Mark Evans: "We made our dream come true"

"We made our dream come true"

Mark Evans

Castell Sporthorses is an up-and-coming family owned and run stud, based in the heart of Mid Wales. It was set up in 2006 by Mark Evans (58) and Amanda Forster, a couple with combined experience in show-jumping, eventing and breeding. The Stud is founded on a lifelong ambition to breed and produce top quality horses destined for success in show-jumping. AES is not just the registering studbook, but acts like a partner to provide the necessary quality here.

Mark, you started up in 2006 and have over one hundredth horses now. It went fast!
When I started in 2006 I bought some mares from Kees Van Den Oetelaar and I went to auctions to get some foals to start the breeding program with. The first foal I had was already special when you see her pedigree: Berlin x Heartbreaker x Concorde. Right now she is one of my better breeding mares, giving me excellent foals. That’s what I like about breeding.

What’s the goal?
I want to breed the best show jumpers as we can. My wife Amanda Foster is a good rider. She’s producing the horses. That does fit perfectly into it, isn’t it?

How did you get into breeding?
I was already used to work with animals before. I was a sheep and cattle farmer before, but I was set up with all the work. When I met my new partner we decided to give it a try with horses. She was a good rider and I adored horses. So we sold all the animals and bought horses.

Amanda showed you the way?
No, the passion was always there. I could ride before I could walk. My parents always had horses at the farm to work on the field. Also my children used to ride ponies. When my daughter was good enough to jump on a big horse, I looked for a better quality one in Holland, my first purchase across the sea. That time I met Kees Van Den Oetelaar. When I met Amanda I realized there was a future for me as a professional horse breeder. Kees has always helped me to find good quality horses. He’s a very good horseman. I’ve always trusted his word and that has helped me a lot.

You were set up with the work at the farm, but it’s going to be no less now with a hundredth horses, I guess?
There’s no less work indeed, but at least  I’m enjoying what I do now. I’m getting a bit older. You have to like the work to continue at my age. So that’s the case now.

You have no other job, so the breeding is supposed to be profitable. Is that reasonable?
As a horse breeder your only income is selling horses. We’re not selling the young ones. We really focus on bringing them along and keeping the best ones. Of that category, we’d like to sell one horse every year very expensive, so we can continue doing the same thing. It means indeed that at the moment it’s very tough. We’re just newcomers, the horses are too young, and then there is the recession all over Europe. People expect good quality horses for little money. Only when you keep a horse until it has the age and the experience for the big work, the prices have grown. We’ve had a stallion called Zanzibar (Oklund) Ellen Whitaker is riding at the moment. We bought him from Kees as a two-year-old. We sold him as a seven-year-old to an Arabian owner and now he’s proving himself in the international sport. That’s how we like it of course.

Zanzibar, like most of your horses, was KWPN registered. Why are you changing?
Because I bought many KWPN horses in Holland, I continued registering there. I must say KWPN is very well organized. They do everyting in-depth, but they are slow and expensive. AES is also developing and doing the job very well. So I see no reason why I wouldn’t go there. Times are hard enough so we have to mind the money a bit more. Also when you apply a passport with AES, you will get it back within two weeks. When the foal is in the field, it has a paper. That’s important for a well structured breeding company like ours.

Also when you sell a foal it is useful when it has a passport.
Indeed, nevertheless we try to not sell our foals. We try to see what they really can in jumping. We start looking when they are two years old and we try to keep all the good ones, as I said. It’s a lot of hard work with fifty foals a year, and if I didn’t have a top rider as my wife, then I would sell them all as foals. But the work we do now gives me great satisfaction.

Fifty foals a year that’s impressive. You’re a big client for the stallion owners!
We have 35 up to 40 foals a year by foreign stallions, most from Holland. Every mare has a few possibilities. First plan always is to use chilled semen we buy mostly from Kees Van den Oetelaar or Team Nijhof. We try to use the best young stallions with the strongest motherliness. I’m confident in what they’re doing. If that first option doesn’t work out, we use fresh semen from England or from our own stallions.

If you have fifty foals a year, you must have quite some room and helping hands over there in Wales?
We have 400 acres, so that’s quite some. Wales is lovely with the hills and the streams in the landscape. It is a super region to keep horses and I have room enough. The two-year-olds have a hundredth acres for themselves. They have streams, ditches and edges. They really grow up in a natural way and they’ve seen a lot. Nothing really frightens them anymore when you put a saddle on. I have somebody working for me who’s breaking in the horses. I also have somebody next to Amanda riding the horses. In fact I try to not having too many people working for me, because I think you work more efficient with a smaller group of people. We do a little bit and we leave a little bit, you understand?

So you do a lot of work yourself?
I see all foals being born in the summer. That’s my responsibility. I really see the joy of that part of the work. How beautiful is that seeing foals coming on earth. I don’t use camera’s or anything else. I stay with the mare, for every single foals being born. You understand at the end of the foaling season I’m totally dead.

Did your farm need extreme makeover when you switched over from sheep and cattle to horses?
Not really in fact. Just the fronts of the stables had to be changed for horses. One big  stable we divided in 25 stables. I didn’t have to worry about the place, because we used to have 3.000 sheep and 200 cows before. I bred cattle for the show ring, such as the Belgian blues.

When do you expect the first results of your horse breeding activity will be seen?
Our dream really is to breed top foals that become show jumpers for the best riders of the world. Zanzibar V is the nicest reference so far, but we didn’t breed that one ourselves. The six-year-old stallion Chagall (Vleut) is probably going to be the next super horse. He’s a seven-year-old AES Licensed stallion, also born in Holland.

You bought some and you bred some. When you overlook the last eight years, did you make starters mistakes?
Yeah, the mistake mostly done by a breeder is using the wrong mares. Also I made some stupid decisions of course, but sometimes you cannot really predict. You only see how good or how bad the mare is, when the foals get older and seem to be not good enough. Luckily I didn’t make too many faults. Breeding is my life. I’m totally obsessed about it. I read books about it, I analyze bloodlines and I follow the sport. You always have got to learn by listening people and doing research.  Only then you get to know what a good horse is like.

Can you compare breeding horses to breeding sheep and cattle?
Yes, at some point you can. You just have to feel what a good animal is. It’s a feeling! Furthermore with horses I’d like to have 45 up to 50 percent thoroughbred for a jumper. Today the rings get smaller and the courses are more technical. In my breeding philosophy I really take that into account. I like the quick ones. Most of the horses will have this quality, so maybe my horses are all quite the same type, just like it was before with the sheep and cattle. If horses are not satisfying enough, I sell. I really know what I want in a horse. All the time I keep on judging the horses. I also want to have enough size in my horses. Mares that breed to small, will be sold. Recently I sold one mare because I thought she was too stiff. These days you need supple horses. Our business is young, so our stock of horses is still in progress. We’re still designing the pattern.

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