Hail To The Mares
Dressage Today|August 2017

Great Britain’s Emma Blundell, of Mount St. John, reaps the rewards of a modern approach to sport-horse breeding.

Patti Schofler

From a nation steeped in tradition, in a business confined by centuries of rules, British dressage horse breeder Emma Blundell stands proudly with one foot in the present and the other in the future. She envisions a day when mares best stallions in high-performance careers over most of their lifetime and rise to the Olympic podium, at the same time passing along Europe’s best genes, the very ones that made them stars in the arena.

Mount St. John Equestrian defies common practices. The mares on the 1,500-acre Blundell family farm, in lush North Yorkshire, England, are destined to be competitive dressage horses, aiming at the top of the sport worldwide. And thanks to the most advanced breeding technology, these mares at the same time prove their worth as the foundation for the sport through their offspring. Further, only the fillies born at the farm are kept. Colts are sold. It’s all about the girls.

Mount St. John Equestrian raises more than 100 horses, breeding 25 per year, at what was once an 11th century preceptory of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Five centuries later the headquarters of the monastic knights was rebuilt into a manor house. The nearest village is Felixkirk, known for its 11th-century church and classic inn and pub. The Blundell family purchased the property in 2000 and have beautifully mixed the old with the new, including state-of-the art horse keeping and up-to-the-moment technology for breeding. This combination is the result of a well-studied plan.

About Emma Blundell 

A Yorkshire gal all her 31 years, Blundell bucked the trend of her non-horse oriented family by falling in love with horses. Lessons started at 7 and led to the purchase of her own pony. At 10 she Started competing and continued on for 15 years, sometimes showing as many as 10 different horses in a season. Dressage intrigued her and led to lessons with John Lassetter at Good wood in Sussex. As she progressed, her family purchased a potential Under-25 Grand Prix horse, FBW Déjà Vu (daCaprio x Gluckspitz).

As life with horses often goes, the mare sustained a suspensory injury. Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, Blundell tried embryo transfer with the mare, producing a filly, Front Row. Déjà Vu not only produced several foals for Blundell, but also confirmed the direction of her future as a breeder.

Now in her fourth year of business, Blundell oversees all aspects of the breeding and competition management, including the selection of stallions to complement the genetic makeup of her embryo-producing mares.

Her business partner, horse-transport expert, bookkeeper, former physio and mother, Jill Blundell, focuses on the foals at the farm, where they also grow straw and silage for the cattle. Ten full-time employees include Sarah Cookson, breed manager; Australian Jayden Brown, resident head rider and trainer; Lucinda Elliot, resident rider; and Richard Wright, young-stock manager. The horses are also ridden, and the riders are trained by British rider â€‹Emile Faurie.

To find stallions worthy of her girls, Blundell seeks the best from any and all sport-horse breeds, ignoring the common approach of choosing in accord with one single breed registry.

Instead, this Brit regularly crosses the Channel to attend Europe’s inspections and championships so she can personally evaluate the right stallion for the residents of her mares-only breeding program.

About Embryo Transfer 

Embryo transfer is not new science, with the first foal born as a result in 1974. In the 1990s the technology gained commercial value in South America with the production of polo ponies.

To carry out embryo transfer, the donor mare is inseminated with fresh, chilled or frozen semen of the stallion around the same time of ovulation to create an embryo as with any usual insemination. At 6 to 8 days old, the embryo is flushed out of the donor mare’s uterus, without surgery, and placed in a suitable surrogate or recipient mare, who then carries the pregnancy to full term. This allows the donor mare to continue her competition schedule and/or to undergo further inseminations for multiple embryos, perhaps by different stallions.

How it All Began 

This breeding business adventure started with Blundell’s promise to her nonhorse family that after taking a year to travel and visit horse ranches, she would attend university to complete her studies. For that year, the 18-year old steeped herself deeper and deeper into horse breeding. First she worked for four months at a stallion station in Golega, Portugal. She then traveled for a few months in Australia and set down to work for Australian elite riders Heath and Rozzie Ryan who run the country’s largest dressage breeding program, producing around 100 foals a year.

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