Thursday, December 25

Prince Torki: ‘I will use all this helpful information provided by the AES’

His Royal Highness Prince Torki Bin Mohammed Bin Saud Al Kabeer must be the only Saudi showjumping horse breeder whose home bred horse has won a medal at the Olympic Games. As the breeder of London 2012 team bronze medalist Sultan V, Prince Torki gained lots of respect worldwide for his stud Old Lodge in Ashdown Forest. Certainly because the Olympic horse Sultan V was not just a fluke. Prince Torki, member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia, is very passionate about show jumping and has approximately fifteen foals a year. They all get an AES passport. He uses the best mares and stallions and the foals develop in the best circumstances, with the best care. This we can witness after visiting the Prince at his wonderful stud.

It’s a unique location where the Prince’s horses grow up. In the middle of Ashdown Forest,  in Uckfield, East-Sussex, he has a 180 acres stud land territory just for the horses. He bought the property twenty years ago, since it was a unique and preserved area where construction permission was difficult to get, but he eventually managed to persuade the local authority to grant him permission to build stable for the horses because he is one of the leading breeders in England. This benefits the horse industry ofcourse. That’s why he has now temporary stables on the hill just one hundred meters away from the main house, a huge manor. Call it a castle, with massive walls, impressive decoration, a wonderful view. The house is being well looked after by a local couple residing in a detached house next to the main house. There are horse pictures and valuable paintings in every room. Other pictures show the Prince of Saudi in meetings with George W. Bush, Nelson Mandela, the presidents of China, Argentina, and many other head of states and highly ranked officials. The house was built by Henry VIII in the 16th century and has always been used as a hunting lodge. Prince Torki renovated it totally, but it wasn’t easy. After being granted building permission a new huge remarkable building will rise in Ashdown Forest, to stable the young ones and the broodmares. The ridden horses are in training with professional riders.

Prince Torki is very strenuous to make sure his horses grow up in the best circumstances and he knows why. As experienced thoroughbred breeders, the Saudi’s know how to breed top horses and how to produce them. The instinct and the knowledge from the race horse breeding, he also uses for the show jumpers. He has educated people working for him and the stud manager Carolyn Murdoch treats every single horse as if it were hers. She currently runs the breeding farm professionally and has things well organized. The horses are very well cared for and mannered. To inspect every single horse and to make up diagrams and reports for the Anglo European Studbook, all horses were shown on hand in front of the judges. Recently weaned foals give their legs as if they have done it every day. Horses are shown in top condition. The feet are trimmed at regular base. It’s remarkable, but Carolyn gives us the explanation: ‘Also when you have a lot of horses to manage, it’s important you still treat them individually. When we bring in mares and foals, we always catch both, the mare and the foal. That’s how we start to learn leading them. It makes work much easier to handle them, deworm them and trim the feet. We can do that in the field! Foals go to the blacksmith every four to six weeks. Together with the vet and the blacksmith we follow up the growth of the legs of the foals.’

Watching them one by one, we see top bloodlines and promising looking horses. The 2014 foals are by Kannan, Corland, Diamant de Semilly, Presley Boy, Nabab de Rêve, Super Trooper de Ness, Clinton, Cassini and Concorde to name some. The years before also Arko III, Locarno, Armitage, Conterno Grande, Calido, Nonstop, Vigo d’Arsouilles, Clinton and Mylord Carthago have been used. Also the mothers have great certificates. Most of them have an FEI passport. In Ashdown Forest, they are breeding with the homebred mare R. Little Lefanie (Indoctro), former British 7 year old champion and gold medalist at the European Championship for Young Riders. Then Geoff Luckett took over the ride winning many GP’s and her last competition ever was at the Bolesworth International show, where she won the Grand Prix. In addition, mother Lefanie had a filly again this year. C’Est Tres Chique (Cassini II) and Twilight (Vert et Rouge) jumped internationally and produced international show jumpers lately. The mare Lianta, mother of Olympic horse Sultan with Abdullah Al Sharbatly and GP winner Brickfield Boy (Geoff Luckett), is still used for breeding, just as her daughter Dorina (Chin Chin). Furthermore Oaklahoma (Larome) is a valuable mother as she got the highest marks ever given by the AES judges. She is now in foal to Spartacus. The progeny of Prince Torki’s mares delivered five AES approved stallions in 2014. And there are more to come. We have seen a very strong group of two-year-old colts, sired by Action Breaker, Numero Uno, Corland and Super Trooper de Ness. Prince Torki bred several foals sired by this last stallion. Super Trooper de Ness was acquired as a young stallion at the sale and sold to the USA when he was a GP horse. He finished 5th at the worldcup final in Gothenburg. The Prince has always regretted the decision to sell him.  In the USA he’s been showing under the saddle of Katie Dinan, Mclain Ward and nowadays under Beat Mändli. Because of his unbelievable jumping qualities, the semen of the stallion was much used at Old Lodge and also the half sister of Super Trooper was acquired for breeding.

