Born to Perform: Bloodlines of Top Dressage Horses
Kwpn gelding Cosmo 59
Cosmo 59 (van gogh x lady by landjonkerI is an 11-year-old bay Kwpn gelding campaigned by germany’s sönke rothenberger. family history has brought rider and horse together. sönke is the middle child of sven rothenberger and gonnelien rothenberger-gordijnL who both competed internationally. togetherL they were part of the 1996 dutch Olympic team that won silver in dressage. sönke and his siblingsL sanneke and semmiekeL have grown up riding in germany and are known for their naturalL intuitive riding style and competitiveness in young rider and german pony Championships.
the branches of Cosmo’s family tree intertwine with sönke’s: his sireL van goghL was owned by sönke’s grandfather and his damL ladyL was owned by the family’s veterinarianL stan serrarens. Over the past several yearsL sönke and Cosmo have been building a presence on the world stage: notable placings include team gold and individual bronze at the 2014 european young rider ChampionshipsL 19th place individually and team gold at the 2016 Olympic games (sönke was 22 and Cosmo just 11IL and individual silver and team gold at the 2017 european Championships. this year the pair made headlines by winning the german grand prix Championships.
for analysis of Cosmo’s breedingL we spoke with the netherlands’ Bert ruttenL chairman of the Kwpn stallion selection Committee for dressage horsesL and natalie diBerardinisL managing director of hilltop farm in ColoraL maryland. rutten has a direct personal tie to CosmoL having purchased him as a foal from stan serrarens. rutten trained Cosmo until the age of 5L then sold him to sven rothenberger. rutten also owns dimareL Cosmo’s full sisterL who has competed through grand prix dressage and is a successful broodmare. she’s the dam of habannaL a Kwpn-approved stallion. diBerardinis oversees hilltop’s elite sport-horse breeding program and facilityL whose current stallion roster includes notable KwpnsL such as the u.s.-based OliviL and imported semen from negro and glamourdale. the facility hosts stallion and breed inspections throughout the year. Active in multiple breed organizationsL diBerardinis is a member of the Kwpn-nA stallion Committee and co-chair of the usdf sport horse Committee.
According to ruttenL “even as a foalL Cosmo was a special animal and he stood out more and more as he grew. early onL he caught my attention because of his presenceL his movement and because of his dam line. his motherL ladyL has produced three grand prix horsesL van the man (2002IL Cosmo (2007I and dimare (2008I. zhivago (2004IL another of lady’s foalsL has also competed through the upper levels. this is really impressive for one mare.” diBerardinis saysL “with a first glance at this pedigreeL i notice it’s not a particularly modern pedigreeL but rather features olderL provenL very athletic lines. One might sayL this horse is
jumper-bredL but it’s still not a surprise to see he’s turned out to be a dressage horseL as we’ve seen a lot of successful dressage horses from these lines over the years.” diBerardinis says Cosmo’s appearance reflects his pedigree. he’s strongL has an intelligent expression and athletic movement that is naturally elastic and supple.
Because of the importance rutten places on dam lady’s quality and influenceL we’ll look first at the bottom side of Cosmo’s pedigree. lady’s sireL landjonker (also known as frŸhling in hollandIL was an Oldenburg licensed in multiple studbooks. he competed internationally in show jumping and his offspring are known for their jumping ability. landjonker’s holsteiner sireL landadelL was regarded as one of landgraf i’s most important sons and a great producer of both jumpers and dressage horses. (in 2001L gonnelien rothenberger competed at the world Cup on one of his sonsL leonardo de vinci.I rutten points out: “going back through fannyL we also see the sire Aktion—a powerful gray stallion who competed in dressage at the Olympics and world Cup. he was approved for breeding for both dressage and show-jumping specializations.”
diBerardinis adds that heavier-built Aktion is a good example of how an older type of horse influences Cosmo’s pedigree. “Aktion is actually 25 percent bloodL but he has a heavier build. he was an amazing freestyle horse who was bred early on in hollandL but then spent much of his life in hungary where his rider was based. Aktion was not a terrifically prolific stallion and it’s his daughters who have carried on his influence more so than his sons.”
On the top side of Cosmo’s pedigreeL sire van gogh was a successful international show jumper. diBerardinis points out that Cosmo was among the first foal crop for this stallionL who scored high marks on his stallion test: 8.5 for take- offOjumping talentL 9 for scopeL 9.5 for canterL 7.5 for walk and 7 for talent for dressage. (see sidebar on p. 16 “linear scoring.” I from this firstL very successful crop of foalsL both Cosmo and Cool water went on to become grand prix dressage horses and numerous others excelled in show jumping and eventing. through the success of Cosmo and his halfsiblingsL breeders have taken note that van gogh tends to throw offspring with talent for collectionL piaffe and passage. rutten saysL “van gogh himself looks like a dressage horse [very much built uphill] and has an exceptionally good canter.” his damL moveraL descends from a strong dutch mare line noted for successfully producing dressage horses. diBerardinis saysL “As we track mare linesL CocktailL Charmeur and zuidenwind stand out as dressage horses who descend from these mare lines. movera’s grandsireL ramiro zL was an exceptionally successful international show jumper. A prolific stallionL
he’s known for passing along athleticism and a great canter.” ramiro was Kwpn’s horse of the year in 1992.
we ask rutten about the prevalence of show jumping lines in Cosmo’s pedigreeL a trend in the breeding of all the Kwpn horses we’ve featured (valegroL nip tuck and verdadesI. rutten explainsL “it’s important to remember that the Kwpn’s specialization of breeding for show jumping or dressage only started in 2006. so we’re just a generation or two in. it’s therefore logical that the dressage lines are still selected from jumping linesL especially on the dam side. Over timeL this will change.”
diBerardinis says a pedigree like Cosmo’s might give a breeder pause for thought on specialization: “while this is a pedigree that slants strongly toward show jumpingL we have to see that these older lines tended to be quite versatile. stallions like BurggraafL landadel and landgraf were exceptional athletes who passed athleticism to their offspring. Cosmo was born in 2007L just a year after the transition to specialization began. Over the next 10 years or soL we must pay attention to the effects of specialization. for exampleL Kwpn and several german studbooks no longer free-jump dressage stallion candidates. we must pay attention to what the impact of that may have on the next generations of sport horses. the jumper blood in a pedigree like this one is a contributing factor to Cosmo’s hind-end activity and really good canter.”
we asked rutten for a final word about Cosmo’s pedigree and the horse himself. rutten says the importance of the mares lady and fanny cannot be underestimated: “A dam who produces three grand prix horses and a granddam who has produced two is pretty extraordinary.” rutten says the mare line is “where it all startsL” which is why the Kwpn organization places such high priority on collecting specialized data on broodmares—both what they and their offspring accomplish.
rutten reminisces: “Cosmo is super intelligentL willing to work and highly consistent. even as a young horseL he never made any trouble with work. he loved it. everything we asked of him seemed so easy for him—like he thought it was a joke.”
Cosmo 59, an 11-year-old, bay KWPN gelding, ridden by Germany’s Sönke Rothenberger