Showjumping Sunday with Pieter Jan Berkers

Together with Floris van Leuken, Pieter Jan Berkers has been part of the selection committee of Foal Auction Borculo for four years. In 2017 the pair was off to a running start by realizing an all-time high average for the jumper foals. The years following after, they again succeeded in selecting foals of top quality that allured both domestic and international buyers.

This is your fourth year to be involved in the selection committee of Foal Auction Borculo. Will you do things differently from last years, or is repetition key to success?
“As any year, we are quite strict in our selection. Yet I think we have to be even more critical this year than in the previous years, because we auction online. We have to ensure that the pedigree stirs the imagination and the buyer is persuaded immediately.”

What was for you personally the reason to join Foal Auction Borculo?
“I am passionate about young horses and I like to spend as much time on them as possible. Foal Auction Borculo gives me the chance to select for one of the most esteemed auctions in the Netherlands. The fact that the auction ranks amongst the top was certainly a reason to seize this opportunity without hesitation. I love being on the road to view and select the foals.”

In 2017 you selected your first foals, they are now three years old. Have you encountered any of them out in the field already?“We indeed are able to see the first results of our selection back then. It may be a year too early as the majority of the showjumpers are not entering the competitions until four years of age. However, a few ‘Borculo-horses’ stood out at the KWPN Stallion show. That’s the beauty of doing this for a few years, you can finally see the results of the foals you selected.”

There must be some extraordinary foals that are still fresh in your memory?
“We see a lot of foals every year, but some stick with me. Marie (Cicero van Paemel Z x Voltaire, bred by J. Cornelissen) is one of them. She was the complete package. Also, Nashville (Quabri de L’Isle x Koriander, bred by Jos Swinkels) is one that comes to mind immediately. He was a real eyecatcher. The third, on top of my head, is Charlie’s Talent Z (Chacco Blue x Kannan, bred by J. Geukens), he had an exquisite pedigree.”

Pedigrees and sport are important to a jumper foal. How do you determine what is in high demand and what isn’t?
“As more and more offspring of a stallion enter the sport and perform well, more information on the stallion’s breeding becomes available. If they stand out in sport and have pleasant characters, they become more popular in the commercial trade. You could say that the market decides. For that reason, we attend many competitions to discover talent and to witness which stallions could be in demand at this year’s foal auction. Despite his age, Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve is an extremely popular stallion, for example. He produces sport horses with a great character. I also see an increase in demand for Comme il Faut, Dominator, Eldorado vd Zeshoek and Grandorado offspring. Now I forget to mention Emerald, he also made quite an impression as a sire. Stallions breed how they jumped as a young horse themselves. Emerald is a prime example of that, he was an extraordinary four-year-old and grew into a top horse. His offspring appear to have that same talent and that generates demand for his children. Although I personally would like to do so, it is difficult sell offspring of young horses. There is simply too little information available on the breeding of the stallions. When it comes to jumper foals, you buy an expectation value, that is different from the dressage foals. A dressage foal is good or not, there is little in between. A jumper foal is difficult to assess the first three years, that is why the presence of sports in the lineage is so important.”

That means many are dropped out based on pedigree. How much influence does the damline have in the selection process?
“The damline is the vital to us, this forms the expectation value of the foals. The mare and her breeding thus greatly influence our choice in selecting the foal. It gives us additional information if the real mother is with the foal. We want mares with a good conformation and an easy manner of movement. The opportunity to look at the dam is certainly of added value to us.”

Yet in the end it is not only about pedigree, the foal itself has to have that special quality as well. What makes for a good conformation in your eyes?
“Buyers must be able to trust blindly that they buy a correct foal at Foal Auction Borculo. Conformation is therefore very important to us. The correct stance of the hooves and legs, they have to be built uphill with a good top line. The canter is powerful, supple and with abundant ability to collect and extend. The trot must not be underestimated, it displays the elasticity of the foal.”

How is the teamwork with Floris? You are asked to visit many foals, do you always select them together?
“We try to view most foals together, because eventually the decision to select or not should not be a personal choice. Despite our focus on breeding and sports, you do have a personal taste and by going together you can balance this out. Floris is extremely knowledgeable in breeding and blood lines and extracts a lot of information from this. I look more at the sport, do I see limitations in this foal that would impact the chance of becoming a good sport horse? Are there qualities that makes it easy or difficult to ride? Every now and then it is hard to make the choice to not select a foal when he ticks all the boxes, but the pedigree is not interesting enough for the auction. It helps that you can discuss this together.”

This year we have chosen for an online auction. What are the first responses of the breeders?
“It is a shame that we cannot organize an auction in Lichtenvoorde this year. A live event brings on more emotion and a different experience than an internet auction. Unfortunately, there was no other choice than going online and the team is motivated to make this edition work. I notice that breeders are a bit more apprehensive to sell online. You cannot see who is bidding and who is interested in the foal. Besides, the auction is a like a day-off to the breeders, special event that they really look forward to. The excitement, the presentation and eventually the sale of the foal make for a great day. This year the Corona-virus stands in the way of all that.”

You select the foals at the breeders’ home, but you look at the foals another time during the photo/video day. Do you still exclude foals at that day?
“It happens, but fortunately not often. The veterinarian also examines the foals at the photo day and may discover impairments. We also have to secure interesting foals at a young age. It is possible that the hooves grow out differently than desired and that we have to decide to not auction the foal after all.”

Breeders have to make their stallion choice for 2021 already. What would you advise them in making the right choice?
“I would recommend every breeder to regularly visit competitions and look at the offspring of interesting stallions. Talk to the riders and dealers and find out which horses are in demand. Of course, know-how about the mare is essential. What should a stallion add to the mare? In which areas can I improve my breeding? With this information you can pick the right stallion for 2021.”