Isabelle Duffer and the notion of perseverance


Isabelle Duffer and the notion of perseverance

Hahlem El Ahlem provided her owner-breeder Isabelle Duffer with her first victory. Although her background, and the pedigree of the horse in question, hardly conforms to type.

The French Purebred Arabian. – How was your passion for the Purebred Arabian born?

Isabelle Duffer. – I've been riding since a very young age and my parents' neighbour, Mrs Bay, had horses-in-training with Arnaud Chaillé-Chaillé. It was during the course of my visits to the neighbour’s home that I discovered the Arabian thoroughbred. I loved being outdoors and didn't care much for school. My father then promised to buy me a horse if I obtained my BTS [editor's note: Brevet de Technicien Supérieur, a level three French diploma]. On offer was the grandam of Hahlem El Ahlem: Kantara El Rachid (Rachid El Masan). I rode her in some endurance contests, including three 90kms events. After suffering elimination in one race, I reasoned that the time had come to breed from her. My initial thoughts centred around Akbar (Djelfor), but I ended up by choosing Dormane (Manganate) as his progeny were also successful in endurance racing. This gave rise to the birth of Myrzam (Dormane), the dam of Hahlem El Ahlem. I’m never totally objective regarding my horses, but I thought Myrzam was a very good mover. So I reasoned that it would be a shame to subject her to endurance racing.

Were you familiar with the racing scene?

No. Myrzam was my first PA racehorse. I registered my colours and France Galop sent me a list of prospective trainers. I had visited Saint-Cloud the previous year on the eve of the Arc weekend. I noticed then that Jean-François Bernard's horses were very calm in the parade ring. Furthermore, he was a trainer whose results were exceptional. That's why I didn't call him first. I reasoned: "He's a giant of his profession and so I will make contact with other trainers first." However, in the end, he was the last one I called and the only one who agreed to train Myrzam. He's the real reason for where we are today. As no one else believed in the mare. I’m not even sure that she stood 1.50m tall as a 4-year-old (laughing). Yet Jean-François Bernard opined that she was tremendously game. She was also very backward. After finishing second at Aurillac on one occasion, he enquired: "What are you going to do with the filly?" To which I replied: "I’m going to send her ‘endurance’ racing with the aim of selling her on." He added: "Yet, you like her so much?" To which I retorted: "Yes, it’s going to be a huge wrench for me." He then facilitated the mare being bred to by Jalnar Al Khalidiah (Tiwaiq), and that's how Hahlem El Ahlem came to be. A little by chance. This maternal line is self-perpetuating. As we’re now trawling into the third generation of this line back home. I owe a lot to monsieur Bernard.

I live in Berry but it’s far too flat to breed endurance horses there.

As I only have 4.5 hectares of land, I can only bring one foal into the world per annum. Myrzam has foaled twice to General (Amer), having produced a colt, Idylik El Ahlem, and a filly, Jaizana El Ahlem. However, the following year, she was barren. So I decided not to breed from her this year. She will return to the breeding shed in the next covering season. I’m keeping my fingers crossed but I am sold on sending her to Al Mourtajez (Dahess).

Returning to Hahlem El Ahlem, had you envisaged such a start?

Elisabeth Bernard and I didn’t expect him to make a winning debut. Particularly, as the period prior to his birth was a long, drawn out one. It was three years before his dam got in-foal. He was a late foal and Babeth [Elisabeth Bernard] didn't want to force him because he was still shy of his third birthday. Financially, I took a risk. Today, I have three children and work less. I took a gamble with my savings. I was in a hurry as regards the horse making his debut. Deep down, I never wavered in my convictions. I told the children that we were going to buy new shoes for the photo in the winner’s circle. I had occasionally seen the horse on the training grounds but, due to lockdown, it was quite a complex process. Babeth sent me two videos of the horse working on grass and he was moving very sweetly. She also opined that the other colt on display, Alarish (TM Fred Texas), was better. We still continued to believe… a little. The victory was wonderful. It was a bolt out of the blue. My perseverance was rewarded. It's a lovely story and it gives me great pleasure to have entrusted Babeth with the care of my colt, and particularly as her husband had been the instigator of it all. For it’s down to him that I never lost belief in my mare Myrzam, having been told that she was small and suitable for endurance racing. Kantara El Rachid's sire, Rachid El Masan (Masan), was a proven PA performer on the racecourse. Not all the cards were stacked in our favour, but horses enable us to experience some wonderful moments. Furthermore, as monsieur Bernard believed, why shouldn’t I?

However, I gather that he has been sold since?

Yes, to Athbah Stud, and he will remain in-training with Babeth for the remainder of his 3-year-old career, if not longer. I had intended selling his brother, Idylik El Ahlem (General) at the Arqana sales, but a minor eye problem put paid to this. It was nothing serious. I think I was very lucky. For breeding horses is very hit and miss. I have three children and continue to work in insurance. The sale of Hahlem El Ahlem enables me to see things more serenely, and to finance the training costs of Jaizana El Ahlem (General).

I no longer ride in endurance races because, at the time, it required me to spend three hours in the saddle Maybe I'll make a comeback when the children are grown up because it's quite a magical sport. I also breed ponies because they prove to be great companions for horses, and especially for male  as they tend to be playful. It’s great for the kids too.