH studbook rankings where ESH is placed 31st...