With the choice of Bart Henstra, an experienced breeder has been added to the showjumping stallion selection committee. Together with his partner Pytrick Adema and father Pieter Henstra, he focuses on breeding, raising, and training talented showjumping horses from their base in Drogeham, Friesland. This has already resulted in sporty highlights such as Hello Senator and Jack, as well as eleven performance mares. Bart has been incorporating all his accumulated knowledge and experiences into his role as a judge and previously as an inspector for many years.

Since late 2023, Bart Henstra has been a member of the stallion selection committee, which also includes international showjumpers Wout-Jan van der Schans and Eric van der Vleuten. This brings together expertise in both sport and breeding, forming a committee of three men who have repeatedly proven their ability to assess horses accurately and measure talent at a young age.

Until he was eighteen, Bart was active in pony sports, both in dressage and showjumping. "Then I switched to horses, but because I went to Wageningen University for my Agroecology studies, I didn't have much time for riding afterward. Luckily, my father had consciously bought a horse for me that he could also breed with, as he was interested in that. That marked the beginning of our breeding operation," Bart reflects. His first horse, the daughter of Uniek named Cilia, developed into a keur preferent performance mare within the Henstra family and laid the foundation for several international showjumpers and dressage horses. Through breeding from this lineage, the Henstra family has produced, among others, the 1.50/1.60m showjumpers Carlsberg 10 (s.Lord Z), ridden by Katrin Eckermann, and Burlington (s.Argentinus), ridden by Kevin Beerse.

Sina lineage
However, it was the Sina lineage that truly put their breeding operation on the map. They began this line with the Purioso daughter Jerina, who produced multiple international showjumpers and six performance mares for the breeders in Drogeham. Jerina was acquired at the age of eight in 1999. "We were looking for a good broodmare, and Hendrik van der Meer, who also bred from the Sina lineage himself, recommended this Purioso mare to us. She was a mare with a lot of blood, a rock-solid foundation, and character. That suited us perfectly, and in hindsight, we can confidently say it was a golden purchase." She was purchased from breeder Ton Ploegmakers, who had bred several offspring from Jerina himself.

Sporting successes
Jerina's first offspring, the daughter of Amaretto I named Nerina, turned out to be a real hit. Although not bred by the Henstras, she meant a lot to them. "Jur Vrieling rode her in sport for Ton Ploegmakers, and later she was leased to Kent Farrington via Leon Thijssen, with whom she was also very successful. At one point, she came back to Leon, and we decided to buy her together with Jur." Under the name Wadro's Nerina, she continued to perform internationally until the age of sixteen, after which she entered breeding. "She came home with prize money from almost every competition, and it was wonderful for us as owners to experience that. Nerina was a true winner, naturally fast and with a great attitude. We have a twelve-year-old daughter of Nabab de Rêve from her in breeding, and we also have a seven-year-old daughter of Zirocco Blue VDL who is currently competing in sport."

Nerina herself enjoys her retirement and grazes near Jur Vrieling. Another standout in sport directly from Jerina is the Berlin son Drachten, bred by the Henstra family, with which Jan-Philipp Weichert and Laurenz Buhl participated in Grand Prix events and placed at 1.55m level. In combination with Indoctro, Jerina also produced well-inheriting daughters Zarina and Anerina, both of whom earned the performance predicate based on several successful international offspring.

Hello Senator
Their most remarkable breeding product comes from the mare Zarina. In combination with Carambole, who was only a four-year-old stallion at the time, she produced the top showjumper Hello Senator. This gelding, born as Everest, put the Henstra family's breeding operation on the map worldwide. "We prepared him for the stallion selection as a young stallion ourselves. He was sharp, careful, and behaved very well during lunging. The horses from this lineage tend to bloom late and don't always show their full potential in free jumping. That's why he wasn't selected in Den Bosch, and that's when we sold him to Stal Hendrix, also with the belief that he would get the opportunities he deserved there because we had a lot of faith in him."

