For days now, we are haunted by photos and videos of an American “wonder foal” on social media and the world wide web, whose head is highly acclaimed by the one and supposedly worth 7 million dollars, and is branded by the others as Hunchback of Notre Dame, as a malformation. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has dedicated him an article in their Veterinary Record, the horse press has tackled the topic, news portals report on the little one, and even the tabloids spread his “story”, i.e. the story of a completely overbred Arabian foal.
No matter what the reasons are that cause the foal to look the way it looks, may it be a malformation, a mutation, or the result of an intentional, purposeful breeding. I do not want to think of the worst variant, the one of an operative “improvement”. Fact is that the head of this foal deeply divides the Arabian breeder’s community. There is the one, i.e. the owners who believe, the colt is the “King” for which “the world has been waiting”. For others, he is the result of extreme breeding, which may cause health problems and suffering. But the problem is not this one foal. The problem is rather that there are actually people, that there are breeders, who praise this foal as the beauty ideal of the Arabian horse. They (still) seem to be in a minority. But let the elders among us “die out”, and the new breeders grow into the breed only with pictures like this in their minds – what will the Arabian horse look like in 10 or 20 years? And if the judges are now rewarding this young colt with high marks on shows, because our judging system rewards the extremes, because they can not resist the social pressure, or because they actually consider this “type” as the breeds ideal, another switch is set, because, with their judgment, they also cast a vote for the future appearance of the Arabian horse: every time they give a 20 for an extreme head, they encourage the breeders to breed even more extreme heads.
As long as this subject was only discussed within the Arabian horse breeders community, there were pros and cons, there were advocates and opponents, there were the ones with Dollar signs in their eyes and those who live in the past – but nothing much has changed. But now, the subject was picked up by general horse magazines, even the “non-horse press” picked it up, and lifted it to a new level. And here, we cannot even assume where the end of the journey may be. Some people believe, the most important thing in this business is to get attention, according to the motto “any promotion is good promotion”. And “promotion” among the horse lovers and the general public, the Arabian breed could certainly use. But can this kind of “promotion” be beneficial for the breed? I am afraid, not. The Arabian horse is once again becoming a grotesque outside its own community of lovers. The entire breed is once more branded as overbred, and crazy, it has always been.
The first breed society, that has published a statement, was the Arab Horse Society (AHS) in Great Britain, stating “this is an American horse but in the UK we promote the Arabian horse for all disciplines including endurance, racing, ridden showing, dressage and show jumping and as a family horse. The Arab horse society will continue to promote the breeding of the Arabian horse in its natural form as the versatile animal that it is and will promote its welfare and the education of owners, breeders, and enthusiasts.”
It is really sad, that a breed society feels obliged to publish such a statement. It is also sad, that this type of extreme head is apparently worth a lot of money. Whether or not, those 7 Million Dollars are true, there were other horses before him that have brought actually six- and seven-figure sums. But it is even sadder that a deformed head is worth millions, while hundreds of well-built horses are sold at the slaughter price every year.
The avalanche of the negative press has broken loose – so what can we do now, to contain the damage? One possibility is to stop sharing this picture in the social media. No matter in which way it will be discussed in the comments, it is the picture that will remain in the heads of the readers. I have no intention to muzzle anybody but everybody sharing this picture should be aware of the effects of Facebook & Co., and act responsibly. A reflected discussion on this kind of subject does not seem to be possible on Facebook. That’s why we haven’t shared the original post and have not and will not mention the name of the foal or their owners. But at the same time, however, a constructive discussion with the topic is to be called for!
There is another option, which is to launch positive articles about our breed in the media (outside the specialized breed journals), which highlight the performance and character of our horses. Also important: horses to touch! Anyone who has had direct contact with a “not so crazy Arab” and who brings the necessary sensibility will not be able to escape the charm of these horses. It is up to each and every one of us to find and spread positive examples to revamp the image of these lovable horses. They deserve it.