Stallionzone News

AWHA Ltd Assessment Tour 2014 - A Judge's Perspective

Published on Thursday, March 13, 2014 in Stallionzone

By: Joanne Verikios

Highest % Studbook Led  AUSTRALIA and Highest % Studbook Led  WA: CPE Fuerstenbelle (IIU) by Fürstenball (IFS) out of Bella Madonna (Imp) (Bellissimo NRW). Owned by Sara McLeod. 91.79%. Photo: Caroline McLeod ©
Highest % Studbook Ridden QLD: Kohinoor Fortune by Fishermans Friend (Imp) out of Jaybee Alicia (Aachimedes). Owned by Hannah and Donna Barker. 83.50%. Photo: Catherine Reid Photography and Designs ©
= Highest % Studbook Led – VIC: Hollingrove Dami (ET) by Dancier (IFS) out of St.Pr.St. Bella Carmina (Imp) (Belissimo NRW). Owned by Bruce and Debbie Williams. 88.21%. Hollingrove Dami was also the highest combined score from the AWHA Victorian Branch 2014 Gala Day Show and the AWHA Ltd 2014 Assessment Tour for foals. This award was designed to encourage breeders to enter foals for the Gala Day Show and Assessment Tour. Photo: AWHA Ltd ©
2nd Highest % WPRB/WID Led – AUSTRALIA, Highest % WPRB/WID Led  VIC, Highest % WPRB/WID Ridden AUSTRALIA and Highest % WPRB/WID Ridden VIC: Prospect Hill Royal Rose by Royal Hit (Imp/Dec) out of Rose of the Plain (AUS). Owned by Leona Kostos. 89.46% (Led) and 93.00% (Ridden). Photo: BRAY Photographics ©
 3rd Highest % WPRB/WID Led  AUSTRALIA: NEP Bugatti by Callaho's Benicio (IFS) out of Hollingrove Sasha (Sandro Hit (IFS)). Owned by Kate Barton. 87.86%. Photo: Eric Lloyd Photography ©
 3rd Highest % WPRB/WID Ridden – AUSTRALIA and Highest % WPRB/WID Ridden - WA: Relentless R by Regardez Moi (Imp) out of Top Ally (AUS). Owned by Sara Price. 86.50%. Photo: Eric Lloyd Photography ©
 Assessor Joanne Verikios adding up the averages and percentages of the assessments. Photo: AWHA Ltd ©
Assessor Lynne Crowden discussing the strengths and weaknesses of horses during the assessment tour. Lynne also offered ways to help improve their weaknesses and support their strengths. Photo: AWHA Ltd ©
Lynne in discussion with the crowd during a seminar at 5 Star Equestrian in Victoria, with Denise Ceddia and AEA Prestige. Photo: BRAY Photographics ©

Why am I writing this article?  It all began last year on a cool, breezy day in Gatton.  The date was 15 June 2013 and Silvia Ahamer, who is the Federal Registrar of the Australian Warmblood Horse Association (AWHA) Ltd, and I had just finished judging at the 2013 AWHA QLDBranch and IHB Gala Day.  Silvia asked me whether I might be interested in working with an international judge during the 2014 Assessment Tour. 

Having herself participated in the 2013 Tour, Silvia was well-qualified to tell me what to expect, including a time commitment of up to three weeks, the joys of living out of a suitcase and many hours on the road or in the air.  Silvia said that she was approaching me because of my involvement with the AWHA Ltd during the past 30 years, including as a classifier, judge, breeder of Australian Warmblood studbook horses including a licensed stallion, not to mention as Federal Registrar and Federal President.  I expect that the fact that I have not owned any horses for over a decade, and so can be seen to be quite impartial, was also a point in my favour. 

I was very flattered and honoured to be considered, so when the formal invitation arrived I accepted at once and blocked out the time in my calendar.

