The grass is always greener.

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People often lament the oversupply of horses in the racing industry. In actual fact, over recent years the number of thoroughbred foals born has reduced steadily . Personally I would like to see trainers and owners put more time into developing horses rather than simply playing the numbers game.

I once had a conversation with The Great Olympic hall of fame equestrian Bill Roycroft, Bill described to me how he used to find the best horses for his competitive needs, they tried as many as they could get their hands on, mostly horses off the track, they tried them out, with minimal training, anything that showed real promise they went on with, hundreds of horses tried to find a few potential champions. European riders from the same era talk of how they took singular horses and trained them to become champions. We have always had a glut of horses.

There are race trainers who trial hundreds of yearlings a year to find a handful that they wish to go on with, most of the rest are sold to other trainers, the bush or Asia.
There is no doubt in my mind that many horses seen as unviable racing prospects could be turned around with a more technical and patient approach to the way they are trained. Unfortunately time/money are the limitations of most owners and trainers not to mention lack of knowledge and tunnel vision.

I have always admired trainers in any discipline that can take a horse and train it to be useful for a particular purpose. As a rugby coach I have seen many late maturing boys who always have to work harder on detail, rise to become very good players just as I have seen boys with loads of natural potential or early development fall by the wayside because they didn’t need to get such a thorough education in the basics as youngsters in order to keep up with the pack.

I would like to put forward a slightly different perspective. A major and often unrecognised concern in relation to the demise of the thoroughbred as a competition mount in many disciplines is the grass is always greener attitude of many horse people.

So many breeds of horses have been added to the Australian equestrian landscape in the last 20 or so years, much to the detriment of the readily available thoroughbred.
Multiple breeds of warm bloods, niche breeds of Spanish horses, more quarter horses and draft derivatives. The Australian stock horse has expanded and then shut its books on the thoroughbred blood on which it is founded. The new and increased numbers of foreign breeds have filled the roles that were once largely the domain of the thoroughbred horse most of which came from the racing industry.

The average weekend warrior out at open competitions, pony club, adult riding club etc could well do the job they want on a thoroughbred if they rode well enough and had the ambition to make riders of themselves rather than take the perceived easier option of purchasing their riding prowess or reputation/ego with a theoretically purpose bred animal. Here’s a not so well advertised fact, recently a study showed that more warm bloods in Germany were used by the pet food industry than thoroughbreds in Australia, here’s another, as a professional rider no type of horse had dumped me more than warmbloods.

When I first joined the NSW mounted police, some 25 years ago, warm bloods were becoming the flavour of the month. At that time the police purchased 7 warm bloods of a particular breed. These horses were unbroken but had been flagged as the next best thing “the English are using them so they must be good” until this point most of the horses at the mounted police were donated ex racehorses. These warmbloods proved to be very difficult to break in and get going they had a tendency for bucking, being lazy and they weren’t particularly sound. Of the seven that started only one really made a decent police horse and in his training process he sent more people to hospital than any other horse I was involve with at the Mounties. A couple of years later I went to England with the police, I spent a lot of time with the mounted police horse trainers, when I asked them about the breed we had trailed they laughed and told me how poorly they had eventually turned
out, they had abandoned them as police horses. Unfortunately the Mounties have continued with the decrees of thoroughbreds in their ranks. A microcosm of the equestrian world. The grass wasn’t greener in this case.

The skill in retraining the OTTB is being lost with the introduction of all these new breeds.The thoroughbred horse is an exceptional animal, a supreme athlete with considerable
intelligence, agility, strength, endurance and beauty.
I would personally describe the thoroughbred as a moderately sensitive breed of horse.
Sensitivity, in my opinion, equates to intelligence so far as training is concerned.
A sensitive horse Will respond to minimal aids which makes it relatively simple to
influence, this sensitivity also lends itself to confusion when faced with an inaccurate clumsy or inconsistent handler, less sensitive breeds tend to put up with more clumsy lines of communication.

Wouldn’t it be great if horse people recognised and acknowledge their weaknesses and put the
Same effort into Improving their riding as into finding new allegedly better breeds of horses. We have plenty of quality horses in Australia, ready and willing to do the job, the thoroughbred can fill the gap for most competitive and pleasure riders in most disciplines.
Sure the racing industry could do better, but for a lot less money and a little more effort so could the equestrian industry.

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