Monday, March 24, 2014

Prophet's Thumb Farm: Why Quargians?

   I have always loved the classic, ranch/performance type American Quarter Horse.  About as close to the perfect balance of power, speed, agility, soundness, energy, sane disposition, and beauty that can be achieved in horse breeding.  Resulting in an animal of great versatility.  The best horse there is for a number of things, and pretty darned good at a great many more.

   But the classic Quarter Horse has a shortcoming, at least in the eyes of many in the horse world.  The best Quarter Horses have always been around 15 hands, give or take a couple inches.  There is frequently a demand for taller horses, for reasons both practical and not.  Too often have I known people to look at an excellent Quarter Horse and say "he'd be perfect, if only he were a hand taller!"

   So, naturally, breeders have been trying to produce extra-tall Quarter Horses for many years... Which gives us some problems.

   First, the very concept involves warping the Quarter Horse out of his traditional standard.  A Quarter Horse has no more business being 16+ hands tall than a fish has being covered with feathers or a cat has wearing antlers.


    It's sad to see an over-sized "Quarter Horse" with all the agility of a school bus getting dusted at the barrel races by a Welsh/Arabian pony who is closer to the traditional Quarter Horse standard than his AQHA registered competition.

   Second, since selecting for height means neglecting other factors, the result is often far from the scaled-up Quarter Horse people wanted.  I've seen 17+ hand AQHA registered horses, and they usually look like they were assembled from leftover camel parts.

   Finally, breeding Quarter Horses for height often means out-breeding to Thoroughbreds.  The AQHA enables this (via Appendix registry) to allow TB athleticism and refinement into the American Quarter Horse breed.  But it also happens that TBs are on-average considerably taller than Quarter Horses, and there are quite a few really tall TBs around.  So much Appendix breeding is done just to get tall Quarter Horses...  Problem is that TBs aren't bred or known for long-term soundness.  They're race horses.  So the best ones have a career of only a few youthful years, with a professional crew of grooms, vets, and farriers holding them together by constant effort.  This is the polar opposite of the traditional Quarter Horse's expected decades of low-maintenance service.  Add to this a certain level of incompatibility between the Quarter Horse's powerful musculature and the TB's lightweight hooves, joints, tendons, and ligaments, and perhaps you begin to see the problem.

   I don't know if there have been any scientific studies to back this up, but as a farrier I observed that, for every inch of height above 15-2 in a Quarter Horse, there is an exponential increase in the probability of unsoundness.  I doubt it's a coincidence that the trend for 16+ hand AQHA horses in the '80s corresponded to the Quarter Horse, once renowned for soundness, becoming known as a breed for which support shoeing, isoxsuprine, bute, and neurectomy were considered almost normal!

   So, rather than distorting the great old Quarter Horse beyond recognition to produce unsound specimens with AQHA paperwork, we decided to go outside the AQHA system to satisfy the demand for something akin to a super-sized Quarter Horse.

   Starting with sound, highly athletic, well-bred Quarter Horse stallions, we looked for mares who could contribute the desired stature to the mix without introducing TB fragility...  And the best candidates we found were pedigreed, carriage-type Belgian draft mares.  They brought greater than TB height to the table, along with over-engineered hooves, joints, tendons, and ligaments. 

   The goal of this Quarter Horse - Belgian (Quargian) crossbreeding is to produce great American sport horses.  Essentially Quarter Horses scaled-up to warmblood size without the conformation and soundness drawbacks that plague so many big Appendix Quarter Horses.

And so it begins...


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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Internet Horse Experts...

   Despite my preference for coal forges over gas, trucks with hand-cranks over hypercomplex modern vehicles (and horse & wagon over both), I'm not a Luddite, really.  I was an early adapter to the Internet.  Mine might just have been the first farrier's page on the WWW, back when most of the horse-set didn't know what the Web was...

   But I somehow seem to have been outrun by the advancing technology, and fallen behind a new class of Internet Horse Experts.  While these brilliant prodigies have apparently developed the ability to fully evaluate, diagnose, and prescribe for various equine problems simply by looking at a digital photo on a flat screen, I still find myself often at a loss without the ability to get the full, four-dimensional observation, as well as additional data.

   In anticipation of foaling season, I've been watching some of the breeding/foaling forums and groups on the Internet.  Lots of people posting pictures of their mares' udders, and plenty of responses regarding how much longer before the mares foal.

   Makes me feel inadequate... After spending a lifetime around broodmares, midwifing generations of foals into the world, darned if I can look at a picture and tell you "Relax, you've got weeks to go!".  Maybe I'm getting senile, but I sure seem to recall knowing mares who had full udders several weeks before foaling, others who had pretty much no bag until just before labor, and still others everywhere in-between.

Take that out of town trip. Plenty of time before she foals!

   Of course that's nothing compared to the Internet Experts on hoof-care.  A couple of pictures of a hoof and they can tell you everything that's wrong and diagram a trimming approach to fix it.  Decades as a credentialed, professional farrier and my backward self still has to see more than a few angles, observe the horse in motion, and consider the animal's total confirmation before I can begin to seriously evaluate the situation and propose a trimming and/or shoeing approach.

   Silly me.  I really should catch-up on how to be a modern Internet Expert.


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