Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Conformation isn't everything

The Conformationally Challenged Athlete | TheHorse.com

My horses and I share a problem.  We're conformationally challenged athletes.

It's always fun to read the glossy horse mags and see the Big Name Trainers break down the conformation of a bunch of horses based on their photos.  It's fun because my guesses rarely match the pro's rankings.  It's also fun because the best horses we've owned--the ones who not only gave us their all but did well in competition--would never have made the cut.

I would never have made the cut.

I'm short, without the long-legged girlishness that's required to 1) look good in those nasty breeches, and 2) wrap my legs around a wide horse without requiring a follow-up hip replacement.  I'm also old.  Old women have our own set of issues, what with arthritis and multiple head injuries.  Did I mention multiple head injuries?  Right.

Fancy didn't care that her legs were
a little odd...and neither did the
judges.
My horses have conformational flaws that defy description.  The worst of all was my daughter's best horse, the one that won everything almost every time he competed.  The one who, at every annual checkup, got the same review from the vet.  "With those knees and those withers and those hocks, I'm amazed he can stand up, let alone walk."

Grady, proving them wrong for 26 years.

Then there was the mare that toed in in the front and out in the back and twisted her back legs as she moved, requiring shoes all around to keep her feet from wearing off.  But she did her best at all times, and the judges seemed to love her despite her faults.

And we've got Downhill Dolly who, at 23, is still floating over the ground like a big, dark cloud.  She's got arthritis in her neck that impinges on her left shoulder, and she's had it for decades.  That didn't stop her from doing this for 8 years:



I could go on, but you've got the picture, I'm sure.  My point is this:  Don't count anyone out.  It's not over till the fat horse whinnies.  It ain't over till it's over.  We short, old, chunky riders can be amazing, and so can our conformationally-challenged horses.  We do it because what doesn't show on the outside is heart.  Heart and determination and a clear understanding of our limits will never get us Olympic gold, but we can have a damned good time playing at it.

Professionals have a very good point (I have to say that because I'm a certified Equine Appraiser, so one of their club).  They assess horses (and riders, and teams) based on the optimal parameters for success at the highest levels.  "If all else were perfect, this horse has the body to do the job, and this rider has the talent to do it with him."  That's what they're saying.

But go to any top-level horse show and count the entrants.  Their might be 50 overall.  At the lower levels there might be that many in a single class.  Now think about how many horses and riders there are out there in the world at large.  Right.  A "world class" pair not only had the best conformation, but the best financial backing, the best emotional support, and the deepest desire to make competitive riding their endgame.  American Pharoah aside (because he truly is one in a million), no horse can truly be the best in the world.  It can only be the best in that small corner in which its owners and handlers and riders navigate.

For the rest of us, there's the fun of it all, and meeting the challenges is just another learning experience along the road.

I rest my case.  

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