William Micklem Believes U.S. Breeding On the Right Track

It’s not every day you get to pick William Micklem’s brain about breeding, bloodlines and his take on the state of U.S. eventing as a whole. We’re running a three-part series in which William addresses these topics and more. Click here for Part 1 on the winning formula for his event horse breeding family. Many thanks to William for his time, and thanks for reading.

Lauren Kieffer and Landmark's Jungle ROC. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lauren Kieffer and USEA Young Event Horse 5-Year-Old East Coast Reserve Champion Landmark’s Jungle ROC with breeder Jacqueline Mars, USEA President Diane Pitts, USEA CEO Jo Whitehouse, and judges Bea di Grazia and William Micklem . Photo by Jenni Autry.

How we source our horses continues to be a hot topic in the U.S. eventing scene. Many upper-level riders continue to buy their young prospects and made horses from Europe, while a growing group advocates supporting American breeders and looking for future talent on our home turf.

Both groups have the same end goal — to win medals for Team USA — so which side has it right? William Micklem, breeder of High Kingdom and Mandiba and a judge at this year’s USEA Young Event Horse Championships, believes the solution is simple: Do both.

“There is nothing to be gained from throwing in the towel and leaving the breeding to the Irish, Dutch and Germans. What the U.S. has to do is both keep sourcing horses from all avenues possible and keep breeding horses,” William said. “Yes, the Europeans are ahead of the game, but the U.S. has many advantages and should continue breeding, concentrating on discovering a few exceptional families.”

Finding Exceptional Families

When it comes to finding exceptional families, William said breeders should look to America’s Thoroughbred industry, which can contribute to U.S. breeding through numerous avenues. The goal should be selecting Thoroughbreds with good trots and athletic ability, as opposed to just a good walk and gallop, William said.

The quality Connemara blood available in the U.S. can also play a big part in creating the winning recipe for an upper-level event horse. “The brain and ‘fifth leg’ of ponies should not be underestimated. What puts people off is that it requires taking a longer term view, as it is the second or third cross that produces the performance horse,” William said.

“However, if someone was brave and stood a superb stallion with exceptional performance bloodlines that was half or a quarter pony, this would accelerate the process. I would certainly use such a stallion.” That’s a nice vote of confidence for pony breeders out there!

In using Connemaras, William recommends that a foundation pony stallion for an event horse breeding program have excellent genetics and feet, as well as a good brain; quality paces, including the gallop; and easily be able to jump a 1.50-meter vertical.

Bringing in Mares from Europe

William also recommends bringing in the best mares possible from Europe. “In particular it makes every sense to bring in well-bred, quality, steeplechasing-type mares from Ireland — where the best breeding stock can be found — or quality event mares from good families, because they offer greater flexibility. These mares can be be bred to either a performance quality sire or a warmblood with less quality.”

Frozen semen also offers U.S. breeders access to a wide variety of stallions that stand overseas. William’s own stallion Jackaroo, whose bloodlines we studied extensively in this post, now has frozen semen available at Shelbourne Farm in Oldwick, New Jersey.

“The task for those searching online is to avoid being led astray by a flashy trot, and the real difficulty is to avoid taking a risk on whether they can gallop and have a good brain,” William said. Those two qualities remain all important when it comes to breeding top quality event horses.

So, in reality, sourcing horses from Europe can be a big part of the solution, not the problem, William said. “It is not a problem that riders source top quality horses from Europe, particularly if some can be mares. The reverse is actually the case,” he said. “As more people do well and the U.S. team does well, the sport will grow, and more people will think of developing their own breeding program.”

Recognizing U.S. Breeders

William points to Jacqueline Mars’ Landmark Farm as an example of a U.S. event horse breeding program that can work. Landmark Jungle ROC, a Dutch Warmblood/Irish Sport Horse gelding by ROC USA out of Jungle Tale, was Reserve Champion at this year’s USEA Young Event Horse 5-Year-Old East Coast Championships.

Ensuring all horses bred in the U.S. are properly registered and that U.S. breeders are recognized is also important, William said. The Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse programs are now helping to recognize U.S. breeders, so those programs represent a big step in the right direction.

“Education is also key so that breeders understand the attributes of a high-level event horse, including how it needs to be produced,” William said. “Good, young horses are almost worthless unless they go to a good hotel from the beginning.”

Ensuring talented young prospects get the right start they need to one day excel at the upper echelons of the sport remains a challenge for every country that breeds horses, William said, but the U.S. is naturally positioned to rise above the challenge. “I see the sporting culture of the USA, which is based on good coaching and training from the start, as a key advantage of breeding horses in the USA.”

Stay tuned next week as we get William’s take on the state of U.S. eventing as a whole in the third and final part of our series. Click here to read the first part on the winning formula for his event horse breeding family. And you can check out William’s website for much more on his breeding program.

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