Why Buy American?

(PETALUMA,CA)  - With the saturation of Black Friday advertising that accompanies the beginning of the holiday season I got to thinking about how it relates to our horse sport and equine purchases as American consumers.  As a boutique breeder of horses in Northern California my mind always wanders to producing and selling our product, well bred, well behaved, well handled, young horses! So, to me, all of the “Black Friday”, “Small Business Saturday”, “Cyber Monday”, and similar sales are pause for reflection on the current state of the American market for young sport horses (you can see why my husband gets frustrated with me at times, haha).  While at times it may seem European breeders have an advantage over their American counterparts, there are many reasons to be encouraged by the current state of the American market for sport horses.

Serendipity (Utrillo v/d Heffinck x Caretello B x Acord II) 2014 GOV Premium Foal

While there are many buyers out there who are aware of the quality of horses available in the US, it seems many big name trainers and barns seemingly pass over these horses in favor of going to their “usual spots” overseas because they feel horses of similar pedigree and quality can not be produced here.  Sadly, to a certain extent this is true.  The USEF and American system for showing horses currently makes it much more expensive to produce a young horse in the US.  Not only is it incredibly expensive to take young horses to four or five day “A” shows, it is not really that fair to them to be asked to behave like a much older more experienced horse for that amount of time.  In Europe there are one day regional shows all over the place that one can haul in to and jump around at for €100.  Horses can earn a record in a way that is friendly for them and friendly for your pocketbook.  In the US this does not exist.  That is not to say people are not trying to create it, but the support has not really been there because so many trainers are not able to break out of their very busy “A” circuit schedules to attend some of these events. 

Chasing Lions (Crown Affair x Native Host x In Zeal)- 2010 Merit AHHA Filly photo by Jose Saldana

As American breeders become more and more educated and are able to view the best horses in the world, US breeding programs are quickly growing in quality to become able to compete with those in the EU.  We have quality mares with proven scope and many with impressive performance records, we have access to most of the best stallions in the EU, and we have motivated, knowledgeable people!  We can offer buyers weanlings and yearlings at a fraction of a cost spent purchasing and importing them from the EU.  Luckily, it seems the market is strengthening in this sector.  There are very well educated buyers looking for top bred foals. If you can produce that you will likely have a buyer. 

However, not everyone can ride a top bred foal and breeders that aim to produce the amateur-friendly mount will often have a much more difficult time selling said horse until it is a proven competitor on the “A” circuit.  This is where costs and experience seem to cause the great divide between the US and Europe.  Many trainers are willing to buy a “seasoned” six year old from the EU, with 1.20m or 1.30m experience.  This horse likely has many more miles than it’s American equivalent, but the buyer knows very little of the quality or quantity of these miles.  This is where I believe American breeders are able to offer an advantage that many people overlook because it is different then what they are used to.   Our horses are out there for everyone to see, they make green mistakes, and may thus be written off for the next year.  In Europe they are making the same mistakes, you just don’t see it!  Many of our horses are put under a microscope because buyers want to see them at big venues, but these buyers may not have the experience working with young horses to understand their learning curves and behaviors. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are many trainers out there that have extensive experience with young horses and are willing to buy these horses for less money to bring through the levels.  Yet this trainer is currently rare in the American hunter/jumper world and that means there are not many people out there that wish to take on a young horse.  As a breeder and seller this is a little bit disheartening, but there is hope!  Programs like Linda Allen’s Young Horse Trainers School are bringing awareness and training horsemen to work with young horses. 

The author showing her U.S. bred mare “West Lane” in the A/A Hunters at the Oaks this summer, this lovely mare can be seen for sale on ProEquest.  Photo by McCool.

The reality is we are not all going to jump the 1.60m (I am certainly not going to) and some horsemen may find they get the most enjoyment out of teaching young horses to jump, or improve their skills to bring them through the ranks.  Hopefully, as awareness grows about the great horses available for purchase that are “U.S. Bred”, more riders and trainers may find this is a niche they wish to support.  The cycle of breeding, training, and showing can expand with these people who want to find their own path in the industry.  Clearly I believe we are on our way or I would have stopped breeding horses years back. I hope others catch on and are willing to search for some of the wonderful horses American breeders can offer you next time you check out Proequest!