Everybody seems to be in a rush today and the world of horses is no different. "How fast can I get a winner?" new owners ask. But "How soon for a return on my investment?" is what they'd really like to know.
Competitive horse sports are undergoing many changes. As more and more people from professional backgrounds and high paying jobs are coming into the horse world, the ruling bodies of the game are responding to their demands.
There are many levels in the horse world. There's the pet level for those who just want a horse of a particular breed and this makes up the majority of owners. Many breeders supply this demand and launch people in a love for horses that can last a lifetime. On the opposite extreme, however, we have competitive players that are far beyond that level of interest - and whom very few of us ever have the chance to meet.
Let's talk about those high-powered players.
At a recent show, an attractive, energetic woman introduced herself to me and asked what I had on the farm. I noticed her a mile away in those jeans and we talked about a young horse I had. "You'll be hearing from me," she said, and off she went. Not more than a half-hour later, a gentleman from Mexico introduced himself and gave me his card. He was a trainer, he explained, buying horses for his clients. He was looking for twenty horses that were champion material.
I left that show with business cards from trainers in four countries and what did they have in common? Every one of them was referred to me by the woman who introduced herself at the beginning of the show. That's what I call a real "power broker." And what did she get out of matching up buyers with top quality horses, you ask? She charged a percentage of the sale price, plus whatever else she could negotiate. !
You may be wondering what kind of clients such trainers represent. I can tell you their clients are very discriminating. They are serious-minded people who want the best of the best of the best and they're willing to pay for it. They expect to campaign their horse from one end of the country to the other and all over the world. They will employ the best handlers; pay them well, and blast pictures in all the right magazines. Few movie stars are ever campaigned with more attention to detail than a champion belonging to an owner playing the game on this level. For the right horse, they will make deals with breeders and trainers that would astound you. But, they expect results. And they want those results now. And that's where we, as stewards of the Breed, should examine things closer, because, regardless of the bankroll, "something" in this picture is missing.
It's called patience. In the not so long ago "old days" people waited until a horse was in its prime before presenting it to the world. Like a painting that isn't finished until the very last stroke of the artist's brush, a prized show horse was unveiled only when the breeder was ready. Today? Things are far different in that respect today. Today, it's all about winning as soon as you can. And when we are dealing with high profile winners that go on to have a real impact on the breed, this is where an unspoken problem hides.
Horses, like the people who own them, mature at different rates. Remember the handsome football player from high school and the cute cheerleader he dated? They were knockouts at eighteen. But, think back to your class reunion. Were they still so gorgeous? Now take another look and remember the homely ones and the wallflowers nobody asked to dance. Even without being at that reunion of yours, I'll bet some of them became real stunners.
The same is true for horses. Let others rush to breed to the champion of the moment who makes his mark early but grows coarse with time. As we become wiser with each passing year and our favorite horses grow silver around their smiling faces, we know the responsibility of protecting our Breed is bigger than you or me. Time will show us descendants of our horses to prove who is right and who is wrong. But it's up to us what people will say about our horses when that day comes.
That young horse we talked about? I decided he could use another year on the farm before getting serious about anything. Yes, he could have been out there winning by now. But, what's the hurry? A good horse will hold up for a long time and some of us call that the mark of a champion.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: I can understand how what you're saying might be true for show horses -
RH: (Amused) You can? That's good, because not everybody does.
Q: Well, you're saying, in the right hands, a horse can make it to the top early and become a hot sire before anybody knows how he's going to turn out. Right?
RH: Yes, and that means?
Q: Which means the horse could pass on something to the Breed that nobody could see when it was out there in the show ring.
RH: It happens all the time and not only in horses. In the show ring for most purebred animals, a judge is supposed to give the points to the one that best fits the standard for its breed at that particular moment. It's only one moment in time. But, if you have a young horse, for example, and it's an excellent specimen of the standard, that colt or filly can take the class. But - and here's the problem - a year later, when that same colt or filly is more mature, did it hold together and would the same judges pin it? Think about it. Breed standards, like halter classes, are written for adult, fully mature horses. Where do you see any standards for a foal as it's growing up? Which means, unless the judge has some real experience in the breed o! r a great imagination to project how that gangly youngster might turn out at maturity, the Breed might not end up getting the best deal once that horse hits the breeding shed.
Q: How does this relate to performance classes or sports like polo or endurance riding or racing?
RH: Exactly the same way, don't you think so? Your early-maturing athlete can be a wonderful thing to behold. But will that same horse hold up in the long term?
Q: What do you think breeders can do to turn things around?
RH: Set their own policies and set an example in everything they do and every decision they make. Look at themselves as protectors of the Breed who are designing horses for a public we must all answer to. Respect that public for loving our horses and, in turn, give them the very best horses we can, but only when we are one hundred percent sure those horses will hold up physically over the long haul. Hey, I may think I'd love to join the Cirque du Soleil and swing through the air like Tarzan. But as my hair gets more and more silver, I know how much it means just to be able to ride a horse or go dancing or work outside all day without getting tired. Don't our horses deserve to be active and have fun as long as they live, too?
Thanks for the chance to talk with you tonight. It's been great, but I've got a long drive home and, if I'm lucky, a future champion on the way. Anybody want to join me on a foal watch?
By: Ron Hevener ~ Author Of "The Blue Ribbon" & "Fate of the Stallion"