December 5th 2019
Pics of some of the 2019 youngstock for sale are on:
You can also find these pages under the Sale Horses heading. All these are by Rata Mill Bounty (1/2 Shire) I will post a picture of him over coming days
December 2nd 2019
Its selling season again. Please go to Sale Horses page where photos will be uploaded progressively over the next weeks.
Numbers are: Yearlings: 4; 2yr: 5; 3yr: 3; 4yr: 4; 5yr:1
June 1st 2019
Wow - 4 years since my last update. No, myself and the breeding program are not finished. Things happen in spurts around here.
Horses have trickled out since our sale in 2016. Young stock numbers have built up again to 14 rising 2-4 yr-olds, plus 8 weanlings. The big change is that I am back to one sire. Much deliberation went into my decision to revert to a home-bred horse. I must admit to making one mistake in selling Frost, the Shire x NZ stationbred. As time went by his progeny proved to be big and beautiful to work with. One never really knows the impact of a sire until 6 years down the track.
Whatever, I am using a son of Frost. I had a choice - horses with attractive markings or one with plain colour and superior type. I reverted to the principle that a good horse is never a bad colour. My stud sire Rata Mill Bounty is a plain bay. BUT, guess what - he is leaving plenty of greys and white stockings. He is also super-calm. Lucky again.
Sale Horses: We are almost through extra handling of youngstock in preparation for sale. Once done I will photograph and post on the Sale Horses page. I ask those that have contacted me to wait for this which should happen within the next month.
July 20 2015
Its’ starting to feel like the right end of winter. Daffodils and snowdrops pop up at the old house sites and birds have started their mating calls.
The grass situation is comfortable and the place is now being farmed properly again. Renovated fences and a big dollop of lime is making a huge difference. The mares came through their lactation in good condition and their weanlings were huge.
Every year we learn something new. I got late with the foal handling and was not keen at all at just throwing a rope on them as usual. They were too big and strong. After weaning they stayed in the yards and small holding paddocks for a full 3 weeks living only on good meadow hay and water. My respect for good meadow hay grows over time. They had unlimited amounts and ended up eating half a conventional bale/day each. One would think that the abrupt change from just grass to just hay would knock them about, but no – they kept their condition.
AND: when it came to tying and leading at the end of all this, only 2 out of the 14 had a fight. Amazing. Those 3 weeks of being in close proximity to me, the yards, and their mates made all the difference. At times they would be really bunched up in a small cattle yard and I could push quietly through them almost like being in a rugby ruck. So, the program now is no handling until weaning.
Three 18-month and one weanling have been sold over later weeks. Keeping costs down for freight remains a high priority. Luckily, certain livestock trucking firms still have the old design of crate that allows the transport of horses. The options grow for transporting in these set-ups, that remain the ultimate for a horse’s first trip. We now have a network that goes right down to Gore, Southland. Squeezing into a horse transporter or float while loading with a youngster that has never been on one before is not my idea of fun. Should we do end up having annual sales here there is going to be a condition: we arrange the transport at the buyers cost.
I have been advertising a rising 4-yr named RM Dandy. He has not sold yet. Recently I thought ‘To hell with it, I will train him myself’. I will get someone else to do the initial breaking then take over. I can’t risk having a fall at my age. I need a horse to video and photograph in my book. You are it buddy. He has the right movement and is big. For the rest, only time will tell. Temperament is just so important. Should he be too tense under saddle the stuff I talk about in the book just ain’t doable.
She does not know it yet but I hope to integrate his training with one of NZ’s top dressage riders. She has never experienced the power of the flexion yet. I see it in her riding. This way she can feel it and she is in for a shock. Very few riders know what true lightness feels like and are all at sea when it arrives. They also don’t realise that the snaffle is all that is required. Luckily, I have a second rider who does. She can have an input too. I will continue to do the regular ground work. If the horse is not constantly re-exposed to flexion training they lose it. Enough prattle for one day.
RM Dandy Boy @ 3 years
This guy demonstrates the elevated paces, that allows him to carry himself and collect without effort. He is to be my model for my book on the flexion. I can take video and photos right throughout his training. I have one reservation: from his Friesian blood he inherits a rather erect neck. Getting him to stretch down may be a challenge. Time will tell
12 June 2015
Weaning time again. Over the next days they will be taught to tie and lead
Next week 6 middle-aged broodmares will be on their way to Otiwhiti Station, Hunterville. The 3000 hectare property doubles as a traditional sheep and cattle station, along with being a training centre for shepherds.
This consignment includes all remaining mares smaller than 16 hh. They are all quality horses. However, it is so much harder to get profitable sales for horses under 16 hh. So they go.
The station’s priority is to breed hill country shepherds hacks. The ideal size for this category of horse is 15 hh – 15.3 hh. Riding a big horse around the hills may a boost for pride for a while but the novelty can soon wears off when trying to mount with heavy rain gear. Size also has an influence over simple things like opening gates from the saddle or riding on really steep country in the wet. Some very big horses can be downright dangerous.
The 6 mares, theoretically, should be in foal. I sold them at a very economic price and wasn’t prepared to spend anything extra on pregnancy testing. These mares were mostly born when I was offshore. They have never had their legs handled or hooves trimmed. Under Rata Mill conditions having to trim broodmare hooves is very rare. Therefore they needed to go onto hill country. A small blocker on flat land could get themselves in a pickle. In saying this there are ways to trim hooves without picking up legs. Old-timers knew all these tricks.
I am hoping they do produce foals as their progeny should be ideal. They are all by the Shire x ‘Frost’. Transporting pregnant mares can be tricky. Slipping is not uncommon. Here is hoping.
