I stepped on my wife’s dog. I didn’t mean to, I was just so focused on my Ipad. My eyes were glued to the screen. I’d watched trick riders, roman riders, mustang makeovers, but this precision drill to music with about twenty horses rocked me.
They were all carrying flags, galloping, turning, twisting, flying between each other so fast that my eyes couldn’t keep up with their movements. These fourteen to seventeen year olds were performing like professionals, narrowly avoiding collisions, and smoothly transitioning from one movement to the next, right with the music. It was beauty, freedom, and artistic expression!
At the same time it represented a huge investment in work, practice, discipline, and horsemanship,to say nothing of time and money. It was thrilling to watch and I bet it was even more fun to ride.
Now, I have to tell you, my first thought was “Where in the world did they get that many GOOD horses?” Because in my sixty years of training horses, I have seen only a small percentage of willing, sound, kind natured riding horses. It often seems that those good old noble steeds have gone extinct. In their place are nervous, high stepping, even downright difficult knotheads. So in a world where “a good mount is hard to find” here were over twenty of them, all in one place!
The great thing about these drill team competitions, as well as other horse related activities is that it gets these kids out of their school desks, outdoors, and involved with each other, their horses, and their adult mentors.
They are engaged with the natural world, as well as involved in human interaction, not a computer or cell phone. So I’m all for that kind of healthy activity. And for it to work we need horses that will safely carry beginner and amateur riders, be they fourteen or forty.
Looking back into the twentieth century we see since the Second World War the slow disintegration of the horse culture in this country. Riding and driving horses had been replaced by the infernal combustion engine. Cars, tractors, tanks, and airplanes took over civilian and military equine jobs.
After the cavalry remount was shut down, horse breeding was no longer as lucrative as it had once been. A growing market for recreational horses allowed some breeders to continue a profitable existence. That’s the good news.
The big prices, however, came with “high performance” horses. These specialists who could “win the world” be it rodeo, dressage, reining, or cutting, among other disciplines, are often not the same horses as those good old easy going, user friendly, farm and ranch horses.
Now we are having horse breeding decisions driven by judging in the show arena rather than by common sense, and knowledgeable breeding practices. Winning stallions are now producing more offspring than less well known but often more solid producers of colts and fillies who can be counted upon to give an amateur a safe ride without thought of injury.
The most frequent request I get is for a horse that can be ridden by a child or a woman of middle age who can now afford the horse she has dreamed of since her teenage years. These are riders who want to enjoy leisure activities without having to work at it “pick and shovel.” And I have to tell you those ‘ol ponies are few and far between.
What I’d like to see is for breeders to pay less attention to show placing and put more emphasis on satisfying the needs of riders. About ninety percent of the nearly nine million horses and mules in this country are horses used for recreation. Even ranch work requires a more “watered down” version of cutting and roping horses.
Most folks, however, want a trail riding horse, or an equine companion they can enjoy on weekends, or an occasional show, or a pony to quietly ride down to the creek to watch the sunset. As breeders I feel that our job is to study and become knowledgeable of conformation, soundness, and trainability.
As riders we have an obligation as well. We have now at our disposal teachers, clinicians, books, videos, and ,oh yes, YouTube to educate ourselves to become better riders and horsemen, and women.
Well, the dog has forgiven me, and I’ll just get down off this high horse, now. See ya down the trail!