Wednesday, August 8, 2007

And now for a few words about child labor...

I thought that when I found the NH guy jumping the itty bitty weanling over a log that I had found the only such instance of that kind of moronic behavior on the Internet. I was wrong! An alert reader sent me this sale photo of a $7500 colt...born May 2007. That makes him 3 months old, or not even. The ad brags that "genetically he has the potential to be a GP Jumper." His genetics won't matter if you break him down at 3 months trying to make a "cool" sales video. By the way, he's in Tennessee. If the South would like me to stop making fun of it, it needs to exile a lot of its residents to Siberia, or at least keep them off the Internet.

I don't know about the rest of you, but this would totally turn me off of buying him. For $7500, I want a 3 month old who is still happily grazing with his mom and focusing on nothing more than growing. The only things he needs to know how to do at this point are lead and pick up his feet.

Another baby massively overjumping a small X. Seriously, how is this supposed to prove future Olympic-level jumping talent? I've seen the same reaction - complete with tight knees and "round" appearance - from a great many horses upon being faced with their first obstacle. Once jumping became old hat, they quickly showed their true "level of talent" - complete with hanging knees, flat backs, and twisty hindquarters.

I know veterinary opinion is divided on how much damage this will actually cause. I do know that healthy foals routinely perform airs above the ground just for the hell of it. But I can't look at these pictures and see them as anything more but part of the huge problem we have in America - rushing horses into performance careers at too young an age.

One apologist for breaking yearlings online brags about his experience on a TB farm that "During the three years that I was there, out of about 100 horses, not one broke down beyond further use and only three went lame during all that time." OK, so that was while they were what, 4 years old and under? What do you suppose the soundness percentage dropped to by age 15? I'm guessing that herd wasn't a pretty sight 10 years down the road. Heck, I probably saw some of them limping around the round pen at the auctions!

I like to point out the conformation flaws that will keep a horse from still being sound at 15, but the other element is related to work.
I've seen it all and I know you have too - the 2 year olds being loped for 45 minutes at 3 AM the morning of their big money snaffle bit futurity, the 15 and 16 month olds being broke for the track, backyard horsepeople thinking it's ok for the kids to ride the yearling because "they don't weigh much." Pushing a horse too early is an epidemic that affects both big breeding farms and backyard horsepeople equally. We saw it the other day with "natural horsemanship," but today's examples come from the very traditional world of eventing. Everybody wants to get to the point where they can "do something" with the horse, and unfortunately, the horse is an animal that is slow to mature. It's not just the knees - it's the back, too. Ever wonder why we have so many back problems with our horses and the chiropracters are laughing all the way to the bank? It's all about early riding and pushing them too hard for their level of skeletal development.

Relax, people. Go play with your weanlings and yearlings. Teach them to pick up their feet, teach them to clip, teach them to load, stand out in the field and braid their little manes if it makes you happy. Teach them showmanship and in-hand trail if you're itching to show. No, I don't think a short trail ride or doing a little walk-jog around the round pen for 15 minutes is going to hurt the average 2 year old, but there is a big difference between that and jumping, galloping, and other high impact activities. If you want to jump tomorrow, buy a 4 or 5 year old and go for it. They are easy enough to find!

Let your babies be babies, and let them grow up to stay sound for 25 years or more.

P.S. Fig, I'm still waiting for that list of names of addresses of people who are dying to provide good homes for some "Pasture Art." Feel free to post it to the comments, I am sure I am not the only one who would be happy to deliver some to them! You must have a handle on a whole world I don't know about, because in my world most people want riding horses, and in an economy where you can buy something rideable for $500, the unrideable "Pasture Art" barely stands a ghost of a chance of finding a safe place to call home. Hence the reason I harp nonstop on keeping horses sound and usable for life. Staying sound - at least sound enough for lessons and little ones - is the only "retirement plan" most horses will ever have.