Video link of a 1/4 bred mare sold to Otiwhiti Station. Note her 'Baby' - by Shire x stallion Frost. I love the way he moves. This is the movement that gives the wonderfull feel of the horse being right under you. It comes from the draft blood. In the breeding section I made the point to look for a horse that nods as he walks. here it is.
23 May 2015
A Touch of Grey
Shire x NZ Stationbred stud sire Ohai Frost leading his mares
Our stud sire Trevalda Irish Cloud was used for 2 1/2 seasons. He was then gelded and sold unbroken as a sporthorse at age 5. He is now well under saddle. I have kept 2 of his 2013 colts entire as potential stud sires and will probably keep another 2 from the 2014 crop. I am still looking for the allusive big, grey, medium-boned stud sire that will take your breath away. Sooner or later.
The Shire x sire Frost has been kept on. During the lean years 2005 - 2012 far too many smaller, light-boned horses were produced. Now that progeny of the purchased Irish x and Shire x sires have arrived the old Rata Mill type is back. Here come the heavyweights! They will jump, of that I am sure.
Trevalda Irish Cloud shortly after being backed May 2015
13 May 2015
The 2014 crop of foals will come in to be weaned within days. They are the best grown crop I can ever recall at Rata Mill. The mares have held their condition too. Obviously the season really suited them. The foals have not been taught to tie and lead yet. Normally I can hold them on longish neck and rump ropes untill they start to get the idea, but not these boys - they are too big and strong. I will revert to some other tricks.
Over the next days I will load some photos on the sale horses page. Here is just a sample:
This filly is of the original Rata Mill type: Strong balanced body with medium bone. Quality Clydesdales are not heavy, round-boned. Her dam shown here is a half-bred
6-month Shire x colt
6-month Irish x colt out 1/4 - bred mare
6-month Irish x colt
6-month Irish x colt
30 April 2015
A major upgrade of 60 hectares has been ongoing over the last 4 months. Horsework has been very much on the backburner. The 2014 crop of foals are due for weaning. Then comes some really tough work – teaching them to tie and lead. It has been left a bit late and there are some wopping big weanlings. I am cruising for a bruising.
Many fences have been renovated. I am sticking with conventional 7 wire and batterns with one barb on the top. I really do hate electric. They are not as cost-effective over the long term as people make out. Build a proper fence and it is still there 30 years later, doing its job with no maintenance. Besides a farm fenced in conventional LOOKS like a farm!
On the 'Before and After" page I used a horse to demonstrate how important it is to see potential in the young horse. Using his photo I pointed out certain encouraging features in spite of his looking terribly plain at 2 years. Here we go: looking at him 1 year later :-)
Brazil @ 2 yrs (the terrible two's)
Told Ya! Bazil @ 3.5 yrs. He aint done yet. He's going to be big
He is in work here and with his breeding will bulk out a lot yet
15 01 2015
At last we can churn out more good photos.
Down in July 2014 news I posted this photo along with comments predicting that this horse would turn out rather nice and that I was not worried about her condition.
Oh - what a difference 6 months can make. Here she is on 15 01 2015. She has had no hardfeed, no drenching or grooming/covering. Only grass, hills and springtime. This is why Stationbred horses are tough. It is nature's way.
December 4th 2014
At last! One good handler and the stand-up photography can begin.
RM Dandy. Born Dec 2001
1/4 Friesian, 1/4 Clydesdale, 3/8 Thoroughbred, 1/8 Arab
Many people went 'shock horror' when I used some Friesian. Its not about breed. It is about type. He will mature 16.2 hh
December 1st 2014
I will soon introduce a page on this site dedicated to equestrian art. Initially this will focus on the work of my Grandmother Florence Ward/Cussen. Her works date 1895 – 1950. She produced over 100. Her paintings are interesting from 2 perspectives: the conformation of horses back then and the technical aspects of equestrian art. Florence (Phon) painted real horses. If they had a fault she would include it. She did not migrate towards pretty horses or beautify anything. As far as I know she never sold a painting. She gave them away to the horse owners.
Cobs Paddy and Major, Ruapuke Beach 1948
(Have we improved the horse?)
I have just posted an update on the the 'Before and After" page under Rata Mill Farm. Its the 'After' time of the year at last.
November 20 2014
Grass up to their bellies and piling on weight. Most have lost their winter coats and are ready to photograph. I can get paddock photos but will not get the all-important standing up pic inside the next 10 days. It still perplexes me that so many buyers make their fancies based on the horses head or their trotting out. Conformation first, just like in a show ring. The only way to judge conformation is through having the horse static and standing up correctly. Topline is so important. I am going to enjoy some ‘before and after’ photos soon. The extremely plain bay gelding that can be seen on the ‘For Sale’ page is starting to hit his straps. He needs another 6 weeks before I can display him with justice. He will sell.
3yr 16.1 gelding, just starting to show his potential. He will mature 16.2
10 foals are on the ground. No losses. Shire x stallion Frost had all the ¼ bread mares and has done them proud. I hope people out there like big blazes. There are some whoppers. The heavyweights are back.
I am going to geld the Irish x stallion Cloud. I advertised him as a sire. No interest. Frost will have all the mares next year. A home-bred youngster by Cloud will come on board the following year. That’s enough Irish. I am ruthless in my breeding. Cloud has 6 yearling colts on the ground. It is only through numbers that we can make a decent selection. It has been a toss-up between 3; a showy bay with 4 stockings, a straight grey and a big straight bay. At the moment the big guy wins out. Keeping size in a NZ breeding program is not easy. The difference between 15.3 and 16.1 does not sound a lot but can in reality be $1000. What I really want in a stud stallion is steel grey with 4 white stockings. sooner ot later Frost will produce one. But, will he have conformation, movement, and size? This horse breeding is not easy.
