Final Thoughts

Scot Tolman Thoughts on Breeding

From the Editor

The end of 2022 comes with a bittersweet end to a beloved chapter.

This year, Scot enlightened us with heart-felt and witty tales of inspiration founded on honesty and realism, giving us all an insight into the rigors, challenges, and rewards of this warmblood breeding industry in North America. There were highs, and there were lows. We joined him every step of the way, empathizing, sympathizing, and reflecting on our own breeding and personal life experiences. Scot wraps up his column with yet another thought-provoking piece addressing a critical (and unaddressed) topic in North American breeding: Breeder Recognition.


Thank you, Scot, for your contributions to our readership this year! We wish you nothing but good luck in your future endeavors.

As I begin my last column for WarmbloodBreeding.com, I’d like, firstly, to thank Anna and Nat for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts over the past year and be part of the inaugural year of this site. Secondly, I’d like to end my tenure writing for this important informational tool by jumping back onto my soapbox to make a plea for more recognition of North American breeders.

There are many reasons North America will have difficulty matching, let alone surpassing, our European counterparts in Warmblood breeding, ie, the sheer size of our countries, the lack of an accredited educational system and certification for trainers, lack of access to people to effectively start young horses, the European “imported” label bias, etc. Many of these things will take generations of purposeful effort to overcome, and some, such as the size of the US and Canada, will never change. One thing we can change with minimal effort and almost no monetary investment nor systemic threat to the financial apparatus that controls much of the Warmblood market in North America is more recognition for our breeders.

During the Dressage at Devon breed show, North America’s most prestigious platform for showcasing our breeding efforts, I received a text from my good friend Judy Reggio, who was in attendance. She was flabbergasted that none of the announcements nor written material mentioned the horses’ breeding, let alone any mention of the breeders.

Let’s imagine for a minute that my occupation is pie baker instead of horse breeder. Someone comes to me and orders a Tolman’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumb Pie to take to a holiday function. He or she pays a fair price for the pie, brings it to the event, and calls it a Country Crumble Fruit Pie. That’s fine. You paid for the pie; you can change the name. People at the event love this pie. They know the owner of the pie isn’t the baker of the pie, but they don’t care. It’s delicious. They just want to eat it. The person who bought the pie from me doesn’t bother mentioning who did, indeed, create this pie, and who would know that the buyer has changed the name to exclude any reference to me. He or she even leads them to believe that the pie is imported at great cost and prestige. On top of that, this event is being televised for a holiday special, and there are a number of close-ups of the owner and the pie. The credits roll at the end, and the purchaser is listed as contributing this fantastic dessert. Social media goes crazy. “My” pie goes viral. It’s a huge hit. Suddenly, every time this person is invited to a similar event, the host requests another Fruit Crumble Pie. How many lost opportunities are there in this sequence of events for me, the creator of this pie, to get some recognition and garner some well-deserved accolades for my pie-baking business?

I fully realize that a breeder does not “make” the Grand Prix horse, but, on the flip side, there wouldn’t be a Grand Prix horse without a breeder. I also realize the absence of an accredited, progressive program to certify and identify trainers is undoubtedly a bigger issue than not recognizing the breeder. But, damn it, it pisses me off.

At almost any European show, the breeders are recognized both in print and in announcements. Helgstrand and other major stallion owners have contractual arrangements with many top breeders to have first dibs on their foals. Schockemohle regularly holds ceremonies for the

breeders of the top horses at his events. All of the major studbooks call the breeders out to the center of the ring, along with the owners, when their stallions are approved. These may seem like small, inexpensive, seemingly insignificant moments of recognition, but moments like this give a very public face to the importance of the breeders’ contributions to successful horses.

These moments rarely happen in North America. Breeders are left to do their own promotion, post a comment with the breeding on social media when a rider or owner celebrates the success of his or her horse, etc. It gets old. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m the poor farmer in New Hampshire jumping up and down with his hand raised, trying to get anyone’s attention to fight for a little recognition for the decision making that went into creating this special horse. And, after 30-plus years of breeding dressage horses, if I feel this way, I can only imagine how those of you with smaller programs or just starting out feel.

We are lucky. Or, I should say, Carol and I have created our own luck. We’ve been doing this successfully for a long time, I have a huge social media following, I’m not afraid of self promotion, and we’ve developed a reputation that gets recognition more than the average breeder. This is a war I’ve been waging for over thirty years, however. There is no reason our major North American publications, websites, breed shows, and competitions couldn’t at least mention a horse’s breeding and who is responsible for that breeding. It would cost a little extra ink, a few extra pixels on a computer screen, and one more exhalation of an announcer’s breath. That’s it.

As I said, I’ve been waging this battle for a long time. People have shared all kinds of theories with me about why it isn’t happening, most of these theories going back to the person who is making the money makes sure he or she gets the recognition so the financial cycle continues to be a benefit. I’m not sure that’s true. Although, It’s definitely true that the breeders are not the ones making the money. I think it’s a systemic North American devaluing of what it takes to breed good horses. Nothing more. Just ignorance.

Oh, my goodness. Angry Scot. You’d think after a pie metaphor and all the pie I’ve eaten in the last couple of days because of the holiday I’d be in a better mood.

In fairness, our North American breed organizations do a good job of recognizing breeders in their publications, meetings, and inspections/keurings. The problem is that we are breeders preaching to breeders. We all already know how important the breeder is in the equation that equals a successful horse. The horse-showing and buying population in general doesn’t belong to these organizations and doesn’t have a clue. We need a systemic shift in breeder recognition that gives them a clue.

So, my final plea to you in my final piece: Take action. When you see a post on social media about a successful horse, hell, any horse, post a comment, “Who’s the breeder?” The next time you’re reading a print or online publication that doesn’t mention the breeder, shoot them an email or message, “Could you mention the breeders of the horses you highlight in your magazine/site?” Along with the hefty check you send in for the entry fees for your next horse show, include a note, “It would be great if you include the breeders of the horses in your

program and in your announcements. Baby steps. And, if there’s anything I’ve learned about making systemic change, there are two options, baby steps or all-out war. I’m not advocating the latter. I’m just saying if we breeders don’t initiate change, it won’t happen.

Again, thank you, Anna and Nat, for allowing me the opportunity to be part of the inaugural year of WarmbloodBreeding.com. I appreciate your kindness and enthusiasm. Thank you to all of you who have reached out to me over the last year with your thoughts and comments. Happy to chat anytime, just ask me if I have to pee first. I’m going to have another piece of pie.


Scot Tolman is the owner, with his wife Carol, of Shooting Star Farm, a family-run, Platinum Level breeding farm with the KWPN-NA. Scot, and Shooting Star Farm, have been written up in several equine publications, here and in Europe. As a writer, Scot has been published most notably in Warmbloods Today magazine (no longer published), and he maintains Scot’s Journal on the Shooting Star Farm website.

Scot stands three Dutch Warmblood stallions, including Floris, his riding horse. Click to view their Stallion Profiles on WarmbloodStallionsNA.com:

Floris SSF

Top Character and New Pedigree for North America

Gaudi SSF

The most popular dressage stallion in North America!

Jaleet SSF

World-class expression and athleticism!

You Have Been Warned

Scot Tolman Thoughts on Breeding

Many years ago, when we first opened our restaurant, Dino Houpis, our mentor supplied by the Service Core of Retired Entrepreneurs said to me, 

“If you knew everything right now that you’re going to know a year from now, you wouldn’t be opening a restaurant.” 

If asked, that’s exactly the advice I would give to a non-horse person planning on marrying a horse person: If you knew everything right now you’re going to know in a year, you wouldn’t be marrying this person.

