Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Color Means Something--or am I Crazy

                                     by Laura Crum

            I was raised in the horse biz by a tough team roper who taught me to pay no attention to a horse’s color. The color didn’t matter. What mattered was what the horse could get done. One should ignore color and also whether a horse had a pretty head (things that were only important for resale value) and focus on getting a sound, athletic, well broke horse that could get the job done. Didn’t matter if the horse was purple, I have heard this guy say. (Though I also heard him reject a very loud-colored leopard Appaloosa because “I don’t want to look at that horse in my corrals.”)
            Well OK then. I spent most of my life trying to look past color and a pretty head to pick out good, sound horses, with good trainable minds, if they were colts, and well broke if they were older. But somehow that was never the whole deal. And the whole deal had something to do with color.
            The horse I idealized when I was growing up was a marvelously talented bright bay that belonged to my uncle (Mr Softime). And somehow the first horse that I totally fell for and kept until he died was a bright bay with no white who was almost exactly the same color as Mr Softime (this was Burt).

Coincidence? I think not.

The next horse I fell for in a big way was a bright bay with a big white blaze. (Gunner) And for the rest of my life I have been disposed to assume that all blaze-faced horses are “good ones.” Silly, I know.

My most recent color affectation came upon me gradually. I was aware that despite my early teaching in ignoring color, there were colors I liked and didn’t like. If a horse was a color I liked, that predisposed me in his favor. If he was a color I didn’t like, that made me less inclined to like the horse. Still, I could look past my prejudices. Perhaps my favorite riding horse of all time was a brownish bay—a color I really don’t care for. (Flanigan)

            And the pony I bought for my son was a mostly white pinto with blue eyes—though I don’t, in general, like this color scheme. But Toby was a good one—the magical little white horse that taught my son to ride.

            Still, overall, I didn’t care for white or whitish horses, be they paints, cremellos, whited out grays…etc. (There is some logic to this as these light colored horses always have dirty green and brown blotches.) I didn’t care for sorrels—it seemed to me to be such a common color. And I didn’t like horses with too much inky darkness in their color—dark bays, dark browns, blacks. Just my prejudices. 
            My favorite color remained bright bay, followed by bright gold palomino and bright gold buckskin (I didn’t much care for the buttermilk varieties). I liked blaze-faced horses and certain sorts of paints. I liked roans.
            So when a bright gold palomino who was a good trail horse came my way, I bought him. This would be Sunny.

 And despite my general dislike of grays, I fell hard for the dark, dapple gray gelding my friend Wally bought as a six year old (Twister). Twister has always been boarded with me, and I am just as fond of him as I am my own horses. He really was striking as a young horse.

             Twister soon “whited out” to a silvery color, and yes, he always has dirty looking blotches. And the next horse I bought was a deep red sorrel. I didn’t much care for the fact that Henry was a sorrel, but I looked past my prejudices, once again, and bought the best horse I could for my son when his pony died of cancer. And Henry was a pretty shade of sorrel, a coppery red.

 So for the last five years most of our riding time has been spent with these three horses—Sunny, Twister and Henry. Here they are in a row as we get ready to go riding yesterday. See what they represent?

            It took me awhile to see it this way, and I’ll grant you, it’s a fanciful idea. But Sunny, Twister and Henry have come to represent gold, silver, and copper in my mind—the three precious metals. Ok—its silly, I know. But the idea gives me pleasure. Our three horses—symbolizing what’s good (colorwise). My copper, gold and silver horses in their corrals in the high country.

