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Breeding Back to the Future–While You Still Can
from a Blog by Doris Ostendorf

It seems that a lot of breeds now find themselves divided into “traditional” and “modern” types, with devotees of the former saying that they are working to reclaim the original type, movement, soundness and temperament; the latter often say that the modern type is what wins, or is an “improvement” on the original breed. Now, why is something winning if it doesn’t meet the breed standard? Why would changing a breed “improve” it?

But what I really want to know is, on what planet is this a Shetland pony?!

This, my darlings, is Ramble Ridge Rocket, a 3-time National Champion Shetland. Yes, really. Look at the Hackney influence there, the cruppered tail, the ridiculous feet, the heronlike neck; he looks like a wee Saddlebred or modern Morgan. Why would you take an ancient, functional breed and tart it up like this for the show ring? Why turn your back on centuries of breeding and adaptation and decide that the saddleseat ethos will rule your decisions from now on? More to the point, are you on crack or what?

Rare Breeds of Canada puts the Shetland on its Critical list, while the Hackney is considered Endangered. Does it make much sense to diminish the gene pool of each through unnecessary crossbreeding?

Sadly, the Shetland is only one of several breeds which has had to resort to creating a “foundation” or “classic” division in order to save the original phenotype and genotype in the face of trendy outcrossing. The Foundation Appaloosa Horse Club was created to preserve the original type and keep it from turning into just a spotted Quarter horse or Thoroughbred, while there are a few different foundation Quarter horse registries which aim to limit the amount of Thoroughbred blood.

In an earlier post, Breeding out the usefulness?, I mentioned the formation of the Foundation Morgan Horse Society as an attempt to save the breed from legal and illegal infusions of Saddlebred and Hackney blood. Here’s the kicker: the same man who was involved in the Rhythm Nation fiasco has now moved on to…Hackneys and Shetlands. (So much for that USEF ban, eh?)

People, I need to know: what exactly is going on in the horse world? Do people really prefer those park-type ponies and Morgans over the classic conformation, or have they just been brainwashed into thinking “My horse is typy! Damned typy!”? Does every stock breed have to be a Quarter horse? Are we so consumed with body image now that we want our horses to be as sleek, tube-shaped, and useless as Paris Hilton? More to the point, how does this deviation from a breed’s tradition get rewarded in the show ring?! Someone must be going along with it instead of discreetly excusing them from the ring, but why?

If you’re serious about honouring a breed–any breed, any animal–both the genotype (genetic makeup) and phenotype (physical characteristics) must be preserved and bred intelligently. Introducing outside blood or changing the conformation altogether will waste the legacy created by generations of previous horsemen and horsewomen, and deny future breeders the base they need to keep the line going. To be honest, I hate to see saddleseat introduced to a breed’s field of endeavour (I’m looking at YOU, Canadian Horses and Friesians), as for some reason that seems to create a situation where the “original” or “classic” horse is likely not a natural fit. This then induces people to start breeding away from the standard in order to get the neck and the motion required for the discipline. The rarer breeds can’t afford this; they are struggling to keep their numbers up as it is. If it isn’t something which comes naturally, why force it? You can’t turn a purebred Shire into a natural three-day event horse; this doesn’t mean you should start adding Thoroughbred blood to “improve” it. Let the Saddlebreds and Hackneys continue to shine in saddleseat; they’ve been bred towards that goal for many, many years. Just leave the Morgans, Friesians, Canadians, Arabs, and Shetlands out of it, and let them be what they are instead of trying to force them into a mold they were never intended to fit.

To everyone out there breeding “classic” or “foundation” horses and trying to preserve the legacy of those who went before you, I utter a heartfelt “Bravo” and “Keep up the good fight.” To everyone out there who is angered by this, or shaking your head thinking that I don’t get it–enlighten me, please. Why do you think you’re doing the right thing? Hopefully, trying to convince me will keep you too busy to keep squandering whatever valuable equine blood you still have left.


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