When Carol and I first met, I had one horse. She had been riding at a dude ranch twice. Between our engagement and our wedding, we had two horses. Almost thirty-three years later, I don’t really know how many horses we have. Somewhere between 30 and 40? The good thing is that Carol also does not know how many horses we have! Of course, we’re leaving for the Netherlands next week. By the end of the day on Tuesday, after we visit our horses in Nuis, she’s going to have a better idea, because I’m pretty sure she can count…unfortunately. It’s not that I purposefully try to hide horses from her. I don’t. I just sometimes say things like, “Gee, that foal in the Prinsjesdag Auction is pretty cool. Maybe I’ll bid on him.” And, I do. And, I buy him. And, I tell her I bought him…if she asks. If she doesn’t ask, well, I usually remember to tell her. Usually. Of course, the horses in our backyard are a little more difficult to slide by her because, as I mentioned, she can count. 

I can’t tell you how many times a woman is here looking at horses, and will casually mention something like, “my husband doesn’t know I’m here,” or “I’m going to give you cash because I don’t want this to show up in the checking account statement,” or “don’t post this on Facebook–I need to find the right time to tell my boyfriend.” Please, don’t take this as sexist. It’s just that the vast majority of horse buyers in North America are women. 

Reread the last paragraph. I am male. I am guilty of the same horse-addicted scheming. On this continent, there are just way fewer men duping their non-horse wives than there are women duping their non-horse husbands. And, in fairness, a person of higher moral character might try to dissuade these women from making such a purchase. Not me. I understand. I also need an intervention or to attend an HHA meeting (Horse Hoarders Anonymous). 

One friend bought a filly from us two years ago. I saw her recently. I asked her if she had told her husband yet. She replied,

“Telling Joe (using a pseudonym to protect the innocent) is on a need-to-know basis, and he doesn’t need to know yet.” 

It is an addiction. We are addicts. There is no way a non-horse person can fully comprehend the depths of our addiction until the lights have gone out because the money for the utility bill went to a new bridle with a jeweled browband and a new Sprenger bit. OK. That’s a bad example. We’re not going to let the lights go out. If we did, we’d be doing horse chores in the dark and we also couldn’t use the new grooming vacuum. Ramen. That’s a better example. Our spouses won’t realize the depths of our addiction until they’re eating their fourth or fifth supper featuring some creative Ramen dish because we scrimped on groceries for the new bridle with the jeweled browband and Sprenger bit.

A young horsewoman and her fiancé came to look at our mares a couple months ago to make an in utero purchase. The fiancé is a non-horse person with a capital NON. At one point in time, he said to me,

“I’d like to have a better grasp on the financial implications of horses. When do you make money?”

I smiled politely while trying to contain my amusement, gave Carol a look indicating she was the better person to have this conversation, walked off with the young woman to look at the mares, and left Carol to converse with the fiancé. Later, we waved as they pulled out of the driveway. After the car made the turn by the beaver pond and started up the hill out of sight, Carol turned to me and said,

“He has no clue what he’s in for.”

Not at all to make light of addictions other than ours, again, unless you know what it’s like to need a fix, be it Jim Beam, a Marlboro Red, some illicit drug, cliff diving, or chocolate, you can’t really understand the Dopamine rush that comes with buying a horse, nor the Serotonin release once you do. So, I guess what I’m saying is horse people should marry addicts if they want to be understood. No. Kidding. LOL. Seriously. That would be stupid. We can’t marry addicts. There’s too much risk that they will be dealing badly with their own addictions and not be able to financially support ours.

There are other aspects of being a non-horse-person spouse to a horse person that the potential spouse/already-legally-bound spouse doesn’t grasp immediately. For one, did you know not everyone likes the smell of horses permeating every piece of clothing you own and every piece of furniture you sit on? Isn’t that nearly beyond comprehension? What could be more soothing to the soul than the smell of a horse?

Carol has a rule that barn clothes, and especially barn shoes, stay downstairs, in the mud room. (She even had a shower installed in the laundry area adjacent to the mud room for some strange reason). Although I would prefer not to change my clothes twelve times a day, I am willing to make this accommodation to maintain a happy marriage.

I can see someone finding it charming early in the relationship if you show up to a date with hay in your hair. It’s probably not as charming a couple years in when that same hay falls out of your hair and into the eggs you’re cooking for breakfast without your noticing it. Kind of the same as when I joke about spending most of the summer with my arm up a horse’s ass and a green-brown stain circumnavigating my upper right bicep. It’s funny to talk about, but not so funny to jump into the car because we’re late for a dinner reservation and I didn’t have time to shower. I don’t even notice anymore. The older I get, the less I care or want to notice.

Floris, my new stallion, is boarded 45 minutes away from us until the new barn/indoor is completed. Many days I change into my riding clothes before leaving the house, which means if I have to do an errand on the way there or back, I’m going to be the large man with riding breeches and Hoka sandals walking into the grocery store or Tractor Supply. Maybe this is a common sight in Wellington or some places in Southern California. In Keene, New Hampshire, or Bellows Falls, Vermont, I’m a large man in sandals and very tight-fitting pants that may or may not have been washed since the last time I rode. Just in case, I have a line ready to use for some distracted cashier or fellow shopper, “Keep your eyes up here, buddy. It will be better for both of us.”

On one of our first dates, Carol and I went to the movies. At one point she turned to me and sniffed. “What’s that smell?” I replied, “Home.” I still had my barn shoes on.

Another aspect of being married to a horse-person spouse is the company he or she keeps. Early in our marriage, Carol said to me, “As much as I love them, the problem with hanging out with most horse people is all they want to talk about is horses.” As riveting as I find conversations about pedigrees, genetics, conformation, training methods, semen shipping, etc, even I get a little glassy eyed after the third or fourth hour. Carol doesn’t last that long. One night, we had some horse people over for dinner. A couple hours into the conversation, the observant husband that I am, I realized Carol was no longer in the room. She had gone to bed. Yes, we’re still married. But, back to my point, after all the vet bills, horse disasters, endless horse-related conversations, days-long horse events, and 30-plus years of foal watches, shit shoveling, and dealing with an obsessed husband, I’m not sure how.

One year, at the KWPN Stallion Show, long before we had our ringside table, we stood by the rail at C and watched hours of low-level dressage tests. I was so busy studying the horses and thinking about breeding picks and the future of our program I didn’t realize until about two hours in that Carol was teaching herself how to tie and untie the laces of her shoes with her opposing toes. She must love me. 

Marriage is hard enough without being married to a horse person. Throughout the years, Carol has developed an incredibly good and accurate eye for quality. She loves the physical exercise of cleaning stalls and unloading hay. She loves every baby we breed. Every time I say it’s time to cut down on the number of horses, Carol responds with a relieved sigh, and says,

“Good. Let’s do it.”

Then, I start naming the horses that can go…

“No. What are you thinking? We can’t sell her.”

I say another name.

“What? Absolutely not. I love her. She can’t go either.”

Needless to say, I’m not the only one to blame for us having somewhere between 30 and 40 horses. My non-horse spouse almost always gets the final say. As a matter of fact, at Carol’s insistence, we have an air conditioner in the barn for the mares and babies, but Scot is not allowed one in the house.

So, I guess that’s my final warning to you non-horse people considering marrying a horse person: The addiction is contagious. Horses become part of your life. You’re not marrying a person–you’re marrying a life that is full of pain, a seemingly never-ending drain on your finances, and just enough joy to make it all worthwhile.


Scot Tolman is the owner, with his wife Carol, of Shooting Star Farm, a family-run, Platinum Level breeding farm with the KWPN-NA. Scot, and Shooting Star Farm, have been written up in several equine publications, here and in Europe. As a writer, Scot has been published most notably in Warmbloods Today magazine (no longer published), and he maintains Scot’s Journal on the Shooting Star Farm website.

Scot stands three Dutch Warmblood stallions, including Floris, his riding horse. Click to view their Stallion Profiles on WarmbloodStallionsNA.com:

Floris SSF

Top Character and New Pedigree for North America

Gaudi SSF

The most popular dressage stallion in North America!

Jaleet SSF

World-class expression and athleticism!

