October 7, 2002
Topic: DG Bar Ranch Keuring
Not that I wasn’t suspiciously optimistic to begin with, I am now an
avowed, Bible-toting DG Bar Ranch fan/follower/groupie. I’m even
thinking of having my name changed to De Groot. (Maybe I’ll just settle
for naming our next child, “Tony”…or all of the foals next year,
“Willy”. “Willy I” “Willy II” “Willy III” “Willy IV”) There could not
be a family or a facility better suited to preparing and presenting
horses. The DG Bar keuring is now an annual, must attend event. Of
course, I may have to go into rehab on a yearly basis in order to
recover, but it’s worth the cost and embarrassment.
It was a rather cathartic weekend for me (I’ll offer the blanket
apologies now…). Why it takes years and years to reach a point in
your life at which you can start putting pieces of the breeding puzzle
together and in both their appropriate position and at their appropriate
value I’m not sure. It’s probably similar to the difference in how you
perceive the length of summer when you’re a kid on vacation from school
and how you perceive it at midlife–when you’re a kid, summer is an
endless world of sun, adventure, and make believe worlds–when you’re
older, the world of summer has given you skin cancer, the adventure cost
you a month’s income, and you try your best to pretend that things don’t
exist rather than do exist. “Real toads in imaginary gardens.” It’s a
Truman Capote quote. It was his response when asked what he most
feared. If any of you have seen the movie, “Magnolia”, you’ll know what
I mean when I say, “The frogs fell out of the sky.” It’s the same thing.
OK, so where am I going with all of this? That’s a really good
question. I have no ***** (expletive deleted) idea. I can easily play
it safe and just go into the specifics of the horses I saw, without
being particularly questioning or negative; they were really good
horses. That would be easy, safe, and, probably, preferred by most of
you. Or, I can continue to publicly prod my belief system and really
explore what I took away from this keuring. You can stop reading now,
if you choose. I know myself too well; I probably can’t stop, or,
rather, can’t choose to stop, writing. So, let me repeat: You have the
choice to stop reading now.
Brief historic interlude: I began my association with the Na/WPN and
Dutch horses by accident. After a rather unpleasant beginning in the
association, due to my innate stubbornness, I chose to continue. But,
and it’s a big “but”, not without a sense of distrust and some degree of
dislike for the organization. The need for specifics here is moot. The
overwhelming attraction of and addiction to breeding the best horses in
the world always, when given a day or two to settle into perspective,
overrode any disillusionment with the organization. Now, I’ve been
involved so intensely in the system for so long that I don’t know any
other; I’ve been nearly blinded by it. It almost feels like, after I
spent ten years in a post secondary environment studying Theatre and
English, I then spent another ten years in the educational system of the
KWPN. Have you heard of all of those priests and monks who spend most
of their lives studying religion and come to the realization that there
is no God? It’s not a dissimilar situation here. DG Bar Ranch is
located in the middle of the richest farm land in the United States. It
is the valley that, literally, feeds the country. The land lies so flat
that horizon is the highest elevation. Perhaps, an expanse of fertile
moonscape, dotted with buildings and crops, combined with the emotional
flux of the past year, provided me with the perfect environment for
catharsis. Perhaps, the fates just stepped in and dropped a frog on my
windshield. Perhaps, just perhaps, there are moments in life that are
a lot like a pregnancy; there comes a point in time when something is
going to come out and not much is going to stop it.
OK. Enough of that for a minute; let’s talk about the horses:
We have a new licensed stallion, Sandor Jane. He’s a really nice
horse–I liked him better every time we saw him. He’s super well
balanced and has great self carriage; he’s really supple and elastic;
his canter is powerful and correct; he’s extremely handsome and
impressive. He’s also much more modern in type than you would possibly
imagine from his pedigree. It will be interesting to see if he produces
himself or his pedigree. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that there are
many disappointed Gelderlander breeders in Holland that they don’t have
access to this horse.
We saw the foal that will, most likely, be the number one foal of the
keuring tour, the Krack C x Farrington x Doruto. Until the foal moved,
I didn’t like it very much. When it moved it could have had two heads
and an extra tail coming out of its chest and you would have forgotten
it all. For one thing, until the high point ceremony at the end of the
keuring, I didn’t know that it was filly. I’d been looking at this
horse for two days and thinking that she was a he. She’s weak in the
loin connection, short in the croup, and looks like a boy. But, in this
case, I agree with the jury that movement and use of the body supersedes
a few conformational issues and some lack of type. The filly is
phenomenal; the pedigree is phenomenal; if the filly does end up the
number one weanling in the country, it is well deserved.
The mares! Oh, my; the mares. Of the mares being presented, my
favorite was easily the Farrington x Amor mare, owned and bred by Faith
Fessenden. This mare was the top star mare at DG Bar last year and
presented for her keur status this year. She did not, however, receive
her keur status. Honestly, the mare is an FEI level horse and not a
lower level horse. So, the IBOP is not the best place to evaluate her.
If I were going to buy one mare out of this keuring for my breeding
program, this is the mare I would want. So, a question, are we breeding
for IBOP horses or FEI level competitors?
Katie and Don Kuhn have two very fine mares that are now new keur
mares. I liked the type of both the Zeoliet and the Nimmerdor. Both
mares had excellent self carriage and athleticism. Both mares are going
to be the base of a super breeding program for Katie and Don.
Speaking of mare bases, the DG Bar mare base is consistent and
powerful. Across the board, they have built a collection of strongly
built, excellent moving mares. We were treated to a presentation of
Wanroij and Volkmar and a wonderful, historic talk, given by Faith
Fessenden, about the stallions and their influence on breeding. It’s so
interesting to see a long term breeding program from the foundation on
up. The base is that of Gelderlander mares who were primarily crossed
with Volkmar and Wanroij. The next generation was then crossed with the
likes of Uniform, Junior, Ferro, and Contango. It’s left the DG Bar
program with really solid and consistent horses.
It was also really interesting to see some results and/or selection
choices of two of our jury members. The high point ster mare by Ferro,
Rozet, is owned by Dr. Mary Giddens and bred by Dr. Debby Harrison.
