Looking Forward at SSF at the Beginning of 2018
Hawking, Frost, and Tolman Time
Stephen Hawking’s latest newsworthy update is that the Earth will become an uninhabitable fireball about 600 years from now. Is it wrong, or, more accurately, inappropriately self-serving, that I’m thinking about exactly where my breeding program will be at that time and who will be in charge of it? The following thoughts are second, third, and fourth impulse. My first draft seriously hated on the KWPN-NA, Trump, and breeders who don’t take their craft as seriously as I do. With some rather direct feedback from the love of my life, I’ve modified the “adolescent” tone of my initial writing and focused the goals of this entry. I want to see change in the approach to sport horse breeding in North America, and, although I’d love to spout off in an emotional and verbose post for the benefit of the greater good, it’s worth modifying the alacrity and impulsiveness of my reactionary voice.
Life is so funny. And short. Of course, it doesn’t seem short when you’re living it, but it really is. It’s been ages since I’ve done a journal entry. Part of it, as I’ve said before, is that 300 likes on Facebook seems a more effective means of communicating and significantly more gratifying than writing into the empty space of my journal, but another part of it is my total immersion into the world of breeding KWPN dressage horses for 30 years and my frustration with the limitations inherent within the structures of our current studbook organizations and national mindset for breeding the best sport horses in the world. I’ve allowed myself to get to a point of not caring–which is not good. As my wife would say, “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” I have enough of a platform to at least make some noise.
Not to veer into politics, but take a page out of Mueller’s playbook: Follow the money. The dairy industry is huge. The USA is the leading milk-producing country in the world. Look at corn. Who produces better and more corn than we do? What about pork? Or eggs? Or wheat? Soybeans? Beef? If sport horses were a larger aspect of our economy, we would have a more systematic, unified, research-based, and enthusiastic approach to producing them. As it is, it appears that we have myriad individual organizations competing for a limited number of breeders and buyers. Yet, if you look at the numbers, the equine industry in North America is HUGE. Have you been to an Equine Affair? There is an opportunity for real growth in our world, but we are limited by the constrictions of our current systems. We can be breeding, training, and selling the best horses in the world. To make matters worse, maybe we already are. But, guess what? No one is listening. We are working in a void. Of course, if Stephen Hawking is right, which I believe he probably is, then my consternation is completely moot. Who gives a crap, really?
Unfortunately, I still do. Our farm motto is “A place where dreams come true.” This remains more than a platitude for me. For those of us who truly love horses, they are stuff of which dreams are made. This love is visceral, part of our very beings. Every time Carol and I talk about slowing down or minimizing our program, something inside me hurts. I still envision the enormous potential for breeding in North America. I know that I still have things to offer people that can make a difference in our achieving this potential. I see our own program as just beginning to reach a place of producing really important horses who can be part of this potential. I am not, in my heart, an isolationist—I am a gatherer of information and ideas, an educator, and an artist, of sorts. I am a voice. Perhaps, that is my most important contribution to the future of breeding KWPN sport horses in North America: My voice. So, that’s what this convoluted, self-indulgent introduction to a journal entry is really about, I guess. After a bit of an absence, I have things to say.
Carol and I have seriously thought of moving our entire breeding operation to Holland. In addition to the obvious benefits of stallion selection, breeder recognition and appreciation, the access to a systemic approach to training, and the proximity of competitive venues, there’s also the benefit of a studbook that is responsive to its breeders’ opinions and needs. We don’t have that here. The KWPN-NA is, for the most part, a volunteer organization made up of people who genuinely want what is best for sport horse breeding in North America. But, we have always been confined by individual egos, a lack of vision, and the demands of the parent organization, the KWPN. As it stands, we as breeders and owners, would be much better served if there were no KWPN-NA—if we were to register our horses directly through Holland and function as a breeding region, with a small board of directors who organize the keurings and specific demands of our particular region. Since we, the Tolmans, don’t get to make this decision, we have to work within the system that currently exists. This is frustrating to me. I am a person of ideas. I am a person willing to take risks, knowing I may fall flat on my face and suffer the ridicule of peers and those people who, due to their own insecurities and shortcomings, are happy to see other people fail. This being said, I’m also a person who does extensive research, has more than a modicum of insight into the workings of the equine industry, and has the benefit of 30 years of successes and failures, the latter probably being the more important. I believe we, as a country, can produce the best sport horses in the world. I also believe we are limited by disparate organizations, a lack of vision, and a lack of focus.
So, what can be done? A more idealistic and altruistic Scot has tried a number of approaches over the years: I devoted myself to my studbook, only to have my efforts consumed by the egos and personal agendas of the leadership; I played the altruistic card and imported stallions for the benefit of as many North American breeders as I could accommodate, only to have my motives held suspect and my credit card balances exploded; additionally, and more effectively, I’ve offered free counsel and advice to anyone who asked, with much appreciation and subsequently established friendships. Therein, lies my answer to this quandary for me personally. I need to focus on what I do best. Create the best breeding program that my instincts, research, and passions can engender, then share my thoughts and experiences with people who are interested enough in the ideals of their own programs to seek out more information.
I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but this year is different. Carol and I have decided this is my last year teaching and that we will focus more on SSF. It’s going to be a year of changes, adventures, and challenges. I don’t have the need or desire to completely reinvent myself at this point in my life; however, the older I get, the more meaning Robert Frost’s words hold for me. “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”
I will begin 2018 with some thoughts and plans for Shooting Star Farm, some thoughts on the direction of the KWPN, and the current state of breedings and breeding plans for the SSF girls. Look for more entries in the next few days.