Archive for November, 2009

More Than Just Eye Candy…

A  new horse has been added to the tab “Saddlebred Super Finds”!  Check her out!


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Thanksgiving has always been a poignant holiday for me mixed with feelings of warmth, love, and blessings as well as the inverse in the form of acknowledgment of those who have less, are lonely, and feel hopeless.  So, this year I am (as I try to acknowledge every day) thankful for the safety, health, and happiness of myself, my husband, and my family.  I am also thankful for the feeling of hope which has always run through my life, and forgiveness.

Today, and each day, I also reflect on my life’s luxuries and Elvis is always on the top of this list.  One of the greatest mistakes that horse owners can make is the assumption that to have horses in one’s life is an entitlement.  This is dangerous territory, because the horses become accessories to our persona, and that is when we begin to marginalize them as individuals, instead seeing them as objects.

Therefore, in poignancy I’d like to turn our attention to this phenomena and ask ourselves these questions:

  • Does this notion creep into our lives?
    Are we involved with horses because of how it makes us feel?  Do we believe they add to others’ perception of us?  Does the success we have with our horses drive our involvement with them?
  • How does it affect our immediate equestrian community?   Do we see the behavior mentioned above in our friends, riding groups, and equine professionals?  Does the success of others become the primary form of judgment we have on them as horsemen?
  • What about our equine industry?  Has this attitude infused and affected the industry within which we participate?  Are competitions designed to challenge the partnership of horse and rider, or are they instead showcasing (and rewarding) the exhibitors’ role in meeting a preset standard?  Is the horse’s participation cursory, and merely a foundation for the rider’s perceived accomplishment?  In short, is the horse a ‘means to an end’ within the industry or is instead the central focus, even in its imperfection?

These are difficult questions to ask, especially since this phenomena exists through defensive and selfish tendencies, tendencies which often obstruct a critical view of one’s self, their immediate community, and greater industry.  To be a true horseman though, we must always ask these questions, even at the risk of an answer that makes us ashamed.  It always amazes me that horses, and the world that surrounds them, attract anyone but the most humble and introspective, because the very act of being with a horse is a humbling experience which often demands self-examination.  They tell our lies, they demand the truth, they ask for nothing but purity in all we do.  Yet, even when we don’t deliver, they still tolerate us.

Why is it then, that horse ownership, equestrian sports, and equine business bring the worst out of people?  I have a general philosophy that I follow, and it requires me to remain quietly suspect of anyone I meet who is involved in horses.  It is for this reason that I hang on to others I meet who are like myself:  those who are brave enough to use horses as the mirror that they are and see their own imperfections, and then work to be better themselves as not only horsemen but as humans.

It is with this sentiment that I am thankful today, and every day, for the role horses have played in my life.  I am also thankful for the opportunity I have to work towards becoming a true horseman, for true horsemen are always good people with kind hearts, commitment, loyalty, and honor.  I am also so thankful for Elvis.  He certainly challenges me, teaching me the virtues of patience, commitment, and hard work.  He also reminds me to laugh, and to see each day for what it is:  the journey towards a closer bond, a better partnership, and true teamwork.  That is the goal, my friends, and should be found in every discipline we choose to participate in.  When it’s no longer the focus, we should be brave enough to ask ourselves why.  If we can’t reorient ourselves, then we should be brave enough to admire horses from afar.

Many Thanks to those who take the time to visit me in my little corner of cyber-space.  Every day I check my ‘views’, and I’m encouraged to know that there are a number of people out there who take the time to listen to my thoughts, and sometimes even respond to me.  Whether I share thoughts that you agree fully with or not, I still value you as individuals, and would miss you if you wandered away from the blog.  Elvis and I are so thankful for not only our ‘real life’ support system, but our online one as well.

I am Thankful.

I am Thankful.

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It’s recently come to my attention that there is a misunderstanding amongst numbers of non-saddlebred people who believe ASBs are prohibitively expensive.  I’m not sure why this is because personally, I’ve never really thought about saddlebreds enough to think that they were expensive or not.  After learning more about them, I was shocked to realize just how much the big show horses go for, but I’ve been more shocked to realize that a saddlebred will often sell for less than an OTTB.  This bothers me, as it’s my opinion that you can often find a better value in a saddlebred prospect than you can with an OTTB, depending on your goals and how you weigh pros and cons.

So, considering this I’ve decided to include a new section in the blog titled “Saddlebred Super-Finds”.  It’s purpose will be to highlight saddlebreds that I have run across, which I think are total finds for the sport market.  Check the top of the blog for an added tag titled “Saddlebred Super-Finds!”, where new horses will be added regularly. For a while, I will notify readers in the main body of the blog as horses are added… but Eventually I’ll forget to continue doing that, I’m sure of it.

The horses featured will not be horses that I personally know (since I know no other saddlebreds, ha!), but instead will be horses that I consider very worthwhile in checking out.  A hobby of mine is finding ‘diamond in the rough’ type prospects at competitive prices.  I think I’m pretty good at it, and I’m always getting better, and I’d love to illustrate what the buyer can find in this market if they turn to saddlebreds as sport prospects.