October 2nd 2014
Spring! The youngsters are piling on weight and losing hair. Decent photographs are probably only 6 weeks away.
4 mares have foaled which is really early for paddock mated mares. Their condition is good which means high growth rates in their foals. There looks to be only 3 empties out of 16. 2 of these were empty last year too.
I have decided to use the Shire x stallion Frost throughout this mating season and sell Irish x Cloud. Cloud has done a good job and there is plenty of quality in his progeny, but the average size is not quite up to it. He is a solid 16 hh. We need to average 16.1 hh in the sport horse. He is also leaving plain bay or grey with very little white. I do so value stockings – they are so synonymous with Rata Mill horses. Frost will leave steel greys and bays with stockings. Steel greys with white stockings are just wow!
But expect some heavy horses. Don’t care – heavy horses can jump. Frost does dish in the front action, but so far all his foals are straight. Touch wood. I haven’t measured him lately but he must be pushing 16.2 hh. He is also very calm and kind.
I will be keeping 2 yearlings entire. One is an Irish X, so I do have that blood up my sleeve.
I am planning an on-farm auction of young-stock for January 13, 2015. If there are a large number of paddock sales over the next few months I may reconsider. We will see.
July 14 2014
What became of our Friesian x stallion Mahachi Jack?
Well – As he did not have the size, after using him as a fill-in for one season I advertised him as a sire. There was no interest so he was gelded. He was then sold to a lady that was returning to riding after many years. She needed a confidence-booster and apparently got one. The reports are that he is going superbly. Full credit must go to Brigitte Doyle who bred and handled him. He was lovely to handle as a stallion and his temperament shows up in his progeny who are now being sold as rising 3 years.
Nice horse what? Note that he is in a winter clip. His bone is medium, not heavy as shows in this pic due to winter leg-hair. I bought him sight-unseen based on what I know about Friesians and a photo of his mother. She was a very much a Rata Mill type Anglo Arab. Dont ever discount the influence of the mare. He is actually too erect in the neck to be an ideal sport horse (A Friesian trait) but is getting away with it due to his calm temperament. Should he be hot he would be very difficult to ride.
July 10 2014
Chestnuts do not occur in our first cross horses. But, cross half-breds and it can pop up. I have avoided breeding them. They are harder to sell and invariably they have soft feet. Nevertheless, a chestnut was left entire for a couple of years and mated to the odd mare. I gelded him, but would you believe it, his smatterings of progeny are amongst the best on the farm: Big, athletic, and very calm in temperament. Sorry mate.
Oh boy - weren't you a cutie at 8 weeks! We can often see true potential at this age. He is now a gawky equivalent of a 12 yr old boy. Many would not give him a second glance in the paddock.
I am going to market one chestnut as a specialist dressage horse. She has a trot one could kill for.
Winter: a peaceful season with time to recuperate before foaling in October. The mares have 140 acres to roam over. Short, spiky winter growth is rocket fuel. They need no hay. Should they have too little feed they would not group and rest like this. They have already put on a lot of body condition since weaning. Here, Irish x stallion, Cloud, has grouped up with 'his' mares. Shire x stallion, Frost, has his group carefully separated some distance away. Given a chance, horses will daily go back to high ground to see out.
A rising 3 yr showing the effects of her growth-spurt during winter. This is actually a well put-together horse. Real spring growth is only 3 weeks away. By Christmas she will look real nice. As long as the horse is healthy going through a tough phase does no harm. It can even be beneficial. It produces something far more durable and athletic then blobbing out on flat land with unlimited feed. Going on reports from owners in Japan who stable horse all year round Rata Mill horses require less feeding and are more resistant to heat, cold, and biting insects than any other breed. They have a thick skin.
A horse's body is like a women's: all curves. Adding or subtracting the slightest amount in certain places turns the profile and impression to custard. I am so looking forward to December, when I can post some real spunky photos here. Should this above mare still be a bit hollow in the neck I will hog her mane with the desired profile. Most people dont even notice what has been done! In saying that, I am sure that her neck will come right as she matures. She also looks terribly boof-headed here, while in reality she is not. when she loses the hair under her chin and her body size catches up she will be very tidy in the head. This is how true horseman make their money - seeing potential and buying cheap.
Another reason I can say with confidence that this horse will turn out nice is due to her parentage. Her sire is Jack (in photo above). Her mother has the strong Clydesdale body stamp. Eventually this must show through.
23 06 14
It’s going to be a long winter. The prolonged drought meant that there was no surplus grass before the cold kicked in. The feeding of hay had to start 3 weeks early. The youngsters are growing like stink and have lost some body condition. They are all now lean – the bigger ones in particular. This is not a bad thing as providing they remain bright and healthy. A lean horse searching for grass on hills grows up tougher and more athletic than one that is on a flat paddock mooching around in more than enough feed. Activity is so important in producing strong legs.
19 06 14
Winter is a special time in a way. The daily routine of mixing with young-stock to feed hay is calming. They get used to noisy machines and push in like a rugby maul. They also get used to being in enclosed in a thick mob of mates. There are 22 rising 1 yr, and rising 3 yr, young-stock in one mob. The babies have long got used to life without Mum.
Enquiries have not abated and I keep getting requests for photographs. I keep declining, sending only pics from last summer. How can I possibly get a good photo in these conditions?
The heavy coats are typical in our horses during winter. It takes a very good eye to see past it. The coat has a natural oil which helps to keep out the rain. We get 2000 mm/year.
