From price to age to points, our columnist believes that it’s time to address some long-standing aspects of the sport.
American hunter breeders have long been talking about how soft the market is for horses raised in the United States. They talk about how everyone goes to Europe to buy their horses and how few buyers look to the U.S. breeder for their next champion.
I believe that U.S. breeders are being given an oppor-tunity that they haven’t had in the past 10 years to turn this trend around to their benefit. I also believe that if some issues are addressed, the hunter industry has an opportunity to improve the hunter breeding aspect of our sport across the board.
I cannot think of anyone who isn’t aware of the changes in our economy in recent months—the mortgage and housing crisis as well as skyrocketing prices on oil products, which in turn causes increases in just about everything we use.
Due to the low value of the dollar against the Euro, it also costs more to purchase horses in Europe and to ship them to the United States. While it also now costs more to keep and feed a horse, we’re reaching the tipping point when buying American-breds may become more advantageous for many of our owners and professionals.
This is an incredible opportunity for the U.S. breeder. It just makes sense that with all of the turmoil in the economy that Americans would return to finding and buying their prospects in our own country.
If breeders in this country set realistic prices for the quality of horse they are trying to sell, then we should see an increase in sales in this country.
The most important part of this equation is realism.
You don’t want to insult the intelligence of a potential buyer by overinflating prices because someone else has higher prices. People like to think they’ve gotten a deal, and since the U.S. market has been soft with the import of so many horses from outside the United States, our breeders are going to have to show the public that they’re realistic about their horses and price them accordingly.
Anyone can ask a king’s ransom for a horse, but it’s only worth what someone will pay for it.
Another Year Older
For many years the International Hunter Futurity has been the hunter breeder’s hallmark event. I happened to be in Lexington, Ky., judging in September at the same com-petition that hosts the IHF Finals. By chance, I ended up at the show three hours early for my ring to start and watched the schooling and classes for the 3-year-old futurity.
I will take a lot of heat for my opinion on this portion of the event, but I think sometimes an outside perspective is needed. When you’re deeply involved with a program or project that you wholeheartedly believe in, you tend to get tunnel vision and not see what others see. I do believe that everyone involved in this event has done so with the best intentions, but some issues need to be addressed.
As a professional horseman, to me the level of horsemanship displayed by many who were competing at this event was disappointing. During the schooling session, several riders galloped around the ring and jumped and jumped these 3-year-olds to death.
Many of the horses looked as if they’d never seen a jump in their lives. The horses had no balance, no steering, no understanding of the leg and hand, and no foundation in correct training. Several of the horses had problems with lead changes, and I feel sure after watching that for many of them this problem will continue.
These riders were trying to teach their horses to jump and go around a course correctly just prior to competing. I was alarmed that anyone or organization would endorse this kind of riding and training.
Over the years, the IHF leaders have made concessions to the fact that 3-year-olds are too young to be asked to jump 3′ and have lowered the fence height, but that’s not enough.
The IHF needs to incorporate some standards into what is allowed during the schooling session. It would be far more beneficial for the horses to be allowed to school by jumping the course once without having to dodge other horses careening around the ring out of control. This change would also go far toward encouraging people to train their horses at home before coming to the competition.
I believe that it’s time for the IHF to showcase 4- and 5-year-olds and leave the 3-year-olds in the in-hand and under saddle classes. It’s so rare to find a 3-year-old capable of functioning at this level. Let’s just allow the 3-year-olds to grow up and get the proper start.
A 4-year-old is much more capable of mastering the tasks required. They’re physically stronger and mentally more mature, hence more trainable with less force, and it makes for a more positive experience.
How many of the horses who have done the IHF do we really see going on to be champions at our major competitions over fences 3’6″ or higher? I don’t think there are many compared to the number of horses going through this program. That’s a sad statement.
Our country can do better at this type of program, and it’s time we recognized the problems and made the prudent changes to help produce better-trained horses with sound foundations.
I know it costs more to keep a horse into its 4-year-old year, but the payoff will be bigger if the horse is of good quality, is well trained and has a sound mind and body.
Another problem that I see came to my attention while judging the breeding section of a competition in Pennsylvania a few years ago. The best horse in the breeding division was at his fourth show of that week and going on to his fifth the following day. This horse had been all over the countryside for an entire week and all to be national champion.
Is this the way we want to see a horse be national champion?
I think this completely devalues the hunter breeding awards program, and this community needs to look hard at its point system and how the national and zone champions are awarded.
Last on my list is the judging. The hunter breeding division requires that you have a separate card from the hunter performance division.
I’ve long thought this is wrong for the following reasons: You have to pay extra to have this license; you’re able to judge the conformation hunter divisions at the best shows in our country, yet not hunter breeding. And you don’t need a hunter breeding card to judge pony breeding.
Now I know many people think that judging hunter breeding is specialized and if it is, then we need to add more time to our licensed officials clinics so that hunter breeding judging is emphasized more to allow for an all inclusive card. This would also increase the pool of hunter breeding judges and provide them with a better education on conformation.
I know many in the hunter breeding aspect of our sport are entrenched in long standing traditions, but I hope that my thoughts will provide the catalyst for reflection and discussion on the current state of affairs and the future for the hunter breeding industry in the United States.