The Seven Most Important Jumping Stallions According to Frederik De Backer

The Seven Most Important Jumping Stallions According to Frederik De Backer

Avid show jumping fans know that there are some horses on the startlist you just can’t wait to watch in the ring. With his bombastic personality, mid-course bucks and double-barreled kicks – not to mention flawless technique and otherworldly scope and good looks – Emerald van’t Ruytershof, ridden by World no. 1 Harrie Smolders, is just such a horse. Thankfully for Emerald devotees everywhere, there’s now even more to love about the Belgian stallion: once again this season on the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT), his 10-year-old son, Igor, is competing alongside his sire with Belgium’s Jos Verlooy. In both looks and technique, the resemblance is hard to miss.

Harrie Smolders and Emerald van’t Ruytershof. Photo by Sportfot.

But Emerald is just one of a handful of stallions helping to shape the direction of modern show jumping sport, according to LGCT commentator, equine auctioneer, and all-around breeding expert Frederik De Backer. A second is Marcus Ehning’s longtime mount, Comme Il Faut 5, also a regular competitor on this year’s LGCT. De Backer says that when it comes to choosing the most important stallions in the sport today, the proof is right there on the startlist.

Those are two stallions that really come to mind, because both are really successful as sport horses, and [also] very successful as breeding stallions,” De Backer says. “They already have 8- and 9-year-old offspring that are doing very well, and that’s remarkable.”

Marcus Ehning and Comme Il Faut 5. Photo by Thomas Reiner.

A third horse that De Backer would add to the list: Lorenzo de Luca’s mount Halifax van het Kluizebos. While Halifax, himself, is no stranger to the winner’s circle, his offspring is already turning heads, with the oldest crop beginning to make their way up the ranks as 6- and 7-year-olds.

“The blood of [Halifax’s] sire, Heartbreaker, always creates an extra interest [in his offspring],” De Backer says. “Halifax is a fighter and has found his match in Lorenzo. They’ve formed a great partnership and always perform at 110 percent.”

Halifax van het Kluizebos. Photo by Erin Gilmore for Noëlle Floyd.

Thanks to their natural strength, power, and tendency toward bravery, stallions can offer a real advantage to riders competing in the world’s toughest classes – but that hasn’t always been the case. “I think there’s a big difference between maybe 25 to 30 years ago and in how people look at stallions [today]. In the 1980s and 1990s, the stallions that were popular didn’t really perform at the highest levels of the sport,” explains De Backer. Back then, he says, owners were often reluctant to compete breeding stallions, both out of a fear of injury and also the potential risk to their pocketbooks if the stallion failed to perform in the public eye.

“The stallions can’t hide anymore, and the nice thing is, the owners aren’t hiding them either.”

“Nowadays, if people want to use a stallion [for breeding] – either because of budget or because they really believe in [him] – the stallions that are being used in high numbers really need to prove themselves,” De Backer continues. “People believe that a horse that won’t jump at the highest level won’t [be able to] give the necessary qualities to his offspring.”

The method by which stallions are competed has also changed. Whereas decades ago, an owner might save his stallion to compete at just a couple of events during the year, today, horses are required to jump weekend after weekend while earning results along the way. “In the past… you could make sure that when the horses came out, they were fantastic, because you had to convince the breeders [that your stallion could produce],” De Backer says.

“Now, these sport horses, they come out for the sport. They are proper sport stallions, so they are there all the time, from one show to another. It’s very difficult for [a breeder] to make a stallion look spectacular just by peaking once and then being off again.”

One name that De Backer credits with helping to shape the contemporary view of stallions as sport horses, first, is the now-legendary, Casall ASK, Olympic mount of Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson. In 2017, Casall was famously retired sound and happy at the age of 18 after a dramatic win in his final class at LGCT Hamburg.

Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Casall ASK. Photo by Sportfot.

“That was a phenomenon of a sport horse, and he’s a phenomenon of a stallion,” De Backer says. “What [Casall] brings to the sport is amazing. I think it was during the Global Tour in Rome [in September], we had six or seven Casall offspring in a field of 50 – that’s one out of seven or eight! That’s just crazy.”

In fact, Casall’s studbook boasts more than 100 1.50m-1.60m approved offspring, including such famous names as Simon Delestre’s Chesall Zimequest, Daniel Coyle’s Cita, and Nicola Philippaerts’ H&M Chilli Willi. Though Casall is considered by many to be unrivaled in his breeding prowess, Taloubet Z – Christian Ahlmann’s Olympic bronze and 2011 FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals winning mount – has certainly earned a place in his company.

Like Casall, Taloubet retired with a fairytale finish in early 2018, winning the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifier in front of a home crowd in Leipzig, Germany. According to De Backer, Taloubet has been similarly accomplished in the breeding shed, though he’s had a later start than most. “Taloubet Z was the opposite [of Casall]. He was a fantastic, multi-winning stallion, but he didn’t breed much [when he was competing]. Now that he’s retired, he breeds a lot,” De Backer says. Among Taloubet’s most promising offspring: the 9-year-old Take A Chance On Me Z, a stallion who’s currently making his way up the ranks with Taloubet’s former partner, Ahlmann.

Christian Ahlmann and Taloubet Z. Photo courtesy Partner Pferd Leipzig.

So just what are the traits that set a world-class stallion apart from the rest of the field? “We’re talking about technique, scope, physicality, soundness, and correctness, and then his mentality,” De Backer explains. “Those are very important [qualities] for a stallion to have – soundness especially.

“If you have gelding that isn’t sound, that’s a pity for you. But if you have a stallion that’s not sound, and people breed with it, and it carries on in its offspring, that’s a pity not just for you, but for the whole industry of breeding.”