Not Dead Yet, Part Two

by Scot Tolman

Scot Tolman Thoughts on Breeding

First, thanks so much to all of you who reached out to me after reading Part One of “Not Dead Yet.” It means a lot to me. Hearing your stories and feeling the love of people from around the world was really heartening. Although I steadfastly believe most of us have more shared experience than disparate, it’s easy to feel isolated as a breeder in North America. I’m happy to be a small part of creating some of the conversations and sharing some of those experiences that bring us all together. It seems the last two years of Covid—no keurings and limited inspections, owners-only events, no in-person annual gatherings—have exacerbated our breeder-isolation predicament. On the positive side of learning to live with Covid, we’re all much more adept at Zoom and FaceTime, so maybe a monthly “cocktails and conversation” format could work. Anything that involves cocktails has to be at least tolerable, right? It would be great to have some real-time conversations about the breeding season and how it’s going for people.

Scot and Floris

Second, I promised I’d keep Part Two more in keeping with my normal writing tone, and I’ll do my best. It’s not going to be easy, however. A large man in his early 60s shopping for a riding horse/school master for himself in the Netherlands isn’t as idyllic or gratifying as one may think. I’ve taken many riders and breeders horse shopping in Europe over the years. I’ve done a fair amount of horse shopping myself, as my growing board bill from Stal 83 can attest. I have never in all these years actually sat on a horse on foreign soil, let alone gone with the intention of looking for a horse to sit on on a regular basis. So, although I can find humor in the whole situation, there were a number of insecurities rearing their judgmental heads and releasing the proverbial butterflies.

On this particular trip, my insecurities already simmering, we met a very dear friend for lunch on one of the first days. I love her. I love spending time with her. But, I truly hated her for about three minutes and twenty seconds. Warm greeting. Hugs. The traditional three kisses. Then, “Have you been riding?”

She held me at arm’s length and looked up and down my body.

“I think not.”

In my head, I desperately tried to piece together, “you look so much older than the last time I saw you” in Dutch (which isn’t even true–she looks fantastic), but my internal Google Translate failed me. I settled for hoping she would momentarily choke, slightly, on her mustard soup. This was the moment I adopted the Fight Club motto for my buying trip. “The first rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club.” Hence, the first rule of Scot’s buying trip for his personal riding horse: “You do not talk about Scot’s buying trip for his personal riding horse”…unless absolutely necessary because you want to sit on the horse. At that point, rather than have the confused Dutch person wondering why this large man is expecting a pony ride, I, indeed, would have to divulge the real reason for looking at their horse.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m becoming a fairly body-positive kind of person. It’s been a struggle, and only taken about 62 years, but it’s true. I’d like to lose some weight and I get self conscious because of it, but I’m in the gym five or six days a week. I work with a personal trainer once a week. I’m fit and strong with a lot of muscle on my body. However, stand me next to Edward Gal, and one of us looks like a retired offensive lineman for a sub-par professional football team and one of us looks as if horses are begging him to wrap his skinny legs around their girths and passage off into the sunset. So, yes, when a seller hears someone wants to come look at his or her PSG horse as a personal riding horse, I’m imagining that he or she is expecting an Edward Gal prototype showing up at the mounting block, and not number 72 from the Senior’s League O line. When in reality, they’re probably thinking, “Now, how much am I supposed to raise the price for an American?”

One of my biggest quandaries internally before, during, and after this trip didn’t/doesn’t involve my physical insecurities, however. It involves my breeding goals. I have spent the last 30-plus years methodically and persistently building a program that produces top dressage athletes, modern horses that are refined, athletic, and with enough chutzpah to have the energy to excel at upper level sport. “Chutzpah”, “refined”, and “athletic” were not the goal in this purchase. At all.

I have a few strict rules when considering a horse for myself: One, the horse has to have an ass bigger than mine; two, I don’t bounce so well anymore, so shorter is better; and, three, any “chutzpah” better be in looking for treats and not in an overly responsive reaction to my leg. In short, whatever horse I purchased probably wasn’t going to have much resemblance to the constantly modernizing ideal I’ve maintained in my head as a breeding goal over the last three decades.

I’m here to admit readily that I’m a horse snob. Any horse in our barn has to have the look and the movement to continue to take our breeding program to higher and higher levels. Before deciding to go to the Netherlands to buy my riding horse, I looked at a number of horses in North America. Quarter Horses, heavier type Warmbloods, drafts and draft crosses. Every time I narrowed it down and thought positively enough about the horse to show it to Carol, she said,

“You’re not going to be happy. Not your type.”

So, yeah, now I’m the 62-year old offensive lineman and horse snob looking for a horse that has an ass bigger than mine, isn’t too tall, has enough chutzpah but not too much chutzpah, and has a type close enough to my ideal that I’m going to be happy riding him and seeing him or her in the paddock when I look out the kitchen window with my morning decaf. To put it bluntly, I wasn’t expecting to come home with a horse. But, I did.

Enter Floris. Whom I’ll get to in a minute. Let’s go shopping first.

Due to the parameters of what I was looking for, I had set up appointments to see a number of Gelders horses on this trip. If you’re not familiar with the KWPN system, there are four breeding directions: Jumpers, Dressage Horses, Harness Horses, and Gelders. The KWPN North America also has a Hunter direction. If you’re not familiar with the Gelders horse, it’s one of the two original Dutch breeds, primarily used for agricultural purposes, that are the base of the modern Dutch Warmblood. Initially, an individual horse had to have a certain percentage of Gelders blood to be eligible for this breeding direction. Now, the selection for the Gelders direction is based more on type, so often you’ll see a lot of heavier German blood in the pedigrees of these horses. To quote KWPN inspector Wim Versteeg, “Dressage or show jumping horse breeding is really about breeding a horse for the highest level. With the Gelderlander horses, the emphasis is on completely different things. There we are looking for a versatile horse with the character to ride, jump or drive; a horse to ride in the forest and that is suitable for the whole family. That requires a different approach.” This isn’t to say that Gelders horses aren’t capable of the highest level of sport; there have been many Gelders and part Gelders horses successful at the upper levels. It’s just saying that focus is on temperament, versatility, rideability, and more of a classic type.Given that I’m five years away from being eligible for full Social Security, my riding goals, and my three primary requirements in buying a horse for myself, I think you can understand why I focused my search on the Gelders Horse.

The population of Gelders horses is significantly smaller than dressage, jumping, and, even, harness horses, however. There are fewer breeders. As a matter of fact, often, most of the audience at the annual KWPN Stallion Show will go out for a coffee or smoke break during the presentation of the Gelders horses. They’re just not that popular because the perception is, correctly or incorrectly, that they are old fashioned and a step, if not multiple steps, backwards in breeding modern sporthorses. And, honestly, as much as I like them, that has been my perception, as well. Nonetheless, I know these horses, I know what they are bred for, and I decided this was the breeding direction that most fit my riding needs and goals. So, I held my preconceived notions and prejudices in check and began my search.

The first horse I looked at was a large, grey, lower-level school master. I love greys. His hind end connection and slight unevenness in the use of his hind legs negated him for me. The second was a HUGE, young stallion. This guy has talent, a great brain, and size enough for me and a couple of buddies from the offensive line to ride at the same time. The price was way too high for my budget, however. Next, I looked at a super fancy young mare who had done really well in the National Mare Show/Gelders division. Beautiful mare. If I had been looking for a mare to add to my program, I would have bought her without much hesitation, but, as a riding horse, she was a little too small and a little too green. The next stop was at the farm of one of the top Gelders breeders in the Netherlands, the Hekkerts. It is nearly impossible to go wrong buying a horse from this program. The Hekkerts are the breeders of the KWPN-approved stallion, Henkie, Adelinde Cornelissen’s up-and-coming super star and the first Gelders stallion to ever be also approved by Oldenburg. I’ve purchased a stallion prospect two years in a row from them. But, the horses they had available as riding horses were mares that hadn’t been under saddle for a number of years. Given that I wanted to begin riding sooner rather than later, it didn’t make sense to me to buy a broodmare, have her restarted, then import her. Next, there was another young stallion that was really cool, but, again, too green for me. Then, we looked at a great horse that was too broke–I would have been bored after the first week with him. I was pretty convinced that I wasn’t going to find what I wanted.

