I’ve been thinking about this one on and off for a few weeks. I think it started with that 25 questions meme that was going on – one of the questions asked people if they would own a “hotter” breed, and mentioned Arabians and Trakehners as examples of that. I saw a lot of people who were frustrated with that characterization.
Andrea at The Reeling recently wrote about her own transition to rescue horses, and her ideas about breeds & breeding. I really liked the way she wrote about her thought process.
Tristan is a BLM mustang, which I describe as an All-American equine mutt. Some people call mustangs a breed, and they get all involved in the DNA typing of various strains, and they come up with clever names for certain types of them. That’s really not my thing. Mustangs are typey mutts, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen a lot of them, and there is an overall “look” but there is not anything approaching the standard set of characteristics that you would get from an established breed.
I’ve known and ridden hundreds of horses from dozens of breeds, and I’ve known a lot of people who have really strong and clear preferences. A lot of eventers are Thoroughbred people. A lot of dressage riders have their own particular breed of warmblood that they prefer – or they sit on one side or another of the warmblood/Spanish type debate. My current dressage barn has quite a few Lusitanos in training.
I live in Vermont, where there are clearly established Morgan People. They have their own tack, their own show circuits, their own style of riding, their own set of views on horses that are shaped largely – if not entirely, in some cases – by the Morgan horse.
And I have been thinking about dogs, too, and how we pick the dogs that are a fit for us. My family – immediate and extended – are dog people. I grew up with yellow Labs, and my parents will always have them (no matter what my father says about no more new dogs…). My brother has a German Shepherd. My aunt had Golden Retrievers, then herding dogs, Border Collies and Aussies. My mother grew up with a Boxer, Doberman, and Irish Setter. My uncle has always (except for one Irish Setter) had hounds.
My own dog, Arya, is some kind of mutt – she was listed as a Boxer/Lab cross, but probably has hound and maybe some pit bull in there. She is a different type than the more solid, more laid back Labs that I grew up with, but I love that.
I chose my horse because I fell in love with him after working with him for the summer. He was not necessarily the “type” that I usually like. I chose my dog because she does represent a type that I have an affinity for: cheerful, sharp, sweet, and has a general look (medium-sized, short hair, blockier head, athletic & slim body) that I like.
Obviously, we all have a brain type that we like, and obviously every horse (and dog) is an individual. So we all know whether we like a kick ride or a pull ride, a thinking horse or an over-eager horse, on and on.
But most of us, however much we say we choose for brain first, have at least some breed preferences. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those breeds, it just means it doesn’t fit our aesthetic or riding choices. And the very fact that there are breeds mean that some characteristics are more common in them than not. While it is misleading to say that all representatives of a certain breed are hot or cold, smart or dumb, you are more likely to get those characteristics because there has been a program of selective breeding to encourage them. That’s why we have breeds.
So I am wondering how we get there, as individuals, how we develop preferences for breeds, and how that influences us.
thick neck, close-coupled, pretty but not delicate head, good bone
I’ll go first. I don’t like breeds with lots of hair: Friesians, Gypsy Vanners, some of the drafts, some of the ponies. They do absolutely nothing for me. I don’t like the more “delicate” looking breeds: most Arabians, some of the taller/thinner Warmbloods (like Trakehners, usually), breeds like the Akhal Tekes or Marwaris.
My all time favorite breed, the one I will buy from someday, the one whose base characteristics match up with my aesthetic preferences and what I like in a brain, is Morgan. I like them with lots of bone, thick through the body and the neck, short-backed and close-coupled, with a fine but not dainty head. I like a horse that’s smarter than I am, that has energy and sensitivity but would like to negotiate, and that has more of an all-around profile than something specific.
Why do I like that? I like the feel of a more solid horse. I like a horse that is quick but not reactive. I like the look of a heavier horse, but not as heavy as a draft. It’s a bit tough to really spell out.
So: what do you like? Why? Do you think it’s nature or nurture – were you exposed to a lot of that breed in formative years, or have you always loved them from afar? Do you really think you have zero breed preference at all? Why is that?