Back in November, the United States Equestrian Federation put on a forum on show jumping, to try and determine why American show jumping is such a broken, sad mess of a fashion show, instead of a serious arena for internationally-minded competitors to prepare for important things, like Olympic medals and World Equestrian Games championships.
The Chronicle of the Horse ran a series of three articles on fixing show jumping, based upon these forums, and the third one, finally, screams out what I’ve been screaming for years, that is:
Our horses are the ones the Europeans don’t want!
It’s a funny thing, that Americans are so happy and eager to ride the rejects of the Old Country. Not very ‘Mercan (she says in a redneck accent) of them!
But you know it, I know it, we’ve all talked to the giggling Dutch dressage rider who says, “Of course the best horses never leave the country,” or the German trainer who shakes her head solemnly and says “The Germans do not let their good horses go.” A very prominent and well-renowned hunter trainer (you would just die if you knew who) told me with a chuckle that the hunter/jumper ring was full of German milk drays. Unapologetic, though, she sells them herself, and you can buy your own carthorse/showhorse from her, for something in the neighborhood of six figures.
So, this quote is a little sad, because I’m afraid the show jumping community just realized this:
Murray Kessler of the North American Riders Group echoed Morris’ words in the Nov. 7 open forum. “We are at a significant disadvantage in the area of breeding. Almost all of our horses come from European descent. These large and well established breeding programs are tightly controlled by governing bodies. Simply said, we get second choice for the best horses in the world.”
I could have told you that fifteen years ago. After all, I was seventeen and I knew everything. That being said, I was competing prelim and winning show jumping classes I entered just for giggles on a Thoroughbred.
But I’ll cut you all some slack, slavish European equiphiles, if you’ll just put aside your FEI passports and pick up a few Jockey Club certificates. And look, your leaders think that you should!
Says our Chronicle of the Horse correspondent:
In the heyday of U.S. show jumping, the vast majority of top horses had North American origins. The legendary Touch Of Class, For The Moment, Idle Dice and Jet Run all were American-bred Thoroughbreds who started out on racetracks. Gem Twist never set foot on a track, having been bred out of classic jumper lines by Frank Chapot, but he was an American Thoroughbred. Abdullah, a Trakhener, was bred in Canada.
We all know Trakheners are practically Thoroughbreds, so I’m leaving old Abdullah in there. I always liked him.
But besides that, can we all just observe that the greatest show jumpers in American history were Thoroughbreds? Even Gem Twist. Gem Twist! I have a plastic Breyer model of Gem Twist on top of my kitchen cabinets at this very moment. I am thirty years old and I never got over Gem Twist, that’s how awesome he was!
Says George Morris, whose picky Jumping Clinic in the back of Practical Horseman created a stylized Fashion Week disaster out of Hunt Seat Equitation (I say that with love), completely redeems himself of any sins he may ever have committed with this one statement:
“Somehow, we have to get back to the horses we have in this country. There are tens of thousands of horses out there. There are Gem Twists out there. The American Thoroughbred is the best sport horse in the world. I had two very early European mentors, Otto Heuckeroth at Ox Ridge, who was a great horseman, and Bertalan de Némethy. Both of those Europeans told me repeatedly, ‘George, the best horses in the world are these American Thoroughbred horses.’ I would like somehow in the next 25 years to see some people with deep pockets get back in that direction and utilize this internal resource.”
I like this. I like this. And then he says this:
“Somehow, we need to tap into the thousands of Thoroughbred breeders in the United States and show them that there is big money to be made beyond racing.”
Yes! So I ask you: What are we going to do?