Throughout my planning and actual shopping on this trip, I was communicating with Gelders aficionado Liz van Woerden. If you don’t know Liz, she’s a Dutch native who temporarily resettled with her husband and family to Arizona. Liz is a Gelders devoteé. She has studied them, written about them, networked both here and in the Netherlands with Gelders breeders, and been a source of incredible positive energy and enthusiasm in promoting this breeding direction. When I communicated my lack of success to her, Liz said,

“I think you should go look at Floris.”

To be honest, this wasn’t the first time she had made this suggestion. She’d been in the Floris camp from the moment she heard I was horse shopping. Although I had looked at a couple young stallions, “snip snip” had been in my brain when considering them. Buying an established breeding stallion for my personal riding horse was just not on my agenda. Plus, I knew Floris. I had never met him in person, but I’d seen him at the Stallion Show when he was approved, I saw him later when he came back under saddle, I had seen video footage of him and his offspring. Nice horse. A little small. Great canter. By Negro. But, not a horse I was interested in for my breeding program, so I hadn’t given him much consideration. Plus, he had been for sale for a while and hadn’t sold. That was a red flag for me. Confirmed PSG, KWPN approved, some top offspring. Only 12 years old. Why hadn’t anyone snapped him up? Must be something going on. Well, guess what? There wasn’t anything going on.

Mostly to appease Liz, I made the appointment to see him. Again, I had no intention of buying him, so I didn’t pack my breeches or helmet in the trunk of the rental car. Basically, I just showed up to be polite, since Liz had been speaking with Floris’s owner and they knew I was shopping. They had trucked Floris to a local indoor because their place was under construction. The first time I met him in person was on the van. He was just hanging out. I said hi, patted his neck, and thought, “what a good boy.” He was much more solid in person than I had expected, and he was also a bit taller than he looked on his videos and from our seats at the Stallion Show. His owner took him off the van and finished tacking him up, then we walked into the indoor. There was another horse schooling. Floris went into an “I am the King posture” and made a little noise, but that was it. Corienne, the owner, hopped on with no further walking around or lunging and began riding him. What struck me immediately was his workman-like attitude. No fuss. No resistance. Just right to work. What struck me next was the quality of his canter. It’s amazing. Uphill, balanced, adjustable. Really good canter. Corienne showed us all of the PSG movements, then my friend, and new USDF Gold Medalist, Kathi Bruce, hopped on. Floris was just as consistent and willing to work for Kathi as he had been for Corienne. Kathi stopped, and, in her very distinctive voice, said,

“I think you should get on.”

I’m not going to lie. I was as nervous as hell about the prospect of getting on this approved stallion and PSG horse in front of two upper level riders and my good friend, Margret Peters (yes, same Peters that are the breeders of Alexandro P). Plus, I knew the saddle was small enough that my testicles would be resting on the pommel. I made some excuses: No helmet, would have to ride in my jeans because I hadn’t brought my breeches, etc., etc. But, I could tell from the look on Kathi’s face I was going to be getting on this horse. So, Kathi hopped off, they led Floris to the mounting block, and I put my big toe and part of the ball of my foot into the tiny stirrup, and lifted my leg over Floris for the first time. Fortunately, my skinny jeans had enough elastic in them to accommodate a riding position and keep my testicles relatively safe. My feet, however, did not fit into the stirrups, so, (and don’t try this at home, kids) with no helmet and no stirrups, I had my first ride on Floris.

Did I mention this was the first time I had been on a horse, any horse, in well over a year? And, here I was on an upper-level stallion in front of two upper-level riders. Let’s just say I didn’t attempt to do much. But, as it turns out, I didn’t have to do much. I knew almost immediately that Floris was the horse for me. And, as far as I’m concerned, thank-the-horse-gods lucky me: A bunch of people missed the proverbial boat.

After ten minutes or so, I brought him to a halt, put my big toe back in the left stirrup, dislodged my pelvis from the confines of the three-sizes-too-small dressage saddle, and dismounted. We followed the van back to Corienne’s place. Floris, once again, announced his “Kingness” upon arrival, then went quietly into his stall. They showed us a super Floris two-year-old filly in free movement. We shook hands and said our goodbyes. A little later that day, I called back and began negotiating. Within an hour, I had my horse.

I’m trying to avoid the perception that I’m using this article as a promotional tool for my new stallion. For one, again, coming home with a breeding stallion was not my goal on this trip. Buying a horse I can trail ride, take to local non-dressage shows, use as a schoolmaster, maybe ride an upper level test on, and basically have fun with were the goals. Additionally, he is not available for breeding right now with anything but frozen semen, and, this late in the season, not many people are going to be jumping at buying a frozen-only contract. So, again, I hope you can accept that I’m describing my search for and eventual purchase of this horse in a spirit of discussion and self-reflection, not marketing.

That being said, and more to the point of this entire piece, I wonder if he will be interesting to North American breeders. I’m questioning this as a North American breeder myself, and whether or not he fits my program. As I mentioned above, I had known of Floris for many years but never considered breeding to him. He’s a fully approved stallion who had to undergo the Gelders testing, which means he was evaluated for dressage, jumping, and in harness in front of a cart. He’s a complete gentleman with very rideable gaits. He’s not huge and he’s not small. In short, he has the rideability, versatility, temperament, and size most amateur riders need and should be looking for, whether that fits their “ideal” or not. Do I need to rethink my breeding goals to be more in keeping with my personal riding goals? Or, can I do both? Breed for the type of equine athlete that takes our program to an internationally competitive level AND breed for a horse more suitable for my, and most people’s, personal riding needs? It’s a quandary. And, I don’t have an answer yet.

Floris

In short, I, like many of us, am an imperfect rider attempting to breed perfect horses. I don’t know if the perfect rider exists. I don’t know if the perfect horse exists, regardless of my never-ending quest to create it. In my heart of hearts, I know that it feels like “settling” for me to compromise my breeding goals. It’s difficult enough breeding horses with the intent of improving one or two traits in each generation without adding the component of “suitable for the imperfect rider AND international sport at the same time” to the equation. This isn’t to say that there aren’t those rare horses in existence who are capable of fulfilling this breeding goal, but they are an anomaly. One might argue that Valegro (who, as it happens, is Floris’s half brother) is one of those horses since he has been both the top dressage horse in the world and the hack mount for an eldery woman in the English countryside. I would counter this assertion with two things: One, that elderly woman was not riding him when he was a fairly difficult young horse, and, two, that elderly woman was not the one scoring over 90% on him at international Grand Prix. In any case, there’s something about a horse like Floris that has me thinking it’s time to either tweak our breeding goals or, at least, focus a couple of our breeding selections each year toward a different goal.

Mutter, mutter. Ramble, ramble. Much more in keeping with my normal writing style! LOL! Just be thankful I haven’t leaned on my penchant for emojis and GIFs in this piece. For now, I’m content with the fact that Floris is mine and seems to be a willing partner in this next chapter of my life. I’ve ridden him three times. He’s a good boy and tolerates me. He has a fancy new bridle that looks amazing on him. I caught a glimpse of us in the arena mirror today, and thought, “imperfect, but not embarrassing.” I’ve bred two mares to him and I’m thinking about a third. We’ll see how it goes. Horses have shaped my life. Specific horses have been my guides through tragedy and transitions. I am willing to be guided on this next journey, and, regardless of the questions posed in this piece, grateful to have found a partner for that journey.


