The Making of the Modern Warmblood From Gotthard to Gribaldi - Sandro Hit

Ulf Moeller and the Champion Sandro Hit
Ulf Moeller and the Champion Sandro Hit

The Making of the Modern Warmblood - From Gotthard to Gribaldi is available exclusively in the USA through DressageDaily at at the new price of $50 + shipping (reduced from $80)! The Making of the Modern Warmblood - From Gotthard to Gribaldi is the product of over 20 years of research by equestrian journalist Christopher Hector, in all the major breeding areas of the world. Over that time he has interviewed most of the more important breeders and breeding experts to produce a work that brings together – for the first time in the English language – the most influential Performance Horse stallions in all Europe’s major breeding areas, from France to Scandinavia, through Germany, Holland and Belgium over the past 50 years. 144 stallions are individually examined with pedigrees and photos, all of the major Studbooks are profiled, and many of their key players interviewed. This is a work destined to become the standard reference for students of the Warmblood breed. This piece below is a sample chapter from the book that covers the superstar sire - Sandro Hit.

Sandro Hit’s dam, Loretta has been an excellent stallion producer – bred to Don Schufro, she produced Diamond Hit who was Reserve World Champion Five Year Old Dressage horse and Bundeschampion in 2002; bred to the Rohdiamant son, Royal Dance, she produced Royal Hit, the 1-c premium stallion of the 2002 Oldenburg stallion licensing, and now a successful sire in his own right. Loretta is by the Ramiro son, Ramino, who was champion of his performance test at Adelheidsdorf in 1983. He stood in Oldenburg from 1983 to 1987, while at the same time competing in showjumping with Melanie Kötter. The pair won team gold at the European Junior Championship in 1987, before he joined up with the Italian rider, Loris Pujatti, again with international success.

Ramino has proven an exceptional sire of broodmares – he is the damsire of the jumping stallion, Gio Granno; the 1997 Oldenburg licensing winner, Ronaldo, and his full-brother, Rubin Star W, who won his stallion performance test and was a finalist at the Bundeschampionate; Sergeant Pepper, two time Bundeschampionate finalist is also out of a Ramino mare. Loretta’s dam, Lassie is by Welt As who was the sire of international showjumping star, Leroy Brown, and dressage star, Bonfire.

Sandro Hit’s sire Sandro Song is out of Antenne II by Gepard, who left a lasting imprint on Paul Schockemöhle’s mare band. The grand-dam Antenne won numerous Grand Prix with George Ahlmann. Her sire, Adlerorden was a top jumping sire in Westfalia, siring stars like Argonaut 7 with Bernard Kamps. Sandro Song is one of the few stallions to have been both Champion Oldenburg Junior Stallion as well as main premium winner. He himself competed in both dressage and showjumping to intermediate level. Despite the versatility of his sire, on his breeding you would have expected that Sandro Hit was headed for a career in the jumping ring – trouble was, he couldn’t jump, and turned in a very poor performance test, but Dr Ulf Möller, who manages the dressage section of PSI, found the way to bring out his ability and establish a new dressage dynasty. Ulf told me how the turnaround was achieved:

Here was a stallion that had done a poor performance test, he was not bred for dressage, but you saw something there and ended up with a World Dressage Champion, and now it seems a champion sire?
“Maybe that has something to do with the test. Now they don’t have to do that 100 day test and I think that is very good decision. Some stallions are too weak to do a 100 day test, and to do all those things like cross country jumping. Now we have a 30 day test and then it goes on their competition record, that is much better for the future. Okay he might be bred like a jumper, but he cannot jump. He makes a nice jump but he has no scope.”

Sandro Hit - Breeder Gabriele Harder-Brune
Sandro Hit - Breeder Gabriele Harder-Brune

With Ulf in the saddle, Sandro Hit dominated the six year old dressage championship at the 1999 Bundeschampionate. His presence and charisma were overwhelming, and, with Ulf, he found a showman who knew exactly how to conserve his horse to produce the big performance right on cue. They were also World Young Dressage Horse champions at Arnheim that same year before the black stallion retired to a sensational stud career.

Perhaps, Sandro Hit can be ‘blamed’ for the current fashion of breeding to young sires – either licensing winners, or winners at the Bundeschampionate. It is certainly a development that has its critics who point to the fact that Sandro Hit quit the competition arena in his six year old year – the year that for most dressage horses, the work starts to get interesting.