            OK—is anybody else as weird about color as I am? I have already pointed out that I can look past my prejudices, and I now love my son’s bright copper-colored horse as well as I love my bright gold horse—and Wally’s silver Twister. But I still have an aversion to horses with too much dark “ink” in their color, such that I don’t especially care for a very nice black horse that Wally owns—simply because he’s black. (And yes, I realize this is not very rational, but despite the fact that I read “The Black Stallion” as a kid and used to think I’d love a black horse, the feeling I currently have is still mildly negative when I look at a “dark” horse.) It just feels like there’s too much “darkness” there. Sort of a symbolic thing. (Its fine for you to vote that I’m crazy—and I do know there are many, many good horses that are these colors.)
I guess the point of this post is just that in my old age I have acknowledged to myself that color DOES mean something to me—if only in a symbolic sense. Is it just me? Or do others have these odd preferences? Where certain colors give you active pleasure and other colors—well, you can like a horse of that color, but it’s despite the color, not because of it? Or, as I started out by saying, am I just crazy?
The one thing I can say for sure is that every morning when I walk down to feed, the sight of my silver, gold and copper horses gleaming in the sunshine brings a smile to my face. Of course, it has something to do with the fact that they are genuinely good, reliable horses. But I still think the colors (and my rather fanciful notion about the colors) is part of what brings me joy. Does anybody else feel this way?


AareneX said...

EXCELLENT post...and ironically, today I'm writing a Bad Idea Fairy bit for my book that focuses on why she bought Holdmybeerandwatchthis: because he is the color that looks best with her outfit, of course. >lol<

Seriously, I'm a big fan of plain-brown-wrapper horses. My best ponies have always been brown-bay--not an exciting color, but more of a sensible choice! It doesn't hurt that all the "chromed" horses I've loved were kinda dippy...and of course, all the greys show all the dirt!

Give me a horse the color of good Swampland mud, please!

Funder said...

Hah, they are very Olympic-medal horses! Like Aarene, I like dirt-colored horses the best.

Val said...

When I was little I didn't particularly like white horses, because I always seemed to fall off of them. Not sure if that was a self-fulfilling prophesy or just ironic, because everyone wanted to ride the white ones.

Good horses seem to look beautiful to me even if I do not like their color initially. And it works the other way. I may like the way a horse looks, but if he turns out to be a pain, then he looks less attractive. I think that I feel the same way about people, actually.

horsegenes said...

I love it! and I totally get it.

I would love to think that I can look past color. What I can say is that I can look past color when I see a horses softness or kindness in their eyes. They could be purple and as long as I see that honest look from them, color means nothing. I know you are going to know exactly what I am talking about.

I ride a big white horse... with brown ears. I don't think he is a pretty color, but what he lacks in color beauty he makes up for in conformation, heart and try.

In my younger days I didn't care for roans. Now I own a bay roan and love her color. I love bays and a nice coppery sorrel can be drop dead gorgeous. I'm with you on the darker more golden buckskins and pally's. Don't care much for the buttermilk colored ones.

What I don't like is blue eyes. That is a deal breaker for me.

horsegenes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

We know color doesn't matter, but that still lets us have preferences. I've had lots of wonderful horses, in all colors - I rode a fabulous blanket appy when I was a teen and also had an amazing cremello mare who was pure white with blue eyes. But I usually don't prefer a horse with blue eyes, and I've got a bias against paints, mainly because I have trouble seeing their conformation properly with the camoflauge coloring, and also because there's a lot of bad breeding for color out there. But then there's the fabulous pinto pony Norman, with his bald face - again a marking I don't much like.

I seem to have a preference for bays, particularly the red ones or else the ones with lots of dappling. I guess that's why I ended up with two chestnuts - never owned even one before and I'm learning to appreciate their color. My horses these days are pretty plain - Dawn is a lovely red bay but has no markings at all, and Pie and Red are chestnuts with very minimal white. I seem to be looking more at feet and legs and details of conformation these days, which is probably a good thing - flashy looks can be distracting . . .

jenj said...

Oh man, I know you're not supposed to look at color, but I really, REALLY wanted another Paint when I was looking for Cash's successor. Maybe not one with so much white, though. Naturally, I ended up with a solid bay with six white hairs on him. I actually considered making Saga's show name "Plain Brown Wrapper"! The upside is that he doesn't show dirt, no matter how much he rolls. Cash ALWAYS looks sort of dingy, no matter how much I scrub.

But if Saga had some spots... man, we'd be talking!

Abbi said...

Although color doesn't matter, it's nice too look at. ;) Like Kate says, most of us have prefrences, even though we know "a good horse is never a bad color."

