Horsey whodunnit?

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by admin on June 10, 2009

erb-and-horses-web-2Mystery haircut costs horse breeder thousands 

June 10, 2009   It’s hard to trust a horse with blue eyes. Eclipse’s were as deep and reflective as the ocean and it was easy to imagine they were concealing something.

As the children at the weekend fair in Chelsea, Quebec poked and prodded and petted the mare’s celebrated mane, and fans rejoiced in the fullness of her tail and the charm of her forelocks, Eclipse was docile and permissive – a perfect lady. And everyone knows a lady does not reveal unpleasant secrets.

The Gypsy Vanner had been spared the ignominious cropping that some of her counterparts at Jeannine Erb’s farm near Rupert had been the victims of, and she was the only one on display because of it. But she had surely seen the culprit.

Like a Greek kouros or a hurricane, Gypsy Vanner horses must conform to rigid criteria before being classified as members of their exclusive breed. This story is all about the bangs.

A Gypsy Vanner can be any old colour – piebald, skewbald, blagdon. It is not discriminated against on the basis of its height. The nose should be flat and tapered, although the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society will accept “a slightly roman nose… if it goes with the horse’s overall look.”

But where the hair is concerned, the standard is unequivocal: the mane, forelock and tail must be “ample to profusely abundant.”

Four of Jeannine Erb’s Gypsy Vanners have bangs above their eyes like Cabbage Patch Kids, and she’s at a loss to explain why.

“I’m going to a show with horses that look like idiots,” Erb said with dismay when she called The Low Down to report what she considers an act of vandalism.

The show was the Chelsea Days Fair this past weekend.

Erb owns 10 Gypsy Vanners, imported from Britain at considerable cost. On May 22, she returned to her farm near Rupert after checking in on her neighbour’s horses to find four of her mares with cropped forelocks.

“I don’t know who did this,” she said, although she added that she has her suspicions.

Erb, who in her day job builds computer systems, bought the horses in 2004 at a cost of more than $30,000 each for some of them.

So what’s the difference between a rare horse with long, silky hair hanging over its eyes and one whose forelocks have been reduced to cropped bangs?

About $15,000, says Erb. Almonte breeder Terry Elder agrees.

Elder, the owner of Spruce Ridge Stables who has purchased two of Erb’s colts, said the new ‘do complicates a resale.

“They’re worth the same amount to an educated breeder who is patient and will wait for them to grow back,” a process that takes about two years, he said.

But for someone buying to re-sell, Elder said the drop in value is significant, although he wouldn’t give a precise figure.

“They aren’t showy now, but they could still be used as brood mares. Stallions don’t care about forelocks.”

The local horse-whisperer was as mystified as Erb about the haircut. Jean-Jacques Wight, featured in a past edition of the Low Down and in this month’s Ottawa Magazine, has been working with Erb’s horses for three years.

Wight couldn’t account for the cropping, an incident he says is “like a murder mystery.”

“Those horses are worth a lot of money,” he said. “Maybe she has someone who’s jealous. I don’t know what would cause someone to do that.”

Wights says he had suggested trimming one of the horse’s forelocks before, when burdock was getting caught in the hair and irritating its eyes.

“But I’m not doing it, I just tell her what I think,” Wight said, adding that he doesn’t own a pair of scissors.

Erb said she didn’t think she had any enemies, but she did mention a cult she’d heard of that cuts horse’s forelocks and draws blood from their necks in some nefarious ritual.

For the happier place that was the Chelsea Days fun fair, Erb left the horses with the silly bangs at home and brought Eclipse, while Elder brought one of his mares from Almonte.

She’s also scheduled to attend November’s Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, though, and she has no idea what she’ll do for that.

mark@lowdownonline.com