We Didn’t Say it…


The Horse industry is like everything else. Everyone has an opinion and it’s usually different from the next persons. Trends, fashions and fads change, but some things strike us as fundamental and timeless. In this space, we will reprint opinions, observations and outlooks that strike us as noteworthy and that reflect our own philosophy.

We are often asked about amateur riders buying young horses. An article by Craig & Jan Thompson in the 1/05 issue of USEA’s magazine covered the subject of the types of horses amateur riders should consider and had the following to say about “The Age Factor”

Many amateur riders get hung up on having a horse between 8 and 12 years old, or some other equally misleading window. The thinking behind this seems to be that by this age, a horse will be mature enough to tolerate an amateur. In reality the right horse may be four, ten or 15. While age may be a consideration to the buyer, the horse doesn’t know how old it is and does not care. A horse doesn’t turn ten and think, “Now that I’m ten, I better let her yank my teeth out”. The wrong horse for an amateur won’t ever be right for the job no matter how old it is. Alternatively, the right horse for an amateur will be born as solid as Mt. Rushmore and will demonstrate this trait as early as it’s career begins.

The Article also had a very realistic evaluation of Veterinary considerations and goes on to say:

….if the horse is the right size & temperament, a rider, no matter what their goals, can live with a lot of things that are less than ideal. While a veterinary pre-purchase exam is a useful thing, it is not a crystal ball. Even if horsemen had a crystal ball to look into, when asked about a specific horse, the answer would always be the same: “It’s going to limp” That is the nature of horses, they all limp sometime, so be prepared for it.

From a trainer’s perspective, nothing is more frustrating than to have an amateur not buy the right horse because of an essentially inconsequential physical consideration. Some of the things you can live with include well-healed bowed tendons, certain types of heart murmurs, some breathing noises, mildly impaired eyesight, glue-on shoes, bar shoes, many types of arthritic changes evident on radiographs and less than perfect flexion tests. When considering the significance of these things, as the question, “Is the horse currently doing what I want to do?” If the answer is yes, then the significance of the physical concern may be minimal and not an impairment.

On Buying Green Horses:

John Strassburger’s recent editorial in the Chronicle of the Horse highlights a disturbing trend that we come into contact with nearly every day, especially since we sell a lot of young and green horses. Here are some excerpts from his column:

I fear that we’re losing our sense of horsemanship as riders insist on buying horses on which they can compete right away. These riders-from beginner children, to adult amateurs at all levels, and even some pros-have never learned how, or forgotten how, to train horses. . . .

What happened to training, improving and developing our own horses? The real joy of riding and owning horses is in seeing them become more physically and mentally attuned to our aids, more confident, even physically different than they were; seeing them learn new movements, jump better, learn new skills or even new disciplines. Our horses’ development should be our goal, our reward, as riders, trainers and as horsemen.

. . .We’re forgetting that competition and its awards are supposed to be the confirmation of the training we’ve done at home, not the reason to ride.

So many people come to us saying “I don’t want anything I have to train”. Sorry, but all horses need training all the time, and participating in that relationship with a horse forges a partnership that yields the richest rewards imaginable, even if they are not blue ribbons.

On Movement in Dressage Prospects.

One of our absolutes in breeding and buying young horses is that we look for self-carriage above all else. Yes, even above a big floaty trot, and we tend to look for good walks and canters over the trot If they have a big floaty movement, great, but if not, we don’t worry about it as we feel self-carriage is the ultimate goal and fancy big trots don’t necessarily guarantee this. Ann Gribbons wrote of this very thing several years ago in her “Between Rounds” column for the Chronicle of the Horse. In it, she goes on to point out what it takes to make it at the top (Grand Prix). Below is an excerpt:

Each of us had, at some time been charmed by “expensive trots,” lofty canters that never return to earth, and ground devouring walks – all features that can easily turn on you sometime between third level and intermediaire II.

We know from experience that big, elastic gaits . . . are not necessarily the path to the top. I have had several heartbreaks with those kind of horses. . . .On the other end of the scale is the story of Cyrus. . . .He was not a mind-blowing mover. What he had to offer was a decent hind leg, a strong back and good natural balance. His gaits were “clean”, but they rarely earned more than a 6. . but when he hit the show ring at Grand Prix, he was instantly on the map. . .this horse’s secret weapon was the piaffe and the passage.

So, the moral of this story is, when searching for a dressage horse, don’t pass by the ones without the big floaty movement. Self-carriage (what Ann Gribbons describes as “the knack for carrying and lifting the body and articulating the joints”) is the true key. We are a bit disturbed by the trends in breed shows and inspections in which horses are rewarded for eye-catching movement that offers little relevance to the sport for which they are bred.

On Breeding

We strongly feel that any draft blood in a horse’s pedigree should be “on the bottom”, i.e, on the dam’s side. There are lots of reasons for this – we primarily want a quieter temperament and we believe the majority of the genetic influence comes from the dam. Denny Emerson also has made some observations along the same lines in a column he wrote four years ago in the Chronicle of the Horse

. . .A famous breeding axiom states, “light on top, heavy on the bottom.” This means that the “light” top of the pedigree should be a classic TB sire, while the “heavy” bottom of the pedigree should be either a light draft or warmblood mare. The resulting cross, ideally, will have much of the elegance, refinement, courage and class of the sire, but also possess the size, strength, bigger bone, stronger feet, more powerful hindquarters and calm temperament of the dam.