In the world of auctions and breeding Frederik De Backer is a familiar face with a well-known voice. The Belgian horseman is an enthusiastic speaker at all times, with or without his trusty microphone in hand. Frederik showcases his storytelling talents and ability to captivate an audience as a commentator at the Longines Global Champions Tour and Global Champions League. He is also the auctioneer at renowned auctions such as the Zangersheide Quality Auction, KWPN Select Sales and Verdener Auction of the Hannoveraner Studbook. If anyone shares our excitement for auctions it is Frederik De Backer. And his story is definitely worth the read!
We heard that you have a ‘condition’ called Equencylopidia. Should we be worried?
“Haha! No, luckily that is nothing to worry about. Over the years I have learned and read a lot. So, people say that my head is full of equine facts and figures.
We can’t resist… What is the weirdest fact you know?
“Ah that is a good question. I would have to say that is about Michel Robert. I read somewhere that he learned to ride horses by riding sheep first. I thought that was hilarious and I never forgot it. He is one of the most knowledgeable and decorated horsemen I know, so to learn his career started like this is quite extraordinary.”
You are a well-liked commentator and auctioneer, but you are also an avid breeder. Please tell us a bit about that.
“I have always been very passionate about breeding. Breeding has a lot going for it! It is a social happening really. The actual breeding is between you and your vet but everything around it like the stallion approval, mare tests and foal inspections, breeding evenings where you can meet and talk to likeminded people are social events that I like to attend.”
“Breeding itself has something magic about it. In a way you create anything you desire and of your choice. You choose mare A and stallion X and really make something special that will live on for 20 year and will hopefully provide people pleasure in different ways. Even if you don’t breed the next world champion or create an untalented jumper, in the end the horse might end up as a great family horse to go on hacks with. Your horse will be the best horse for someone, and it will be something unique that came to life because of your choices.”
Breeding the perfect horse is like trying to breed a unicorn. How difficult or easy do you consider breeding to be?
“In breeding you are never right and never wrong. It is not mathematics where one plus one equals two. There will always be discussion and rivalry. But I think it is exciting that with one specific mare or stallion you can have it ‘wrong’ for ten years, but the eleventh year you can have it so right! It not only depends on the pedigree, the whole process of training and finding the best rider also plays a big part. But I feel it is a pretty cool concept that in breeding everyone can be wrong but also right. It is all about creating the best conditions and start to a horse’s life, so that they might eventually grow up to be a super star.”
You’ve been in the breeding game for over a decade. How has your perspective on breeding changed over the years?
“Breeding has evolved a lot since the first time I tried my hand at it. I’d compare it to life in general or to being a rider. It is a learning curve. I’ve had to make mistakes along the way to get better. As a breeder you also go through fazes and make mistakes that you have to learn from. I look at breeding with different eyes as I did ten years ago but the basics are still the same. You can learn and read as much as you want, which is crucial I think, but you still have to go through the fazes of trying and not always succeeding. There are no real shortcuts. You can buy an expensive mare or filly and have a breeding plan but that does not give you any guarantees. The chances of success are pretty much evenly spread, and I think that is pretty cool.”
When a potentially high selling lot comes up for auction and enters the ring, does that affect how you do your work as an auctioneer?
“Well first of all, and I am not sure I should be saying this, but auctioneers are in my opinion highly overrated! The moment the auction starts the cards are dealt. The collection is made, the selection team and the marketing team have done their jobs and every one of the organizing team is there. It is not like I have to pull a client out of a hat like a rabbit. The work the organization has done beforehand plays the biggest part. Compare it to Cristiano Ronaldo… He is the one that scores the goals. But he only scores the goals because of fantastic teamwork. He gets the praise, but he is only able to score because of the process before he got the ball. As an auctioneer you are there to enable a sale, there are already people there who want to buy. I am not having to sell to random people on the street. My job is not difficult if everything is set up for success. I am just there to make it a great experience for everyone.”