Mary also presented a Goodtimes mare out of one of her foundation
mares. And, of course, we saw a number of Ijsselmeer (Debby’s
stallion) offspring presented. With the exception of the Goodtimes
mare, the rest of these horses were from strong Gelderlander bases.
Mary’s Ferro mare is a strong moving, well conformed horse with
especially good self carriage. The same can be said for the Ijsselmeer
horses that were presented for studbook. For the most part, the
Ijsselmeers have really lovely fronts with good shoulders and
especially attractive necks. I think that my favorite of this group is
probably Mary’s Goodtime’s mare, however. She’s not a ster mare–she’s
a little small, could use more suspension, and needs to have her front
feet travel in a straighter path, but she’s got a fire and a persistence
that are magnetic. Mary calls the mare her “ranch horse”. The mare
just has that rideability/workability quality for which we’re all
As if I needed further proof that Contango will go down in KWPN history
as one of its most important sires, we saw a number of super Contango
foals. Not everything that Contango passes on his desireable–the
horses tend to drop off behind the wither a bit quickly–it’s not
uncommon to have sickled hocks–they don’t always have the prettiest
heads or the most modern type–but they move and, most importantly, have
strong, elastic connections, ie; poll/neck connection, neck/wither
connection, loin connection. If they were Morgans or Saddlebreds, you’d
hear people saying that they were “born to wear a bridle.” One of, if
not “the”, biggest issues facing the modern KWPN horse is rideability.
It’s not possible to find the entire answer in one stallion, but at
least we have access to part of the answer in Contango.
OK. Now it’s time to discuss the horse for whom I’m willing to sell the
farm, trade in all of my mares, and take options on my kids. Titus. I
would make the proverbial deal with the devil to own this horse.
Believe it or not, I don’t disagree with our jury very often–even when
it comes to the evaluation of my own horses. I may get emotional and I
may have a tirade or temporary meltdown, but, in the vast majority of
the cases, I agree with our jury. I’m sitting here to tell you that
they are wrong on this horse if they don’t consider him a stallion
prospect. Screw type. Screw a couple of less than perfect attributes
in the phenotype. When you are presented with a horse with as much
talent and as much genotypic basis for that talent, you have the
opportunity to approve a stallion who can consistently produce horses
that positively effect the population and/or breeding/performance base.
Unless there are radiographic or endoscopic issues, Titus, approved or
not approved, would be used on my mares at least to the point at which I
was convinced he did not positively effect the population.
OK, back to catharsis.
I’m not going to give you much of a transition here, but I’m not mad,
angry, disillusioned or quitting; the processing of this weekend just
took me to a place I’ve wanted to be for a long time. Titus is my frog.
He’s the “real toad” in my imaginary garden. Don’t misunderstand or
misinterpret this, however, it’s not about one horse or one system; it’s
bigger than that. It’s about selection processes becoming blind–it’s
about vision–it’s about the driving philosophies underneath a
system–it’s about the loss of faith and innocence–it’s about the
“religious” experience of loving and breeding horses–it’s about human
beings in a spiritual crisis. (Whew! Don’t you wish you were at this
keuring? There wasn’t even any tequila involved.) I woke up and found
a purpose, and I found it at home. So, you get to have a little break
from my journal entries and public writing because I need to be really
selfish for a bit. But, don’t worry; I’ll be back. I just have to
clear the frogs off my windshield.
September 22, 2002
Topic: PKSD (Post Keuring Stress Disorder); Part II
Phil Duke is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Phil is the owner
of the Double D Ranch in Blairstown, New Jersey. He just happened to be
visiting a friend of his when the friend received a phone call from
someone (I really don’t know who called whom or which call turned into
which person) telling him about the four people and six, medium rare
horses stranded at the Bedminster Texaco station. Phil had called us
and told us that he was twenty minutes from home and, then, forty-five
minutes from us, but he’d get us before dark. Just before Phil arrived
to save the day, the manager of the Texaco station came out to tell us,
“I think I’ve been really patient with you people. I’m trying to run a
business here. I want to know when you’re going to get this situation
resolved and you’re going to be out of here.”
Things didn’t get any better when Phil showed up with yet another truck
“You people are really too much. I’ve been really patient about all
this. You’ve got to get out of here.”
Anyway, Phil opened the gate of his stock trailer, we unloaded the
horses and reloaded them onto the stock trailer, and we were off. The
road truck from the National Tire Service had arrived at the same time
as Phil, so, after the mechanic had shored up the rear axle of the
trailer, Carol and the kids got the now empty Tolman trailer back on the
highway to the service center. And, like I was saying before, Phil, six
partially roasted KWPN horses, and I were headed to the Double D Ranch.
You know how “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” That’s how I feel
about Phil’s truck and trailer. The old Chevy dually wouldn’t do more
than 30 MPH on any indication of an incline–and 55 MPH was really
pushing it on the flat. We did make sometime going down hills, but the
trailer brakes weren’t working quite as efficiently as they might and
the Chevy’s brakes had to be convinced to take up the slack. So, there
was some risk involved in trying to make up too much time going down
hill. Fortunately, I’ve grown up with a father who used baling twine to
tie old license plates over rust spots so his vehicle of the moment
would pass inspection. My horses loved Phil’s trailer. LaVita, by this
point, thanks to the door she kicked open (see, everything does have a
purpose), had grown somewhat used to the tractor trailer trucks.
Consequently, the flapping of the ripped tarp on top of the trailer was
a completely moot point. All of the horses seemed relieved to have air
passing over their hides rather than to be standing in the BBQ pit of a
trailer at the Texaco station. Plus, both the truck and trailer rattled
so much, that I couldn’t distinguish between vehicle noises and equine
noises. This simple, white noise effect completely eliminated my
trailering compulsions. I think, in the future, that I’m going to tie
some tin cans to the side and rear of whatever trailer I’m hauling so
that I can really just relax while trailering.