Scot Tolman is the owner, with his wife Carol, of Shooting Star Farm, a family-run, Platinum Level breeding farm with the KWPN-NA. Scot, and Shooting Star Farm, have been written up in several equine publications here and in Europe. As a writer, Scot has delighted readers for years, with his own blog (Scot’s Journal on the Shooting Star Farm website) and other writings and musings. We are proud to host this bimonthly new feature, exclusive to WarmbloodBreeding.com, “Thoughts on Breeding.” His column is both humorous and thought-provoking, and takes on some of the most important issues facing North American breeders today.

Click here to read Scot’s “Not Dead Yet, Part One”

Click here for all the articles of Scot’s “Thoughts on Breeding” series.

Not Dead Yet, Part One

by Scot Tolman

Scot Tolman Thoughts on Breeding

This is not my first attempt at an introduction for this piece. I’d written what I thought was a funny, self-deprecating beginning treatise demonstrating my mental stability and general awareness of reality. It ended with a statement of verification: “Just ask Karen, my wife, or any of my three children.” Well, evidently, my attempt at humor was unsuccessful. Carol, the love of my life, read my previous introduction, and said, 

“My name’s not Karen.” Pause. “And, you have two children.” 

Of course, now, I find this much funnier than my original assertion of sanity, so it’s my new introduction. 

I bought a horse. 

Yes, that’s reason enough to question anyone’s sanity. There are not many things more insane than subjecting yourself to the life of expenses and frustrations that come along with horse ownership, especially when you know what you’re getting into. “You buy horses all the time,” you might say. This is true. I bought this horse to ride, however. As Hamlet says in perhaps Shakespeare’s most well-known soliloquy, “Ay, therein lies the rub.” “To be, or not to be” may very well have been the question at hand in this decision. 

You see, when I was in my late 20s, I had my life mapped out. Not that I’m an obsessive planner nor compulsive control freak, because I’m really not—it just looks that way. Nonetheless, I had a plan for my life. It wasn’t specific, more of a general progression that made sense to me: Career, then family, then horses. Well, as most of you well know, life/the fates/God, if you’re not an atheist as I am, has a way of “directing/guiding” your choices. In January of 1989, my last year of graduate school, my younger and only full brother, Gary, was killed in a snowmobile accident. Although I was deeply grieving, what I saw my parents and Gary’s wife going through was much more profound than what I was experiencing, so I didn’t really count my grief in comparison. I returned to school, took what little money I had as a graduate student, and went out and bought a horse. Her name was Pretty Mares. She was lovely. She was an older Thoroughbred who had been primarily an eventer and lower level dressage horse. I started riding again. She was my therapy. My grief counselor. Of course, my friends from graduate school all thought I had lost my ever-loving mind, but they didn’t know me as a horse person. Had they known me as a horse person, as most of you know me, they would have understood buying a horse was the sanest thing I could have done at that time.

Fast forward to about 12 years ago. My good friend, KC Dunn, Dr. KC Dunn, called me on my 50th birthday and told me my birthday present to myself was going to be a colonoscopy. I resisted for a bit, but, eventually, relented. I had stage four Colon Cancer and didn’t know it. In the subsequent couple of years of surgeries and chemotherapy, I reached a point where I was OK if I died. Not to be histrionic, but I remember lying in a hospital bed at Mass General, in more pain than I had ever experienced, not knowing if I’d ever be able to take a shit again, let alone face the treatments and more surgeries ahead of me, and clearly answering the “to be, or not to be” question by selecting the latter. It was a moment of great peace for me. It was also a moment of clarity in my understanding of the impermanence of a human being, in particular, this human being. As this life/these fates/this God I don’t believe in would have it, I went on to a colon resection and six months of chemo, a subsequent cancer and a cardiac arrhythmia most likely a result of said chemo, two more surgeries, too many CT scans to count, multiple upper and lower endoscopies, and more check ups and blood draws than I care to remember—each time, part of me certain that the other proverbial shoe was going to drop. Well, this week, on Tuesday, April 12th, at 1:30 pm, after almost 12 years, I was finally discharged from the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer monitoring protocol. 

I sobbed. I could barely get out a thank you to Dr. Takvorian, whom I have come to adore. I couldn’t seem to stop. I kept intermittently sobbing. The people on the elevator down from the ninth floor of the Yawkey Center probably thought I had just received much different news than “No need to make your next six-month appointment.” I paid for my parking in the lobby, and got on another elevator to the parking garage with people who were probably wondering how much longer I had to live. I’m not normally afraid to cry in public—just ask anyone who goes to a movie with me—but heaving sobs and snot pouring out of my nose is a little much, even for me. It took me the hour-plus drive from MGH to my chocolate mint oreo ice cream at Kimball Farms in Littleton, MA, to get myself under control. Come to find out, I’ve been in a 12-year’s long period of grief to which I have become so accustomed that I didn’t even recognize that I’ve been on auto-pilot for more than a decade, just waiting for my Shakespearean ending. 

OK. That was histrionic. You’re going to have to cut me some slack. 

About a month ago, Michaela, my daughter, handed me a cocktail and sat me down for a conversation after she put her kiddos to bed. No one knows me or identifies with me quite like Michaela. She has always been my harshest critic and my most devout supporter. I think it’s a genetic thing; she has a piece of me, realizes it, and knows how to either twist the knife or kick me in the ass when I most need it. The gist of this conversation was, “You’re not dead yet. It’s time for you to live again.” 

Well, this conversation really struck me. I will count it as one of the biggest turning points in my life. So, when Dr. Takvorian said, “I see a strong, well man sitting in front of me,” I was finally ready to hear it. And, because of my conversation with Michaela, I had already begun to take actions to move on with the living of my life. 

I bought a horse.

And, I started painting again. I printed out the 285 pages of my novel I’ve not touched in three years so I can reread it, edit, and finish it. I came up with a smaller version of our riding complex that has been on hold since Covid hit and I am about to commit to a contractor. And, I bought a horse. To ride. 

The point of this piece is not a pity party for me. Although, admittedly, a little self indulgent, it’s a horse story. I, like many of you, have always found my peace and my sanity through horses. Horses, more than people, have buoyed me in the worst times of my life, and brought me great joy in some of the best times of my life. Although my riding aspirations have certainly changed now that I’m 62 and haven’t even ridden a horse in a few years, I’m not dead yet. There is a connection a human establishes with a horse when they are working together that is like no other I have experienced. I think I am finally in a place to hold my own in that partnership. Today, I choose “to be.”


Editor’s note: We are very proud to host Scot Tolman’s “Thoughts on Breeding” series – with its musings and insights and humor – on WarmbloodBreeding.com. This one especially made its way to my heart, and I look forward to Part Two.

Scot’s June column, “Not Dead Yet, Part Two”, will recount his experiences horse shopping in Europe and reexamine some of his previously-held beliefs about breeding for the amateur market, especially given that he was the “amateur” in question in this situation.

An announcement will be sent in our June e-newsletter when the article goes live. If you don’t already receive it, you can sign up here.

To learn more about the three stallions Scot stands at stud, click below:

Gaudi SSF

The most popular dressage stallion in North America!

Jaleet SSF

World-class expression and athleticism!

Floris SSF

Top Character and New Pedigree for North America

First Question:  Ask Me If I Have to Pee

Scot Tolman Thoughts on Breeding

One of the benefits of enduring/surviving/doggedly persisting as long as I have in the horse-breeding business is people new to breeding often see my longevity and modicum of success as something from which to garner some insight. I use “benefits” because I love talking horses, so I’m almost always happy to chat about breeding and the horse business. I use “almost always” because…well, there have been times when I’ve been sitting in my Subaru outside the post office while on my morning errands, for over an hour, eyes glazed over, listening to a voice over my car speakers put me into so much of an hypnotic daze that I nearly have to set a timer on my phone to remind myself at least to grunt or try to squeeze in an “uh-huh” occasionally to be polite. Additionally, by then, after my morning large decaf and 24 ounces of water, I also have to pee. Hard to focus when you have to pee. These are the only times when I don’t see these calls as “benefits”: when I have to pee and when you haven’t really called for a conversation, but, rather, needed a living, breathing body on the other end of the line to listen to you. And, honestly, if I don’t have to pee too badly, I will listen for a long, long time and be cool with it.