Bronze medal
Four years later, the breeders were face to face with their breeding product again, holding the breeder's premium accompanying the bronze medal at the World Championships for seven-year-olds in Lanaken. "We always kept an eye on Everest. Through the Dutch Sport Horse Sales, he was sold to Lebanon, but he remained in training with Hendrix. With Luc Steeghs, he performed well in young horse competitions and won bronze in Lanaken, which was fantastic to witness. Then he ended up with Scott Brash via Nick Skelton, which was a dream scenario." With victories including the 4* Grand Prix of St. Tropez and second place in the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva, this son of Carambole has already achieved tremendous success.

Good training
Every year, Pieter, Bart, and Pytrick breed about six foals, nowadays almost all from the Jerina lineage, and they make stallion choices together. "We never aimed to sell the horses as foals. About 25 years ago, we built our stable with an indoor arena and two company houses, allowing both my parents and Pytrick and me to live at the farm. We raise the young horses ourselves and try to train them for sport until they are about five or six years old. Pytrick has competed at ZZ level in showjumping and Intermediaire I level in dressage, and she enjoys training young horses a lot. That's a great advantage for us as breeders because it allows us to keep our breeding products longer and select them better. We try to give the horses a lot of confidence and take our time with their training so that they are as physically strong as possible when they move up a level. By training the horses ourselves, we can better select for traits like willingness to work, effort, talent, and carefulness.

Progress can be quick
When one or two horses show a lot of promise, we send them to Marriët Smit-Hoekstra when they are six or seven years old. She has successfully ridden several horses for us," Bart explains. "For example, she rode Jerina, a Zirocco Blue mare bred from an old Purioso mare, up to international 1.45m level, and this mare is now coming home for breeding. Marriët also rode Lerina, a Glasgow van 't Merelsnest daughter, successfully at 1.40m level. A year earlier, this mare was competing at 1.10m level with Pytrick, but because the foundation is good and the horses show a lot of effort, progress can be quick. Since we take our time with their training, the tendons and ligaments are strong enough for higher levels. Lerina has now been sold to America. That wasn't the plan initially, but she was winning a lot, and because we run the horses as a business, we also have to sell regularly."

Mare material
In recent years, they have also been investing in other lineages. "At Mares of Macha, we have bought an embryo a few times now. For example, we have a yearling filly by Eldorado van de Zeshoek out of the For Pleasure daughter Mom's Mioko SCF, who is the full sister of, among others, the 1.60m mare Derly Chin de Muze. This year, we expect a foal by Chacco Blue out of a Kashmir van Schuttershof daughter from Excellentia de Muze, which is carried by our own surrogate mare. This way, we try to obtain good mares from other lineages for our breeding operation. It remains to be seen what it will bring us, but if you don't try, you won't succeed anyway."

Bart notes that lineage is decisive for embryos and foals, while pedigree is much less considered in sport horses. "Those worlds are increasingly apart. If a sport horse jumps well, a rider rarely asks about the lineage. Let alone that it influences their decision to buy a horse or not, whereas with embryos and foals, it seems almost entirely about the pedigree. We are also convinced of the power of a good dam line because it increases the chance of success. With an embryo, it's a big gamble, but with a foal, you can already do more selection. Just like when evaluating the stallions at the stallion selection, I think it's important that the horse itself meets the requirements and shows a lot of talent; it's not just about the lineage."

Performance daughters
In addition to Chacco Blue, foals are expected this year from Ermitage Kalone, Zirocco Blue VDL, Mindset ES, Stargos VDL, and Up van 't Paradijs. All from mares from the Sina lineage. The mother of flagship horse Hello Senator was sold years ago, but the lineage continues successfully with, among others, her full sister Anerina, one of the six performance daughters of the matriarch Jerina. From this Indoctro daughter, the Henstra family has already bred five international sport horses, including the 1.55m-ranked Jack (s.Quasimodo van de Molendreef) ridden by Beth Underhill and Thaisa Erwin, who is now ridden by Nina Mallevaey. Farina (s.Cardento), a half-sister of Hello Senator, is also successfully used for breeding.

