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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Western Pleasure Show Classes Under Scrutiny for Gait Anomalies

A meeting in Dallas in September, jointly hosted by American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), invited the top 100 riders from NSBA, the top 10 riders from open Western Pleasure at AQHA’s World Championship Show from the past three years and a team of judges who specialize in western pleasure.

They took the classes apart and looked at the equitation, the judging rules and especially the gaits and movement and speed of the horses in the ring. A special sub-committee is now working on a video to educate the entire industry on the specifics of Western Pleasure horse movement.

Some of the points to be covered in the video include:
* Placing more emphasis on judging the walk and using the video to educate exhibitors on improving the walk.
* Finding a balance for the amount of time spent judging the jog and the moderate extension of the jog.
* Addressing the head-bob at the lope, why it occurs and ways to avoid or correct it. This included educating exhibitors on lengthening their horse’s stride versus shorter, manmade strides; addressing the importance of conformation and what movements certain horses are physically capable of; and reassuring exhibitors that it is OK to show off the rail and that passing another horse can give exhibitors an opportunity to demonstrate their horsemanship, and show their horse’s ability to guide while maintaining an even cadence and consistent performance
* Educating rank-in-file members and beginning western pleasure competitors on the positive and negative characteristics of western pleasure horses, and on how the discipline continues to improve.
* Additional education for judges and continuing to push for and establish industry standards.
* Varying the gait calls to make it more interesting for horses, exhibitors and spectators.

As far as I know, this is the first time that the head-bobbing lope has been mentioned by Western Pleasure officials. What they describe as "manmade gaits" will confuse readers who are not familiar with this type of showing. How a horse can win a blue ribbon for a head-bobbing lope is something that takes a bit of getting used to, and video will be the best way to get the message across, surely.

For the uninitiated, this sport also has a unique training phenomenon called the "spur stop" or even rating the horse by leg pressure so that the reins don't have to be shortened.

(Sorry, I know that is not a very accurate description. The video should explain the logic behind the spur stop. The absolute perfect cadence of these horses is a script that must be followed and trainers have figured out how to achieve it. The result is that a moving horse need not cover much ground.)

Western pleasure survived the "peanut roller" controversy a decade or so ago and the classes only grew larger, so surely this latest revamp will also move things forward and improve the well-being of these horses.


Mrs Mom said...

IMO, it does not seem to be "rocket science" to allow horses to move as God or Nature intended them to. Why these folks feel the need to constantly "tinker" with things, thus creating horses who are lame, ulcerated, and just plain miserable is beyond me. But, then again, I do things vastly different from the average "show person"- my horses are all barefoot, and live outside 24/7 with access to shelter should they seek it out. There are other differences as well, but those are the main ones. It must work, my oldest gelding lived to be just shy of 40, after a long happy life of trail riding, showing, being a "pony horse" for a small TB trainer- not many days went by when the old boy and I were not out riding somewhere! (I miss that horse...)

At any rate- I will be looking forward to reading more updates here Ms. Jurga, along with your other excellent coverage!

Chuck & Shirley Bartok said...

Thank you for a Blog clearly discussing a serious flaw in the Horse showing world.
We could figure why man would continue to create an artificial parameter and then BREED animals for that disposition.
Our performance horses were always allowed to exhibit naturally...Didn't win a bunch of Ribbons but we were always complimented about the Beauty and behavior.
Thank you again
Chuck & Shirley