Ordinary horse? Just wait: There will be another pic come December. He is one of 2 potential stud stallions
Meadow hay and grass is still the best feed in winter. No health problems or silly agressive behavour like that associated with hard-feed
The only rising-2yr on the property. Another horse with a lot of potential. Yes, believe me. She will be show-ring quality
My pick of the rising 3 yr. He will make a fine big heavy-weight hunter. He also has the top asking price of $2500 inc GST
The cutest youngster on the farm. I will advertise him on Trademe soon as a cutie. He will mature around 15 hh
10 06 14
Horses keep trickling out. 6 rising 3ys, and 1 weanling have sold over later weeks. They all loaded and travelled OK with no accidents. These Friesian x are proving to be stable unflappable horses. I was not expecting to sell many weanlings. 2 years is a long time to wait before being able to ride.
Trademe is certainly a useful medium. The only problem with it is that I get a lot of casual enquirers who are not really in the market to buy a horse. They are living a dream. I can usually pick them up because they ask for more and more info and photographs. Often they won’t drive 1 hour to come see the horse. I just keep telling myself that the customer is always right and then any exposure is useful. The problem is that they want recent photos. How does one do justice to a horse amongst the mud and in his winter coat? Very difficult.
The good thing is that all but one of the cob-sized horses have gone. I am left with the big geldings. I am quite comfortable with these not selling right now as they will only look better and better as spring progresses. I had a very low price on the smaller horses as I needed to shift some. I have not compromised price on the full sport horse sized horses. They are quoted at $2000 - $2500. I am also interested to see how these guys finish up. There is one grey gelding that may go up to $3000 asking price. He impresses me and I would like to see what size he ends up at. I also still have my big slabby bay gelding that shows in the Before-and-After page, also in the Sale Horses page. I want this guy to stay on as he is a horse that no one wants (so far) People see him as a “Yuk!” I back my judgment. They won’t say yuk in 2 years time. So few people have the true eye for a horse. I took a real risk putting him in the sale page. There is the possibility that it will cause negative reaction to all the horses. Next December I will set up more photos of him. Different story then. I will report here how long I waited to get an enquiry based on these new photos. If I get the photo right, I’m predicting it will be 3 days.
The very late foal I refer to below has been weaned and given away. I cannot bear to see a malnourished foal. The mother was getting very light too, having foaled in light condition. She is a beautiful big mare pushing 16.3 hh. The foal will go on to concentrates and electrolytes. They never reach their full size. Mares must be in the pink of condition when they foal.
I am feeding hay each day to the weanlings. They are so pleasing that I can just sit and be with them for far too much time. They are just so quiet and trusting. This is after only one intensive handling session of 4 days at age 3 months. The system works. Don’t over-handle foals.
The Japan market is now well and truly dead. Ships will no longer carry horses there. They were only paying NZ prices anyway. While exporting is glamorous I am not convinced that it worked for the best in the long run. All my best horses left NZ and therefore never showed up in the advanced competition rings. With the numbers and quality now being produced it is only a matter of time before one or more will jump in HOY finals. That I know. Let’s hope I live that long. I couldn’t care less should I never export another horse.
The other thing that Iked me was once my horses were sold on from the destination stable in Japan their name was changed. The Rata Mill prefix was dropped. They became more known as ‘The NZ horses’. The original stable regarded the Rata Mill brand as theirs.
Only one owner in NZ has dropped the Rata Mill prefix and changed the name. The product was to become his. He was always an arrogant SOB. He will never get another one.
That’s my bitch for the day :-)
23 05 14
Yep, the path is now becoming clear. Being able to mingle with the weanlings has cleared the fog. I will keep one sire and the specific horse is becoming clear. I won’t photograph him until he loses his woollies next November. He is a plain grey, and one of the biggest in the mob. He has good fluid, straight movement. I am pretty sure that he is by Irish x Cloud. The DNA test will prove either way. He had no qualms about popping over a full height steel gate in the yards - not that I wanted him to.
What finally tipped the scale is his mother. Right now she is a tired old mum, looking light and a bit scraggy. She and her sisters are now out free on the hills, piling the weight back on: their brats gone for another year. I went back through the records and was thrilled: as a youngster this mare was real class, a ¼ bred too - which reduces the risk of getting too heavy :
The only fault I can see is that she is a bit too erect in the neck for a sport horse. Her son is not showing this trait, so far. Note the Clydesdale body-lines: Exactly what I like.
20 05 14
Weaning completed. The littlies are locked up in a yard with hay and water. They will stay there for 5 days. Tough bickies, but we cannot risk them jumping wire fences to get back with Mum.
18 mares mated, 3 empty and 15 foals weaned. No losses or mares requiring assistance. Not bad. They did it all themselves. I just provide the environment. They did me proud. They are light in condition but their weanlings are big and blooming, the only exception being a foal out of 1 TB type mare. Foaling a mob of TB’s would be a nightmare here.
If you look at our stallion page and observe the difference between Frost (Shire x) and Cloud (Irish x) you’d think their progeny could be easily distinguishable. Not so. I would defy anyone to come in and select which of the weanlings were by which sire. Frost is a big heavy horse, yet he has left 2 of the classiest show ring type weanlings. Frost, of imported sporthorse bloodlines, has some competition on his hands from a NZ back-yard-bred bitsa from the wops of Southland. We still don’t know the breeding of Frost’s mother. She was just a Stationbred hack of unknown breeding.
Nevertheless, Cloud is leaving some fine stock too. A number of very dark bays and one genuine black colt – the first ever born on Rata Mill. Genuine blacks are rare. Dark bays are not blacks.
Because Frost jumped a creek during mating to be with Cloud’s mares I am going to do some DNA testing. I can do the entire mob plus the 2 stallions for less than $2000. That’s not bad and well worth the cost. I simply don’t know the sire of some of these weanlings.