De Backer notes that the intensive international schedule required by modern show jumping has made a stallion’s ability to pass on this key gene even more important. “There are so many competitions [now] that the soundness of the horse really starts to come [into play]. If you look at the horses that have jumped the entire Longines Global Champions Tour, that’s tough, and if they’ve pulled it off, and they’re there all the time, then you’re looking at a very sound horse.”

Nicola Philippaerts and H&M Chilli Willi. Photo by Judith Pijlman.

One young stallion who’s done just that is the aforementioned son of Casall, H&M Chilli Willi. The 10-year-old horse and his rider, Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts, are currently cresting the wave of a breakout season, including a win in the LGCT Grand Prix of Chantilly, a double-clear victory at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of the Netherlands at CSIO Rotterdam, and top finishes with the London Knights in Global Champions League (GCL) competition, including wins in Chantilly and London.

Quabri de L’Isle, the 2016 Rio Olympic partner of Brazil’s Pedro Veniss, rounds out De Backer’s list and is another stallion he advises keeping an eye on in the years to come. Though the oldest of Quabri de L’Isle’s progeny are just beginning their training, De Backer expects great things from the 14-year-old Selle Français. “I haven't seen Quabri’s offspring under saddle [yet], but at the foal auctions, they were very popular,” he says. “I think that Quabri could turn out to be a stallion that places himself [among] the greatest of all time, both as a sport horse and as a sire. His appearance and style make him really special.”

Related: ‘Just Enjoy It’: A Day In The Life Of Nicola Philippaerts

De Backer says that because stallions like Quabri de L’Isle and H&M Chilli Willi often take time off during their competitive seasons for fresh (i.e. live cover) breeding in the spring, and frozen semen collection in the winter, the consistency of their performance at this level is even more impressive.

Pedro Veniss and Quabri de L’Isle. Photo by Thomas Reiner.

“The clear rounds that [these stallions have] jumped puts them in a group of horses that is already very select,” De Backer says. “Knowing that they’re also breeding fresh sometimes, and that they’re competing week in, week out, shows that they have a lot of natural quality. I think that’s a really [good] thing for the breeders to see.

“The stallions can’t hide anymore, and the nice thing is, the owners aren’t hiding them either.”

Quick Stats: Frederik De Backer’s Top Seven

1. Casall ASK

Photo by Sportfot.

19-year-old Holsteiner stallion

  • Ridden by Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE); retired 2017
  • Career Highlights: 6th place FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals 's-Hertogenbosch (2012); 6th place team finish 2012 London Olympic Games; 5th place FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals Göteborg (2013); 4th place individual FEI World Equestrian Games™ Caen (2014); numerous Global Champions Tour Grand Prix wins including: Doha (2016), Paris (2016), Valkenswaard (2016), and Hamburg (2017)

2. Comme Il Faut 5

Photo by Sportfot.

13-year-old Westphalian stallion

  • Ridden by Marcus Ehning (GER) since 2013
  • Career Highlights: 1st place LGCT Grand Prix of Vienna (2016); 1st place Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Madrid (2016); winner of Rolex Grand Prix and Grand Prix Qualifier, Brussels Stephex Masters (2018)

3. Emerald van’t Ruytershof

Photo by Sportfot.

14-year-old Belgian stallion

  • Ridden by Harrie Smolders (NED) since 2010
  • Career Highlights: 1st place Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ CSIO Rotterdam (2016); 2nd place FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals Göteborg (2016); 7th place team finish 2016 Rio Olympic Games; 1st place GCL Chantilly (2017); 1st place Trophée Mairie de Bordeaux CSI5*-W (2018)

4. Halifax van het Kluizebos

Photo by Erin Gilmore for Noëlle Floyd.

11-year-old Belgian stallion

  • Ridden by Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) since 2015
  • Career Highlights: 1st place Rolex Grand Prix of Rome (2018); 1st place Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Dublin Horse Show (2016); 1st place Martin Collins Enterprises Christmas Tree Stakes and 1st place Christmas Pudding Stakes, London International Horse Show CSI5*-W (2016)

5. H&M Chilli Willi

Photo by Sportfot.

10-year-old Holsteiner stallion

  • Ridden by Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) since 2015
  • Career Highlights: 1st place Longines FEI Nations Cup™ CSIO Rotterdam (2018); 1st place GCL London (2018); 1st place GCL of Chantilly and 1st place LGCT Grand Prix of Chantilly (2018)

6. Quabri de L’Isle

Photo by Sportfot.

14-year-old Selle Français stallion

  • Ridden by Pedro Veniss (BRA) since 2014
  • Career Highlights: 5th place team finish at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Caen (2014); 4th place team and 5th place individual finish at the Pan American Games Toronto (2015); 1st place BMO Nations Cup at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ (2015); 5th place team finish 2016 Rio Olympic Games; 1st place CHI Geneva Rolex Grand Prix (2016)

7. Taloubet Z

Photo by Sportfot.

18-year-old KWPN stallion

  • Ridden by Christian Ahlmann (GER); retired 2018
  • Career Highlights: 1st place FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals Leipzig (2011); team silver medalist European Championship Aachen (2015); 6th place FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals Göteborg (2016); team bronze medalist and 9th place individual finish 2016 Rio Olympic Games; 1st place Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Stuttgart (2016); team gold Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final CSIO Barcelona (2016); 1st place Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Leipzig (2018)
    Feature photo Erin Gilmore for Noëlle Floyd.

    Written by Douglas Crowe

    Nina Fedrizzi spends her days writing about horse sport, food, and travel. She began her career at Travel + Leisure and is a former editor at NF Style. When she's not tapping away on her MacBook, Nina can usually be found on a horse, sleuthing out the local pho, or refusing to unpack her carry-on. Watch her do all three on Instagram @ninafedrizzi.