European-bred horses seem to have been at the top of international dressage competition forever. While domestic breeders are fiercely determined to attract more buyers, their biggest obstacle is the sheer geographical size of their market. One way to overcome this hurdle is to encourage potential buyers to attend dressage sport horse breed shows. These events showcase some of the finest young horses in the United States, many of which are for sale.
Consider: Germany is 137,826 square miles; France, 211,208; the Netherlands, 53,000. The United States is 3,537,441 square miles and Canada is 3,844,907. Conservatively speaking, this is the biggest problem the U.S. breeder faces.
"The United States may indeed have a greater absolute number of quality breeders," remarks MaryLou Winn of Home Again Farm, "but we cannot, because of our size, provide a comparable density of candidate horses to the potential buyer."
Both U.S. buyers--and trainers--sometimes overlook the Cosequin®/U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Breeders Championship series as a resource. It consists of over 80 shows in 11 different regions, with entries ranging from just a few horses at small local shows to over 400 at the Dressage at Devon breed show. These shows provide an extraordinary opportunity to see a high concentration of quality young sport horses in an exciting and educational setting. Judges follow established guidelines, are specifically trained and licensed by the USDF for breed show judging and give a written commentary to the owner after every class.
Even more importantly, spectators can wander the barns and network with the breeders who will happily share their horse's evaluation if asked. Almost all breeders have additional horses for sale on their farms--some under saddle, some actively showing--all thoughtfully bred and carefully raised.
The USDF breed shows are different in concept and format from the traditional hunter breed shows that are familiar to many. Horses are scored 30 percent on conformation, 30 percent each on the quality of their walk and trot, and 10 percent on other--presentation and behavior. During the class, the handler enters the ring and stands the horse for a conformation inspection at A. After the judge evaluates the horse and dictates his or her comments to the scribe, the competitor moves off to walk the horse on the triangle (A-B-C-A) ; returning to the judge at A. Then, they trot the horse for a larger triangle (A-D-E-A) and may be asked to trot it twice.
In 2005, Chesapeake Equestrian Events (CEE) developed a show-specific, spiral-bound sales book to help breeders reach out to potential buyers that attend the shows. CEE was formed by Lori Kaminski in 2004. For more than five years, she has been the show secretary for the Dressage at Devon Breed Show--arguably the largest breed show in the in the United States with over 400 horses in 66 classes. The full-color sale book has room for detailed information on breeding, pedigree, show records and any descriptions.
"Every competitor, especially the breeder, receives two full pages--free of charge--in the sales book to list any horse they have for sale, whether in the show or on their farm," says Kaminski.
The objective of the book is to get buyers to appreciate this huge, underutilized resource.
"Last year, at Fair Hill, there were almost 100 horses bathed, braided and clipped, looking their best and strutting their stuff. We have under saddle classes for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. We have weanlings, yearlings, 2- and 3-year-old fillies, colts and geldings. And, while the preponderance of the entrants are dressage candidates, the breeders have many on their farms that are suitable for other disciplines. The show was extended in 2005 to two days in order to accommodate more under saddle participants. And in 2006 we hope to offer the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) 4-, 5- and 6-year-old dressage tests," says Kaminski.
Kaminski has worked with the U.S. sport horse breeding community for over 10 years. "They are a passionate group," she says. "And they have some very legitimate issues and frustrations. I have to give them a lot of credit, they keep on trying and working at it--competing with the Germans, Irish, Belgians and Dutch who've been at it for centuries. That's one of the reasons why I started my management company with breed shows. They are rapidly gaining in popularity and entries are skyrocketing."
A good example of exactly what Kaminski is talking about are the back-to-back shows that kick off the East Coast Cosequin series of shows at Morven Park International Equestrian Center in Leesburg, Va., in June. Shannon Pedlar, assistant events director for the facility, says, "We've been running these shows for the past 6 years, and each year they get bigger. [The year] 2005 saw about 125 horses in June for the Morven Park and Virginia Dressage Association/Northern Virginia Chapter shows. This number has doubled in the last five years. In fact, in 2006 we're going to repeat the second series of back-to-back shows in August as we feel there is a real need for them."
"The U.S. breeder is working extraordinarily hard to provide the marketplace with competitive horses to those found in Europe, at more competitive prices. That's one of the reasons why the Dressage at Devon Committee voted to back the Born in the USA (BITUSA) Breeders Award program last year at Devon," says Pedlar. "The BITUSA award began in 2003 and may very well grow into a national futurity. But, ultimately, it's about getting these U.S.-bred horses into the hands of the trainers and riders to compete, both nationally and internationally."
Cheryll Frank, board member of the Young Jumper Championships and the Sporthorse Institute for Research and Education (SIRE) adds, "It has always amazed me that we Americans have copied the European model so faithfully in so many respects, yet have failed on other key points. The Europeans don't wait around for buyers to come to the mare and foal shows, stallion shows and approvals. They throw a party that the professionals and potential buyers can't afford to miss! Their breeding stock approvals are the social event of the season, while ours are best-kept secrets. They integrate their young horse classes into their important competitions and they publish breeding information for the spectators."
To compete with their European rivals, U.S. breeders need to pull together. Frank says that breeders and trainers need to work together to create shows and programs that welcome both breeders and spectators and attach a premium to the label "American-bred."
Anyone with an interest in young sport horses and sport horse prospects would benefit greatly from attending a breed show to see what U.S. breeders have to offer and to meet the breeders. Even if a trip to Europe is under consideration, the U.S. breed show can provide buyers and trainers with a wealth of comparisons, and perhaps even that perfect new horse. The atmosphere will be exciting, yet convivial, the horses ready for inspection and the airfare minimal. Check your calendar and plan to attend one.
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