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The Future of Thoroughbreds
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Committee discusses the future of Thoroughbreds

Jennifer Bate

At the Annual Show Jumping meeting held by the United States Equestrian Federation Nov. 3, the USEF called for competitors to look to American-bred horses for their competition mounts.

“We are quickly losing our identity and it is very, very sad,” said American legend and current USET Show Jumping Chef D’Equipe George Morris.

Morris recounted the beginning of the wave of outsourcing, when Americans began to look abroad for horses. He told a story of being over in Europe with Micheal Matz, Karen [O’Connor] and a Dutch friend that he grew up with when they bought a little horse named Vivaldi. After Vivaldi came Calypso. Then everyone wanted a ‘Calypso’, and so began the tsunami of horse importation.

In understanding the downside of horse importation, it is critical to acknowledge that American riders’ international competition originates from the very countries where they look to buy horses. The truly amazing breeding programs in Europe maintain their strong lineage as they are under strict control by governing bodies.

In the name of country and competition, Europeans sell their second-rate ‘greats’ to Americans. They opt to sell their best to their countrymen instead of foreign competition, leaving Americans purchasing the ones they were willing to part with. The exported horses may be talented and high-quality, but still most of their greatest horses remain across the pond.

Are the fine European warmbloods imported to America their greatest horses for sale or just great enough to sell to eager American equestrians? Even more important yet, are those the best horses we can get?

According to George Morris, the answer is no. He and others believe horses we should be going after are not the greatest of the Europeans horses which usually remain abroad, rather, it is a different breed all together.

At the USEF Annual Show Jumping Open Forum, Morris recalled something his early European mentors always told him: that the best sporthorses are American Thoroughbreds.

“The American Thoroughbred is the best sport horse in the world. I had two very early European mentors, Otto Heuckeroth at Ox Ridge, who was a great horseman, and Bertalan de Németh, who both told me repeatedly, ‘George, the best horses in the world are these American Thoroughbred horses.’ Those were Europeans.”

Thoroughbreds have been bred for sport. They are bred for their speed and great endurance. They have strong hindquarters that can powerfully lift them over jumps and deeply sloped shoulders that are built for muscle.

According to the United States Equestrian Federation, Thoroughbreds composed 41 percent of horses registered for national competitions in 1982. Today that number is down to 10 percent.

Over the last decade, there has been a tremendous decline in the number of American Thoroughbreds competing in sport horse disciplines. As competing Thoroughbred numbers declined sharply, the number of European warmbloods has skyrocketed.

Murray Kessler, who serves on the North American Rider Group, said that Americans face significant disadvantage in the area of breeding. This is due to the overwhelming majority of our horses descending from European bloodlines.

“These large and well-established breeding programs are tightly controlled by governing bodies, and are by the governments themselves, such as France. Simply said, we get second choice for the best horses in the world.”

While many competitors look to Europe for the horses, Thoroughbreds are being overlooked.

“We need to tap into the Thoroughbred breeders in the United States and show them there is big money to be made beyond racing,” Kessler said.

The golden age of jumping highlighted the now-near-forgotten American Thoroughbred. But today, those names, Gem Twist, For the Moment, Touch of Class and Idle Dice, are fondly remembered for their strength, success, and being a part of jumping’s glory days.

Morris stated that somehow in the next 25 years, he would like ‘to see some people with deep pockets get back to that direction and utilize this internal resource.’

“Somehow, we have to get back to the horses we have in this country. There are tens of thousands of horses out there,” emphasized Morris. “There are Gem Twists out there, For the Moments out there. There are all these horses.”

©2012 Florida Sporthorse Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

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