Backing Up The Bitching
Seriously, I’m trying to write more. I just have too many damn balls in the air. Sorry this entry took a few weeks to see the light of day. The title is “Backing Up the Bitching”, but I’m not sure how much “backing up” this will be—it’s more of an attempt at conversation.
I’ve been pleased, and a little concerned, about the conversation my journal has initiated on Facebook. There’s definitely a need for conversation, but open up the gateway, and a flood of bitching begins. That’s the beauty and the beast of social media. We need to have a platform to express our frustrations, but we also need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Since most of us breed in isolation, it’s easy to become hyper-focused on our own issues. Some of them are universal, effecting all of us–some of them, however, are, indeed, individual. A horse did badly at a keuring. The jury didn’t license your stallion prospect. You got taken advantage of by a KWPN stallion owner who was happy to sell shitty frozen semen to North America. Oh, wait. That’s all of us!
Backing Up the Bitching
I am a supporter of the KWPN system, and, by proxy, the KWPN-NA system. There are problems in both systems—they’re not all insurmountable, however. Let me throw out a few thoughts:
KWPN vs. KWPN-NA
In the bigger picture, we are both blessed to be held to the same standards and protocols of the KWPN, and cursed by it. What works in Holland doesn’t necessarily work here. There has to be a balance of maintaining the standards and continuity of selection with the specific and particular needs of North America. It doesn’t seem as if we have anyone currently in our corner on this. Yet, when people make broad statements about the KWPN never allowing the KWPN-NA to become competition, or they’re protecting their frozen semen market, so that’s why they don’t approve stallions, I don’t buy it. Yes, I’ve seen some politics in play over the last 30 years, but I don’t think that’s the norm. I think the bigger issue is that North America remains a market to sell riding horses for big bucks, and the breeding stock and frozen semen market has been a disappointment overall. As a matter of fact, if we had a bigger market for breeding stock and frozen semen, I think the KWPN would be all over it, and we wouldn’t be in the bind we’re in.
Another bigger picture issue is that the KWPN-NA, whether due to its contractual or perceptual adherence to the KWPN philosophy, or due to its lack of awareness of the bigger picture in general, has tended to be an organization ruled by what we can’t do, instead of an organization that looks at the possibilities and figures out how to get there. In any progressive business model, “Can’t do it” and “No” are off the table in the brainstorming sessions. Nothing short circuits progress faster than a contingent of people who negate every idea because it’s going to be too difficult, too expensive, or too risky. The place for realists is in the implementation phase, not the vision phase.
As far as stallion approvals and the scarcity of stallions available fresh cooled, there are a lot of factors in play here. Yes, we’re in trouble. As much as I have pontificated about the importance of marelines over the years, it’s still the stallions that have the biggest impact on the breeding population. We definitely need more stallions and younger stallions in North America. That being said, standing a stallion in North America is a nightmare. We don’t have a big enough mare base to sell enough breedings year after year to offset the costs of buying, importing, marketing, and, if necessary, competing a stallion. Consequently, anyone who brings in a stallion is bringing him in either for their own breeding or sport purposes. Also, North American mare owners are unrealistic in their expectations. Every stallion needs to be the winner of his performance testing, have all first premium foals, be available for fresh cooled semen six days per week, and be out competing and winning with good video online to prove it. We’re ridiculous. Yet, we’ll spend thousands of dollars on frozen semen from a three year old stallion, with no offspring on the ground, whom we’ve never seen in the flesh, because he’s black and we saw one fancy video on Facebook. Crazy. Still, we need new, young stallions. I go to Holland at least twice a year, definitely once for the Stallion Show and once for the Horse Days. I have internalized what the modern KWPN dressage horse looks like. We have only one KWPN-approved stallion standing in North America who is producing anything close to what the modern Dutch dressage horse looks like. If it weren’t for frozen semen, we would already be at least a full generation behind our Holland counterparts. There are some solutions to this. One, say a prayer, and hope ISF buys a new stallion. Two, say another prayer and hope someone, anyone, buys a new stallion. Three, and the more practical, establish a KWPN-NA Stallion Selection Team that is not beholden to the KWPN Selection Committee. Right now, any stallion approval decision isn’t based on North American need, it’s based on significant input from the KWPN Stallion Selection Committee. Four, similar to what the regions of Holland and Germany did before the advent of transported semen, let the KWPN-NA function as stallion station for frozen semen. In the days of old, breeders of a region established niches based on the stallions available to them. This was a really good thing for the breeding populations. Why not have the KWPN-NA buy 25 or 50 doses of a one or two stallions every year, then sell those doses to breeders at cost? We could have a team in place that determines the needs of the breeding population—the team negotiates the price of the doses–and, best yet, the team holds the sellers accountable for the quality of the product. Years ago, the KWPN-NA sold Ferro, Ramiro, and others. It was a great thing for the breeders, and it produced some really good horses. There’s no reason we can’t do this again.