In the early years Rata Mill horses were all medium-to-heavy weights. During the intermediate years a good number were lighter and not really of the Rata Mill type. With this crop of weanlings we are back where we started: quality heavyweights. I am most comfortable with this. The only question now is: will some be too heavy? Only time will tell. Whatever, I feel that it is always better to focus on a type. Heavy horses can jump. There has been a drift away from them in Europe and Japan. They will be back. It only takes one heavyweight to succeed at the Olympics. They will, sooner or later. Horses have not changed, only people’s attitudes.
I am going to keep 3 colts entire right through to October. One of these will be retained as a sire. With the selection I have available I can present a stallion more impressive than either Frost of Cloud. Neither have ideal movement up front. They both dish a little and lack fluidity. This does not mean that they won’t leave top stock as the mares have ironed out the dish. All weanlings are straight. But, when buyers see a stud stallion they expect something wow. I need one of those, especially if I go to annual auction sales.
The problem is in-breeding. Use one of my stallions and there will be Bobby Coon-Stannic blood both sides in some progeny. I have done this before and got away with it, but it does not look great on breeding papers. I do have mares by the Anglo Arab, Photon. I will cross over them, plus one or two Stannics as an experiment. This horse breeding is tricky.
01 04 14
Yep, the drought is starting to bite. 1 inch of rain for the month of March. The highly stocked ‘Super Farmers’ surrounding Rata Mill are hurting the most. I’v done with super farming. Its a young man’s game. During a usual summer Rata Mill looks poorly farmed – long rank feed amongst farms of fresh green pasture – a thorn amongst the roses. Not this year. They must look over the fence with envy. The horses are doing OK except that one block has no water. The young stock have free range over half the farm and trickle down to the one trough every second day or so - like in Australia. Contrary to popular opinion horses don’t need water every day, even in a drought. Rata Mill has lots of trees, corners of scrub, and swamps. The mares and foals on 140 acres no longer graze in a mob. They are splitting into individuals seeking out their own corners where there remains some grass. They have plenty of natural water. We also have a prolific swamp weed that has turned into a saviour. I even bought some cows in the midst of this drought. There is also a barn full of hay. We’r doing OK.
I am soon going to photograph heads. The number of people that focus on the head is astonishing. It’s not the way to best select a good horse. No one likes a bad head and it is one of the reasons I use some Arab. But, I do find the extreme dished nose of modern show Arabs repulsive. It is a deformation, nothing less. Ring judges need their asses kicked. I will bet anyone here a crate of Champaign that within 20 years breeders will be advertising their horses as being of moderate features. What they are doing now is not sustainable.
Amongst my promotion photos of groups of horses there will be some face on. Often I will get a request on a horse based purely on the head shot. One in particular was the last of the wild ones the breeding of which was a mistake. Behind that pretty face was a very badly put together body. I was not prepared to put a high price on him and sold him for $500. I have to keep reminding myself that many people are wanting to buy a relationship. To them a pretty face is important.
31 03 14
Of late I have been researching Anglo Arabs around the world. By Anglo Arab I mean straight purebred TB x Arab – not line-bred as we find in France and the US. By crossing these 2 breeds that are of distinctly different blood lines we can get real consistency. If we were to look at the quality of the average true-bred Anglo Arab I don’t think there is a breed in the world that can match them. We see all these lovely horses from other breeds in photos and videos. What we don’t see is the average. When breeding horses we need to think of the average – not the exceptional.
There are some superb 16 hh+ AA stallions around the world from which frozen semen can be bought. But, then I look at the background to the photos: most often dead flat countryside and rows of boxes. Nope, I am going to resist the temptation and go back to Kiwi bred horses, preferably with a Stationbred background.
There are some very impressive European Warmblood stallions in New Zealand. Why not use these as an injection of performance bloodlines? Their temperament worries me. They essentially are from a box/stable background – going back generations. There are some lovely natured Warmbloods for sure – but what of the average? In truth I don’t know, but I am not prepared to take a risk. Furthermore, their mixed blood can throw: I don’t know where. Thoroughbred temperament is also unpredictable but the Arab is not. Arabs are people horses i.e. they are so associated with people throughout their long history that we have a bond. They are easy to train to ride. They are not easy to get to perform as a sporthorse. They are too clever. The Arab gene is very strong. It can iron out the indifferent temperament of the TB.
But, Arab breeders have to very careful. Their obsession of head conformation and extreme flamboyant movement could destroy the qualities of the breed. Look what show dog breeders have done. Arab breeders need to moderate and start looking at body conformation: stop breeding this ridiculous neck and head carriage. It is good for nothing aside from winning red ribbons. True desert Arabs do not look like that. Those imported 40 years ago were much better horses.
26 03 14
The latest news is that a half Clydesdale won the New Zealand Horse of Year 2014 Grand Prix Dressage. Just a few minutes before I learned this news I was laying down the law to some colleagues that it is not about the breed, it is about the horse: ANY BREED CAN DO IT! First you have to breed a good horse. I would use Zebras if they could do the job. 20 years ago another half Clydesdale dominated NZ dressage. Nothing changes. Horses are no better today than they were back then. There are, I admit, more good horses in competition than 20 years ago.
I really dislike the NZ term 'Clydie Cross'. There is something down-puting about it. This mix is regarded as sort of hick - the type of horse you get as you get old and need to be safe. I would like the total cost of all the European specialist dressage horses that competed against this 'Clydie Cross'. Some were imported direct from Europe.
First breed a good horse: Conformation, movement, temperament. Traditional NZ breeds still have all that is required. We just have to get the mix right. Don't forget that Germany breeds over 50,000 sporthorses each year. We probably breed less than 1000. Some German horses have to be good. There is a hell of a lot that aint.