By the time we arrived at the Double D, I’d professed my gratitude at
least a dozen times to Phil. (Of course, I didn’t know if he was
racking up the dollar signs behind his quiet facade or was just
genuinely humble–that is, until later, when he told me I could give him
whatever it was worth to me and he’d be happy with it. Amazing.) In
our conversation about the horses, Phil had told me that he had some
Dutch cross gelding from upstate New York that a girl and her trainer
were coming to look at as we spoke. As we pulled into the yard, the
woman and her trainer were, indeed, trying out a leggy, bay gelding who,
as Phil had warned me, “needed a few groceries.” I told Phil, as he
stopped the truck and trailer just beyond them, that I’d bet the gelding
was an Obelisk son and a product of Cornell’s program. He said the
gelding had come from somewhere near the Finger Lakes, so it made
sense. Anyway, we unloaded my horses and got them set up in the round
pen with water and hay. Phil nodded to the folks looking at the gelding
and then proceeded into the house to fix himself a Margarita before
going back out to talk horse with the girl and her trainer…this is my
kind of horseman. I grabbed some water and headed back up to the round
pen. You can only imagine how delighted my three foals were to be loose
together in an enclosure that wasn’t moving beneath them. Of course,
all of my bathed and clipped horses took turns rolling in the dusty, New
Jersey dirt. What did it matter? Since it was now nightfall of the
tenth, I didn’t see that there would be much possibility of getting to
Iron Spring Farm by the morning anyway. As the people looking at the
gelding said their goodbyes, Phil, grinning, waved to them and then came
over to the roundpen.
“Well, hope you didn’t blow my deal.”
“What do you mean?”, I asked.
“They liked your horses better.”
We laughed. Phil, his right-hand-man, Pat, and I stood beside the round
pen and watched my horses. They were gorgeous–covered with dust and
dirt–but gorgeous. Phil’s biggest love is trail riding and taking
trips to Montana for cattle drives; Pat was a champion barrel racer and
is “part horse himself”, according to Phil; you know who I am–the three
of us just quietly watched six really fine horses, and were happy to do
About ten minutes after we arrived at the Double D–just after Phil had
made himself the Margarita, he gave me his cell phone to use for as long
as I needed it,
“I don’t use it anyway.”, he said.
Of course, the first time that “Turkey in the Straw” sounded off in my
pocket, my confusion was obvious enough that Pat had to tell me it was
the phone. About an hour after we arrived at the Double D, Phil had
decided the best course of action was to get us a hotel room down the
road, order a pizza for the kids so that they could eat when they got
back with Carol, and loan us his truck and trailer so that we could take
off first thing in the morning and get to the keuring. Before I could
even protest, he had unhooked the truck and had driven off to fill it
with diesel fuel so we’d be all set in the morning. What do you do in
the face of such generosity other than to say, “Thank you.”
I was much relieved when Carol and the kids finally pulled into the
Double D. Course of action in place, we headed to a lovely Inn down the
road and took much deserved showers. It quickly became obvious that
things were right in the world; even after our sweaty ordeal, Keagan
had to be negotiated into the shower. As corny as this may sound, the
Inn is located in the town of Hope, New Jersey. When you spend most of
your life thinking that New Jersey and the New Jersey Turnpike are the
same thing, Hope is a bit of a revelation.
Well, without much adieu, we were back at the Double D, packed into
Phil’s rig, loaded, and on our way to ISF by six am. While parking
across the road from the bagel shop at which we stopped for breakfast, I
did take out a reflector at the local high school; we did have to pull
over four or five times to let the lines of traffic that built up behind
us while driving the hilly back roads of western New Jersey; and I only
went through one stop sign, which, if it hadn’t been located at the
bottom of a hill and if I had had brakes, I wouldn’t have
missed–fortunately, it was the only intersection of the day that had a
four way stop….Later, we had few moments of reflection as the country
observed a moment of silence for the events and victims of 9/11. It
really put all thoughts of self-pity into proportion. Throughout all of
our ordeal, I was determined to remain positive and thankful for my
family. Nonetheless, by ten am, the Tolmans, six Tolman horses, and
truck and trailer that was more accustomed to transporting QH crosses,
Arabs, and trail mules complete with western tack pulled into the
immaculately groomed grounds of Iron Spring Farm. Meghan had moved us
to the last position of the ster mare class, but, due to the opportune,
late start of the jury and the amazing efficiency of our team (thank you
Zaz, Helena, and Michaela), we had our Pion mare buffed, braided, and
ready for measuring and the linear scoring on time.
The keuring itself is pretty much a blur. It was fun. We did well. I
loved seeing all of the people whom I normally get to see only at an
Na/WPN or KWPN event. Mary Alice was gracious and wonderful. Meghan
cracks me up. Karin organized a great party. Silvia sent along a
special “Tolman Horses” award of a band of third premium
ribbons…payback is a bitch. The jury did a good job and is really
attempting to establish open lines of communication and education. The
quality of the horses was higher than it’s ever been. We had a bit of
difficulty at the hotel, but, then, anybody could mistake an interdental
plosive for its voiced, bilabial counterpart and put our reservation
under “Polman” instead of “Tolman”. Fortunately, Carol quickly
recognized my mounting hysteria and sent me to change in a friend’s room
so I could get to the party and set up the bar while she dealt with the
desk clerk. It was the right decision. As the elevator door was
closing, I heard my wife saying,
“Look. I don’t care if you have a room “available” or not. You have
all of the reservations my husband made for the other people staying
with us. It’s your problem that you spelled our name wrong. We’re not
leaving here until you find us a room.”
They found us a room.
Well, the keuring ends, and we were the only people and horses left in
the temporary stalls at ISF. My children have begun a revolt, fortified
with guilt and reinforced with ultimatums, because Carol and I enjoyed a
lunch without them. I hook up Phil’s trailer while Carol calls the
National Tire Service to see if our trailer will be ready this
afternoon, as predicted. I pulled up to load the horses; Carol informed
me of the difficulty in securing the right parts for the trailer. We
were to expect that the trailer might be ready by early evening. No
problem. There was no hurry anymore; the keuring was over. The only
thing we had planned was my mother’s 78th birthday party at 6:30, Friday
night, at our house. It was 1:00 on Thursday. Plenty of time. The
only thing that we had to deal with at the moment were the increasingly
specific nutritional demands of the two younger Tolmans, who, by the
way, had no idea just how close to death they really were.
