I get lots of letters from people asking about horse shows and why they matter in the overall scheme of things.
Let's take a closer look at that question. Horse shows, like most shows for purebred livestock, started out as a chance for breeders to compare their kennels and evaluate the progress of their breeding, nutritional and training programs. We still have that chance today, in an age when shows have been elevated into glamorous events of national stature. Has just about everybody who loves dogs seen the recent Westminster Kennel Club show from Madison Square Garden in New York City? Of course they have. Nobody who has ever been to Crufts in England, the Salon du Cheval in Paris or the national Arabian horse show in Scottsdale can walk away without being impressed by how far the world of horse and dog shows have come. So, how does that fit with other kinds of horse training, you ask? Other disciplines like endurance, harness or flat racing?
A recent conversation with former Quarter Horse jockey Kevin Gresham, from his farm in Kansas brought an answer to that and it goes something like this: "Years ago," he says, "Back when I was ridin', you'd have horses that did all kinds of crazy stuff. Some of them horses could really get to carryin' on and a guy could get hurt. Well, there was this one trainer who did a lot of winning. And I mean a lot. I always liked ridin' his horses 'cause they would just, you know, be real calm and keep their mind on business. Well, what this guy said was, the best racehorses are the ones who are trained the most."
Now, that's a very interesting statement and a rather broad one. But, Kevin has a broad base of experience. Besides having a few horses, he raises and trains some of the most expensive, successful Greyhounds in the sport of dog racing, dogs that earn many tens of thousands of dollars. Kevin Gresham counts among his clients some of the most well known owners in the game and he knows what he's talking about.
Hearing his statement is one thing. But, understanding it and putting it into practice is a whole different matter. What it boils down to is this: the horse with more experience is less likely to be surprised, distracted or worried about anything "different" that happens. So, what Kevin is talking about is the "seasoning" that cross-training can give a horse. And that kind of seasoning can be the difference that makes a champion.
Some of the most successful people in other disciplines have come from the show world, and that's true for both horses and dogs. What secrets do they know? To find that out, you'd have to ask the many Arabian horse trainers succeeding on the track. From there, you'd have to ask people like Neal and Ginny Ehrhart of Keystone Driving Force, who show horses and are also among the top winners in Harness racing. After Neal and Ginny, you'd have to go on and ask people like Jack and Mary Butler, who were busy showing Siberian Huskies in New England about fifteen or so years ago and today own one of the most respected Greyhound kennels in the world. Or ask Jan Troxell who to this day still raises and shows German Shepherds from her Greyhound racing farm in Oklahoma. The list goes on. Maybe what these successful breeders and trainers discovered is that all training disciplines - no matter how different from each other they may seem to be - go hand in hand. Maybe they see the world of champions from a wider scope and in a brighter light than their competitors do. Maybe it gives them an advantage.
Most of us are in horses because we love them. Whether we are fans, owners or somewhere in between, all of us play a role in the making of champions and champions can be found in many different arenas. Racehorses have proven themselves in dressage, driving, hunter/jumper classes, western pleasure and halter. Likewise in dogs, Obedience and Herding winners have become conformation champions and retired racing Greyhounds have gone on to win ribbons in the show ring as well.
In the sports of our choice, we see time-honored rituals that touch a chord in all of us. We see horses from across the country competing to prove which is smartest, which is fastest, which more beautiful. We see stables competing against each other to prove which horse is the best, which trainer the wisest and which owner the most savvy.
In a society growing ever more soft, where schools and companies and towns seem to be falling into a political correctness that makes our lives more boring at every turn, we in horses have something to look forward to. We live our dreams every day. We see their promise played out with every sporting event we attend - the promise that if you look straight ahead and give your all, you will get from where you are right now to where you want to be. You will cross the finish line, fast or slow. Most horse sports, not all, are about the individual, not about hiding behind a team that you're part of. Most of them are about you and your horse, alone, against all odds. They don't teach you that kind of self-confidence in high school, but horses do. When you are a winner in the horse world, you know on some level - no matter how long you live or what you do - that you "made it."
There, for all to see, you stood before the crowd. You reached the winner's circle and somewhere in the archives of your Breed, the world will always know it.
His interest in Arabian horse racing goes back to the early days of Delaware Park, now one of the leading Arabian racetracks in the US. His stallion "Nahgua" (Nugui El Khamsin) was one of the first Arabians to race at Delaware Park and inspired Mr. Hevener's novel, "Fate of the Stallion."
Along with racehorses and show dogs, Mr. Hevener's interest in Greyhounds started with the adoption of a retired racer and led to a full-fledged racing kennel and inspired his novel, "High Stakes." Today, he owns sons and daughters of every major Greyhound racing sire from the U.S., UK, Ireland and Australia.
An accomplished artist, Hevener figurines and prints from his novels are bought and traded throughout the world. His original paintings and sculptures are displayed in galleries and can be found in many private collections.
Mr. Hevener is currently on tour, speaking at bookstores, libraries, theaters, schools, gift stores, pet stores, dog shows, art shows and horse shows throughout the country. "Life is a movie," he says. "On with the show!"
Book Price: $14.95 - Audio Book: $18.95 - Watercolor Prints $32.00
Photography by Maxine Bochnia