Europe is well known for its infinite contributions to equestrian sport and breeding, no more so than among show jumping horses. Importing European prospects and well-known veterans to North American owners and riders is a major industry, and has been since transporting a horse across the Atlantic was a realistic feat. It’s also no secret that the American, and to a smaller extent the Canadian, hunter sport regularly sources some of their best hunter horses from Europe. With a little retraining, many horses that began their careers in Europe as jumpers transition to jumping over the 3’6″ naturals when they arrive in the USA.
Now, Chris Sorensen of Canada is putting his own touch on that market by sourcing carefully selected hunter prospects and packaging it up into a whole new concept on European soul.
On November 13, 2017, Sorensen Stables will introduce the first ever European hunter auction, bringing his concept of the “The Hunt” to the historic city of Maastricht in The Netherlands.
A maximum of 15, hand selected hunter prospects will be auctioned off to new homes, where they will serve as ambassadors for European-bred hunters in their new roles.
Below, Sorensen discusses how The Hunt came to be, and how he looks to provide a more direct contact between the North American and European hunter market.
Noelle Floyd: How long have you been working on this concept?
Chris Sorensen: I’ve been thinking about a hunter auction for a couple of years, and I always thought that the hunters were such a prevalent part of our industry in North America. Every year we took lots of horses to buy and sell in Florida, and we always got asked for hunters. There was always a real shortage of them.
There are a lot of auctions that focus on the jumpers, and I couldn’t believe that no one got to my idea first. For me, The Hunt was a logical step.
NF: Why do you believe that is?
CS: People need the knowledge of knowing what makes a good hunter. There are a lot of Europeans who have figured out what a hunter is, but when you’ve been a trainer in North America you understand it on a different level. As a trainer, you know what kind of horse you would want in your own stable, and what the customers need in terms of willingness, talent, and mentality.
Also, I think it’s very hard to find this many good hunters and put them all in one place at the same time. When people did find that one horse, they sold it as fast as they could. For me, I think it comes down to having the amount of experience and confidence in knowing what the market wants, and then being committed to keeping the horses and holding them back for the auction.
NF: What is the age range of the horses that will be offered at The Hunt?
CS: The youngest will be five for the winter season, and the oldest horse is seven. They are all young horses who either have enough quality to be good for the professional shows, or they’ve gotten great mileage with amateurs and are now schooled up to go to work for their owners as hunters.
We’ve been very meticulous in selecting the horses for the first year. It’s very important that they go over to North America as good ambassadors for the years to come, and that they do exactly what people expect of them.
NF: Can you talk about the process of finding the young horse, giving them mileage through training, and preparing them for the auction?
CS: We started looking for hunters and acquiring them about four to six months ago. The last ones are just coming in, and they’ll sll have been with us — working specifically in a hunter program — for a minimum of a month.
From being a trainer in North America, I know that it’s a lot of extra work when a horse turns up and isn’t used to the program. No matter how good their mentality, the horse still has moments of transition, and it’s the little things that take getting used to; ear plugs, flower jumps, etc.
The idea was to put them all in one place and train them to get used to the program, so that when they show up in North America they are ready to go and are further along in their transition.
NF: How do the hunter prospects in North America differ from their European counterparts?
CS: The horses in North America grew up more in the system, but they see a lot less horse shows per season, whereas the Europeans tend to go to a different show every weekend, so the horses get a lot more mileage.
In the end, the vast majority of hunters in North America came from Europe at some point in time. The Hunt will allow people to go more directly to the source and buy them on the open market.
NF: What has been the public response leading up to the event?
CS: You always want to believe in your idea and we put a lot of thought and energy into it. I’ve been completely shocked by the amount of excitement its generated and by the amount of interest and positive feedback we’ve gotten so far. It’s always scary to put your idea out there and I was very nervous to make such a big event. It was all a big chance but the response has been amazing.
NF: How do you believe The Hunt will impact the European market?
CS: I hope the Europeans will learn more about what a hunter is. Every week we search for hunters, often, we’ll get calls about someone having a hunter, only to make the drive and find out they’re not hunters.
They breed a lot of horses here and every year they have a new generation coming, so they also have a need to sell horses. I think that understanding the hunter market better and the significance of it gives them another avenue to sell, so I think it’s mutually beneficial.
NF: What do you hope will become of the auction?
CS: This will hopefully be the first of multiple years, so we’ll see how people react. It’s the first year so I think a few of the hoses will go expensive, but I think there will also be some really good deals. No one knows how much they will for, so hopefully bidders will get organized in advance so they know which one they want and can take advantage of a good deal.
NF: How can people view the horses and sign up to bid?
CS: Our website has profiles of the horses with all their details and pictures, including a video of all the critical hunter basis: walk, trot, canter, lead changes, and jumping.
The event will be broadcasted live on the Sorensen Stables Facebook page. There will also be phone bidding, which people will need to sign up for in advance.