Judge and inspector
Although much of his life seems to consist of ‘the horses’, in daily life Bart works as general manager of his company Wadro, which makes prefab reinforcement structures for construction and concrete plants. In 2003, he started as a judge with the KWPN and four years later he succeeded Hennie Boersma as inspector of Friesland, later followed by Groningen, until 2021. ‘Judging horses has always been my interest and at the time I apprenticed with Hennie Boersma, among others, after which I was appointed as an aspiring judge. In Deurne, I followed a course and there I learned a lot from Cor Loeffen, who was part of the stallion selection committee until last year.

Athletic horses
I think it is a great job to be a member of this committee now and thus be able to experience the stallion selection at close quarters. The cooperation with Wout-Jan and Eric is good: we are on the same page and like athletic horses with blood, who naturally attract themselves when jumping. Besides jumping qualities, we pay attention to conformation, and especially the foundation. I do the same in my own breeding, because it's all about functionality. A well-built horse generally jumps with better body use, and with a correct foundation they can last longer in the sport. So selecting for correctness is very valuable in the context of sustainability.’

Connection with the sport
All the experience Bart has gained in assessing mares serves him well in his new role. He has also travelled many miles, literally and figuratively, as a judge in America. His involvement with the American branch of KWPN earned Bart the title of 'KWPN-NA Member of the Year' in 2021. "I partially took over that role from Jacques Verkerk, who at one point no longer had time to do the full tour in America. Since 2008, I have been going to America every year, and it's fascinating to see how breeding is developing there.

Some breeders are very consciously involved in breeding, but they are limited in their possibilities. Among other reasons, because they can only use frozen semen, due to the large distances and limited number of available stallions. The conditions there are much less ideal than in the Netherlands, which presents opportunities for us as Dutch breeders. Because almost all American riders shop in Europe, and I don't see that changing soon. This ensures that the demand for well-trained, high-quality showjumpers remains high.

Huge investment
Most breeders don't have their own rider and don't have the means to train the horses for an extended period, so selling as foals is the most obvious choice. It's a huge investment to have horses compete, especially when international competitions come into play. Because you certainly don't earn back the costs at those 1* and 2* competitions," Bart acknowledges. "It would be best if breeders could collaborate more with riders, then you stay connected to the sport. We are fortunate that Pytrick can train some young horses well, and we also have Leonie Sijtsma employed to ride horses for us. But even we can't have everything ridden, so we sometimes opt for the EPTM, which is a good option.

Then you also get insight into the qualities of your mare, which you can then use moving forward. Additionally, here in Friesland, we have the NSJO, the Northern Young Showjumping Horse Training. That's an accessible competition for four- and five-year-old showjumpers without competition experience, who are then guided several times by Nella Bijlsma. Not only do the horses learn a lot, but breeders can also learn a lot from it. And it contributes to the solid basic training of the horse. It's a great initiative by the breeding association here to bring together sport and breeding."

As a breeder, Bart aims for the highest possible level. "Of course, we dream of seeing one of our horses at the Olympic Games someday. But that's a very long road, and you depend on many things over which you as a breeder have no control. We try to keep selecting well and consult a lot with the riders. When we have Marriët ride a horse for us, we really ask for her opinion: what are the strengths and weaknesses of a horse, what feeling does the horse give her. With that information, we can then take it into account in breeding. Because the feeling under saddle can always be different from how it looks from the ground. That's also why, for example, the findings of the riders are taken into account in the performance test evaluation. As a judge and as a breeder, I try to select as specifically as possible based on both external and internal characteristics, and reaching the highest level in the sport is the ultimate goal," concludes Bart Henstra.

Text: Jenneke Smit
Photo: Jacob Melissen

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