Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Breeding halter horses

A near-constant stream of chatter on another blog regarding the faults of Cathy Atkinson's horse (author of Fugly Horse of the Day), Big Yellow Caddi, prompted me to finally write a post on QH breeding. This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, I could go on for hours, but voici the tip of said iceberg nonetheless. So this furor came about (or relit, rather) after Cathy wrote about bloodlines and such, including her own stallion in the mix. Many believe that the VLC, or Very Large Colt, as Cathy calls him, should be cut, that he's not of sufficient quality to stand at stud, particularly given the criticism Cathy often spouts and judgement she passes in regards to other individuals' breeding choices. So this is my take on the matter, and as it pertains to breeding halter horses:

This, the VLC, is an AQHA stallion (the photo is taken of him as a yearling).

I did a short quip on breeding earlier, and mentioned that a horse should have decent bloodlines (keep in mind though you can't ride bloodlines), and above all - good conformation and some type of performance record. Obviously if say it's a Cleveland Bay, an endangered breed, you can almost simply breed on conformation alone; that and a good temperament and such. Performance isn't such a key factor when you are trying to keep a breed alive, but it is still something to keep in mind, and one should be breeding for a horse (even a Cleveland Bay or other endangered breed) with the goal of creating a foal that at least could have ability at performance. The Golden Rule: breed the best to the best with the goal of creating a foal better than it's parents.

There are thousands, no, tens of thousands, of QH's out there. If you are going to keep a QH colt a stallion (and judge others on their breeding practices), he'd better be pretty darn good! He'd better have a stunning performance record and the conformation to match. Since QH's, and QH stallions, are a dime a dozen, chances are there is another AQHA stallion who easily outshines yours. I could go into more detail, but won't. I am not here to pass judgement on Cathy (even if she does so to others so easily), I just wanted to make a few points, because this type of thinking (this halter-horse breeding) is rampant, and it's what got me really going on the following track: halter horses. Why keep this particular stallion, a QH, a stallion, if he is never going to be capable of performing at any high level of anything (substantial)? I looked up the Big Yellow Caddi's breeders, Yellow Horses Inc, curious as to where this colt came from, what kind of background info there was on him. So many are criticizing Cathy that I wanted to see what this was all about. And I found halter horses. Oh, and the following, from the website:

"Latest news: At age 14, we have started Floyd under saddle."

It is in regards to a stallion who has, as per the website, 62 registered foals on the ground. 62. Yet he's never done anything. Oh, except look "pretty" in a show ring, of course. Someone pointed out to me today that the AQH is the only breed to have so many distinct categories. She was right. There are trail horses, halter horses, cutting horses, roping horses, reining horses, western pleasure horses - the judges in each category are looking for something specific, something that that specific horse was bred for. The cutting horse won't excel at WP because his nose doesn't drag on the ground (and since when is a horse's nose dragging on the ground a prerequisite to a pleasurable ride??). My pleasure-to-ride, amazing-on-the-trail horse will never excel at a WP class because he doesn't drop his nose to the ground or shuffle along as if he were about to keel over at any moment. He won't excel at halter either, not because he lacks quality conformation, but because he's not bulldog-built with stick legs and tiny hooves. Yet that horse is a pleasure to ride and is excellent with his feet, plus he's got fabulous conformation to boot. More than once I've had to rocket down some trail he'd never seen before and as rough as that trail may have been, he dropped his head and galloped true without one misstep. He's also never had any conformation-related injury over his fourteen years.

Seems like today we have horses to specialize in each category. To what end? What use is a horse who can do only one thing in the show ring? Why can't a cutting horse also win at a WP class? Why is it so much about trends and fashions? Over the years, we've gone through so many different styles of gait, so many headsets. It's become more about what the judges want than about the horse or about the real world. It seems to not matter anymore that the horse is a pleasure to ride, it's about whether or not that horse carries itself in such a way that it suits today's fashion. On that note, what is with the halter horse? What good is a horse that looks "pretty" if he cannot actually do anything?? The horse above spent fourteen years breeding mares on the premise of creating "pretty" foals, without proving himself capable of any real task - and remaining sound at that task - whatsoever (other than standing square). Pretty foals foaled out of halter mares that seem to have no accomplishments either. Horses whose bodies are much too large and bulky for their legs, let alone their tiny feet! Aren't we past this yet? We have NO idea if this Floyd stallion could actually hold up under any real work, whether he has any ability in anything. Yet we're breeding him.