But Sandro Hit’s time was limited – he was in huge demand in the breeding barn, so much so, that for the first time, Paul Schockemöhle started thinking about keeping and standing his young stallions rather than selling them on.

According to Ulf: “Sandro Hit was the stallion that gave Paul Schockemöhle the idea to run the breeding stud seriously. Before he owned Don Schufro, but then he got a good offer, and sold him. That was his idea before – he had good stallions, but if he had a good offer – whoosh – they were gone. Sandro Hit was the first stallion where he got a really really big offer and said, no, I keep him. Then it worked, and gave him the idea that it is worth keeping the good stallions for a while and then to decide what to do – because it is a business, it is not a state stud supported by the government. At the moment I think we can
offer every breeder in the world, a stallion for his special mare, because we have such a variety of stallions.”

Indeed there are those who suggest that because of Mr Schockemöhle’s ability to promote new stallions, and manipulate the market, PSI is becoming the de-facto National Stud of Germany...but back to Sandro Hit.

Not surprisingly, Ulf is one of his greatest fans: “I think he is really a revolution in the breeding. An absolutely new bloodline – he has more than 65 sons now. Maybe Weltmeyer did this, but no other stallion.”

What qualities does he give his young stock?
“He is really stamping his offspring. He is producing uphill horses, producing pretty horses, even with some ugly mares. He gives his colour, and he gives outstanding rideability, and he gives something that is difficult to say in words, he makes proud horses. This is what is important – but it also gives a responsibility to the rider that he understands this proudness, and don’t try and press this proudness out.

The rider must allow this pride to come out of the horse – maybe it was a bit the same with him at the stallion test, they pressed him, and I let him live.” What mare lines does he cross on? “That is the really good thing with Sandro Hit, we have outstanding offspring from Donnerhall mares, from Rubinstein, from Weltmeyer, from Brentano, from Holstein bloodlines like Calypso. This is what makes Sandro Hit super super interesting because this is a line that fits all the prominent lines, so now you have a new choice.”

Once it looked as if while you could breed radical crosses in jumping with success, French to Holstein, for instance, the best dressage horses came from bloodlines that were concentrated dressage producers. As usual, Paul Schockemöhle keeps his own counsel:
“You can breed wider with dressage horses,” he told me. “Once upon a time people thought you could only breed dressage horses with Donnerhall, Weltmeyer and Rubinstein. But then you find jumping stallions like Sandro establishing a dressage line through his son Sandro Hit, there luckily the bloodlines are not so close together – they don’t have to be so close together.”

Samira by Sandro Hit out og a mare by Rockwell - the out and out star of the 2007 Bundeschampionate
Samira by Sandro Hit out og a mare by Rockwell - the out and out star of the 2007 Bundeschampionate

What made you decide that Sandro Hit would make a dressage horse – there is not a lot of dressage on his pedigree?
“He was moving very well as a foal. As a two year old we knew he was a very good type, he was moving well, and we brought him to the stallion grading at Oldenburg.”

They didn’t like him though?
“But he passed and then because he had a funny bloodline for a dressage horse, so he had to prove himself, and he did.”

He then went on to breed very good foals, were you worried that he was a result rather than a cause?
“His mother breeds very good horses. She is a fantastic mover, from her I have a number of top foals. Diamond Hit who was reserve champion at the World Young Horse Championships is also from that mare, and Diamond Hit is probably better than Sandro Hit.”

You are primarily a jumping breeder but you are breeding so many dressage horses?
“That is primarily for economic reasons, a three year old dressage horse that has good movement, you sell even better than a five year old jumper.”

Sandro Hit established the pattern of the ‘hot’ PSI stallions breeding 600 to 800 mares in a season, and as a result, there are Sandro Hits appearing everywhere – and a fair proportion of them have been successful. The first cross that really worked was with the mare - Poesie – based at Neustadt-Dosse, the Brandenburger Stud in the former East Germany. She is by that great broodmare sire, Brentano, and bred to Sandro Hit produced first the World Young Dressage Horse Champion Poetin, followed by the three Samba Hit brothers – all of who starred in young horses classes and at the Bundeschampionate. Samba Hit I has been an extremely successful competitor on the small tour with Christian Flamm in the saddle. At the 2007 Bundeschampionate, the star of the show was Samira (by Sandro Hit out of a Rockwell mare) who won the Six Year old dressage championship, with a record score – a higher mark even than her father achieved when he won!

