Are breed type and compromised breed standards affected by fad breeding and judging? This Breeder-Judge compares the dog show ring to the Arabian horse fancy.
E. Katie Gammill, AKC Multi-Group Judge, TheDogPlace.org Exhibition Editor
The pure-bred horse is capitulating to changes much like today’s dog world. Most changes reflect negatively on breed type. Economics and the desire to win water down standards set long ago by dedicated horse and dog breeders.
Pure bred Arabian breeders are concerned about the direction of their breed, as are dog breeders of today. Attending the Arabian Horse Nationals, one can see visible changes since acceptance of the half Arabian. Breed type is disappearing at a rapid pace. Everyone has freedom of choice in their breeding programs but I give credence to breeders pursuing the pure bred Arabian horse and pure bred dogs.
My observation is that few of today’s breed standard changes result in a positive effect. Older Arabian breeders gnash their teeth at the disregard newcomers have for the pure Arabian. Breeding something “different” simply to win or to cut costs does no favors to purebred dogs or horses.
Consider this. Trotters and Pacers wear hobbles to hold the desired gait. Park horses wear weights to high encourage action. The Paso Fino is NOT born “dancing” in the pasture. The desired beat produced on the board comes from strenuous training. Structure is adjusted to produce specific gaits and we dog breeders are doing likewise in many breeds. Quarter Horses demand tiny hooves and low head carriage and 100 pound dogs walk on legs that structurally cannot support the weight. Man invites disaster in order to improve “perfection”.
The most breathtaking class of all is the “Arabian Liberty Freedom Class.” A horse is turned loose in an arena to show off its action to specially chosen music. The crowd cheers and claps to encourage action. When the allotted time is up, the owner signals to the horse and to see the “wild one” lower his head to accept the halter is a very emotional and rewarding moment. The desert purebred has displayed style, action, carriage, and beauty in a magical way.
So why breed half-Arabians? ECONOMICS! The stud fee on a pure Arabian stallion is quite expensive for the owner of a pure bred Arabian mare. The fee to breed a half-Arabian mare to the same stud may be one third the cost. Some say it’s to “improve” other horse breeds. Excuse me, but we bred a filly that won the Chicago International Stock show over 58 head. In our opinion, and that of the judge, she represented the Quarter Horse breed standard and did not need changes.
Some owners prefer their pure Arabians not be beaten by a half-Arab. Some do not consider them worthy of the competition. And how would pure Arabian stud fees be affected if this happened? I draw similarities between horses and dogs. Offering spay and neuter classes for dogs (they have gelding classes) would bring in extra revenue to the AKC and proud pet owners with quality animals could enjoy the competition. Many dogs and horses are genetically not of “breeding quality”, yet they please the eye.
Eons ago, a long time dog breeder allowed me the privilege of owning one of her coveted bitches simply because she saw our horses. She said “YOU breed to standard”. Running her hands over our horses reverently as if handling a beautiful sculpture, she knew our hearts were “branded” by the standard. She knew we would use her bitch wisely and today that bitch remains in our pedigrees. Likewise, our horse pedigrees come down from the mare that produced the Chicago International winner. That’s a true breeder honoring the standard, be it horses or dogs.
The pure bred Arabian comes from the Middle East. Developed for harsh desert survival, their distinctive bulging forehead and concave dish face is unique and allows for an additional sinus cavity. The long arched neck, long wind pipe, and clean throat aids endurance. Their “tea cup” nose, large nostrils, and wide set eyes are for obvious purpose. The high tail set and moderate bone allows speed and endurance over the dunes. The pure Arabian is “one with the wind.”
Arabians are considered hot-blooded. Not large physically, their intelligence, speed, endurance, and willingness to please allow Arabians to compete in many venues. Collection and lightness of the Arabian take precedence over a lower head carriage, heavier body and bone. They are athletes of the highest order!
As the Arabian gained popularity, various types surfaced. There are today true “Desert Arabians”. There are Polish Arabians, Bedouin Arabians, Spanish Arabians, Crabbet Arabians, European Arabians, German Arabians, and Australian Arabians. Dedicated breeders are extremely proud of their Arabians and carry on with long established traditions. These purebreds represent subtle differences within the bloodline and breeders proudly concentrate on specific bloodlines.
One might compare the Arabian horse to the Belgian dog known for its specific herding technique. “Faculty of movement rather than reach and drive, tends to move in a circle rather than a straight line”. With a tireless trot, Belgians circle the herd. Many dog standards use horse terminology in descriptive terminology.
Arabian horses do not have “Champion” before their name. A spectacular horse is identified by the following marks ++-++, indicating accomplishments. In performance classes, three judges select a Top Ten from which the coveted Reserve Grand Champion and Grand Champion is awarded. The three judge system assures less political influence, Scoring is visible to on-lookers by a scoreboard. A “call judge” makes the final decision in case of a tie.
Attending the Arabian Horse Nationals cements my theory regarding dogs. Initially, old time breeders were less susceptible to “different types:” They took seriously the challenge of breeding to the purity of a standard. Secondly, the similarity in horse and dog breeding is basic. You might say it is “a concentration of a fault that eventually evolves into a new look.” When did faults become so common place in both horses and purebred dogs that they are considered “virtues?” This “desired look” wins for a time until the “next big thing” comes along. In the mean time, true type dissolves in both horses and dogs.
The Arabian shows offer wonderful art work, costumes, and equipment with prices to “choke a horse”. Arabian business cards are 8 X 10 glossy photos of their animals with pedigrees on the back. Stalls are decorated. Comfortable sitting rooms, televisions, and refreshments are available in most every set up. This extravaganza is a CLASS ACT!
But breed type is slipping in the pure-Arabian. Cross breeding requires less investment, but it dissolves breed type. Here’s a thought. If cross breeding devalues the pure Arabian, why are Labradoodles commanding exorbitant prices? It isn’t so in horses. Respecting breed history and purpose, true breeders continue the quest for the animal that “fills the eye” and “excites the heart”.