My mom owned an absolutely gorgeous blood bay QH gelding a good 25 years or so ago. She absolutely loved that horse and he was a great gelding she'd raised from a yearling. She learned the hard way what happens to a horse with a whole lot of bulk and small feet bearing all that weight. Navicular. He was put down in his prime, at a healthy 12 or so. Since then, the horses we bred on our ranch (for our own purposes) were proportionate, were well put together, and could physically withstand serving a purpose.

I understand that some individuals are perfectly content keeping a horse simply because it is pretty. Good on them. But why breed specifically for that? That, I cannot understand. Paging through the website, I was ambushed by mare after mare, all alike and most of which foaled out foals that are apparently successful at a high level in the halter ring:

It's like they were cut from cookie-cutters. All possible cousins of some Belgian Blue bull, with the heavy heavy muscling that serves no purpose (on a QH anyways, obviously on the bull it serves a purpose at least). Heavily muscled horses on pencil-thin legs with no stifle to speak of, paired with tiny hooves. Well no wonder the VLC had stifle problems! ANY horse would have stifle problems if he didn't have the stifle to suffice his build!! That's what happens!! It's just simple logic!

So my problem is this: what is with the halter horse? Obviously some of these horses are competing at the National level even (and winning), and are being bred...yet are serving no real purpose, are not proving themselves beyond the halter pen. Heck, they're not even proving themselves at home! Personally, I believe we should be breeding based on the horse itself. Not solely on its parentage (of course bloodlines can help a little, but they play a relatively very small part), nor its looks. What can that particular horse do, and does it have the ability to pass on its traits?? I struggle though too with freedom. If we can breed a horse specifically for jumping, or dressage, or cutting, then why can't we breed a horse to just look pretty? I feel the problem then is that people buy these "pretty" (I keep using the " " because I personally do not find these horses pretty whatsoever) horses and expect them to perform successfully! Like the VLC. I mean, most of us want to ride our horses - perhaps compete, even. You can't tell me all of the foals from that ranch are being used as halter horses. I'm willing to bet that the majority of them are out there doing something. Yet the conformation they are being bred to posess puts them at great physical risk when they are asked to perform. Also, should we be breeding horses to simply "look pretty" in this world? We've already got so many horses out there, why not give the foal the best chance you can give it and breed it to have the ability to do something, to perform, to excel at a specific (or preferably, a variety of) discipline? Breed something that has the conformation to kill and the ability to go far, an ability that will ensure it has a home forever. What do you do with a halter horse after it has finished its show career?

So that's my take on the situation. Remember too, it's just my current opinion. I don't understand it, and I really feel that the halter horse breeders are just as bad as the backyard breeders breeding their ugly mare just to get a cute foal (even with the BYB there's always another side to the story, where do you draw the line?), a foal who is completely useless to the industry because it doesn't have the conformation to excel at anything.

Update: I just wanted to add, after re-reading this post - I want to be clear here that I am not trashing Yellow Horses Inc by any means. The breeders could, for all I know, be fantastic people. My problem is with the halter horse industry in general, not with the individuals who own the above horses. I simply used Yellow Horses Inc as an example because I stumbled upon it and felt it was a classic example of the halter horse industry. My bone to pick is with the halter horse industry and not with Yellow Horses Inc ;) My apologies if there is any past/present/future confusion!


PrairieFarmer said...

Equus -
You made total sense. I keep thinking - halter horse? What the hell is the point of a halter horse????? A halter is just a tool to use on a horse in preparation for horse actually doing something! Not just looking pretty in a halter. Quarterhorses and Arabs too - bred to just look plain weird as far as I'm concerned. Ruining great breeds. I don't get it. If you want to have something that just looks pretty get a new fancy car, keep in the garage and take it out on a sunny day to show off around town. Leave the poor horsies alone!

Equus said...

Haha I agree, and good point with the car!! Haha. Morgans and Arabs, I'll have to write a blog on those next. Thanks for the idea!

foundation quarter horses ok said...

These blog inspires me to write an article about horses, its breed and its history. Thanks for that.

Hettie said...

This equine breeding seems different for me. I don’t know what’s the purpose of halter horse breeding. You know why horse slaughter is taking its actions because of overpopulation of horses.

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Beautiful horses.