What about the Classic Division?

In comments regarding the post “Should Professional Trainers Be Allowed to Head in the Classic Division?” one of the readers express concern about the movement of many Park horses to the English Pleasure division.  This, in turn, has forced English Pleasure horses into the Classic division in order to be competitive.  The obvious consequence of this is very few horses entered in the Park classes and no place for the less talented Classic horse.  

The “definition” of a Park horse has certainly changed over the years (not the actual USEF definition; just the “working” definition as seen by the horses that are entered in the Park classes). Genetic selection has yielded some incredibly talented and athletic horses causing many of what use to be Park horses to become English Pleasure horses.  Showing is a very costly endeavor so I can certainly understand why horses are entered in the division which gives them the best advantage.  I feel very badly, though, for those who own what used to be considered a Classic horse.  These folks are now forced to show against those horses that were previously considered to be English Pleasure mounts. 

So here is my question…What will the future hold for the Park and Classic divisions?  Will a “Super Park Horse” division emerge? (that sort of brings funny pictures to my mind…capes and leotards…but I digress…).  What do you think?

18 Responses to What about the Classic Division?

  1. ChillyOne says:

    I have to be honest and say I’ve never understood the hand-wringing and angst about this. Our saddle seat horses are getting better in structure (I’m NOT saying they are built more like SB’s, so don’t even go there – that is for the most part simply not true), they’re getting better trained and better managed – how is that a bad thing??

    The answer to the question lies in the practical application of each division, and in Einstein :) This is a relative world; you can’t have short without tall, big without small, light without dark. In other words, things are mostly defined by what they are not. For example, there’s a gelding in my pasture right now that I can describe by how he compares to the others in the pasture. He’s older than the mare, he’s taller than the mare, he’s a lighter shade of bay than the mare, he’s less athletic (my definition of athletic – capable of accomplishing different tasks well) than the mare. This is the premise horse shows are based on – a subjective judging of the animal, i.e. how horse A compares to horse B.

    To bring this to horse shows…what division a horse should compete in depends ENTIRELY on the CURRENT gene pool. To compare horses of 30 years ago to the horses of now is completely useless. Nocturne was a park horse for the simple reason that he was of a select group that was capable of a showier performance (for lack of a better phrase) than the rest of the pack of saddle seat horses AT THAT TIME. He would be a pleasure horse now because compared to the entire pool of CURRENT saddle seat horses, he would not be – thanks in no small part to Nocturne himself.

    You also have to look at what is required for the different divisions. Park horses require more collection (true collection, I’m not talking head-set here) than the other SS divisions; Pleasure horses require less collection and more manners; for Classic horses, manners should trump all. Horses of 30 years ago weren’t able to achieve the same amount of collection that they are now, so the park horses of yesteryear have no business competing against the current park horses for the simple reason that they’re not capable of the same performance.

    I think the phrase “this has forced EP horses into the Classic division to be competitive” is erroneous. What you need to be thinking instead is that what you thought was an EP horse is obviously a Classic horse compared to what is showing now. The proof of that is that horse is now competitive in the Classic division, ergo it is a Classic horse.

  2. Black Eye Beth says:

    ChillyOne, I see your point and do not disagree with you. However, how do the shows handle this change especially in the tanking economy (I know I am economy obscessed right now!)? When you look at the class participation at any show the Park classes usually have very few in them (if any at all). Is it better to have a very select few in the upper ecshelon and more that stay home? or…Maybe the genetic makeup of the more athletic horse will eventually be seen in more future horses-to-be, leading to more horses that can complete at that level.

    I do not know the answer to all this and don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I do think it is interesting to think about how all this will impact the future of horse shows and the horses that participate.

  3. erikarose says:

    I agree with ChillyOne. The breed has involved because we can only breed to what is available. I think park horses are the elite of the elite when it comes to athleticism and performance.

    I personally love the fact that the English Pleasure division is so deep and competetive. That is probably because I compete mainly in that division. I would love to have/show a park horse but they tend to have a much larger price tag and I think that could have something to do with the lack of numbers. It seems the same group of people and trainers are able to keep pumping out park horses…You can shoot me if you want for saying this, but it is a fact. The HVK breeding did a fine job of pumping out Park horses and then reproducing them.

  4. ChillyOne says:

    Hey, we’re ALL economy obsessed right now! But I guess I don’t understand how fewer park horses is somehow bad for horse shows. Now if the shows were loaded with 2-3 horse classes, that’d be a BAD sign. But one division that is historically light…I’m not seeing the problem.

    Look at the park division, or any division for that matter this way – if a particular horse can’t compete in the park division and therefore stays home, it’s not park horse. No one is being relegated to stay home, there are lots of divisions to show in. Put the horse in the suitable division.

    I don’t think that because park classes are low in numbers is necessarily a bad thing. There are fewer of them, big deal. On the other hand – the WC Park Saddle in OKC this year was incredible, and only 5 of the stallions showed back, there were mares and geldings that could and not been outclassed. Think quality, not quantity.

