Friesian Keuring and IBOP: It’s a Breed Thing…

Its a breed thing...So,… I’ve been in the Friesian breed thing for well over three decades and I finally have something to say. Are you on pins and needles, yet? No? Gosh darn it. I worked so hard for that build-up and I’ll never get it again. ;)

Well, who am I and why would you care? Nobody in particular and certainly nobody important enough to worry about but some of you may know me by sight at the SoCal keurings and some of you may know me by name with not a clue what I look like. And truth be told, most of the time I have no idea who I’m talking to at the rail when I’m watching the horses go into their classes.

For me, it’s all about the horses when I go to the keuring, not about the people. I’m picking the horses I like from the lineup and POSSIBLY checking to see the sire’s name so MAYBE if I get a horse in training I can KINDA have an idea how it may go. I’m not even particularly mindful of the judging official’s opinion of who got star or what premie. Because that’s a breed thing. That really doesn’t affect HOW I train a horse. Every horse gets the same training whether they are the million dollar champion or the feedlot rescue. They are all horses to me and I can see the unique specialness of each one. When all is said and done, each owner must take their horses home, feed them twice a day, brush them, ride them, train them, love them… and that has NOTHING to do with whatever a judge says about their horse’s boggy hocks or short neck or barely sufficient walk.

The halter classes at the keuring are for the Friesian breed. In the halter class, most everyone is aware of the premie system and everyone covets the 1st or 2nd premie “Ster” status. This premie system is ONLY about the horse, in and of itself, in comparison to the BREED. If we practice our high school math proportion and ratio problems (the HORROR! :) ) we’re going to lob off a few zeros and say that ALL the horses of the Friesian breed are represented by one hundred horses. Given a hundred Friesian horses, the top five horses—of the whole breed—will be a 1st premie, the next ten horses will get a 2nd premie, and the next ten horses will be 3rd premie. Give or take… 1st and 2nd premies get “Ster” predicates and the rest of the horses are considered “Studbook”. And remember, these aren’t the top horses of a particular show as in Show Champion gets 1st premie. This is in comparison to the whole breed. The Friesian judges keep this in mind whenever they are looking at any one individual horse and why some keuring sites have no 1st premie “Ster” horses. None of the horses were good enough for the breed as a whole.

Something to keep in OUR minds, we need these “Studbook” horses as a base from which to get our 1st, 2nd and 3rd premies. We are not breeding bunnies here with short life spans and large litters of babies to make up for it. If suddenly there was a horrific, disease that only affected our base “Studbook” horses and they were no longer able to breed, or they died, our whole Friesian horse quality would deteriorate. A base is there for a reason to give support to the individuals who give direction to the Friesian breed. There is no shame in having a “Studbook” Friesian horse. It is because of “Studbook” horses that there is a Friesian breed at all and somebody needs to take care of these horses. 1st premie horses aren’t the only ones that deserve love! LOL

So, if the top 5% of the breed is 1st premie “Ster” status, the top 1% can try for another little status symbol. The “Model” predicate. (Or “Kroon”. “Kroon” is before first live baby and “Model” is after. There are age differences between the two but that’s not the most important part. They want to see that that mare is fertile for the Friesian breed to carry on genetic material. It does no good to be best of the best if you can’t pass it on!) So, how do we get that top of the top, best of the best? The IBOP test—driving and riding—is used to separate the wheat from the chaff. (Not that having the top five percent of a breed could be considered chaff, but there you go…)

Anyone can take any Friesian into an IBOP test which is somewhat unfortunate because it makes Joe Bloe General Public think the IBOP test is just a Friesian version of a dressage show. It is not.

Case in point: I just performed my first IBOP test in front of the judges this year on a very pretty, eight year old 2nd premie “Ster” mare to see if she had what it takes to get her 1st premie and possible “Kroon” status. About a month before this performance, I took this same mare into a regular dressage show where she did her lovely circles and lovely loops and lovely trots and canters at precisely the right letters; she received a 69% and a 71%. That is awesome. We dream of such scores like sugarplums at Christmas. And then for her IBOP, she split the difference and got a 70%. That is not so awesome. She needed a 77% to pass. Pass for what, you ask? To get that “Kroon” status. She did her lovely circles, loops, trots and canters exactly like at the regular dressage show and yet it was no good. Why? Because it is a breed thing! It’s not about whether she could do the movements at precisely the right letter but whether she was the top 1% of the breed. The various complaints heard around the show ring and online about performing IBOPs are that the tests are performed so inaccurately.

