By Linda White
The horse breeder’s task is to select and breed animals that are best suited, physically and temperamentally, to whatever physical (and mental) job the breeder has in mind. That is nothing new. Neither is judging breeds of horses by how pleasing to the eye they are, or how well they perform. There is one key element that separates horse judging from competitions like horse racing or steeplechasing. A horse race in any form is objective. The first horse to cross the finish line is the winner. Judging horses in hand or in performance under saddle or hitched to a wheeled vehicle, is subjective. The judge or judges choose the winner, based on their own opinions and preferences. In North America, horse shows date back to the earliest European settlers’ arrival. Over time, horse people recognized the need for a system of rules for their non-racing horse activities. A governing or regulatory body of some kind would be essential to enforcing those rules.
Since 1917, when Reginald Vanderbilt and a select group of his fellow horsemen gathered in New York City, brainstormed rules and guidelines specific to various breeds and disciplines, and incorporated the Association of American Horse Shows, the sport of showing horses has had an official, governing body. Several name changes followed. In 2003, a merger with the United States Equestrian Team resulted in United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) we have today. The official rule book has grown from a thin pamphlet into a heavy tome; rules and regulations for Arabian horses (AR) begin on page 540. The breed standard, class conduct and specifications, horses’ and exhibitors’ eligibility, and rules, regulations and penalties are spelled out in minute detail for every class, division and discipline. What are not spelled out, however, are the subjective aspects of presenting, showing and judging Arabians, Half-Arabians and Anglo-Arabians in halter or performance. Performance is a little easier, i.e., the horse either takes his right canter lead, or he doesn’t. He might throw a hissy when asked to stand quietly, or balk at a jump and pitch his rider into the shrubbery. The possibilities for judging and scoring halter horses depend on each judge’s personal preference for the horse he or she deems classier and more refined than the other horses in the class. Fortunately, the USEF conducts rigorous seminars, educational programs and qualification standards for official, USEF-recognized judges.
“They’re not secrets,” the Minnesota horseman begins. “The principles of breeding great horses are twofold: vision and knowledge. Specific to vision, what do you, as a breeder, want to accomplish? Develop an eye for the artistic standards of our breed, and for the horse that are most appealing to you. All successful halter horses have the same basic attributes: Arabian type, quality and refinement, correct conformational structure and natural animation. What separates the best from the rest? Arabian type. Type has always been a prerequisite for breeding Arabians. How do you develop an eye for type? Go see the actual horses. There is a limit to what photographs can tell you.
“Learn about the pedigrees of the horse that appeal to you most. Great breeders, like John Rogers
“There is much discussion about coat color,” Mishek continues. “History has shown us that color follows genotype. Is this horse the same color as the great horses in its pedigree? If so, this horse is far more likely to reflect the most desirable qualities of its ancestry. For example, Khemosabi was one of the Arabian breed’s greatest modern sires; many of his offspring were national-winning halter horses. Khemosabi was bay, like the best horses in his pedigree. The bay Khemosabi offspring were, with a few exceptions, superior to his grey offspring. Khemosabi had a grey, full brother. As an individual and as a breeding horse, he never displayed the great qualities nor the potential inherent in that pedigree.
“People forget the virtue of patience,” says Mishek, echoing the sentiments of many breeders, ancient and modern. “Dan Gainey always said that in the breeding of Arabian horses, a lifetime is not enough. I would add to that, ‘…a lifetime is not quite enough.’ And that really is the case. We breed horses for tomorrow, not just for today. In nature, there are very few great stallions, because one stallion can sire many offspring. There are more great mares, because their ability to reproduce is far less. That way, a poor stallion with little to offer may breed many mares, some of them outstanding, but because of the mares’ limited reproductive capabilities, he won’t able to cover the world with his mediocrity. “
“The late Mike Villasenor always said, ‘It doesn’t matter how much you promote or train a horse. You’re still going to get what God intended. That is, regardless of their pedigree or popularity, only the truly great ones are the ones who will produce greatness.’
“You will never be a great breeder unless you are truly passionate, heart and soul, about creating the next generation or generations of great ones for the breeders who follow. A perfect example is Poland’s state stud farms and their breeding managers. The manager is there for a lifetime, so it is his vision, knowledge and education that are reflected in the horse we find at each stud.”
“The show ring is a very important tool for breeders,” Mishek concedes. “The show ring is the one place to see and compare and enjoy a coming together of the results of educated breeding decisions. The show ring is a measuring stick, but it is only a tool. Over history, many of the greatest breeding horses were never shown, or were not outstanding show horses. This is why it is so important to have vision and knowledge. In addition, you need passion … and luck.” He shrugs. “You’ll need luck. In making breeding decisions, the number of genetic possibilities and combinations is endless. Luck definitely comes into play. Make the best, most educated choices you can … and say your prayers to God above.”