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