Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Breed vs.Grade

The only purebred animal I think I've ever really had in my life was a Siamese cat when I was thirteen. We didn't buy him from a breeder. He was given to us by a vet.

Jed was nine months old when we met. Jed's owner didn't want him anymore because he chased her dogs. My mom had recently lost her Siamese to feline leukemia, this was back in the mid-70's. My mom didn't want to care for another cat, or become attached, but she's a sucker for homeless animals. She asked me if I wanted the unruly Siamese since he was in need of a home. This way, Jed would be my responsibility not hers. She was still grieving the loss of her Zach who she'd had for many years.

Even our once-in-a-lifetime German Shepherd, Xena, probably wasn't a pure breed. She didn't come with any AKC papers. We often wondered if she did indeed have some wolf in her close bloodlines. But then, we didn't buy her either. She was cast off from her breeder due to the fact she was not the white German Shepherd they were trying to get. We didn't care about that, we loved her for all the twelve years she was with us.

When I was thinking about getting a horse (or two as it turned out) I really had no intention of going any specific breed at first. I must admit, I wanted a paint/pinto for reasons I can't explain, I am drawn to that particular coat coloring.

I think we all know a good horse has no particular color. However, I did have my personal preferences, and I had always wanted a painted pony of some kind.

I had been looking at Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses and especially Spotted Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses. I'd found a breeder of KMSH's 20 miles south of us, in Northern Kentucky. I emailed him. At that time he didn't have any spotted horses but wanted me to come see his other horses. Oh, I forgot to mention that since my husband and I were in our mid-40's at the time and Hubby has lower back problems, I had been swayed by my research to look for a gaited breed by then, which led me to the KMSHs.

Just before I was about to set up an appointment to go see some of these horses, I ran across an ad on the Someone locally had Spotted Saddle Horses for sale. Now, at that moment, I had never heard of Spotted Saddle Horses so had to get online and do some research.

At first I wasn't happy to find that SSHs are Tennessee Walkers with the pinto markings, to put it rather simply. Of all the horse breeds I was aware of at that time, I was not a fan of TWHs, never had been. Oh, sure, they're beautiful, big, strong, but I had only seen those horses who performed the exaggerated steps (as I later learned) in the show ring when I had attended horse shows years ago. I wasn't fond of them. I thought they were prissy horses. I've learned alot.

So, I contacted the person with the SSH ad. He lived about 20 minutes from my house. Something (that little voice I've learned to trust) encouraged me to go see the two SSHs he had for sale.

The 6 year old's name was Overdue. Beautiful black and white with a proud head, alert eyes and gorgeous black mane with black/white full-bodied tail. He was 16H tall. The other one was a two year old with alot of spunk and spirit, black and white with a full white mane, black/white full tail. A little smaller at 15 H. Actually, they had named him Spirit. Knowing very little about TWHs I was in love! I was taken by how strong both horses looked in body and spirit.

My past prejudices about TWHs were thrown away and I decided I would buy these two boys (both geldings, of course). Maybe I was a little lovestruck, but at any rate, I had them home within a few weeks. My painted ponies at last! I often refer to Spirit as my Indian pony because that's what he reminds me of. I renamed Overdue, Bo. I just couldn't get used to the name Overdue and I'd always said if I had a horse, I wanted to name him Bo if he fit the name, and in my mind, he did.

Now that I look back, I would have been happy with a Grade horse too. I didn't intentionally set out to buy a specific breed of horse, that's just how it worked out. I had in mind gaited and paint/pinto but would have gone with non-gaited if the right horses were presented to me.

Deciding or not deciding on breed vs grade is a personal choice. I personally think there is too much emphasis on breeds. Any good horse is of any background. Sure there are differences in conformation or size or abilities, but isn't that just as personal as it is with us as humans?

I found a definition of grade horse: Parentage is of unknown, unidentifiable, or of significantly mixed breeding. This seems to be the the standard definition. I guess I just want to defend the so-called grade horses because too many people these days are too caught up in "what breed do you have?".

I am a member of a CTR (Competitive Trail Riding) email group. CTR is something I would like to do, but haven't as of yet. Anyway, the other day a poster on the group asked about the best breed for CTR. The answer used to be Arabian because they were considered the best for the endurance and CTR competitions. As a matter of fact, the endurance races, early on, were limited to Arabians only, from what I've read. I was glad to read other folks telling this person that any horse could participate and would do fine if properly conditioned. The poster was thinking about selling her half Arabian because he was only good in an arena and not on the trail. She didn't seem open to the fact that ANY horse could do it, didn't have to be an Arabian or any specific breed. Yes, Arabians have qualities that do make them exceptional in the endurance and CTR events but that doesn't mean you have to dump your half Arabian and go find an Arabian to have a good time and enjoy endurance events or CTR's.

My thoughts to people who want a good horse is to search around and find a good horse, not necessarily a specific breed. Find out what a good horse is compared to what you hope to do with it. Sometimes that may be a specific breed but for most people who just want to enjoy horses, you define what you see as a good horse.

I love the fact some people take a grade whatever-it-is and turn it into a great trail horse or a jumper or just what you want him to be. Sure, there may be certain qualities you'll need to look for. Unless you're planning to breed, and I hope people stop doing that just to have babies around to experience what it's like, you don't need to worry about "what breed do I want?". In my humble, and less experienced opinion, a good horse is just a good horse no matter what his parentage, or lack of, as the case would be.

This may seem silly on my part but when I'm asked what "kind" of horses I have, I feel sort of, oh, I don't know, elitist by telling them I own Spotted Saddle Horses/Tennessee Walkers. I don't know why exactly except I've always been one to cheer for the underdog. To me, grade horses these days are the underdogs. I wouldn't trade my two boys for anything. However, if I were looking for horses again, I would probably be looking more for the guys who people tend to overlook. The ones who aren't registered to any breed and are of unknown, unidentifiable, mixed breeding, but pass my assessment as a good horse in every other way.

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