Sandro Hit has been one of the more important sires in the current foal auction boom. Suddenly the breeders are aiming not for a place in the Elite Riding Auctions for three and four year old horses, but to sell their foals at auction while they are still foals, and they are getting good prices. I put it to Ulf Möller that this development has worrying implications for the breeding program… Is it a problem that breeders are breeding for foals because the big prices at the foal auctions – and there the money is for the foal with extravagant front legs, but maybe a little hollow in the back and when it grows up, not the nicest horse to ride?

“The whole breeding character has changed in Germany. I often talk to breeders about this. Twenty years ago, the children of the breeders were riding the product for one year, to show them a little bit. And this saved money because it is not so expensive. Now I think half the breeders have no background in agriculture, if they have a three year old horse they have to give it to a trainer, and this is €500 and more, a month. That means after five or six months, you have a horse that is nicely broken in, but it cost you €3,000, and still, if it is not top quality, it is too young to sell to an amateur. That means that the costs until they are three are not so much, but once you put a saddle on the horse, the cost goes uphill quickly.

That means the breeders have to produce a foal that they can sell. That puts the pressure on them to produce a sellable foal – but if you see offspring from a stallion like Rosario, we had a very nice one in our auction, then the breeders see, okay, maybe we won’t get a top foal, but we get a top horse as a three year old. Don Gregory is the same. The Don Gregory foals are tiny, they don’t have big movement, but later on, they are very good riding horses.”

“There are a number of stallions like this – but then with Sandro Hit, you can sell the foals very easily because they are very nice as foals. That’s why he will be there for as long as he lives because he gives you nearly a guarantee for the colour, for uphill movement and for a nice neck. As long as the breeders can get good money – and I don’t mean one hundred thousand - I mean five thousand to ten thousand euro, then they use him.”

Sir Donnerhall the winner of the 2006 Bundeschampionate 6-Year-Old title
Sir Donnerhall the winner of the 2006 Bundeschampionate 6-Year-Old title

Ulf is also well aware of the criticism that Sandro Hit’s Holsteiner heritage leaves him with the tendency to produce horses that are a bit out behind, and slow behind, in trot, a criticism that was directed at Sandro Hit’s Bundeschampion son, Sir Donnerhall who won the Six Year old Title in 2006.

“Last year there was a big discussion about Sir Donnerhall’s hind legs, but the whole time I rode him, the horse was able to carry himself, and I think a horse is only able to carry himself when he is in balance and when he is using his hindlegs. That feeling is the most important thing, and I think as a rider, there are always things you can fix – but the quality of the horse must make this work worthwhile. Also with Don Schufro, or Ahlerich, whatever, all these horses had a weak point, every horse in the world has a weak point but the rider who is going to invest himself in the training, he must know if he can live and work with that weak point.”

“Last year in the final round at the World Young Horse Championships, you could see that Sir Donnerhall was able to use his hind leg, and for sure, in the development, it will become better and better. And also the muscles are changing now, and this is what we want – but the main thing is that the horse is able to carry his weight on the hind legs and for sure, this is possible.”

In the 2010 Hanoverian Stallion Book, Sandro Hit is recorded as the sire of 607 competition horses, with winnings of €253,933, with 27 ‘S’ level dressage competitors. His FN rankings are 139 (dressage) and 92 (jumping). On the Hanoverian rankings, his is equal 8th for type, with 146, with a dressage ranking of 137 as against a jumping index of 92. He scores well for canter (161) and trot (148) but less well for walk (97).

And the number of Sandro Hit licensed sons seems to grow by the second. In 2007, a Sandro Hit x Donnerhall x Classiker son was the Champion of the Oldenburg Stallion Licensing. The same pedigree combination (Sandro Hit x Donnerhall) had already produced the Licensing Champion of the Hanoverian Society in Verden the previous month. And once again the borders are down, as the Hanoverian colt, Soliman sold at the auction for the top price of €700,000 to the French millionaire Xavier Marie of the Haras de Hus in France – although the new director at Celle, Axel Bröckmann has secured an agreement that the horse will stand in Celle.