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PP’s First Video Blog Entry!

That’s right, Folks!  Today’s entry is in video form (my husband’s great idea).  I hope you enjoy!

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Today’s blog topic puts the spotlight on a grievance of mine:  the misunderstanding and misuse of the term “Sport Type”.

I’ve noticed this trend within the saddlebred industry, and it really irks me.  I guess I could admit to taking offense on a number of levels.  First (and this might sting a bit), a lot of times the use of this term is just plain wrong.  Additionally, its misuse adds to the general perception by other equine disciplines that the saddlebred industry is somewhat ignorant and greatly insular.  Finally, I take personal offense to the insinuation that a “sport type” horse doesn’t need specific physical attributes in order to succeed in what truly are the ultimate tests of athleticism, intelligence, and tractability.

Let’s start at the beginning, where all things should.  I submit that the majority of those within the saddlebred industry don’t fully understand what a sport type horse is.  For the record, here is what a five second search on google provides, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Sport horse, or Sporthorse, is a term used to describe a type of horse, rather than any particular breed. The term generally refers to horses bred for the traditional Olympic equestrian sporting events of dressage, eventing, show jumping, and combined driving. The precise definition varies. In the United States, horses used in hunt seat and show hunter competition are often classed as sport horses, whereas the British show hunter is classified as a show horse.  Horses used for western riding disciplines, Saddle seat, or any form of horse racing are generally not described as sport horses.

Nowhere in this definition does it say “Horses who were selectively bred for conformation, which enhances the movement desired in the saddleseat ring, and then fail in this chosen field of competition, are considered to be of the ‘Sport Type’ of horse.”  This is a persistent phenomenon that I have witnessed more times than not.  It makes me sad, too, because I wonder what is to become of the horse with the very long back, the extremely weak loin, or the small hind end who didn’t trot high enough.

I can only assume that the casual misuse of this term is due to ignorance and, as a willing barometer of the non-saddlebred populous, I can confidently say that this is a common perception.  Now, I am in no way accusing those involved in the saddlebred industry as being ignorant of functional conformation and the biomechanics of the horse, in fact I could point my finger at loads of individuals.  I am only saying that as a whole, it does appear as though the saddlebred industry (which prides itself on one sport what demands specialized conformation) is generally ignorant of functional conformation and equine biomechanics.  If this were untrue, sweeping statements that equate large hock and knee action to the movement needed in dressage would not be made.  Or, the pasting-on of the term ‘sport type’ to camped out horses with small hind quarters would be scoffed at.  I could provide more examples, but I won’t.  I don’t like feeling as though I’m pointing an accusing finger regarding this because I understand that it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees, but it’s time the members of the saddlebred industry start realizing that this ignorance is getting the better of them.  At the very least, it just continues to illustrate the saddlebred world as an off-kilter and insular one.

In feeding into this perception, the misuse and misunderstanding of “Sport Type” down right insults a huge segment of the greater equine industry – the same branch that I believe is to be the saving grace of the breed.  To slap the label “sport type” on saddleseat bred culls willy nilly, suggests that no thought or planning is required to produce a sport type horse.  Furthermore, this inherently suggests that the disciplines within which the sport type horse competes do not require extreme athleticism, intelligence, and finesse.  Let’s not forget the work and time invested by the old warmblood agencies to do just that, or even that our very own breed was founded upon very similar functional needs!  We are talking about olympic level disciplines here, those that have been hallmarks for separating the best from the best through skill and physical ability alone in the most demanding of circumstances.  If the odd saddlebred, who’s loin, hindquarters, back, shoulder, or limbs weren’t sacrificed to the show ring, actually makes it up into the competitive world at any level, it’s a wonderful thing.  Just think how far they could go if the cards weren’t stacked against them?  Think of how a purpose bred saddlebred could shine, if given all of the genetic possibility to get there.

The fight for the inclusion of the Sport Saddlebred is not, and should not, be seen as some receptacle for show ring failures.  It pains me to say that, because it’s not the horse’s fault that it was demanded that it perform to an exacting extreme (which is near impossible if left to genetically develop as a horse was intended to)… but they can’t be expected to be able to seriously be marketed to the sport horse market, either.  In reality, breeders need to wise up and educate themselves as to what functional conformation truly is, especially in regards to sport disciplines.  Perhaps then they would see how bizarre the saddleseat extremes are, and understand why their horses aren’t excelling in other areas.  Ideally, they would then realize the ramifications of demanding genetic and performance perfection out of an animal, and the costs in the form of life if that animal doesn’t meet the preset standard.  Maybe at that point production numbers would drop, and perhaps even the maniacal drive to show ring trot – only because it leaves so many victims of specialization in its wake.

