The challenges facing American sport horse breeders are not new, but there is a new organization that's committed to tackling them. That's the U.S. Sport Horse Breeders Association, which debuted on Facebook Nov. 2 and two weeks later had 1,500 friends and counting. That reception is one of several indicators of widespread interest in an organization devoted to the needs of all U.S. breeders.
Promoting the existence and quality of U.S. breeding programs, developing identification methods for all horses competing in the States and nurturing new breeders top the group's agenda.
The USSHBA got started as a natural result of conversations between breeders. "We just started talking about forming this organization in early 2012," explains San Diego breeder Tish Quirk, a steering committee member and interim vice president. "As soon as we went a bit public with it, it kind of took off like wildfire. The whole point is to be an independent organization of breeders that can advance the interests of the whole U.S. breeding industry in a wide array of situations and address issues we all share." She's not surprised about the group's quick popularity. "It's of interest to everybody that is breeding or dealing with young horses."
Tish and her late husband John Quirk were one of the first Americans to import European Warmbloods. One of those was the Dutch Warmblood stallion Best Of Luck, by Lucky Boy, who the Quirks imported in 1983. At the time, Thoroughbreds dominated the hunter/jumper and dressage arenas, and also eventing, where they remain well represented. The Quirks imported Best Of Luck as a hunter for Tish, but he soon earned equal and ongoing fame in his career as a breeding stallion. Along with building her own program with Best Of Luck and his descendants, Tish became a leader in the domestic sport horse breeding industry, spearheading and/or serving on various committees over the years.
While the Performance Horse Registry and various young horse programs and breed registries have made great advances in many areas, the USSHBA has its work cut out, Tish acknowledges. "American breeders are at a distinct disadvantage because too many people think they have to go to Europe to buy good horses." This is despite the fact that European breed inspectors evaluating U.S.-bred horses have routinely described them to be of equal quality to their counterparts produced in Europe, she notes. "There is a whole generation of riders and trainers who think good horses only come from Europe. It's just a mindset that's gotten established."
Raising the general level of awareness about bloodlines and their contribution to a horse's prospects will help change those perceptions. Progress toward this end has been made, Tish notes. FEI class lists, for example, include a horse's breed, often with mention of its sire and dam sire. Yet still, too many riders have no idea their horse's origins and bloodlines. The USSHBA envisions a unified education campaign, across all sporthorse breeds and the disciplines in which they compete, to counter this problem.
Identifying horses in a way that sticks with them throughout their life has been discussed throughout the equine industry for at least 20 years, Tish notes. She expects the subject will again be a hot topic at this season's annual conventions.
Tracking horses is important to breeders for many reasons. It enables breeders to follow and promote the success of their offspring and enables buyers to add that information to their decision process. Such an identification, if required to enter a show, would also reduce the issue of overqualified horses competing in classes meant to make stars of young, developing horses.
Commonly used in pets, microchipping is the most talked about proposal for permanently identifying a horse with its breeding, color, markings, etc. Retina scans are another option.
Whether it's promoting Made In America horses, mentoring new breeders or studying the ID situation, the USSHBA intends to cooperate with existing organizations in every way. In many areas, change will not come from re-inventing the wheel, Tish notes, but rather from adding to and capitalizing on existing good strides made by various entities for the benefit of all.
As a member of USSHBA's steering committee, Tish welcomes questions about the organization. Visit www.usshba.org and USSHBA's Facebook page for updates and membership options.