Friday, May 15, 2020

Knowing when to quit.

We love our older horses and most of them have enjoyed very long and successful show careers. We make sure we don’t start our horses too early, (3.5 years is the earliest we ever start a horse under saddle) we avoid repetitive exercise like excessive lunging and round penning and we monitor our horses’ knees and hocks and watch for stiffness and movement that is off. Even with all of these considerations some horses just need to retire earlier than others.

It’s ironic that in an industry that considers 3 and 4 year old racehorses being retired the norm, that the other end of the spectrum falls to people trying to wring the last bit of glory and status out of their horses. Call it ego, greed or foolishness, the simple fact is that it happens way more than it should. It’s all well and good to keep an older horse over the age of 15 working, but when they already have an established show career and have retired a champion it’s a bit redundant to keep piling the work on, especially when they’ve had several years off with no work at all.

We’re not talking about taking a horse out for an easy quiet trail ride, or saddling him up to lead the kids around on, or even something fun like a photo or video show. Even use as a beginner level lesson horses isn’t too big a strain. And older horses are the exact ones from which beginners need to be learning. Going to breed expos is also another good use for older retired horses, as it allows them to show off their skills with light riding and to also interact with hordes of horse adoring people. ( We’re looking at you Stonewall Rascal, you attention hound!) However, the work level needs to match not only the age level, but the fitness level. Just like with people, the older you are, the harder it is to get back into shape after a long time off. Not only is it harder, but it can create damage that will then alter a quiet, pain free retirement into a stressful, pain filled, forced retirement when joints and muscle strains flare up, as well as bone damage that results in calcium spurs and osteoarthritis. We’ve also noticed a prevalence of serious ulcer flare ups and fatal colics with horses that are not very carefully brought back up to peak competition fitness.

So how does this happen? It happens when people get greedy or need their ego stroked, or they are so desperate for recognition they want to tag along on their horse’s previous fame. Because after a horse has earned their retirement and deserves to be treated kindly and fairly, or to enjoy their down time with foals or stud services, it’s bonkers to pull them back out of for the sake of a ribbon. No ribbon is worth the health of your horse. Again, we’re not talking about horses that have kept working and maintained a high level of fitness into their teens, we’re talking about horses that have been full on retired and then get pulled out in their late teens and put back into strenuous show training such as dressage, reining or jumping. We’ve seen it happens at all levels, from retired ponies that then get dragged back out so the next generation of grand kids can run the crap out of it at a local play day, or a retired stallion that isn’t attracting the breedings as much as anticipated, so the owner thinks they can create more hype by sending the horse to a trainer to try to get some points in a new discipline. Both are unethical and wrong to do to the horse. It serves no purpose but to make the owner look foolish. The level of physical fitness required to be restarted is immense, and in the case of dressage, with its focus on bending, core work and extension it can be detrimental.

It's a cheap win to take a retired champion out and continue putting them through their paces as well. Why continue milking ribbons out of an older established horse while leaving your young stock and blank record horses to sit? Only showing one horse out of an entire program makes us nervous as prospective buyers. Are the other horses not up to snuff? Or is the owner too ignorant or afraid of bringing up a horse that isn't ready-made?

So who would take on such a horse for training and fitting? It would be someone that is unethical and just wants a check, while they add further damage to an older musculoskeletal system. They have neither a conscience nor an understanding of horse anatomy. We’ve been asked in the past to train horses past their level of ability and the answer is always NO. We would never do it with our own horses and we absolutely will not do it with someone else’s. This is another one of those areas that can send up the red flags as to whether a breeder or trainer is ethical. If they are trying to squeeze a few more ego stroking wins out of a previously retired horse then the answer is that they aren’t. If they are subjecting an older horse to strenuous training to try to sell breedings or market foals then it’s clear the checkbook, not compassion, guides their moral compass. Horses deserve better, we owe it to them.

