Some of you may have noticed that I didn't write a blog entry on Thursday. That's because there was a particular issue that was upsetting me that day that I wanted to write about. But I was too angry to write about it coherently before now.
This story could get a little long, so bear with me.
It all started out cheerfully enough. Some woman I'd never heard of before contacted me via email, interested in breeding her mare to my stallion, Senter.
Message from J---- dated 9/6/2007:
Hello, I was given your web site by your sister. Your Oldenburg stallion is a total beauty! I have a nice paint mare that looks very much like your sisters mare. I was wondering what your stud fee will be and do you ship frozen seamon? I live in D----- Maine, which is central Maine. I plan a trip to your sisters farm soon. Thank-you, J----
Sounds promising enough, right?
Here's my reply, the same day:
Thanks so much for the compliment on Senter. We do love him a lot. Even better than his good looks is his total sweetheart of a personality, which he seems to pass on to his babies.
So far, we have not been offering his services to any outside mares, but we do want to in the future. Our finances are very tight right now, but when we are able, we do want to look into getting him set up to ship frozen semen.
I'm not sure what our stud fee would be. Last I checked, his father's stud fee was $1,000 and his grandfather's stud fees were $1,200 and $2,500. Obviously, since I don't show Senter, he doesn't have a competition record, so his stud fee would not be that high. Probably somewhere closer to the $750 range... maybe a bit less his first year standing to outside mares.
Would you like me to keep you informed when we do start offering him to outside mares? If you're going to see Donna's farm soon, you'll get to see two of his babies there.
At this point, I expected she would ask a bunch more questions about Senter, to see if he would meet whatever her breeding goals are. But instead she just continued to be really enthusiastic. I was a little surprised, but just assumed she knew exactly what she was looking for and had decided that she saw that something in Senter's photos. After all, he IS a really gorgeous animal.
Message from J--- dated 9/7/2007:
Hi Nancy, . YES-YES! Please let me know as soon as you get set up to or are able to ship semen. I own a stable here in D------, Me. I only have paints. I have been looking and looking for the right thing to breed my paint mare, A---- to., and belive your spotted Oldenburg is just what I want. I would like you to please inform me as soon as you do or are able to ship. I am only two miles from our vet's and Dr. R----- has done this kind of breeding for years. A very-very good horse vet. $750.00 or less is totally exceptable. I am trying to get a weekend where both myself and my husband are off from work and can go to Stacyvile to Donna's farm. I saw a picture of a colt on the internet she has for sale out of her mare, BEAUTIFUL!! Looking forward to doing business in the future. Thanks so much. J-----I really would like to get Senter set up to do AI breedings. It would be a way for him to earn income for the farm. But considering our financial situation right now, I've been putting off even looking into it, because I know we can't afford it right now.
That's a side effect of running a farm, I think. It forces you to narrow your focus to problems that you can attempt to solve RIGHT NOW, because all those other problems will still be there when you eventually get to them.
However, when I mentioned this woman's inquiry with my sister Donna, she reminded me that she and I had been discussing the possibility of shipping Senter up to her farm next summer, to breed some of her mares after my breeding season ended down here. It would be an opportunity for Senter to stand at stud to outside mares in Maine, if we wanted to take the trouble to do it.
My reply, dated 9/12/2007:
Hi J---,Again, my message elicited no questions from the woman, just enthusiasm.
I'll keep you informed then, if we manage to get Senter set up to do AI. I haven't yet looked into what kind of investment it would require---and we're pretty broke right now, so if it's a lot, it may be a while before we can afford it.
Another option that I wanted to mention, is that Donna and I have been discussing the possibility of sending Senter up to her farm next summer, probably around June through October (after our May breeding season is finished down here).
We would need to get at least 3 outside mares lined up to breed to him (at the $750 stud fee), to make it worth shipping him up there and back. But it would give you the chance to have your mare bred by live cover, if you were interested. The advantage to Donna, of course, would be that in exchange for housing him for the summer, she'd be able to breed some of her mares to him as well.
So, if that's something you might be interested in, let me know (and also spread the word to any other mare owners you know who might also be interested). We've still got quite a while to plan, so that's good.
I hope you get the chance to visit Donna's farm and see Senter's colt in person. From what Donna says, he's turning out to be really gorgeous---and really mellow, like his dad.