Uh,… people? The judges don’t care! LOL They don’t care if the trot was performed at the exact right spot or if the circle had a few square corners to it. Their only concern is if in making that square lopsided circle, the horse was able to present itself like the top 1% of the breed. Now, that said, doing correct circles and proper transitions can only help show a horse off in its best possible light, but a screw up here or there is not going to prevent a horse from getting a 77% if it is truly the top 1% of the breed and “Kroon/Model” material. Think of an IBOP as a performance—spotlight on—instead of a “test”. Make us all go “oooohhhh-aaaahhhh” instead of “did she finish at Letter B” or not as in a real dressage show test.

Why have I come to this conclusion? Because of how the judges announce scores at the end of all the rides. We don’t get a scorecard at the end of the IBOP telling us we scored a 7 on that circle and 8 on this or that movement. We get an announced score of Walk=?, Trot=?, Canter=?, (Canter is only judged under saddle, not in the driving class of course,) Balance=?, Suppleness=?, Impulsion=?, Suitability=?. Replace the question mark with a number from one to ten.

But why are only these criteria announced? Because they are the most important scores to the breed improvement program the Friesian judges are working on. Being able to do a better circle from one show to the next doesn’t change whether that horse should be a 1st premie “Kroon/Model” mare or not.

Way back in the beginning of the Friesian keurings, (many many many horse generations ago…) you can envision a bunch of Dutch farmers with their little black driving horses coming to a keuring almost as a courtesy. It would be a sort of holiday, a day to spend with family and friends looking at a bunch of pretty horses trotting around. Remembering that the Netherlands is easily driven across, from side to side, in a couple of hours, it would be like some of us in SoCal going to Disneyland or Seaworld or Magic Mountain. Fun had by all!

That has changed. It’s not a courtesy thing anymore but an obligation and even status thing. Who has the best horses, the most star mares, the best qualified stallions, the highest ranking numbers? What was once done to prevent the extinction of a cute, pudgy, almost pony-shaped breed of horse is now big business shipping the best of the best worldwide.

Over time, the judges, as a group over in Europe, knowing the coveted status of a system they created, use the premie system to change the breed over generations from the short, stout, “Baroque” hard-working work horse to the talented, elegant, long-legged, modern-style Friesian. Just look at some old pictures of the original qualified Friesian stallions. There is no way those stallions would be chosen nowadays but back then, it was the best the breed produced. Without those original qualified stallions, our modern Friesian horse would not exist. Those past qualified stallions and all the mares they bred, even the model mares and the star mares, are basically what we call our “Studbook” horses now. Our “Studbook” horses are so much better than they were even twenty years ago because of the premie system. As our horses become better and better, more talented, more lovely suspension, more modern, it drags the quality of the bottom 75% “Studbook” horses upwards. So if you are one of those premie snobs who came away from the keuring with JUST a “Studbook” horse, you can always say, “Hey, my ‘Studbook’ mare is better than your ‘Model’ mare from twenty years ago!” :) I’ve been there and seen it.

This improvement is because of the Friesian inspectors and their vision. I, personally, know of no other breed of horse that can show such a marked improvement in quality in such a short amount of time as the Friesian. Despite the fact of such genetic issues as dwarfism, megaesophagus, hydrocephalus, aortic rupture and other what-have-you’s due to inbreeding from a small, closed gene pool, breed wide, this quality improvement is awesome. The keuring officials had a vision of future generations and where to guide the breed and bring conformity to a somewhat random type of horse.

But this improvement comes at a cost. Kinda like our government. (Not getting all political or anything… well, actually, yes, because Friesian Judging officials are kinda like a government on a smaller scale.) Everyone wants total transparency of our government. But hello, the general public can’t handle the day-to-day fact that war can break out at any moment and it’s a constant fine balance between negotiation and bluff that keeps us trudging along everyday not being tossed about by the random wings of chaos. The public is ALWAYS somewhat behind in information because sometimes things happen and there is no way to know the repercussions until farther down the line. Sometimes years. If we allowed the public complete knowledge of every single crisis that occurred, governments would collapse into chaos as John Public, Joe Smoe and Peter Paul—multiplied to the billions—REACTED to every incident they thought important or just became OFFENDED by. I know I could handle the information but I don’t trust You to! (LOL That’s every big ego out there talking…)

