Sunday, March 11, 2012

A fun idea!

Dear Diary,

A few sleeps ago, Two-Legged Mom went away. Then she came back. She was very excited, just like me when I want to go into the wood pen and buck and jump. But she didn't go into the wood pen, she talked instead. She talked a lot about the idea she got while she was away.

She wants me to tell my story, all about how I was a show horse and won that big prize, then broke my leg, then got better. Of course, I can't hold one of those little sticks and make marks on the paper, like she does. I've tried to hold the stick, but everyone takes it away from me, which is okay, I guess, because I don't know what kind of marks to make. I'd sure like to try one day, though.

Two-Legged Mom calls it "writing my memoir." I'm not sure what that means, but I hope I figure it out before we're done.

This is what I told her the first day:

"When I was just a colt, my mother called me a simpleton. That must be a good thing, because I won lots of horse shows. Then I broke my leg. It sure changes a guy, but I hope I'm still a simpleton. I'd like to make my mom proud."

That's all for now, but I'll be telling Two-Legged Mom a lot more.


P.S. Would anyone else like to read my story?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

At what cost?

Just like Snoopy, I like to compete at horse shows. We show on the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) circuit, in trail. Snoopy liked trail the first time Tina showed him poles, which is good because I like it, too. Tina and Niki believe that a horse and rider should do what they BOTH enjoy. If the rider enjoys an event more than the horse, they'll try to help the pair be as successful as they can be, within reason.

I'm also aware that not all trainers are this way, and I am very grateful for Tina and Niki. I know of western pleasure trainers who tie their horses' heads up for hours in order to get a lower headset from them. I know of western trail trainers who put strips of nails on their poles so the horses hurt their legs if they don't lift their feet high enough to get over the poles.

I also know this kind of "training" is rampant among other breeds and other disciplines. A friend of mine recently posted a picture of a magnificent stallion who had his jaw tied to his neck with baling string, so tightly that his jaw touched his chest. He was pressing his forehead against the wall of his stall to try to relieve the pressure. I assume this was done to get more flexibility in the horse's poll.

Recently, however, I learned of the practice of "soring." Apparently, some people who show gaited horses, in an attempt to get a more exaggerated swing from the front legs, actually use chemicals on the pasterns to make the horse sore enough to lift his legs higher. If they don't burn the horse, they put things (like bolts or golf balls) against their hoof soles to make it painful for the horse to put his weight on his front feet.

What. The. Hell.

Before you ask, yes, this is illegal. Yes, anyone caught doing this is punished. And yet, for some people, it's worth the risk. My question is, what is worth the risk?

I like to win as much as the next person. But I don't want to compete my horse into early retirement. We've had that discussion.

For trainers to try to physically alter a horse to make it conform to a winning standard boggles my mind. The horse being tied uncomfortably in his/her stall learns that there is no safe place in their world. The horse who experiences pain when they knock into a pole learns that trail is a hurtful place. The horse that is physically scarred for a higher step no doubt spends their elderly years in crippling pain. It's possible that the horses who've had their heads tied up, or jaws to their chests, also end up crippled as the years go by, since their spines have been manipulated so harshly.

And what do the trainers gain? More wins today, with the chance of discovery and suspension tomorrow. A constant nagging knowledge that they aren't "training" any of these horses, any more than a plastic surgeon "trains" a nose to be smaller. And imagine the mare or stallion they've altered, through physical restraint or chemical pain. Can they honestly advertise this horse for any breeding program, when their gait or headset was not genetic?

It's one of those things that seems plain to me - find out what a horse is good at and train them to do it. Don't reconstruct a draft horse so they can run barrels. Get a barrel horse. Be honest with the owners of the barrel horse who want to ride dressage. Stop looking at each horse as a dollar sign, a means to an end.

Trainers, make your reputation as horse lovers first. And horse owners, don't use a trainer who doesn't at least respect your horse. That's the first step toward curing this abuse.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I'm relaxing today in my big, comfy chair, and perusing the Internet, when I stumbled across this video on YouTube. I can read just enough French to know the title is, Who Says Equitation Is Not A Sport?

I'm not a jumper or eventer. I've never jumped a horse over anything taller than my own knees (and the first few times I did that, I squeeled). I can tell that these riders look off-balance, their hands and arms are twitching about instead of giving the horse guidance, and most of them pull back on the reins at the worst possible moment (from being off-balance), breaking the horse's forward impulsion.

And yet, despite the technicality of what they're doing wrong, I can see two really important, higher-level errors these riders are making.

One is that many of them look like they do not believe the horse can really take the jump. They don't commit to the thing. You can't gallop down the slope, find yourself staring at a brick wall and think, holy cow, how are we gonna make that? If you don't commit, why should your four-legged partner?

The other thing that stands out is they are not working in tandem with their horse to make the horse successful. Part of this is the technique, their balance, etc. But they lean back when they should be moving forward with the horse. They don't look like a team. The most beautiful riding is when it looks like the horse and rider are one, each giving the other what they need.

I ride trail. The poles are on the ground. Nothing I do could result in my head being slammed into a wall, unless the Fates are unusually unkind and God's holding my lottery ticket that day. And yet, this video showed me, in no uncertain terms, that my horse and I need to be a team, and no matter what the pattern, I need to believe we can do it.