Words by Birgit Van Hasz
Lead Photograph:GG Midnight Silver and Alexandra Gerhard The stallion and his breeder at one of their first cross country competitions.
Every year in February, Betty Finke and I meet at the Equestrian Sports Centre of Münster Handorf to visit the big Trakehner Stallion Show. The show is the best place to meet legendary Trakehner sires and prospective stars, generally presented ridden. This year, Betty had the information that the pure-bred Arabian stallion GG Midnight Silver (El Sid x Mascara) would be presented, so we eagerly checked the catalogue. And indeed, the stallion was listed. Betty explained to me that this stallion is the first one to win a show-jumping competition of category M*, and with a clear round, too! Later, I watched the video of that ride at the Aachen Show and it seemed to me that even the commentator could hardly believe what he had just seen. For a better understanding let me explain to you in short the German show-jumping categories, as there are A, L, M and S. Three categories – L is the exception – are additionally segmented, identified by adding stars to the main category symbol. So M* stands for jumps 1.20 – 1.30 metres high and 1.15 – 1.45 metres wide. Could GG Midnight Silver’s performance be unique as a pure-bred Arabian horse? For the time being, I tend to say that he is the first Arabian M* competition winner worldwide!
|GG Midnight Silver – born to be a true Arabian and a show-jumper!|
Those were the days
At Handorf, I was at first sceptical whether this stallion would represent the quality and type standard of the breed, and whether the riding would meet my requirements. This scepticism dates back to my experiences of the developments within the German Arabian ‘scene’ since the 1980s. As this breed started to go ‘public’ in the late 1970s with breeding events like the show at Aachen, it was quite normal to show the horses under saddle and in harness as well. Later on in the 1980s, things changed. The breed was more and more taken over by non-riders and the horses were reduced to just being beautiful. Not interested in nor being capable of riding their horses, breeders started to invent ‘replacement treatments’ to devote themselves to the horses and everyone knows what that has led us to. So in the 1980s, being a German Arabian sports horse meant – although definitively not true – being stigmatised for not being typey and not being good enough for the show-ring. And one could get the impression that to train a horse as a sports horse could cost its career as show horse.
It happened that newborn foals were angrily welcomed by their breeders with the words: “That’s a riding pig”. A handler told me that he strictly won’t train ridden horses, and in a stud report I read something along the lines of “riders have no business at my stud”. Once, at a stud’s foal presentation, I saw a colt of extremely high class riding horse quality. I was quite sure that every warmblood breeder would have had opened a bottle of champagne, having bred a candidate for the National Riding Championships. What happened to this foal? As far as I have heard, it was sold to a hobby rider. The conclusion of all this was that the main population of Arabian horses have a drab existence as ‘stable beauties’ while a smaller group which doesn’t meet the showbiz standards are being ridden.
GG Midnight Silver and André Weber. It was just a test without intense preparations that finally led to a great success. They won the M* competition at the Aachen Nations Cup 2015 with a clear round.
Of course, exceptions did prove the rule at all times! Because of the less than stellar quality of the horses, usually ridden by not very well qualified riders, and the ‘handling’ of the showbiz population, the Arabian horse in Germany also lost its reputation within the warmblood breed. Once, Arabian horses had been sought-after for upgrading riding horse breeds, and Arabian sires and their offspring were highly lauded in the history books of German warmblood breeds. But that respect is long gone, and Arabian horses are usually sneered at. That also leads to the fact that Arabian horse owners don’t have any chance to get access to professional sports horse trainers with actual high-end qualifications.
Happily, the new century has brought the winds of change. More excellent Arabians are shown under saddle in Germany and, even better, compete in regular contests against warmbloods. Promoted by qualified trainers and riders, the first notable successes of Arabian horses could be recorded. For the last ten years, the German Arab Horse Society (VZAP) has awarded its WAHO Trophy to performance horses or performance sires. After five years without a winner, this year Al Ashar (Ashur x Aswana) will be honoured for being the most successful pure-bred Arabian horse of Germany competing in three disciplines, of which show-jumping in category L is his most remarkable one.
|GG Midnight Silver and André Weber|
Backstage at Handorf – ‘Meet and Greet’ with a new rising star
Back to the Trakehner Stallion Show and during the lunch break, Betty and I had our usual walk through the stables of the Sports Centre to check which horses were actually present. We were delighted to find GG Midnight Silver in one of the boxes and also met his breeder Alexandra Gerhard from the Greifenstein Stud. This is a small stud at Leun, 80 km from Frankfurt, with only a few horses. She opened the box and I was promptly inspected by a beautiful and friendly true Arabian stallion. I was absolutely pleased! My second thought was, common talk for a warmblood rider: “This cute Mickey Mouse jumps M category!?” But to think like that is absolute nonsense! The French Selle Français gelding Jappeloup de Luze, standing 15.2hh, was a beloved international show-jumping star and the winner of the Single Olympic Gold Medal in 1988 at Seoul. So please note that GG Midnight Silver is also 15.2hh.
Although he never had a performance test and is just registered as breeding stallion, his sire El Sid (Al Lahab x Swana) was chosen by Alexandra because of his athletic appearance. During the presentation at the Osterhöf Stud, he was the only stallion who showed himself as being mentally balanced and perfectly calm. As it should be, his offspring finally tipped the scales. To my surprise Betty told me that I know GG Midnight Silver’s dam Mascara (NV Beau Bey x Mahalya), and that I had once taken a photo of her at Aachen. I am not Betty, I cannot remember all the horses I have taken photos of during the past 37 years, but this excellent deep black filly came right back to my mind. What a surprise to meet her son at the Trakehner Stallion Show! I was astonished that a grey sire was chosen for a black mare, but the black gene is still present. GG Midnight Silver is tested of having Genotype EE-Aa, but there is no chestnut gene.
|A great and intelligent Team – GG Midnight Silver and Karlchen.|
How can it happen that a pure-bred Arabian stallion is invited to a Trakehner Stallion Show? That can only happen when the stallion is licensed and had passed a performance test. In 2012 the VZAP licensed GG Midnight Silver for the various Arabian breeds within the Society. And in 2014 he passed his performance test. Since the VZAP performance tests are surely not well known abroad, I would like to briefly describe the two-day event. On the first day, in the morning the free jumping is held. In the afternoon a dressage test has to be passed, followed by two additional riders to test the horses’ abilities on their own demands. Then the dressage saddle has to be exchanged for the show-jumping saddle and course of jumps has to be taken. And again, two additional riders will mount the horses and will select some single jumps. The second day might be more enjoyable for the horses, as it is the day of the cross country test immediately followed by a full-out racetrack gallop. GG Midnight Silver, by the way, got a rating of 10 for his final gallop, which is the highest score. He was prepared for the performance test and ridden by André Weber.
At the Trakehner Stallion Show, the intention was to show the warmblood people that an Arabian can be a serious competitor in show-jumping contests. But it ended the usual way. André and the stallion were assigned to the cross country group. I assume that the organisers thought this would be challenging enough for a pure-bred Arabian. How frustrating this must have been for the rider!
The first contact
S**** is the highest level of Germany’s show-jumping categories. Besides GG Midnight Silver’s extraordinary performance, in my point of view the real sensation is that his rider, André, competes at this level. He is a well-known local champion in the German region of Hessen, and a regular competition at Frankfurt offers him the option to compete internationally. The Weber Training stable at the village of Drommershausen specialises in promoting young horses and riders, and several family members are qualified for different equestrian sports. With GG Midnight Silver, André rode an Arabian horse for the first time, and I see his impartiality as a gift of destiny. And even better, the way he talks of ‘his’ Arabian stallion makes me speculate he might be a candidate for ‘Arabitis’.
Neron (Sport x Nitochka). Please don’t judge the stallion’s type by this photo from 1977! It just shows his talent as a show-jumping horse. Being a sports horse might have cost him a career as a sire. He was bred by the Russian state stud Tersk. © Mitschke at Hohenstein Breithardt
The Interview with André Weber
Birgit: Miss Gerhard told me that twice you had to interrupt your holidays just to ride GG Midnight Silver. For the ride at the Trakehner Stallion Show, you came over all the way from Austria. What was your motivation to do so?
André: He is worth it! He oozes motivation and ambition. Today’s limit may be history tomorrow, because he is mentally willing to cross the line that might hold him back. That is what makes me enthusiastic about a horse.
Birgit: But didn’t you ever reach a point where he was afraid of a challenge?
André: No, he was never afraid to jump. As rider you have to take care that the horse never loses its confidence, by challenges it cannot master! Responsible training pays off!
Birgit: Do you have any problems with his temperament, or are there stamina problems?
André: Not at all! When ‘the stallion comes awake’, you can easily call him back to work. And he doesn’t get tired, up to now we have never reached that point.
Birgit: Imagine an international star like, let’s say, Ludger Beerbaum would come along. How would you tout this show-jumping horse? Or what would you tell him to take note of while riding the stallion?
Andrè: You can ask questions… There is nothing! The only thing that might bother him would be that the stallion won’t jump two metres.
Birgit: A look at the photographs of the competition at Aachen shows that there is room for one more bar. What are your plans for the future? And other horses might jump that high as well.
André: The only thing that matters is to keep him healthy, risking his health is not an option. I have planned to compete with him in regular competitions. The main target will now be to improve his routine and to get him well experienced. And then I will decide when to go for category M**. Other horses might jump that high in free jumping or for over single jumps in training, but jumping a whole course is a totally different matter.
