The exciting young colt Lessing in action at the New Zealand Dressage Championships.

March 5, 2008

by Joan Gilchrist

Vollrath Lessing, Bernie Maubach's handsome black five-year-old stallion, ridden by Jutta Rosenblatt, immediately took the eye in the Astek Stud Young Dressage Horse championship at the recent Bates NZ Dressage Championships.

Despite it being only his second outing, he was completely at ease in the test judged by Cara Whitham, 'O' judge from Canada and 'C' judge Maria Schwennesen from Australia.

The four-year-olds were first up, and coming out just the winner was Palmerston North small animal vet Susan Tomlin on Giusto MH, a 17hh brown gelding by Gymnastik Star out of the Graf Landau mare Gratiola, bought from Matthews Hanoverians as a yearling. Giusto is an Italian musical term, appropriately meaning 'in steady, correct time, strict rhythm. Already in his first season he had won his level North Island title. Standing next to him by a tiny margin was Karen Trotter's chestnut Hanoverian Aristotle by Anamour, ridden by Kate Klingender, daughter of breeders Lynne and Peter Holmes. He is a lovely horse and Karen spent a bit of time making faces at those of us who suggested he should be an eventer, not a dressage horse!

Australian Olympic rider and judge Dr Ricky MacMillan. She gave Lessing a mark of 9.2: "I have never given as high a mark," she said after the competition.
© Joan Gilchrist
Lessing had a longer lead by the end of the five-year-old class, which was the stongest numerically - he is just so well balanced, forward and soft for his age. Tracy Smith's Holsteiner A.P.H. Sailor (Coriandus-Sigrid-Carneval) was second and Vaughn Cooper's lovely black mare, Kiteroa Leila by Falkensee out of a black-type In the Purple mare, was third. Andrea Bank's Northern Fortuous, an imported Australian Warmblood (Falkland Victory-Adel Heid-Walt Disney) was the best of the two six-year-olds on the day, both he and Sarah Matheson-Reay's Geldof MH (Gymnastik Star-All Grace-Allermund) who was second, featuring in the money in the main tournament, as did several of the other youngsters, particularly Giusto MH.

The next test for the young horses was the riding phase, Dr Ricky MacMillan, judge, trainer and Australian Olympic rider in the saddle - and what a lovely job she made, all the horses going happily for her, although one or two thought they'd have her on a little! That sort of nonsense, she sorted out quietly and firmly, soon to have the "babies" co-operating. She was, she said "thinking about natural balance, willingness to perform, to work hard," and as they got older she was looking for a quick reaction to the leg aids and keeping in mind the training scale. She couldn't, she said - and wasn't there to do so - train the horses in the allocated five minutes. The relatively small audience greatly appreciated both Cara Witham's commentary while the horses were being ridden and Dr MacMillan's summing up at the end of each ride.

One thing Whitham said was "The young horse test is too often ridden as a 'technical' test. I would advise riders to relax and let the horse work for them." The important thing was to show the horse's rideability, quality and potential for the future.

Cara Whitham said, "We look for a horse that is willingly forward, for the degree of elasticity; attitude is very important". Aristotle wanted to debate the matter - "playful" was how Cara Witham described it, forgiveable as long as it didn't become "disobedience", and as long as the quality of the paces, the quality of the horse and the willingness to work were there.

Giusto, said Ms Whitham, was well balanced for such a big young horse - he stands 17hh - and had a "super work ethic". The good balance was confirmed by Dr MacMillan, who added that he was very willing to go forward and had a big walk.

Kiteroa Leila, her first five-year-old, Dr MacMillan described as "a lovely mare with a wonderful motor behind", although she needs time. "I think she would be a really nice mare to work with."

Tracy Smith's A.P.H. Sailor had a bit of a play to start with, to which Whitham commented "He's got a very good work ethic despite all his little gallivants, and he is very attentive to the rider." Dr MacMillan said, "He's a lovely big strong horse and any owner would be proud to have such a good looking horse."

Then it was Lessing's turn and from the start, the rider had a wide smile. Whitham said, "He is a tall, lanky teenager, but with extraordinary balance and a way of going that is breathtaking. When he is more physically matured, he will have the quality to go to the World Breeding Championship. He's like a metronome in rhythm and balance. He's a little bit slight in musculature and I would like him to push into the hand a little more, but this will happen when he is given time. This is a truly quality horse."

By now Dr MacMillan was asking Jutta on the ground if she could take Lessing home and was very reluctant to dismount! "He is just a delight to ride, so totally uncomplicated. It's a really big walk - I felt it really carry me. In trot, the ability is there to push, he's so good through his back." When it came to rideability, she said, "He's very special. I have never given as high a mark." And that mark was 9.2, putting the stallion well out in front.

Sarah Matheson-Reay's Geldof MH, who was second in the six-year-old class.
© Joan Gilchrist
Geldof MH and Northern Fortuous both went well enough but not showing sufficient to displace Lessing or Giusto, so it was no surprise that on the third day, after the final assessment, Vollrath Lessing was given the championship, standing above Giusto MH in reserve spot.

I once asked Berny Maubach why he went to the expense of buying and importing stallions when he could have bred his mares with German horses via frozen semen. His response was that he liked to see his stallions looking over the fence.

In fact, he didn't get involved with sport horse breeding until he came to this country, but the enthusiasm and skill with which he approached it has ensured him a lasting legacy. First there was his beloved Dynamit, then Worldwide PB now in Australia and, as Maubach and wife Jutta Rosenblatt wind down their stud a bit, Vollrath Lessing. Their latest import is the Westfalian colt Fürst Patrick, by Fürst Piccolo, who arrived at Vollrath Stud less than a month ago.

Maubach's exuberant and often near-overwhelming PR for his stallions disguises a very definite, well considered strategy ... Dynamit would cross well with TB and near-TB mares, Worldwide would cross well not only over Dynamit mares but with Warmblood types.

Now he has the elegant, exceptional Lessing, a very modern Hanoverian, to put over Warmblood mares, although anyone with an eye to producing an eventer from a TB mare could do much worse than consider the son of Londonderry, by the thoroughbred star Lauries Crusador, out of Prisca, a daughter of Prince Thatch, the other thoroughbred sire to have so much influence on the Hanoverian in recent times. It's a pedigree to offer much to New Zealand in that Lessing is poised to be a multi-purpose sire, producing dressage horses with movement, balance and elegance or an eventer with the same qualities plus jumping ability and, doubtless, even show jumpers from the right mare. He has a lovely temperament which he has so far proved to pass on to his progeny.

He is also, if his performance at Taupo last weekend is anything to judge by, one of the most exciting and promising young performance horses in the country for the future and there are, as was evident at the Bates national tournament, several of those with their talented riders, who may well be carrying the silver fern in years to come at international level.