Thursday, December 10, 2009


I followed the flick of my horse's ear and saw him standing at the gate. My boss was a tall lanky man with wind toughened dark red skin and long artistic fingers knotted and bent by the beginnings of arthritis. His arms rested criss-cross on the second to top rail of the gate. His whiskers were white and stiff with frost. His stillness ran so deep I wondered how long he had been standing there.

"Have you got time to come up to the house?" The boss asked me.

I was trotting a 2-year-old around the indoor arena. Steam rose off her shoulders and flanks, and my breath blew white, puffing up and down in a steady rhythm with my posting trot.

"Sure, what's up?"

It wasn't going to take much to lure me up to a hot cup of coffee and a place by the fire. I hadn't been able to feel my finger-tips for the last twenty minutes and I was only two rides into my day. My toes had gone half a horse ago.

"We got a video of some brood mare prospects from Burman's. I was hoping you'd take a look," the Boss answered.

I stopped my little filly and looked at him over my shoulder. This was a first. Since I had become the official "trainer" at Pine Ridge Stables I had learned my opinion was rarely welcome. My job was to ride what they asked me to and teach who showed up. That was about it.

When it came to breeding their buckskin stud, River, the Rameiker family had their own vision. They wanted to raise buckskins, duns and grullas. They wanted to win at the IBHA shows and make an impression at the World Show. Their stud spent most of his time with another trainer. He was learning all the events, from halter to reining.

"Sure, let me throw a cooler on this one and I'll be up directly," I told him.

I walked into the kitchen of the log house and carefully closed the door. The chinking was coming loose around the door frame and nobody had gotten around to fixing it. A needle point of light and cold air cut into golden warmth from the stove in the front room.

The boss's wife Caroline greeted me with a smile and a cup of coffee.

"Are we going to have a lesson tonight?" She asked.

"We should have time, my last lesson will be gone around 5:30," I told her.

The boss had the video ready to go. My little dog looked up at him and cocked her head. He smiled at her and handed me his bowl of popcorn.

"Well come on up then," he said and Dinah was curled in his lap with one smooth leap.

We sat back and he turned on his video.

A large group of mares were gathered around a water tank. My first quick glance told me they were a fairly motley assortment.

"Are they all registered?" I asked.

"He told me to pick out what I wanted and he'd check for papers," the boss said.

"You know you don't want a grade mare now, there's no point here unless they have papers," I told him.

"Well if we buy color we can register them IBHA," Caroline came back.

"You're looking at too small a buying pool, you need to be breeding AQHA horses if you're going to breed at all," I insisted.

I tried not to look pained. I didn't know much about breeding but I knew breeding for color was a bad idea. But the boss would get stubborn if I pushed.

"The Burmans breed good horses," the boss said, "we bought DixieAnn from them."

"Boss, come on, DixieAnn paces and she can't lope."

"She throws color though," a thread of irritation had entered his voice.

I sighed.

We turned back to the video.

After about five minutes I said, "I like the little bay mare and the sorrel."

"Why do you like them?" He asked.

"The bay has a great hip and a pretty neck. So does the sorrel. The sorrel looks a little younger..."

"She is," the boss broke in, reading from a list in his hand," The sorrel is two and the bay's four, don't you think they're a little hammer headed?"

"Yes, but they're the best of the bunch. I've always kinda liked hammer heads anyway," I told him, "are they broke?"

The boss paused the video and ran it back.

"Halter broke," he told me, "how about the dun?"

"She's cow-hocked," I told him

"How about this one?" He showed me a dark, short-necked, big headed grulla mare.

"Ewe-necked, bad-legged, ugly."

"Don't hold back Janet," the boss cocked one shaggy eyebrow at me.

And so it went. When the boss realized I was sticking to my non-dun choices he clicked off the video and turned to other things.

A few weeks later a truck and stock trailer drove onto the place. I popped my head out of the indoor and watched as the driver carefully backed to the gate of the broodmare pen. A short, bent man in his sixties hopped out of the truck and pulled the gate alongside of his trailer to create a chute.

"You there," he called around a mouthful of chew, "get me sumfin' to tie up this gate!"

Normally I would have ignored the rude old fart and gone back to my rides but I was curious to see what the boss had decided to buy.

I brought out a handful of bright orange baling twine and walked to the trailer. I peered between the slats at two dark mares. Halterless and loose they snorted at me. I recognized the little fox ears of the bay.

"Hello you," I told her.

The old guy opened the trailer door and the two horses blew past us. Their black, burr laden manes and tails flowed behind them as they ran towards the broodmares.

The ugly grulla stopped before she got to the mares. She extended her nose and made a baby mouth as the matriarchs descended on her.

The bright bay kept running. She ran with her head high, not looking to the left or right until she was almost into the hotwire. She sat and slid a good five feet in the rocky ground before she spun off and headed down the creek.