Message from J---, the same day:
Wow, if Donna had him I could take A---- to Stacyville, thats just above Millanocket. My friend Dr, M---- DVD, was very excited about the idea of my breeding A---- to Senter, she has two or three Oldenbergs. I will talk to her Thursday, I will be at her home then, and we will see what we can do, maybe we can "scare up" a few interested people. I will get back to you. Thank-you J----Whoops... hold on a minute! I use Senter to breed to Spotted Draft mares for crossbred sport horse foals, and this woman said her mare was a Paint. But if she wanted her friends to breed their Oldenburg mares to him, she might have been assuming that Senter had gone through the complicated approval process to earn his "approved for breeding" status in the Oldenburg registry.
Since clearly she was not asking any of the pertinent questions herself, I decided to give her some answers anyway, so there'd be no misunderstanding.
My reply, the same day:
Just to be clear:Surprisingly, this didn't seem to cause her even a moment's hesitation.
Senter is a registered Oldenburg, but never went through the process to be "approved for breeding" in the Oldenburg registry. There are age limits on the process, so by the time I bought him, there was no way for me to try to get him approved other than going through the 100-Day Test.
Since I'm only using him to crossbreed for sport horses, it's not worth it to me to go through such a complicated approval process.
Of course, there are other options for registering his offspring, if that's important to someone. Pinto, American Warmblood, IRC, SHOC are all possibilities. I just wanted to mention this, since your friend that has the Oldenburgs might care whether or not Senter was approved.
Message from J----, the same day:
That is totally OK with me Nancy. I already am a member of the APHA and AHA. I could most likely register a foal through one of the registery's mentioned, but I am breeding for a hunter-jumper sport horse and papers are not important to me. I know that Dr. M---- has Oldenburg crosses as well as D---- another friend, they have bred there Hanavarians to an Oldenburg and love the results, neither of them have full bloods. We like dressage & jumping here and we have three large stables w/ arena's that hold shows as well as three fair grounds near by where shows are held. So you see there is a lot of dressage and jumping people in our area. I simply want a colored Oldenburg as I only have paints or horses of color at my farm and am noted for it. I also think G----, I---- Farms, is interested in an Oldenburg. There are many people here that might want to breed to your stud if he was in Maine. I know I'm thrilled about it. J----Great! This woman was starting to sound like her breeding goals might be fairly similar to mine.
My reply, the same day:
Excellent!At this point, I figured she'd get down to asking all the detailed questions about Senter that a responsible breeder ought to ask, I'd ask more questions about her mare, and we'd have several months to work out whatever details needed to be worked out before we finalized the transaction.
Personally, I agree with you. The registrations are not that important to me. I'd rather look at the qualities of the individual horse. But some people want the official piece of paper, so that's why I thought I'd mention it.
It sounds like you have a terrific, active horse community where you are. That's wonderful!
I know Senter himself would be delighted to have the opportunity to acquire a few new girlfriends next summer. Our broodmare herd is not very big, and he thinks that the "working" segment of his year goes by all too quickly. :-)
But instead I got this email.
Message from J----, dated 9/13/2007:
My friend Dr. M---- is a vet. I put DVD, I meant DVM. LOL! I worked at her home this morning, she is having a two day event show the 22nd & 23rd. I talked to her and you are right the 100 day test is important to her, first thing she asked me. I dought very much that anyone here will be interested in Senter because we can't see him, you know see him move, see him ridden, etc. She also advised me that these things are important because I need a horse that is compatable with my mare. I went to Stacyville with a friend, M---- yesterday, M----'s sister lives there. We found your sisters place. She only has two horses and lives in a cellar. I don't think I'm interested , but thank-you anyway. J----WOW!
First of all... that was a pretty abrupt reversal of opinion. Clearly the woman didn't have the strength of character to stand by her own previously voiced opinions. But hey, that's fine. Choosing a stallion for your mare is a very personal decision, and she had every right to use whatever criteria she wanted. So, no hard feelings in that regard. Just a slight rolling of the eyes at her fickleness.
But those last two sentences: "She only has two horses and lives in a cellar. I don't think I'm interested, but thank-you anyway."
That's when my blood pressure started to rise. Nobody, but NOBODY disses my sister to me!
First of all, I don't know where the woman was getting her information, but she clearly never even met my sister or visited the farm, or she would know that Donna has a herd of something like sixteen gorgeous horses of all ages and colors.
So apparently she either asked around and heard something third-hand about Donna from someone who doesn't know her well enough to give accurate information. Or else, she and her friend drove to the farm uninvited, spied on the place from the road and drove away without taking the time to get a true impression of the farm or its owner.
And second of all, how do my sister's personal living conditions affect the quality of her horses? I'm sorry, but anyone who raves about how gorgeous someone's horses are from photos they've seen in for sale ads on the web, and then runs off without even seeing those horses because the owner's farm isn't fancy enough, clearly is more concerned about shallow surface appearances than about quality horses.
