Born in Lund, KIRSTEN RAUSING has become a stalwart of British breeding. She tells us about her childhood in Sweden, and how her passion for racing developed…
On growing up in Sweden
I was born in Lund, an academic town that’s dominated by its university. The university, indeed, is the oldest in Scandinavia, and I always think of Lund as the ‘Cambridge of Scandinavia’ because, like Cambridge, it’s so dominated by academia. That was particularly true when I was young. In those days, there were just 60,000 inhabitants, of which half were involved with the university in some way (either as teachers or students). Obviously, the town has grown a whole lot today, and it’s now a near connurbation with neighbouring Malmö.
I was interested in animal husbandry from a young age and, as a schoolgirl, I was taught by my grandfather about dairy cattle and their pedigree. He was a successful, if unorthodox, breeder of cattle and gundogs. When I was still at school, he purchased two thoroughbred fillies straight off the track. Neither of them had won (one was unraced, the other had tried 53 times without victory). But, in my early teens at the time, it was a good place for me to start, and it means I’ve worked with pedigrees from the very start of my time with horses. That, I think, is contrary to most people’s arrival to the industry. You start, usually, with the practical side of things, then move back to the theoretical side of things.
On moving to the UK
I came here in a roundabout fashion, by way of Ireland. I’d gained some experience at Scandinavia’s then largest stud, just outside Lund, and had spent holidays working with yearlings in France. I emigrated to Ireland in the mid 1970s, rising through the ranks until, eventually, I was managing entire farms. I arrived in Newmarket at the end of 1980, as I’d been looking for a stud farm for quite a while, but was reluctant to leave friends in Ireland. Land prices in Ireland, however, were rising exponentially, while in England they were sliding.
I found Lanwades which, back then, was a run down 150 acres. I couldn’t afford it, even in that state. But, fortunately for me, the owner wanted to retain the main house, and he asked if I’d take on the farm without it. That made it possible for me to approach the bank. They thought it was very amusing: a young girl borrowing money to purchase a stud farm. They asked if I had a business plan… which, as anyone with an understanding of breeding will know, is almost impossible. They then asked me if I had any collateral, and I told them I brought two mares over from Ireland. Well, I was pulled up short on that one. “Young lady,” they told me. “We’re in Britain now, not Ireland, and here we never accept livestock as collateral. When you look at livestock, you’re soon looking at deadstock.” Anyway, they agreed to lend me the money, with the farm as collateral. And, as it turned out, the mares were incredibly successful, and I have them to thank for much of the success that followed.
On Alpinista’s success
She has won ten of her fifteen starts, nine of which were group races. What’s more, she’s undefeated in her last eight starts, and she’s undeniably the world’s best female. Here at Lanwades, we still have her dam, Alwilda, and her two sisters (they’re among Alborada’s many descendants). Alpinista’s trainer, Sir Mark Prescott, is playing to the gallery when he says he was reluctant to be at Longchamp for her Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe success. Neither Sir Mark nor I, though, attended her three Group One wins in Germany, just as we didn’t for her the wins of her granddam, Albanova. The important thing, we both feel, is the actual achievement. On the day of the race, whether we’re there or not is of little importance.
On that, one must bear in mind what a phenomenal team effort it is to get a horse to success. For a breeder, it’s a five-year journey to their three-year-old season. You decide to mate a mare with your chosen stallion, then you have a gestation period of eleven months, a foal year, a yearling year, and a two-year-old year. By the end of the horse’s 3-year-old year, you (the breeder) will know whether you’ve got it right. Thus, the five-year period since setting out to breed a good performer. It’s a long time and, of course, Alpinista is now a five-year-old. She was good from the start, though, with victories in her two, three and four-year-old seasons.
On maintaining Swedish links
I’ve been away from Sweden for a long time, but I maintain family ties there. Lighted candles and ginger biscuits remind me of my childhood in the winter. But there are many things about life in Sweden that elude and evade me now. I find new slang expressions difficult to deal with, along with some very strong English words that are in day-to-day use among Swedes. I don’t think Swedish speakers understand how offensive those words are, and it does surprise me how the Swedish language has developed in that direction. I don’t want to be seen as backward-looking, but when I was learning English, we learnt grammar, as well as what life in England was like… food, the Underground and so on. Certainly, we never heard the words that now inundate Swedish. I find their use a sign of intellectual poverty.
My social visits to Sweden are, sadly, few and far between. But I keep myself abreast of its society, regularly reading new Swedish literature. Unfortunately, the Swedish postal system seems to have imploded, though, so my subscriptions to magazines rarely arrive anymore!
KIRSTEN RAUSING runs Lanwades Stud near Newmarket.
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This interview was also conducted for EBN.