I tend to shy away from paint horses (because like gray horses, they can look "blotchy.") and I don't care for albinos and cremellos. I am in love with dappled horses, gray horses (despite their blotchyness) and black horses. I also like bays, mainly because I used to ride a bay mare who got horses permenantly stuck in my soul. I also currently ride a darker colored bay named Riddle, and an coppery bay horse named Two Socks.

My riding instructor says it doesn't matter what horse, I will love it. But the color does ring true. There is a liver chestnut at my stables. Sweet girl, she's always very shiny, well-trained, and has excellent conformation. In that way, she is gorgeous. But her color is not my fav. It's sort of a dingy color, not very pretty. If Lady was a bright chestnut, however...

I love white markings, whorls, blue eyes, and snips. I have no markings that I don't like...for me, the more white, the better! ;)

Laura Crum said...

Well, Aarene--My all-time favorite riding horse was brown-bay (Flanigan), so there's something to be said for that point of view. And yeah, he didn't show the dirt--a very nice trait.

Funder--I never thought of the Olympic angle(!)

Val--Its so true. We grow to like the color of a good horse--because he's a good horse. I never liked sorrels, but I love copper-sorrel Henry.

kel--Yep. I can look past color, too, and have done it many times. And I didn't like blue eyes either. Until I bought Gunner, who has one blue eye--and then Toby, who had two. I can't say I LIKE blue eyes, but its not a deal breaker for me any more. Not after those two good horses.

Kate--Dawn is my favorite color--bright bay with no white.

jenj--That's the thing about light or white horses--always dingy. When Toby rolled in the winter it was AWFUL. Nothing looks worse than a white pony covered with mud.

Abbi--Liver chesnut is one of my least favorite colors, too. But a bright sorrel with some white, and maybe a flaxen mane and tail--that's a very different thing (!)

Alison said...

Fun post! I must say that color doesn't seem to matter but like horsegenes I am hooked by a horse's (and dog's0 eye. I could tell by Ziggy's photo (the rescue dog) that he had that sweet eye. Relish, my riding horse, does, too, but both also get that mischievous glimmer that tells me something is up!

Alison said...

Oh and I love the variety of horse colors in the comment photos and Laura's photo. So cute that horses come in every shade and shape.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--The look in the eye is the most important thing--I totally agree.

Anonymous said...

I have a gray mare that has mud or grass stains perhaps twice a year. It is ridiculous. I think Kitty must be part Teflon.
Every other gray I've known is normally part green. My hunter pony would FIND things to roll her clean white self in after she was done working.
I will admit to wanting a loudly spotted Knabstrupper. No blanket--all spots!

Laura Crum said...

Maggie--Ooh, I envy you Kitty. Every light colored horse I've known has always been dingy. Sunny, my palomino, is a very clean horse--but he's a pretty deep gold and dirt doesn't show much.

What is a Knabstrupper? I have never heard of this. Is it like an Appaloosa? No blanket, all spots, sounds like a leopard Appaloosa to me.

City Limits Ranch said...

Laura knows my herd. I love them all because each one adds their bit to the variety of color. When they are all running loose together they shake the valley and the colors swirl like a kaleidoscope. Spots? Yes. Plain? Yes. No blue eyes (they make me feel icky) and ironically the louder the spots on a spotted horse the better but if the horse is solid colored then I prefer no white at all.

Bay Lester, dark blue Smoky (sometimes black sometimes almost silver, always changing), really white Avatar, very very spotted Splash (he's really a dark bay under all that white paint) coppery chestnut Foxy and Gherkin, livery chestnut Tony, little black and white spotted Rocket with a plume of white for his tail, mouse gray Lucy the donkey, golden dappled palomino Towanda with a flaxen mane and tail (every child's dream) , dirt brown Tatonka of the multicolored little spots (looks like a marble you wouldn't pick for your kitchen), red and gray leopard many spotted appy Dr. Pepper, mud colored grulla Mo with the beautiful agate eyes, plain Jane dark bay Tango, flea bitten grey Peter, bright copper Angie, little buckskin Triscuit, white and bright brown medicine hat/war shield paint Woodrow.

