The names Windermere J’Obei W and Jax Johnson send tingles down your spine, as the talent and grace of each of these stunning equines bring such joy to followers of Grand Prix dressage on the local, and now International Dressage Circuit. And while many breeders can only dream of having their ‘babies’ represent New Zealand on a world stage, Rania Todd (aka Rania Layne) has achieved that twice, and from the same breeding season too.
Rania’s horses have represented New Zealand at the 2022 FEI World Dressage Championships, and now Windermere J’Obei W, ridden by Melissa Galloway, has taken the Sydney CDI by storm and achieved the highest ranking ever for a New Zealand bred horse at Number 44 on the May FEI Dressage World Ranking List.
While she knew the quality of the horses she was breeding was high, she says there was no way she could have forecast the level of success her horses would reach on the global stage.
Windermere J’Obei W (Johnson/ Miss Pompeii/Pompeii Court) and Jax Johnson (Johnson/A La Mode/ Anamour) were created from Rania’s dream to source top international stallions to combine with our best New Zealand mares.
Rania bred both horses in the same year, raised and handled them from birth, marketed them and handpicked their owners. She sold J’Obei to Melissa when he was 18 months old, and rode and presented Jax to Gaylene Leonard as a rising four-year-old.
“J’Obei’s and Jax’ sire, Johnson, was a find – with his mechanics and breeding, and the mix of sharpness plus rideability in his family,” says Rania.
“He also was being campaigned by one of the top dressage riders in the World – Hans Peter Minderhoud – so Johnson was on track for a successful international career which made excellent business sense for breeding his progeny here. Johnson has left Grand Prix progeny globally – including the three I bred ‘Downunder’ whilst in partnership with David Woolley.”
Melissa Galloway’s Johanson by Johnson was bred by Rania and David two years before Jax and J’Obei.
Where it all began
Auckland-based Rania says she grew up “on the back of ponies” in Westport on the West Coast of the South Island. She moved to Wellington during her high school years, started breeding horses when she was eighteen and developed her breeding strategy from there. She climbed the ranks as a dressage rider, competing on her Gisborne-bred mare that she later sold to the USA. She has also been a Judge throughout most of her life, which developed her understanding of dressage horse attributes from both perspectives.
While scanning for top stallions, Rania saw Johnson (Jazz/Roxane/Flemmingh) as a two-year-old at the KWPN licensing and reached out to owner Jeanette Nijof in The Netherlands.
“I was struck by his movement and type: very modern and ‘leggy’ with huge round movement in front and behind. His sire Jazz was a top Grand Prix horse and prolific producer and I loved the performance and rideability combo of the Flemmingh horses,” she says.
Jeanette agreed to supply a selection of semen from their internationally accomplished stallions which Rania arranged to be stored at Equibreed for the NZ market.
“You never know what you’ll get when breeding, but you can design the pool you draw it from. Basically, you have to really like the stallion and mare’s whole family because you’re going to get a combination of some of them. This includes performance, type, mechanics, soundness, rideability and how sharp etc.”
Thoroughbred mares a strong motivation
Rania says with New Zealand breeders having access to thousands of world class stallions via frozen semen, top mares can be harder to find.
“The mare line’s performance history and athleticism are important, and that was a strong motivation for starting with Thoroughbred mares. Additionally, we have worldclass Thoroughbred athletes here plus you can get a lot of mare for your dollar,” she says.
“Having a modest budget, I had to choose the stallions and mares I felt would produce top results. I was always upgrading my mare base; keeping the best fillies for the breeding programme – I promoted my young competition mare Rock Chic (Rockstar / Miss Phillips and half-sister to Johanson) to broodmare, and her first breeding produced Vanessa Way’s Furst Rock.”
Rania found the quality Hanoverian mare A La Mode (Jax’s dam) through her friend Susan Walls, and bought Miss Pompeii (J’Obei’s dam by the champion stallion Pompeii Court) at the Thoroughbred Sales auction at Karaka.
“Miss Pompeii had a superstar physique and three wonderful paces, as well as the sweetest nature. The last piece of the puzzle (after mare and stallion) is the rider! I was laser focused on selling the geldings to the best riders I could partner them with (thank you Melissa and Gaylene!). I love following J’Obei and Jax’s continued success and catching up for a hug with my old boys when I can!”
Life beyond horses
David Woolley has continued to breed horses from their original broodmare line while Rania has explored her other creative passion as lead singer and co-writer in her originals rock band Crimson Layne (remember the name!) with talented musician and fiancé Glenn Yate.
Crimson Layne was a finalist in the New Zealand Battle of the Bands last year receiving accolades for their music and high energy performances.
“Like dressage, it’s a long game and takes a tribe to make it happen,” says Rania.
The band is looking to team up with sponsors or partners to complete the rest of their album in the studio. Meantime, they feature on Spotify, YouTube and on their website at https://crimsonlayne.com.
“Yes, it’s almost as expensive as horses, though a little less hazardous! We’re having a blast and making waves in the NZ music scene … watch this space!”
However, Rania still has time to maintain her strong interest in breeding high quality sport horses.
“It’s a super exciting time for New Zealand dressage and it feels surreal to be a part of it all. With our daughter Reevie riding and watching Jax and J’Obei, horses are never far from my mind. I always planned to breed some more, it could be sooner than you think!
This feature article was supplied.