Tracy Meisenbach
February 2020
Trinity Appaloosa Farm

Friday, May 8, 2020

Breeding for Versatility - A Brighter Future For Your Foals

                                           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.

Bron Stark
Trinity Appaloosa Farm

Friday, May 1, 2020

Some Thoughts On The Pinto Association and Appaloosas

                                                Twisted as Heck, 2017 ApHC grulla stallion
As some of you are aware, The Pinto Horse Association has now opened their doors to the registration and showing of regular registry Appaloosas (and POAs) in their Solid Color classification (which is now a bit mis-named, but that's hardly an issue right now). It's a lot to think about.
Even 20 years ago, the idea of registering an Appaloosa with Pinto was ludicrous. Insulting, even. It was a place for that solid gelding with high whites to go show and conveniently never be referred to as an appaloosa. But these days, it's more complicated. The reason why we think this will be a successful move on Pinto's part is that, ultimately, ApHC has not been doing their part as custodians of our great breed.
There's little point going to ApHC shows anymore if you don't run in the judge/trainer circles. You can show just about anywhere else and have more fun, get better prizes, get more recognition, and spend half the money (or less!). The World Show and Nationals are shadows of their former selves. Show and point fees are so high, and politics so heavy, that it's pretty much the same people that have been competing and winning the last decade. We breed for the open circuit, and our horses do quite well there, so we don't feel the hurt as bad, but we do miss the breed community- seeing an apaloosa at a show besides us is like spotting a unicorn!
The ApHC has also driven away members year after year by taking away beneficial programs (the payouts the performance permit were supposed to fund, for starters), being difficult about upgrading papers, even with test results RIGHT in front of them, and not caring if horses continue to fall through the cracks. After working with breed associations that do EVERYTHING to try and keep track of horses and keep owners motivated and included in the community, the ApHC feels like poorly drawn imposter of what it once was.
So that brings us back to Pinto. If ApHC won't pick up the slack and give back to the community, someone's gonna step in and fill that niche. That someone is apparently Pinto. We've heard rave reviews about their show systems, their community, their show prizes, how much fun they are. The hard truth is that there's no point looking a gift horse in the mouth. We want our foals to do well wherever they go. And if they ended up dual registered with Pinto, we'll support them all the way! Some of the old guard may be rankled, and it certainly is a bit of an initial gut punch to those of us that have been around a while.
But, more places to take your Appaloosa bloodstock increases their value. Access to fun shows with good prizes may mean that folks that left the breed for greener pastures may return. People may buy your ApHC foals to put Pinto papers on them and never look back. Anything that allows them to keep their breed identity SOMEWHERE and still have value is a blessing.
The breed sadly needs a boost like this. The owners and breeders need another market. They need an expanded community. They need access to the kind of stuff that Pinto can provide. If you're upset about it, don't point the finger at Pinto, who are welcoming us in the door and giving us a place to find more value in our horses. Point the finger at the people who should be at the forefront of innovation, community, marketing, and preservation of our breed and have failed the majority. The past 13 years under abysmal leadership and corruption at the highest levels has hurt our breed. Maybe if they feel the heat enough, we'll get some of what Pinto is offering brought back home to us. If they don't, we can at least take our toys and go play in Pinto's sandbox.