So, in this column, I’m going to attempt to do two things: One, give you some advice about how to prepare for calling someone from whom you want advice or simply a conversation about breeding horses. And, two, present an FAQ section of the conversations I frequently have. 

When I first started breeding, back in the days before the blessing/curse of the internet existed in more than some government basements and a few computer geeks’ Dorito-crumbed bedrooms with sticky Mountain Dew stains in the carpet, I researched breeding programs in Holland by looking at the names of the breeders on registration papers, in In de Strengen, and in sport and auction results. Then, I’d sleuth out some poor, unsuspecting Dutch farmer’s phone number, and call them, hoping they spoke English. Only once did I miscalculate the time difference and get somebody out of bed…only once. It was one of my shorter conversations, consisting primarily of my profuse apologies once I realized my mistake. Unfortunately, I had gone through my introduction with my name and farm name before I realized this grumpy Dutchman was, indeed, groggy, and not grumpy. Again, that only happened once. Now, given the advent of the internet and social media, we have access to top breeders worldwide with the pressings of a few keystrokes, and it doesn’t matter what time of day you send the message, because they’ll see it when they see it. So, that’s really the first step, make contact via social media, email, or text before you call. If you’re contacting someone in Europe, WhatsApp is usually the way to go. 

Whether it’s in your original message or initial phone conversation, keep your introduction brief. If the conversation goes well, there will be plenty of time to tell them all about chubby, eight-year-old you on your rescue pony who lay down and rolled every time you tried to canter. Name. One sentence description of who you are. One sentence explanation of why you want to speak with them. Some expression of appreciation for their taking the time to speak with you. Move on to your plan. 

Did I say plan? I did say plan. It’s worth repeating. Plan. LOL! 

I’m not trying to be overly flippant here. If my sense of humor feels at all accusatory or mean, please, don’t take it that way. Finding a mentor and regularly speaking with experts in the field is really key to improving your knowledge base and, consequently, your program. So, before you sit down to make a few planning notes for the conversation you’d like to have, have a conversation with yourself, and make a couple notes about your own program. To begin with, first, try to identify the biggest strength and the biggest weakness. If I take a minute to be metacognitive about my program and my own thought processes around breeding and my goals for my program, I’d say the biggest strength is probably the overall quality of our mares. None of our mares is perfect, but they are all outstanding individuals and out of top, top marelines. The biggest weakness is the lack of availability of stallions to improve them. In Holland or Germany, there are literally dozens of stallions to whom I would be excited about breeding. For my mares in North America, regardless of how objectively honest and critical I am about the weaknesses of my mares, my options are really limited in finding the stallions to improve those weaknesses. Second, write a goal statement. What do you want your program to become? What are the characteristics of the “ideal” horse you are trying to breed? For now, leave both your potential market and the methods of reaching that market out of the equation. The horse market is way too fickle to count on. If all you want to do is sell a foal, then breeding for the market is fine. No judgement from me. If you want to build a program, however, you need to have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish. That goal can change or be adjusted, but you have to have an overarching goal to guide your decision-making process. My goal is to breed a naturally balanced, athletic horse with the physical and mental potential for Grand Prix. 

Once you spend a little time talking to yourself, start thinking about two or three things you hope to get from the conversation. The goal here is to make a new friend, a connection, kind of like speed dating to find a mentor. If the person is knowledgeable enough to be worth contacting, you’re not going to be able to “plug into” their brain and get all the information in one shot. Think of it as a biopsy, not an autopsy. You want a sample of what they know to see if it has value to you. If your conversational scalpel is making long slits and digging deep into their gizzards on the first go round, they’re probably not going to answer your call next time. For instance, I’m dying to have a conversation with Willeke Bos. She’s the breeder of three out of the four premium stallions in the most recent KWPN Stallion Show. She bred All At Once, Vitalis, and Jameson. This woman has been breeding a third of the time I’ve been breeding and with far more success. With a little luck, I’m hoping to have this conversation in person next month. The couple things I hope to get from the conversation are, one, what German lines are you most excited about using right now, and, two, how much do you let the KWPN determine your goals. I’m hopeful there will be more conversation than that, but if I come away from the initial conversation with some idea on those two points, I’m going to be really satisfied.

So, before I move on to the FAQ section of this column, let’s reiterate: Reach out and make a connection, have a heart-to-heart with yourself about your own program, biopsy not autopsy. Some of the relationships I value most in my life are the connections I’ve made with people to whom I’ve reached out over the years and people who have reached out to me. One of my initial goals when I first started breeding was to improve breeding as a whole in North America. Lofty, yes. But, although I’ve become a little more focused on more personally self-sustaining goals in our breeding program as of late, it’s still my belief that we become stronger individually by making everyone stronger. If my experiences and base of knowledge can be helpful, I’m always willing to have a conversation, and I don’t think I’m an aberration. The vast majority of breeders area going to be more than happy to have a conversation with you. And, if, for some reason, they’re not, it says way more about them than it does you. 

Without further ado, FAQs: 

“What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting a breeding program” 

Research. Research. Then, research some more, and buy the best mare you can afford, even if you can’t afford her. No other decision is as important as this. A top quality mare allows you to make stupid decisions as you’re learning, and not pay as much of a price as you would with a lower quality mare. Believe me, you’re going to make some stupid decisions. We all do. One caveat: It’s always better to buy a less spectacular mare from a top mareline than it is a spectacular individual from a lesser mareline. Blood will tell. Every time. 

“How do you sell all your foals?” 

Well, to start with, I don’t always sell all my foals. I keep way too many. Occasionally, we’ll have a yearling or 2-year-old gelding we’re not keeping for our program that hasn’t sold, but not that often. The reason we sell most of our foals, and most of them in utero, isn’t that complex, though. One, again, it’s hard to find a higher quality group of mares than ours. Two, I never breed for the market; I breed to improve my program. I always tell people, “I don’t sell horses–I sell myself.” A better way to put that so I don’t end up in the middle of a prostitution sting operation is that I sell my dreams. My vision. My belief in the quality and potential I am producing. If you don’t believe you’re breeding good horses, no one else is going to. 

“How do you make money at this?” 

That’s really simple. A lot of years, you don’t. I’ve used this quotation many times in interviews, columns, and in my journal on our website, but it bears repeating. “How do you make a small fortune in the horse business? Start with a large one.” Breeding is a high-overhead, labor-intensive, risk-laden business. As successful and financially solvent as our breeding business appears on the outside, there have been many years when our biggest benefit was a significant tax write-off. It took decades to reach a point at which we consistently showed a profit. So, long story short, it’s really difficult to break even in this business, let alone make money. Things that help? The big one is to learn to do your own breeding work. It’s time consuming and requires investing in an ultrasound machine and a set of stocks, but the money you will save in one breeding season will cover those expenses. Before you know it, you, too, will be spending most of your summer with greenish brown stains on all of your shirt sleeves and a faint smell of horse shit every time you turn your head to the right.

“Do you make your breeding decisions based on the market?” 

I think I’ve answered this one already, but it’s a question I get all the time. Absolutely not. Breeding something specifically for the purpose of selling it is never on my mind. My decisions are based on breeding for the next great broodmare or stallion prospect. I am continually evaluating and re-evaluating our mares and what they have produced in order to make better decisions. All of these decisions are based on long-term goals. Well, almost all. I will occasionally breed a mare to a certain stallion I hadn’t planned on because a friend or customer wants something specific. Normally, this is a repeat of a cross I’ve already done–someone wants a full sibling. But, specifically breed for the market? No way. If you do what is best for your mares and for the future of your program, you build your own market. 

“With all of the risks and investments, is it worth doing?” 