    In my area of the country, there just aren’t any park horses. Well, there’s one that wears heavy shoes and labors around the ring – but it’s not a true park horse. Most years the local “big” show schedules an open saddle and open harness, and most years one or the other gets scratched. I think the largest saddle class I remember had 3 horses. Two from out of the region and one local. This show is 50 years old and is on an upward trajectory regarding entries…the division those entries compete in has nothing to do with it.

    Shows are dynamic things. For a long time the pros were where it was at, now the ammy’s rule. There was a time when hunter classes were rare, now they’re filled past the brim and outnumber every other division. Times change, participants change, the horses are getting better. The shows change to keep up.

    Oh, and thanks for the help with signing in…must have been a gremlin at work!

  5. Black Eye Beth says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying that. It is a little easier to produce that many Park horses when you have such a huge herd to choose from…just makes me jealous…

    I also don’t think there is anything wrong with the competition. I just wonder what the future holds.

  6. ChillyOne says:

    Ok, so now it’s plainly evident this happens to be my day off…

    I missed your initial question, i.e. park horses with capes and leotards

    The same thing will happen that has happened. We add more divisions. We started off with park classes (historically saddle seat is the “ride through the park to show off to your neighbors” class, same thing with 4-wheel buggies). Then the pleasure division was added, than later classic. Next step will probably be something along the lines of what the SB’s do: the Park Pleasure division. Don’t ask me what that means, but to their mind anyway there is a definite difference between Park, Pleasure and Park Pleasure. Then there’s the whole 3-gaited thing…

  7. Black Eye Beth says:

    That is sort of what I was getting at. I don’t think it is bad that there are few Park horses but I just see the filtering down as decreasing the opportunity of others to participate. This, in turn, could hurt the shows by the reduction of entries.

    Like I said, there is no wrong or right answer… the future will be interesting.

  8. Black Eye Beth says:

    MochaMom…where are you on all of this???

  9. spiritofplay says:

    We get a fair number of people looking for a “park prospect” in the $10,000 range. These people have hopes of raising that next great horse! At the smaller shows, there are park entries that often times are not competitive at the national level, but do a fine job at the local level. I believe it really depends on if you have “World Champion” in mind when you think about competing at the Park level, or whether as a horse owner, you are interested in just getting in the ring and having fun with your hose in whatever discipline you’ve decided that your horse is capable of competing in. There have always been individuals that have blown the competition away–every year (almost) Is it about winning…or showing your horse to those that are interested in seeing your horse!

  10. ChillyOne says:

    Black Eye Beth wrote:

    “… I just see the filtering down as decreasing the opportunity of others to participate. This, in turn, could hurt the shows by the reduction of entries.”

    I don’t see the “filtering down”. I see funnelling up. How can it be filtering down when the horses that are born now are an improvement to what’s been before? And how does an improvement in the total herd result in fewer entries? It’s not like there are only 5 farms that are producing good horses. Most farms are producing better horses than before. No one is being left out, it’s just shifting.

    Think “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

  11. Mocha Mom says:

    Where am I? I’m thinking….that Hillary won Ohio and Texas!:-)

  12. Black Eye Beth says:

    Touche, MochaMom, Touche!!

  13. Mocha Mom says:

    Here’s what I’m really thinking. From the perspective of Show Management, I have to agree with Chilly One that fewer Park Horses is not necessarily bad for the all-Morgan shows. They will respond to their consumers (the exhibitors) and have fewer Park classes, if any. They will offer more classes in the divisions with lots of entries to create more opportunities to collect entry fees (e.g., the same horse and rider can enter both an open class and an amateur class), or for safety by splitting the large classes by age and sex. Only the Regional shows are required to offer Park classes. If there are no entries in the Park classes at a Regional show, it has little effect on either the schedule or the show’s bottom line.

    As an aside, in my opinion, the place for shows to grow is in the Sport Horse divisions like Carriage and Dressage. The problem being, that those divisions require additional space and judges to run, making them expensive to offer. The shows will take a big hit financially if there are not enough entries to cover the expenses.

    Perhaps what Black Eye Beth is driving at is that, in order to have a top Park horse today, (if you are lucky enough to breed one with the talent) you will have to have it trained professionally over the course of several years in order to be competitive at the regional level and beyond, which may drive some owners away from that division during tough economic times. However, it appears to me that the top show horses in any division are not trained by the average amateur. Then you have to ask yourself, “Why do I show Morgan horses?” If you do it to show off to others with similar interests, as Spirit of Play indicates, then you will keep showing at whatever level you can afford, which may not be at the regional and national level during economic downturns. But there will always be those who are not affected by the economy (Play-Mor Farm?) who will keep showing at that level. The shows will just become smaller, consistent with the slow economy.

    I also want to address Chilly One’s point about all Morgan horses getting better as the Park division becomes smaller. It all depends on how you define “better.” If you define better simply as flashier and showier, then the breed is getting better. However, I regret that along with a showier horse, we seem to be losing the Morgan temperament that has made Morgans a family horse. I’m willing to bet that among today’s top show horses there are very few that you would put a child on (or ride through the park to show off to your neighbors). I am of the persuasion that if you want a “big lick” show horse, get a Saddlebred. I would like to see Morgan Park and English Pleasure horses that are usable at home during the off-season.