We find “a meal” for Michaela and a hot dog for Keagan. Things began to
settle down. In order to avoid the highway, more specifically, its
minimum speed limits, I decided to take a different way to New Jersey.
Now, let me say from the outset:
“I don’t get lost.”
I got lost. I got so lost that our three hour drive turned into six
hours. Of course, had I been able to go over 30 MPH for less than even
half of the time, I might have been lost for less time. It was actually
threatening to get dark by the time we stopped at the McDonald’s near
the junction of 22 and 519. Interesting aside here: Did you know that
horses only pee when the trailer stops? I swear, by our third day of
travel, all of my horses were conditioned to pee the moment the truck
and trailer came to a halt. It got so bad, that, by the time we got to
the aforementioned McDonald’s, I had begun to follow the pattern and,
literally, had to go behind the trailer and pee in the parking lot with
them. So, it’s nearly seven pm by the time we pull into the Double D.
A man whom we have not met before greeted us in driveway and informed us
that our host, Phil, had been stung by a wasp on the eyelid and had to
be rushed to the hospital. Our good luck was, evidently, contagious.
We were spreading good fortune and good health wherever we went. We
unloaded the horses and turned out the horses in what they now had
happily come to recognize as “their” round pen. Carol called the
National Tire Service only to find out that they had still not been able
to secure the appropriate parts for our trailer and to “call back around
10 pm.” As we’re standing there in the driveway of the Double D trying
to figure out the best and, importantly, most cost effective means of
spending yet another night away from home with two kids and six horses,
neighbors of Phil’s drove it to let their dog run at the ranch. Hearing
of our plight, they quickly offered us supper, showers, and beds for the
night. Can you believe it? At this point in time, all we could do was
to warn them of the misfortune that our physical proximity could bring
them and to say, “Thank you.”
Well, Bob is a retired Wildlife Biologist with a passion for hunting;
Keagan is happy. Linda is a seventh grade teacher who specializes in
reading; Carol is happy. The couple has a bumper sticker sitting on
their hutch that reads, “My Quarter Horse can beat up you fourth level
dressage horse”; Michaela and I are not amused. Bob and Linda laughed
at our reaction. Fortunately, I had the numbing benefit of a really
stiff Rob Roy to temper my reaction. Michaela was not so fortunate. My
next shock came when Bob informed me that the people who used to own the
place were dressage riders and that they had some ring down past the
“You want to see it?”
Bob takes us through the garage, flips on a couple circuit breakers, and
leads us along a tree lined path at the edge of the lawn. We came
around the corner to see flood lights illuminating an Olympic size
dressage ring. I was sick to my stomach.
“What do you use it for?” I hesitantly ask.
“Nothing. We’ve been thinking about doing some team penning, though.”
And he laughed. By the time I’d had the second Rob Roy, I had forgiven
this generous and welcoming couple for their lack of use and potential
misuse of this lovely arena.
“Scot, you’re welcome to use it any time you’re in the area.”
“Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
At this point in time, I wasn’t convinced that we would ever leave New
Jersey, so the use of an Olympic size dressage arena had risen to the
top of the possible plusses to living in the turnpike state. Now, if we
could just find a nice little farm to rent in Hope, we’d be all set.
Three or four more phone calls to Mike at the National Tire Service
resulted in us being able to pick up our trailer by 10 am the next
morning. Fine. The kids had TV. We had a bed.
The next morning, we drove back to the Double D and were greeted by Pat
who had just finished watering and feeding our horses. He laughed and
told us that Phil looked like he’d been in a fight and hadn’t come out
the winner. Poor Phil. His face was swollen almost beyond
recognition. He needed his truck, so we unloaded all of our gear and
put it into the back of my truck. Phil took off to help a friend with a
Palomino that kept bucking her off. Carol and Michaela took our truck
and went to get the now repaired trailer. Keagan set himself up in
front of Phil’s big screen TV. And, Pat and I headed out to on the
tractor to get a round bale for the trail horses, who had the day off.
It was a nice morning. I had a great time getting a tractor tour of the
Double D. The horses had a super night and were well hydrated and fed.
It was good.
Well, Carol pulls back into the Double D at about noon–trailer in tow.
“We’re back!” she cheerily calls. “You want to know how much this
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t want know.”
She continues, “Did we leave the tack box here?”
“The tack box with all of our bridles and stuff.”
“No, Carol, it was in the back of the truck.”
“Oh, well, it’s not anymore.”
In a spousal relationship, there are moments , junctures, at which one
spouse or the other makes a conscious decision not to press a point or
pursue a conversation further because he or she knows that his or her
spousal relationship will withstand the conflict, but the outcome won’t
be pretty or come without a price, a very personal price. This was one
of those moments. At any rate, I can only hope that some poor, needy
equestrian in western New Jersey appreciates LaVita’s KL Select bridle.
Maybe there’s a little girl who can use the studded browband on Orchis’
bridle–the browband that my friend, Johan, gave me for our very first
keuring so many years ago. Just maybe, some frustrated horse person
will be returning from an unsuccessful local horse show and find our
keuring ribbons. He or she won’t know what the hell to do with the
orange ones, but he or she will probably appreciate that red one a lot
more than I did. Humility. That is the lesson from these few days of
hell. Humility and humor.