Her muscular hindquarters dug in and shot her past the broodmares and off to the other side of the pen. She ran straight to the other fence and skidded to a stop just inches from the wire. I could see the calculation in her eyes. I wasn't sure whether she wanted to jump or run through but something was there. The pretty bay took off again. She ran the fence line hard, her feet were sure and quick and she ran across the steep hillside with ease. The broodmares gave up on trying to beat on her and turned their attentions to the grulla.

The boss, Caroline and I stood and watched the broodmares play soccer with the grulla and the bay continue her crazy race around the pen.

"I see you decided against the sorrel," I said.

"You can't get buckskin out of a sorrel," the boss answered.


  1. *sigh* and so it goes with color breeders. I learned along time ago you can't ride color or papers. You can only ride what the horse is built to be.

  2. glad I am that MY favorite flavor of horse ("plain brown wrapper") will probably never be The Popular Choice.

    I figure that most brown horses get bred to do something other than to be brown. Whew.

  3. I have a trainer that won't buy a horse of "color". She hates my palomino because of her... shall we say "blonde moments."
    I love her, and she's talented as hell, but I do admit, she's got a touch more of the crazy than the bays and sorrels I've owned.
    I bet one day we're going to find that all these krazy kolor horses are missing a key piece of genetic material that keeps them from being completely sane.
    *sigh* I do love my yellow mare though.

  4. at least you won half the fight! - for the wrong reasons though, it sounds like.
    completely off topic, but was trawling through behind the bit (dressage blog) and found a link to the 'meanest stallions in history' one horse is described as needing TWO grooms with BASEBALL BATS just to lead him to his paddock. I mean, honestly.
    Has anyone bred a horse themselves; stallion, mare, that despite proper training (I realise this is incredibly subjective, but what you feel like was the proper training, and what has worked on all your previous horses) has proven to be biologically dangerous??

  5. Oh the color issue.

    I go back and forth on this. Breeding for color is obviously not a good practice and will often produce inferior horses.

    But as I've owned/worked with almost exclusively chestnuts and sorrels for the last 10 years, I've gotta say, if I can find a well conformed, well performing buckskin, I'm going for it.

  6. When I was horse shopping for my first horse (about a year and a half ago) I "wanted" a sorrel. I knew better than to buy the horse for color, but I had always ridden bays and greys and way tired of them. I wanted a redhead and they always seemed the best buy because they were so plain. My least favorite color of all was bay roan. The last horse I'd been thrown from was a bay roan and another pony I had worked with was the same color: Ugly Bay Roan.

    What did I end up buying? A bay roan overo paint. And I think he's beautiful, despite his color. :) The "color" people like his coloring, but luckily the good horsemen like his build, too!

  7. Silly Pony, your story is like mine. I disliked chestnut/sorrel with chrome. Common color (for QHs) and hard to keep clean. My first horse was liver chestnut with no white, and he was a breeze to groom, handle, ride.

    What did I buy when I got back into horses 12 years ago? The flashiest, reddest chestnut OTTB with chrome on all four legs AND a star, strip and snip.

    And of course he gets lots of compliments on what a "handsome devil" he is--and now chestnut with chrome is all I see ;o)

    Never say never. Tee hee.

  8. Always have, and always will be a sucker for a bay. I've only known a few that had rocks for brains, so that helps. :)

  9. Nice post Mugs... you sure can take me out of my cubicle for a few minutes!

  10. Sorry B- I won't go there. I almost passed on my palomino mare because of her color. I was an anti-color snob.
    She was not bred for color. She was bred for the good minded, highly talented, easy-to-train Smart Chic Olena/Hollywood Jack thing she is.
    Her color has neither changed nor enhanced her breeding.
    It has upped her value (people pay for color) and made her very eye pleasing.
    She is by far the best horse I've ever owned. She has been a delight to train and easy to handle on top of having physicality I am still blown away by. I almost missed out on her because of my color bias.
    It used to be said buckskins and duns were wilder and harder to train because their color linked them back to the more primitive breeds.
    While I agree there are many mustang lines that are heavy in the dun, grulla, stripey thing,
    Hollywood Dunnit kind of knocked that theory to hell.
    The Dunnits are known for their kindness, trainability and talent.
    Appaloosas have all kinds of statements hanging over their freckled little heads. Personally, I believe they are a true breed. The Nez Perce Indians weren't just breeding for color. They were developing a tough, hardy, good footed, swift and cool colored breed.
    There is a strongly supported theory that breeding for excessive white (don't shoot me paint owners, I'm just the messenger) will also create various genetic weaknesses.
    But I would still ride a paint who was bred the way I thought it should be.
    To my mind, if you buy the breed your looking for, and the horse has the blood-lines to give you the horse you need and a pretty color happens to come with, then you're lucky.
    If you breed for color only and then try to compete in events a specific breed or bloodline has been developed to excel in, you will fail, an it will be your own fault.

