|In foreign countries, the Saddlebred is a newcomer, often treated as an alien, subject to suspicion or disbelief. It may be a difficult process promoting this horse in its own country but, believe me, it's a whole new ball game elsewhere. Distanced from America, an isolating, lonely mission awaits. How to support the breed, increase interest, breed on, compete, and sell when so far from the "mother ship"? It's not easy...but thank goodness there are those, around the globe, who have undertaken this awesome task and are doing a good job.
In September of 2006, with my colleague and American Saddlebred Association of Great Britain Secretary, Jane Green, I visited the Scandinavian Saddlebred Championships in Sweden.
After a lengthy trip - involving a three-hour car journey to the airport, an equally long security check as a result of the 9/11 anniversary and recent homeland scares, and a two hour flight- we arrived in Sweden. Thankfully, Yvonne Solberg - wearing her Saddlebred jacket for recognition - met us at the airport and drove us through the countryside of pine and silver birch forests to the traditional red timber equestrian centre near Nykoping.
Birgitta Andersson of the Scandinavian Saddlebred Association, introduced herself and then the invited judge, Bob Ruxer, his wife, Laura and daughter, Chelsea arrived. How surreal to meet with Bob again after just having watched him on the internet Web cast, presenting my Rare Visions trophy at Louisville, and having crossed paths at February's ASHA Convention in Lexington. Small world. Soon we all settled down to enjoy Swedish hospitality, fabulous food and good 'ole fun "Amurrican" conversation.
During two days of showing Bob would be on duty in the arena as Jane and I watched on the rails and enjoyed our special task of presenting the ribbons and prizes. The ASA of Scandinavia was formed in 1988 and represents 55 pure Saddlebreds bred on from original USA imported stock. Fundamental to their effort was the imported horse, Pike (by CH Superior Odds; out of Jo Ellen Anacacho). Watching the fine horses was made particularly special for me by a direct son of my recently acquired broodmare, Executive Lady. Executive Class (by Harlem Time) is a very charismatic gaited stallion, with good carriage and temperament, owned and ridden with skill and confidence by Sandra Gustafsson. Two of his get, both bred by Birgitta Andersson, took some major accolades: his son, Brunsered's Mr. Classic (out of Yorktown's Moonbeam) was exhibited by owner, Tina Wallgren and won three classes. While a daughter, Brunsered's Yorktown's Belle, owned and shown by Patrik Josefsson, won the Best In Show in hand championship.
It was refreshing to be surrounded by the Swedish enthusiasm and adoration for the American Saddlebred. They love their horses and are in earnest about what they are doing, as we are in England, and, of course, encounter similar obstacles. They clearly know a great deal about showing and horsemanship in general, but are intent upon learning as much as they can to back up their commitment to promoting the breed. From In Hand, Showmanship, through Walk-Trot, Harness, Three- and Five-Gaited classes, the Swedes "strutted their stuff" under Bob's watchful eye. With decisions reached and prizes awarded, all competitors were nurtured by Bob's cheerful explanations of his choices. I think Bob too, appreciated the Swedish enthusiasm and skills - his constantly encouraging call of 'good job' to the exhibitors' increased efforts, prompted us to affectionately nick-name him Bob 'Good Job' Ruxer. He peppered the classes with amusing anecdotes such as: "my first Saddlebred was kept in the garage and I ended up breeding a thousand of them"; and helpful comments like "the judge doesn't have to find the horse, the horse has to find the judge" and "my horses have taught me more than I have taught them. Listen to your horse."
For a brief weekend, Saddlebred folk enjoyed a fellowship beyond the restrictions of distance, dollars, linguistics and politics, sharing a common joy of the breed, and agreeing that it was difficult to be pioneers...but pioneer we would.
And so Bob and his family left for Goethenberg and the return flight to Indiana; Jane and I had another day in Sweden and, courtesy of Lena Roth and her husband Kenta, were treated to a wonderful lunch at the impressive 15th Century Löfstad Palace and a sight
seeing tour of the exquisitely preserved textile mills of the historic town of Nykoping.
Thank you Scandinavia for helping to fly the Saddlebred flag in Europe - 'good job'.