I am about to start a page on the breeding of dressage horses.
25 03 14
After 20 years a table has turned. Stallions used up until 2 years ago left an average of 80% fillies. This came through largely from Booby Coon. The two new stallions have left 80% colts. I am in for a lofty gelding bill. To keep my brood mare numbers up, all the best fillies may have to be kept.
Of late I have been mulling over breeding policy. This year’s foals are very pleasing, but something is worrying me. Using stallions with a degree of heavy blood over heavy mares could jeopardise consistency. The refining power of the Arab gene is not present in the sire. This does not mean that the existing foals will not perform, but rather that the distinctive Rata Mill type may not be apparent throughout the entire crop. Two years down the line I will be able to judge better the consistency of the existing sires. I’m suspecting that it won’t be like the old days of Anglo Arab over pure Clydesdale mares.
What to do? I am going to start looking for the perfect Anglo Arab sire. It is almost mission impossible because he needs to be 16.2 hh. The half bred mares already have some Arab blood and there could be throw backs to the smaller size. I will continue to use the existing Irish x and Shire x sires over mares with which they click. Colour too. Grey is so synonymous to Rata Mill horses that I am reluctant to stray too far away. The perfect horse is out there somewhere. I just have to get to him before he is gelded.
Another option is to buy a big Arab broodmare and mate her to Cloud (Irish x). Now that’s an idea. It would not be the first time that we designer-bred our own stallion. Years ago an Arab x Kingsway Diamond (Irish Draught) was being shown in the in-hand ring by John Smith of Auckland. It had the goodies. If you want to retain class, temperament, and quality - use some Arab. But for goodness sake, not too much. Even ¼ is pushing it. I looked over some Arab breeders’ web sites recently. Most of photos were of heads! The remainder was of horse flitting around the paddock with tail and head way up in the air. Please - just stand the horse up and let us see him. The Americans and Canadians are breeding some big Arabs and Anglos. Maybe frozen semen is an idea. Then one has to pray the foal is a colt.
13 03 14
2 horses arrived at their new owners. I always feel relief when horses arrive safely. Horses are horses and there is always risk when they get transported for the first time. The good thing about the cattle truck, aside from the easier loading is that crates are made from alloy. They are high and very secure but very rattley . If the horse can handle the first one KM he is pretty much set for life. He is not going to go ape-shit in a float.
Another potential problem with using cattle trucks is that the drivers are not always horse-savvy. With cattle nowadays they use electric prodders when necessary. God forbid that they use those on a horse. A youngish man has been driving the truck lately. He is very patient. We took about an hour to load 4 horses last trip. It was the first time on a vehicle for all 4 and I am committed to getting the first loading right. Do it once do it right. Next time should be easy peasy. They have learnt no evasions. I was prepared to give them all the time they needed but they were not permitted to take one step backwards. Meantime I was pumping as much advice into the driver as he could absorb. He had to offload 2 in into a holding paddock that night and reload next morning. Apparently it took them 45 mins to get one off. They would not have known that by then they could have walked in, put on a lead rope and lead them off. They were truckies. The driver had seen them really spook around when first going in and thought, ‘I am not going in there’.
Truckies often get up on the top of the crate and walk around. I warned him to be very careful when doing that with green horses. They really panic when having a person above them for the first time. Often I will be handling a really touchy one in the yard and some idiot will come up and climb up the rails. Man that annoys me.
Tomorrow I will ring the trucking firm and thank for tolerating these green horses. They could refuse. Many truckies do. Thankfully, all the lightly handled are gone. From now on things will be easier.
What I intend to do eventually is build a mock float for loading practice. I will put an electric motor under it to rock it, simulation transport. That way people can pick up their own horse. I am not prepared to just bundle a young horse on a float for the first time and hope. It is too risky. I don’t know how many reading this have seen and heard a horse exploding inside a float. It aint fun. You sit and watch and listen. There is nothing you can do.
11 03 14
A great day. The last of the under-handled mature horses left on a small stock truck. These are the remnants of the result of those 4 long years offshore. They were sold at bargain basement prices, but now the cleanout is complete. 2 of the older guys are going to a TB training centre. The trainer wants some big solid part-breds to ride with young TB colts to help keep them stable. Jokeys will ride these guys, no sweat. They (aged 13 and 16) were thoroughly handled as youngsters but never ridden. I am grateful that people do have the confidence to buy these horses. Backing for the first time at age 16 is hardly the norm. One is a half-bred that must weigh close to a ton. I’m picking that the jockey trainers will get to love them.
Now all young-stock at Rata Mill have been well handled. We are back where we should be. The cleanout has taken over 2 years.
Along with them today went the first of the new breeding program, heading for West Auckland. Being 2 he looks gawky (see the 'Before and After page). To the untrained eye he’s very ordinary right now. But the frame on which the horse grows is there. I’m picking that one day he’s going to be a fine horse.
Loading was via a stock loading race. Nothing much can go wrong. To prepare them, a few days before the truck arrives, I walk them up the loading race and get them to jump off the 1.2 height end. When the 2 yr old went off up come those hind legs high the air: YES! – that essential hind action of a clean showjumper. A second time: just the same. All he needs now is attitude and correct training. ¼ Friesians will jump.
Today a surprise foal arrived. I should have seen it coming but automatically assumed the mare was empty. She was being run with the 2 years olds and is now light in condition. Not good. Once a mare foals in light condition you cannot get it back on again until after weaning. She probably will not milk too well which will affect the foal. I hate seeing a nice foal stunted through lack of milk. In breeding, every year one makes a mistake. You never make that mistake again but then make a completely new one the following year. So it goes on. I guess if I was really dedicated I could hard feed the mother. It’s worth looking at.