Also many sport horses that the Prince bought, are jumping in the top of the sport right now. Think about Golden Hawk with Shane Breen, Zanzibar under Ellen Whitaker, Shahenaz with Michael Duffy and Lord of Arabia (John Whitaker), who won a class and placed second twice at HOYS in Birmingham this year. Also at HOYS Nicole Pavitt placed third in the Foxhunter Championship on Old Lodge Contessa.

Your horses did well at Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham. Congratulations!
Thank you. Lord of Arabia was amazing, not touching any pole for the whole week. He started on Wednesday with an easy fifth place, won on Friday and placed second twice in the weekend. It was not an easy show, with some of the world’s top riders present. Outstanding horse, but top rider as well. John Whitaker is riding the gelding. My two young mares were ridden by Nicole Pavitt. Tia Semilly won the Newcomer’s. Contessa ended up third in the Foxhunter championship, a very prestigious class in the UK, and she could have won. They changed bits in the last minute before going into the ring the first day, which was not a good decision. The second day was better, but she had to go in the ring the first, which is always a disadvantage. We ended up being too slow, but we should have won with a mare like this.

You like to win, Sir?
I love it! I go to the shows every time I am in England. I like the sport and I like to win, but I know the game very well after all these years. You win some and you lose some. You know what I like the most? That I compete with horses we bred. I breed to compete at high level. It is even more special when you see a foal you bred entering the ring.

So you hope to be competitive with home bred horses.
That is our aim indeed and we succeeded already several times with Sultan, Brickfield Boy, Little Lefanie and many other. We were fortunate, but only because we work hard for it. You have to make your luck. We really want to be in the top, nothing less. That’s why sometimes we have to sell some horses. Not to make money, but just because the horse is not good enough for what I aim. Mares have to be able to jump 1.40m. Then they can stay for the breeding. Geldings must compete at 1.50m or 1.60m. Otherwise I sell. That doesn’t mean they are not good horses. Just not good enough for my request. Still thousands of riders would be happy with a horse like that. 

Where does the passion for horses come from?
It’s a family tradition. I grew up in an environment in which top horses always had a central place in life. In Saudi Arabia right now I have 250 race horses. We have the leading stable in our country, with 150 horses in training. I also have the International horse riding school in Riyadh for young showjumping riders, which was the starting point for many top Saudi show jumpers. Horse riding and breeding is a family tradition, but not breeding jumping horses. Historically we are thoroughbred and Arabian horse breeders, but in fact you can compare it to breeding jumping horses. Only the best performing mares and stallions can give good foals. We never use commercially interesting stallion, only stallions proven in the sport. What they have not done themselves, they cannot pass on to their descendants. Using young stallions is a risk that I don’t take. It’s the same with camel breeding. In our country camels are used for racing and shows. The best parents give the most expensive foals. Recently we sold a camel for one million pound. My father learned me to never buy something because it’s cheap. His advice was to buy something good, even if it’s expensive. All my life I kept that advice in mind.

Also the mares you breed with all have competed. We’ve seen your three-year-old mares, but none of them is in foal?
We take the three-year-olds now to riders specialized in breaking and producing young horses. We give every horse a chance, the ones that prove to have big potential, move on to an international rider. The best mares will be used for breeding by the use of embryo transfer. I use this technique often because I want the best foals from my best mares, whilst the mares can compete in the same time. Just during the breeding season those mares get a few months sport break, because I think it’s hard to get a mare pregnant when she’s in training.

How come you have your jumping horses in England?
I started studying at Cambridge University and London University in 1973 and during my stay I bought one race horse at an auction. That horse won the Queen’s Stake as well as the Norfolk Stake at the Royal Ascot meeting and many other important stakes. It encouraged me to start breeding where I bought Brickfield Stud in New Market. When I finished my studies successfully, I went back home to work for my Government where it became difficult for me to attend racing because of the commitments of my job, and whenever I have a holiday I always like to spend it with my horses. Flat racing is more popular worldwide but I lately enjoy showjumping because it lasts longer, because one clas in a show jumping competition could last more than an hour with the jump off, whereas in flat racing it’s a matter of minutes. In show jumping you can see the warming up session before the start of each class and you can enjoy the show from morning till evening.

When did you start up your British breeding farm?
I started horse breeding at Brickfield Stud in New Market in the late 70's and after that I moved to Oldlodge Stud in Ashdown Forest where expansion in our breeding program kicked off. We bought more mares and used top stallions to cover them. Oldlodge is considered as one of the most successful breeding studs in the UK, because we are more selective with the mares and we make a lot of studies in considering which stallion to use with which mare taking into account conformation, pedigree, performance, temperament, and previous offspring.

Which horses did you start the breeding program with?
When I decided to start the breeding program, I went to the Dutch VDL Stud to buy some mares. Lianta (Voltaire) and Lefanie (Damiro) were two of the five I picked out. A few years later, when the first foals were growing up, my eldest son Prince Sultan came to watch the horses. He had one favorite, a strong, grey colt by Irco Mena. I said okay, you can have him. I asked him which name he would give him? He said "I will name him Sultan V". I was surprised, because that’s a huge risk. In our language Sultan means King or Monarch. It’s a very glorious title. My father always told me: carefully choose a horse's name. Only give a horse a special name like this when there is a sign he’s going to be a top horse. That’s why we take our time with filling out the names in the passports. Mostly we don’t give them a name before they get ridden. Maybe we’re a bit superstitious, but we think there’s more chance you get a good one, when you wait with giving names. But my son didn’t, he was convinced about the foal.

