The pride of showing any animal is a feeling that resonates with many farmers and for equestrian couple, Jonathan Batt and Claire Parsons, it is what fuels their ambition to produce the best possible horses. Alex Robinson finds out more.
Nothing can compare to the electric atmosphere of the main ring on the Wednesday afternoon at the Royal Welsh Show.
Those are the words of Welsh cob breeder Jonathan Batt, who has graced the championship crowning at the show more than once.
Settled in the Welsh market town of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Jonathan and his fiancée, Claire Parsons, run 35 horses at their 36-hectare (90-acre) site at Garth Farm.
Held on the penultimate day of judging, the George Prince of Wales Cup is given to the champion Welsh Cob (Section D) in show and is considered the ‘one to win’ among breeders across the country.
In 2011, the dream became a reality for Jonathan of the Abergavenny Stud, when he claimed victory with the 11-year-old homebred mare Abergavenny Morning Queen, who also went on to win the Tom and Sprightly Perpetual Cup for the overall supreme Welsh in show in the same year.
Jonathan and Claire are the second generation of breeders to run Abergavenny Stud, carrying on the work of Jonathan’s parents, John and Beverley, who founded the stud in the early 1980s and are still active in the upkeep of the horses.
The family also has a manufacturing business. Synergy Plastics, which was started by John 20 years ago, is based in Newport where Jonathan is involved full-time.
Jonathan says: “As the stud gradually grew, so did my interest in the cobs. Showing and breeding has always been a family thing, and my parents gave the stud a fantastic foundation. It is a team effort and nothing would be possible without everyone’s complete dedication.”
The three-year-old stallion Pennal Welsh Comet.
Welsh C and D mares at Garth Farm.
While a firm believer in good turnout and a polished showring performance, Jonathan is adamant the success starts at home with stringent breeding policies.
“We’ve followed a strict breeding programme for 30-plus years, and can now proudly say the majority of the mares are Abergavenny breeding. When selecting stock, I always analyse the dam line and I am conscious of ensuring traditional, quality, bloodlines are maintained.”
When asked what he looks for in cob, Jonathan says there is a lot of variation within the breed.
“I like them to be traditional, have movement and be very ‘Welsh’. But on the day, a red rosette can be the difference between a touch of extra presence and sparkle, which I like my Welsh ponies and cobs to have.”
A total of 25 mares and youngsters are kept at the stud, including a handful Welsh Section C breeding females, Jonathan’s personal addition to the stud. “I was given a Welsh Section C mare for my 18th birthday by my parents and have maintained the breed alongside the cobs,” he adds.
There are three main resident stallions, the most prolific being 2002-born Trevallion Picasso, who has been awarded the Welsh Pony and Cob Society performance sire award on three separate occasions.
“We bought Picasso as a yearling direct from his breeder, and he has been an incredible sire,” Jonathan adds. “Running alongside him is three-year-old Pennal Welsh Comet and four-year-old Gwynfaes Amlawdd Wledig, a son of the renowned sire Gwynfaes Culhwch.
“We like to use outside stallions, if we think there is one which will complement a mare and further deepen the depth of breeding. It gives us an outcross of fresh blood.”
Mares are covered with a select stallion between March and June, with the aim of producing up to 20 foals a year, in time for the October cob sales at the Royal Welsh Showground. In 2008, the Batts received a bid of £12,000 for the filly foal Abergavenny Princess Yasmin, smashing Welsh foal records.
“The sales are another way of showcasing our best stock to the industry,” he adds. “Even though we sell a lot of youngsters privately, the sale enables us to sell homebred stock to some of the biggest studs in the world.”
Abergavenny Morning Queen taking the George Prince of Wales cup at the Royal Welsh in 2011.
Showing is considered an important, yet enjoyable, part of the whole process.
“There is nothing more rewarding than choosing a combination of a stallion and mare and watching the progeny go on and win championships,” he says.
Competing since he was 10, Jonathan and the team have clinched titles at some of the biggest shows in calendar. In 2006, the stud’s broodmare, Pennal Free Dancer, qualified for the Cuddy in-hand supreme final at the Horse of the Year Show, after taking the overall title at Cheshire County Show.
Last season was a scorcher for the Batts. Yearling filly Abergavenny Fashion claimed the overall supreme championship at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, and also standing second at both the Royal Welsh and Glanusk Stallion Show.
Although they are a regular sight on the national show circuit, the family also makes an effort to attend local shows and are heavily involved in the judging scene. The Royal Welsh Show remains close to the heart of the family, who had their first major win with Abergavenny Sally in 2003, after winning the yearling filly class.
After a succession of triumphs at the show, it was the turn of Morning Queen, who had her first Royal Welsh win in 2007, when she won the Junior Brood mare class, reserve female champion and took reserve for the Prince of Wales Cup.
“To be awarded with the title with her in 2011, after taking reserve a few years’ prior, was a dream come true,” Jonathan says. “The feeling as I walked her down to the ring to the roaring cheers of the crowd was something else. The show has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and that moment will be one I shall never forget.”
Jonathan has also led his Welsh Section C mare Abergavenny Bayleaf the female championship and reserve overall title at the show on two occasions in 2008 and 2014.
This time, a team of four Welsh C and D mares and foals will head to the show. Johnathan says: “We pick out the potential show stock at Christmas time, and begin the preparation.
Selection of show stock is an all-year round job. You’re constantly considering what type of animal the judge will be looking for.
“After foaling, all the youngsters are handled, and we like to get the Royal Welsh team to a warm-up outing.”
Pennal Free Dancer and its 2017 colt foal.
Trevallion Picasso has been awarded the Welsh Pony and Cob Society performance sire award on three separate occasions.
The stud has big hopes for this 2017-born colt.
As well as being responsible for the upkeep of the yard and the daily duties surrounding the pair’s two-year-old daughter Catrin, Claire has also made her mark on the Abergavenny Stud.
With a background in ridden showing, Claire recently made waves with the mare Abergavenny Valmai. Three times HOYS qualifier and a Royal Welsh ridden champion, the Picasso-sired Valmai has had prolific success under saddle, and is now retained at the stud as a broodmare.
“I had always felt she had the potential to succeed under saddle”, says Claire. “It is hard to find a horse which can win in-hand and then make the transition into the ridden classes, but she is top quality.
“Many of Picasso’s foals have gone on to win in ridden classes, including at the big finals such as HOYS and Olympia.
“Having Abergavenny-bred ponies competing successfully under saddle is important, as it opens up a whole new market for them and does not just limit the horses to being breeding stock.”