Birgit: Thank you very much for that interview and I hope you will continue to be successful in training GG Midnight Silver.
‘Erwin’ has a history
Alexandra is an avid fan of the stallion Bey Shah (Bay El Bey x Star of Ofir), so it was one of her luckiest days when she was able to purchase the filly Mascara, the result of a mating of two half-siblings by Bey Shah, blessed with beauty, athletic ability and show quality as well as a deep black coat. Mascara was ridden by Alexandra out in the country, but also showed talent as a dressage horse. She was not promoted as sports horse, but she can be called a proven performance horse even though she was never officially tested. This was because primarily she was meant to be an excellent brood mare. In total she had two fillies and three colts, and through her son Excalibur (by Psynergy) she is the granddam of the German performance-tested, premium and elite stallion El Mariachi (ex Sharima III). Tragically she died in 2008 while giving birth to GG Midnight Silver.
But there was no time for sorrow. Without a foster mare, it was up to Alexandra and her husband Klaus-Dieter to save the life of the little one. Every two hours, the foal had to get his baby bottle of milk. GG Midnight Silver finally made it and after some time the Shetland gelding Karlchen joined him in his box. Thanks to Karlchen’s great character, the loneliness was over. Well done Karlchen!
GG Midnight Silver is a name that sounds really good over the loudspeaker when a stallion enters the show-ring, but in everyday life it is rather impractical. Usually even the stars have a nice stable name they listen to, and GG Midnight Silver’s is ‘Erwin’. So let’s hear from Alexandra how Erwin’s life went on.
|Mascara (NV Beau Bey x Mahalya). In 2003 she had the colt Excalibur (by Psynergy) at foot, sire of the elite stallion El Mariachi (ex Sharima III), who died this year. Due to the fact that he was insufficiently booked as sire, Excalibur was eventually gelded.|
The Interview with Alexandra Gerhard
Birgit: Alexandra, how was the relationship between Erwin and Karlchen?
Alexandra: Oh, they did very well together and were very close. When something strange was going on, Karlchen looked around to see whether the little one was safe, or Erwin came straight to find safety beside him. And when Erwin grew older, they formed a clever breakout team. Starting one day, we several times caught them in the yard and wondered who had left the paddock gate open. Until we found out that Erwin raised the latch of the gate, while simultaneously Karlchen pressed it open with his body. Erwin is always very interested in what people are doing or handling.
Birgit: What did you do to entertain the foal?
Alexandra: First of all I bought every squeaky dog’s toy I could find, and he loved to play with them. And then we actually did everything that one should never do with a foal, for instance letting him run after us. We placed a bar across two small bales of straw and jumped over it with him following. With the result that as a two-year-old, he easily jumped over the 1.40 metre pasture fence and came happily towards the car to meet us when we came to see him. We had to raise the fence.”
Birgit: Thank you very much for that interview, and I have noticed that your life with Erwin never gets boring!
The “little” Arabian stallion behind the 1.60 metre pasture fence
I would strictly condemn it if every breeder now started to train his foals as sports horses. But the fact that Erwin found his passion for jumping that early is a lucky twist of fate. But the first important step to start a career as sire is the licensing. Erwin was trained and shown by the training stable of Anton Baumann, Kauber Platte Stud. It is remarkable in this connection to note the combination of high scores for type (8.0), manner of jumping (8.0) and jumping ability (9.0). Next, the performance test had to be passed and Alexandra was able to hire André to train and to ride the stallion. Retiring the young, proved sports horse was not an option to the breeder. So, after 15 year as a pedestrian, Alexandra got back in the saddle and for Erwin’s sake took up show-jumping and cross-country. Since she much prefers dressage, she is happy that Erwin is brave enough for both of them and she greatly appreciates his routine. But one has to be very careful in which direction to ride, because he might find something that he will classify as a jump! Alexandra competes in show-jumping category A, which can sometimes be boring for a jolly jumper. So he likes to add little skips to the course, which is rather unsettling for Alexandra. On the other hand, he can get very upset when a bar falls! Then he twists his head and neck and kicks out angrily.
As a breeder, Alexandra had another goal on her mind, which was having him accepted by the Trakehner Breed society. Due to the high cost, she skipped the plan. But Erwin can easily get special permission for Trakehner mares.
Sometimes planets meet in an ideal constellation
There is an ideal combination of breeder, horse, and rider. What more could one ask for? Yes, talented offspring would be lovely, and GG Skywalker (GG Midnight Silver x Shambala) seems to have inherited the ‘show-jumping gene’. But actually I am eager to see how Erwin’s and André’s story continues. Aren’t you?