Crossing the Great (Breed) Divide

There are many things in the horse world that parallel life lessons we could all use. Learn about how opening up and exploring different horse breeds can have a positive impact.

by Karen Prell

Thoroughbreds, Arabians and the World of Horse Breeds

OK. I admit it! Like a lot of you I am a confessed “equine junkie”. I have loved horses my entire life, and I could imagine myself owning pretty much any breed or combination of breeds. In fact my long patient husband worries that if I ever hit the lottery, we’d have to buy an actual state in order to hold all the types of horses that I’d want!

I grew up riding Thoroughbreds retrained from their previous track careers, and I admit that I will love them forever for their beautiful lines, athleticism and great personalities. But being the voracious reader/researcher that I am, as a youngster I wanted to know more about the origins of these beautiful creatures and discovered their Arabian roots.

horse breeds

Karen Prell's grey Arabian horse.

Once again I was smitten with yet another breed. In the Arabian, I discovered the holy grail of horse ancestry when I learned just how many breeds benefited from their Desert ancestors, even if only in small measure. I have since discovered, met and researched many other horse breeds in the course of my equine self education and hold admiration for a great many breeds all of whom have some activity for which they are specialists.

With the many breeds of horses that exist today, it seems there is a breed to satisfy any horse lover’s wish list when it comes to riding discipline, size, temperament and even color. As horse lovers you would think we could look at breeds other than our own and see the unique talents and contributions of the breed and acknowledge that, even though they may be very different from our own favorite.

Unfortunately there are a lot of prejudices that color our opinions of breeds with which we are not personally involved. And those prejudices like any other are often based in lack of knowledge of something unfamiliar. I see it from local barns to the show arena and even within breeds.

horse and child florida

Bringing up the next generation! Photo from Florida Cracker Horse Association.

Horse Breed Stereotypes

Being an Arabian owner I have heard my share of less than complimentary comments made at Open Shows about my chosen breed. (An Open Show is a horse show in which all breeds compete against each other vs. a Breed Show, where one only competes against others of the same breed). Of Arabians, those who do not know and live with these horses often make comments that they are nervous, spooky, or too temperamental, thereby perpetuating a reputation that the breed does not deserve.

I have many friends who own and show Quarter Horses, and it is the same for them as well, with comments from others that run the gamut from they are slow, have bad feet, plain looking, etc. Again, here we have prejudice fueled by ignorance against a wonderful breed with many talents.

Now you would think this would not happen within the breed themselves but you would be wrong! You would think that if everyone owns and is showing the same breed of horse (for example Quarter Horses) at a show that it would be a congenial group, since they all ride members of the same breed. But oh, no, no, no! It seems there are still people at every show who have to tear down others in order to make themselves feel better. I have heard the Western Pleasure folks make comments about Halter people and you have the Hunter people commenting on the Barrel racers and on and on.

Within this same arena, there are people in each horse breed category who believe that their particular bloodline is the only one that is worth having. Some folks only like the “modern” type of their breed and others love the “foundation” breeding. The biggest problem with this entire game of name-calling and insults is that the non horse owning public is hearing these things and worst of all believing them!

paint horses

Paint horse head shot is from Brenda Johnson/Y-Knot Ranch.

The Solution to Breed Prejudices

In a world were the horse industry is competing with every other form of recreation this badmouthing of others can only lead to a decrease in new riders, owners, etc. The horse world is shooting itself in the foot. A trainer I once knew said it pretty succinctly-- if the horse world appears to be exclusionary and difficult to have fun in, then the public will take its recreational dollars elsewhere. They might just think it would be better/less hassle to own a boat instead!

I believe the best solution to this problem is education! To the person who is thinking about getting into horses, I would advise you to spend some time just looking! There are so many opportunities to see horses of every breed in the best possible arenas, that you could turn your self education into a giant field trip. Each breed has its own National Show where the best of the best show up to go head to head for the honor of being named National Champion.

In addition to shows, there are family friendly education/entertainment opportunities at places like the Kentucky Horse Park, Equine Affaire (Ohio), Arabian Nights Dinner Theater (Florida), Road to the Horse (varying locations), and more. Can you say equine road trip? You could create your own Equitrekking adventure, traveling to the National Shows of each breed or perhaps the equine museums and entertainment venues!

While these are all meant to entertain, there is an education factor as well and many of these give the visitor the opportunity to get up close and personal with many breeds and ask questions of the participants. There is no better way to get to know a particular breed than to speak to owners and ask them why they chose it.

Break Out of Your Box and Ride a New Breed

To those of us who already have the horse of our dreams should break out of our usual arena and get to know another breed! If you are a horse owner, you probably know lots of other horse owners and more than likely they don’t all have the same breed as yours. Everyone could stand to investigate other breeds and think outside of their own box.

I was encouraged to do just that by a friend who owed a Quarter Horse. She invited me to go Team Penning with her. I knew a little about this sport, which involves moving three cows out of their herd and into a pen in the center of the ring. My (mostly) Hunt Seat ridden Arabs did not!

I rode my husband’s mare Mon Ami, who had never seen a cow in her life-- except in neighboring pastures at a distance. Well, this mare, who at the time was in her teens, had the time of her life getting to chase cows! This was the same quiet little mare that safely carried my littlest riding students through their lessons without putting a foot out of place. But, once she got the idea of the “game,” she gave it all she had in chasing those cows–– some of which were bigger than her! She even tried to bite one cow on the butt to get it into the pen quicker. I never laughed so hard in the saddle in my life. That’s just one example of what can happen when you try something new!

There are many things in the horse world that parallel life lessons we could all use. As horse lovers and/or owners we all have a passion for the same creature, no matter what their breeding. There are prejudices all over the world in many forms, and most of them involve ignorance of others. Maybe just maybe by opening ourselves to explore the differences in our own little equine corner of the world, we can carry this over to life in general. Go forth and EXPLORE! You could have the time of your life!

About the Author: Karen Prell, aka "Triple Crown Karen," came from a very non-horsey, working class New Jersey family and started riding at age three. With over 30 years experience as a riding instructor, Karen is passionate about developing beginners into confident riders and compassionate horse owners. A favorite expression heard often by her students is "It's ALL about the horse!" A lover of all things "horse," she is especially passionate about promoting the retraining of retired Thoroughbreds and adoption and rehoming of unwanted horses. Her ultimate dream would be to see the US Equestrian Team mounted on these great reclaimed athletes. Her career in media focuses on the everyday equestrian adventure and how a horse lover of modest means CAN make a difference for even ONE horse.