Dressage people don’t just ‘get over’ their obsession with horses, sometimes it takes an even more serious form: they start breeding them! And, says Pippa Drew, “the only way breeding can be financially rewarding in this country is if you can produce something exceptional”. That is what she believes she may have already done.
HAMMERWOOD STUD is the enterprise and passion of former small tour dressage rider, state registered nurse and mother of two Pippa Drew. A slender 5ft 4in Pippa began breeding with the idea of producing that special dressage horse to train and compete herself. Pippa: “I trained my competition horse Prince Charming, ‘Jack’, from novice and took both him and my late aunt [and List 1 judge] Gill Drew’s medium horse Gazel on up to PSG to compete at Nationals. They did well to get there but they were, frankly, out-classed.
“It takes so many years to train a horse up the levels that I wanted to breed something capable of holding its own in competition, nationally and hopefully internationally. I could never afford to buy that. I’m setting my sights high, but if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it properly.”
Pippa began her breeding at her home in the High Weald countryside at Hammerwood, a few miles east of East Grinstead in 2007 — and has bred one or two foals each year since. However, the idea of competing homebreds herself changed after she was kicked in the face by a youngster when she was bending over to clean out its feet. Circumstances rather than the horse were to blame, but nevertheless Pippa suffered a fractured spinal process in her neck and had to have her smashed jaw reconstructed: “At that point I had had our twins, Tom and Fiona. With children and a husband to consider I now find that I get just as much pleasure from watching other people competing my horses.”
Getting the horse height right
Pippa’s breeding plans have become ever-more focused on producing smaller British warmbloods from mainly German bloodline mares. She commented: “I see a huge gap in the market for smaller horses with good movement and the right temperaments — and for several years looked among horse height stallions standing in the UK. Unfortunately, I kept producing huge offspring. They take a long time to develop and all through their growing up they are vulnerable to injury.”
Pippa produced Hammerwood Wolcano in 2011. He is Wolkenderry x Dimaggio and is co-owned with the sire’s owner Jackie Mathieson and being produced by Isle of Wight-based rider Amy Hose. Pippa recalls: “He was the highest scoring BEF Futurity two-year-old in 2013 and was licensed as a stallion in 2014. He is now six and 18.2hh and it will probably be another two years before he reaches maturity. We decided to geld him as no-one wants a stallion that size!”
Pippa had high hopes for 2010 chestnut filly Hammerwood Roulette (Keystone Rhondeo x Dimaggio) who achieved the highest marks in BEF Futurity across all the disciplines as a yearling and was graded ‘Elite’. ‘Puzzle’ was backed as a three-year-old but while turned away injured herself in the field and, says Pippa, has never regained the power behind that she previously had. Now seven years old, the 17.1hh mare’s future will probably remain in breeding.
With a view to ending the run of larger offspring Pippa invested in 15.2hh Blue Hors Cavan x Sandro Hit mare, Chiara. (Seen here with her 2017 colt Foal, provisionally known as Enzo.) She explained: “When I’ve had smaller horses to sell I’ve had 10 times as many enquiries for them. I then looked for a 15.2hh stallion I could put her to. I love Spanish horses but a lot of people don’t, so it limits your market. Chiara came to me from Christian Heinrich in foal with Hammerwood Chico who is by Don Frederick.”
Chiara has also produced Hammerwood Ritz by FEI pony stallion DDH Rembrandt, now three. Rembrandt was a successful Dutch team pony before becoming a British pony for Maisie Scruton and then Clare Hole. Pippa said: “I hope Ritz will finish around 15.2hh and that he will be good enough to pass his grading next year and be available to sire smaller horses from large mares.
“The Germans have been using Welsh B stallions with their smaller warmblood mares very successfully for many years. Their aim is ‘to produce a pony between 13.2 and 14.2hh resembling a horse with a horse-like neck and proportions, and combining warmblood movement with pony charm and intelligence’.” Importantly, Pippa adds, “with trainability so that children can ride them”.
This year Puzzle has a filly foal by Section B stallion Lemonshill Falcon. Falcon (known as ‘Monet’) boasts numerous show ring successes including Male In-hand Champion at the Royal Welsh Show in 2016 and National Pony Society ridden champion in 2014.
Pippa said: “I’ve ridden Monet and he has an amazing temperament and I believe that because he moves so nicely he is now going to start a career in dressage.” [Monet’s owner, Jo Filmer, told Out and About Dressage that his son Longhalves Renoir is being produced as a potential FEI dressage pony by Luke Baber-Davies.] Since giving birth to Falcon’s foal, Puzzle has been inseminated by another pony stallion Woodlander Sir Gorgeous (Santana x Welsh cob pony stallion Synod Rum Punch).
Counting the costs
Pippa reckons: “It costs me about £4,500 to put a foal on the ground — if the mare takes first time. Then all my youngsters get their vaccinations, their feet trimmed six-weekly and are regularly wormed. I don’t cost my labour which includes being up all night on foal watch sleeping in my office with the CCTV screen and an alarm set for every half-hour. I do that because I wouldn’t want to go down in the morning and find a dead mare or foal because I’ve missed the birth. I arrange my diary to suit the horses.
“The cost of getting a horse to three years old has got to be £7-8,000 — and that doesn’t include stable and field maintenance or travel to foal assessments. Then people say, ‘oh, that’s far too much, I can get one in Germany for….’ There are a lot of breeders in this country producing top horses but who struggle financially, yet I still couldn’t afford to buy the quality of horses I’ve got out in my fields. But when I advertised Ruscha as a yearling I was looking for a very reasonable £6,000 but nobody came to see her.” Pippa thinks Ruscha will make 15.2hh so may well join her ‘small is beautiful’ breeding programme.
How then does Pippa put a price on Chico? Chico is now a compact 16.1hh four-year-old with extravagant, off-the-floor movement which he is not as yet strong enough to manage sufficiently to please Young Horse class judges.
He was backed by Ben Smith who backs and rides Pippa’s youngsters and Pippa has also invested in training for them both with Bobby and Paul Hayler.
The most promising offspring that Chiara has produced to date is Keystone Rhondeo-sired Hammerwood Riola, ‘Kanga’. Pippa says proudly: “Kanga came second at this year’s Heathfield Show in the three-year-old Young Sports Horse class and went on to win the same class at Surrey County and then won again at South of England.” This was in spite of the stud’s ignorance of proper showing turnout. Pippa said: “The judge at South of England described Kanga’s movement as ‘unforgettable’ and I’m planning to take her to the British Breeders Championships in September and to the BEF Futurity show at either Catherston or Writtle College.
“I smile every time I see Kanga passaging across the field. It makes me very happy. She could be that special competition horse or breed that special one. Even if I were to be offered £1m for her now, I’d have to think pretty hard about it!”
© Celia Cadwallader, 4 July 2017