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Independent.ie

Tuesday 19 September 2017

How one woman realised her dream of owning and breeding coloured sport horses

Barbara Keller's ambition to own and breed coloured sport horses is bearing fruit

Edie Murray-Hayden (on left) riding Right to Play's Jack Sparrow and Barbara Keller onboard Unicum enjoying a canter along Curracloe Beach in Co Wexford
Edie Murray-Hayden (on left) riding Right to Play's Jack Sparrow and Barbara Keller onboard Unicum enjoying a canter along Curracloe Beach in Co Wexford
Barbara Keller's unique coloured foal by the top showjumper Cornet Obolensky
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

Only a handful of coloured horses ever graced the international eventing and showjumping circuits, and those that do usually gather the attention of competitors and spectators alike.

One such horse is Right to Play's Jack Sparrow, a flashy Irish-bred piebald now competing at two-star level in eventing with Andrew Hoy across the Irish Sea.

For owner Barbara Keller, little seeds have quickly blossomed into an enterprise which has seen this promising youngster and many others join the growing team of coloured sport horses representing Hasenacher Stud in her native Switzerland.

It was a chance encounter with Kildare-based horse producer Edie Murray-Hayden some years ago that led to Ms Keller realising her dream - to own and breed coloured sport horses.

Barbara Keller's unique coloured foal by the top showjumper Cornet Obolensky
Barbara Keller's unique coloured foal by the top showjumper Cornet Obolensky

"Edie was introduced to me through Sheila and the late Brian Grassick of Newtown Stud," she said. "We just clicked once we started talking horses, and it wasn't long before a conversation about my love for coloureds soon turned into a business proposal."

It is not surprising that Ms Keller has a life-long connection with Ireland having lived at Cleaboy Stud for many years with her late husband, Patrick Clarke.

A well-known owner of thoroughbreds in training here with John Oxx, she is delighted to be able to strengthen that bond with Ireland even further through her new venture into the Irish and European sport horse industry.

"Switzerland has a lot of bay and brown horses, and so I wanted to do something different when I set up the stud," Ms Keller continued. "My sole aim starting out was to source, breed and produce coloured horses for top competition using the best stallions and mares available.

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"Thanks to Edie, this is now possible. To be honest I would not be where I am without her, and also my good friend Dinah Webb-Bowan in the UK who also helps us source the horses."

Today, the spectacular 70-acre Hasenacher Stud outside Zurich is awash with colour of the highest order - from foals, to yearlings, young horses, broodmares and riding horses.

One yearling, in particular, is also guaranteed to make the headlines in time to come.

Believed to be the only coloured progeny on the ground by the top showjumping sire Cornet Obolensky, Cornets Design was secured by Ms Keller at just seven days old.

Bred in the UK by the United Coloured Stud, the colt boasts a fantastic pedigree. His dam Special Design II is by the US-based Oldenburg stallion Sempatico, with this line going back to the late Samber who was said to be the most influential Pinto Warmblood sires of all time.

Samber is also the sire of Ms Keller's favourite riding horse, the 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood Unicum.

Many of the horses get their early education at Edie Murray-Hayden's Gormanstown Stud before being relocated to Switzerland. A successful pinhooker for thoroughbreds, with the likes of Group 1 sire Sir Prancealot and 2016 Cheltenham winner Black Hercules among those who have passed through her hands, event rider Ms Murray-Hayden also has a keen eye for sport horses and first spotted Right to Play's Jack Sparrow as a green five-year-old.

Although she was soon able to trace the breeding of his dam, the Anshan racemare Jessies Muppets, his sire remains a mystery, although this has certainly not stopped the gelding showing much promise in eventing.

Placed in his first few novice classes here, 'Gus' was sent to Andrew Hoy in 2015. Last year, he picked up his first win before moving up to two-star and it is strongly hoped that he will graduate to three-star before this year's end.

Barbara Keller was the first President of the Swiss branch of the international charity Right to Play.

Jessies Muppets was purchased by Ms Keller three years ago and last year she produced a filly by Semper's Spirit.

This was just one of several foals that were born at Hasenacher Stud in 2016. Another mare, Suse, now has a yearling by the thoroughbred Dansant, who won nine races in the colours of Ms Keller and now stands at Bridge Stud in Co Waterford with Noel and Eleni Henley.

Ms Keller is also excited about some of the impending foalings for 2017. "We are thrilled that Suse is now in foal to Chilli Morning, who competed at Rio last year with William Fox-Pitt.

"Meanwhile, Suki II is in foal to the jumping stallion Toulon and Jessies Muppets is in foal to Diarado."

Since opening the stud in 2015, Keller has built up a strong team of riders who will spend the next few years producing some of the young horses for sale, the eldest of which is now four.

"At Hasenacher our ethos is to produce good competition horses for sale and I look forward to what lies ahead," she concluded.

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