The Eye of the Beholder

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesThe other night we had unexpected visitors. They were unexpected because we’d never met them before and didn’t know they were coming, and they were unexpected because where we live is so far off the beaten track that people have to really want to find us to show up here. These unexpected visitors were the interesting kind, though, because they asked about the ponies.

First, though, they introduced themselves and said they’d heard we were horse loggers. They work horses on their farm in Iowa, and about the time I asked about their horses, we heard a ruckus in the largest paddock. When we looked in that direction, there were speeding ponies celebrating cooler, bug-free air. “They look like Friesians,” our visitors said.

A few weeks ago we also had the interesting kind of visitors who asked about the ponies. Their questions were about hardiness and size and feet. Color and hair never came up, and the breed that was mentioned for comparison was Highland Ponies.

Willowtrail Farm Ancona DucksThree days ago I received a phone call from a man doing research on Ancona ducks. I raised Anconas for several years until procuring outcrosses became too difficult. The caller was gathering information to support classifying Anconas as a formal breed. My caller said he’d run into a major stumbling block when talking to a judge. No two Anconas are colored or marked alike, and the judge said that fact would make evaluating the breed at shows too difficult. “But conformationally they’re all similar,” I exclaimed. I could tell my caller was nodding in agreement, then stated the obvious, “So you’d support a breed designation.”

The other day a colleague shared a story about talking to a judge after a show. The judge told my colleague that he’d put the pony in first place that he did in part because other judges had done the same at other shows. I had to ask to have the story repeated to make sure I’d heard it right. “Really?” I said.

Today I was talking to a friend who related a conversation he’d had with the owner of a colored cob. The owner was extolling the virtues of his cob’s color. My friend stopped him and explained that how an animal moves and holds itself is more indicative of the animal’s quality than surface features like color. My friend then shared with the owner his guess at his cob’s lineage based on what he saw in the cob’s facial structure. The owner’s jaw dropped.

As I have reflected on this cluster of recent conversations, I’ve realized that it’s more than beauty that is in the eye of the beholder. What their eye sees also indicates how a breed would be stewarded in their hands. I am blessed to have a few friends whose eyes see past color and markings. They are as passionate about conformation and movement as I am. Like me they know that color and markings are only surface characteristics and that the true measure of an animal is in how they hold themselves and use their bodies in motion. When I have visitors that also see past color and markings, I feel blessed, too, and I know the animals they have are in good hands.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013

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About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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