Tag Archives: buying a dressage horse

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The Billy Way

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William Funnell in the hot seat: how to select a young show-jumper and the state of the British market

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The world renowned Billy Stud operation started 22 years ago. It has subsequently produced a great number of notable showjumpers and eventers with the Billy prefix. The Billy Stud was the brainchild of William and Pippa Funnell, together with renowned sport horse dealer Donal Barnwell, who relished an opportunity to use their combined experience from showjumping and eventing at the very highest level, to improve British sport horse breeding. They are now breeding around 80 foals a year. We caught up with William to discover more about the stud’s philosophy, what he looks for when evaluating young sport horses.

 

Conformation is key and can be evaluated at a young age according to William. “They must be straight limbed but not straight in the hock because they usually struggle to sit behind. The hind leg is important for power to push off the ground as is the back. Just as the front legs are important for landing so these need to be straight and strong. They are likely to stay sounder and we all know a lame horse is worth nothing.”

 

When assessing conformation, William always looks at the loading points of a horse – so the hocks, front limbs and feet. “If these are not correct in the young horse, they are going to wear out much quicker and the horse won’t last” he says.

 

“In terms of the paces, I’m not too worried about a flash trot for a showjumper but I do like to see a horse step up underneath himself with the hind leg. You can tell a lot about a horse from his canter, even at a young age. The hind leg should be active and naturally move underneath the horse, not out behind.”

 

Whilst William believes you can tell a lot about the quality of a horse as a youngster in terms of its physical attributes, he say it is harder to judge temperament and trainability in the young horse. “In my experience, the sensitive ones can often be the horses who learn the quickest, once they understand what you want them to do. Sometimes the young horses who at first seem a bit aggressive, if you are quiet and build their trust once they realise you are a friend, they can become the nicest ones and often the horses you can build the best relationship with. They just need to let you in.”

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William would not consider buying a horse without X-rays, of any age but he is prepared to take a view on the findings. “X-rays are important for the long term especially in a young horse. I am less bothered about a chip of a bone spur and, if the horse is older with a good record, there is emphasis on completely clean X-rays, if the horse is sound whilst it has been worked and competed.”

 

The Billy Stud assess their youngsters regularly from the day they are born but they start being broken at three years old. “We start in March and send them to Will Plunkett who breaks five in a month. Before they go there, they will be handled well for a few weeks, loose jumped and X-rayed and we assess what we are going to put in the auction which happens in October.

 

The stud has held their own auction for the last two years now and are having great results. It is an online auction, whereby William, Pippa and Donal take a selection of the best three year olds and four to six years olds. Each one is fully assessed and X-rayed by an independent vet and potential buyers can come to see the horses in the flesh before choosing whether to put in a bid. The horses under saddle are also available to be tried. Videos and profiles of each horse is available online for those unable to view and brave enough to take a punt without seeing the horse. All X-rays and vettings can be released to prospective buyers for their own vet to evaluate.

 

William prefers to sell the Billy babies directly through their auction rather than sending them to others in the UK and abroad. “This way we are responsible solely for the quality of our own horses as it can be a real mixed bag at other sales. People trust us and know that we are not going to misrepresent what we are selling. It has proved a success so far  because people are seeing the Billy horses out performing now. They can come here and see 15 or more horses plus the vettings and X-rays and with an online auction, they under no pressure. It saves them time and money”.

 

Typically, they offer 15 three year olds and 15 four to six years olds in the auction. The majority are potential showjumpers but many would either showjump or event. The Billy Stud have always bred the modern sports horse with top level sport in mind, which means plenty of blood. William explains that they have bred this way owing to the way showjumping has evolved over the last twenty years. “Showjumping has changed, you have more technical courses where horses are required to shorten and lengthen. The format of Championships, the World Cup and Global Champions competitions mean that you need stamina as well as athleticism and plenty of blood. Nimble horses also tend to stay sounder as they are lighter on their feet. Gone are the days when an old fashioned heavier horse like Ryan’s Son could win a big class” he explains.

 

“At the same time, with enough blood in our stallions and mares, many of these horses are suitable for eventing which has also changed over the years. Eventers require more movement and scope to win a class now.”

