The Changing Eye
copyright 1999 by Robert J. Cadranell
from Arabian Visions Spring 1999
used by permission of RJCadranell
After you’ve spent a few years with horses, you don’t look at them quite the same way as you did when you started. I’ll give as an example my experience at about age ten with horses — these were not Arabians — from two different farms in the state where I grew up.
One farm was located “on the other side of the mountains” in the eastern part of the state, and the other farm “on this side of the mountains,” in the western part of the state. Today I am sure enthusiasts of that breed count both farms as successful breeders of sound, typey, and useful horses. But when I was ten years old, it seemed to me there was no contest. I liked only the horses bred at the farm on this side of the mountains, and I was always looking for them at the shows. The horses bred on the other side of the mountains — which I knew mostly from published photographs — looked to me coarse, clunky, and ugly. Nonetheless they were popular pleasure and show horses, so I assumed disposition must have been their one good point.
When I recently looked again at pictures of those horses I used to think were clunks, I was amazed to find average to pretty horses of sound, balanced conformation. There wasn’t a clunk in the bunch. Some of them even had bone that looked a little too light for the pronounced musculature it supported. Not all of them were perfect, but it was clear their breeder was doing something right.
What had changed? Certainly not the pictures. Yes, a few of the owners needed to learn a little more about how to pose and photograph their horse to its advantage, but most of the photos were acceptable or better. I can conclude only that the change has been in my eye for a horse.
At an Arabian farm I visited in my early teen years, I left the place wondering how that band of plain, indifferent mares could have produced those dazzling young stallions. One fleabitten grey mare in particular I thought was much too large and coarse: definitely offtype. I wrote her off almost immediately — no point wasting time going in the stall and looking at that mare and foal.
Only a few years later, I met that grey mare again in my travels. She had been sold to another farm, and somehow in the process she had shrunk down to 14.1 hands — maybe less — and had developed a beautiful head with particularly enchanting eyes. More likely she had always looked like that, but I was not able to see it the first time.
On a later visit to the band of plain, indifferent mares, it became clear to me where those dazzling young stallions had come from: that was actually one fine band of broodmares. All I had to do was learn how to see them, and it took a few years. It’s easy to be impressed by a prancing, dancing stallion. Properly evaluating a broodmare often requires a more practiced eye.
Broodmares know their priorities: good hay or pasture, and lazing in the sunshine. Most of the time, they don’t try to impress anyone. It’s easy for a visitor to walk right past the broodmares in search of the more animated residents of the farm. And maybe that’s just as well. Until the eye is ready to appreciate them, they might be evaluated unfairly.