It was closing in on 1:00 by the time we pull out of the Double D and
began the never ending journey from central New Jersey to the New York
border. I only took two wrong turns and both of those were against my
better judgment (I said nothing about recurring spousal moments
here…). Nonetheless, at 5:00, we were sitting in traffic about an
hour outside of Hartford, Connecticut. It had become painfully clear
that we were not going to arrive in a timely fashion for my mother’s
birthday party. As a matter of fact, it was questionable whether or not
we would arrive at all. Any of you who have sat on 84 outside of
Hartford will know exactly what I mean. Well, to make a long story even
longer, it took us close to four hours to make a two hour trip. We pull
into Shooting Star Farm just before 9:00 on Friday evening. All the
lights were on because we had never canceled the party. We had over
forty relatives who had just finished a pot luck supper in honor of my
Mom’s birthday and were now ready to leave. They had cleaned the house,
done the dishes, had a series of allergic reactions to the variety of
animals in and out of our house, and were saying their goodbyes. Within
a half an hour of getting home, we were alone. We unloaded the horses
directly into the pasture without removing a single braid and unpacked
what little was left in the back of the truck….a day late and many
dollars short, we ate left overs and went to bed.
And so closes another adventure in life of the Tolman family.
September 15, 2002
Topic: PKSD (Post Keuring Stress Disorder); part 1
Considering that our keuring ordeal took place in the same span of days
in which we marked the anniversary of the September 11th tragedies and a
Friday the thirteenth and since my family and horses are once again safe
and sound at home, perspective tells me not to give too much importance
to the frustrations, near tragedies, inconveniences, and unexpected
financial outlays of our little keuring expedition…but thought you’d
like to hear about them, nonetheless.
I should have known when I scraped a four foot swath into the fender of
the trailer as I inadvertently challenged the guard rail of our second
turn–and, I mean, second turn–that we were in for the trip of trips.
We were barely out of our driveway before I had learned a fairly
instrumental lesson about making turns with something in tow as long as
our new-used, six horse trailer. Ah, yes, “What was that noise, Dad?”,
was voiced within six minutes of beginning our adventure. The tell-tale
sound of metal scraping against metal could only mean one thing to the
novice driver of a six horse gooseneck; he wasn’t ready to make this
trip. I should have known as we sat in the post dawn parking lot of
Mort’s Gulf station, for nearly forty-five minutes, waiting for the lead
trailer in our caravan to arrive and to guide our flock of
trailer-bound, KWPN horses south that the bickering in the back seat
between Michaela and Keagan over whose pillow was touching whose arm
would only get worse and that Mort’s indifference to my comment about
the styrofoam cup of coffee, for which I paid $1.35, being luke warm at
best would become a hallmark of the trip. And, if these two, immediate
indications weren’t clear enough signs from above and about that there
were going to be less than enjoyable moments to our trip, the man
rolling down his window and pointing toward the back of the trailer less
than half an hour into our jaunt down 91 South should have told me to
listen to the objections from within–from within LaVita, that is–the
man was pointing to the back of the trailer because LaVita had already
kicked open one side of the top door at the back of the trailer and
completely broken the latch. Lovely. And, that’s exactly how we
looked with lead ropes strapped across the back of the trailer to hold
the door closed. Lovely.
Believe it or not, for the most part, the next two hours were relatively
uneventful. Granted, the pains in my butt were intensifying–not
unexpected, however, given the fact that I’ve never found driving a
trailer full of horses especially relaxing. Also, not unexpected, was
the increasing frequency of expletives exchanged between the two younger
Tolmans in the back seat. And, predictable enough, was the growing
irritation among three of the Tolmans at Mrs. Tolman’s perennial
cheerfulness about family time and family adventures. Nonetheless, four
Tolmans, six Tolman horses, and none of Keagan’s stowaway rodents were
headed fairly enthusiastically south west. We stopped for gas; no
diesel fuel. OK. I still had a third of a tank. No problem. I ran
over the curb pulling out of McDonald’s. Again, OK. No serious
problem. I’m even starting to relax a bit, as we sail down 287 into New
Jersey. We’re half way there. I jokingly say, “Even if we break down
now, we can still ride the horses the rest of the way.” We all laugh as
Michaela reminds me that, of the six horses in the back, LaVita is the
only one that has ever been ridden. We’re still laughing as Carol tells
me that the guy in the car next to us is trying to tell us something.
Again, this man was pointing toward the back of the trailer. I’m
thinking that LaVita has somehow kicked open the back doors and they’re
flapping and banging–or that she’s kicked them open because she’s
become so annoyed with the attitude of her Hierarch filly that she’s
decided to shove her out the back of the trailer for an early weaning.
We stop. I get out and brave the oncoming tractor-trailer trucks
graciously giving me a six inch berth along the side of our rig. I come
around the end of the trailer fully expecting an Hierarch filly to be
hanging by one hoof, begging her dam to let her back in–nothing. Lead
ropes were still attached attractively across the back, securing the
doors shut. There was no errant filly hanging from the back. What the
hell? I come back around the trailer and start for the front of the
truck when I notice that we only have one tire left on the driver’s side
of the trailer. I’m not talking a blow out here. The tire was gone.
Not only was the tire gone, but so was the rim and the spokes that were
supposed to be holding on the rim. We’re talking bare hub and axle.
Worse, we never felt a thing. Now, all of the weight of the six horse
trailer and six horses was on one axle.
Well, fortunately, Ms. Putnam, who was leading our little caravan, had
given us a walky talky for emergency communications and the occasional
joint prayer to the traffic gods. We slowly drove to the next exit and
got off the highway. The first gas station we came to had no service
center. The attendants did get out of their lawn chairs long enough to
move a bucket of windshield squeegies so that I could turn the trailer
around, however. We weren’t so lucky at the next station. We had been
directed to a Texaco service center in Bedminster, NJ–just down the
road from Gladstone–surely they would be horse and horse-owner
friendly. With marked relief, I pulled into the parking lot. Our
remaining tires had just about had it; we weren’t going any farther.
With as much good humor as I could muster, I went into the service
center to explain our plight and ask for assistance.
“It’s 2:00 in the afternoon. What do you expect me to do?”
“I’d probably have to order parts. I’d have to free up a mechanic.
“You won’t even come out and look at this?”
“What am I supposed to do? I’m stranded here with two kids and six
“There’s a tire service center about eight miles down the road.”
“You’re kidding me. You won’t look at this?”
“Like I said, Buddy, what do you expect me to do. It’s 2:00 in the
afternoon. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have any mechanic or slot to
free up. Sorry.”
