If you build a better horse, will the world beat a path to your barn? The developers of two new equine breeds hope so, because they're trying to produce horses that can jump higher and more stylishly than the 65 or so established breeds. The names chosen for the new breeds—the American Sport Horse and the National Show Horse—are about as snappy as generic grocery labels, and since both these ventures rely on two good old American staples, technology and money, you might expect the horses themselves to be standard issue. No way.
The American Sport Horse is the brainchild of entrepreneur Marc St. James and show jumping champion Melanie Smith of Windrush Farm in Morris, Conn. (SI, Oct. 4, 1982). It's a cross between American thoroughbreds and horses long bred in Europe for their ability to jump. For the most part, American-bred jumpers are racetrack castoffs or particularly talented horses of questionable parentage. In international and Olympic equestrian competition, Europeans, with their carefully bred mounts, have been able to maintain a substantial advantage. St. James and Smith hope to eliminate that edge by creating a registry for the first American horses bred expressly for jumping. They're using a technique you've heard a lot about lately, embryo transfer, which has been utilized for years in cattle breeding but only recently in human reproduction. The new registry is necessary because those for thoroughbreds and other breeds admit only foals made the old-fashioned way.
Jumping horses rarely perform at their best until well into adulthood. For mares the peak competitive years are also prime foal-bearing years. With embryo transfer, top-level jumping mares can continue competing while their foals—as many as four or five a year—develop in and are then raised by other mares. Heretofore, embryo transfer hadn't been used on horses because of its high cost and the registry restrictions. But dozens of horses may now be produced from a small number of champion mares, saving decades in development time. Experimenters in England, Japan and the U.S. have successfully produced foals by means of embryo transfer, and currently four surrogate mares are in foal with future American Sport Horses at Colorado State's Animal Reproduction Laboratory. At the Hugh Frank Smith Farm in German-town, Pa., owned by Melanie Smith's parents, there are 14 expectant mares; on March 29, the first American Sport Horse was born and named, appropriately, Windrush Eve.
St. James believes these foals and their successors will be lucrative investments, selling for at least $50,000 each as yearlings. And although jumpers have never been sold as yearlings in this country, the going price for a proven Grand Prix jumper—even a gelding—is now around $300,000.
St. James also envisions a professional circuit for show jumping, complete with pari-mutuel wagering, and he hopes that the American Sport Horse Registry will eventually oversee all aspects of professional jumping.
As for the National Show Horse, its registry also permits artificial insemination and embryo transfer. The goal is to produce a new generation of flashy English show horses by crossing two already popular breeds, Arabians and Saddlebreds. It's the brainstorm of Gene La-Croix of Scottsdale, Ariz., one of this country's most successful breeders and trainers of Arabians. In 1980 he bought a pinto Arabian/Saddlebred for his fianc�e. When other horsemen praised his purchase, it confirmed LaCroix's belief that there is a market for horses with the naturally high tail carriage and elegant head of an Arabian combined with the high-stepping action and height of a Saddlebred.
LaCroix feels that at least one animal, Strutn Mai Stuf, a bay gelding owned by Paul Keenan of Genoa City, Wis., resembles the idealized horse that appears in the registry's literature. Prices for fledgling National Show Horses are running as high as $20,000 to $35,000.
To encourage more breeders to experiment with the cross as well as to register their older Arabian/Saddlebred horses, the National Show Horse Registry implemented a system enabling its horses to earn more money in the ring than can purebreds of either parent breed. In October 1982, Endlesslove, a 6-year-old bay mare, won more than $10,000 at a show in Louisville. This year the NSHR will award more than $200,000 at 25 accredited shows—an impressive sum for the sport. All this money comes from hefty registration fees—$250 to register a foal as a National Show Horse (as opposed to $50 to $75 for a purebred Arabian) and $6,000 to have a stallion designated as approved sire for the breed.
This prize money should make the breed attractive to horse owners, but the NSHR intends to make traditionally dull horse shows more appealing to spectators as well, by taking a cue from professional rodeo, in which the announcer lets the uninitiated know exactly what's going on. The number of finalists is limited, and halter competitions, in which horses are judged on looks alone, are run like beauty pageants. Backers are also hoping cable TV will televise future shows and that a division for their breed will be included in Madison Square Garden's prestigious National Horse Show.
As with the American Sport Horse, it will take years to determine the financial and sporting success of the National Show Horse. But both sponsoring groups report that the initial response to their projects has been strong. Who knows, these generic horses someday may be as popular as "no frills" peanut butter.