  11. Good story...and sad but true of course in too many instances. The Boss probably never saw the difference between the bay and the ugly did you ever get a chance to handle the bay?

  12. What is hammer headed? Don't think I have heard that one yet. As for color breeders, could not agree more. Everyone has a color bias, we are human, but it is bad to let that consume our decisions on how we breed and buy horses. My bias is I really do not like paints. Nothing about the horses themselves just the color bothers me.

  13. When reading the first couple of paragaphs, I thought you were going to take a stab at a romantic short story aka Equestrian Ink :)

    Should have know better LOL!


  14. Gttyup- Hee Hee Hee

    Horses and Turbos-Not this girl. Not ever. My old boss would die laughing if he heard that. Now I better go rewrite my description, it suddenly seems kind of creepy....

  15. Golden the Pony Girl- Think Remington paintings. Hammer headed horses are not pretty according to todays standards. A coarse, solid rectangle shaped head. It's killing me, I can't find a photo of Tally anywhere. I know I used to have one. I like roman noses too, so sue me.

  16. alright got it! I do love roman noses my self. I don't think of them as a fault at all, just adds character.No worries I am not a breeder.

  17. Ima kinda goin' to take exception to the primitive breed thing. My fjords are laid back, easy-going, been there/done that. They are pretty primitive. I think alot of the color thing is breeding for color and to hell with temperment, trainability, and that nonsense. I mean, really, I sure want to hook up with the stallion that has to be led with two chains and ball bats. IMHO, he should be dead, not even gelded. WHat the hell didd they do to him? And, why breed it on? That really is my WTF moment, to hear about some stallion being a total idiot but the mare owners line up to breed to him. Going back to color; I was told at an open show a few years ago, that the Fjords could not go into the dun factor class. Why not--because they are bred dun. WTF? How much more dun can you get than a fjord? Guess they did not want the competition. That kinda ended the showing thing. The only class I would do anyway would be trail and that just does not seem to be worth the effort and money.

  18. Thanks for another good story, Mugs.
    I am a firm believer of the saying "A good horse has no colour".
    When that is said, my heart beats a little faster for a brown one with white markings.(Luckily there are some of them...)

  19. I think my current color rule is this No more that match what I have. Reason being, I want to be able to tell them apart at a distance easily. Like no more black cats (2 in residence now). Silly, but better than my previous "I don't like bays" idiocy. They have to all be beautifully built, of course!

  20. "To my mind, if you buy the breed your looking for, and the horse has the blood-lines to give you the horse you need and a pretty color happens to come with, then you're lucky.
    If you breed for color only and then try to compete in events a specific breed or bloodline has been developed to excel in, you will fail, an it will be your own fault."

    Too True Too True.

  21. >>"I see you decided against the sorrel," I said.

    "You can't get buckskin out of a sorrel," the boss answered.<<


    Tell that to Bullwinkle, Cecil's buckskin son out of a sorrel mare.

    Re the fugly grulla, I swear, the two colors I see the most fugly in are grulla and blue roan. It's like people get that color and stop hoping for anything more, like, you know, decent legs.

  22. Ha ha! This is something that App breeders/competitors deal with all the time. As much as I love my spotted horses, I stick with my plain brown mare because she's great!

  23. I wanted a grullo sooo bad. BUT, I also wanted a fairly well bred one. At the time, I only found one breeder who seemed to have good bloodlines FIRST and formost, then color.

    I bought my Jazz. My "dream" horse. (docs presciption/peppy san badger) and well.... You know the rest of the story. They bred fairly nice pedigreed COLORED horses, but her mind leaves something to be desired.. lol

  24. vlc- you might actually own a horse who throws 100% color. It can happen. It has something to do with a dilute gene.
    badges-I can't say much about color. The two horses I own and hope to retire with are a dark palomino and a light buckskin.....

  25. "badges-I can't say much about color. The two horses I own and hope to retire with are a dark palomino and a light buckskin"

    haha.. I personally do not think there is anything wrong with liking and buying for color, AS LONG AS people who breed, breed for pedigree, conformation etc foremost. I am seeing more and more well bred grullo's out there, but when I started looking, there were a bunch of colored horses with no recognizeable pedigrees.

    Being a color buff... I purchased myself a champagne colt..hehe.. Pedigree, not GREAT, but not to bad. Some point earners in there. Halter on bottom (hotscotch man) and topside, nothing spectacular, but Peponita one off his papers.. I know, who cares when its not ON the papers, but still, he is not for breeding purposes. I gotta say, so far, his temperment is to die for!

    NO PLANS at all to breed Jazz, but hypothetically, if I was, I would pic on performance, confo and pedigree for the stud, with the color coming in last. Although, I also like a nice dark bay with no white..hehe