For those who are not familiar with the concept, let me take a moment to outline the format and purpose of an Assessment Tour.  Perhaps the simplest analogy is that it is a bit like a huge breed show, except the judges (assessors) travel to the horses rather than vice versa.  As my international counterpart, Lynne Crowden, observed, the process could probably be achieved in a single show in the UK – provided everybody attended…

From my point of view, the Tour has four main aims.  The first aim is to provide AWHA Ltd members with an opportunity to have their horses assessed by independent judges at a point in time in order to receive feedback on their breeding program or acquisitions to date.  This in turn can inform decision making with regard to future combinations of bloodlines, not only for owners of horses entered in the Tour but also for people in the wider breeding community.  The second aim is to encourage the breeders of Tour entrants by focussing on what they have achieved to date and suggesting strategies for further improvement.  The third aim is to enable interstate competition without the need for owners and horses to travel long distances.  The fourth aim is to showcase the progeny of the AWHA Ltd around the country and internationally, allowing breeders and riders to see what different studs are producing and thus to facilitate the selection and purchase of superior riding horses, purpose-bred for the sports of dressage, show jumping and eventing.

I was thrilled to learn that my co-assessor was to be Lynne Crowden of Woodlander Stud in the UK.  Acquiring Lynne’s services was a real coup for the AWHA Ltd.  Lynne is such a lovely, generous, knowledgeable lady with impeccable credentials and an amazing record of achievement in Warmblood breeding.  To give you just two modest examples, Lynne bred Farouche, winner of the 2011 5-year old World Championship title at Verden and has produced over a dozen licensed stallions including the likes of Woodlander Rockstar, Woodlander Wavavoom and Woodlander Supertramp.  She is also a trained Warmblood judge and officiates for a number of the major breed associations/Verbändein the UK and Europe.

With my excitement came a degree of trepidation.  What if we didn’t get on?  What if our assessments of individual horses were vastly different?  I needn’t have worried because we hit it off immediately, our scores were remarkably and consistently similar and I really enjoyed both Lynne’s company and that of her husband Dave, who accompanied us on most of the Tour.  It was great fun experiencing Australia through their eyes and delighting in their assimilation of the vernacular.  The phrase “Love your work” became a firm favourite and Lynne quickly figured out that “No worries” means “You are welcome”.  Lynne and Dave have great senses of humour and we had quite a few laughs in the course of our travels.  It was great to hear how they managed such a large operation and I learned a lot.

The 2014 AWHA Ltd Assessment Tour formally began on 22 February in South Australia, proceeded through New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia and ended in Victoria on 10 March.  Tour venues ranged from large commercial facilities to private studs of various sizes.  

In broad terms, the categories for the Tour were led classes and ridden classes divided by age group and gender.  Entries ranged from foals at foot, weanlings, yearlings, colts, mares and geldings right through to venerable broodmares who are still in fine fettle.  Many owners took the opportunity to present their mares for classification at the same time, in which case we completed the similar but more forensic classification process before proceeding to the assessment component.  Those in the led classes presented on the triangle at the walk and trot, then turned loose in the arena for evaluation of their free movement at the walk, trot and canter.  Horses in the ridden classes were asked to show their paces and rideability at all gaits, along the lines of a materiale test. 

What was most rewarding for me was seeing the results of over four decades of selective breeding with stud stock that are approved as fit for purpose along the lines of the major German studbooks.  The general standard was high with scores distributed in bell curve fashion from over 70% (better than “fairly good’), through over 80% (better than “good”) to over 90% (better than “very good”).  It was a great pleasure to see several individuals warrant a score of 10/10 for some aspects of the assessment.

As indicated by the scores, we saw a fascinating line up of considerable quality, including some animals that Lynne Crowden declared were of clearly international standard.  Australian breeders, under the umbrella of the AWHA Ltd (founded in 1978), can therefore be justifiably proud of their progress to date.  They have taken what the Warmblood world has to offer, whether it be Danish, Dutch, Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Oldenburger, Trakhener etc., combined it initially with local bloodlines (predominantly Thoroughbred) and produced very attractive and rideable Australian Warmbloods, many of which are now being crossed back to overseas sire lines and dam lines via international frozen semen or via local stallions over imported mares.  Progress is clearly being accelerated by advances in embryo transfer technology, further importation of horses from Europe and, in some cases, the importation of horses in utero.

As a result, the majority of the horses in the Tour could be described as the “modern sport horse type”; that is to say long-lined, long-legged athletes suited to the Olympic disciplines.  Of those, most were bred for dressage, quite a few were bred for or suited to showjumping and a smaller number were bred for or suited to eventing.  

