Many a breeder dreams of having their ‘babies’ represent New Zealand on a world stage. Well, David Woolley has ticked that box twice. He has bred two of the three horses heading to the FEI World Dressage Championships . . . and while he has long believed both were something quite special, even he finds himself shaking his head and pinching himself. “It is incredibly unusual,” he says from his west Auckland property. “Quite extraordinary.”
Windermere J’Obei W (by Johnson, out of Miss Pompeii who is by Pompeii Court) and Jax Johnson (by Johnson out of Ala Mode who is by Anamour) are both from his breeding programme. They will head to Denmark this month with their respective riders Melissa Galloway and Gaylene Lennard, alongside John Thompson aboard Chemistry (by Connaisseur, out of Cendea who is by Johnson).
“None of them would exist if not for Johnson,” says David. “He was an international Grand Prix horse for Holland and went to World Championships and Olympic Games. They do have a reputation for being a bit tough, difficult and hot but he has left a lot of Grand Prix horses – including my three.”
By his own admission, David’s breeding programme is small compared to a lot. It was started with Rania Todd, but he has now run it alone for almost a decade.
“When we bred Jax and Joey (Windermere J’Obei W), the most we bred was two a year. Now I breed up to five, but a few years only just one or two. I don’t have a whole lot of horses out there but the ones that are out, are doing really well. Before Jax and Joey I used to breed more all-purpose horses but then I saw (the stallion) Johnson (by Jazz, out of Roxane who is by Flemmingh) on Eurodressage.”
Johnson had caught David’s eye at the KWPN licensing as a two-and-a-half-year-old because of his movement and type. “He was very modern and long legged in type, had huge round movement and used his joints well. Jazz was a top Grand Prix horse and stallion for quite a few years and I always followed the Flemmingh progeny because I knew he was a half-brother to the Holsteiner stallion we had in New Zealand, Littorio.”
He managed to get semen through Equibreed and the rest is history. “It’s so long ago I hardly remember breeding them,” he says of Jax and Joey.
But more seriously, he has followed the two horses at almost every major show because of that belief in their ability. “I have known for years they were really good but they still had to get there and so much can easily go wrong,” he says. “Breeding is a very long game.”
David’s mare herd started with a few thoroughbreds. He was given Jax’s dam Ala Mode. “She misbehaved and they were going to get rid of her,” he says. She died last year at 19 and had given David eight or nine foals. “It was during the last one that she had a uterine tear during foaling. I spent a lot of money trying to keep her alive but sadly it wasn’t to be.”
The two full sisters to Jax are on the ground – a six-year-old in the South Island and a two-year-old who is with Gaylene. Melissa also had Windermere Johanson W who is still competing at Grand Prix level.
“Melissa bought her two horses at a time when no one would even come and look at our horses. They didn’t know who Johnson was and I think most people thought the horses were no good,” says David. “Melissa had been in Germany and ridden a Johnson horse, and when she came home we were the only ones here who had any. She wanted Joey but we said they came as a pair.”
He said in those days, he bred so few horses he wanted to sell as many as he could to get them out there. “Up until the last two years I have not kept any fillies but more recently I have kept two a year so I keep improving my mares.”
He’s rapt to still have half-sisters to all the good ones he has bred. “I look back and think thank goodness I did keep them, despite a lot of pressure to sell them” he says. “I do it these days for New Zealand riders to have good horses to ride. It has been a shame over the past two years with less shows, but I used to go to almost every big event to watch them and I enjoy it so much.”
That includes to Australia and he’s now sorting his flights and tickets for Denmark.
When looking at stallions to breed with, David’s first priority is a history of Grand Prix performance in the bloodline. “It is relatively easy to breed average horses, but that is not what I want to do. I want to breed for top level sport, with that usually comes a degree of heat and quirkiness, but if they do the job I think that’s ok”.
At the top of his list is whether the stallion and his mare family have produced performance at Grand Prix level. “It sounds basic but it is amazing how many breeders don’t look at that. With dressage horses they talk about licenced stallions and whether they leave flash moving foals, but they don’t look at whether anything from this stallion has got to Grand Prix or if the stallion’s mare line has a track record of performance. To me that proves they can do it and stay sound enough to do so.”
He also likes to keep the blood percentages up in his horses so they stay athletic. “It’s not something I started off doing intentionally, I was just lucky I had two thoroughbred mares. A lot of the stallions who have come to New Zealand over the years are low blood. By contrast Johnson is 42%.”
David lives on a small 50-hectare farm north west of Auckland. Half of it is in bush and he runs horses on the rest. He has five brood mares, a few youngsters, and riding horses for his 16-year-old daughter Reeve.
“I think I have been very lucky,” he says. While David worked professionally with horses “a lifetime ago” and was second in the Taupo three day in the novice, he says he only rides these days if he absolutely has to, and feels shows are far more fun when you don’t take a horse.
“I would love to have horses go to the Olympic Games. It is great that they go on and do something but we still need to have better horses here in New Zealand and better riders too. They need more talented horses who learn quicker and stay sound, and it will all build on itself.”
He felt New Zealand was lucky to have someone like Vanessa Way who had headed offshore to learn and was now back sharing her valuable knowledge.
“It is such an exciting time right now, and I feel privileged to be a part of it all.”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison