Emma Blundell & Charlotte Dujardin Partner for Mount St. John Stud–Part 1 of 2
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June 12, 2015
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
A partnership of British dressage horse breeder Emma Blundell and world No. 1 rider Charlotte Dujardin aims to keep Great Britain on Olympic and championship medals podiums and become a source of top mounts for other nations like the traditional powerhouses of Germany, Holland and Denmark.
The pair, once show ring competitors and not-yet 30 year-olds, bring passion, drive and business smarts along with deep pockets to the partnership has already moved so far along that plans for Charlotte to compete one of Emma’s horses at the World Young Horse Championships in Verden, Germany in August had to be deferred. Charlotte and Valegro will be making final preparations for the European Championships in Aachen, Germany within days of Verden.
For Charlotte the arrangement is also about her own growth as a trainer, teacher and competitor when Valegro leaves the competition arena that could be when the KWPN gelding is 14 years old after next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I would like to get my own place,” she said of the nine years she has spent working for and with Carl Hester, who found Valegro and remains a part-owner of the horse that led Great Britain to its first ever dressage medal in a century of Olympics. Charlotte and the gelding won both team and individual gold at London in 2012.
Although she wants to continue working with Carl at his farm in picturesque Oaklebrook Mill, near Newent, Gloucestershire, she said: “As much as I’ve got out of it, none of it is mine. I want to have a bit more for myself. I want to have my own yard, my own horses. I never wanted it before.
“I’m going to be 30. Maybe I’ll have a baby, start my own family.”
While Charlotte weighs her future, Emma Blundell appears as an exciting and innovative breeder of dressage horses.
Together, the duo are a new, youthful and dynamic face of elite sport horse breeding, not bound by yesteryear but willing to take risks.
Now aged 28, Emma has had a lifelong passion for horses. As a kid competing in the hugely popular “showing” against Charlotte, 16 months older, was “the person to beat, she was always my target.” But Charlotte grew out of the classes before Emma had a chance to catch up though she won several titles. “Showing,” is similar to “hacking” in Australia but has no direct U.S. comparison.
“We were not best friends,” Emma recalled, “but we knew each other.”
Emma took a so-called “gap” year after grade school. Among the places she worked was the training and breeding center of Heath and Rozzie Ryan in Australia, where among other things she experienced a work ethic so rigorous she now jokingly but with admiration threatens her own employees with imposing the same standards.
Emma came home and enrolled in Manchester University to get a business degree, a step that won approval from her parents who hoped it would lead to a “proper job.”
While casting around for a subject for her dissertation, she said, “I managed to persuade my lecturer to let me do my research into equine reproduction and its impact on the future of horse sport, and then I had to come up with a business plan and a credible pitch” She earned a first class degree.
Then came the hard part—convincing a bank to give her a loan and her parents to let her turn the Mount St. John family estate of 1,250 acres (505Ha) and the stables by the restored 17th century mansion that was home in north Yorkshire into a dressage horse breeding operation.
With an entrepreneurial spirit, drive and smarts that could be applied in a high tech startup in any of the world’s Silicon geographic features she launched what is a seriously long term business, often hidebound by tradition and in a country that has a long and successful history in Thoroughbred breeding but only in recent years has translated those talents to modern sport horses. Woodlander Farouche (Furst Heinrich x Dimaggio) ridden by Michael Eilberg to world champion in both the five and six-year-old divisions has been a prime result of British warmblood breeding.
Emma’s study of dressage and breeding led her to pursue what she saw as an opportunity off the beaten path—instead of focusing on stallions she adopted a counter intuitive approach to focus on mares. Rather than assume top dressage horses were difficult to ride in achieving expressive gaits that would make them champions, she wanted the horses to be rideable for everyone.
She built a team around Mount St. John including veterinarians, embryo transfer experts, managers, riders, grooms, farriers, equine dentists to provide essential support for the venture that is mostly centered around the Donnerhall line, again for rideability.
Emile Faurie, her trainer for several years, is a key player in the venture, providing an expert viewpoint.
Like most entrepreneurs, though, she constantly searches for improvements, knowledge—snagging time with Paul Schockemöhle, the giant of German sport horse breeding, or with Emmy de Jeu of the Netherlands that she invites to Mount St.John’s events, and British breeders and others involved in the business.
The breeding program brought Charlotte to Mount St. John to see what was happening.
She left with a foal.
“A lot of people were surprised she came up,” Emma said of Charotte’s drive four hours from the center of dressage shows in England.
“I was quite impressed how decisive and businesslike she was and had a lot of respect for her.”
The relationship developed with Emma sending a horse to Charlotte for training and Charlotte offering advice on the horses.
“We became more and more involved,” Emma said. “In the last 18 months she has had an effect.
“I would say she has slanted my view on what a dressage rider wants at the highest level of the sport.
”I find it really interesting as I want to be selling to these people. I have now tweaked my focus to the higher end to be more slanted toward the top of the sport.”
Emma admits she is “quite careful” to who she sells offspring, a distinction that is rare in someone who is so new to the business. She shrugs off the need to sell horses to make ends meet or hope to quickly establish a reputation. And while she maintains good relations with the different breed organizations sticks to her own breeding principles.
“I’m a very competitive person,”Emma said, “and my aim and hope is to see in the next 10 years our horses competing on teams. I would like those to be on British teams.”
However, with 26 foals this year and more in the future, her hope is to see the British-bred horses on teams of other nations.
She wants to work with key riders in other countries.
“We need to be improving things all the time,” she said, “with my business background, I’m never satisfied. I want to be doing things better and better.”
Among those “things” are better saddle fitting, teaching horses to deal with the the growing phenomenon of cameras (including smartphones) in the faces of horses.
“The temperament is really key as so many horses are so talented but need to cope with the environment.”
The relationship with Charlotte almost requires a switchmaster. Emma’s horse are at two different barns—the British call them “yards”—but are constantly changing or, as Emma described it, “a lot of toing snd froing…. nearly every day.”
Both Emma and Charotte are ambitious as well as close in age.
“We both want to have a big future in dresage,” Emma said. “Charlotte’s focus is horse power and she needs it.
“My ambitions are different. I want my horses to be the best they can be but to be good to ride.
“What’s so nice with Charlotte and me is rhat we trust each other,
“It’s very exciting for the future.”
Part 2: Charlotte Dujardin on Life After Valegro With Emma Blundell’s British-Bred Youngsters