Can you believe it? They did let us borrow a phone book. Well, it was
at least 95 degrees and I had six horses getting close to medium rare in
the back to the trailer. We began the phone calls. Carol and I don’t
have a cell phone; fortunately, both Beth Nabi and Zaz Putnam do. The
next two hours weren’t pretty. Huge thanks to Meghan at ISF and the
National Tire Service Center. Between the two of them, by 4:30, the
horses were in 12 foot stock trailer headed to the Double D Ranch and
the trailer was on its way to the Service Center.
to be continued….
September 7, 2002
Topic: Pre-keuring Jitters
Saturday: Get set up for our new, old six horse trailer; last minute
Sunday: Clean halters and bridles; clip six horses
Monday: Last workout; baths.
Tuesday: On the road.
As many of you know, I’ve been systematically preparing for the two days
of September 11th and 12th for a couple of months. You know, I
actually believe that we’re ready. That is, barring any last minute
self-inflicted wounds on equine or human flesh! The horses look good.
Not perfect–not “peaked”, but close. Almost every day for the last
month, I’ve stringently evaluated all four of the horses that are going
for a premium rating or studbook/star. Every day, a different horse has
been my favorite. With the exception of two days, one of the horses has
been a second premium. Only one of the horses has never been a second
premium. So, of course, he will be on the 12th! We’ll see what the day
brings. I could have a new star mare and three first premium foals. I
could have a studbook mare and two first premium foals. Those are
really the only two combinations that I think will happen. For the most
part, I’m just excited to be going to Iron Spring Farm to see friends
and horses and have friends see my horses.
Most of you reading this will understand what I’m about to say; there’s
a peace in the beauty of horses. I can think of absolutely nothing that
soothes my soul more than standing beside a fence at the end of a day
and watching my horses move. It’s poetry. After all my years of study
in the KWPN system–keurings, annual meetings, In de Strengen, trips to
Holland, etc., etc.–my personal selection criteria still rests most
heavily on poetry. How do I feel when I see the horse? Does this horse
somehow touch my soul? Is there something about this horse that
transcends the ordinary and becomes a microcosm of a greater beauty and
balance? So the shoulder is a little straight; I don’t see it. So the
front right leg turns out at the fetlock slightly; I may see it, but
it’s a moot point. So the angle of the hind leg is to sickled; it
doesn’t matter. We talk about the horse’s ability to “lift the
wither.” I want to see the horse’s ability to “lift the soul.”
Measurable traits. Let’s see this on the linear score sheet!
Anyway, the point: I get to take a trailer load of poetry to a keuring
in Pennsylvania. I get to continue living a dream come true. Corny, or
what? (Of course, in my dreams, the predominant color is orange and not
August 29, 2002: Keuring Discussion and Predictions
***This was originally written as part of the Keuring Discussion
series for the Na/WPN Newsletter, but is not being used for its intended
purpose. The timeliness of the keuring season, makes it more
With the 2002 keuring season upon us, it makes sense to me that this
second article in the series of keuring discussions attempts to further
explore a couple of the thoughts from the first article rather than
diverge immediately. In particular, I’d like to focus on two things:
one, a slight restructuring of our keuring format to encourage
communication and education and, two, a prediction of what we can expect
to hear from our jury in relationship to the current goals of the KWPN.
Of course, I would be remiss if I were not to include, in closing, an
ever so brief paragraph on what I wish the keuring jury would tell us
To start with, we all have to realize the flight and driving
schedule to which our jury must adhere during its rigorous sweep through
two huge countries. Great. We realize this. Now, how much is it
costing me to get to this keuring? How much of my self worth and ego am
I risking to present my perfect horses for inspection? Wouldn’t I both
handle and assimilate feedback better if I had some idea what the jury
has been instructed to select as positive and negative traits? I’m not
talking about a two hour lecture with handouts, a power point
presentation, and representative horses trotted out for audience members
to practice judging before the keuring gets underway. I’m simply
talking about a member of the jury stepping forward at the beginning of
the day and talking to us for a couple of minutes. One member
introduces him or herself and the rest of the jury. We have a bit of a
greeting; perhaps an ice breaking comment or some joke in Dutch at which
we can all politely laugh without having a clue about the punch line.
This person then takes four or five minutes to talk about the
development of the Dutch horse and the specific traits that KWPN
believes need to be strengthened or reinforced in the population. This
jury member then grabs another cup of coffee and heads back out into the
arena. We go through the first class. Now, maybe a different jury
member comes forward and does a more in depth response to the gradings
in the class than we normally hear. This jury member does his or her
best to tie this into the specific goals of the KWPN. “Are there any
questions?” We take another two or three minutes; have human to human
communication. Done. The rest of the day goes as scheduled. Perhaps,
we call for questions two or three classes later just to make sure that
we’re all on the same page. Later, the keuring host breaks open the
complimentary beer and wine, and we take a half an hour or so to process
the day before we all move on to other things. Would this seriously
disrupt anyone’s life? Would you as a participant not only feel more a
part of the process, but also be more able to shake your head in
agreement as the gradings are given out throughout the day? I have more
ideas, but I’ll be really happy if we can start with this.
OK. Now we go from the dream to the 900 number you’re about to
dial for your own personal predictions of the future. I may have
prescient tendencies, but these predictions are based in what I’m
hearing from the keuringen in the Netherlands, my knowledge of the
strengths and weaknesses of the KWPN horse, and basic scuttle butt heard
here, there and everywhere. I don’t pretend to know everything or to
have seen as many KWPN horses as has our jury, but that doesn’t mean
that I don’t have some observations that may be worth thinking about.
Rectangular is in–short coupled is out. We’ve been going in this
direction for a while; look at the first item on the linear score
sheet. This is the year that the shape of the overall frame is going to
be a deciding factor in the grading. This is a good thing; however,
in order that we understand why it’s a good thing, let’s discuss it a
bit. We’re not talking long in the back here. We’re talking
rectangular. This means that the horse has three proportionate sections
to the body– the front, the middle, and the hind end. The center of
gravity, just behind the wither, is still going to be situated nearly
center of our equine equation. What we’re talking about is a horse that
has sufficient length of skeletal frame in the forehand and in the hind
end so that it elongates the overall picture of the horse. He or she is
no longer square, but rectangular in shape. We want horses that have
the suppleness and length throughout their bodies to bend and bascule.