Winter coat growth is starting to really kick in. The photographing of individual horses is almost over again for 7 months. I will probably stop inspections around May first when the foals are weaned. There are exceptions. People who I know really really understand horses' conformation occasionally visit during winter.
'No body loves me Mum, I'm in my winter woolies'
04 03 14
Yee-ha! First session with all 14 foals finished. They all got their mandatory 3 days. I worked entirely alone.
The mares and foals were so happy to be let out, after 14 days in the yards only on hay. It was a great opportunity to watch the foals’ movement as they trotted away. Not one crooked leg or movement. Here lies on of the big advantage of some Clydesdale blood. I have never seen a purebred Clyd. with crooked movement or legs. When a judge studies a Clydesdale in the show ring, s/he starts with the hind legs, then the front, then upwards from there. A work horse must have good legs. The head comes last.
Both the current stallions Frost and Cloud don’t have perfect front movement. Cloud has a slight dish in the near fore and Frost in both. Yet all the foals are perfect. Thank you Clydesdale breeders!
The mares and foals have free range over 140 acres. There are paddocks in which I could rotate, but given that both stallions are running with them they need room to sort themselves out. Interestingly all the grey mares end up with Cloud and the bays with Frost. That is how I mated them and its stuck.
Summer and autumn can be a tricky time to run horses on grass. Many make the mistake of seeing plenty of grass and leave the horses in a paddock, when in fact the horses are hungry. They get very selective during these seasons and commonly graze in patches to the dirt covering less than 30% of the area. They refuse to eat elsewhere, which can look long and inviting. This is to do with nutrition and fungi on the grass. I have seen horses chewing dirt through these months, seeking some minerals that are deficient in the grass. They need not be hungry to do this. These problems exacerbate as we go north in NZ. Fungal toxins, like those causing facial exma, only occur in the upper half of the North Island. This can be a real challenge for sheep. Selenium deficiency and rye grass staggers (caused by fungi) are not uncommon in horses during these months.
So, given that broodmares and foals need unlimited quality grass, the best thing to do is give them plenty of room and let them do the selecting. The best combination is sheep, cattle and horses. During summer and autumn they each eat what the others often do not prefer,. Put horses into a dairy paddock with dung patches, that the cows leave, and they will go straight for the long grass around these dung patches, leaving the paddock looking like a lawn. In winter and early spring all 3 animals will eat everything. This grass is sweet and rocket fuel for livestock. They do not need much. Try tasting fresh spikes of ryegrass in winter-spring, and then again in summer-autumn. The first is sweet, the latter bitter.
Next session for the foals will be weaning in 2 months time. Now I can start thinking about building something that has been a dream for years: special yards and races to teach and video free-jumping. The 2 year-olds could start this right now.
Can ¼ Friesians jump? Your’r damn right they will! Type, temperament and environment is far more important than breed or pedigree. There is an old saying in stud cattle breeding, ‘There is a bigger difference within the breeds than there is between the breeds’ They knew their stuff, those old guys.
01 03 14
All Quiet on the Western Front
Day 3 and all is calm and quiet. We'v had our battles. These can now go out until weaning when we will intensify with grooming washing and feet handling. I'v tied up 12 over the last week. As the norm the friendliest in the paddock are not necessarily the easiest on the rope. The rump ropes will be not be dispensed with for at least another year. It is a major transition to the neck-only tying. These youngsters will not forget. Next time they come in they will be easy.
20 02 14
At last the great day came. All the mares and foals came in for first day of handling. I had so been looking forward to getting in amongst the foals at arm’s length. I may seem odd that it is over 3 months since foaling before the first handling occurs. Handling of foals is a specialist discipline.
Firstly, young foals do not handle the same as when they are some months of age. Petting, grooming, feeding, and being nice on a regular basis can actually be detrimental. An old spinster aunt of mine bred a foal one year. She absolutely doted on it and treated it pretty much like one may a puppy dog. I got a ring: ‘Betty can be a bit naughty, could you do some work on her’. By this time it was 2 years of age. I got it here and on going out the first morning the bloody thing came tearing up to me arse first! It turned out that the old lady would scratch its tail each morning. That was ‘what she loves the most’. When I did not scratch its’ tail it would flatten it’s ears at me. The first thing it got after that it was a wallop with a supplejack. Over-handled horses get bossy and uppity.
One year a young German lady came to Rata Mill on one of these work-for-keep schemes. She was essentially useless when it came to handling and riding, except for one thing: each evening she would go out to foaling paddock, sit down and let the foals come up for a talk. That is all she did, yet those were the most easily trained foals I had ever experienced. This is enough.
The first couple of days the foals are just brought into a race with their mothers and just left there for an hour or so, restricted with rails. This is the first time in their lives that they have ever been restricted and it is a bit of a shock. I will put on the halters at this stage. This can be tricky but there are ways. One first starts to identify the individual characters. Some are stable, others downright explosive. But I know what I have got. They have not been fooled with. Batches of 6 or more are handled at once. When working like this one gets an accurate feeling on how fast and far each foal can be pushed before panic takes over. Always push to the limit. Look for the panic point then back off just a little, then push again. It may take 1 minute to get a halter on one and 10 minutes on another.
Then comes tie up time babes. We can teach a foal to lead before we tie, but with these numbers tie up first is faster. Whatever, under this system there is going to be some drama and only a strong man can hold a foal older than 2 months. We can tie them in the race then remove the rails, but there is a chance they may injure themselves if they really explode, which they often do.
Tying is where foals act different to a horse older than 1 year. I tie on unbreakable gear. An older horse may have a real violent pull but most will learn to come forward and loosen the contact. Foals won’t. They will hang back on the rope indefinitely. Cattle and donkeys are the same. Draught horses are more likely to hang back then hot-bloods who learn to come forward quickly. Draught horses are bred to take weight and maintain it.
