Breeding back to the future–while you still can

16 08 2006

WARNING: I have had it up to here. I will not be polite today. You can take it out on me in the comments, if you like.

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?!

Ramble Ridge Rocket

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.



18 responses

16 08 2006

I have a team of Percherons, and am growing to love the breed. While most draft breeds are more unaffected than their lighter counterparts, Percherons, too have their divisions…”work” type versus “hitch” type. Dare I say we have developed two distinctly different breeds? Sure seems that way when I compare my quiet, plodding 16hh, 2200# horses to their hot, wired 19hh, 1800# “cousins”.

I grew up with foundation Quater Horses in the volatile world of stock horse politics, and am disgusted with the way breeders are “blending” the breeds. There is a reason that horses from different breeds look and act different. They ARE different! It is saddening to see all of these cookie-cutter horses being cranked out by undiscriminating breeders. Pretty soon, everyone will either own a stock horse or a bridlepath horse, and they will all look the same. So much for diversity. Best wishes to those who are struggling to preserve the integrity of their breed. Our prayers are with you.

16 08 2006

Oh my goodness, I would have thought the drafties were immune to that sort of BS! That’s horrible. How can you keep a 19hh, 1800# horse sound?! Thank you very much for your insights.

16 08 2006

excellent post! something I feel very passionate about. I have a foundation bred QH, they are the ones I prefer: muscular, stout with good strong legs.Not-steroidtype like QH halterhorses, and not all narrow and leggy like the appendix reg. ones either. I think people are over breeding and over-typing. Its gotten out of hand. I have never in my life seen a shetland pony like the first picture you posted, that definately screams hack or saddle bred to me too….

22 11 2006

Here! Here! Something that a number of us have been saying for years and it is a constant battle. We have stopped going to horse shows because we breed for breed standards and 90% of the horses that win in halter don’t resemble the breed standards at all. It is so nice to see that there are so many more people out there that feel the same way. Maybe this is a HUGE reason why entries at breed shows is so low….or maybe is just being polite. The truth is…it is the main reason besides being nickel and dimed to death for entry fees and more fees and more fees….

31 01 2007
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31 01 2007

Oh my, this would be the $64,000 question wouldn’t it. Why do they do what they do? with inflation the answer should be worth well over a million.

This is my pet peeve. My breed of choice, the Arabians, are going every which direction. Some are breeding for English horses, some for halter horses, aome for western horses and the list goes on. Specialty is the name of the game. Me, I’m breeding for Arabians, the kind of horses I remember from when I was a kid. My stallion fits the breed type. Shown in halter to the old cowboys, he won everything. Once he got to the regional level with the halter mucky mucks he got the gate.

All I can say is those people breeding for the halter boys are making money. I’m struggling to keep going. This will be my first year not breeding anything. I can’t until I get some horses sold. Trying to get a reputation established as a breeder of quality horses is near impossible unless you play their game. Which I won’t. But being in the position I can breed anymore isn’t going to help preserve those genes. It’s a hard place to be.

31 01 2007

Great post! There is almost the reverse movement in North America with the Akhal-Tekes (also a rare breed) in that people are trying to make them into sport horses for the North American market.

31 01 2007
Learninghorses (Jerri)

It happens because of money. Yep. It all boils down to money. If people didn’t win (winners sell for more) with these types and breeders couldn’t sell them (money, money, money) it would be different.

What I don’t understand is, how can they continue to cross breed and get registered? My breed registry is CLOSED. Registered, genetically tested parents ONLY to get a registered foal and there are not many of us inthe US (maybe 35K). Is that not the case in other registries? In our breed as well you can’t show, earn points, go to nationals, unless your horse is registered, so although we have a little sillyness, nothing like this.

How sad. . .The first horse I ever rode was a Shetland Pony named Petey. He looked nothing like the first picture and everything like the second. This makes me sad.

3 05 2007
tammy sinnett

Hello…..I couldnt believe what I was seeing at the bottom of your page !!! My Father used to show that shetland pony!!!!! And he also showed a shetland named bojans top lady who went all the way to the Nationals!!! those ponies all where measured and were 42 inches and under… those times they did tail set and put false tails on, clipped them and made them look like miniature saddlebreds, I think they are beautiful……my father was a judge also…….when he comes to this day to clip our horses they all end up looking like saddlebreds..(even though they are Thoroughbreds)..just like a fashion trend…..if you have any questions for him I would be gald to ask….and by the way that shetland you posted was the love and inspiration of many!!!!! Back then shetlands where a mini show horse, all dazzle and beauty, but in the winters they looked like any other Shetland…all fury and burly.