Bron Stark
Trinity Appaloosa Farm

Friday, April 24, 2020

Breeding and Planned Obsolescence

                                                        HexenNacht, 2016 ASHDA foal
When we look at a lot of the horse industry, it's easy to see the positive changes. Feed, vet care, hoof care, and safe breeding practices have come a long way, even in just the last decade. But, it seems like more and more horses are requiring maintenance than ever before.
Planned Obsolescence is the production of a product that will need to be replaced in a set amount of time. It's common in electronics and appliances in particular, so much so that we're conditioned to start looking at upgrades before we even need them. It keeps the money rolling in to big companies on the regular, instead of selling a single product that lasts a lifetime, they can sell to the same customer over and over again like clockwork.
The horse industry has become riddled with it! Breeding horses with unsound, fad conformation and gaits creates an animal that won't be sound for 20 years, probably not even 10. How many top show horses are retired by 12? Mares and stallions retire to the breeding pen to keep churning out brittle replacements. If a gelding is lucky, he may be kept for sentimental reasons or found a home where they don't mind paying for additional maintenance, but a lot of them vanish through the cracks. The show horses of today need hock injections, specialty shoes, buckets of numbing poultices, and more expansive drug rules by the year. And for what? To amble through a few classes at congress? Long gone are the days when pleasure classes were a stepping stone for young horses on the way to a hard working career in a tougher sport. These days, they're the end goal, and too many don't even make the cut for that much.
Those horses retire after a few years and are replaced by a newer horse, and the cycle goes on and on. We've seen horses under ten years of age with a maintenance routine that would scare my 93 year old grandma! And this is okay with their breeders because they won a trophy. People new to horses don't know about this tough cycle of breaking down and buying anew, which often results in a huge financial investment they aren't prepared for, or a horse with debilitating issues going untreated. The rare, exceedingly lucky, horse in those circumstances may eventually find a soft landing with someone that has a big heart and a big wallet, but a lot will be dumped off to make room for the next unsound horse.
The furthering of these horses is just NOT ethical. Young, and even middle aged horses that can't hardly handle a six or seven minute pleasure class without drugs, injections, piles of supplements, and tubs of numbing ointments aren't the best example of anything- except shady marketing. Our thirty year old horses can still be ridden. Our twenty year old horses can go out and work HARD. Any of the riding horses in our breeding herd can show all day and go on a ten mile ride when they're done. They aren't bred to break down so you'll come back and buy a younger, newer model in a few years. We want you to have one of our horses for twenty years or more and ride them the whole time (or have the option to- Iife does get between your butt and the saddle sometimes!). We have no interest in selling you a vet bill or a maintenance case that's good for one or two classes and then has to be put away and wrapped back up like a porcelain doll.
More breeders need to step up and take action. By producing these horses, they are committing to the fact that their horses will have to survive on luck or compassion alone once they have outlived their usefulness, and that that usefulness will be short lived. These horses fill kill pens. They choke rescues. They stand in backwoods auction lots with no papers and no prospects.
Buyers, do your research. Look past the silver saddles, the professional advertising, the futurity money. Are these horses still sound enough for hard riding when they're knocking on 20? Do they need specialty farrier work, supplements, and painkillers just to putter around? Ask the hard questions, and don't let people talk you into seeing the exception as the rule.
A horse should be a hard working partner for decades, not something that needs replacing every few years. Don't saddle yourself with a walking vet bill. Don't buy into the disposable market.

Bron Stark
Trinity Appaloosa Farm

Friday, April 17, 2020

Pledging to do better.

HexenHammer with a young fan at Breyerfest Photo by Morgan Reeves.

We've been around a while, and we see a lot of folks that want to try their hand at raising horses. We'd like to see more people doing it right, so, we've created a pledge for Ethical Breeding, and we'd like to see who is willing to commit to putting horses on the ground the right way!
I pledge:
To always breed for the betterment of the horse. To not willfully breed forward animals with a low quality of life.
To not put a poor quality foal on the ground for the sake of a check- whether it is out of my mare or someone else's.
To register every foal I produce that can be registered somewhere reputable, as those papers may earn them a soft landing in an uncertain future where I cannot reach them.
To take care of my breeding animals, giving them all the same care and respect, not neglecting their maintenance because they are out of the show ring or "just" a broodmare.
To retire the old when they are no longer useful, and care for them until it is time to say goodbye, not to turn out an elderly animal that has given me the best years of their life for a few hundred bucks.
To not compromise ethics in the face of fashion, ignoring show ring trends and designer fads that work against the production of sound animals and training practices.
To put well rounded, good minded horses out into the world, not just produce foals and throw them, ill-mannered and unsocialized, out into the world.
To have a home where my foals can return to if they have fallen through the cracks, and if I cannot take them, I will do everything I can to see them otherwise safe.
To not be color, hair, or rarity blind, as none of those things make a good horse, and cannot stand on their own (or even in concert) as the only reason to breed an animal.
And finally, to always be learning and changing based on new information, as we never stop having opportunities to improve!
If you'd like to make the pledge along with us, go ahead and share our post.