Whatever, the rump rope is indispensible. Trying to teach a foal to lead or tie on just a neck rope is almost futile. It can be done, but requires real skill. We can winch a horse foreword on a rump rope and do no harm. On a neck rope, no.
The foals are pulled forward out of the race into a large enclosed yard with a soft sand base. Then all hell breaks loose. The foal will try to bolt off. When the ropes take up they will usually rear and often end up flat on their back. The rump rope must be tied in a way that it will not come off. They may be only 2 – 3 months old but they are so strong! I am 14 stone and need every pound of it. Once they get up, things are easier. Find the tie up post and winch them up with the rump rope and tie off. Once tied off around 50% will fight again then go down. They pull back then slowly flop down on their side. With a foal one has to untie, get them up and tie off again. Less than 10% will go down twice, less than 2 % thrice. I do recall one that just would not learn. It must have gone down 20 times, but this is very rare.
Once they are standing with loose ropes, don’t go near them. Just leave them for ½ an hour then untie and remove ropes, which can be real tricky. They have to be backed into a corner then carefully approached from dead front on. Once we have a hand on the knots the horse quietens. I have seen over and again: the movement and vibration of untying the neck rope bowline calms the horse. But getting there can be a challange. On a real meat-head we would have to leave the ropes dragging and walk them back into the race. But it is better to get it done in the open yard if possible. Coming right up to them dead face on, is an important psychological feat. The first thing they do when back with mum is to have a drink. Day 1, and the worst is over.
Over the years a number of young people have come to help with horses. Most have been from Europe. They are commonly shocked at all this violence. Their youngsters have grown up in stable and they come full of grand ideals on ‘natural horsemanship’ or whatever new age technique is the rage. The think these beautiful cute babies have been traumatised and half ruined. I just say ‘wait until tomorrow’. Here is where I never cease to marvel at the wonderful character of the horse. On day 2 the foals are more friendly, less suspicious, and far more manageable then day 1. Virtually none fight the rope, and we can carefully try to approach them. By day 3 we are grooming and leading them around the yard. 5 intensive days and they can go out for another 3 months. They do not forget. Call it what you like. It works. I call it tough love.
Rata Mill horses are always tied up on unbreakable gear with a rope running through a halter ring, tied around the neck with a bowline - even at shows, and on my 16 year old farm hack. Wherever we go, she carries the rope. I do this as a type of discipline, knowing that a new owner has a horse that won’t break gear. This paranoia goes right back to shepherding days. A stockman must know that the horse he left tied is still there when he comes back. In the big hill country, paddocks are commonly 100 acres or more. Trudging up those hills to find one's horse in heavy rain gear is no joke.
I remember once making a mistake by tying on to a neighbour’s fence which I did not know was electrified. The poor mare got zapped. She exploded but not once did she tighten her neck rope.On another occasion we were at a show at Hopuhopu. There were probably 100 horses there. A big freight train came past. You could hear the flimsy baling twines popping as though it was Guy Fawkes. There were horses and owners running round everywhere. Our team didn’t move a muscle.
One word of warning though: always carry a knife. Things can and do go wrong. I have only ever seen one other team tied up like ours at a show. He was an old-timer who was breeding and training lovely Cleveland Bays.
04 01 14
14 mares have foaled successfully with no assistance or losses. 10 are by Cloud (Irish Sporthorse) and 4 by Frost (Shire x). Jack (Friesian x) was not used as he has done his job: cover the mares for 1 year when I could not find any other mature stallions I liked. I advertised Jack as a sire back in the spring and had no interest, so had him gelded. He has since been bought as a lady’s all rounder. He did turn out to be rather lovely but did not have the size I need in sport horses. The 2 yr old group being currently marketed are all by Jack. There is no questioning the quality and they will make ideal park hacks or first hacks.
My intention was always to use Irish Draft bloodlines but had to wait to find a suitable horse. I bought the Shire x Frost as a backup horse and to breed a steady supply of fillies to replace the mares when they get past breeding. I may change my breeding focus a bit but will never change the commitment to heavyweight mares. They rule. The growth rate on the foals is astonishing. It is starting to look like the purchase of Frost was a good move. His foals are just wow!
Cloud is also leaving impressive young stock with good movement. A buyer commented that they were a great advertisement for Coalman's Touch. This is true but I reminded him that we cannot discount the mares. I firmly believe that Rata Mill has the finest line-up of heavy weight broodmares in the country.
Cloud welcoming visitors in the foaling paddock
Buyers are trickling through. 4 horses were sold during last week. My ultimate plan is to have a on-farm auction but feel that the new focus needs to be exposed for a couple of years before taking the risk. Most on-farm sport horse sales flop. Not enough buyers attend and asking prices are commonly too high. With the number of young stock here, we have to pitch at reasonable prices.
The ideal sale for young stock sale would include free-jumping demonstrations over the internet before the sale of 2 and 3 yr olds. Anything is possible. However, I work mostly alone. This level of training requires help. A stud of this size has to be profitable. Not too many are. Nevertheless after 27 years Rata Mill Stud still exists. It is moving into a new exciting era. The crunch comes when these new crosses hit the competition ring. So much depends on the new owner rider/trainers. Thankfully NZ keeps churning out young passionate riders. Whatever else, we need riders who ride 5 days a week. Some of the most successful Rata Mill horses have been the most difficult. I am very thankful to the riders who train these. We don’t have too many that are difficult, but horses are for riding. The most dedicated are often young teenage ladies. Thanks girls :-)
2 yr colts having a sort-out