Colida Twisted Lace and her 2018 filly Secretly Laced Up
The versatile horse is coming back into style! There's no doubt that taking home that big high point or versatility award has a lot of appeal when showing, but versatility can also be applied to working horses and hobby riding horses as well. A horse that can wear many hats is a valuable one, and it often starts in the breeding shed.
As the horse market continues to evolve, breeders looking to stay abreast of the current trends will do well to look towards breeding for versatility. These days, most horse owners will have one or two personal horses - that's as much as most hobby horse owners can comfortably afford and still take the utmost care of their equine best friends. Having one or two horses means that the horses they DO have need to be able to roll with their evolving interests, or they have to sell a horse unsuited for any new directions in their horse interests in order to buy a more discipline appropriate horse. But, when their horse has the ability to move disciplines, that saves them the hassle!
The first and most important thing you'll need for a versatile horse is a good BRAIN. A horse capable of learning and evolving with each new thing you throw at them is downright necessary for those who want true versatility. Intelligence and adaptability can be bred for, so can stubbornness and nervousness - so make your choices with the utmost care. You will want to select horses that are versatile themselves, fast learners, and problem solvers for the best chance at a foal with a mind for versatility.
In a close second is good working conformation. Trends are temporary, but balance is unchanging. Creating a horse with the ability to do many things well takes much more than crossing two horses who excel in vastly different things- do that and you're more than likely to get a hodge podge of traits ill suited for any discipline besides pasture pet. Horses at the top of their respective disciplines often have an extreme conformation that makes them ill-suited for any level of competition in other arenas, which means if they flunk out of their born and bred intention, they rarely have a soft landing. Avoid the extremes, as they are ever evolving anyway, and stick to good balance. You'll want a horse with a good pillar of support, uphill build, good angles and good gaits. The more natural balance your foal has, the more opportunities they have available to them!
If you're looking to use an outside stallion to produce your versatile foal, examine them critically. A lot of championships are awarded on less than true versatility and more on excelling in one thing and cobbling together points in everything else. If the stallion is a world champion cattle horse and then scrounged together a few pleasure and halter points, they aren't really versatile - their owner could just afford entry fees. Likewise, look at their production record! If they have 90% of their foals in one particular discipline (or unshown) and one or two out there competing across the board, you may want to attribute those accolades to the dam's influence instead!
Look for a broad range of accomplishments across the foals produced! An example is our senior stallion, Colida SkipNTwist. He has foals with wins in halter/conformation, western pleasure, saddleseat, jumping, hunter, dressage, speed events and more - and many of those horses compete in multiple disciplines and are produced from different dams. We know when we have foals on the ground by him, or his offspring, that there are a wide range of possibilities for their future - because he stamps them with his good working conformation and his good mind.
Pedigree can tell you a lot when looking at your foal's future. A family tree full of versatile horses is a good nod to potential! Study it carefully - a pedigree can be used for much more than searching up good traits, it can also ferret out potential problems to be aware of. If there are several horses that were 'retired early/unshown due to injury', that is a red flag for the possibility of lurking soundness issues. A sound horse is required for versatility!
Your foal's overall health is also key if you have a wish for a competitive or working all around horse. Using a horse that carries defects that will effect soundness or quality of life will work directly against that. Chronic pain or discomfort later in life will make all of your investment that much harder to see a return on, or even completely worthless. Stop it at the door by only breeding to horses tested for any worrying defects found in your breeds. Avoid using horses from lines known to break down early or have soundness issues as they age, as training the versatile horse will mean finishing them in multiple disciplines and years of hard work!
You'll often know if you have a candidate for versatility early. Good conformation and good care are evident early on, and a good handler will be able to recognize the mind of a prospect from the very early days (they're commonly too smart for their own good). By raising, training, and showing or working successful, versatile foals from your program, you place yourself in a market with a growing demand and not enough supply! The days of having 10 show horses to cover all of your interests are coming to a close.
It's about time the one trick pony was a relic of days gone by.
Trinity Appaloosa Farm