Bron Stark
Trinity Appaloosa Farm

Friday, April 10, 2020

Registration Papers - A Ticket Out

      Twisted Heiress, ApHC, CRHA, ASHDA AC and her filly Psuperstious Twist, ApHC, AHA, CRHA
We hear it a lot. "You can't ride papers. Papers don't make the horse. Papers don't matter. I don't need to paper my foal, it's just for me. I don't need to transfer a horse, I'm not gonna show it." Well, guess what? You are part of a cycle that allows good horses to fall through the cracks.
We get a lot of messages, phone calls, and emails (as do other popular farms, I'm sure) about Appaloosas in kill pens, on craigslist, at auction or in need of rescue. There's a lot of reasons a horse can end up in a bad situation, which means that sometimes a good quality animal turns up in a Kill Pen. The problem? Most of them don't have papers. For whatever reason, either they were born grade, breeder was too cheap or lazy to register them, or a buyer didn't feel like keeping track of them, or even the person selling didn't want their name associated with a horse in a bad situation. Horses without papers have a harder time getting out of these places, it's just a fact. Papers tell you the horses' history and accurate information, they tell you pedigree (which can be researched for points both good and bad), they tell you who has owned the horse before, they allow you to find out more information such as if the horse has any foals on the ground, their breeder, if they have show points.
All of these points from a horse's papers can be lifelines, extending out all over the place. A breeder who doesn't know a foal from their program is in a bad spot may want to take them back (we certainly would!), a previous owner may want them back, someone who leased them or even just knew them for a time, even someone who owns a horse related to them. Show points attached to their name prove at least some ability in a discipline. The horse may have genetic testing you can gain access to. All of that and more from one set of papers.
This is why we are sure to paper EVERY foal. It's why we push buyers to transfer them so they have a paper trail if they are ever sold again. It's why we never produce grade foals, and don't cover outside mares that can't produce papered foals. Because we've been the person, sitting on the other side of the screen going, "I just can't take that sort of risk on a horse with no papers". And there is a lot of risk in getting a horse out of a bad situation: health issues, mishandling, genetic defects, not to mention the kind of stress and sickness that just comes from setting foot in a kill pen. How many hundreds, even thousands, of people might have also clicked that back button?
We're a breeding farm and every horse here works double and triple duty to promote our breeds, even the geldings. An unpapered horse, even a super nice one, just isn't useful to us. We won't breed an unpapered horse. We can't take them to breed shows or enroll them in breed-specific programs. And it's an economically poor decision to invest money in a horse that can't help promote your program. Which means those horses in the kill pen or at the auction yard that can cost as much as a good papered horse from a private seller are horses we have to just pass on by, even if visually, they check all the boxes.
Don't get us wrong, the kill pen industry is a scam, pure and simple. Horses are bought for a song and their prices are jacked and threatened with slaughter to prey on the panic response of the public. It's a broken and messed up system. But, it isn't going away anytime soon. And because it isn't, every breeder and owner needs to take every precaution they have that if one of their horses is ever posted on a kill pen page, they won't be passed over because they don't have papers. There's a lot more you can do to take preventative measures, but papers are a solid first step. We also freeze brand all of our personal stock and any foals we retain after around 18mos-2 years, so that even if their physical papers get lost, they have a line back to us. Microchipping is also becoming popular. And, of course, simply breeding high quality horses on a small scale so you don't have to dump off your excess at horse sales helps too.
As owners and breeders, it's our job to send our foals out there with as many lifelines as possible. Breed for the best foal you can and do your dang paperwork.

