From a mustang owner to the equestrian world, here’s a thoughtful guide to avoiding a back-handed compliment when a regular one will do just fine!
Anyone who has owned a mustang for a modest length of time has encountered a back-handed compliment or two in their day. People are trying to be nice, but they don’t seem to see how their compliment puts their domestic horses in a different class. A mustang owner will be the first one to tell you that yes, mustangs are a different experience, a different brain, a different route to success, but they don’t appreciate being perceived as second-class citizens of whatever discipline they choose to pursue.
If you’re going to strike up a conversation with someone about their mustang, here are a few subtle conversation starters to avoid.
- “Your horse is so pretty for a mustang!” It’s so nice that you admire the appearance of my mount, but what you really just said was that it’s pretty when judged against others in its own class. The inference is that if any mustang were compared to any domestic, the human-bred always wins. Like any breed anywhere, there are some that come out square and balanced, and plenty that don’t. All you really have to say is: “your horse is so pretty!” Perfect. Done. Stop right there.
- “If only more mustangs were like yours!” I’ve heard this one so many times. I’ll admit, my mustang was very flashy. Bright chestnut, tons of chrome, squarely built. But every time I heard this, I would always answer with, “Actually, this horse is a dime a dozen in the holding pens.” And it’s true. There are more than 40,000 wild horses that have been rounded up off the ranges and living in government facilities, and I’ve seen hundreds (if not thousands) built and colored every bit as beautifully as my mare. She’s not the exception, she’s one of many diverse rules, and implying otherwise sells tens of thousands of horses short of their potential.
- “I thought all mustangs were short?” Wrong. I’ve seen two-year-old mustangs that were more than 16 hands. I’ve seen full grown mustangs that were 11 hands. It depends on the herd, the horse, the genetic diversity, and the circumstances of the Herd Management Area. Historically, mustangs are made up of pure Spanish barb blood, spare horse stock from ranches, escaped or turned-out heavy drafts, and plenty more. Thoroughbred blood was being infused into working ranch horses as early as the end of the 19th century, and plenty of wild herds were impacted by that change in the American horse fabric. If you’ve never considered a wild horse simply because you thought they weren’t of sufficient stature, then clearly you’ve been selling them, ahem, short.
- “Too bad the judges are always going to dock you.” Call me Little Miss Sunshine, but I actually give plenty of judges more credit than this. Sure, I’ve been sunk to the bottom of an all-breed class that I thought was rather unfair, and more often than not it was a judge who’d been working in the breed shows for eons and was disgusted by the idea of people infusing the show world with mutts. Those people are out there. But in plenty of sports, I think the judges are going to evaluate what you’re giving them and give it a fair score. My opinion is if a judge wants to hold my horse’s life story against her, that’s between them and their conscience, but I’m happy to make it as hard as possible for the judge to do so.
- “That’s so great that you rescued a mustang!” Call me crazy, but I didn’t consider my horse a rescue. At all. Was she less expensive than a well-bred domestic horse? Yes. Was she more work than a foal imprinted since birth? Yes. Do I consider myself an advocate for an under-recognized breed? Absolutely. But I don’t see mustangs as rescues, I see them as potential ambassadors. I didn’t rescue her – I adopted her so that we could kick some butt. Period.
- “They’re probably good for ranch work and that sort of thing, right?” I get this a lot that because my mustang wasn’t bred by people to do a specific job, she probably can’t thrive in a variety of disciplines. To that I say:
- Clearly you’ve never heard of Elisa Wallace and Hwin going Prelim in Eventing.
- Clearly you missed this story about a mustang winning Reserve Grand Champion Stallion at Devon.
- Clearly you never heard of J.B. Andrew, a mustang who went all the way to Grand Prix in the Dressage Ring.
- And obviously, you never heard about the mustang who qualified for the National Hunter Pony Finals.
- “Your horse is nice, but they should leave wild horses in the wild.” The opinions about this vary as much in the wild horse community as they do anywhere else. Some will agree with you, and some won’t. The point is: there are more than 40,000 horses sitting in holding pens right now, and there is absolutely no way those horses are going to be released back into the wild unless something totally unforeseen happens. So while there may be many opinions about what to do with wild horses on a grand scale, telling an adopter their horse has no business being trained and cared for is short sighted and uninformed at best, and rude at worst.
There’s no need to qualify your compliment to anyone who owns a mustang. It doesn’t take anything away from a domestic horse’s breeding or accomplishments to give due credit to a horse bred by mother nature. As Miranda Lambert says, “it takes all kinds of kinds”, and the gentled and adopted mustangs in the world are certainly doing their part to prove that point.