Dr. Jochen Wilkens is Breeding Director and General Manager of the German Hanoverian Verband (breed society). With his wife, Ulla, he toured Australia and New Zealand in February/March 2005, viewing foals and young stock, and classifying mares. Sue French was able to spend some time with them during their tour.
Dr. Wilkens has been Breeding Director and General Manager for the Hanoverian Verband for the last twenty-two years, so he has gained a vast experience in judging both mares and stallions. This was not his first visit "down under". He toured Australia and New Zealand with Kalman de Jurenak in 1992 and was interested to see how our breeding is progressing. At the Wairakei Hotel, we stopped for frosty glasses of fresh juice. On this, and other occasions, Dr. Wilkens answered my questions and passed on to me some of his impressions.
"The New Zealand Hanoverian breeders have made much progress in the conformation, and now need to put more emphasis on improving the gaits, especially the trot," Dr. Wilkens said. "For this, the stallion Weltmeyer is a good choice. He passes on his type and improves the gaits, in particular the trot. There are many Weltmeyer offspring and descendants in Germany, but of course, few in New Zealand. It would be good to try him over your Anamour mares."
Q. What about Weltmeyer's sons?
A. Worldly is at present the most interesting son of Weltmeyer. He himself is very successful in dressage and is a wonderful type. From his first crop two sons have been licensed and will be performance tested this year.
Wolkenstein II is large in frame and body, producing heavier, taller offspring. Wolkentanz I is well schooled. He passes on very good rideability and gaits, but needs mares with a good topline.
Q. What can you tell us about the other bloodlines?
A. The use of Rotspon has fallen off because some of his offspring are windsuckers. His sons Rascalino and Royal Blend are in their first season. Both have good gaits and rideability. In January, Royal Blend was judged Best Stallion of his year. As well as his riding horse points, he has a very good appearance and correct foundation.
From the Donnerhall line Don Frederico is a very important stallion. He is most athletic and elastic, and is doing well in competition. His first crop are two and a half years old and a son of his fetched top price at the 2004 auction of licensed stallions. He has a problem with correctness in one front leg, which he does not pass on. As with most of the Donnerhall sons, he breeds well with mares of refined type. He could be well used over NZ thoroughbred mares of a light, elegant type.
The Bolero line has been renewed by Brentano II. He needs a refined type of mare, and would be another good stallion to try with the NZ Thoroughbreds.
Q. As well as our Thoroughbred mares, we have now some mares with more Hanoverian generations. Will they need a stallion with a more refining influence?
A. For this, the stallion is Londonderry. He is a top dressage stallion, very popular with the breeders in Germany. Each day that it is produced, his semen is all used.
Q. Which stallions would you recommend for breeding Hanoverian eventers in New Zealand?
A. Over your thoroughbred mares, Earl or El Bundy would be good choices. Escudo I has a really good temperament and rideability; the young bereiters all learn on him at the State Stud Celle in Germany. El Bundy has a rather plain head, which he does not transmit to his offspring, nor does he pass on his problem with dishing. Correctness of the gaits is forgiven in a really top horse. Neither El Bundy nor Don Frederico would have been accepted if they had been just average horses.
Q. What would you like to say about our resident stallions?
A. Dream Boy is breeding a refined type, which is not so typical for the D-line. In the gaits he will especially pass on a good canter and walk.
In New Zealand as well as Australia, I saw quite a number of Anamour mares. He is generally giving good type and conformation, but the breeders should keep an eye on the topline of the mare, because that can be a weak point. He is giving good rideability and improves the gaits. Some of his daughters in Australia showed good and better jumping ability in Mare Performance tests.
At Joanne McNicoll's property we saw three Anamour daughters out of the Weltmeyer mare Witsun. They were all in type and gaits of an upper quality.
Because not all mares are suitable for frozen semen, you would do well to have one or two more Hanoverian dressage stallions in New Zealand. Good results can be achieved in the New Zealand Hanoverian breeding programme using fresh semen from your resident stallions, combined with the judicious use of imported, frozen semen.
Q. What should breeders look for when choosing a thoroughbred mare?
A. The mare should have a lovely head and a big eye. The neck should not be too deep. She should have a big shoulder with not too high a wither, long croup and clean legs. In Australia and New Zealand, the hind leg often has too much angle, and in NZ the foot is often too flat. The high wither is a problem for the saddle position. Look particularly at the gaits. There should be plenty of swing, with the hind legs stepping through. If the trot is too quick, with no elasticity, then it should not be accepted. Generally, the Thoroughbred influence reduces the trot, and it cannot be improved in one generation. If the mare's trot is very good, then you could compromise on the topline if necessary.
Q. How is the problem of OCD in the Hanoverians being dealt with in Germany?
A. This is a real problem in Germany. University research during which foals were Xrayed at different ages, showed that there is a feeding influence as well as a genetic influence. There is a genetic heritability of 10-20%. It is being brought under control by stallion selection. For licensing, all stallions are Xrayed. From last year, only those stallions showing a defect of at the most grade 2 are accepted. The State Stud already selected for this standard in the past. It is most important that the foals have room to exercise, and are not confined, which is where you have an advantage, although on New Zealand pasture foals can grow too fast. They do better on shorter pasture.
In Germany, the discussion on genetic influence is still ongoing.
Q. Do you have any general advice for our breeders?
A. Once again: After a period, in which the improvement of conformation had priority, more emphasis should now be placed on achieving breeding progress in the trot. Breeders should be keeping their good mares and the best daughters of those mares. Because your mare base is small, the better H-branded mares need to be kept in the breeding programme. If a good mare or filly must be sold, it is most desirable that she goes to another breeder.