Laura Crum said...

I do know the City Limits Ranch herd--in fact, I helped contribute a couple of them (Smoky and Lester). And that is for sure a colorful herd. Fun to look at--I think Rocket is absolutely the cutest. Great description of colors!

I got used to blue eyes, after Gunner and Toby; I find that its harder to read a horse's emotions in the blue eyes. With Gunner, I always look at his brown eye to see what he's thinking. Toby, being a pony, let me know what he was thinking pretty clearly (!)

Leslie said...

I've always been partial to paints/pintos which is what drew me to my Spotted Saddle Horses. Looking back at items I've collected concerning horse, always a paints/pintos. Not sure why, I just know, like you mentioned, they make me feel good for some strange reason. I also like blanket appys which would be a second choice. I enjoyed working with an appy when I worked at the riding stable. His name was Speckles, which I didn't much like. I think I would have called him Charlie. Yes, I think color does mean something to most people. My friend prefers roan and dark bay quarter horses.

Laura Crum said...

Leslie--I kind of think we all have our preferences when it comes to color. Its just nice when it works out that we have a horse (or horses) in our favorite color--as you do. It gives you pleasure just to look at them, or so I think.

FD said...

Colour preference is a very individually aesthetic thing and not entirely something we can consciously control - and I really don't think there's anything wrong in wanting to enjoy looking at your horse. A spartan 'can it do the job' attitude might have made sense at one point, but the vast majority of us have horses for pleasure these days. I think, given how expensive they are we owe it to ourselves to get the maximum pleasure we can out of them!
Of course, being highly associative creatures we do form some odd attachments given that colour is as you say largely irrelevant to an horse's utility, but however irrational, as long as all else is equal I don't see the harm in indulging them.
I'm as guilty of it as anyone - I will always and ever after have a soft spot for strawberry roans due to my first pony, and for dark liver chestnuts due to the first horse I ever started.

Laura, I meant to put this on the other post but blogger ate the comment - No, I don't think you could have prevented an argument with that dude, except by ignoring his passive-aggressive and dangerous behavior. Also, I know some riders who would never go off road riding without being armed (not in the UK obviously) but I never brought myself to do so. What I did do was carry a hunting whip, not sure what the US name is. It has a stiff handle, a crook (useful for gates etc) a braided leather thong and a popper on the end. I bundled up the lash and tied it to the front d on my saddle.
Unless the horse has been badly abused it's easy enough to get them used to the noise and it scares off dogs quite effectively - I only ever once had to do more than crack it and that was a small pack of feral dogs. And they ran away PDQ after I flicked their leader a couple of good ones.

Laura Crum said...

FD--I think that's similar to what I would call a stock whip--which I did know how to wield very effectively--though I haven't used one in years. Ranch cowboys always carry a rope--and I'm here to tell you that roping--or even throwing the rope at--a dog will also get rid of most of them. I guess the problem for me in this encounter wasn't the dog--my horse is just not scared of dogs and despite this dog's aggressive barking, it never did try to bite. If it had, I think Sunny would have kicked it--he's a tough little critter. No, it was the guy who was the problem, and, as you say, nothing was going to fix that.

Linda said...

We've been told that we have a very colorful herd. I have prejudice for sorrel, but every time I went to buy one, something went wrong...lame, too expensive, bad stories (like he tripped, rolled and broke my back and I'm only now able to walk...huh??). Oh, and there was this story--he's a great horse, but loves to run back to the barn and chewed off an entire pony tail from a girl's head. ???? Strange, but true. So, we ended up with buckskin, palomino, gray, sorrel, and overo and tovero paints. It's hard not to be prejudice though. I still have a soft spot for sorrels and believe they are in every way superior to other horses! ;)

Laura Crum said...

Linda--I think your horses are very colorful--you have lovely paints. How interesting that sorrel is your favorite color--it was always one of my least favorite colors--until I had Henry. Though I will admit to a sneaking fondness for a fiery red sorrel with a flaxen mane and tail and some white.