We also encountered a number of owners who advised they had set out to breed an all-rounder and subsequently had some interesting conversations on this topic.  The key point here is that the different Olympic disciplines demand different characteristics of conformation and gait, with dressage and showjumper types defined separately.  The reason for this is that it would be as unfair to judge the walk of a showjumper according to dressage standards as it would be to judge the sprinting style of a weightlifter according to runners’ standards.  Their sports are different – a showjumper does not need a great walk to compete, any more than a weightlifter needs to run well in order to perform a clean and jerk.  This is not meant to imply that a dressage horse can’t jump or a jumper can’t do dressage because clearly they can – even though their natural ability will vary.  Eventers do both and gallop across country into the bargain, with the best ones exhibiting different characteristics again (including, usually, more Thoroughbred blood).  In an eventer we want a multifunctional horse with the ability to last, according to standards of type that have yet to be delineated.

Assessment is a matter of evaluating design and efficiency, because a horse that is built for the job will find the work easier and therefore be easier to train and ride.  Of course there are exceptions to every rule and horses continue to delight and surprise us by their adaptability, but at the end of the day the better conformed horse has a far greater chance of both doing its job and staying sound throughout its performance career.

Because we saw horses in many different venues and on many different surfaces, indoors and outdoors, over an extended period, the main challenge for us as assessors was to ensure that we remained consistent for the duration of the Tour.  We are both comfortable that we achieved this, firstly by adherence to an unchanging ideal and secondly by judging what we saw on the day.  In some cases our notes reflected the possibility that there might be more to come – perhaps under different circumstances or with more training – but our scores were true to our observations at the time.  

This leads me to a highlight of the Tour, namely Lynne Crowden’s seminars at each of the major venues.  The format and topics varied slightly each time but some themes were constant.  From the point of view of the Association, it was fascinating to learn that the British Warmblood Horse Society had been on much the same journey and was perhaps five years ahead of where the AWHA Ltd is now.  

Lynne pointed out that the job of a studbook is not to produce hundreds of Grand Prix horses for the highest levels of dressage or showjumping; it is to support breeders to produce a type, resulting in horses that are commercially viable because they can be ridden and enjoyed by average riders.  It does this by rewarding the horses that are going in the direction that the studbook believes the breed should go.  In view of the distribution of scores, I think we can conclude that the AWHA Ltd is on the right track, with opportunities for future refinement in strategic direction.  

From the perspective of owners and breeders, the practical sessions of assessing the conformation and movement of different horses were invaluable.  Of great interest, too, were Lynne’s insights into topics such as the notion of structural efficiency, the importance of the mother line in the pedigree, the value of “putting blood on the bone” (i.e., using a stallion with a lot of Thoroughbred blood over a Warmblood mare) and the use of line breeding.

Let me conclude by congratulating the Federal Board of the AWHA Ltd on the outstanding organisation of this tour.  It was a team effort but Claudette Johnson, Shanna Antrim and Silvia Ahamer deserve special mention for their efforts on behalf of their members.  Thank you, too, for the opportunity to be part of something very special.  

I would also like to thank the members all around Australia who took time out of their busy lives to drive us to and from airports, venues, stud stops and accommodation; the State Committees who entertained us in the evenings and the delightful owners who not only presented their lovely horses for assessment and welcomed our feedback but also provided a level of hospitality that we appreciated very much.  

To Lynne and Dave Crowden, I offer my heartfelt thanks for your wonderful company, friendship, wit and wisdom.

Last but not least, it is appropriate to offer a tribute to the horses, whose beauty and nobility continue to inspire us all.

The AWHA Ltd would like to thank their sponsors and supporters of their assessment tour through whose kindness helped make this tour a success:

•             Horsezone: www.horsezone.com.au

•             Arnage Warmblood Stud: www.warmbloodstuds.com.au

•             BRAY Photographics: www.facebook.com/BrayPhotographics

•             Carlar Park Equestrian: www.carlarparkequestrian.com.au

•             Catherine Reid Photography and Designs: www.catherinereid.com.au

•             Eric Lloyd Photography: www.ericlloydphotography.com

•             Narbethong Equestrian Park: www.narbethong.com.au

•             Nikki Pollock Photography: www.nikipollockphotography.com

•             Oaks Sport Horses: www.oakssporthorses.com

•             Stallions Plus: www.stallionsplus.com

•             The Horse Show Australia: www.facebook.com/pages/The-Horse-Show-Australia/491942867579966

The AWHA Ltd have already started plans for their 2015 AWHA Ltd National Assessment Tour. As details are finalised, they will be published on the AWHA Ltd website and on the AWHA Ltd Facebook web page.

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