Not too long ago, it seemed like the hunter/jumper industry was stuck in a rut: hunters had to be fat, shiny bays with a nice amount of chrome, and jumpers could be chestnut, grey, bay, or black so long as they were well bred and nicely turned out. Uniquely colored horses were few and far between, and people were so nervous to stand out in a bad way that even a horse with a belly spot or high stockings was whispered about.
Though it hasn't happened overnight, it seems that the competitive show rings across the globe are now more receptive to horses of color, like pintos, roans, or buckskins. Though chunky bays will always be at home on the rated circuit, pintos are on the rise and I'm not mad about it.
Harrie Smolders and Emerald. Photo credit: Thomas Reiner.
The Copabella stud in Arcadia, Australia is one such breeding program responsible for the increase of pinto sport horses at the elite levels. Run by the Hargreaves family, Copabella stands Belgian Warmblood stallion Visage van de Olmenhoeve at stud and has sent his offspring onto great successes in both Australia and abroad.
"For a couple of years, Visage was the most used breeding stallion in Australia," says Julia Lynch, whose parents run Copabella. "He has thrown 75% colored." Perhaps one of his most successful colored offspring is Copabella Vegas, who has successfully shown up to 1.50m on the Longines Global Champions Tour with Julia.
Julia Lynch and Copabella Vegas. Photo credit: Sportfot.
Though Vegas has proven his athletic capabilities, his coloring certainly raised some eyebrows at the beginning of his career. "It took a very long time before people took Vegas seriously," shares Julia. "I find even now sometimes people still treat him like he is less than what he is. He was jumping at 5* shows as a 7 and 8-year-old. He has a lot more in his tank than people think!"
Of course, "color" bias happens at all levels, and Shaelyn Kelliher and her pinto Oldenburg, Inquisitive, have experienced it just as much as Julia and Vegas. Though they've since transitioned to the adult amateur jumper division, Shaelyn and "Q" often found themselves fighting for fair judging when they still showed in the hunter ring. "When he was still in the hunter ring, he would be penalized a bit harder for things," she says. "For example, if he and a bay put in equivalent rounds with both perhaps having a late lead change, the bay would be above him in final pinning."
Shaelyn Kelliher and Inquisitive. Photo credit: Andrew Ryback.
Luckily for horses of a different color, it seems as though judges and others involved in the sport have become more progressive and open-minded of late. "Younger, more progressive judges would pin him solely on his performance in the ring, not caring about his color," Shaelyn says about her show ring experiences with Q.
No matter if you're a stickler for tradition or embrace the increase of "cow ponies" in the show ring, there is no denying that pintos are here to stay. "I think pintos are absolutely gaining acceptance and interest among all hunter [and] jumper rings," Shaelyn says. "My heart warms every time I see one in the hunter ring regardless of how the round itself goes."
Nayel Nassar and Lutz. Photo credit: Thomas Reiner.
Julia Lynch and Bandit Z. Photo credit: Sportfot.
Feature photo by Sportfot.
Written by Kate Kosnoff
Kate Kosnoff is an equestrian journalist, blogger and photographer. When she isn’t working, Kate can usually be found sipping green tea, scrolling through Twitter, or petting her horses—sometimes a combination of the three. She is based in Indiana and can often be spotted in jumper rings across the Midwest and Florida aboard her strawberry roan, Waffle.