5 08 2008

Goodness me, what next…but it does seem that these “modern” deviations of traditional breeds seem to come out of the United States…those “deformed” feet would not be accepted in any other country in the world, yet so many breeds in the US have them???

19 02 2009

Thank YOU! Blessed be the Day I go to Morgan Grand Nationals and there actually REAL Morgans there. They keep the real ones back in the reining, western & Dressage areanas. The grand/main Areanas have the crazy spooked out Saddlebred ones in them as the main attraction. Morgans ARE NOT 16 hands! Someone forgot to tell the Judges! Heres to putting the Morgan Back in the Morgan!!!!

23 06 2009

Wonderful post !! I totally agree !

25 12 2009

Great blog post.

1 05 2012
Ariel Thornton

I’ve read a lot about problem of over-breeding oin both dogs and horses.

The reason it’s happening, in part, is because humans seem to have this issue where we’re taking everything super literally, and to it’s extreme.

So when a breed standard said, i dunno, ‘dished face’ or whatever, people are like, ‘okay, so that means, the more dishy the face, the more i win!” So then you’d end up with horses that noses pointing upwards and faces like a horizontal ‘C’. Cause the face is dished now, RIGHT?

The worse part is that this is creating a huge problem with inbreeding, which is, as inbreeding tends to do, creating tons of problems with genetically inheritided diseases. It’s SO bad in dogs. Pretty much EVERY lab you get will have hip problems, dalamations will have vison issues. every breed has a problem, and it’s the result of breeding kids to parents.

asdfha;fs. This is one of those things I try not to think about because I feel so helpless.

I have one idea. Force EVERYONE who has a fertile pet to learn and fully understand population genetics.

1 05 2012
Ariel Thornton

Also I didn’t know it was even possible for a pony deemed a Shetland’s to HAVE legs that long. Also the legs stretched back pose looks to ugly to me. looks like they’re in some weird pain-avoiding position.

8 09 2012
Amie Ebert

I do own both types, and they both have their usefulness. Its strange that you rail against this type of breeding when the bottom ponies are almost literally an dime an dozen (you can visit any auction in the midwest and pick up an pony looking like that, broke to drive for under $100) and the pony at the top can actually sell for some money (between $1000 and $50,000)
Their is also an difference driving the two, my pony of the more modern breeding is much more fun to drive, while my little foundation (who does have better conformation than those at the bottom) is a nice reliable trail pony, but no where near as nice to drive.
Also when you are looking at the endarged status, they are talking about English shetlands (which has also been changed from the original), not American, and Hackney horses, not hackney ponies.

8 09 2012
Kathy Heaney

I don’t know all the ins and outs of the different breeds but what you have stated makes extreme sense to me and that is how I would want to look at breeding as well.

9 09 2012
Richard Crispin

The last word should go to Caroline Nesbitt in her book, “Pony Breeders Companion”, remembering there is a mix of Timor Pony blood in not only Walers but most of our Australian bred horses.

“we owe a lot to ponies. Over the centuries they have served our ancestors as a means
of transport, source of food, and income, and a beast of burden whose labours often
replaced that of humans.—-They have asked for (and frequently received) very little in
The very natural and man-made adversities that have threatened to wipe out their
populations on numerous occasions throughout the years has in fact given modern
breeders, riders, drivers, a gift of everlasting value that we in the USA are still only
beginning to appreciate. This gift exists in the historically rich genetic diversity and
enduring qualities that are still carried prominently in the heredity of our pony breeds.
In our tendency to breed animals ever bigger and more refined to meet ever more
specific uses, we’ve lost much in the way of intelligence, hardiness of constitution,
soundness of limbs and feet, and the willingness to do what’s asked for cheerfully.
In turning our gaze to ponies, the goal has been to try and improve and refine them in
the same way we’ve done with horses, until they look like nothing more than miniature
versions of the larger breeds
The ‘improved’ pony frequently seen at shows where it excels and for what is largely
bred, is certainly more beautiful and refined than its native cousin. But the newer types
of ponies have not necessarily been able to pass on any attributes that might be
considered beneficial to their further off spring or for many of the people who will ride
and handle them.
REPLACED. They have become extinct.
—–the point is rather that the improved ponies and refined horses demand and can
benefit from the enduring qualities of the original native pony to maintain or reintroduce
all of that which is good about the traditional types. These characteristics are necessary
to the genetic health and continued prosperity of all ponies and horses

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