I mean, I could see if she'd gone there and met Donna and had seen a bunch of sickly, abused horses being beaten and starved---at that point, yeah, time to criticize.
But no matter what hard times have come her way, Donna has always put the welfare of her animals before her own. She has fought her way through years of incredible adversity with her honesty, humor, and appreciation for living intact.
I'm not going to talk in detail about the things she has been through because they are Donna's stories, not my own, and I won't violate her privacy that way. But believe me when I say that there isn't another person I know who could have survived all that and still held onto her dreams despite it all.
She has guts, determination, a superhuman willingness to work her ass off for the things she believes in, and the most uncompromising sense of integrity I have ever encountered.
In short, she is the best person I know. She's my hero.
If you've ever felt that way about someone, you may have some small inkling of the rage that flooded me, to hear this feather-brained snob of a woman pass judgment on Donna BECAUSE of her adversity, without even ever meeting her.
Is this particular woman just an unconscionable snob? Or are we living in such a shallow and prepackaged world that any person---no matter how true and bright of spirit---who doesn't fit society's preconceived mold must necessarily be shunned and ridiculed? Must those of us who value our individuality and hold fast to our "impossible dreams" always be excluded from material success?
Donna and I both have poured our all into our farms---Donna for MANY more years than me. We have worked and planned and sacrificed, we've risked everything we have to build our breeding operations to produce the best, most beautiful horses we can for people who are serious about quality equines.
It's chilling to suddenly be confronted with the possibility that those people might not actually DESERVE those horses that are the fruits of our labor.
Fancy farm facilities are nice; we all wish we had them. Trendy, high-profile bloodlines can be great, if the horse in question inherits the good qualities of its famous sires. But horses are not commodities to be judged, bought, and sold based on nothing more than a registration paper and a pretty presentation.
A true horseman sees the horse, the individual---assesses its conformation, evaluates its movement, and most importantly, looks into its eyes and sees the heart and soul within. A horseman responds to what IS, not to imagination and paper promises. And a person who can do that with horses, is not likely to do otherwise when dealing with people or situations.
Perhaps there just aren't that many true horsemen left out there in the big world. If that's so, then I fear that I won't last long in this business. I won't have the heart for it.
Of course, there was no point in saying any of this to this woman. I had no interest in having anything further to do with her, and clearly the feeling was mutual. Angry as I was, I don't believe in being rude or confrontational, just for the sake of spite. I struggled really hard to compose a reply that would make my point in a simple way, while still framing the thought in a polite and professional manner. I don't know if I succeeded, but it was the best I could do.
My reply, the same day:
Hi J----,By the way, if any of you are interested in hearing more about Donna and her farm, there is a chapter about her entitled "Siberian Blues" in the book Small World, by award-winning author Brad Herzog. It's a pretty cool book. Check it out!
No problem. Certainly we could make video of Senter's movement if that's all you wanted to see. But if the 100 day test is one of your must-have criteria, then obviously he is not the stallion for you. That's why I mentioned it to you in the first place.
As for my sister, I don't know why you would say she has only two horses. Did you even visit her farm? She has quite a wide variety of sport horses and ponies: foals, young stock, and adults. She's a fantastic natural horsemanship trainer with more than 25 years experience. I don't know anyone better than her at taking a crazy, terrified, abused horse and teaching it to trust again.
Is she rich? No. She started with nothing, worked her butt off to purchase her farm, then had to pay for it all over again when her cheating husband divorced her and demanded half the value of the farm in the divorce settlement. She loves that farm more than anything and works dawn to dusk every day, always putting her animals' needs above her own.
While she's saving up enough money to build the rest of her house, she lives in the cellar. Why? Because she spent her money to build a snug barn for her horses before she would consider spending money on her own comfort. Would you be willing to do that for your horses? Would I? Not likely. To me, that says a lot about Donna's character, but not in the negative way that you seem to imply.
I'm happy for you that you are able to participate in so many great activities at what sound like some truly lovely horse facilities. It sounds like you have a lot of really fun and exciting opportunities with your horses! And certainly, you are absolutely entitled to choose where you want to take your mare for breeding, or from whom you want to buy a horse.
But if you are content to make snap judgments about people based on outward appearances and presumed bank account size, without knowing the circumstances behind their choices, then---in Donna's case at least---you're missing out on knowing a truly exceptional individual.
I wish you the best of luck in your continued stallion search. I hope you find the perfect match for your mare!
You can also visit Donna's farm web site. Sorry that it's a bit out of date. She and I are in the process of updating and redesigning it now, but we have so many farm projects keeping us busy that it's taking us a while to get it done.