I can’t really answer that for anyone other than me. I don’t give up easily. One of my gym t-shirts has the Nelson Mandela quotation, “I either win or I learn.” There are certainly times I think I want to quit. One year, between December and June, we lost seven horses. Seven. All freak accidents or old-age related for the most part, but losing seven horses in six months takes an emotional and financial toll on a breeder. We’ve lost mares during foaling. We’ve lost foals. We’ve lost both the mare and the foal. This year alone I’ve spent over $40,000 at New England Equine Medical and Surgical. On the flip side, have I already bought frozen for the 2022 breeding season? Yes. Am I already excitedly keeping a list of S names on the white board in the barn? Yes. Did I still get up at 2 am for a week in December and a couple days at the beginning of the month to see the stallion selections? Yup. When Van Helvoirt, the breeder of Jazz, founder of the Wendy line, and breeder of multiple National Mare Champions, became too old to care for his horses, he sold them–but, as part of the deal, his older mares stayed at his place so he could still see them every day. He was well into his 70s when he bred Jazz, a stallion that changed Dutch breeding forever. I’m not giving up. Breeding horses is part of my soul. If my kids decide to put me into a nursing home a few decades down the road, it better be one with a run-in shed outside my window. 

For those of you thinking about starting a breeding program, or those of you who just feel isolated because the closest fellow Warmblood breeder is a six-hour drive away, I hope there’s something helpful in this piece. Breeding horses can be lonely, frustrating, credit-card-maxing, and emotionally devastating, but it can also bring just enough joy and self-satisfaction to make it all worth it. And, one of the most satisfying aspects of the whole thing is the connections you make with other breeders. These connections can be a lifeline sometimes. So, even if you just need someone to whom to vent who understands, I, for one, am willing to sit outside the post office and listen. For quite a long time. Just give me an occasional pee break.


Scot Tolman is the owner, with his wife Carol, of Shooting Star Farm, a family-run, Platinum Level breeding farm with the KWPN-NA. Scot, and Shooting Star Farm, have been written up in several equine publications, here and in Europe. As a writer, Scot has been published most notably in Warmbloods Today magazine (no longer published), and he maintains Scot’s Journal on the Shooting Star Farm website.

Scot stands two Dutch Warmblood stallions. Click to view their Stallion Profiles on WarmbloodStallionsNA.com:

Gaudi SSF

The most popular dressage stallion in North America!

Jaleet SSF

World-class expression and athleticism!

On Math, Afghanistan, Marketing, and Dreamers

by Scot Tolman

Scot Tolman Thoughts on Breeding

Firstly, I’m delighted that Anna Goebel has asked me to be both a part of the launch of and an ongoing contributor to her new site, warmbloodbreeding.com. Strengthening the knowledge base and opportunities for breeders has been one my primary focuses over the last 30+ years of my involvement with breeding warmbloods. It’s wonderful to be part of an initiative that aims to support North American warmblood breeders. It will be good to be writing regularly again. I’m a little out of practice, so forgive me if my long, convoluted sentences get a little out of control. Three years of no longer teaching English has definitely taken a toll on the efficiency of my output and will, most likely, dictate some stylistic irregularities…

Secondly, this first column is a reaction to the recent interview with Andreas Helgstrand which first appeared on Dressage-News.com.

Let me start by saying I don’t personally know Mr. Helgstrand. Andreas, (may I call you Andreas?) if you’re reading this, we have a few mutual friends. I’m not going to name drop, but one of them has a first name that starts with an E and last name that rhymes with “achoo”. That’s neither here nor there. The point is you and I don’t know each other, but everything I hear about you from people who know you is that you’re a really nice guy and you throw a great party. From my own observations, you have an incredibly good eye for horses, you’ve built a team of the best horsemen and women in the world to support you, you, or someone you’ve hired, is a marketing genius, you’re an effective and talented rider, and, most importantly, you have vision. You see possibilities, and you find a way to make them a reality. So, yeah, there are lots of reasons for us sloths of the horse world to dislike you. Kidding, of course. I’m happy for your successes and admiring of your talents, abilities, and work ethic. Your vision, and its accompanying marketing and financial success, has impacted the global market of buying, selling, and breeding horses more than anyone or anything else I can think of over the last 30 years. Consequently, it was with great interest that I read and began to digest your recent interview with Dressage-News.com, discussing breeding in North America. Although I would like nothing better than for your success in this venture, I have a couple thoughts.

There’s a line in The Kite Runner, by Kahled Hosseini, that I’ve been trying to find so I could quote it exactly as a metaphor for one of my first reactions to this interview, but I’m not finding it, and Anna wants this column ASAP, so I’m going to try to suppress my pedantic love of exact quotations, and jump in with a paraphrase/description. The line is stated by the father,

Baba, to his best friend and business partner, Rahim Kahn, as Baba and his son, Amir, are preparing to flee Afghanistan in the middle of the night ahead of the Soviet invasion. The essence of the line is “They will leave. Everyone leaves. Afghanistan is unkind to strangers.” The political and religious factions, combined with sheer size and diverse topography of Afghanistan, have proved daunting to every “super power” that has attempted to either control this country, be it in the name of democracy and relieving oppression, or be it in the name of greed hoping to exploit its vast natural resources. Historically, these efforts, well intentioned or not, have left Afghanistan war torn and depleted, yet, in the end unconquerable.

Now, let me see if I can resurrect the tone of this piece before I have to go escape my own country in the middle of the night to avoid the wrath of the Facebook dressage-breeding forums. I’m not saying Andreas Helgstrand is going to leave North American breeding any more “war torn” or politically divided than it already is, nor am I saying he is an evil super power bent on exploiting the natural resources of our breeding population and a growing market. I don’t think he’s evil. I don’t think he plans to “exploit” anyone. I think he is a man with vision and good intentions who sees the possibilities that exist in North America for breeding sport horses on par with any country in the world. That being said, I do think he’s a super power in the dressage market, as were the Soviet Union and the USA to Afghanistan. And, although “exploit” is the wrong word, Helgstrand isn’t exactly filing for a 501c3 status. He’s interested in helping expand and improve breeding in North America because there’s money to be made. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Jerry or George would say on Seinfeld. Where the Afghanistan metaphor most directly applies in this situation is to the sheer size and topography of North America and to the economic, political, and (I’ll use this word because of the blind fervor with which many of us approach breeding horses) “religious” divisions and philosophical factions that make up the North American sport-horse breeding world.

The USA and Canada are huge countries. When it comes to breeding horses, North America’s size is both one of its greatest assets and one of its greatest liabilities. One of the reasons people go to Europe to buy horses is the convenience of it. On a buying trip to any European country, it’s feasible to see dozens of horses in a single day or couple of days. Here, unless you’re located in Southern California or Southern Florida, you could easily have a four or five- hour drive between farms, maybe significantly longer. If Helgstrand’s base for his sales, the young horse classes he’s proposing, and the younger stallions he’s promising to North America are in Florida, well, at least the flights are typically cheaper and shorter than going to Denmark, and, if the stallions are on the continent, we would have access to fresh-cooled semen. But, there are many good breeders in North America who are going to have trouble logistically and/or financially getting their horses to Florida in the first place. OK, let me think about this issue for a bit. I’m going to say problem one is not solved yet.

Helgstrand states,

“The only problem has been that we are selling so fast in Europe now that we don’t need to bring them here. We sell enough over there. In the future as we get even more numbers then maybe we can make some good relationships with breeders over here to try to breed 50 horses a year and slowly fill up the market from this side as well.”

In Europe, Helgstrand has a network of buyers that travel around the different countries selecting young horses for him. I’m going to use the word “incredible” in the next sentence with both its meanings, “wonderful” and “unlikely”.. Wouldn’t it be incredible if Helgstrand were to develop a network of buyers in North America that travel the continent and select these 50 young horses each year for him? Again, I would like to see Helgstrand’s vision become a reality, so, please, don’t take my tone as overly negative. If anyone has the resources, visionary chops, and cajones to pull this off, it’s Andreas Helgstrand. I’m just reacting to the logistics.

