Virginia Sport Horses:
Breeding and Training “Signature” Horses for Today’s Rider
By Liz Booth
Virginia is a state rich in equine history and tradition. Beginning with the first horses to swim ashore from shipwrecked Spanish Galleons, to the importation of fox hounds and the advent of fox hunting in the 1600’s, to modern racing champions such as Secretariat - Virginia’s horses continue to evolve to meet the ever changing needs of equestrians and enthusiasts.
Like many sports such as Golf, Tennis, and Sailing, which once were available only to the upper classes, the enjoyment of horses and equestrian sport is now accessible and enjoyed by a broad spectrum of the population. The average equestrian fifty years ago could afford to devote thousands of hours of their lifetime to the mastery of horsemanship, riding and horse training. A young horse’s education would involve much more in hand work, work with long and lunge lines and in harness work even prior to starting the horse under saddle. Horses that were hotter and more athletic were widely popular due to the skill level and the amount of time available to train them. The cost of such an education today would simply be prohibitive to today’s equine enthusiast.
People are living longer and more of today’s riders are over 40. As we age, many changes occur which affect our balance, and we just don’t bounce like we used to. Health care is more expensive and we cannot afford to be injured.
Regardless of age, today’s amateur riders and horse enthusiasts are challenged to carve out a few hours of each busy week to devote to their fitness, riding skills and possibly the pursuit of horsemanship and training. They need horses that do not require daily or weekly riding to retain their training. Horses must be able to be pulled from the pasture without being ridden for the entire winter for example and still give the same reliable and enjoyable ride without the need for lunging or round penning prior to riding.
Today’s rider increasingly needs and is asking for horses that are safe, sensible and sound. The vision that has guided Virginia Sport Horses for the last decade has been to produce vigorous and durable sporting horses with the “right mind”. At Virginia Sport Horses - temperament IS the key to trainability.
Whether we are discussing an infant, a puppy or a foal, temperament is the basic nature with which one is endowed at birth. Experience is layered on the base of temperament to form personality and training provides the final layer.
The temperament of a horse is often expressed on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being dead calm and 10 being the most sensitive and excitable of horses.
Virginia Sport Horses bases its breeding and training program on horses that have temperaments falling only in the range of 1-3. Horses in this range tend to have the ability to focus, learn and retain training more readily than those that are unable to maintain focus. Such horses tend to be quiet and uncomplicated making them ideal for today’s amateur rider and horse enthusiast.
Virginia Sport Horses breeds, trains and sells horses mainly to amateur and mature riders for use as Fox Hunters, Eventers, Trail Riding, Local Hunters and Lower level Dressage.
There are 4 distinct “types” of horses bred for these purposes, The Signature Cross, the Shire Sport Horse, the Connemara Cross and the Heavy Hunter.
The Signature Cross
The Signature Cross is an American Warmblood type Sport Horse. It is the horse for which Virginia Sport Horses is most known. It is also the horse used, since 2006, in the Virginia Equine Extravaganza “Trainer’s Challenge” due to its accepting and highly trainable nature. For years horse lovers flocked to the Extravaganza to see such notable trainers as Kenny Harlow, Tommy Garland, Scott Purdam, Ed Dabney, Brock and Leisha Griffiths, and Julie Goodnight officiate or compete before a live audience training previously unhandled Signature Crosses in 3 hours.
The Signature Cross is a multi-generational crossbred comprised of Thoroughbred, American Paint, Clydesdale and Shire Ancestry. The foundation bloodstock for the cross originated in Western Canada. There, a herd of 24 Clydesdale mares were bred to 6 Thoroughbred stallions to produce the first generation of broodmares. These Thoroughdale broodmares were then bred back to 3 APHA registered overo stallions and the best fillies were retained each year. By 2007, all but the two APHA Stallions had been retired from breeding.
VSH Shaman, a Signature cross was bred to produce the 2010 and 2011 bloodstock. The present day Signature Cross broodmares are the last living descendants of the original Thoroughdale bloodstock and have been bred to VSH Charlie Chime, an ASHA and AWS Registered Shire Sport Horse.
Romeo Noir and Forte
The Signature Cross is warmblood in appearance, ranging from 16-17H. They are solid, overo or sabino in coat pattern and black, bay, chestnut, and buckskin in color. They have good bone, are well coupled and have a slightly sloping rump. They are an athletic horse that excels in lower level dressage, eventing, local hunters and as first field Fox Hunters. The Signature Crosses are eligible for Registration with the American Warmblood Society.
The Connemara Cross
Tullymor’s Ned Devine is a 14.2H foundation bred Registered ACPS and approved American Warmblood, Connemara Pony. Ned has been used to produce Connemara cross ponies and in the last 4 years has been bred exclusively to Thoroughbred, Thoroughshire, and Signature Cross mares to produce Fox Hunting and Eventing mounts. Over the last 5 years a growing number of mature Fox Hunters have developed a preference for a short and sturdy hunt horse which is easy to dismount and mount in the field. The Connemara draft crosses are perfect for this purpose. These horses are eligible for registration both with the AWS as well as with the ACPS.
