Friday, October 3, 2008

You're probably not breeding horses for George Morris to ride!

Yes, I know a few of you are and kudos to you for breeding that quality of horse! But what I want to talk about today is that, for most of you who are otherwise responsible breeders, you really do have to consider that most of the horses you breed are going to be owned by riders who are not all that.

In today's economy, the people who can afford horses are often not the young and fit. They are the middle aged, often with a spare tire or two. They are stiff. They are scared. Many of them took up riding as a way to get fit (sorry, I gotta tell you, unless you're trotting without irons for 20 minutes a day, the treadmill's gonna get you there a lot faster...I know it's not so fun). They are going to bounce. They are going to make mistakes with their hands. They are going to panic and do the wrong thing if a horse spooks, rears or bucks. They are most of your buyers. They are the ones with money to purchase a horse.

So if you are going to breed in this market, disposition is more important than ever! There are a TON of people out there looking for a safe, sane, solid intermediate-appropriate horse and they can't find them to buy. Meanwhile, there are a TON of hot, flighty, spooky, silly horses who need their confidence to come from their rider...on the kill buyer's double-decker. Some of those horses might have had great talents that the right rider could have brought out, but guys, there aren't NEARLY enough of THOSE riders out there!

(OK, really, eek. Nobody should have sold a horse to this dude. This poor boy had the typical TB claiming race career and now he's got this to look forward to? At age six, this is what his life has become? Oy vey. I wish he was for sale, but he's not.)

I learned my lesson years ago, in my early 20s when I started buying and selling horses. I had some really nice horses that I thought were easy to ride! I didn't think they were complicated at all. Then people came out to try them out. OMFG. They couldn't even get a trot on the wall. They were all over the place. I thought of myself as a basic, middle of the road rider up to this point, because I'd grown up in a polo barn with people who thought nothing of riding a horse bareback in a halter and two lead ropes and ponying two that way, at a canter. Everybody at my barn could do that. (Heck, it was Wisconsin in the winter. Saddles were too cold!) I thought everybody rode like that. I got a shocking education and learned not to buy light-sided, touchy-mouthed horses for resale. You couldn't give them away!

Some breeders are just not getting this. They see their silly mare spook at a bunny rabbit and leap over the 4' pasture fence, and they go, OMG, what a jumper, I HAVE to breed her, she's so athletic! But the fact is that there's a hell of a lot more market for the less athletic, quiet horse who will pack just about anybody around a 2'9 course than for the talented nutjob that can fly over 4' with her head up and her back hollow and not even touch it.

When you start to think this through, it seems to go against a lot of what you've heard me say. I always argue that you should breed for excellence, right? And now I'm telling you that there's more market for a mediocre horse with a good mind? Well, you have to strike the balance. I'd like to see the good minded horse have a little more talent so that he can move up with his rider. I'd like to see him have correct conformation so that he doesn't need to live on Legend and glucosamine by the age of six. I know for a fact that given the choice of two solid 2'9 packers, the typical adult amateur will buy the pretty one.

(Try it and see. Those of you who get all annoyed with me when I pick on heads. Pick up two prospects this fall. One pretty headed, one ugly headed, comparable otherwise. You train 'em all winter. Tell me which one you sell first and what they sell for in the spring. Uh-huh. Sorry, I know I'm right on this. The pretty headed horse will sell faster and for more money EVERY time. Everybody read the goddamn Black Stallion books and they have an image in their head of their own beautiful horse looking at them over a picturesque dutch door. Why do you think people can sell so many overpriced Friesians and Gypsy Vanners? It's because they look like Barbie's Dream Horse. They look like the horse that the shirtless guy on the cover of some cheesy romance called Loves Last Stand has standing next to him (both of their manes flying in the wind, LOL!) I have owned some fugly headed high performers myself and you can sell me a hammerheaded high performer any day of the week, but most people care about looks, particularly one-horse owners.)

Now, if you ride at, let's say a typical show barn, you probably don't grasp the full extent of the bad riding out there. Like the polo barn where I grew up, your barn is probably full of people who (a) have had lessons (b) ride a LOT and (c) have experienced with green/hot/sensitive horses. I mean, your barn's worst rider might be someone who has a bit of a jiggly leg or sticks their elbows out. Thanks to youtube, you can watch bad riding all day, but I'd also direct you to check out this link for some of the worst the Internet has to offer. These folks aren't unusual examples. Truly they aren't.

Check out the Gypsy Vanner here. OMG. The rider is pivoting on her knee and digging her spurs RIGHT into his sides. She has failed to release appropriately so she has caught him in the mouth, too. Her stirrup is so far back on her foot that she's just asking to be dragged if she comes off - the top of the iron is right up against the front of her ankle. Ask yourself what the outcome would be if this were a light sided Thoroughbred. Uh-huh. The Thoroughbred wouldn't even BE jumping the fence anymore. He would have figured out that he could swerve out, dump Precarious Polly off into the jump and run around the arena free, free, free of the spurs in his sides! Ya know, when you put up with this kind of riding, maybe you ARE worth $40,000...

I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking, why do we have to "dumb down" our breeding to create horses for folks too lazy or arrogant to take lessons? (Yeah, some people are trying their best and still aren't going to be great riders, fair enough, but there IS that element out there that thinks they know it all and don't NEED lessons. I think everybody needs lessons. I am super excited that my colt is going out for training and that lessons are included in the cost so I can get tuned up as well!) Well, it depends on what you are breeding - but you have to be aware of YOUR market. If you truly CAN create the George Morris horse - and have the track record to prove it - all the more power to you. Most of you can't. If you're breeding for the typical buyer, I'm just asking you to be aware of how the typical buyer rides and look for that tolerant, easygoing disposition in your breeding stock. Every breeder has the power to influence the future - make it easier for your horses to get a job!

It's Friday so we have a Friday Featured Rescue. This little guy is only 15.1 hands and I have a soft spot for little Thoroughbreds plus he just had such a sweet face that I had to list him. He's only $500, he's done with his racing career and his trainer wants a nice home for him. He's listed on the LOPE website.

"YouGotMeTwice: 6 year old @15H-15.1H bay gelding. "Shorty" is this adorable gelding's nickname at the racing barn. He is very sweet and calm -- our photographer said he was especially cute! Shorty has a knee injury that keeps him from racing -- but he would be great for regular riding. His owners and trainer are VERY fond of Shorty -- they want him to have a wonderful new home. Look at that face! $500. Located at Sam Houston. Contact Phil Dunne at 281-660-2013."

So, for those of you who appreciate the good folks in the racing industry who do not ship their horses to kill, please consider giving this guy a chance at a new career. The price is right and look at that face...I know I am about to sound like a silly horseowner here, but I can look at that face and tell you he's going to be easy to retrain. I'm convinced of it! ;-)

Oh, one last question for discussion:

The FHOTD message board, like the blog, has been unmoderated. I do not delete, censor, or ban anybody at either place. However, unlike the blog, the asshats seem to have outnumbered the intelligent folks on the message board. (Possibly because I'm not really present on the MB...I just don't have the time.) Would your vote be for just killing the message board or leaving it as is? I don't want to get into moderating it, but I might just take it down if the consensus is that it's more annoying than worthwhile. Let me know your thoughts. If you are an actual blog reader, you're the opinions I care about - I know the MB is cluttered with people who aren't even reading the blog and I couldn't care less what they think. I really like the idea of unmoderated speech, everything else is so moderated-to-death, but it just seems like there are so many jerks/idiots over there that it's scared off everybody else. What's your call?

Have a great weekend, everybody!