As far as Register A and its value to the studbook, I maintain it’s a very good thing. There’s a comment on the FB thread about its muddying the quality, or causing some interruption in the consistency of the KWPN standards, but I don’t see it this way. As I remember, when the Euro culture was created, all European studbooks were charged with finding a way to incorporate each other’s breeding stock. The KWPN is the only one that did. The other studbooks just accepted an inordinate number of foreign stallions with limited inspection and limited requirements. I see Register A as an improvement section of our studbook. I also agree with the KWPN’s loosening of the Register A requirements for entrance into the studbook. Granted, it may appear that I have an ulterior motive in saying this since we now own Gaudi, an AES-approved stallion whose offspring will all be Register A, but if you look at the requirements, he has fulfilled all but the performance–the new requirements for Register A horses to enter the studbook are for keur-eligible mares to undergo the performance requirement. The only thing that changes is that a mare can receive the ster predicate and still be Register A. This is a good thing. It brings more horses to keurings. It recognizes the positive influences through Register A. Win win situation.
Growing Our Organization
I may be wrong about this, but I think our organization has had about 1400 members consistently for 20+ years. It hasn’t grown. Stating the obvious here, but any business needs to constantly vitalize its base and attempt to increase its market share to stay viable. We haven’t figured this out
The most profitable thing we do for our members is register foals. That brings in a shitload of money… which ends up paying for a really expensive Annual Meeting, benefiting, on average, 50 to 100 people per year not on the BOD, Member’s Committee, or some supporting committee. The Annual Meeting costs A LOT of money. I’m talking multiple tens of thousands of dollars. It is our biggest outreach and expenditure of the year, yet it benefits well less than 10% of our membership. There’s a problem here.
Don’t get me wrong. I have loved Annual Meetings. Some of the best parties I’ve attended in my adult life were at Annual Meetings—and, there were some great personal connections, networking, and general information. All this being said, overall, they are a waste of money. If the purpose of the Annual Meeting is for the different boards to get together in person, that can be accomplished more cheaply and more efficiently than by paying for expensive rooms in a top Florida hotel. If the goal is education of the membership, then that, too, can be accomplished more effectively by reaching out to multiple regions of the USA and Canada, and hosting a series of regional meetings, rather than one “resort” location that asks the attendees to shell out a significant amount of time and money. Again, I have wonderful memories from Annual Meetings, but, as a business owner and long-time member of the KWPN-NA, I’m offended by the amount of money spent on such a small percentage of the membership. The one benefit I see to the Annual Meetings is networking. You do make connections with other breeders and enthusiasts. Still, there are more effective, more efficient, and more cost-proportionate means of doing this, especially given the social media tools at our disposal.
Bitch, Bitch—Moan, Moan
So, that’s my rant. It’s easy to bitch when you’re not involved anymore. By “not involved”, I mean in the day-to-day workings of the organization–I’m certainly involved in breeding, stallion ownership, and the promotion of the KWPN horse. This is all about progress. It’s all about improving the breeding environment for Dutch horses in North America.