Saturday, March 31, 2012

An editorial on AKC vs AQHA

I had to write a casual, informative editorial for a class. Professor really emphasized the casual part. Weird. But anyway, I actually liked it well enough. I cut out all of the explanatory parts (what is AQHA, etc.) because I figured you guys are pretty darn smart, and I added bits to make it more applicable to the blog, but not much. Thought I would share.

AQHA is to AKC as Tomato is to Fruit may not think they're the same... but they actually are.

I have been reading HSUS president Wayne Pacelle's book The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Protect Them. You're probably thinking "Might as well go to a PETA convention" and I thought that before I read it as well, until I reminded myself that Mr. Pacelle is the head of HSUS, which is typically a lot more practical than their radical counterpart. I still have to read it subjectively, but he seems pretty levelheaded, and it's good read if you're into the whole "animal welfare and what I can do about it" thing. This book really opened my eyes about how freaking hard it is to get anything done when animals and government/big business get mixed together. It's almost, almost comical how it all plays out. Like I had originally imagined, it usually comes down to voters/consumers to push things forward. In this novella, Mister Pacelle brought up a very interesting bit about the AKC and puppy mills. I could not help but think of QHs and TBs in particular. I'm sure there are other breeds, but I'll keep to what I am most familiar with.

Anyway, so I'm sure we all know that it's very, very likely that the cute "AKC registered" purebred puppy you bought at the pet store or online likely came from a puppy mill. And we've all heard one-too-many horror stories about these puppies having a slew of health problems and psychological issues from all the abuse and neglect in their early days. I had never really put AKC and the puppy mill industry (which is very much legal, and like most things governed by the USDA and their sub-categories, it's so poorly regulated it's morbidly funny, if not exasperating) together until I read this book, and it all sounded eerily similar to AQHA, among other big horse registries.

It's a very long story, but to sum it up (do your research to get the knitty gritty details, or read the book for a detailed summary): AKC gets most of their money from registration, so they try to register as much as possible. They are in competition with many other American registries (it used to just be the AKC, and several others have since popped up) so the standards to let anything and everything in has been WAY lowered. I will quote:
There are no meaningful health standards for the breeds in the AKC registry. The standards relate to the outward physical appearance of the animals... not to their overall well-being or fitness. "The best use of pedigree papers is for house-breaking your dog," says veterinarian and animal behaviorist Micheal Fox.... "They don't mean a damn thing. You can have an immune-deficient puppy that is about to go blind and had epilepsy, hip dysplasia, hemophilia and one testicle, and the AKC will register it.
So it made me feel better that the horse industry isn't the only industry that can be laughable as far as "BUT THEY HAVE PAPERS!" And it doesn't have to do with the outward appearance with some horse registries! You could find something that resembles a cow beefed up for processing or a horse with the back of a downhill ski race mountain slope, among other faults, but so long as he's a grandson of some "world" champion (seriously, why is it called "world" when it's really only the U.S. that competes and wins?) who probably broke down before he was even six, then YOU CAN REGISTER HIM! It doesn't even have to be a world champion, just another quarter horse! Which makes people think they can breed them, or sell them for lots of money when in fact, as far as quarter horses go, papers mean next to nothing and the poor horse is just about worthless.

There's no criteria. Sure the warmblood breeds have their issues, but at least there's a stingy criteria!

And what Mister Pacelle rounded it all up to was that the AKC's lack of criteria in registration is a major factor in the overbreeding problem. BINGO! Puppy mills keep popping them out, making money from them by saying they're registered, and the AKC profits from the abundance of registrations that really don't mean diddly-squat in terms of offspring quality. And who suffers? Not the registries....

Hmmmm, that all sounds really familiar! Like, AQHA familiar!

There are nice QHs out there, don't get me wrong. There are lots of them. I learned to ride on very nice barrel racing quarter horses, I have seen many do well in many disciplines, we own one (and a half if you count Greta haha) and I've ridden plenty of nice ones (Butters is constantly mistaken for a pony/wb cross or a nice Welsh Section D pony). In all honesty, I love QHs. I think they're are way under-appreciated in the hardcore English world. But why is that? Could it be because there are so many shoddy ones out there? Littered about craigslist and every equine ad service known to man? Because it's too easy to make one and register it to the point that "quarter horse" becomes two dirty words or absolutely meaningless?

