Guardians of the Breed

by Susan Delany
From NZAHBS Expression Magazine

At last, another winter has come to and end and we can look forward to those wonderful babies we have all waited so long for. What colour will they be, what sex, will the combination of that mare and stallion produce the spectacular foal I hoped for?

Year after year its the same... and yet despite the setbacks and the sheer volume of feed we cart around all winter, the mud, the cold and wet, we go on into the new season with just as much enthusiasm.

Recently I visited an old school friend, a person who rode horses with me in my teenage years, a person who I considered very lucky as she acquired her first pony long before I acquired mine. "Well" she said "Do you still mess about with those things, horses I mean".

"Yes" I replied, "I still have a few, mainly for breeding now".

"Oh", she said "I don't know how you can be bothered, my friend's mother is still breeding ponies after all these years, she is still dedicated to the things, all she wants to do is talk about them.

"The work they create, what on earth do you see in them? Thank goodness I grew out of them."

"Yes" I replied, deciding to not take that issue too much further, but I couldn't help noticing as I looked around the room all the motorbike pictures, the fact that the two spare bedrooms where occupied with motorbikes in various stages of restoration. The motorbike books and magazines not to mention the up and going ones in the garage.

"Into motorbikes now," I said.

"Yes", she replied "I just love them." For the next three quarters of an hour I was to learn more about motorbikes than I knew in my whole life and her total dedication to them.

Perhaps one man's wine is another man's poison. Who knows, we all have our own interests, but my enthusiasm for horses seems to go beyond the bounds of reason at times and it is unexplainable to me and those around me.

From the age of five I drove my parents crazy in my attempts to acquire a pony. Being from a family that had not the slightest interest in horses my parents remained unimpressed. Finally they has to relent and let me take riding lessons.

I used to sit in class and draw pictures of my stable layout for the horses I would own when I was grown up. A hopeless case really. I earned the nick name 'horsey' at school because that was were my interests where.

I finally managed to acquire my own pony when I was seven, after a long drawn out conversation with my father's stock agent over a raspberry and lemonade. Within a week a pony mare and foal appeared in my father's stock order for cattle.

My father was not sure he approved, but I think my parents, thought if they indulged me I would eventually grow out of it. So began my riding career. I never 'grew out of it'. Horses are an integral part of my life and to be without them would be like stopping breathing.

I have tried at various times in my life to live without horses. I managed a year in Auckland and hated it. I kept telling myself what do I need horses for, the expense, the work etc. My family and relations think I am slightly nuts. I know the people reading this will probably identify with my experiences so....

WHY? Why this obsession with the horse?

I visited a horsey friend recently only to find her husband rather annoyed.

"I had planned a quiet romantic evening last night," he said, "And what happens? First she rings a friend and they talk horses for an hour or more, then when she gets off the phone she is too busy checking pedigrees and researching to have any interest in me. I did the dishes and went to bed alone. Bloody horses," he said as he exited from the room, still angry.

My friend couldn't have cared less she was far to busy engrossed in - you guessed it, horses.

For horse lovers the marriage ceremony should read, "I take you and your horses to love honour and cherish to death do us part."

After a recent very messy marriage separation another friend was very depressed. She always rode ponies as a child. So to be helpful she was given a horse that just happened to need some exercise.

What a change. She was back her happy self in no time. The horse was better than therapy.

The list of stories is endless, a lady who began riding at 40 having wanted a pony since she was a child and is now competing in dressage. Her family think she is mad, but heaven help anyone or anything that try and come between her and her horse.

The joy breeders get from watching the foals playing in the evenings. I was to remember Allen Sisam remarking shortly before his death his regret at not being able to watch the new foals that season.

Another friend who having suffered hip replacements can now no longer ride. "What on earth do you have horses for," she was asked.

"You can't ride? Why don't you get rid of them?"

The horses she has are the last of her breeding stock -- the geriatrics. I asked her what she answered. "I simply couldn't sell them" she said, "There is something about them. If I am in pain or feeling miserable I can go out to the paddock and pat and talk to them. They lift my spirits and I feel better. They are good for my soul."

Psychiatrists tell us that the horse fulfills a need within us to nurture and care for something. While this may be part of it - it does not explain it all. Research is now underway as to why horses are beneficial to handicapped and disabled people. Why horses can help children with delinquency problems. In the States, horses are making a difference to violent offenders, a horse riding programme softens their natures. (We may well discover we have been doing something very healthy for us all along) .

BUT what if we didn't exist:

"Horses are a waste of time," said my uncle, "They had their place in the days they worked for a living on the farm but that time has long gone."

"Really" I said as I watched him prepare his Bantam's for the caged bird show.

Who would care and nurture and ensure the on-going quality and breed standards were maintained if we didn't exist.

For a complete flight of fancy, consider this; most of our dislikes and likes, our talents and work choices are in built into our character. We are who we are. What if our love and nurture for the horse is also in built. Did God say, "You go down there and do a good job of caring for and procreating my creatures - you will care for the horse."

Does this explain how the love of the horse is entangled within our very soul?

So as your babies arrive and you prepare for yet another season tell your long suffering family that we are not completely mad. We are here because we are, 'the appointed guardians of the breed'.