Every horse etched in our collective memory has its own story. Everyone knows Diamant de Semilly, but it could just as well have been the opposite. A combination of circumstances brought two identical characters together: Diamant (29) and Eric Levallois (57). They became World Champion and Vice European Champion. Later, as a stud stallion, Diamant became even more popular. Z-Magazine went to visit breeder Eric Levallois and Diamant de Semilly, Dominator Z´s sire.
It´s difficult to make a portrait of Eric Levallois without frequently shifting the attention back to Diamant de Semilly. Eric Levallois´ name will always be associated with his famous stallion, even though he had already been a successful rider before that with Le Tot de Semilly, Diamant´s sire. Levallois and Le Tot became European Champion in 1984. Before that he had taken part in three Junior/Young riders ECs with the mare Graine d’Oria (Rantzou xx). And then came Diamant, who he rode to Team Gold at the WEG in 2002 and a year later to Silver at the EC. He made a name for himself in the sport, and afterwards even more so as a stud stallion.
German breeding adds capacity and a good mouth to French breeding, which in turn brings in a fine head
And to think that he came to you by sheer coincidence? So we might just as well never have known Diamant?
Every extraordinary horse comes with a special story. Diamant´s dam died an hour after he was born. The breeder wanted to put the foal to sleep and called my dad with the straightforward message to ‘either come and pick up the foal or he´ll die’, because he wasn´t prepared to raise the foal with the bottle. So next thing, my dad went to pick up Diamant and he did put in the time needed. So yes, if my father hadn´t adopted Diamant we would never have known him.
You were already known as a rider with Le Tot de Semilly, Diamant´s sire?
My father was above all a trader, my brother the breeder and I was the rider. I have always been interested in breeding but I couldn´t combine it with with my sport career. In 1994 I started my own yard, in Beaufour and brought Diamant de Semilly with me when I arrived. I was married and together with my wife started out in breeding. After our divorce she left with the broodmares and all I had left was Diamant. After the WEG in 2002 I purchased a few fillies in Belgium and started from scratch again.
How did you combine his double career of sport stallion and stud stallion?
Diamant wasn´t properly started in breeding until he was eight. That was my condition. In my opinion standing stud would have put a mental strain on him and I wasn´t prepared to take that risk. We´ll never know, but if we had used him as a working young stud stallion we might never have made it to World Champion? In my opinion standing stud and sport at high levels don´t go together. The fact that Diamant didn´t commence his stud career until he was eight came with the advantage that he had sufficiently progressed to a competition horse and therefore could keep his focus. He could clearly distinguish sport and training from breeding. This can be rather confusing for young stallions. Zangersheide has managed that really well with Dominator Z. He did a lot of stud services when he was young, but little sport. Now that he´s active in the sport they have cut down on his stud career. That is a good approach because the combination doesn´t work.
Do you see Dominator Z as a successor for Diamant de Semilly?
Dominator is a unique stallion I myself use for my breeding too. For me there cannot be a successor for Diamant. Because that would mean the son has to tread in his sire´s footsteps and every Diamant son we know in the sport is unique in itself. Horses like Diamant are a ‘once in a lifetime’ and you should be grateful if you have such a stallion. There is no second Diamant, just like there isn´t a second Dominator or Emerald. And you cannot compare generations. Although I´m quite keen on the combination Diamant/Cassini. I have even presented a 5-year-old at the Z inspection in Deauville (Farenheit de Beaufour: Diamant x Cassini, ed.)
Does that make it easy when you´re on the Jury team?
On the contrary! You definitely don´t want to lose face. I also presented Falcao de Beaufour (Contendro I x Allegreto) but I stand back when my stallions enter the ring.
For your breeding you have a pronounced penchant for the combination of French with German blood?
I´ve always had that. You constantly have to look elsewhere if you want to make progress. And a large extent of the German success in breeding is due to the influence of French blood. Think of Cor de la Bryere. Look at the success of Belgian breeding, which currently is the best in the world. That is because of the mix of French and German blood. German breeding adds capacity and a good mouth to French breeding, which in turn brings in a fine head. But we have to be fair, in order to breed that one star horse you simply need a bit of luck. Breeding is the combination of knowhow, hope and luck. It´s hope that makes us dream and motivates us. The birth is when it all begins. Even if you have combined the best genes, every future topper must be made and there are many different factors involved in that process. Where does the horse end up? Does it get every possible chance? Are its talents developed to the max? It´s this hope which makes it worth your while to invest your time. And then you still need that bit of luck to make everything work out well.
What do you see in a foal when it´s born?
