AQHA is to AKC as Tomato is to Fruit
...you may not think they're the same... but they actually are.
I have been reading HSUS president Wayne Pacelle's book The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Protect Them. You're probably thinking "Might as well go to a PETA convention" and I thought that before I read it as well, until I reminded myself that Mr. Pacelle is the head of HSUS, which is typically a lot more practical than their radical counterpart. I still have to read it subjectively, but he seems pretty levelheaded, and it's good read if you're into the whole "animal welfare and what I can do about it" thing. This book really opened my eyes about how freaking hard it is to get anything done when animals and government/big business get mixed together. It's almost, almost comical how it all plays out. Like I had originally imagined, it usually comes down to voters/consumers to push things forward. In this novella, Mister Pacelle brought up a very interesting bit about the AKC and puppy mills. I could not help but think of QHs and TBs in particular. I'm sure there are other breeds, but I'll keep to what I am most familiar with.
Anyway, so I'm sure we all know that it's very, very likely that the cute "AKC registered" purebred puppy you bought at the pet store or online likely came from a puppy mill. And we've all heard one-too-many horror stories about these puppies having a slew of health problems and psychological issues from all the abuse and neglect in their early days. I had never really put AKC and the puppy mill industry (which is very much legal, and like most things governed by the USDA and their sub-categories, it's so poorly regulated it's morbidly funny, if not exasperating) together until I read this book, and it all sounded eerily similar to AQHA, among other big horse registries.
It's a very long story, but to sum it up (do your research to get the knitty gritty details, or read the book for a detailed summary): AKC gets most of their money from registration, so they try to register as much as possible. They are in competition with many other American registries (it used to just be the AKC, and several others have since popped up) so the standards to let anything and everything in has been WAY lowered. I will quote:
There are no meaningful health standards for the breeds in the AKC registry. The standards relate to the outward physical appearance of the animals... not to their overall well-being or fitness. "The best use of pedigree papers is for house-breaking your dog," says veterinarian and animal behaviorist Micheal Fox.... "They don't mean a damn thing. You can have an immune-deficient puppy that is about to go blind and had epilepsy, hip dysplasia, hemophilia and one testicle, and the AKC will register it.So it made me feel better that the horse industry isn't the only industry that can be laughable as far as "BUT THEY HAVE PAPERS!" And it doesn't have to do with the outward appearance with some horse registries! You could find something that resembles a cow beefed up for processing or a horse with the back of a downhill ski race mountain slope, among other faults, but so long as he's a grandson of some "world" champion (seriously, why is it called "world" when it's really only the U.S. that competes and wins?) who probably broke down before he was even six, then YOU CAN REGISTER HIM! It doesn't even have to be a world champion, just another quarter horse! Which makes people think they can breed them, or sell them for lots of money when in fact, as far as quarter horses go, papers mean next to nothing and the poor horse is just about worthless.
There's no criteria. Sure the warmblood breeds have their issues, but at least there's a stingy criteria!
And what Mister Pacelle rounded it all up to was that the AKC's lack of criteria in registration is a major factor in the overbreeding problem. BINGO! Puppy mills keep popping them out, making money from them by saying they're registered, and the AKC profits from the abundance of registrations that really don't mean diddly-squat in terms of offspring quality. And who suffers? Not the registries....
Hmmmm, that all sounds really familiar! Like, AQHA familiar!
There are nice QHs out there, don't get me wrong. There are lots of them. I learned to ride on very nice barrel racing quarter horses, I have seen many do well in many disciplines, we own one (and a half if you count Greta haha) and I've ridden plenty of nice ones (Butters is constantly mistaken for a pony/wb cross or a nice Welsh Section D pony). In all honesty, I love QHs. I think they're are way under-appreciated in the hardcore English world. But why is that? Could it be because there are so many shoddy ones out there? Littered about craigslist and every equine ad service known to man? Because it's too easy to make one and register it to the point that "quarter horse" becomes two dirty words or absolutely meaningless?
I hear there's a similar problem in the TB world. I have to chuckle when I hear people say "Oh, this horse is a granddaughter of Seattle Slew! And this guy is a grandson of Secretariat!"
What about the little detail that Secretariat alone sired several hundred offspring. Several hundred? And none were of the same quality as Big Red himself. Some were pretty good, but nothing incredibly special. Most just had a cool name on their pedigree. And calculate that Secretariat's several hundred offspring probably each had many offspring themselves, most of whom were also not anywhere near the quality of Big Red. Yeah, it's cool to have that name on there, but it means nothing if there's not regulation to back it up. You just now have a couple thousand horses running around out there with the name "Secretariat" somewhere on their pedigree, quality be damned!
One of Greta's ancestors is Native Dancer! Did I ever see that in her? Nope. Does that alone mean I should breed her? Not. At. All.
When any breeding industry realizes it's all about quality and not quantity, then they will be one huge step further towards solving the overbreeding issue. Yes, that goes for you too, AKC and AQHA.
But until that fantastical day comes around when pigs sprout little wings and fly off into a rainbow of skittles candy poured by tiny green leprechauns from a flying unicorn in the sky (well, if I put it that way, that could also be the day I try hallucinogens) then buyers will just have to keep sifting through the mounds and mounds of unfortunate additions to the AQHA and other registries to find the real gems.
But hey, if the diamond miners could do it, then so can we as an equine community. Granted, the diamond miners also had dynamite and TNT. Whatever. Purely details.
In conclusion, it makes me sad, really, that any registry group with the potential to market great breeds lets them down so easily time and time again. And the animals are born and become caught up in it all. Just ask any child who gets caught up in such a situation: they're not too gung-ho about it. But at least a person can change their circumstances. A dog or horse cannot. But people can just as easily change the animals' circumstances.