Bron Stark
Trinity Appaloosa Farm

Friday, April 3, 2020

Stallion Fees - Nickel and Diming Your Business Away

                               R Secrets R Gold Dun, Bronze Medallion ApHC and CRHA Stallion
                                                                   Photo by Marion Berg

We don't use a lot of outside stallions, preferring to buy mares and breed to our own boys. But, sometimes you gotta have outside blood to keep your gene pool diverse. So, for the first time in a VERY long time, we're actively stallion shopping. And it is a real pain in the butt.
Our own stallion fees are straight forward. Stud fee plus mare care for onsite breeding, stud fee plus flat rate collection fee and shipping for chilled semen. We do have a booking fee, but it is applied to the stud fee, not in addition to it (a Time Waster's fee, we call it), and it's not required for mare owners to pay it early if they want to chance a spot still being available later in the season. We also offer a plethora of discounts that owners of proven mares can get in on, giving you your nickels and dimes back instead of adding up fees day in and day out.
We've been there, getting nickeled and dimed, and boy does it ever make us mad. Especially when the extra fees are hidden in the fine print or not brought up at all. We've had to walk away from the money we spent on a stallion auction stud fee because the added fees JUST from the stallion owner (chute fees and collection fees and fees for hauling to the vet) added another several THOUSAND dollars to the stud fee, not to mention the fees on this end to have the mare inseminated by a vet. Needless to say, that stallion, despite being good enough for us to buy a breeding to, doesn't get recommended to anyone by us and we haven't added any of his blood to our program later on.
The thing about stud fees is, they are a return investment for both the mare owner, and the stallion owner. If someone intending to raise and show their foal comes to you, pays a fee, and puts a championship on the foal, that's a success the stallion owner is party to and can capitalize on further as proof their stallion produces well. The mare owner invests in a stud fee to produce their next champion, and it pays for both sides to be picky- no one likes do-overs (but repeat business is excellent).
When it comes to a lot of these superfluous fees though, you lose business- and in losing that business you lose your future investment. One person might be okay with adding an extra thousand dollars to their bill, but the people with champion producing mares and breeding programs will get offers from business-savvy stallion owners who are more worried about their stallion's production record than a few hundred more bucks. If one person pays that thousand dollar chute fee, and ten people decide to take their good mares to better pastures, you've lost money- and a LOT of it, meanwhile a lower cost, but not lower quality, stallion has progeny in the ring helping him get more stud fees.
Now, we're not saying give stud fees away, if your stallion has value, you should get paid for it. However, unproven stallions asking stud fees higher than proven World Champions is ridiculous. If your stallion has no foal crops then he should not be asking top prices. If he has limited foal crops he still doesn't meet the criteria for top stud fees. Until he has foals old enough to be competing and winning under saddle then he needs to stay at mid range or below. When we see stallions who have less competition records than our Bronze Medallion stallion asking twice the fees, no proven foals and all kinds of add ons it tells us that either you don't want our business or you have NO idea how this business works. We don't ask for discounts, we just want the honest answers when it comes to fees. If you have extra fees, be up front and don't spend hours talking up your stallion only to disclose the fees much later on. Then, we don't waste each other's time. We've gotten to the point where we want to hear about fees first and everything else second. Sure, he's a perfect angel and sires unicorns, but are you gonna charge me to put a halter on him? Am I paying for his farrier visit while I'm at it? I just want a syringe of Thunder Concentrate, I'm not buying part ownership here.
The other thing is, a lot of mare owners are viciously monogamous. We are too! If we breed to a stallion once and like the result, we'll be back, even if it takes a few years. And we'll tell our friends about him too. We LOVE our repeat clients- so much so that they get discounts for coming back to us! The stallion industry is highly competitive and good programs that will elevate your stallion's reputation are needed to pad out his production record. Don't scare folks off for a few extra dollars!
To hear about our no-frills and no-nonsense stud fees (and our discounts!), shoot us a message

Bron Stark
Trinity Appaloosa Farm