Pictured above is an example of the TB/Connemara Cross (Tullymor's Ned Devine x Flo Your Love) that is currently performing as an Eventer in North Carolina.
The Shire Sport Horse
VSH is also known for breeding a select few Black and White Tobiano “Drum type” Shire Sport Horses each year. These are tall impressive horses with a gentle nature. They generally stand 16.3-18H and are used as Fox Hunters, for Parades and Trail Riding. They are showcase horses that make fabulous family and guest horses. The horses that VSH produces are ½ Spotted Draft and ½ Shire. The Spotted Draft bloodstock horses are descendants of the Indy Prince Cody line. Indy Prince Cody was long considered to be the model of conformation for the breed. These horses are eligible for registration with the NASDHA (North American Spotted Draft Registry) or the ASHA (American Shire Horse Registry).
Pictured from left to right are Seamus and Fiona.
The Heavy or “Irish Type” Hunter
VSH also breeds half to three quarter draft cross hunters of Shire/TB lineage with Connemara and Irish Sport Horse stallions. The original bloodstock goes back to foundation Shire breeding such as Dua He Chi Eli, Jenson’s Englander’s Major and todays’ current stallions Aldershire Sampson and Charlie Chime. Our goal with the Heavy or “Irish Type” hunter is to breed the type of hunt horse similar to the Irish Hunter of the past - a large, quiet horse with copious bone which was deeply rooted in Shire, Clydesdale, Thoroughbred and Connemara blood. VSH is bringing along 2 young Irish Sport Horse stallions which may be used in the future to produce heavy hunters that are eligible for registration with The Irish Draught Horse Society as Irish Sport Horses.
Pictured above are four examples of Heavy Hunters
VSH from a Customer’s Perspective:
I have the pleasure of owning a Virginia Sport Horse (a 5 year old mare named Charisma), and regularly receive compliments on her incredible good nature and sweet temperament. Just yesterday I was chatting with a stable hand at our new barn, who relayed to me that Charisma got her foot stuck across the other side of the fence not too long after we had first arrived. The stable hand was shocked that Charisma just waited patiently for help, and allowed herself to be maneuvered every which way to get untangled. She said, "I thought for sure that horse was a gelding because I knew no mare would ever stand that still!" That's a VSH signature cross for you. I have had Charisma for almost 2 years, and have never known her to behave "mareishly".
The gentleness of VSH horses is absolutely a result of temperament, but it is also a direct result of a carefully thought out breeding plan. I have laid in the field with VSH babies, and have taken my baby to visit, pet, brush, and feed these horses, and have taken my novice husband out for trail rides on many occasions. I can't think of any greater compliment than the fact that I trust VSH horses with the most precious commodity of my life, my son. On my first trip out to the barn, my family joined me, including my then 18 month old son, whom we were able to carry into a stall to pet one of her stallions. I could never in a million years imagine being able to carry my infant into a stallion's stall for a snuggle! But he was just so gentle and sweet and calm - much like my own VSH horse - and my son was absolutely thrilled. We then wheeled my son in his stroller into the field with all the mares and foals for a quick visit with the babies. In less than a minute we were surrounded by curious foals, whose good natured mothers came over to check us out as well. The babies were intent on investigating the stroller and the baby in it - never overwhelming, and never being spooked or deterred by high pitched happy baby squeals and giggles. I truly believe that day in the field is where his love of horses was born. Now, at the ripe old age of 3, I can't pry him off my horse's back!
Virginia Sport Horses are the best horses I know, Period. If I had the time, money, and ability, I'd have a whole barn full of them! I've known and ridden a lot of horses that I have loved and appreciated, but I have never known a group of horses to be of such high quality in their demeanor and conformation and ability so consistently. I once saw Liz Booth's barn cat walk out into the middle of a field of draft crosses with feet the size of her entire body, and demand to be petted. I stood, mouth agape, as no less than 10 horses surrounded this cat nuzzling it as it purred and weaved and strutted. Once the cat was done receiving attention, it happily walked away, beneath platter-sized draft feet, never for a second showing the remotest consideration of the possibility of danger. I have since come to know these horses pretty well, and own one myself, and so I know what the cat knew: these are just really uncomplicated, even keeled, good tempered horses as a whole. (The cat is also pretty great.)
I have ridden several Virginia Sport Horses (including my own) on a maiden voyage of one sort or another - first hunt, first trail ride, first jump, first time in a new place - and the result is always the same: no drama. One horse that I had the pleasure of taking out on his first hunt was so brave, so willing and so enjoyable, that I told Liz his new name had to be "rock star". We went across road bridges, through overgrown trails, got lost several times, crossed water, and he took it all in stride. A couple of times, I could tell that something made him a little nervous, but he trusted his rider, and braved the "scary" thing. What an amazing attribute in a horse! He definitely earned the nickname "rock star" that day.
Please join us for our OPEN HOUSE . . . .
SATURDAY - AUGUST 11, 2012
From 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Call Liz for details or contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org