This is athleticism. Think of a cat. A cat has an incredibly smooth
top line that allows it to arch and stretch. If you look at where both
the shoulder and the hip of a cat actually lay in the top line, you’ll
see an even distribution, front, middle, and hind end. This is very
similar to a well-built, rectangular horse; the shoulder lies well back
and ties in under the wither; we, hopefully, get a strong, broad loin
connection, which, in turn, ties into a widely placed hip supported by a
good length of hamstring and a well placed stifle. Now, of course, we
have to relate this to the average of the KWPN population. as I’ve
said, I don’t see as many horses as does our jury, but it’s my
observation that the average is already more rectangular than square.
It also makes sense that this trait needs to be reinforced in the
population; thus, it becomes a deciding factor in the grading because,
without much difficulty, it can be eliminated from the population.
Next, we’re going to continue to hear about carrying power. Again,
we should be hearing about this. Whether a horse is destined for the
jumpers or dressage, he or she must be able to transfer a greater
proportion of the body weight to the hind quarters quickly and easily.
One of the problems in past keuringen is that “carrying power” has been
translated as “use of the hind leg”, “not quick enough with the hind
leg”, “long hind leg” “more power in the hind leg”…I’m sure you’ve all
heard one of these. The deal is this: the horse must lift in the
wither; he or she must have the loin connection that is strong enough to
support the carrying power and quickness of the hind leg so that the
individual lifts off the forehand and transfers more of the weight to
the hindquarters. So, I just got out my Ouija board, and Ouija says
that, this year, the jury’s consistent translation/description will be
“Needs more carrying powah” this year. I can only assume Ouija is not
good at interpreting accents.
What else? We’re going to hear about hocks. Maybe not all of us,
but some of us. Why? Because there are a couple of really popular KWPN
stallion that can produce bad hocks. These stallions are popular
enough, successful enough in sport, and owned by people who are
influential enough that they are not going to be eliminated from
breeding, but the jury is going to have to start culling some of the
negative traits that these boys leave in the population. In defense of
the KWPN, these stallions have contributed positive traits more
consistently than they have contributed negative traits, but,
nonetheless, we’re going to start hearing more about hocks.
Similarly, we’re going to start hearing more about front feet and
front leg construction. If you ask me, it’s a German kind of thing.
The Gelderlander and Groninger had no issues in the feet or front legs;
we’re talking mainly Trakehner and Hannoverian here. Again, these horse
have brought much good to the KWPN population, but gene pools are gene
pools–you take the good with the bad then try to breed out the bad
So, we’ve discussed what I think the jury will say….what do I
wish they’d say? I thought you’d never ask! First, I wish the jury
would develop a rideability IQ test for every horse it inspects. You
know, a box stall or round pen somewhere– the jury goes in with a
series of tests to determine the intelligence and trainability of the
horse. If the horse is bringing coffee to the jury at the end of the
session, he or she passes. Seriously, who the hell cares how athletic
or exciting a horse is if he or she can’t be trained? I think it’s time
the KWPN did a little research project on just how early the
trainability of horse can be determined and what specific traits can be
identified. I can breed the most perfectly rectangular horse in the
world, but, if only the most talented riders in the world can work with
this horse, what are the rest of us going to do with him or her? Second,
I’m waiting for the day when the horse judging world realizes that just
because a horse is born “uphill” does not mean that he or she is
predisposed to become a dressage horse. I watched a video of the most
recent Zwolle stallion competition, and, what struck me more than
anything else is the same thing that struck me at the 2002
Hengstkeuring, that the KWPN stallions have inordinately long front
legs with average to below average loin connections. I know that I’ve
been on my “too much focus on the front leg” soapbox for a while now,
but, I’m older, surely I can more clearly communicate my concern now.
Think about this: a horse is naturally built with an inordinately long
front leg so that more of his or her weight naturally falls to the hind
quarters–wouldn’t this conformational attribute also indicate that he
or she has a weaker loin connection because he or she doesn’t have to
use it as much? Then, if we make this assumption, we also can make the
statement that a weaker loin connection is co-morbid with a longer front
leg? Now take this one step further, what is true “carrying powah”? A
horse with a longer front leg only appears to have the ability to lift
the wither; it’s really no indication of the athleticism or strength of
the loin connection. And, if we’re going to break down carrying power
into hierarchic specifics, the quickness or reach of the hind leg is not
as important as the strength and suppleness of the loin connection. OK.
I’ll stop before the big hook comes out of the wall and rips me away
from my computer!
As in the first article in this series, I really want this to be a
discussion–it doesn’t matter where it appears to generate that.
Comments, questions, poisoned darts…they’re all part of the
educational process. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.
February 5, 2002
Topic: Hengstkeuring 2002
OK. For those of you who were regular journal readers, I’m back. Between DBNA, my wife’s doctorate, and managing four stallions who bred 150 mares last year, I had to let a few things take a back seat. I’ve really missed writing this journal and pursuing the correspondence from people all over the world who have read it and been effected by it. Communication is the key to us all growing as breeders of Dutch horses. We must be brutally honest with ourselves and with each other if we’re really serious about breeding the best sport horses in the world. At the same time, brutally honest does not have to be mean or destructive. So, in reading this commentary on the 2002 KWPN Hengstkeuring, understand that these are my opinions based on my belief system and my set of experiences in breeding and riding horses. I do not pretend to know everything, but I do expect to have the right to express my opinion.
1. The KWPN selection system is producing a more and more consistent product with a more and more consistent level of quality and type. After years of attending the Hengstkeuring and horse shopping in Holland, it is obvious that the KWPN system works.
2. And, now, in what may seem like a contradictory statement, my second generalization: It is an accident that the KWPN is breeding a top level dressage horse.
