The Return of Contefino

By April 16, 2013
Anke Magnussen poses with her grey stallion Contefino

Anke Magnussen and Contefino (Photo: Robert Dawson)

Equine sport enthusiasts eagerly follow the results of our Olympic riders and the fate of the U.S. teams, but for at least one member of the Southern California horse community, the 2012 games in London had a different connotation. For Anke Magnussen the event marked a homecoming – the return of Contefino, a 13-year-old stallion whose career trajectory once had Olympics 2012 stamped on it, and is now standing at stud at her Royal Oaks Farm in Thousand Oaks.

She had purchased the horse as an 18-month-old in Germany and brought him home to Hidden Valley to add to her sales and breeding string, supplementing his natural ability with an intelligent training program. She soon found herself with a very valuable animal. As a 4-year-old, he earned the highest scores possible at the American Holsteiner Horse Association’s Stallion Approval – 10s in each of the three jumping phases, a feat that is all but unheard of. When Mandy Porter began riding him the following year it became clear that Contefino’s abilities went beyond strong gaits to go with his fancy pedigree (Contender x Corofino). The offers came in and the horse was, somewhat reluctantly, sold. Back to Germany he went.

“I buy horses mainly to sell them, but there was really something special about this one. He is so smart and sensitive, and he is really lovable too. I cried when we loaded him into the trailer,” Magnussen admits. “I even sent my rider and groom with him to make sure everything would be perfect on the flight.” As a 6-year-old he began competing in Europe, and became known for exceptional ability and being very careful, Magnussen says. “And he always jumped to the top of the standards. If the jump was 1.20m he jumped 1.40m, and he did it effortlessly. He was a real crowd pleaser, too. People would come out to see him.”

Eventually, he was purchased as an 8-year-old by Italy’s Giovanni Bonomelli with a goal of competing at the 2012 Olympics under the Italian flag with international rider Jerry Smith. A soft-tissue injury in 2010 put those plans asunder, and set in motion the events that would bring the stallion back to the patroness who loved him. The horse was laid up, then started again but was reinjured, and that’s when he was retired.
Magnussen, who had been energetically following the horse’s career, in November “got on a plane and flew to Italy and asked Mr. Bonomelli if I could buy him. He had some really good offspring in America, where he was a champion, and I felt we needed a top stallion like that here.”

Bonnamelli, who had several stallions, agreed to sell him. Perhaps he was in no little part moved by the German-born Magnussen’s devotion to the horse, who returned to her barn in April, and now peeks contentedly over his Dutch door of his spacious stall, with acres of pasture on which to frolic. With little prompting, Magnussen launches into a reminiscence of their portentous first meeting.  Heading back to her own hometown of Schleswig-Holstein her intention was to buy a 4-year-old. At a private breeding farm she happened to “accidentally” peek into the indoor arena, where eight youngsters were turned out. “I saw this grey baby cantering so incredibly. I have never seen a canter like that ― very light, like a deer ―and I was like ‘Oh my god, how beautiful!’”

After seeing him at the Holsteiner Stallion Approval, noted West Coast breeder Barbara Ellison, who operates Wild Turkey Farms in Oregon, purchased 50% of the horse. For her repurchase in 2012, Magnussen also brought in a partner, Platinum Capital Management. Contefino’s offspring are already making a mark. Kandi Stewart, who operates Grey Fox Farms with her husband, jumper rider Rusty Stewart, has eight Contefino babies, including her own competition mount, C-Scooter, who she bred along with one other horse when the stallion did his first stint in California. Subsequent to his relocation to Germany, Stewart continued purchasing frozen semen that Magnussen continued to import. “Barbara Ellison did the same. She purchased frozen semen too,” Magnussen said.

Her goal: to produce mares she could breed to her own Selle Francaise stallion, Du Geautau. In addition to stocking her broodmare string, Stewart has two Contefino mares she shows. “I also have one stallion by him, Carbon G1, who is now 6, and I breed him, I don’t show him.” With Scooter, Stewart has had great success in the 1.40m classes. She also saw him named Pacific Coast Horsemen’s Association Horse of the Year as both a 5-year-old and 6-year-old. “He has a great jump ―very scopey, athletic and quick, with a good attitude,” Stewart says of the liver chestnut gelding that has the distinction of being Contefino’s very first offspring.  Beyond that, the stud “moves well and is very pretty. So if you don’t end up with a jumper you end up with a hunter. We have a few hunters by Contefino. He throws a very good type .You can’t go wrong. He’s got a lot of blood and a great heart.”

Event rider Robin Fisher is having a banner year with a Contefino offspring named Caddilac FSZ, who was bred in Europe by DG Bar Ranch’s Willy Arts, and imported to the U.S. for sale.  The duo won the 4-Year-Old classes at Rebecca Farm in July and Galway Downs in May. “He also just won a training level dressage class, with a 74%. He’s a really cool horse,” says Fisher, who is based at the Mill Creek Equestrian Center. “These are basically the results we’re getting after seven months of training. We broke him as a 3 year old. As a 3 year old this horse goes better than most 6 year olds.”

The Contefinos, Fisher adds, “have amazing brains. They come out reasonable and willing. And they have amazing gaits, a great gallop and great balance. I’ve watched videos of Contefino in the grand prix, and he definitely passes on the good stuff.” In a few weeks, she’ll find out if Caddilac wins at the U.S. Eventing Assn. Young Event Horse Finals at Twin Rivers Ranch, CA. One prize he’s already won, was awarded by none other than Fisher: “He’s such an easy-going horse. He’s the world’s biggest sweetheart.”

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