At the age of four, the performance test winner Don Schufro left Germany for a career at Blue Hors Stud in Denmark. Now aged 20, he is recognised as one of the greatest living breeding dressage stallions, and Blue Hors as one of Europe’s leading stallion stations.
Photography OLIVIA FRØLICH Text MARIA GRAAE / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.8
A lush landscape gives way to what appears to be endless fenced green fields with grazing horses, and on top of a small hill the Blue Hors Stud appears. We’re in southeast Jutland, a good three hours’ drive west of Copenhagen, where the red walls and cobblestone yard of the original farm Korshøjgård, owned by the Kirk Kristiansen family, is set amidst idyllic scenery.
In the centre paddock, a charismatic, dark liver chestnut stallion watches us with a high raised head and friendly eyes. He’s the famous Don Schufro, who is considered to be one of the best sons of Donnerhall, and who has led the German breeding rankings for eight years, even though he is based in Denmark.
A true legend in his own lifetime, Don Schufro and his early success have been a defining force in shaping the Blue Hors Stud into what it is today. He was also the first stallion Esben Møller bought, as newly appointed manager of Blue Hors Stud back in 1997. To this day, Don Schufro still performs his duties of a breeding stallion four times a week, and served 125 mares last year alone.
“He’s still full of fire,” Esben says with an admiring glance at the stallion as he struts past. “It’s remarkable – one would not expect it of a twenty year old horse to look this good.”
The high level of ambition has been upheld throughout the years at the stud, which is currently going trough a dramatic change that has transformed its grounds into a building site.
“We’re building a new Blue Hors. Beside the original Korshøjgård farm, only an indoor arena and a single barn will remain,” Esben explains.
He has been employed at Blue Hors for 20 years. In stature, he’s twice the size of most men, and with long strides he gives us a tour of the grounds, interrupted by his mobile, which seems to be ringing constantly. “You can’t describe this as a job,” he says; “it’s just what I do. I live in the main house with my wife and four children. It’s something that demands most, if not all, of our time.”
It was the former Blue Hors rider Lars Petersen, whom Esben has known since childhood and still considers a close friend, who suggested that Esben took the job of being in charge of the breeding business. “I thought that if I wanted work in Denmark at a place which could actually make a difference, here was my chance.”
In 1997, just 28 years old, he took over the responsibility of managing the stallions, the associated sales and the competition stable, as well as Blue Hors’ very own line of care and grooming products for horses, meaning 35 employees, 250 hectares of land, and hundreds of horses.
The new building is due to be ready in February 2014. When complete, the arena will have seating for 1,000 spectators and a VIP balcony as well as Esben’s office and conference facilities for 150 guests. There will be a total of 180 stalls in the new stables when the project is finished. Functionality has been a key word for the build, and the inspiration has been found all over the world. A sense of space strikes you as clean air and natural light floods in from everywhere.
It’s a busy time a year at the stud, with broodmares arriving from near and far.
Through the stallions, the stud strives to promote and improve the breeding of sport horses and annually serves 1,200-1,500 mares in Denmark and abroad. Every year, an average of 10 to 12 foals are born here, while another carefully selected 25 foals are bought from other breeders each autumn. The young horses spend their life outdoors until two or three years old. “We’ve gone back to basics,” Esben explains. “It’s much better for the horses’ well-being and physical development to be outdoors.”
The aim is to raise the level of Danish breeding and sport. The Blue Hors riders participate in national and international competitions, and have won numerous Danish Dressage Championships and competed at the European Championships, World Equestrian Games, and Olympic Games. At the same time, Don Schufro represents a great triumph for breeding for Blue Hors and for Denmark in general, and the stallion has become synonymous with the stud.
“I wanted a real signature stallion, and at that time there wasn’t any Donnerhall blood in Denmark, so I was very much looking in that direction,” Esben explains. While glancing through the breeding bible Ausgewählte Hengste Deutschlands, Esben found Don Schufro, who was then owned by German horse dealer Paul Schockemöhle, a fact that made Esben even keener to buy. Initially, Schockemöhle had no intention of selling the three-year-old stallion, but Esben was determined and called the horse dealer once or twice a week for the next couple of months, without any luck. Then out of the blue Esben’s phone rang and Schockemöhle offered the horse for sale if Esben could move fast and come the following day. Finally seeing the young stallion in real life was no disappointment. “He just shone,” says Esben. “The quality of this horse was obvious from the very first glance. He was everything we had wished for and more.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. The very first year Don Schufro sired 430 foals in Denmark alone. By now he has an estimated 3,000 daughters and sons worldwide. The stallion became Danish champion and Olympic bronze team winner in Hong Kong 2008, and sire of 2010 World Champion UNO Donna Unique, as well a sire of several candidates for the Olympic London games 2012. Don Schufro has also won several World Cup qualifications and more than 30 victories in international Grand Prix at prestigious shows like Aachen, Wiesbaden, Lingen, and Neumünster. His offspring continue to produce top results. This day Don Schufro is still at the very top of the German breeding value with a dressage index of 171.
“Not many, if any, breeding stallions have 30 international grand prix and an Olympic medal,” observes Esben, “since the combination of sport and breeding is a fine line, and very demanding for the stallion’s back as well as mentally. I believe it’s down to the high quality of the horse and the high quality of education by both Lars Petersen and later Andreas Helgstrand. Every horse is flawed. Don Schufro, for example, has a long back, a slightly big head and crooked legs, but the quality of the horse, the exemplary movement, the rideability, the extraordinary will to perform and intelligence more than make up for that.”
Esben does not strike you as someone who is prone to sentimentality, but when you observe him around Don Schufro, the close bond and love between man and horse is obvious. “He’s got a very special place in my heart,” he admits. “In finding him, I was so lucky to be at the right time and place. He’s got will, he’s got character and he’s got juice, but still he’s such a lovely horse to be around, so uncomplicated.”
When the building work is complete, a full-size bronze statue of Don Schufro will welcome visitors in front of the new main entrance. Esben explains: “It seemed like the natural thing to do; he deserves a monument.” •