“It all started like these things do – with a single mare.”
On 25 acres in Oxford, Maryland, Elizabeth Callahan and her husband Robert Drysdale run Cool Na Grena Sporthorses, a boutique breeding operation producing quality eventing horses.
“That first mare probably wasn’t all that special, but I bred her to a Warmblood stallion and the foal was nicer and I kind of got bit by the bug!” Callahan said. “I got another mare and then another mare, and before I knew it, I had a breeding program.”
Callahan had horses growing up and rode in the hunters before being introduced to eventing through the Pony Club. “I never got very far because my parents always bought me young horses – I never had anything that was really schooled,” she said. “I started eventing when I was in vet school in the mid-1980s and got into it a little more seriously from there.”
By the early 1990s, Callahan had that first mare, along with a couple of others, and had begun to produce some quality young horses. Now, nearly 30 years later, she breeds two to three mares a year and focuses on producing horses that will be successful at the highest levels of the sport. As she also has a full-time job as a veterinarian, she said the size of her program suits her. “It’s just my husband and myself,” she said, “and we do all the work ourselves. With more horses, it’s just too much work.”
Her program currently consists of a couple of second- and third-generation mares, out of her original foundation mare, and a couple of Thoroughbred mares she’s acquired in the last couple of years. “My best producer so far is three-quarters Thoroughbred and she has a number of five-star sires on both sides of her pedigree,” Callahan explained. “There’s some genetics at work there, plus a lot of Thoroughbred blood, which I think is important. There’s a place for Warmbloods, and I do breed to Warmbloods, but there’s a place for Thoroughbreds too.”
When it comes to picking a stallion, she said she always looks at the mare first. “The mares I have right now that are second- or third-generation are all at least either half or three-quarters Thoroughbred,” she said. “The Thoroughbred mares I just picked up are distance runners, 16.1-16.2 hands, and good movers. So, I look at what they need to improve on – some of the Thoroughbred mares need a little bit more suspension and jumping ability and a little more movement and bone – so I tend towards Holsteiner stallions with good jumping lines who are also good movers.”
Quite Easy (Quidam de Revel x Birt II), a Holsteiner stallion in the top 10 of the World Breeding Federation Sporthorse (WBFSH) list, is one that Callahan has used on more than one occasion, as is Mighty Magic (Mytens x Neika), another Holsteiner stallion also on the WBFSH list for eventing sires. “I wouldn’t say I have a favorite sire, because they all fit different mares,” she said.
Callahan explained that, in recent years, she’s been lucky to be able to sell many of the horses produced by her breeding program as weanlings. “I think it’s really difficult for most breeders here in the U.S. to keep and start these babies,” she said. “I don’t start my young horses anymore – I work with them on the ground and will get a saddle on them but I’m at the age where I don’t get on them anymore. We need a place in the U.S. where the breeder isn’t stuck with all the costs and neither is the trainer. We need a middle ground because the sales aspect is often the most difficult part. You don’t know if they’re going to be event horses until they go out there and event.”
Despite the struggles of running a breeding program, Callahan’s passion for the sport of eventing is what drives her passion for breeding. “I love the sport, and I think breeding is about always striving to do something a little bit better,” she observed. “It’s kind of like that dressage test that you know you can always get a slightly better score on. That’s what I enjoy – trying to make every generation just a little bit better.”
“I love seeing the horses out competing too,” she added. “I’m not the rider that can get the most out of them but I love seeing them do what I bred them to do. I think that’s the coolest part.”
When it comes to the quality of horses Callahan’s program is producing, the proof is in the pudding. The first of Callahan’s offspring to compete at the CCI4* (now CCI5*-L) level was Slate River (Riverman x Etoile), an Oldenburg gelding ridden by Heather Morris. Born in 1998, Slate River competed at the Kentucky Three-Day Event twice in 2011 and 2012 with Morris in the irons.
Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol x Report to Sloopy), a 10-year-old Zweibrucker gelding, is currently competing at the CCI4* level with Doug Payne. Quantum Leap is a USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Program graduate and was the recipient of the 2018 Holekamp/Turner Grant to travel to compete in the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships at Le Lion d’Angers in France.
