This is where I've purposely left "improving the breed" vague because people have different opinions of what that means. I agree, Joe, that horses should be ridable and useful, not just win at shows. I think it's sad when there's such a disconnect between what's considered "show" traits and whats are actually "useful" traits - isn't the whole point of competition to show what's best, not what's most exotic?
"Improving the breed" to me means breeding out the harmful traits and genetics like HYPP. It means to strengthen a horse and make it more useful for what it's meant to do, like quarter horses being bred for a powerful and agile body that has a lower center of gravity, which makes them more able to get low and work cows. It means breeding better bone and stronger backs. In every case, it means breeding horses together that will make up for one another's faults both physically and mentally.
Unfortunately, the show world has forgotten what actually makes a good horse, it seems. Which is why I don't want to show anymore and love endurance. I can freaking ride a horse, take care of it, and it can do what it was meant to do and do it without any sort of drugs or alterations. Finally, a type of competition that rewards horses and riders for something useful.
For those of you who do show, and do it with horses that can actually DO something and do it well without having to be enthralled in gadgets and pumped full of drugs, more power to you. I just couldn't stand all those people who were willing to do anything for a ribbon.