Monday, March 26, 2012

Question for the Readers: When do you step in?

I'm very lucky to have found a stable that is always very kind to the horses. And not in the babying way, but more in the pragmatically fair and caring way. What most horsepeople would consider to be the correct way. There is no needless yanking and cranking, there is no needless beating, there is no strapping down, there is no running into the ground. Every horse is taught to collect and not have their chin cranked to their chest. Every horse is allowed to figure things out. There is only fairness. It is so nice to not see any of the cringe-worthy training stuff going on!

It's also pretty much drama-free. I attribute that to the barn owner/manager.

And you're probably thinking "THAT BARN CANNOT POSSIBLY EXIST!"

Well, yeah, it does. Be jealous.

So it is surprising that a group of people is allowed to trailer in to use the arena a couple times a month. I call them the Yank and Crank Show (YCS for short). Hardcore QH people (which the barn owner and many boarders are, but not in the abusive way, and they go to the same shows as the YCS people do and win alongside them) with some very nice horses that run around blatantly and agressively sea-sawing and having their hands up by their shoulders with split reins as the poor horse is forced into an anatomically-stressful downward position with his chin curled to his chest. The horses' eyes look worried and stressed at first, and then dead by the end of the ride. They're also worked into the ground... and then once they've (kinda) cooled out they're worked again. Western then English, or English then western, depends. You know what I'm talking about. Nobody really goes in the arena when they're there because A) they kind of take over the arena, and B) nobody can really stand to watch. It's funny to watch everybody pile on their horses and head into the arena once they're done. Morbidly comical.

Do I call that kind of riding abusive? Yes.

The horses are in great shape, I'll give them that. There is no immediate physical damage: no bloody spur marks, no blue tongues, no lame horses. I can imagine they will have some slowly progressive damage from being worked that way after a while, and they already have some ganrly knots on the muscle that goes over the third vertebrae behind the poll, where a horse will usually "break" to go behind the bit. But they are lovely quarter horses with great movement that lessens with the kind of restrictive riding used on them.

No matter what barn or show I went to for riding or showing or stewarding or scribing, barrel racing to eventing to dressage to hunters, one rule has been generally given to me: you do not step in unless there is immediate physical danger to the horse. Bleeding wounds (usually from spurs or nasty nosebands or bits most commonly), a clearly exhausted horse (excessive sweating, panting, the poor guy looks like he's about to collapse), excessive beating (that one was always subject to view, but usually incessant beating that goes on for more than three seconds), or hanging blue tongues (think the famous "blue tongue dressage" video). Some shows and facilities would get more detailed, but those four things were almost always touched on, especially for ring steward duties.

Only once did I have to ask a competitor out of the arena (for excessive beating... aka throwing a nasty temper tantrum) and it was backed up by the judge and show host. I have also kindly mentioned to people that their horse looked "a little tired" (shaking, soaking wet, and actually breathing through their mouth and stumbling to their knees) and maybe they should call it a day. Usually that was enough to get their attention that somebody cared and was watching. But anyway, those four things have always been a general rule of thumb.

I will stay out of people's business, as much as it pains me, unless I see those four things. I like to call it "the infamous four" rule.

I stayed out of the YCS business. One, because barn owner was supervising them and it was her arena that they were paying her to use, and I trust her judgement. Two, because none of the infamous four was being exhibited. Well, some of the horses were almost at that exhaustion stage, but they laid off before it was reached and let them cool out so they could almost reach that point again.

So it was ironic to hear that the instructor of the YCS actually yelled at two of another trainer's students who were not in a lesson, but conveniently right after a trainer left and they had praised two students of her's in a lesson beforehand and watched eagerly (almost in a sycophantic manner) , for "not knowing how to ride" because "they needed to keep their hands out of their crotch".

She has room to talk? YCS has room to talk?

Part of me wishes I had kindly spoken up that I had noticed that hypocritical act and then kindly asked for YCS to mind their own business (but I would have not said "because we've minded our own while you've rode around" as tempting as it would have been).

Another part of me says it was okay to be quiet in the background as I put my stuff up.

And yet another part of me wishes I had mentioned something to barn owner/manager about this and about how they ride (because I'm not the only one cringing about it).

And then another part of me says to myself "MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS."

But it got me to thinking. When do you step in and when do you stay out? Do you follow the infamous four rule? Or do you rely on your gut instinct?



  1. One question for you to ponder before taking any action... what are you trying to accomplish?

    Realize that it's highly unlikely for you to change the way these folks ride and/or treat their horses. The only way you're going to accomplish that is to show them another (better) way, and if nobody rides while they're in the arena, they're obviously never going to see anything different.

    OTOH, if your goal is to get the BO to stop letting them come, because they hog the arena during prime ride time, then it might be reasonable for a number of boarders to get together and ask for them to not be allowed to trailer in.

    One thought on getting them to change... many years ago, I asked a Western rider why she rode with her hands up and kept bumping her horse in the mouth. "Doesn't it hurt him?" I asked, the picture of innocence (while inwardly fuming). She said yes (?!?!), and I asked what the point was and why she would hurt her horse. "To keep his head down," was the response I got. I pointed out that his head was down all the time, but it certainly seemed like it hurt him when she bumped him.

    I noticed she did it less often after that. Sometimes playing dumb can be good. ;)

    1. Good point. I guess my inner motive was to simply let them know that it ticked me off haha!

      And it's not entirely that they hog the arena - although they do for the most part - because we have no problem going in there and riding, but we really can't stand it! It is very against the unspoken training philosophy at our barn! But BO gets paid for them ride in her arena, they don't tear it up (they mess up the courses set up for the next lesson, but that's about it), and she is the prez of the CAQHA and has to work with these people outside of her facility, so part of me feels like it would be wrong to really complain?

      I've never tried playing dumb. Not with nasty reining trainers, or nasty dressage trainers, or nasty anything trainers. Might not be a bad idea. I'll see what kind of bull feces answer they give me while I run off and giggle/fume ;)

  2. I feel your pain. In the competition world here it's pretty unusual to see someone riding with their horses comfort in mind. I've seen plenty of things worth 'speaking out' about, but the few times I HAVE said something, all that was accomplished was a headache. (Who is going to take advice and crit from a 20yr old ammie?)
    The judges/supervisors are pretty good at sorting out the big acts of cruelty (any sign of blood or pain from the horse) but the see-sawing, jerking, head-to-chest stuff seems to be ignored.
    I usually just settle for a good glare. If it's REALLY bad, I'm quite happy to speak up- but all others will receive only my judgement and glares.

    1. Exactly! I'm not sure they would take a nineteen year old very seriously, even though half of them were younger than me (unless I came out in fancy clothes on a big fancy horse doing piaffe or popping over a 4'6" Swedish oxer... even though I myself would not be fazed by such glittery things anymore haha!). Most of the world will not take a nineteen year old very seriously haha!

  3. Silent demonstration might work. If some boarders ride according to their own philosophy, then the visitors might take notice and you would not be bruising any egos.


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