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Valentijn De Brabander: “The best chance to get a top horse, is to buy a top embryo”

As a son of one of world’s very best breeders, Valentijn De Brabander, knows exactly what it takes to breed a top-class horse and which bloodlines play a prominent role in the breeding of show jumpers. Being raised in an entrepreneurial family, Valentijn is a chip off the old block and knows a good opportunity when he sees one. Besides his work at Stal De Muze, he is the founder of ET-Auction. Over the past eight years, this online auction platform has proven to be very successful in selling embryos, foals and young horses.

As a son of a veterinarian, ET pioneer and top breeder Joris De Brabander of Stal De Muze, Valentijn grew up with horses and breeding. He works fulltime in the family business, just like his sister Karline and younger brother Christopher. Stal De Muze is the home of famous stallions like Bamako de Muze, Elvis ter Putte, Mosito van het Hellehof and it has been shaped by legends like Nabab de Rêve and Vigo d’Arsouilles.

Where do you and your siblings focus on at Stal De Muze?
“My sister Karline is the rider and she manages the sport stable. My brother Christopher handles the veterinary work and he specialized in embryo transfer and OPU/ICSI. I take care of the paperwork, and the management of the rest of the company as well as the logistics. We have a number of approved stallions at Stal De Muze, our own breeding, the sport stable and many recipient mares, so there is always enough work to do over here. My father was one of the pioneers in using embryo transfer and we really took advantage of using this technique in our breeding, and many breeders have followed. Embryo transfer gives a lot of opportunities when it comes to genetics and that’s also why I came up with the idea of starting an online auction. My father Joris already sold some embryos in the years before 2014 and I felt that there was a lot of potential in the embryo-market. Of course, I could never predict the developments in the market as we have experienced the past years, but I was young and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Starting an online auction was quite revolutionary in 2014. How did you start?
“Our philosophy has always been: the best chance to get a top horse, is to buy a top embryo. In my opinion there was no better option than selling embryos online. You can reach an international customer base and clients do not have to view the embryos live. So, we built a website and started with auctioning embryos once in a while. In the beginning I had to convince both breeders to offer their embryos and buyers to invest, but those efforts really one had to be made in the beginning. ET Auction got off to a flying start because I had a booth at the World Championships for young horses in Lanaken and I was able to reach out the perfect target audience. Mid-term that event, my embryos were already sold out. My father brought in some clients, people were inquisitive, and I was able to offer first-class embryos from the start. ET Auction filled a gap in the flourishing equestrian business. The need was high, but the possibilities were even greater.”

Your friend Björn Van Bunder joined ET Auction in the end of 2016, how did that happen?
“Equestrian journalist, rider and breeder Björn Van Bunder grew up at Stoeterij ’t Merelsnest and had already proven his knowledge and experience in this sector. We has a conversation about the future of online auctions and Björn was sure that ET Auction should expand with carefully selected collections of foals and free jumping young horses. In the beginning, I was a bit unsure about that since online selling of horses was not very common yet. I thought especially clients from abroad would prefer to see foals and horses themselves instead of only on the computer, but Björn convinced me of the potential it had. That’s why we joined our efforts, and it turned out very well. In 2017 we did our first Young Horse Edition, in which we sold two- and three-year-olds who showed their quality in loose jumping. It was a bolt initiative that was received with enthusiasm by the international buyers. Björn visited many breeders and riders for his work and in that way, he was able so attract the right horses and people to ET Auction. Unfortunately, a tragic traffic accident on the 1st of August in 2017 halted our further plans. Björn did not survive the accident. It still is a very tragic loss, I miss him as a close friend and as the inspirer he was for our auction. With the loss of Björn and the bigger plans for ET Auction, it was clear that I couldn’t continue it on my own. My brother Christophe, who has a full-time job as a veterinarian at our Stal De Muze nowadays, stepped in and so did Tim Reygaerts and Tim Van den Broeck. Tim Reygaerts is Björn’s brother-in-law and Tim Van den Broeck was a close friend. They wanted to join ET Auction as a tribute to Björn and all the effort he had put into it, and we have built up a very good partnership over the years. Tim Reygaerts has his own breeding and is a professional showjumping rider, just like Tim Van den Broeck who focusses on riding and trading. They go out a lot to look for young horses and have a broad network of breeders, riders and owners. My brother Christophe has also his own background, and the four of us are very complementary to each other. We really make a good team and that’s exactly what you need if you want to keep developing and growing as an auction.”

How do you see the future of auctions?
“In the last few years, online auctioning has become fully embedded in the equestrian world. Especially due to the Corona pandemic, selling through an online auction became quite common. This is a very positive development for ET Auction and I think an online auction is still the best way to sell embryos. But of course, we want to keep innovating and every now and then the results of our -or other’s- auctions still surprise me. Sometimes the prices are better than expected, sometimes they’re not. I think the experience of a live auction can make a difference, that’s something we keep in mind. Together with the others, we discuss the options for live auctions regularly but for now organizing an online auction works best for us. Besides the work we do for the auction, we all have our day-to-day jobs and organizing a live auction calls for a different approach and investments. And a live auction doesn’t change anything about the foal or horse themselves, their quality has to be the main reason for buyers to purchase it at our auction.”

What do you think of Barnbridge Auctions and do you use it yourself?
“I am always positive about new initiatives and Barnbridge is an interesting one. The website has a suitable layout and gives a good overview of all the auctions. Barnbridge gives the users several possibilities that make their searching options easier, such as using the special filters and alerts. But of course, I hope all Barnbridge’s clients also know to find their way to ET Auction directly”, laughs Valentijn.

In collaboration with Valentijn, we are offering our readers the chance to find the best foals and horses on Barnbridge with a 50% discount on a membership. Enter valentijn50 at the sign-up process to claim your offer. Click to become a Barnbridge-member.

*The promo-code is only valid for two weeks after the publication of this article.

Text: Jenneke Smit

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