For those breeders who want to be taken seriously by the outside world (and who want to actually make a profit off of the untouched and viable sport market), they should start to really ask themselves to step out of the saddleseat paradigm-whether they breed for sport specifically or have a combined program.  I am suspecting that the average member of the saddlebred industry only looks at the first third of the horse, and even then doesn’t understand the function of the shoulder in relation to the movement of the head and fore limbs.  A thorough understanding of all gaits would be mastered, and an ability to evaluate each of them individually as well as a whole.  A grasp of form-to-function would be wielded to better understand what characteristics play toward which disciplines for a better edge, thereby allowing for better marketing and placement of their young horses.

As it stands, I am unconvinced that the whole horse is looked at and evaluated with an educated eye.  If the rest of the horse were a concern, then saddlebreds would have healthy backs of appropriate length and strength, they wouldn’t have tilted pelvic assemblies, straight stifles, camped out hind ends, sickle hocks, weak loins, and poorly placed lumbo-sacral joints.  They also would be asked to showcase more than the trot in the show ring, but instead they are only required to produce a few uncontrolled strides of canter and a similar amount of a disjointed walk.  Instead, the most extreme conformation and gaits are rewarded, and those extreme movers have had to sacrifice so much in the way of conformation that they simply can’t perform other equine feats of athleticism at any respectable level.  I suppose this is all fine and good if they are destined to a life in the show ring (or a safe life in the event that they flunk out), but it alienates the sport market and seems to encourage the random application of the label “Sport Type” to any four legged creature who can’t cut it.

So, in closing I implore readers of this blog to arm themselves with the knowledge of functional conformation and equine biomechanics.  I promise you that it will not only open an exciting world of understanding, but it will give you an edge that will change the way you ride, purchase, and breed horses.  Better still, it will give you an edge over your former self.  For those readers who are a part of the saddlebred industry, don’t forget that YOU are the governing body.  Start challenging the way you see and do things, and the association will follow.

Below are some very informative articles pertaining to this topic.  The first two are by Dr. Deb Bennett, and the remaining ones are from Judy Wardrope; check out their respective websites for more great reads.  Both of these women are fantastic resources, and have formed the core of my understanding of equine bio mechanics.  I’ll always be a student!

True Collection  (starts from the horse’s spine)

The Ring of Muscles

It’s a Matter of Physics:  The Functional Aspects of Conformation

The Right Conformation for an Eventer

Conformation 101: What to look for in a Dressage Horse

Conformation 101:  What to look for in a Jumper

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Last night I had the extreme pleasure to see the equine performance “Cavalia” (www.cavalia.net).  “WOW” is all I can say.  It was amazing, and like every other night it’s been in performance in my area, it was sold out.  Obviously, a good number of horse people showed up, but the majority of the audience were non horse people and they seemed to enjoy it as much as the equine lovers did.

I decided to go after simultaneously every equine professional in my area commented to me that they went, they were amazed, and that they think I should go if given the chance.  I’m so glad I took them up on the suggestion, as is my family.  My three family members and I sprung for the fancy-schmancy seats, enjoyed all of the perks that came along with the tickets, and left so happy.  In fact, I don’t think I stopped clapping or stopped smiling.  During the grande liberte performance, I even got teary eyed; the horses were being themselves, and everything that it is to be a horse.  The performance worked around the nature of the equine, as well as the individual personalities of each animal.  This is a theme that I think, as equestrians, we would all do well to incorporate into our horsemanship.

..Speaking of which, it was during the liberte act that I became convinced that Elvis has what it would take to be a star of the stage.  Apparently cheekiness is a virtue in showbiz!  I was shocked to realize that no saddlebreds were among the equine actors and, feeling strongly on this point, my readers will be amused (I know you’ll laugh) to know that during the autograph signing I told this woman:

that I noticed the breed list didn’t boast any saddlebreds, and that the show should seriously reconsider this position in their equine casting decisions.  She seemed shocked that I a) shared my opinion and b) that they didn’t have any saddlebreds.  In fact, she turned and confirmed this with another of the actors from the performance.  I continued on and explained that, being that they are so smart and cheeky, the show could easily encourage them to use their intellectual powers for good (as opposed to evil, something I chide Elvis for regularly).  I then collected my autographed programs and left.  I’m sure I made an impression.  Although, if I had been thinking, I would have likely explained that while the lustianos and andalusians were lovely horses a saddlebred represented a much greater value – beauty, athleticism, intelligence, trainability, and likely a fraction of the cost.

Below are some photos from the stables, etc.  Photography during the event was prohibited.  Photo quality is good considering that these are cell phone pictures.

The White Top

The Stables (well, a part of them. They use 58 horses.)

4mo babies who are area rescues, recently joined the show.

One of the many Andalusians.

A small portion of the tack room.

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Clip Job #2

This is the best photo I have… which isn’t saying much!  It’s of his “good side”, too.  I’ll have to go back and clean it up in a few days.  I think I’ll wait for a cold day, and then ride him (banking on him staying dry now that he’s carrying about 20 lbs less of hair), and then clip him when he’s tired.  I’ll keep it short and sweet.

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