 

The Billy Stud recently held their stallion viewing day as profiled on Horse Scout. Whilst there was a lot of positive feedback, William highlights that there were less commercial breeders than might be expected at the stallions days held on the Continent: “we sent Billy Congo to the VDL stallion viewing in Holland and there were 4000 people or more, whilst we had under 100”.

 

He believes this a reflection of British breeding generally. “We need to encourage more people to breed commercially. You see abroad, people enjoy breeding and are making money from it. With the UK farming industry struggling, perhaps more people should consider using this land for breeding quality horses.”

 

“The Billy Stud are big supporters of Horse Scout” says William. “We have always used them to advertise our stallions and our events. In fact they make up a large part of our stallion marketing campaign because we have had great results.”

 

To discover more about the Billy Stud visit their profile on Horse Scout:

https://www.horsescout.com/yards/the-billy-stud/profile/37

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Finding a dressage horse with Liz Diegutis

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Finding a dressage horse with Liz Diegutis

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“It’s about temperament and rideability. Breeding and looks are of secondary importance” says International Dressage rider and trainer Liz Diegutis.

Whether Liz is looking for a potential Grand Prix horse for herself or a schoolmaster for an amateur, she believes that the horse’s temperament should be top of the list.

“They need a trainable brain. A horse who likes to work makes the job much easier.” For top level sport, Liz explains that whilst they need some spirit to give them a presence, if it is “over the top” it is likely to problematic. “They need a good natural engine but they must be rideable. People blame breeding and certain bloodlines but I think this usually goes down to how well it has been trained. I have bought horses with all the talent but if they are anxious or too hot, they require a lot of patience and expertise and sometimes it never comes right.”

“The most important thing for any rider, is to look for something within you abilities. If you buy talent, then you have to be able to manage it. You must have a good feeling for it. Don’t sit on a horse and think. “I’ll learn to ride this”.”

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Liz is also wary of spectacular paces, for any level of rider. “I avoid massive paces because they often come with problems” Liz says. “Particularly when you are trying to collect a pace. Look for three good paces, they certainly don’t have to be extraordinary particularly for an amateur. I look for a good four beat walk and a natural jump in the canter. The trot can be produced and developed. In fact I have a homebred mare who perhaps didn’t have the best canter as a young horse but we have trained the pace. She is at Grand Prix now.”

Buying British is something Liz feels strongly about. “ We have some brilliant studs in the UK now who are breeding and producing some fabulous stock. There are many examples all around the country but I have been particularly impressed by Court Farm Stud, Mount St John, Caledonia Sport Horses in Scotland and the Oppenheimer’s at Headmore Stud in Hampshire.”

“I also think you can usually trust the UK sellers and breeders more than foreign sellers. I was based on the Continent for a few years and I know how it works. If you choose to go abroad, you have to know where to go and who to trust. Wherever you go I think you should always take someone with you. Preferably more experienced than yourself and ideally someone who will sit on the horse for you too and give their verdict on top.”

Liz is less fussed about bloodlines when she is buying a horse but as she breeds her own, she has a wealth of experience in the area. “I go for old, established bloodlines like De Niro and Negro and I’ve always been a fan of Sandro Hit. They have a reputation for being tricky but if you understand their brain, they can be brilliant. Of course the mare is the important bit, so you need to look at that side too. I only breed from a good mare.”

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Conformation is not a deal breaker for Liz but she does have three rules on this. “Good bone, good feet and straight limbs” she states. “The rest, like length of back I can overlook, if it gives me a good feel. Dressage horses come in all shapes and sizes, even at Grand Prix level. To be competitive I would always buy something that is attractive to the Judge but that is not just about looks.”

An over-produced horse should also be avoided. “I don’t like to see a three year old that looks like a five year old, simply because it has been over fed and over trained. This will nearly always result in issues later. As my aim is Grand Prix, if I am buying a youngster, I like something that has been slowly produced. With my homebreds, they live out rough for the first three years of their lives before they come in to be broken. Then if they are any good, I take it very slowly.”

 

Written by Ellie Kelly

 

Photography by Stuart Lark