09 Aug Rocky Mountain Horse: Ambassadors to the United Kingdom
By Caroline Green
It all started many years ago with the intention of buying two horses to trail ride. But as I’m writing these words, I’m staring out of our window and looking at my 11 Rockies grazing happily in our fields. My husband, Paul Robard and I never planned on selling horses, let alone in a foreign country in a language that’s not even our mother tongue. But still, here we are!
It’s been quite a ride so far and I would lie if I told you it wasn’t without ups and downs. So what’s it like introducing Rockies for the first time here in the UK? Well, the word “challenging” comes to mind. There’s still a very traditional outlook amongst the equestrian elite here in the UK but in recent years Western riding has seeped through the maze and is rapidly gaining in popularity. So on the one hand you have the English traditionalists who can be found amongst hard-core dressage and jumping enthusiasts and on the other hand there’s the Western Community where Natural Horsemanship is the main buzzword.
So how to penetrate the UK market? Not an easy task I have to say. You can’t just pick up the phone and call a publisher to write an article on the breed. The fact a new and unfamiliar breed of horses has crossed the shores here in the UK, at first means nothing to them. All they think is another stud farm trying to make some publicity for themselves. Magazines over here don’t want to push a breeding farm to the foreground and since we’re the only Rocky Mountain Horse breeders here in the UK, we’re the only ones trying to get the word out without any other support. It’s all very political come to think of it. It’s about “who you know”. But, being the kind of people we are, my husband and I eventually found the right people who opened certain doors for us. After one article is written in a magazine, other magazines suddenly want to jump onto the bandwagon. So Rocky Mountain Horses have become “the household name” of the moment.
What about horse shows here in the UK? Attending small local horse shows is one thing but big Equine Events over here are by invitation only. Again, it’s finding the right key to fit a certain door. Big horse events are the best places to reach a large crowd and also the best way to introduce a new breed to the public.
The biggest challenge I personally found is not only in trying to introduce a new horse breed to the UK, but the moment you mention Rockies are an “American” breed, people immediately assume they are only suitable for Western style riding. So again and again we have to explain to them that this is not the case. As we all know, Rockies today have proven their versatility in the US and have become much more than just a trail horse.
To label them is one thing. But then there’s the whole “dressing up”. Riding in jeans and boots in our traditional part of the country is still frowned upon. Tack should be typical “English” style and not saddles build for comfort like the ones we use on the trail. Also we noticed that on the trail “gliding by” on a “small” horse gets the odd looks once in a while. On average, people out on the trail need a mounting block to get onto their horse and I’ve noticed they can crack walnuts with their butt cheeks after all those years of posting. Sometimes one of them gives a “friendly” remark about our “cute little ponies” with their “interesting” gait. So we then try to explain to this person atop his 17 Hand horse that we’re actually riding a breed that is classified in the US as a “horse” and not a “pony” and that the “interesting” gait is in fact a “graceful” forward motion inherit in the breed that is extremely comfortable for the rider.
So why do we put up with all of this you might ask? Ah…, well, ever heard the story of the turtle and the hare? At equestrian events our Rockies and ourselves are usually the ones who after 15 miles still haven’t broken into a sweat and can easily do another 15 miles, while some of the other contestants are lying stretched out onto the grass catching their breaths with their horses standing next to them drenched in sweat.
Then there are those God given moments where a mom and dad, who after we have shown them our Rockies in the field, suddenly find their little five year old girl on the back of one of our mares, bareback, clutching her mane with her little fingers while our mare is standing there quietly. With open mouths they ask their daughter how in God’s name she got onto the back of that horse whereupon she explains to them that the mare just turned her side to the fence so she could climb on.
On another occasion there’s grandma who was just tagging along to take pictures of our herd for her daughter and granddaughter, but could hardly get the camera in front of her face because our Rockies were continuously encircling her full of curiosity and eager to be petted. She was so impressed with our Rockies that she told her daughter to leave her car behind in exchange to saddle up a Rocky and take it home instead. She told us if one of our youngsters would fit into her handbag, she would have sneaked one in.
Then there’s our vet who when she saw our stallion Toby Roe for the first time, actually looked underneath his belly because she just couldn’t believe he is a stallion.
So at the end of the day, all the hard work and the uphill battles we have to fight sometimes, is all long forgotten. People’s positive reaction when they come to visit our farm to look at our Rockies, makes me realize we are doing the right thing. We are taking it one person at a time to open up their hearts to this new breed of horses that have captured out hearts from the moment we first laid our eyes upon.
It makes us proud to be the Ambassador of the Rocky Mountain Horse here in the UK and even though it’s a demanding task, we continue to go out there to spread the word.
So what’s next on the agenda for us you might ask? Well, after our Rockies have conquered the UK, they might be up for another challenge. I’m a big fan of sushi so I might ask them what they think about conquering the Orient. Should be a breeze! (LOL) Hmm? I wonder if I could ride my Rocky in a Kimono?