If I do something I want to do it properly, says Carly Letch and she certainly lives by this principle.
Many of you will be familiar with Carly’s competition mare, Rihanna, as the pair have been entertaining the crowds at the Royal Show with a dressage demonstration for several years now.
Seven years ago when Carly decided to breed from Rihanna she didn’t just chose any old stallion, she went for the very best.
The Dutch-bred Totilas, the world’s number one dressage horse before Britain’s own Valegro took the crown, who had retired to stud the year before, was chosen. But what is really interesting is the way they went about it, which illustrates the global nature of top class horse breeding these days.
This begins with frozen semen from the best stallions being flown all over the world for artificial insemination but, Carly took it a stage further as she explains: ’Because Rihanna’s such a good competition horse we chose to do the embryo transfer.
’They inseminate Rihanna then flush the embryo out after seven days and put it into a recipient mare who will carry it to full term. It means that you can carry on competing the competition mare and it also means you can have more than one foal a year from the same mare.’
The implanting is done at a stud in the UK into mares which Carly leases. Then the mares come to the island, to her family’s farm in Grenaby, where they carry the foal to term, as in a normal pregnancy. After the foal is born and then weaned at around six months the mares return to the stud.
Carly says: ’Normally we try for two to three foals a year because it’s nice for them to have a friend to play with so I don’t tend to like doing one but we like to keep the numbers down to be able to concentrate on bringing them up properly.’
That is where the real work begins.
These are potentially large, powerful animals, and they need to be well handled from birth in order to learn the good manners that will make them safe to be around when they are fully grown.
There’s a lot to do as she now has 15 equines at various ages and stages at home and two more have been sent to Germany to be sold.
Carly is helped in this by a small but dedicated team: her dad, Paul; mum, Anita, who describes herself as ’general dogsbody’, and fiancÃ© Daniel.
She has never had any sponsorship or grants: her growing business is entirely self-funded, partly with money she makes as a dressage instructor. And she is at a point where she is starting to see a meaningful return on all her hard work as the word gets around to potential buyers around the world.
Carly says: ’I normally sell them once they’re ridden and competing, anywhere from three to seven years old.
’Some of them I keep for myself to compete on.
’The interest comes mainly from Europe and I’ve had a lot of interest from the States.’
This year, however, there will be no more foals and no competing as Carly is anticipating a birth of her own: she and Daniel are expecting the arrival of their first child next month.
After she left Castle Rushen High School, Carly spent time working with British international dressage rider Gareth Hughes on his yard in Oxfordshire, riding everything from youngsters to grand prix horses, so why did she choose to come back to the island to start her breeding business?
She says: ’It is very expensive when you get into having to use studs across and having to take the horses away all the time to compete across.
’But on the other side of that it’s so safe for the horses on the Isle of Man because when you’ve got this quality of horses in the UK people are terrified of the crime side of it - there is a lot of risk in the UK whereas over here it’s much safer for the horses.’
She adds: ’When I worked for Gareth he was based in Chipping Norton which is a lovely area but I just always wanted to come back to the island. I never quite settled over there.’
Now she is home she is certainly settled, with her growing family of equines and her own baby on the way too - and a business with a growing reputation in dressage circles around the world.