When you have devoted some 15 years to breeding horses. Lots of money, blood, sweat and tears have gone into it. You've met dickheads and tore your hair out. You've met opportunists, cheats, liars, glory-chasers, egoists and plain and utter pricks. You've met nice people, you have had fun.You still keep in touch with people who bought horses from you and they drop you a line every so often to tell you how they are going. Breeding horses makes enemies and it makes friends.
But what makes me most sad is when the nice horses you have bred are not wanted. I think it's hard to promote a relatively unknown breed in a country. Horse people are conservative types. Most of the good riders and horse people are already entrenched in particular equestrian persuits and it's very hard to budge them. So it's mostly newcomers who are interested in trying something new and different. Which is fabulous. But many newcomers are not very experienced. And as they embark on their new adventure as horse owners, they often hit snags. The usual snags, the ones that everyone encounters in the long learning journey with horses. Mistakes have to be made in this learning process. Unfortunately, as the experienced horseman wanders by and looks at the enthusiastic amateur with his lovely new horse, the experienced horseman sees problems. And every time he sees a horse of a new and unusual breed, he sees a horse ridden or handled in a "sub-optimal" way. It's not difficult to see how horse people can soon come to the conclusion that it's better to stay away from breed X, because they are obviously "difficult". A bit of a vicious circle.
Then you have the problem of enthusiastic amateur breeders who unknowingly propagage flaws, be the in conformation or temperament. Firstly, with new breeds, bloodlines are scarce. Secondly, there is a lack of a good eye for a good horse. On the other hand, many starry-eyed enthusiasts have been indoctrinated by pretty pictures and fabled tales of the prowess of horses from breed X in some faraway country and in a faraway time. It's not even necessary to doubt those tales. There have always been extraordinary horses, extraordinary horsemen and and extraordinary circumstances, which lead to amazing feats. What pains me is when I see enthusiastic but unknowing people go horse shopping and get talked into buying horses which are sub-standard A) as a horse and B) as a representative of breed X. I have even seen people look at flaws in some breeds which were marketed as desirable breed characteristics. For example, very flexy pasterns, very long backs, very upright shoulders and legs etc. And here again, we have the experienced horseman walk past and scratch his head when he hears the enthusiast expound the qualities of an exotic horse which is evidently not suitable for normal riding use. And that exotic horse cost an awful lot of money.
Some people will get all excited over horse colours, overlooking obvious flaws in conformation and temperament, just to get that oh-so-fabulous colour. Some people get all hooked up on fancy pedigrees, on blue ribbons or whatever.
Basically, the proof of a good horse is it's ability to perform the job it was bred for. So a saddle horse should give his rider many years of comfortable rides, be it chasing cows, chasing foxes, jumping jumps, taking the kids to pony club or going out on the trails. No matter how exotic the breed, no matter what the special characteristics, the rules of good, robust conformation and excellent temperament should never be violated. I think it's possible to have breed typical horses of ANY breed without making compromises on those general rules.
So let's say, as a breeder, I've done my best to breed horses like that. Sure, like all breeders, whether they admit it or not, I have produced horses that I considered to be below standard. However, they weren't sold for top dollar to unsuspecting newcomers. Some made acceptable pleasure horses, some ended up performing a useful function by helping roses grow. But I have produced a number of horses over the years which are really nice. Breed typical. Well put together, and moving well as a result. Nice and companionable and cooperative. Nicer than many horses I was shown when I went out looking for breeding prospect over the years. I guess I feel I had some success if the horses I breed are better than what I started with. But what a lot of searching, planning, working and waiting has gone into that!
After 15 years, I am going to give up on Saddlebreds. Not because I don't like them. I really do like them. I really do think that they would make excellent mounts for people in nearly all equestrian sports and recreational persuits. But that breed has been hampered by a lot of bad press, the image of being a crazy show horse, lousy marketing, lack of exposure and the antics of some of the breeders. Add to that the effects of the Equine Influenza a couple of years back, several droughts in parts of Australia and the recent enomic downturn which is affecting most of us, and you have a virtually non-existent market.
So I'm sad. So much work, so much hope, so much enthusiasm... But let's look at the bright side. So many lessons learned, so many nice horses which are enjoyed by their owners. So many nice people I met.
I'm going to keep one, maybe even two. Just for old time's sake. And I'm not giving up on horses. Oh no. I will continue breeding and training and riding, even if on a much smaller scale. But I'm going to focus solely on gaited horses. It's my great love, my specialty. And I like the Pasos. And yes, I think there is a bit of a market for these horses. Things might be quiet now, but they will pick up. So many people are wanting comfortable riding horses, to go trailriding and enjoy themselves. What better way is there than a Paso?
So I'm sad, but I'm also happy. And on that note... Sadness be gone!!