When, at a birthday party, someone asked the then eight year old Leunus what he would like to be one day, he answered with great confidence: ‘horse breeder’. He was laughed at for the rest of the evening. “That’s why I still remember”, tells the 59-year old van Lieren, who can be described as the all-round horseman behind horse yard and stud ‘Stal Hexagon’. He trains horses and riders, breeds, deals, runs a stud and also is a qualified farrier.
“The fact that I knew I wanted to work with horses for certain at a very young age, made my life much less complicated. It’s really so much easier to achieve your goal when you have a clear vision of what you want exactly.” This clear vision now carries on at his stud, which means: breeding Grand Prix-dressage horses. “That’s all that matters right here. The sport. Everything else is of minor importance.”
So how does it work, breeding a Grand Prix horse? “May I start by telling you that you can not breed a Grand Prix-horse? Dressage horses are made and not just born”, Leunus says vigorously. “A horse may have stacks of talent for all the Grand Prix-exercises, but if it never gets ridden, it will never do Grand Prix. That is often taken far too lightly. The riding might even be more important than the actual amount of talent. As a breeder you can’t be without riders, and as far as that’s concerned I have an advantage, of course. I am a Grand Prix-rider myself and also employ a few. That makes breeding a Grand Prix-horse a lot easier.”
But, according to van Lieren, it is not just the training. “Even if you can teach a horse the Grand Prix-exercises, riding the Grand Prix-test is a different kettle of fish.” Deciding factors are, according to Leunus, not the obvious technicalities such as collection, ability to change movements quickly and smoothly, or other characteristics. “The attitude, the desire to work, that is the most important thing. If a horse doesn’t want to do it, you will never get there. That is why, at my stud, the character of the horse is the number one priority. As a rider and trainer I have noticed that it’s the character of the horse that decides its future. The horse must have the right work ethics. You’ve got to be able to make them hot, but they still have to be able to think with you.”
With years of experience as a trainer and rider, van Lieren knows very well what it is that makes a good horse. “I started as a trainer, correcting horses with behaviour problems, either man made or they were just backward. I rode so many `not willing’ horses, that it taught me that’s what it was all about. When at some point I started to get horses that were cooperative, it felt like a breath of fresh air. I wanted more horses like that and decided character and attitude would be the two key factors of my breeding program. That was where I would be selective.”
One of the horses truly stole Leunus’ heart and is the king of his stud, Rubiquil, which he bred himself, together with his deceased wife Mieke, Laurens van Lieren’s mother. “When I backed him as a young horse, I just could not get over it. Everything was just so easy, I’d never experienced such a thing and I said immediately: ‘I don’t want just one, I want a whole herd’.”
The now 21-year old KWPN-registered Rubiquil was bred by Leunus and Mieke van Lieren out of the ‘keur’ mare Aquila (Roemer x Homerus x Eros). Van Lieren wanted to partner Aquila in 1991 with the Westphalian stallion Rubinstein I (Rosenkavalier x Angelo). “I saw that Rubinstein produced keen workers, they outdid themselves in that way.”
But it didn’t just happen: the KWPN allowed a limited number of 10 mares for foreign stallions and Aquila was not one of them. Leunus was not that easily defeated: “We went to Westphalia with Aquila and had her registered right there, so we could still use Rubinstein and also have registration papers with the foal.”
The result, Rubiquil, did not enter the KWPN just like that. He had to present himself as a young stallion amongst the foreign stallions and the judges had no mercy. “I had such trust in him, that I went on to invest into his sports career and had him approved by the NRPS. Finally, once he was competing Grand Prix successfully, he was still allowed in with the KWPN.”
The career of Rubiquil, which tracked in an unusual way, very much represents Leunus’s vision on breeding. Despite the opposition, he kept believing in Rubiquil. “When I believe in a horse I don’t let go. Nobody can take that away from me”, explains van Lieren.
There are many examples of that at his stud. Leunus used not yet approved stallions for his mares. Rubiquil already produced some progeny before he was officially approved. At the moment a mare is in foal to Hexagon’s Charon (s. Rubiquil), who has won many a placing in classes for young horses. “I really believe in him and I want to give him a chance. But I make a careful start with one or two mares. When that seems to go according to plan, I might use him for a few more.”
Van Lieren also has several Totilas-children, but not because of the extravagant movement the black stallion possesses. “I think I’m one of the few breeders who uses Totilas purely for his character.”
You probably will not see Leunus chase a stallion that is used by many for his spectacular movement. “My horses may be called ‘old- fashioned’. They do not have the ‘longer top line and long-legged uphill build’, which is the way the KWPN puts it. But I don’t think that is the way to go for the future of breeding dressage horses. At the top you see very few long-legged horses. They are very often somewhat shorter in the leg and more compact, which makes them struggle less with the more collected work. Look at Totilas, Valegro and Uthopia. All of them horses that don’t have the trendy and more modern type of a dressage horse. That has got to be a sign.”
Leunus’ own vision on breeding, which is based on selecting for Grand Prix mainly on character, is not one depending on trend. “When a horse wants to cooperate, the road to Grand Prix is open and it will remain so. It doesn’t mean that it is just the character, as even with a willing horse it’s not an easy task. But it does make it a lot easier.”
With fourteen Grand Prix horses and many young talents coming on in national dressage, there seems to be little left that van Lieren hasn’t achieved with his stud. There is one wish left for the future, though: “I wish more people could profit of my way of selection, by getting one more stallion approved by the KWPN. That is not the ultimate target, but it would be the icing on the cake.” The main aim will not change, though , which is: to ‘make’ Grand Prix horses.
The 14 Grand Prix horses bred by Leunus van Lieren
Rubiquil (Rubinstein I x Roemer x Homerus), Indiamanda (Sultan x Doruto x Epos), Latamanda (Matador II x Sultan x Doruto), Mantra (Matador II x Sultan x Doruto), Roumanda (Rubiquil x Matador x Sultan), Ollright (Rubiquil x El Corona x First Trial xx), Kwartrial (Cyrain x First Trial xx x Chopin), Kyrian (Cyrain x Lorenz x First Trial xx), Sinderella (Rubiquil x Komeet x Nicolas xx), Tweety (Rubiquil x Cyrain x Belasco), Truman (Rubiquil x El Corona x NN), Truppa (Rubiquil x Rinaldo x Komeet), Replay (Rubiquil x Cyrain x Belasco), Wellnetta (Louisville x Rubiquil x Synfonie).
Source: Dressuur 2013 – 1
Translation: Liz Barclay