As I sat and watched the selection of the coming three year old stallions, it became clearer and clearer that the type and quality of horse is becoming more and more consistent. There is now a consistent rectangular model with sufficient movement and conformation. In particular, the selection and quality of the jumping horses was excellent. I thought that the quality across the board was high enough that it’s not even necessary to mention individual jumping stallions. The KWPN has a strong breeding base that is producing top sport and breeding individuals from a wide variety of bloodlines. If I were a breeder of jumpers, I’d be walking away from the Hengstkeuring with a plethora of choices for my mares and true excitement about the future of my breeding program within the KWPN system. But I don’t breed jumpers.
Ask yourself this question. Of all the top KWPN dressage horses in the world, how many were bred to be dressage horses and how many were bred to be jumpers? With the exception of the Doruto bred horses and the Pretendent bred horses, virtually all the rest were bred out of jumping lines. And, even with the Doruto and Pretendent bred horses, most have been crossed on jumping lines; ie.; the Amor x Doruto and Doruto x Amor cross. Although I’ve supported the trend toward breeding the specialist vs. the all rounder, I’m concerned about the future of the KWPN dressage horse.
As much as we’ve been taught to focus on the use of the hind leg when selecting a horse as breeding stock, there appears to be an inordinate degree of focus on the expression of the front leg in selecting a two and a half year old stallion prospect. What is that all about? I agree that there needs to be a certain elevation in the use of the front leg and a certain length to the front leg so that the horse has a more natural tendency to move uphill, but expression at two and a half? I’ve seen the selection process at work in the KWPN for a number of years, and, as I stated in the first point of my general overview, the selection process works. If we continue to use the expression of the front leg in the selection of KWPN dressage horses, then we will successfully produce the best lower level dressage horse in the world. Is that our goal?
The international success of the KWPN horse in dressage is directly related to the KWPN’s success at producing jumpers. It is, in fact, a by product of its success at producing jumpers. What are the key elements of an upper level dressage horse? One, trainability/temperament/willingness to work–the horse must have the mental and physical constitution to withstand years and years of intensive and repetitive training. Two, an ability to transfer a greater portion of its weight quickly and easily to the hind quarters–the horse must have the physical ability to use the hind leg in conjunction with the loin to lift the front of the body. Three, a good canter–which movements originating out which gait are responsible for the most points in an FEI level test? The canter. Dressage trainer after dressage trainer will tell you that he or she can create a trot if the horse has a decent canter, but nobody creates a canter out of a decent trot. And, four, balance and rhythm–these are both tied into a horse’s natural athleticism. Rythym, in particular, may be the one characteristic that becomes so much more important in the selection of a dressage horse vs. the selection of a jumper. The rest of these characteristics are, historically, the foundation of the KWPN selection process. The expression of the front leg has never been part of the selection criteria. The more the KWPN separates the selection criteria of the dressage horse from the criteria of the jumping horse the more it risks the future of the KWPN dressage horse. There can be, and possibly should be, some separation, but the bloodlines that have produced the top jumpers and dressage horses are virtually the same. Individual horses may tend toward producing jumpers or dressage horses, but they pedigrees are remarkably similar.
There’s my tirade. It’s over; for what it’s worth.
Observations of specific horses from the Hengstkeuring:
1. My favorite horse of the entire three days was and is Jazz. He gets better and better and better. He’s not conformationally perfect. He’s too hot for most riders. His ears flop occasionally. He blows me away and sends chills up and down my spine.
2. My second favorite horse of the entire three days is Rubels, the six year old world champion. Cool horse. Really cool horse. I’m not sure he’s a breeding stallion, however, but I’d love to have one just like him. Again, he’s far from conformationally perfect; he’s built more like a Lipizzan than a modern KWPN athlete, but he’s cool. I may well try breeding my mare in Holland to him just to see what happens. I could look OK on a Lipizzan!
3. I liked the offspring of Ferro, Flemmingh, and Welt Hit II more than I ever have. I’m still not crazy about the hock construction of the Ferro’s or the temperament issues, but he definitely has an important place in KWPN breeding. The Flemmingh’s still don’t have the loin connection that I want, but the Flemmingh x Houston in the Select Sale was one of the best horses of the show, and, if a stallion can produce a horse like Krack C, then he deserves the keur status. Welt Hit gets another chance. His offspring were some of the most beautiful of the Hengstkeuring. He has very small feet and a slow hind leg, but there are some of his crosses that I really liked.
4. I’m breeding something to a Rubinstein bred horse this year. Again, as with many of the German bred horses, I’m not crazy about the hind leg use, but the temperament, rideability and type of these horses just blow me away.
5. It will be a huge mistake to use too much Lord Sinclair in KWPN breeding.
6. Kroonjuweel deserves more attention from KWPN breeders. He is maturing into a really nice horse. Unfortunately, he’s not been bred to very good mares, and I don’t think that he will go down in KWPN history as a great horse, but he has a more important place than he’s been given.
7. Polansky is absolutely beautiful. His hind end does not match his front end, however, but I can’t tell you for sure whether or not that is due to his training or his movement and conformation. With the right mare, I’d still breed to him.
8. I want to put Lancet on a body building routine, and then put him back into training. I really like this horse. The one horse that I went to the Hengstkeuring to buy was the Lancet x Ferro colt in the Select Sale. Sublime. Absolutely beautiful horse. He was not selected for the final ring, however. That’s really unfortunate because I’ll bet it was for two reasons; one, he’s not expressive enough with his front leg, and, two, he’s a bit heavy in type for his height. Both of these are qualities that I want in a young dressage stallion. He could also jump and had a really good canter. If I had to fault him at all, I would have faulted his length of pastern–they were a little long and angled. In my opinion, he was one of the better dressage horses of the Hengstkeuring.
9. This year’s Gelderlanders were atrocious. All of them.
10. This year’s Tuigpaarden were phenomenal. Almost all of them.
11. There are so many good jumping horses in the KWPN that we will be at the top of the world jumping scene for many many years to come.