Monday, February 14, 2011

Let the Blame Games Begin!

Quick!  Grade or Purebred? 
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone that horse enthusiasts would eventually point their big guns at each other in their desperation to solve the overpopulation problem in the horse world.  But the recent article in The Horse (“In Defense of Grade Horses”, Marla Trowbridge, MS) really torqued my britches.  The author did a terrific job, but what putzes we are! Seriously?  Is there a mindset that actually singles out grade horse production for the overabundance of equines?  That has to be one of the worst examples of elitism I’ve come across since the not-long-defunct days when folks went around putting quarters on white spots on Quarter Horses to see if they qualified as “too colored” for registration.  I know for a fact that that debate still rages on behind closed doors across the land. 

Granted, if only purebreds were propagated, there would be fewer horses.  That wouldn't be because purists only breed the best, but because there are so many genetic anomalies that are created and fostered by in-breeding and grafting too close to the main trunk.  I quote from the article:

“An example of disease related to the purebred horse industry is HYPP (hyperkalemic periodic paralysis) in the Quarter Horse. Arabians have six genetic illnesses currently in their lines; lavender foal syndrome and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) are two. Belgian draft horses can carry genes for junctional epidermolysis bullosa (JEB), a disease that causes skin lesions over pressure points of the body. This is not an all-inclusive list of disease-prone breeds--these are just a few breeds currently popular in the United States.”

One might even conjecture that a complete and myopic focus on breeding for “desirable” traits just might put an end to the problem once and for all.    Eventually we’ll create horses that can’t stand up, can’t eat, can’t move properly, and can’t reproduce.  What a boon for us all!
Nope, I can't even tell you...and he was ours.

If you haven’t read any of the groundbreaking work by Temple Grandin, now would be a great time to pick up a copy of Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals.  We have spent generations ruining perfectly good critters with our insistence that we “need” bigger, faster, fatter, thinner, more prolific, less prolific, smarter, dumber, prettier, brighter-colored or whatever added to the genetic soup that came with the original blueprint.  Always anxious for an upgrade, we can’t stop making the world conform to our whims, many of which are fads that die out before the changes we’ve made have a chance to prove us wrong.  And we never quite seem to get that within the limits of reality, if you get a bigger this, you’re going to have to put up with a smaller or less-functional that.

So, where is the fault to be placed if not in the production of “grade” (meaning not qualified for a breed registry) horses that have mostly been bred to suit a particular need, sturdiness being the most common?  We’ve already targeted all those breed-savvy folks who insist that a foal with too much of this or not enough of that isn’t “suitable” and so lands in the Disposable pile.  We’ve attacked the backyard breeders, especially the accidental ones who allow someone’s intact boy horse to come into surprising contact with an interested girl horse.   We’ve taken on the competitors whose horses become disposable when they cease to be competitive.  The poor disadvantaged and horse-illiterate owners who have given up horses they can't afford (and might not ever have been able to afford) or don't know how to care for have felt the sting.  We haven’t quite had the guts to point at the horses being kept alive well beyond their own desire to continue simply because some human can’t quite make that Final Decision.  I won’t even mention the race industry as they’re too busy licking their wounds to read this anyway.  And without a doubt, residential jurisdictions that require breeding for continued recognition as "farming" horses--the ones that won't allow buying and reselling or simply pasturing and maintaining the beasts, as if they turn into hamsters if they're not sexually active--are among the biggest culprits.
Even the judges questioned what my mare was.


Marla Trowbridge’s (The Horse)  article sums it up nicely this way:

 “Yes, we have a horse overpopulation problem that needs to be dealt with. But do not attack every breeder of grade horses. "Grade horse" does not mean poor quality. Likewise, purebred and papered does not prove good quality. Keeping a population of crossbred and grade horses is a healthy means of maintaining the genetic variability of the horse population as a whole.”

Ms Trowbridge has done a fine job of shining a bright light on our silliness.  You want to add a target to your wall, add anyone who refuses to consider any type of horse as suitable simply based on a nonsensical bias.  Holster that pointer finger and take a good, objective look. Read up on genetics and our role in the biggest failures, and do whatever comes next in your small part of the horse world to help us all past this huge hurdle and back to a sane approach to animal husbandry.  You may not be thanked now, but you’ll get your white hat when the time is ripe.

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