Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Why Is The Hunter Breeding Division Losing Ground?

This owner sees major problems that need to be addressed if the division is to survive and thrive.

Over the past year, I, along with others, have been pondering why the hunter breeding industry is dying. Babies are cute; they’re fun to work with, and most people love raising them. Breeding farms and individuals are still breeding just as many horses as they were a decade ago, so why are the numbers at hunter breeding shows dwindling?

To answer this question we must explore what the hunter breeding division was created to do.

Hunter breeding began as a way to showcase young stock and have experts evaluate the young prospects’ conformation and movement as it related to their ability to become a performance horse, thereby increasing the value of each prospect and of individual breeding programs.

Conformational flaws likely to hinder soundness during performance or the act of performance (back in the knee, straight hocks, over in the knee, crooked leg, club foot, etc.) are to be penalized, and short-strided horses (evaluated from their movement at the walk and trot) are to be penalized for inadequate athletic ability.

A prospect with the proper conformation and good movement should (theoretically and with proper training) become one of the next generation’s top athletes.

Fast forward to the past decade. From 1999 to 2008 there were 25 different national title winners in hunter breeding (many won successive titles). How many of those horses ever made it to the show ring as a performance horse? Three. (Dresden II, Steal The Fire and Unlimited). So, three out of 25, or 12 percent, is extremely poor odds in a situation where the national title winners are perceived to be tomorrow’s performance champions.

Why is this?

Let’s move ringside and take a look at what’s happening during these classes to gain some insight.

At the Warrenton Horse Show (Va.), where the International Hunter Futurity Eastern Regional and the Sallie B. Wheeler/USEF National Hunter Breeding Championship were held ("Undefeated Holden Sweeps USEF National Hunter Breeding Championship."

His reply was, “Why should I bother? I’ve already been beat, and we haven’t even walked in the ring yet. What’s going on in there [the ring] is killing this business—you know what I’m talking about— but no one will do anything about it!”

What he was talking about was the evolution of judging over the years. It’s become a competition of what a hunter should look like if it were standing still in a glass box, not what a hunter should look like to continue on as a performance horse.

The emphasis has been placed completely on conformation—turning this into a “feed and lead” division rather than a performance ability inspection.

The only part of movement that’s inspected is soundness, not the actual step from shoulder use or hindquarter power, both things that would signify a large enough stride to easily negotiate the distances course designers use between fences.

With high standards of porcelain doll perfection, animals with non-ability inhibiting blemishes (scars, cuts, etc.) and otherwise perfect conformation together with top movement are being placed behind sub-par animals.

A 3-year-old Thoroughbred gelding with an uncanny likeness to a 15-year-old broodmare should not be a winner in hunter breeding just because his hock is clean and the better prospect behind him has a scar there.

If you were the owner of the textbook hunter prospect, why would you show your horse against the 3-year-old Thoroughbred type of animal—that will clearly never be able to perform—when you already know that the politics of the division are going to beat you every time.

No one is ever upset when they lose to a better horse, but what’s discouraging to all involved is when the better horse doesn’t win because another handler in the class was allowed to speak to the judges before and during the judging process, skewing opinions. The class ends up being pinned according to what someone has said, not because of what is standing at the other end of his reins.

Those handlers who refuse to play into this game of judging (usually holding the horses who can win on their own accord) are hurt at every show.

 These youngsters are competing in a horse performance show, not a beauty pageant, not a “let’s give the blue to the one who talks the best talk even if he has the lesser quality animal” contest.

It’s a horse performance contest, and before it completely dies we need to make some changes to this institution. So I remind you of the thought heard ringside: “Why would I bother to show a real good horse when we have already been beat before the class even begins.”

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This owner sees major problems that need to be addressed if the division is to survive and thrive.

Over the past year, I, along with others, have been pondering why the hunter breeding industry is dying. Babies are cute; they’re fun to work with, and most people love raising them. Breeding farms and individuals are still breeding just as many horses as they were a decade ago, so why are the numbers at hunter breeding shows dwindling?

To answer this question we must explore what the hunter breeding division was created to do.

Hunter breeding began as a way to showcase young stock and have experts evaluate the young prospects’ conformation and movement as it related to their ability to become a performance horse, thereby increasing the value of each prospect and of individual breeding programs.

Conformational flaws likely to hinder soundness during performance or the act of performance (back in the knee, straight hocks, over in the knee, crooked leg, club foot, etc.) are to be penalized, and short-strided horses (evaluated from their movement at the walk and trot) are to be penalized for inadequate athletic ability.

A prospect with the proper conformation and good movement should (theoretically and with proper training) become one of the next generation’s top athletes.

Fast forward to the past decade. From 1999 to 2008 there were 25 different national title winners in hunter breeding (many won successive titles). How many of those horses ever made it to the show ring as a performance horse? Three. (Dresden II, Steal The Fire and Unlimited). So, three out of 25, or 12 percent, is extremely poor odds in a situation where the national title winners are perceived to be tomorrow’s performance champions.

ADVERTISEMENT

Why is this?

Let’s move ringside and take a look at what’s happening during these classes to gain some insight.

At the Warrenton Horse Show (Va.), where the International Hunter Futurity Eastern Regional and the Sallie B. Wheeler/USEF National Hunter Breeding Championship were held (“Undefeated Holden Sweeps USEF National Hunter Breeding Championship.”

His reply was, “Why should I bother? I’ve already been beat, and we haven’t even walked in the ring yet. What’s going on in there [the ring] is killing this business—you know what I’m talking about— but no one will do anything about it!”

What he was talking about was the evolution of judging over the years. It’s become a competition of what a hunter should look like if it were standing still in a glass box, not what a hunter should look like to continue on as a performance horse.

The emphasis has been placed completely on conformation—turning this into a “feed and lead” division rather than a performance ability inspection.

The only part of movement that’s inspected is soundness, not the actual step from shoulder use or hindquarter power, both things that would signify a large enough stride to easily negotiate the distances course designers use between fences.

ADVERTISEMENT

With high standards of porcelain doll perfection, animals with non-ability inhibiting blemishes (scars, cuts, etc.) and otherwise perfect conformation together with top movement are being placed behind sub-par animals.

A 3-year-old Thoroughbred gelding with an uncanny likeness to a 15-year-old broodmare should not be a winner in hunter breeding just because his hock is clean and the better prospect behind him has a scar there.

If you were the owner of the textbook hunter prospect, why would you show your horse against the 3-year-old Thoroughbred type of animal—that will clearly never be able to perform—when you already know that the politics of the division are going to beat you every time.

No one is ever upset when they lose to a better horse, but what’s discouraging to all involved is when the better horse doesn’t win because another handler in the class was allowed to speak to the judges before and during the judging process, skewing opinions. The class ends up being pinned according to what someone has said, not because of what is standing at the other end of his reins.

Those handlers who refuse to play into this game of judging (usually holding the horses who can win on their own accord) are hurt at every show.

 These youngsters are competing in a horse performance show, not a beauty pageant, not a “let’s give the blue to the one who talks the best talk even if he has the lesser quality animal” contest.

It’s a horse performance contest, and before it completely dies we need to make some changes to this institution. So I remind you of the thought heard ringside: “Why would I bother to show a real good horse when we have already been beat before the class even begins.”
Kimberly S. Maloomian, Needham, Mass., is a third generation horseman whose family has bred successful show hunters and race horses. She currently competes in the amateur hunter divisions aboard Russian Gold and owns Foxy’s Magic Gift, the reserve champion East Coast and reserve overall best young horse in the Sallie B. Wheeler/USEF National Hunter Breeding Championship.

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