When it comes to a suitable horse for Donald Trump there is no contest. Gene Autry’s stallion Champion the Wonder horse, complete with chestnut coat and blond mane, would be just perfect. Imagine them parading in front of the White House, followed by a mounted choir of 100 cowboys singing Gene’s signature song ”Back In The Saddle Again.” Not such an unlikely image given the daily surprises in Washington!
I remember a different image from my childhood of an old hunting print, with a fat city gent in a very new pink coat, galloping out of control pass two experienced older men on cobs. Said one of these men knowingly to the other “Beware! Loose horse, man aboard!” If one looks at the USA election process for the new President it is probably also accurate to say ‘Beware! Loose horse, Trump aboard!’ In recent times, in several countries, democracy has become quite a wild horse!
Smaller is often better
Some would suggest that Trump sees himself in the mould of the great generals of the past and would prefer a massive charger, head raised and foaming at the mouth, complete with heel lifts and more bling than the flashiest of Grand Prix dressage horses. In which case he certainly wouldn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Napoleon or Wellington, as their famous war-horses, Marengo and Copenhagen, were just 14.1 and 15.00 hands respectively. (What is also interesting is that recent research has suggested that Marengo, whose skeleton is in the UK, was actually Irish bred, rather than being born in Egypt as previously thought, and was a part bred Connemara!)
The current fashion for big horses is probably a cause of both soundness problems and a lack of longevity in the modern sport horse and there is a real need to knock on the head the theory that bigger is better. It is well known in the dog world that small dogs live longer than big dogs and in general the same applies in the horse world. For example shire and heavy horses rarely live much passed twenty and all the longevity records are achieved by ponies, who often have almost twice this life span.
When it comes to soundness the data is limited but the general experience is that those who stay sounder longer tend to be those that are lighter on their feet and move efficiently. This is no surprise as both trainers and equine veterinarians confirm that the majority of ailments are in the foot and lower half of the foreleg, and so those that pound the ground heavily are more likely to sustain injuries in these areas. We also know that there is a high frequency of foreleg tendon and ligament injuries with horses that work at or close to their maximum speed, particularly when tired. So by using quality animals, of any breed, that can both work well within their maximum speed and spring over the ground, there is a greater chance of staying sound.
The weight of a horse has an obvious effect on the forces exerted on ligaments, tendons and bone structure of the horse. The weight ranges within different breeds can be huge, but in general it is true that the average 14.2 pony is half the weight of an average modern sport horse and the average TB is 200lbs lighter than a sport horse of a similar height. However, the crucial point is the sport horse does not have twice the amount of bone as the pony, nor are its ligaments and tendons twice as strong, and even though the TB is 200 lbs lighter than the sport horse the TB is generally stronger in these key areas.
It is particularly interesting to note that currently there are six horses competing at 3* and 4* level in the USA who are 18 or 19 years old, and they are all TBs! Madison Park (Kyle Carter), Arthur (Alison Springer), Irish Rhythm (Rachel McDonough), Sir Rockstar (Libby Head), Rise Against (Bunnie Sexton) and Anthony Patch (Laine Asker).
Of course there are exceptions but there is a correlation between soundness of the lower limb and the forces exerted on them, and weight (mass) and speed are the two most significant factors influencing these forces. The weight of a horse within each breed will tend to increase and decrease according to their size, therefore smaller means lighter but not necessarily weaker. As an example my foundation mare, High Dolly, the dam of Mandiba, High Kingdom and Jackaroo, was 7/8 TB and not quite 16.00, but won four point-to-points by a distance carrying 175 lbs!
World beating small horses
Hyperion, the most influential TB sire of all time was only 15.1 when he won the English Derby and fully grown was just 15.3. Also 15.3 was Mark Todd’s double Olympic individual Gold medalist Charisma. While his New Zealand teammate Caroline Powell made her name on Lenamore, the 15.3 superstar who won Burghley winner at the age of 17 and completed two four stars every tear from 2005 until 2012 when he was 19! He was by the sire of Cruising, the Irish Draught Sea Crest and was in the rosettes at Badminton an amazing seven times!