At an auction you influence the atmosphere. When the stakes are high do you ever feel the risk of getting overexcited?
“In the moment I don’t think about that. Really my main ambition as an auctioneer is to give the same devotion to each foal or horse that comes up for auction. The first, the ones in the middle and the last. Every breeder and seller deserves the same intensity and commitment to their lot. The difference with biddings that go higher and therefor last longer is to keep the excitement up. But that is not a challenge for me, I enjoy the buzz that it creates and give that back to the audience.”
Part of your love for breeding has evolved in you being a partner in the Mares of Macha. Tell us about this adventure?
“The Mares of Macha is a project that was launched by a close friend of mine, Klaas De Koster. Initially he told me his idea and I told him not to do it. I felt it was not realistic and too big of a risk. He wanted to buy the mare Goya, (one of) the last daughters of Usha van ‘t Roosakker. We were talking about a lot of money. But if you tell Klaas don’t do it, he will do it anyway. And it became clear that he did not just have an idea, he had a good plan, and he was convinced it was going to work.”
“His idea was to offer good breeding genes in a standardized way to everybody regardless of who they are. Klaas and I come from very normal backgrounds and when we started breeding those exceptional mare lines were not available to us. They were super expensive. Klaas wanted to make proven damlines available to people around the world that also do not necessarily have big spending power. I thought that was a very noble idea and because he really did his research the ball got rolling. After a first mare, came a second mare and then Pieter Devos and his family got involved. Thanks to a great manager who takes care of the purely business and structural side this venture has taught me a lot too. About how things are run in a fantastic professional way in terms of marketing, sales and finances. The word got out about MoM and over time people started to offer us their mares. For instance, we have added Mary Lou as one of the latest editions to our collection. How cool is that?! Honestly, I was a bit afraid of the OPU/ICSI procedure at first but when I tried it with my own mares and saw the impact was minimal and they did not react or suffered at all, I was fully on board. It is a great project that I am proud to be part of.”
The offspring from Mares of Macha can sometimes be found in the collections of auctions that you are an auctioneer at. They can also to be found on the Barnbridge platform. What do you think of our website?
“I think Barnbridge is a great idea and like with MoM it will have to grow. It is a fairly new venture, but the concept behind it is very interesting. For example, I think it is the coolest thing to see a MoM foal in an auction. You see the game that is being played. I know the costs the breeders made to create the foal and when it sells at a good price you know it was a success for the owners. Not every sale is a success, but it is nice to see the result. And on the Barnbridge website you can also see the results. For example, you can see for how much foals from a specific sire or damline have sold and make you own calculations on what a reasonable price is for a new lot that is up for auction. Also, the alerts you can set for new horses that are added to the website which are specifically interesting to you is a great feature. Knowing when all the auctions take place is one thing but being able to browse all the lots of different auctions, that is a whole new level of inside auction information available to the public.”
And last but not least, you are not only a commentator, auctioneer and breeder, but also an actor? Will we lose you to Hollywood?
“Hahaha! The day I was approached by a friend of mine to see if I wanted to play an auctioneer in a TV-series did not really change my life. I was quite excited though; I mean it was for a professional high-end production for Netflix called Undercover. It is a well-known series in multiple countries by now. But I had zero acting experience, so all I could do was be Frederik the auctioneer. It was a great experience and my appearance in the show is often a funny topic of conversation. But I never got a callback or another request to star in a new series. So, I am not sure my talent was fully recognized… No one said Hollywood is waiting for you :)”
We thank Frederik for this candid interview, and we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have. If his excitement has sparked your interest for the world of auctions that this is the perfect time to join our Barnbridge community and become a member! In collaboration with Frederik, we offer new members a 50% discount!
You can enter the discount code frederik50 at the sign-up process here: www.barnbridge-auctions.com/membership/
*The code is valid until the 14th of February.