Oct 06, 2018

The Race to Le Lion: The Long and Winding Road

Quantum Leap competing at the 2016 USEA Young Event Horse Championships. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap, the 2018 recipients of the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d'Angers Prize and Grant, will be traveling to France later this month to compete in the FEI World Eventing Breeding Championships for Young Horses at Le Mondial du Lion d'Angers. Elizabeth Callahan of Cool Na Grena Sporthorses, Quantum Leap's breeder, will be in attendance at the Championships and will be blogging for the USEA about her experience. Click here to meet Quantum Leap and learn more about the selection process.

The nice folks at the USEA asked me if I would blog about my time in France at the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses at Le Mondial du Lion d'Angers. I told them I’d be happy to, although creative writing is not necessarily a talent of mine. So, here’s what you’re getting!

I think breeding horses is a lot like eventing. It’s expensive, time-consuming, back-breaking labor with a lot of bad moments. Really bad moments. There is a reason breeders are called the eternal optimists. Sometimes the rewards seem minuscule, and the forward steps so small, both in training and in breeding. I think it’s a lot like the two minutes before you enter the start box - you’re thinking, “Why did I think this was a good idea?” Maybe that’s when the bills come in for the breeding that didn’t take, or the mare that aborted, or the foal that is at the ICU. But then in eventing, there’s that magical moment when you’ve finished cross-country and you come through the finish flags and you think yourself, "That was just awesome! I can’t wait to do it again!”

That awesome moment for me as a breeder is the fact that one of the horses I bred is the U.S. representative and winner of the Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Le Lion d'Angers Prize and Grant to compete in the FEI World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses in France later this month. It’s pretty darn cool and awesome, if I do say so myself. Yup, eventing and breeding have a lot of similarities.

Quantum Leap as a weanling (above) and as a yearling (below). Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Callahan.

That horse is the 7-year-old RPSI gelding Quantum Leap. Quantum is owned by Doug and Jessica Payne and Susan and Dave Drillock and ridden by Doug. Doug had the foresight (or the luck) to buy Quantum from my small breeding program as a yearling six years ago. He had bought another one of my horses from another source and called me to ask if I had anything that I thought would be an upper-level prospect. I sent him pictures, and despite the pictures (because yearlings are generally hideous), Doug bought him.

Doug has campaigned him up the levels and into this World Championship. He’s there because he was the highest-placed qualified horse from the 2016 USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Championships and received the Holekamp/Turner Grant. The grant’s purpose is to develop and reward the breeding of future U.S. team horses. This is something we need here in the U.S. We have the horses and the bloodlines to be successful on the world stage. What we dont have is the program and financial support to develop these horses. The Holekamp/Turner Grant is a step in the right direction for the development of quality event horses.

Being able to compete at Le Lion is a true yardstick. This year, over 34% of the event horses at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games had participated at Le Lion. That’s a pretty high percentage when you consider that the competition is capped at 70 7-year-olds and is held once yearly. So, it is hopefully a prediction for the future. It’s a pretty tough competition. The crowds are usually about 60,000 on cross-country day, and the course is a work of art and a lot to look at. The course is 10 minutes and it’s a true Championship course. So, it is going to be a real test for him.

Elizabeth Callahan and Merlin, her second-generation homebred. GRC Photography Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Callahan.

I have a pretty small breeding program - I usually only have one to two foals a year and now am on my third generation. I started breeding 30 years ago, which means I’m either very experienced, or old, or a little bit of both. I also started eventing about that time and managed to actually compete at the Preliminary level, and even tried a couple (as in two) Intermediates, but that was actually way too nausea-inducing for me to keep going at that level. Currently, I’m on a second-generation homebred and have made my way (slowly, slowly) back up to Preliminary after a 10-year gap at the lower levels. I think 3’7" has gotten taller than it was 10 years ago.

I didn’t start out breeding event horses on purpose. I just wanted to breed something for myself to ride, or at least what I think I would like to ride. Event breeding is a pretty small market and I think it is difficult. You can't breed the heart we need in event horses, but you can try to breed the best athlete you can. As the years have gone on I’ve pretty much concentrated on that type of horse. Most of my mares are at least half-Thoroughbred and I cross them generally with good moving jumper type horses. Quantum is a good example of that as his sire, Quite Capitol, jumped to the 1.60-meter level in Europe and his dam is an off-the-track Thoroughbred who just happens to be a half-sister to John William’s four-horse, Sloopy.

Report to Sloopy, Quantum Leap's dam. William Alphin Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Callahan.

As a breeder, first of all, you want your horses to be in a home where they’re going to be taken care of and second, you’d love to see them doing what you’ve bred them for and reaching their full potential. There’s a lot of hopes, dreams, and plans all caught up in that creature that’s in front of you. So, to see Quantum win this grant and to be able to go to watch him go is really one of the things that helps make up for all the not so good things that happen with breeding and with horses. I can't want to see him compete and to see the breeding on these top event horses. To have all that dedicated breeding in one place! It’s like being a kid in a candy store.

So, I hope that I can convey some of this excitement to all of you when I am over there. Not just in the competition itself, which is going to be fabulous, but hopefully in what I can get in rubbing shoulders with all those breeders. Of course, that’s all provided we (my husband and I) can navigate successfully through the streets of Paris with a stick shift and stay married while doing so!

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