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WoSJ Exclusive; Alfonso Romo – the man behind La Silla

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The man behind the La Silla horses; Alfonso Romo. All photos by Jenny Abrahamsson.The La Silla-horses are among the most known in the world of showjumping; who hasn’t heard of Ninja and Casall La Silla – especially after the Europeans this weekend where Ninja La Silla won the gold. Much work, high ambitions and a thought of always getting better lies behind much of the success of the studbook and its horses – and of course Mr. La Silla himself: Alfonso Romo.

Romo has been in the sport for many years, and started riding himself when he was 15 years old. “When I finished school I went on to university to study, and then I started to work later on. It was at this time – when I started to make some money – which I started to buy horses,” Alfonso tells us about how he came into the business. “I have continued my riding since I started in my youth; last year I competed in Falsterbo and Chantilly, but this year it’s been so busy there has been no room for competing,” Romo smiles.

The most famous of them all; European gold winner Ninja La Silla with Rolf.In 1988 Romo met Jan Tops, a meeting that would have a huge impact on Alfonso’s future and the buildup of the La Silla breeding farm in the early 1990s. “I met Jan when I bought some horses from him, and I really liked him. I can thank Jan for what happened in my early years in the sport, and the impact this has had on me and my business. Jan helped me find horses, and many of them were mares that we later have used for breeding,” Romo explains. “When we later on went our separate ways, it was a happy split up. Jan and I found out we had different objectives in life; Jan was very successful in Holland, and I tried to build up my own culture. I like to have the necessary independence and went my own ways,” the Mexican says.

For Romo it was important to go into the horse breeding industry with a 100 percent commitment; “I love these animals, and that’s why I need to do breeding at its best. I wanted to buy the best mares in the sport and use them for breeding. I did exactly that when I bough Dollar Girl [Nick Skelton’s former ride] when she was 15 years old, and a few people thought that was quite crazy – but she has later produced some excellent offspring,” Alfonso tells us. “Later we bought a lot of good and proven broodmares as well; we believe that the mares are of extreme importance to breed well,” he continues.

“We have been trying to build the La Silla breeding farm and studbook based on what’s inside of the horses; in their minds and thoughts. That’s what I want to be the trademark of La Silla; it’s the bones carrying us. I hope the La Silla progeny today prove that we have succeeded with this idea,” Romo says. “We simply believe that quality is inherited,” he smiles.

Casall La Silla after his GCT win in Hamburg.The La Silla stud has grown into a big business over the years; “In Mexico we breed about 60-70 horses every year, and we have about 45 horses in training there right now. Ninety percent of the La Silla horses are based in Mexico.  We also keep about ten horses in Hamburg at Rolf’s yard and also eleven in France. We have about four to five horses in Sweden as well, most with Maria Gretzer. Ninja’s brother is one of the horses we have in Sweden,” Alfonso tells us. “Theo Molenaers has been invaluable with the young horses in Belgium as well as coaching the riders,” Romo continues.

“We have about 30-35 people working at the farm. There is also a veterinary clinic there as well, where we do the inseminations – but also surgery. It’s a lot of advanced technology involved in our clinic; 90 percent of the foals that are born are embryo transfers and our breeding mares therefore breed an average 2.7 foals a year,” Alfonso lets us know.  “Our recipient mares are big mares with good milk productions. That’s the most important thing. The foals are already quite independent when they are three months old, so it’s not the mind or temper of the recipient mares we look to firstly.”

The La Silla horses that are the most well known today are the ones based with Swedish rider Rolf-Göran Bengtsson. How did Alfonso choose Rolf to ride his horses? “I met Rolf when he worked for Jan, and when he left I said welcome,” Alfonso smiles. “At La Silla we want to be good ambassadors for the sport, and we want good people to represent us. And I’m very happy with Rolf, as he is just such a person that we would like to be associated with,” Romo continues.

Quintero La Silla in action.“La Silla is a business, and for the sake of our breeding it’s important that we are in the spotlight. We need Rolf to do a bit of that job for us; to win and to be visible with the La Silla horses – its’ good commercially. We are starting to knock on the door now, and we have a reputation to be honest,” Romo smiles. “In order for us to be a responsible business we need profitable horses,” he continues.

Alfonso is very proud of all his top horses; “I have no favorite amongst my horses; I love them all! But some horses create some really good memories for you; like when Ninja won the individual silver in Hong Kong.” Another fantastic memory must have been created in Madrid this weekend as well, with the European gold for Ninja! But although he claims to have no favorites Romo must have a small weakness for Carusso LS La Silla – a stallion by Montebello La Silla x Joost born on the LS farm in Mexico; “Carusso is a very good stallion, and his oldest offsprings are now three years old. They are all very pretty, but Carusso himself is more masculine than pretty – like what I would like my daughters to marry,” Alfonso laughs. “Carusso is approved in France and Mexico.”

“Other horses you are probably familiar with include HH Rebozo – previously known as Rebozo LS La Silla (Tláloc M x Ramiro Z) – fourth in FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky 2010 under Rodrigo Pessoa’s intelligent ride, and also Santa Catarina LS (Santo Domingo La Silla x Cor de la Bryere) also born at La Silla. She is a granddaughter of Ratina Z, a top quality young mare currently ridden by Alberto Michán,” Romo lets us know.

Casall La Silla (Carentino x Lavall I) is one of the most known horses flagging the stud’s name, but was not bred at the La Silla stud – he’s a Holsteiner bred in Germany. Why did Alfonso choose a horse from outside his own stud to be its ambassador? “With Casall it was a question about opening up for variation in our own breeding program. I saw Casall as a five year old, and was approached by the Holsteiner Verband which suggested that we could do something together,” Romo explains. “I was of course interested, and it went on from there.”

Rolf with Carusso LS La Silla. Ninja La Silla (Guidam x Lys de Darmen) is another – and maybe the most famous – member of the La Silla family, and Romo has a few foals from Ninja’s mother that one day might be just as good as their brother. Ninja is now sixteen and a grown up man. “We’ll see what happens to Ninja; if he’s well taken care of and we reduce his number of shows he can hopefully continue to keep going. It’s day by day with him, but there are no plans to retire Ninja yet,” Alfonso says.

There is an ongoing dialog between Alfonso and Rolf when it comes to the horses; “Rolf comes to me three or four times every year, and we decide together on which horses that is going to Rolf. We talk a lot, it’s important to me with communication.”

Alfonso Romo is an extremely likeable man, he always smiles, he greets everybody he knows while he walks around the showground and he is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It’s not hard to get smitten by his philosophy; “We try to show that we can breed, train and at the same time have respect for the horses. We would like to be relied on. There are many good breeders and riders about; but at La Silla we have the whole culture,” Romo smiles before he sets of to meet up with Rolf.

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