Payne also has two other horses from Callahan’s program, one of whom finished fourth in The Dutta Corp. USEA YEH East Coast Championships 5-year-old division in 2020 – Quiberon (Quite Easy x Avalon), an Oldenburg stallion.
And, horses out of Callahan’s program cleaned up last year at the 2020 USEA Future Event Horse East Coast Championships. Grace Bay (Grafenstolz x Rehoboth), a Holsteiner filly owned by Melissa Stubenberg, was the Overall 2-year-old Champion, and Utah Beach (Ulmar Mail x Avalan), an Oldenburg colt owned by Monica Fiss, was the Overall Yearling Champion and the high-scoring horse of the Championships.
But it’s not just professionals who have horses – Callahan said there are several amateurs who own horses she’s bred as well. Brigantine (Quinar x Rodanthe), a 12-year-old Holsteiner mare ridden by Stefanie Mazza at the Preliminary level, is just one example.
Callahan’s favorite part about breeding is watching how the combination of sire and dam turns out in the offspring. “To plan the breeding and see what you get and see it live up to what you thought it was going to do – that’s the best part,” she said. “Watching these horses grow up and do things like to go France like Quantum Leap did with Doug at Le Lion two years ago, watching your horse represent the United States, that’s a pretty cool thing. I picked that mare and I picked that stallion, and granted it took Doug’s riding and training too, but that horse was able to hold his own with the best horses the world has to offer.”
“My passion is having U.S. riders look for U.S. horses,” Callahan concluded. “There are a lot of breeders out there producing some really nice horses and it’s hard sometimes to see professionals go elsewhere. I understand all the challenges that go with looking at a horse in the States, but I would love to see people look for them, find them, and train them. Because Europe isn’t selling us their best ones.”
The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses aged four and five, that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the four- and five-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.
The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to learn more about the Young Event Horse Program.
The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, SmartPak, Standlee Hay Company, Parker Equine Insurance, Etalon Diagnostics for sponsoring the Young Event Horse Program. Additionally, the USEA would like to thank The Dutta Corp., Title Sponsor of the Young Event Horse Championships.
The USEA introduced the Future Event Horse Program in 2007 in response to the popularity of the already established USEA Young Event Horse Program. Where the YEH program assesses 4- and 5-year-old prospective event horses based on their performance, the FEH program evaluates yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds for their potential for the sport based on conformation and type. Yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds are presented in-hand while 4-year-olds are presented under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter before being stripped of their tack and evaluated on their conformation. Divisions are separated by year and gender. At the Championships, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are also required to demonstrate their potential over fences in an additional free-jump division. Click here to learn more about the Future Event Horse Program.
World-class equestrian competition is back with full spectator attendance and opportunities for giving back
After a one-year hiatus for spectators due to Covid-19, The Event at Rebecca Farm will be running at full strength for competitors and spectators, July 21-25. The Event draws more than 600 riders and 8,000 spectators each year to the picturesque Flathead Valley in northwest Montana.
Max Corcoran, President of the USEA & 5* event groom, joins host Nicole Brown. Talking all things from preparations & time management tips to specific top-level grooming insights. Max shares her wealth of experience with us, highlighting that knowing your horse is the most important factor when considering all elements of equine management.
“My whole journey has been a series of interconnected circles,” says Gina Miles.
The central compass point of those circles has been the Olympics. The Games are what set the Californian on her path, and where she reached her pinnacle - the individual silver medal in Hong Kong in 2008.
Gina, now 47, was 10 when the Olympics came to Los Angeles in 1984.
Plenty of event riders have chosen to cross oceans and base themselves thousands of miles away from “home” in pursuit of their career dreams - look at the likes of New Zealanders Sir Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, and now Tim and Jonelle Price, while Andrew Hoy, Clayton Fredericks and of course Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton have set sail from Australian shores. Not many American riders do it, though, probably because the sport is big enough and competitive enough in the U.S. not to make it necessary.