summerhill grazing michael nefdtLate afternoon, grazing the Drakensberg foothills
(Michael Nefdt)

We’re constantly asked how we managed to bring the Breeders Championship across the Drakensberg for the first time, when it had been the preserve of our colleagues primarily in the Western and Eastern Cape for more than 100 years. Indeed, it had been monopolized by just five families in all that time, and so now, as we approach our fourth consecutive title, the question is asked all the more frequently.

It’s also “brochure” time at Summerhill, and enormous energy is concentrated at this time of year on the production of the annual Summerhill Sires booklet, which releases excerpts every year on what we did to get to the top, when we lacked the one ingredient that everyone else appeared to have in abundance: money.

There were several pillars on which our Championships were built including the way we farmed; our nutrition; the raising of skills levels; meticulous attention to detail; the lessons we learned from our Ready To Run horses about them, their sires and dams, our technological advances; and as important as any, improving fertility and the “toughness” of our horses.

In order to compete, you have to have a certain critical mass as well as the quality to do so. It’s all very well cramming in the broodmares to up the numbers, but if you don’t match that by very strict control of the health and safety issues, you’ll soon have a “sick” depleted environment.

And then you need to ensure you get to the product and raise successfully the maximum number of youngsters to give you the numbers. Getting there means intricate attention to your matings (producing a sound, correct athlete is critical) making sure your mares are in perfect health, that the pregnancy proceeds without compromise, and that the foal is given every chance to achieve its genetic potential. And the proof is then in the eating. The most recent statistics from the Sporting Post reveal that on average, the Summerhill horses have run 7 x’s each this season (against an average nationally of around 5,5 x’s) so our runners have a 30% additional opportunity to earn, as well as providing their owners with that much more entertainment.

This comes from all the factors we’ve already mentioned, as well as better immune systems and healthier nutrition, both a compliment to our bio-farming and organic programmes in each of these spheres, where we’ve been fortunate to have had Vuma Feeds to partner us in the growth and development of these strategies.