And he was right?
The horse Sultan V was big and solid when he was around three and four years old and when he was cantering and free jumping we realized that he had the potential of being top class horse. That’s why we didn’t rush him in the training process. We castrated him because he was very difficult to handle being a big and strong horse. We thought about a calm and steady rider and have chosen Bruce Menzies. One day Bruce called me to ask if I wanted to see the horse jump. I went to his yard and saw the most powerful young horse I had ever seen. He jumped like a ten-year-old horse and a bit later he started winning. It wasn’t a surprise that Sultan V went on to win the Foxhunter Championship in Birmingham and the Scope Festival National championship. When Sultan V was nine years old, the British chef d’equipe Rob Hoekstra asked me if Sultan V would be available to be part of the British Nations cup team in Gijon in Spain, I accepted his request and he jumped double clear in the Nations Cup and placed second in the five star Grand Prix. Rob Hoekstra asked me if I would keep the horse available for the British team. Of course I said yes. I would never sell the horse and because it worked out so well with Bruce Menzies, he was meant to keep the ride. But when I was in Saudi Arabia, my cousin called me. He was in charge of the Saudi Equestrian Team and told me he had a message from the King. The Saudi Arabian team has qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and was in need of top horses to compete with. During that time my cousin approached me and told me that the Saudi Team was acquiring top horses and Sultan V was one of them. He wanted the horse to represent the Middle East at the Olympic Games in show jumping, to compete with the Saudi Team. The Custodian of the Two holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz AlSaud supports the Saudi Team and bought top horses for them. My Son Prince Sultan and myself decided to give the horse Sultan V as a gift to the King which he kindly accepted, and was later given from the King to the Saudi Equestrian Showjumping Team. With that team he won bronze team medal at London Olympics. Luckily I still have two full brothers to Sultan V which are two years old now, and I also have a a five year old stallion which is half brother to Sultan V and full brother to Brickfield boy. His current performance indicates that he could be a top horse for the future. I also have his half-sister Sultana now being ridden by Bruce Menzies.

Do you stick with those pedigree lines you have now?
In breeding you always have to look for new blood which I'm currently doing. I always go for mares with top performance as well as top pedigree and good confirmation. I think it’s important to have a great variety in your breeding program, its not advisable to stick to one line. Choosing the right stallion for the right mare is essential. I mean conformation, performance, or temperament wise. I always prefer to choose stallions that have proven themselves through their progeny. I always follow closely the result of the top stallions and which breeding lines they successfully combine with. I look at it as a hobby and feel so excited when I see the horses I bred doing well in competitions. I’m breeding horses my entire life, but I'm still open to listen to experts' advice. When we do my horse breeding program I always try to select the right horse for the right mare. There is no point of sending a big mare to a big horse, cause you'll end up with a giant and vice versa. It is essential to be very selective and careful when you make your breeding program. Nowadays, in show jumping you need horses with more blood because the jumping courses have been more technical and difficult where you need a strong quick and careful horse. That’s why breeding nowadays became so difficult and more technical. 

I really appreciate what Anglo European Studbook (AES) is doing now by judging all AES born horses and making reports. I use all this helpful information provided by them, because I feel they are doing a professional job and are being more selective and careful in their choices and judgment. I use their information and comments when I choose the suitable stallions for my mares. I feel I’m in the right direction cooperating with the AES and there useful information. Their effort to improve the studbook must be appreciated by all of us, and will be a very useful reference for the future.

Final question. What about the Saudi team? They won the bronze in London, silver individual at the WEG in Kentucky, but didn’t come with a team to the WEG in Normandy this summer.
The Saudi team riders are considered to be one of the best riders in the sport, where they have proven themselves internationally such as in the London Olympics, WEG in Kentucky, Sydney Olympics, the Global Champions Tour, the Arab league, and other various international events. Unfortenatly most of the Saudi Equestrian team horses suffer from injuries including Sultan V. And lately one of the top international horses that was ridden by Khaled Aleid, Presley Boy, has passed away. Also the Silver medalist Seldana at the 2010 World Equestrian Games suffers an injury. And HRH Prince Abdullah bin Miteb AlSaud and Davos have both retired from the sport. With these big losses it will be difficult for the team to maintain a high level of participation. Except Abdullah Al Sharbatly  is currently competing very well with his own horses. We hope the team will acquire top horses in order to be able to have a complete team for the upcoming international competitions. London 2012 was a super moment for our team. I was proud watching my country's team winning the team bronze in such a very competitive and difficult competition at the most important sport event internationally. It was an outstanding moment and amazing feeling. It was even more astonishing because my home bred horse Sultan V was representing my country.