They say show jumpers need to have size but size does not equal scope or soundness. Last month in Wellington the $1m class was won by Lauren Hough on the 15.2 mare Ohlala. The biggest show jumping Olympic track of all time was in 1968 in Mexico and the Silver medal was won by Marion Coakes on Stroller, the Irish rubber ball who initially jumped in 14.2 pony classes with Marion! It was a day for small horses as the USA’s Bill Steinkraus rode Snowbound to beat Stroller for the Gold medal and he was a 16.00 TB.
Another TB, Touch of Class, won the 1984 show jumping Gold medal for the USA in Los Angeles. Ridden by Joe Fargis she was just 15.3. And who could forget 1988 Olympic Champion Jappaloup, ridden for France by Pierre Durand who was 15.1, or in more recent times the two 15.2 Grand Prix legends Laura Kraut’s Cedric, and long time world number one Itot du Chateau, ridden by Edwina Tops-Alexander. While my favourites were Eric Lamaze on the 16.00 powerhouse and multiple Grand Prix winner Hickstead, and Meredith Michael’s Quick Star, the sire of Nick Skelton’s Gold medalist Big Star and so many other great jumpers, who was just a fraction over 15.2.
When Theodore O’Connor stormed round both the Pan Americans and Rolex with Karen O’Connor, despite being just under 14.2, many said it would never happen again. But I would disagree. For example the Connemara Pony/TB cross has long proved to be a wonderful mix. Stroller was bred this way as are both Allie Blyskal-Sacksen 4* flyer Sparrow's Nio, and Camilla Spiers’ Porterside Just a Jiff, who had two top ten finishes in 4*s last year.
Just consider the facts: Ponies are different genetically and so many things are less prevalent in ponies including navicular, tendonitis and warts! When cut they even produce little of the proud flesh (granulation) that is common with wounds on horses. A good dollop of pony blood has much to offer sport horse breeding and might be a game changer for those who breed performance horses. This is because they live longer, are generally sounder, have more lb per lb dynamic strength, and in my opinion are also more intelligent overall. This is not surprising as the modern sport horse brain has only been developed over the last 150 years and the TB over 300 years, but the Connemara pony has had between 1,500 and 2,500 years for brain development.
Quality, quality, quality
Arguably the most influential show jumping sire of all time was the slightly built ¾ TB Cor de la Bryere. He was almost gelded in France because of this but then sent to Germany instead and little used initially. They soon saw the error of this move as his offspring started to perform. Now in modern show jumping there is much greater appreciation of the need for quality and a horse that can gallop.
Even in dressage more quality horses abound and who can forget the petite 16.00 Rembrandt who won eight individual Gold medals with Nicole Uphoff and looked just like a quality event horse. His dam was by the TB Angelo. Despite what we are often told there is wide use of TB blood in dressage horses, and even the Hannoverian stallion of the year in 2006 was the full TB Lauries Crusador! In addition the vast majority of Germany’s top event horses are ¾ TB or more, even though they are branded Holstein or Hannoverian.
So does size matter? Donald Trump obviously thinks it does, but both in his world and in the world of performance horses it is almost certainly overrated, especially when the majority of horse riders are female. Of course it is important to have a horse that can easily carry their rider, but ideally in a general purpose saddle the rider’s knees should be at the widest point of the body of the horse, and not several inches above as often happens with a small rider on a big horse. In addition, as well as being easier to ride, small horses also have safety benefits, as there are less likely to be balance issues for the rider.
Therefore as horse riding is both a Sport for All and Sport for Life the smaller horses are vital, not only for elite sport, but to provide the right mounts for the hundreds of thousands of novice and pleasure riders, and for the thousands of young and the old who could take up riding if they had the right horse to ride. Then many more could experience the life enhancing possibilities of our extraordinary sport, with all its’ transferable skills.
A perfect code for the President
Talking of transferable skills some will remember that Gene Autry created the Cowboy Code, or Ten Cowboy Commandments. These tenets promoted an ethical, moral, and patriotic lifestyle that appealed to youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts, which developed similar doctrines. The Cowboy Code consisted of rules that reflected Gene's own philosophy on life. According to the code:
1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.
10. The Cowboy is a patriot.
Great rules for us all to live by including Presidents. Without doubt the equestrian world has always had much to offer in terms of life skills and as Winston Churchill said “no hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle.”
However some might suggest that Donald Trump actually sees himself not as the rider of Champion the Wonder Horse but as Champion himself. The only aspect of this that should worry Donald Trump is that Champion, although presented as a stallion, was in fact a gelding!
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