A successful company. The beautiful breeding farm “Fonte Abeti“. A family that supports him. And a passion that involves him at 360 degrees. Dressage.it is pleased to talk to Riccardo Volpi.
Riccardo, can you tell us where your passion for horses originated?
«I was born into a family that has been breeding horses and cattle for generations. From an early age my father took me to see the horses on the farm and naturally the passion grew because my father was also very passionate. He also had racehorses and every Sunday he would attach the horse to the carriage and take my brother and me for a drive. At the age of 16, he entrusted my brother and I, with the management of a small summer riding school where we took tourists for rides. And this is where our whole business started. It was the early 1980s. There were no riding shops like there are today, so there was a need for riding equipment. We opened a small shop to fulfill the needs of the local customers. When I was 18, I enrolled in university, in veterinary school, again to learn more about horses. I attended for five years, giving 36 exams… But then work took a good turn: it absorbed a lot of our time and with my wife Luisa we opened Umbria Equitazione. That was in 1991».
What was your first contact with the world of dressage and why were you attracted to this discipline?
«I have always ridden horses without having a real school. I was self-taught. Until, at the age of about 40, I went to Spain for a fair. There I assisted a live dressage competition and realized that I knew nothing about horses and training. As soon as I returned home with my Spanish horse, I went for a lesson with a dressage instructor. Practically an unknown world opened up to me that fascinated me from the very first moment and from there I started buying horses, mainly abroad. Like many others, I got ripped off several times, until I decided to start breeding on my own, to avoid buying horses I knew nothing about. Thanks to friends in Holland I was lucky enough to be able to buy some very important mares from the Spechenbrik breeding farm. It was a very important stud farm on the dressage scene in Europe because, in its long history, it had produced no less than 21 approved stallions and one of them, Rubels, had been World Young Horse Champion three years in a row. The owner of this stud farm had recently died and the heirs were selling all the horses. I bought six very good pregnant mares, including Rubels’ mother. That was the beginning of my horse breeding: all the female offcomes of these mares were dedicated to breeding. It was certainly fortunate to find that genetic heritage without which I would not have been able to produce such high-quality horses so quickly».
What can you tell us about ‘the job’ of breeding horses – especially dressage horses – in Italy today?
«Today, breeding in Italy is certainly not easy but, under certain aspects, there are better conditions than in northern Europe. Let me explain… Certainly being in northern Europe is better for having a daily comparison as with other breeders and as in competitions. In Italy, we lack international level competitions, but more than else everything around breeding scene: foal/mare shows, clinics and auctions to market our horses… Furthermore, the cost of running a stud farm in Italy is very high. Having said that, I am convinced that at least in our area, in central Italy, there are better conditions for raising young colts. We have about 400 hectares of green land at our disposal, which we dedicate as pastures to the young-stock with the concept of crop rotation. Our country side is not flat like in northern Europe, but ranges from hills up to 1000 meters above sea level. Here our horses acquire a natural psycho-physical balance, unequalled, not even remotely comparable to growing up in small spaces, enclosed stalls or on flat land. Clearly all this is much more expensive».
What are the principles of the breeding philosophy of Fonte Abeti based and what type of horse does it aim for in its selections?
«After several years and also after several mistakes, I realized that horses must not only be beautiful but also strong and easy to ride. About this topic I could ride a book, because in order to obtain a beautiful, strong horse with good rideability, you cannot leave anything to chance. One must study the genetic lines of both, maternal line and the stallions‘ line, finding the right crossings. Only the experience in the field can give the requested results. I regularly go to Germany, Holland and Denmark to see broodmares, stallions and foals, and I have become friends with the best foreign breeders with whom I now compare myself on an equal footing. At the same time, the management of horses is crucial. From the mares in gestation, to the breaking in of the youngsters, nothing is left to chance. Veterinarians, farriers, nutritionist, ethologist are just some of the figures, who follow the foals on a daily basis. Not to mention the stable staff, who follow the horses with enormous passion and professionalism. The other very important components are nutrition and space to move in liberty. At the stud farm, we only use mountain hay, produced in our own fields and we use feeding produced for us according to our own recipe made by our nutritionist. As already mentioned, we have large hilly areas where the horses can move freely. These are some of the reasons why a dressage horse breeding farm in Italy manages to sell its products in Germany, Holland and the United States as well as in Italy».
How does product research work for your brands?
«The company Amahorse contains our brands and brands exclusively presented by us in Italy. Our most important brands are Acavallo, Equestro and Franceschini Boots. These products are exported all over the world. We work with customers in over 60 countries. We have managed, in 30 years of activity, to make ourselves known and appreciated for our quality and knowledge. All the products we put on the market are studied and tested by our professionals in the stables. The Acavallo and Franceschini Boots brands are known for a high level of material quality and their technical features. They have been chosen by the best riders in all disciplines. In dressage, we sponsor rider such as Cathrine Doufur, Patric Kittel, Daniel Pinto, Charlotte Dujardin, Eva Muller, Severo Jurado, Valentina Truppa and many others with whom we collaborate regularly to create new products that meet the needs of professionals and amateurs alike. Equestro is a very fresh youth and technical clothing brand that is giving us enormous satisfaction. It aims at an under-25 audience with the peculiarity of being technical and innovative, but at the same time also modern and wearable outside the stable during leisure time».
How is such an absorbing passion as horses experienced in the family?
«In our family, partly for passion and partly for work, life always rotates around horses. My wife Luisa works together with one of my three daughters, Veronica in the company. Together we also manage the agricultural company and the stud farm. This way my family has always had to „suffer the world of horses“. Fortunately, I have an important ally at home. It’s the youngest of my daughters, Vittoria, she has a strong passion and also drags the others to the dressage competitions. At the end of the day, we are horse parents, like many others and sometimes I realise that as a parent, I make mistakes that as a professional I wouldn’t make with the riders who ride my horses. Although, I advise my daughter to ride with fun in mind, I am very competitive, and in the end, fortunately my wife often puts me back on track».
What do you think are the overall margins for improvement in the Italian equestrian world? Do you have your own ideas on how it could be done better? Seen through the eyes of a breeder, what is the thing that is most lacking in Italy? And what on the other side are your satisfactions?
«As I said, Italy definitely lacks daily confrontation with breeders and riders. We lack important competitions to help our horse-rider combinations grow, but above all, we lack programming. For years there have been no reference figures who can bring a growth project. All we should do, is copy other nations that have been successful. Nations such as Spain, France and Portugal that a few years ago were further behind us and have now outclassed us. These federations have made long-term plans, relying on foreign professionals who are not easily influenced. Without a serious and honest project, we will unfortunately not be able to get out of the quicksand we are in. Our athletes both at youth level, except for a few rare cases, and at senior level, are unable to break out of the stalemate they have entered. Moreover, the „horse-fleet“ is very old and of mediocre quality compared to the foreign level, which is growing exponentially. I realize that mine is a very critical view, but I want to be a spur to those who can and must do something for this wonderful sport».
Would you like to tell us about your dream as a breeder?
«Like everyone I have dreams, but I don’t like to talk about them until they come true. Above all, I have several projects both in the company and on the stud farm, that I work on every day. With the more than 100 employees of my companies, we work on different projects and this gives us important stimuli to improve and grow equestrian sport».