Americans, independent as we are, and thinking we, as individuals know best, have a hard time bowing to this authority. The ultimatum of no new stallion approved that genetically had the Red Factor was met with some considerable ill-favor at the time. We Americans saw something new and WANTED it but the Friesian higher authority said “no”. How dare they?! ;) And those stubborn Dutch farmers continue to come up with other ultimatums that we, in North America, would rather do without, thank you very much! LOL

However, in the Friesian world, the nostalgic story goes that the little Dutch farmer would present his wonderful stallion to the school for stallion training to see if he will be used as one of the next qualified stallions. After a few weeks of work, his leg is swollen. Our old-time Dutch farmer stands shoulder to shoulder with the Friesian Inspectors and judges, and everyone stares morosely at the swollen leg. “His leg is swollen,” the Friesian Inspectors comment. And the Dutch farmer shakes his head sadly, “Why, yes, yes it is.” He puts his horse in the trailer and goes home, lets the horse rest and then puts him to work in the fields or in his carriage. (This is somewhat a shortened translation so don’t crucify me if you’ve heard the story differently! LOL) But the point is, it wouldn’t occur to the old-time Dutch farmer to sue those Friesian Inspectors or the school or the grooms or the stall cleaners. It was just bad luck that the stallion had a swollen leg, not personal vendetta or manipulation of statistics. And he certainly didn’t think someone would PURPOSELY hurt a horse to keep him from being qualified. That would be outrageous.

Culturally, it’s a different way of thinking, but Americans are quick to find fault and lay blame for why their precious Baby Blackie didn’t make star or model. The judges must be blind or out to get them or the runners didn’t run them right or there was some-other-stoopid-reason for not giving them a 1st or 2nd premie. It couldn’t possibly be that precious Baby Blackie was NOT part of the top 25%. That’s just ridiculous.

Sometimes it’s just embarrassing the bad behavior I see at horse shows—our grand American views that individuals have a voice to be heard and that individuals are always right, even if they don’t have all the information. Or a clue. I wouldn’t walk onto a construction site and start ordering the crew around and telling them to put up random walls and string wire here and put a ceiling there. Why? Because for one thing, they’d—in no uncertain terms—tell me to go pound sand and with their blueprints, experience and expertise, they’d be right. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO BUILD A BUILDING. (… supply own metaphor here… ) And two, it’s rude!

And yet, people think they can go and give the Friesian judges and inspectors, “A piece of their mind,” and it’s okay because they have the right. Gotta luv the All-American gall! (BTW: I tear up with patriotic pride at the Star-Spangled Banner sang with patriotic fervor but I do NOT understand that mentality!)

Just keep remembering, it’s a breed thing, not a competitive show thing and you are less likely get your feelers hurt when Baby Blackie doesn’t make “Ster”. That horse is still the same horse you brought to the keuring and you are taking the same horse home. It doesn’t grow a second set of legs or wings or change colors depending on the premie it got. The horse has NO IDEA what the point of this show was and will still keep acting like the same horse–bad behaviors, cute tricks and all–when you take him or her home. Nothing has changed for the horse. Except maybe your idea of how much that horse is worth? (And that’s just sad.) So what if the governing body of Friesian judges chooses not to use your Baby Blackie in its top twenty-five? Just find another area of expertise that you can make that horse shine! Getting that special premie is only one, fleeting and very small aspect of what a horse in general and a Friesian specifically can do for you. On the grand overall scheme of things for the average owner of horses, it means actually very little. You still have to feed it, clean it, train it, ride it and love it whether it got a 1st premie or was a feedlot rescue. Otherwise, what’s the point?

And as a final thought, I have a Life Lesson moment to comment on from the 2011 Friesian Keuring in Del Mar. I’m thinking of a particular moment rather than in general BUT there are many of these particular moments strung together from that show—and life beyond—that create whole generalities. If someone acts rude to you and you are rude back to them, shame on both of you. If someone acts rude to you and you become the neutral mirror that reflects back their bad behavior, where do you think everyone is going to put that shame? Nobody likes either person in the first instance but people know where to squarely put the blame in the second. If more people adopted this sense of honor, this code of right and wrong, the Friesian breed associations/club—and on a wider scale, the world—would be a better place. Keep this in mind the next time you have the choice to turn around and verbally attack someone and… don’t. It doesn’t get any better than that.

(Bits and pieces written years ago and put together 11/11/11… now you know. :) )

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? Write it out below!