This year I´m expecting some forty foals so that makes it easier to compare. Still, I don´t want to judge them at that stage. You won´t hear me say that a foal is exceptional after just three days. My father could though, he had a knack for that even though he couldn´t explain it himself. Of course there´s always some emotion, a certain feeling you have with a new-born foal. You see their movement and balance, so there are certain indicators. Whatever the impression, I give them a chance to grow up and take a long-term view. Up until the age of three the foals are turned out in the field from mid-April to November. During this time I don´t evaluate but above all, dream. I´ll never claim I´ve bred a super crack. I breed good horses and in the years that follow we´ll see how good they turn out to be. Sweet de Beaufour (Diamant de Semilly x Kannan) who jumped 1.60m under Daniel Deusser, seemed very promising. Yet, at the age of six Sweet was still pretty delicate. He needed time to develop and he got it.
So how difficult is it to inspect young stallions for Studbook Zangersheide?
The tricky thing is that you´re assessing a specific moment. And unfortunately there will always be good horses who don´t perform to their best at that very moment. It´s a balancing act, we have to judge on the day with a future picture in the back of our minds. Luckily there are three of us on the Jury team and both Luc Tilleman and Heinz Meyer are hands-on experts who are very adept at evaluating horses.
Do you also know your horses from the saddle?
Those days are over, I no longer ride. Or rather, just sporadically to keep in shape (smiles). Until two years ago I used to ride Diamant on a day-to-day- basis. Now we have both grown too old for that. I own some fifty or so youngsters that go to competitions and those I know inside out. I´m still from the generation who shared their lives with their horses. For me horses still represent romance and passion. These days it has all become more of a business.
Has Diamant made you a rich man?
He has given me an enriched life so yes, he has made me rich, both as a person and as a rider. And indeed, his financial contribution to the success of Haras de Beaufour is quite substantial. Most of all he is my best friend. I have fitted a camera in his stable and when I´m out I often watch him via my smartphone. We are one, and inseparable. That´s understandable because I have known him for more than half of my life. I cannot bear to think of the day he won´t be with me any longer. Twelve years ago he had three colic operations in just as many weeks. It made me physically sick as well. Diamant spends his days on a sand paddock. For his stable floor he now has a thick rubber air mattress which I had specifically made for him. So he can lie down on a soft surface because a straw bedding is too risky. And since he has had these colic attacks I feed him a personalised homemade soup five times a day. I´ve always done everything in my power to give him the very best.
You yourself have been in a serious traffic accident. The admiration for your character, will power and fighting spirit to recuperate was huge. Was it the same for Diamant when he suffered from colic?
Indeed, I think we have the same mentality and Diamant also mustered up the will power to survive. I can still remember how he got to his feet in the recovery room after surgery, the assistants didn´t even get a chance to help him do it. He did it all on his own, and with such strength that the sutures came loose. Our characters match, that´s right yes. We understand and read each other well and our mutual respect is huge (smiles). You cannot find a finer bond between person and horse.
Haras de Beaufour
In 1994 Eric Levallois started his Haras de Beaufour in the village of Beaufour-Druval in Normandy at 20 km from Deauville, where he settled down in a former Thoroughbred breeding yard. With 150 hectares of pasture this suited him perfectly. Meanwhile Haras de Beaufour has branched out to several locations with the sport horses stationed at one yard and the breeding- and raising branches at other locations. The first famous horse from his breeding was Peanuts de Beaufour (Diamant de Semilly) who jumped 1.60m under Latifa Al Maktoum. Becoming the most famous was Sweet de Beaufour (Diamant de Semilly x Kannan), who we know as Daniel Deusser´s mount.
Eric Levallois´ breeding has produced several 1.50m and 1.60m horses, such as Vinci de Beaufour (Diamant de Semilly) who jumped 1.60m under Chad Fallows, Sultan de Beaufour (VDL Cardento), active at 1.60m level with Simon Delestre, and horses like Amy de Beaufour (Calvaro Z), Casanova de Beaufour (Kashmir vh Schuttershof), Uckland de Beaufour (Diamant de Semilly), Baldini de Beaufour and Bolero de Beaufour, both sired by Nabab de Reve.
In more recent years Eric Levallois increasingly chooses stallions from the Zangersheide collection. He has used the stallions Levisto Z, Brunetti Z and Comilfo Plus Z as well as Aganix du Seigneur Z and of course the Diamant de Semilly son Dominator Z. Every year some forty foals are born into the Haras de Beaufour yard. As a rule these are not sold but stay on to be raised until they turn three. Then they are broken into saddle and go to different riders, selected according to age and level of the horse in question. These include young riders but also absolute world-class riders such as Pénélope Leprevost, everyone contributes to the brand name and success of ‘de Beaufour’!
‘Breeding is the combination of knowhow, hope and luck. It´s hope that makes us dream and motivates us’