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From The In Gate - Let's Hope

By Bob Funkhouser

Now that the annual edition of the Year In Review is at the printer my life as I know it is back to normal. Of course normal is the weekly challenge of Saddle Horse Report... and that roller coaster ride, as much fun as it is for me, is anything but normal, particularly last season.

I guess the reason I enjoy this time of year so much, besides the book being done, is the fact that there is widespread hope and anticipation throughout the industry. It’s like spring training for major league baseball; there is a clean slate, everyone starts off with the same record. There have been a handful of horse shows throughout the country so far, but for the most part the season is just now getting started.

As in baseball, the show world also starts off with a fresh record. Last year’s world and national champions are just that. There are new combinations, new faces, and new players. Horses and ponies have recovered from injuries; others have started to feel the effects of a long show career. Hope springs eternal as breeders anxiously await the results of their calculated contributions to the training barns of America. Could the next Sky Watch, Born To Boogie or Heartland Equality be among the wobbly legged foals of 2004?

This spring more than ever the show horse industry needs a breath of fresh air. It needs hope. Last year and even early into this season we have lost some irreplaceable people and horses. Let’s hope that a few individuals from both populations step up and carry on with the same type demeanor and accomplishment as those past greats.

The events at Double D Ranch which resulted in the deaths of World’s Grand Champion CH Wild Eyed and Wicked and two other horses remain a black cloud over many. No matter how you look at it, that bizarre situation has divided members of the industry and has been extremely costly in a number of ways for both the professionals and the owners involved. Let’s hope this gets resolved so there can some kind of peace and closure for all parties involved, their friends and followers.

Lordosis also became an even uglier word in 2003, not only because of the deformed look it has given some of our horses at the highest levels, but even more so because of the way it divided the industry on how to handle the judging of horses and ponies with the said deformity. Let’s hope the research will educate us all on how to better prevent the crossing of horses which have the greatest chance of producing a foal with lordosis. Let’s also hope the issue of how to handle it in the show ring has been taken care of.

The measuring of both Saddlebred and Hackney ponies was another topic of great debate that brought about inflamed personalities, ill will and many heated moments throughout the year. While there have been rules passed for both, it sounds like there is still immense debate over the application of measuring. Let’s hope trainers, owners and the USEF can all work together and make this a fair and logical process.

As most in this business know, change is slow and in many cases hard to accept. Most recently the American Saddlebred Horse Association had a major change as Alan Balch was hired to take over the reins in order to give the association more direction. Let’s hope that Balch and the ASHA Board of Directors can keep pushing for whatever it takes to ensure that more Saddlebreds are being raised. The consistent decline of registration numbers has got to stop.

The American Morgan Horse Association has not been without its hardships either. The authenticity of breeding stock has rocked the industry and cost the association hundreds of thousands of dollars and some owners to have expensive horses with no papers and therefore no place to show in the Morgan world. Let’s hope the lawsuits are history and the industry can get back to enjoying a horse that is loved and revered from coast to coast.

It seemed like a lot of people were spending time in court or paying lawyer fees for a number of different reasons throughout the past year and we at Saddle Horse Report were among them. You had owners against trainers; trainers against owners; owners against associations; ex-employees against ex-employers; and photographers against publications. Let’s hope all of the parties can get their differences settled and get back to the business at hand.

There are a few more things I have great hope for in the new season. Among them are that people will be more open minded and more willing to seek the truth rather than accept the many half-truths and outright vicious lies that inherently surface during disagreements. I’m sure the show horse industry is no different than any other small fraternity of people with similar interests in that for some reason most thrive on gossip and the juicier the better. With today’s chat rooms and e-mail systems vile accusations and comments are spread at an alarming rate by those without the courage to sign their name to comments, however, they still land on many believing ears. Let’s hope that people will spend that same energy to make a positive difference rather than tearing down others.

Let’s also hope that Dr. Rick Luft, Melissa Moore, Jim Aikman, Barb Rudicel and the different state, national, and breed futurities see their programs provide great rewards for the showing of babies and therefore, let’s hope more and more people will want to partake in the raising of foals.

Let’s hope academy programs start to introduce not only hundreds, but thousands of new riders and potential show horse clients to our Saddlebreds, Morgans and Hackneys. Not many people are going to walk in off the street and say they want to spend thousands of dollars on a new venture. They have to be introduced. If you don’t believe that, ask any West Coast professional why their business has been stagnant to dwindling in recent years and they will tell you it is because there are only a handful of instructors teaching saddle seat.

Let’s hope horse show managers expand their judging pool and give some new people a chance to prove their worthiness. Let’s hope that trainers and exhibitors support those managers in their decisions and give those up and coming judges the benefit of the doubt. They have to learn somewhere!

Let’s hope horse show committees and officials will think outside of the box for ways to make our shows more entertaining, more audience friendly. We all know this is an area that needs much attention.

To bring this to a close, let’s hope that each and every one of us can contribute to the solution and not be a part of the problem. And most of all let’s hope for a safe and healthy year with lots of individual achievements and a few blues along the way.

Let’s hope!

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