Don’t be too quick to judge a horse, because he’ll likely prove you wrong.
The truth is, it feels good to be right.
But I’m starting to figure out that the longer I’m here on earth and the more that I learn, the less I realize I know.
See, opinions are funny things. In a world as passionate as the equine, it’s hard not to have thoughts and conclusions based on experiences. We all know what type of horses we like. We all have a feed program that we believe to be a good fit for our animals. We’ve seen colics and lameness and oddities and have medicated accordingly. Our horses’ feet are just how we like them, whether that’s a more “natural” approach (the occasional trim) or bar shoes with pads or whatever.
Whether we travel somewhere or take outside horses in to start for clients, they always want to know what we think. Two rides, four rides or three weeks in, most folks have to ask “Is he the next champion? Is she going to be alright? Did he buck? Is he speedy? Is he tough?” And the honest truth is, I don’t know, and most of his behavior doesn’t really matter . . . yet.
One time I had a yearling filly of my own that I was just certain came down with a serious neurological disorder like West Nile, meningitis, or something of the sort. As I watched her twitch and flip her head, my heart sank. I was mentally prepared to put her down that day and called the vet out to take a look at my horse, disoriented, dizzy and striking at her head. The prognosis? Ear ticks. With a little cream administered and a couple of days, she was back to normal.
I know a lot of people who form biases against breeds or color. I personally have never been too fond of palominos. “Yellow horse syndrome,” I would laughingly say. And guess what the most talented broodmare (whom I now own) in my barn is? A golden palomino mare. My lips are zipped.
And as far as starting a colt to get a good preview of its success later in life? Hard to do. In fact, I’m starting to think it’s a big mistake in my line of work to form too strong of an opinion on a young horse too soon.
There’s one mare in particular that we’ve had all year for one of our clients who was double-dirty tough to start. She was wring-tailed, angry to be around humans and didn’t want to have a learning frame of mind on anything. She would strike, kick and buck daily. If she had belonged to me, I would have culled her. And guess what? Once we get her working a cow, she shined. And here we are a year later, with a strong, cowy, talented (albeit quirky) mare. She still moves her tail a bit, and she’s a little loony, but there’s no reason she can’t go on and make a show horse as a 3-year-old and beyond. With my strong opinions on how she should have been culled last year, she would have never had a shot. And she’s a nice horse now, with a lot of value for her owner.
Breeding can be the same way. Sure, every stallion has his strengths and weaknesses. But different mares and different ways of raising foals can form and foster qualities that might make his offspring more or less successful in life. I think it’s important to seek out certain qualities that are important to you when breeding horses.
For example, if gentle is your main concern, find a stud who stamps his babies with a quiet mind. But just because you see a horse’s papers and they may not be something you would generally be excited about, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a look. Who knows? Maybe the particular individual is a freakishly good mover. Full of cow. Or even prettier than any of the brothers and sisters you have ever seen.
Now understand, I think it’s good to stick to your guns and have some concrete judgments. It’s hard — and potentially detrimental — to be in the horse world for any length of time and be completely open to anyone’s ideas. I think, to a certain extent, having an opinion can be a very good thing. If you have specific goals or aspirations in mind for you and your equine partner, you’ve got to make decisions that get you closer to those ideas. This means forming a fact-based point of view on all sorts of things, be it veterinary, personal, genetics or feeding and care of your horse.
But, try not to dislike something just because it’s got spots and you aren’t keen on them. Realize that every new experience is a chance to add to your toolbox of knowledge and expertise. Take the advice of folks who you respect and don’t judge a horse too early just because he’s a little tough to start.
Yep, it sure feels good to be right. But it feels even better to be wrong when the outcome is a much more favorable and pleasant surprise.