So, here’s an idea. Let’s pretend Covid is completely under control and the US/Canadian border is easily permeable again. Perhaps, the Helgstrand operation sends a buyer on the inspection tour of each prominent studbook in North America. I’ve often thought this would be the most legit way of holding an online foal auction here: The foals have to be presented at inspection; the jury or a representative from the auction selects the foals for the sale; there’s a professional photographer and videographer on site for quality control of marketing material. Having a Helgstrand representative who is actively looking to buy young horses at each inspection site would definitely increase participation in the inspection process and, most likely, have an impact on increasing the number of foals produced in subsequent years. Hmm. I’m going to say this problem has a viable solution. You’re welcome, Andreas.

The math of this next excerpt from the interview isn’t adding up for me, however:

“The key, for sure, is that breeding grows and then we can start with the young horse classes and produce for top sport as well. That is not only for the richest people on Earth who can afford to buy these horses…then you can buy a horse for $20,000. Imagine that! That will be super.”

I’m going to make the assumption that he is talking about buying horses from these young horse classes, which means the horses are most likely three, four, or five year olds that have been properly prepared for these classes. To low ball this, let’s say we’re talking about horses nearing the end of their three-year-old year with four months of training. Again, low balling. This probably isn’t reality. I’ll start backwards. There will be at least one commission. Let’s say 10%.

Twenty thousand minus 10% puts us at $18,000. My guess is there will be an entry fee and normal stabling/showing expenses. Assuming the horse sells after the first young-horse class, we’re now at $17,000. A friend was driving to Florida and offered to take your horse along for the ride at cost. The horse arrived the day before the class, fresh and ready to go, and the buyer picked up all expenses immediately after your pony left the ring. $16,000. You got a fantastic deal on four months of board and training at $1500/month with a top trainer who didn’t charge you for traveling to Florida to compete the horse because he or she wanted the experience in Helgstrand’s inaugural young horse classes. $10,000. You raised the horse for three years with no vet bills, plenty of pasture, and your own hay. The horse is a really easy keeper and completely with the program, so this equine angel never broke a halter, chewed up a blanket, or trashed a gate. And, additionally, the horse only pooped in the very back corner of the stall like a well-trained cat in a litter box, so on the rare occasions you had him or her in a stall, there was literally no wasted bedding. Fifteen hundred/year x three. We’re now at $5,500. The mare who birthed this baby was also an easy keeper. She’s the one who trained your young horse to poop only in the back corner of the stall and not tread shit throughout the shavings as if the entire stall had been in a giant blender. She needed minimal vaccinations and deworming, and maintained her good condition without eating anymore while she was nursing. $3,500. Your vet is an altruist and works for the love of the horses and a need to be up every six hours for two or three days in a row because he or she has taken the repro veterinarian’s oath to get all mares pregnant on one cycle with one dose of frozen semen. $2,500. Thank god for the consistency, quality, and potency of European frozen semen. For a mere $1,800, you were able to buy a dose of the most exciting young stallion in the world, get it shipped to your vet, return the container, and pay the broker’s fee. We started at a sales price of $20,000. We’re at $700. OK, for argument’s sake, you spent one hour/day for three years actively working on something involving this horse, be it stall cleaning, feeding, teaching it to cross tie, holding it for the blacksmith, making phone calls looking for a trainer, etc. etc. If you include the five hours of foal watch, and only five, because the mare is completely predictable, we’re at 1100 hours. Rounded up, that’s .64/hour for your efforts, and that’s the low-balled, best situation, if your horse sells for $20,000.

Yeah. It would be great to buy a started young horse, of top quality, already in this country for $20K. Great for the buyer.

There is obviously some hyperbole to prove my point in the last paragraph, but the numbers are pretty much on point, if not a little low, for a best-case scenario. How often in your years of breeding and owning horses have things worked out in a “best-case scenario”? In the vast majority of scenarios, selling a started three year old for $20K is costing you money.

Alright, if you’re still with me, you’ve listened to my diatribe almost long enough. One more point/quotation to which to react:

“I think we can support that a lot because we have the best stallions in the world in dressage. Over here, they often bought an old stallion—say, 15, brought it to America to start a breeding season. These stallions are already too old. The breeding goes so fast that in Europe they breed the young ones because they are the next generation of top athletes.

“That’s why nobody looks to buy a horse in America, because of old bloodlines. We have the stallions in-house. And they also belong to the U.S. market. So we can support with young stallions here, try to help the breeders.”

So, breeding to young stallions solves all our problems in marketing and selling horses in North America. I’m sure he didn’t intend this to sound as simplistic as I’ve inferred it for my purposes, and I don’t disagree with him that it is one of the problems in North American breeding, but I don’t think it’s the only one. My reactions to this over-simplification are complex and colored by my personal experiences buying frozen semen from European stallion owners, including Helgstrand.

Who owns the most impressive collection of young stallions in the world, and who benefits most from people breeding to these stallions? That’s one of my first thoughts. My second thought is an inappropriate-for-print reaction, laced-with-profanity rant about the quality and dosing of some of the frozen semen Mr. Helgstrand is selling to North America. Just in the last breeding season, on one mare alone, I spent well over $4000 on some of this very same “young stallion” frozen semen he’s advocating in an attempt to breed one of these young horses he plans on selling for $20,000. And, I have no pregnancy. There is definite logic in breeding to young stallions to produce the future of our sport. Although, there’s also a certain logic to selecting the best stallion for your mare, and not the “flavor of the year”. Regardless, after multiple cycles of wasted frozen semen with no pregnancy, what option do I have but to use fresh cooled from an older stallion that is available to me with a live foal guarantee?

In defense of these older stallions, given the size of our breeding market, it makes no financial sense for a stallion owner to spend the money for a young, exciting stallion only for him to breed mares enough to barely cover his expenses, let alone recoup any of the purchase price. If Helgstrand and other European stallion owners are willing to either consistently sell us higher quality semen or offer a live foal guarantee with their frozen semen, then we can talk about our breeders’ decisions to use older stallions. Until then, unless he is, indeed, willing to stand a couple of these exciting younger stallions in North America, he is offering no solution to what he sees as our primary problem in breeding horses people want to buy.

Again, I don’t disagree with Helgstrand that the use of older stallions is part of the problem with breeding in North America, but it’s far from the only one. For example, access to quality training at an affordable price as part of an established system in starting and marketing horses, combined with the size of our countries, is probably a bigger reason we’re not selling horses consistently and for a good price, but that’s a topic for a different column.

Yes, I got a little bitter there. Sorry. I see a lot of horses here and in Europe. Although we’re not as consistent in producing the quality that can be found in Europe, nor do we produce the number of horses, there are horses produced here already that are on par with any in Europe. There are just not enough of them, nor enough people who know they exist.

I don’t want this column to end on a negative note. As I stated earlier, I think Andreas Helgstrand is a visionary in our industry, and, for all our sakes, I wish him only success. If he can bring his vision, enthusiasm, marketing prowess, and sales abilities to North American breeding, it will be good for all of us. Two final thoughts for you, Andreas: One, don’t over-simplify the issues facing North American breeders. Two, you could do something right now that would have a huge impact. Sell us a better product with some accountability for its quality and effectiveness.


Scot Tolman is a Dutch Warmblood breeder, philosopher, and wry humorist. We are proud to host this bimonthly new feature, exclusive to WarmbloodBreeding.com, “Thoughts on Breeding.” Scot has delighted readers for years, with his own blog and other writings and musings. His column is both humorous and thought-provoking, and takes on some of the most important issues facing North American breeders today.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of Warmblood Stallions of North America, WarmbloodBreeding.com, WSNA Ventures LLC, or their respective affiliates. The author(s)’s opinions are based upon information they consider reliable, but neither Warmblood Stallions of North America, WarmbloodBreeding.com, WSNA Ventures LLC, nor their respective affiliates warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.