Because it has been the holiday I have not done too much thinking about the life course. Instead I have been using the internet to watch the Xmas equestrian sport all across mainland Europe. It comes as a huge surprise to many who think they know me that I love horses. It is the only sport where men and women compete on level terms even in the Olympics.
When I was young enough to actually ride myself, choosing a top show jumper or eventer was pretty hit and miss. But for the last 20 years or so, the 'warmblood' or 'sports horse' has emerged from breeding programmes in Netherlands, France and Belgium first, now also in other European nations such as Denmark. These horses are like a dream of my youth. Talk about form and function. They are the result of rigorous testing for conformation (the physical set-up of the horse), ability and temperament. Only horses who pass strict tests are allowed to enter the breeding programmes. Having ignored the sport for 2 decades, I could hardly believe it when I started to take an interest again, to see whole shows dedicated to breeding stock, and large crowds of people going along to see them. The first one I attended was in Maastricht, where you could watch young stallions (a breeding male, most young male horses are castrated and become 'geldings') free-jumping without a rider over large fences. Members of the audience were allowed to book a test-ride. My partner asked why I didn't do this -- a 3-year old stallion for heavens sake (the reason for gelding is that a stallion is rather hot tempered). I would not have dared even in my youth.
It made me think about economics (!). These top sport horses sell for millions of dollars in the States. One Olympic champion is said to be worth £6m.To me it is a good examaple of mainland European genius, a breeding programme carried out by (I guess) farmers, sports persons, and scientists (veterinary, genetic). No speculation or cheating other people out of their money would have produced such fantastic animals. People had to know what they were doing and be exacting and patient.
I don't mean to leave out the Garman warm-blooded breeds who in some ways were way ahead, but in other ways not. If anyone is interested let me know and I can say some more about the German sports horse, descended from cavalry mounts.