  14. ChillyOne says:

    How I define better is thus: The breed as a whole is more representative of the standard. Has nothing to do with flashier, showier, or anything necessarily to do with horse shows at all. I look at shows as gravy, the every day stuff is the meat and potatoes.

    Allow me to pull numbers out of the air to demonstrate my point. Lets say the entire population of Morgans has stayed a constant number – 1000. Keeping in mind “Ideal” is in the middle of a spectrum – with drafty on one end and Saddlebredy on the other. 30 years ago about 20% of the population (200 horses) came close to the middle of the spectrum. Now that % is closer to 40% (400 out of 1000 horses). Which end of the spectrum the off-type horses are during any given time period is irrelevant to my original point, but worthy of discussion none the less.

    As for temperment…perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I don’t think so. I’d trust a kid with my stallion. The only risk would be being licked to the point of drowning in the constant search for peppermints. Would a kid be able to ride him? Nope. But not because he’s a bloody-minded ax murderer. A kid just wouldn’t have the length of leg – he’s a big horse with a big lofty trot – you need leg. Off season? All my other horses are used during the off season (he lives with his trainer). His dam, a park horse in a former life, is the best trail horse I’ve ever had, I found this out while she was still showing.

    Also, I haven’t seen that the park numbers are any fewer than they’ve been before, but perhaps that’s a regional thing?

    I beleive with all my heart the reason it’s important to breed toward the standard is because that very middle horse, JM, is one heck of an athletic individual. If you really analyze the way he’s built (as best we can with what we’ve got to do so), you’ll see that pulling logs and trotting fast is the tip of the iceberg. That particular build lends itself incredibly well to true collection, without which you can’t have a real park trot with SUSPENSION that covers the ground – animated isn’t just knee-jerking. Justin Morgan was built to move at least level (given of course appropriate training/conditioning). JM was also built for a spectacular passage, levade and piaffe. That particular build also allows the horse to get down in front and cut cows with the hindquarter to propel it among just about every other equine pursuit.

  15. Leslie says:

    This exact same discussion is going on on the Saddlebred forums right now, where some are worried that people are simply growing manes on their three-gaited horses and putting them in the show pleasure division. In my mind, if your horse moves like a park horse but has the manners for English, why not put it in English, if that’s what you want to do? The problem is when judges turn a blind eye to poor manners or a jigging walk and pin the horse with the highest action without regard to the other factors that should go into judging.

    As for what becomes of the former classic horses, well, sometimes you have to let go of the Morgan circuit and support your local shows. My horse and I would not fit in with the Classic Pleasure horses at any of the breed shows here in New England. But we’ve been able to compete in that division at open shows. He’s mostly a pasture ornament, certainly isn’t with a trainer, and doesn’t wear show shoes. But I still had ample opportunity to take him to shows and be competitive.

    On the other hand, I do sometimes resent the fact that, on my current budget, I will likely never be able to afford a horse that could compete at New England or OKC. I think it’s absolutely absurd that people are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Morgans. But what can you do? That’s sort of a reality of any equestrian sport. You can have all the talent in the world and work your butt off for your entire life, but in the end you also have to either shell out some cash for an equine athlete, or meet someone who’s willing to let you ride their horses.

  16. Mocha Mom says:

    Chilly One, I can accept your definition of better, ie, a greater percentage of all Morgans meet the breed standard. Now I would like to know how accurate your numbers are? Did you really just pull them out of the air? Is that your observation? Or did you find them somewhere else? Also, do you mind telling which AMHA Region you live in?

    And either you have been lucky or I have been unlucky. My show horses are just a wee bit scary.

  17. ChillyOne says:

    Really, I just made the numbers up. But I do see that on the whole, there are far more good representatives of the breed standard then there used to be when I started some 30 plus years ago. I also have seen that the off-type now comes on both ends of the spectrum instead of just the one. I live in Region 5, but show all over.

    Honestly, of all the Morgans I’ve owned, shown for others, trail ridden, helped with, etc., etc., I can only count 1 that was scary (which turned out to be a training issue that was resolved with time and patience) and one that was plain old wired wrong, but not to the point of fright. No amount of training can fix hard wiring completely. I’ve seen a fair number of horses that have been made difficult for sure. And it seems that it’s a somewhat common thing to accept bad behavior – “oh, english horses are supposed to be that way”. Not true. It’s funny though – the scariest, most frightening horse I’ve ever ridden was a QH. That thing TRIED to kill me.

  18. Black Eye Beth says:

    I think Leslie hit what I was getting at in the beginning. I have heard more than one person comment that many horses that should technically be in the park division are now in the English pleasure division AND do not have the English pleasure manners (same goes with horses in the Classic division) Maybe the problem does lie in the judging as Leslie said.
    Thanks for your input!

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