Urs and Franziska Aeschbacher select France as their destination of choice


Urs and Franziska Aeschbacher select France as their destination of choice

Breeders, trainers and owners rolled into one, Urs and Franziska Aeschbacher set up shop in the South-West of France in 2018. So what is their objective? It’s to breed PA horses and English thoroughbreds capable of making their mark competitively. Here the Swiss couple give us a glimpse of what went on behind the scenes regarding the foundation of the Haras du Nil.

The Nile Arabians name derives from two Egyptian fillies which were imported into Switzerland by Toni and Rita Aeschbacher in 1976. This concern, currently under the aegis of son Urs and his wife Franziska, has expanded to a point whereby it’s the home of 26 horses. At the beginning of 2019, the latter couple, following an exhaustive search, relocated to France. Consequently, the Haras du Nil is now a firm fixture in the Limousin region.

Swiss by birth. Urs and Franziska are Swiss and both grew up around horses. Urs went on to compete in dressage and show-jumping competitions on saddle and PA horses. Franziska, on the other hand, prepared young showjumpers on behalf of an international horse dealer. They met, not through horses, but when Franziska was a tourism consultancy intern in the travel agency of Urs’ father. That was 36 years ago.

Urs’ association with the Purebred Arabian began via the stallion Shagya Hamilkar when he was just 12. As their bond grew, he staged ‘freestyle’ dressage/show jumping presentations when no saddles or bridles were used. He said: "Hamilkar was my friend and we did everything together. This was the moment when I fell in love with Arabian horses."

It was via Urs that Franziska was introduced to Arabians and she explained: "At that moment, I realised that Arabians weren’t merely show horses. They also proved to be really good riding horses, and, consequently, I became interested in the breed. In the 1970s and 1980s, the PA racing and endurance scenes in Europe were still in their infancy. As we had developed a taste for competition, the only avenue open to us with Arabian horses was to enter them in show contests."

Getting their first taste of the racing scene

It was not until 1991, when Toni and Rita sold Nil Krushan (Versal ex Nil Najada) to Paul Daverio, that the racing odyssey for the Nile Arabians began. Daverio later became the breeder of the multiple PA Group winning Djet Taouy (Dahess). However, Nil Krushan was his first Purebred Arabian, despite being originally acquired as a saddle horse. Daverio later rang the Aeschbachers and informed them that their 4-year-old homebred colt had been pencilled-in for a race at Frauenfeld, Switzerland.

She recalls: "We all went to the races and came face to face with an Arabian race for the first time. Nil Krushan won easily and this was how our involvement with PA racing began."

Before transferring to France, they were obliged to race in other European countries because there simply weren’t enough PA races in Switzerland. Franziska added: "That gave us a good idea regarding the level of competition in each country. We have raced our Arabians in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Our aim now is to ensure that our PA homebreds become competitive in France, but the most important thing is to find the most suitable race for each horse, regardless of the country. It’s different with our thoroughbreds, as we have consistently proved successful in France during the last 15 years."

The French transfer

After Toni’s death, Rita was left to care for the breeding stock at Brenles, whereas Urs and Franziska trained a string of around 15 horses at the IENA (Institut Équestre National d’Avenches) training centre. Granted that these two hubs are 35 kilometres apart, it was clear that a new site was called for. Franziska trumpeted France as the obvious choice of location and she explains: "There are more races to choose from, the travel costs are less, and so forth. The prize money on offer for owners and breeders is better, not only for the Arabians, but for thoroughbreds too." She added: "The climatic conditions in the Limousin region are better for breeding/training horses than at our previous location in Switzerland. The grass here is renowned for its quality which can be attributed to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. The growing season is longer and it seldom freezes during the winter."

A breeding region

The Haras du Nil is situated on the outskirts of Bellac and it forms part of the northern perimeter of the South-West of France, which we readily associate as the French home of PA horses. Normandy, the nerve centre of French thoroughbred breeding, isn’t that far away. Consequently, during the breeding season, this concern’s Arabian and thoroughbred mares benefit as the distances to the stallion stations aren’t that long.

The Aeschbachers are appreciative of the fact that the Limousin region is steeped in PA breeding history, and that there are a lot of racecourses in the vicinity. Bellac and its environs have acquired a reputation as being an area which throws up many winners when it comes to equestrian sports and jump racing, and with particular relevance to the Anglo-Arabian and English thoroughbred breeds. If you head south for 100 kilometres, you will reach Pompadour, where the local Haras National (one of the French horse breeding centres) occupies a historic place in PA racing.

They had been seeking a suitable property for some time, but, once they found the right location, things moved very quickly. After exchanging contracts in August 2018, the 26 horses were transferred from Switzerland to France four months later. Their global experiences of studs and training centres gave them a clear insight as how to set up their new base. Purchasing a former cattle farm meant that they could start from scratch, and their vision came to fruition in a relatively short space of time.

Urs’s mother, Rita Aeschbacher, 84, continued to run the stud farm until the very last minute, but chose to remain in Switzerland, and now lives next to her daughter’s farm. She is still very interested in ‘Nile Arabians’ as she visits regularly to see the foals and to get an idea of how the older horses are faring.

The foundation bloodlines

The Haras du Nil has established two racing bloodlines. One is French and traces back to the ‘Pompadour’ line of Attique (Meat), which is currently represented by Nil Abiat (Darike) and Nil Anablue (Munjiz). Both are out of Kadjouna de Nerak (Djourman).

Listed winner Nil Kamla (Dahess) represents their ‘Tunisian’ line which dates back to the foundation mare Samaria (born in 1882). Imported by ‘Pompadour’ from Syria in 1897, the latter was sold to the renowned Tunisian stud Sidi Thabet in 1891. This particular line exudes success and is responsible for the PA Group class performers Madjani (Tidjani), Nour Thabet (Dormane), Essaana (Tornado de Syrah) and Al Jakbar (Al Sakbe).

Seeking to tap into the Nevada II (Djanor) bloodline, they purchased a filly by Al Tair (Amer) out of Fauvette du Loup (Tornado De Syrah) in 2019. Christened Céleste du Loup, they are hoping she will be a lucky buy for them.

They have brought four foals into the world this year. Two are by the PA sires No Risk Al Maury (Kesberoy) and Mister Ginoux (Amer), and a similar number boast the paternity of English thoroughbred stallions Olympic Glory (Choisir) and Kheleyf (Green Desert).

To date their most successful homebred has proved to be Nil Aziz (Dahess). The winner of the Listed PA Sheikh Zayed Cup on the snow frozen lake at St Moritz. Listed placed a further three times there and in Italy, he has been retired from PA racing with a view to embracing the endurance scene.

Looking to the future, they are also banking on the sibling of the above mentioned Nil Adamis (Damis). He is currently in training as is the 3-year-old filly Nil Farah Diba (AF Albahar). There is also a 2-year-old filly by Assy (Amer) out of Nil Kamla to look forward to.

For them the biggest challenge in France is to breed the necessary quality of horse which will enable them to compete successfully. As Franziska observed: "There are more races than in other European countries, but there are also more internationally important breeders and owners who dominate the international scene. There are no handicap races here, so you must have a top horse – otherwise life will become very difficult. At the Haras du Nil, we strive to breed the highest class of PA racehorse. That is by tapping into solid broodmare lines, being selective as regards our choice of sires, as well as enabling the horses to grow and train under the best conditions."