Friday, March 25, 2011

Don't Judge A Horse By His Cover

Good morning everyone!  When I was telling you about the skills of trail horses the other day, I remembered one of the things people often tell me about the trail horses they've ridden on vacation.  This entry takes that issue into consideration.

Some people tell me that the trail horses they rode on vacation look bad or that they don't look like my horses.  That's a sign of the owner, not of the horse.  RW's trail horses always looked good.  They looked healthy.  They looked well cared for because they were.  They were healthy.  They were treated well.

If a trail riding business doesn't take good care of their horses, not only are they poor horse owners, they are poor business people.  If you are running a business with your horses, it pays to take care of them.  It may be more expensive to take care of them than not, but the more you care for your investment, the more it will return in profit.  That's putting it in cold, hard business language.

So, if those trail horses look bad, it's not their fault.  It doesn't mean they are bad horses.  It means they have unskilled owners. Or, owners who are unaware of how important a well-kept horse is to his clients.  I am very aware of this.

My horses are thoroughly groomed before a client ever arrives.  It's good for the horse.  It matters to the client.  Even the horses I don't allow clients to ride, like Merry and Tar, are groomed regularly for their own well-being.  Merry and Tar are beyond my clients' ability level.  That's why they aren't lesson horses.  They are for me.

There is a saying the in the horse world: "A good horse is never a bad color."  Just as we encourage people not to judge others by their appearance, I would encourage you to do the same with horses.  Now, I don't mean that when you see a horse who isn't well cared for that you simply excuse it.  There is a time and a place to call the Humane Society.  Horses that are obviously starving or very ill--that's a time to speak-up.

I mean if you see a horse that doesn't meet your movie-influenced standards of what a horse should look like, don't discount him.  He may be a wonderful companion.  He may teach you how to ride beautifully.  Perfect confirmation doesn't always mean a perfect horse for your needs.

Obviously, in the competitive horse world, how a horse looks counts.  Remember, I am not interested in competition.  But, I want to acknowledge there is a place where adherence to breed standards really matters.  I'm not that "Pollyanna" about these things.

In my barn, personality and fitness are what matter most.  Some of my horses have lovely, spot-on breed perfect confirmation.  Some of them don't.  Half of my horses are registered and half of them aren't.  It doesn't matter in my world.  If I were a breeder, that would matter.  If I were a breeder, confirmation would matter, too.

My two favorite horses to ride are at either end of the spectrum. Merry is spot-on perfect for her breed specifications.  She is also a registered horse that is fairly rare in the US.  Speakeasy is likely a Quarter Horse-Halflinger cross.  He's called a "grade horse."  That's sorta like a mutt.  Grade horses are very common.  Merry and Speakeasy are night and day in those terms.  In terms of riding, they are both wonderful.  Very different to ride, but equally wonderful.

Speakeasy is a little sway back, but not much.  It's a genetic quality, not a flaw in his care.  He is a brilliant horse who frequently outsmarts my students. He's steady as a rock. I can only recall the slightest spook out of him once in over five years. He'd never hurt anyone.  He may outsmart them and knock over some obstacles for his jollies, but he's harmless. I love him.  I'd ride him proudly anywhere.

But, he doesn't look perfect if you are comparing him to a breed standard.  Is he a big, beautiful palomino in most anyone's eyes?  Yes.  Is he a fine horse in terms of personality and fitness? Yes.

He's actually Mack, my vet's, favorite horse among my herd.  That's saying something.  Don't tell Tar, he thinks he's Mack's favorite.  Tar may be smart but Tar is a little pushy sometimes.  Mack likes a horse with really nice manners.  Tar is perfect to breed standards, though.

Merry on the other hand, is perfect for me.  I can ride her all day long and be very happy.  She was perfect in the show world, too.  She is a retired multi-blue ribbon winner.  I know one show rider who won 90 blue ribbons on her.  She had many show riders.  She was the horse of the year for her association in terms of points one year.

Merry is not perfect for my clients.  She's fast. She's sensitive.  She requires such light pressure from the hands, legs, or seat that putting a beginner on her would be irresponsible.  A novice will fall off of her in a minute.  Even Cowgirl Slim is ready to get off after a very tense 15 minutes with Merry.  I'm in Heaven, less experienced riders are in Hell.

Do you see what I'm saying here?  Just as your grandma would tell you, "Don't judge a book by it's cover."  I'd also say to you, "Don't judge a horse by his looks or his color."  At least not if what you're looking for is a good pleasure horse or a good lesson horse.  That's where personality and fitness matter more than confirmation.

On paper, everyone would want to ride Merry.  She's the Ferrari around here.  In reality, everyone would much rather ride Shadow or Milagro.  One registered, one not.  One a pure breed, one not.  So, don't judge a horse by his color, his cover, his papers, or his lack thereof.  Judge him on his merit for what you need in a horse.

Have a great day and thanks for reading!

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