Not just for babies, Hunter Breeding preps owners for future performance goals.

June 24, 2014

Hunter Breeding.

It's probably not something you think about. Your performance barn's braiding list likely lacks anything under age 4. And, unless something went drastically wrong, your trainer never exits the show ring on his own 2 feet.

Such ignorance (in the truest & kindest sense!) is not news to breeders, nor to the many young-horse professionals that make a living in these classes. Every argument towards the value of a Hunter Breeding education has been shrugged off by the performance crowd, and the chasm between in-hand and astride yawns on. But, in discussing the Hunter Breeding experience with ehj client Danielle Semerad, who proudly exhibited her 3 y.o. mare Own It (Macy) in the Amateur Handler class at Devon, a thought managed to lodge itself in my craw.

"Into the ring I walked my mare, after numerous competitions on the local circuit, time spent practicing to stand her up and jog, and hours finding the perfect outfit. It’s amazing how no matter the amount of time and effort put into it, that Dixon Oval will make you feel like you are doing it all over for the first time. Nervous doesn't begin to explain the feelings you experience while standing in one of the most legendary rings in America!"

That, my friends, is the sound of one very happy amateur owner!

At just 3 years of age Macy has a wealth of show experience without the typically associated hard miles. She is ranked 2nd in the country and has ribbons from all 3 years of Devon attendance. A product of the young horse program at Magic Hill Farm, she has been professionally handled by specialist Emily Belin for most of her career. But, thanks to the Amateur Handler classes, owner Danielle has not been resigned to the vicarious sidelines. Nope. After earning 2nd & 5th in the 3 y.o. classes with Emily, Danielle was able to take center stage with her own filly at the holy-grail of horse-showing that is Devon.

“The preparations for Amateur Handler began long before I stepped foot into the Dixon oval. For weeks I mustered ideas of what I could wear that just might catch the judge’s eye... “neatness and presentation” of the handler is one third of the criteria you are judged on. The other two areas are the “presentation of the animal to the judge”, and the “overall condition of the animal”. In essence, you are expected to emulate the professionals to the best of your ability. The only criteria that professional versus amateur handlers are not judged on is conformation. In an Amateur Handler class, conformation of the animal should not be a determining factor. We prepare for the class; we take them in the ring and stand them up… and pray the horses are as good for us as they are the professionals.”

Here we have an oft forgotten stage in the horse’s career where heavy investments of time and money are not required. Training schedules are light, horses can go barefoot, and a $5000 custom French saddle is not a barrier to entry. It is the perfect level of horse ownership for all kinds of amateurs, be they cash-strapped working adults or starving college students, and the Amateur Handler classes go a step further to offer an affordable horse show fix.

So, as performance trainers bemoan a lack of owner support for professional rides, are we not overlooking a gateway of amateur-owner involvement with the Hunter Breeding classes? The benefits are two-fold.

First, a total of twenty-six amateurs showed up to handle babies at Devon. Most of these amateurs were also owners who paid a professional to otherwise show the baby, stable the baby, and prepare the baby at home. That's money.

Second, all of these amateur-handled babies are approaching performance age and many have started under saddle. And now, just like that, all these Hunter Breeding clients are now Baby Green Hunter clients. And they're already invested, involved, and excited. That's your future.

The benefits for owners are equally grand. Suddenly, what was once a $10,000 gangly mess of baby warmblood is now a $30,000 young hunter prospect that he/she can either sell or ride, and they didn't even have to mortgage the house to purchase it. The timeline is perfect for a junior that can’t stand giving up the horse dream through college, or a new mom that’s plotting a return to the saddle the second that little terror goes off to pre-school.

So what say ye, performance professionals? Rising costs strain the traditional school horse program and kids seem to be evermore strangled for time. Fewer and fewer are making the leap from once-a-week lessons to $2K/mth horse ownership, and if that trend continues new financial models must be explored.

Maybe it's time to think about our amateurs. Maybe the days of amateur-owned and professionally-shown aren't over. Maybe it's time to realize "young" and "old" are all most people can afford, and start structuring some opportunities around horses in those stages of life. Maybe there has been too much focus on the juniors, whose time with us is often fleeting, and whose career trajectory directly contradicts that of the young horse.

Okay, so something like 267 thoughts lodged themselves in my craw. Next up is a story from the west coast, where amateur owner Leslie Scharf talks about bringing young hunter Bohemain all the way up the levels, from Baby Green Hunters to Reserve Champion in the $10,000 International Hunter Derby at the Memorial Day Classic, without ever once riding him into the show ring.

Recommended Reading:
Linda Allen: Looking For The Horses Of Our Future
Growing Opportunities:
Young Horse Series
Interesting Chatter:
Hunter Breeding Classes are they worth it?

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