I hear there's a similar problem in the TB world. I have to chuckle when I hear people say "Oh, this horse is a granddaughter of Seattle Slew! And this guy is a grandson of Secretariat!"

What about the little detail that Secretariat alone sired several hundred offspring. Several hundred? And none were of the same quality as Big Red himself. Some were pretty good, but nothing incredibly special. Most just had a cool name on their pedigree. And calculate that Secretariat's several hundred offspring probably each had many offspring themselves, most of whom were also not anywhere near the quality of Big Red. Yeah, it's cool to have that name on there, but it means nothing if there's not regulation to back it up. You just now have a couple thousand horses running around out there with the name "Secretariat" somewhere on their pedigree, quality be damned!

One of Greta's ancestors is Native Dancer! Did I ever see that in her? Nope. Does that alone mean I should breed her? Not. At. All.

When any breeding industry realizes it's all about quality and not quantity, then they will be one huge step further towards solving the overbreeding issue. Yes, that goes for you too, AKC and AQHA.

But until that fantastical day comes around when pigs sprout little wings and fly off into a rainbow of skittles candy poured by tiny green leprechauns from a flying unicorn in the sky (well, if I put it that way, that could also be the day I try hallucinogens) then buyers will just have to keep sifting through the mounds and mounds of unfortunate additions to the AQHA and other registries to find the real gems.

But hey, if the diamond miners could do it, then so can we as an equine community. Granted, the diamond miners also had dynamite and TNT. Whatever. Purely details.

In conclusion, it makes me sad, really, that any registry group with the potential to market great breeds lets them down so easily time and time again. And the animals are born and become caught up in it all. Just ask any child who gets caught up in such a situation: they're not too gung-ho about it. But at least a person can change their circumstances. A dog or horse cannot. But people can just as easily change the animals' circumstances.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Classic Beauty

Taken by Ellen Cody at the Royal Dublin Horse Show 2011. Talk about a classically beautiful horse. Like one you would see in an old painting.

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?


Meanwhile on the Greta front...

Sooooo the vet came out today and did another lameness exam for Greta just to check her progress. Basically, she was tender to palpation of the LH suspensory (and boy did it feel inflamed!) and really has not improved any. She has not degraded, but she has not improved. She's just reached a plateau. Which is understandable since she seemed to improve a bit too well before. So the deal right now is to just keep letting her chill for the rest of the year out in the pasture, and just keep toodling around on her at the walk here-there-and-everywhere. I'll also be starting her on B-L pellets just as a general maintenance supplement.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let's critique each other!

I have got to take a break from studying for two midterms tomorrow. I'm reaching the point where I'm just re-reading sentences and nothing is processing. No bueno. I'm also trying to suppress my excitement for The Hunger Games. I'm trying, I really am!

So, what to do as a quick break besides eat stuff?

CRITIQUE MY RIDING! I mean, how self-centered does one have to be? Oh, well!

Also, I got a hold of this article in Practical Horseman and felt I could definitely use those tips. But which ones, which ones? Let's see....

The Pogues FTW :)

#2... I have gotten much better on keeping my shoulders back and my chest open. It's so much easier in dressage... or if I didn't have the torso of a spider monkey. Well, the body of a spider monkey, really. There was a couple of jumps during this ride that I actually kept a no-tension ideal over a fence! Definitely a lot of core control to move forward with the horse's body, and not necessarily release with your arms (which causes my entire upper body to collapse) but more with my torso, if you get what I'm sayin'.

#3... used to be a problem, and I only did it once on the second fence of the outside line combination, and it felt so bad. That's how I knew I've just about made it a habit to sit up and not truck around like a vulture towards a jump. It's hard, and it's not perfect, but it's getting there.

#8... I kind of have a problem with this, but mainly because my stirrups were a hole or two too long (they were actually two holes shorter, but felt too short, and now they look too long in this video), Butters does not have a lot of barrel to stabilize against (small horses are good in that they can scramble out of a bad situation better than a large horse can, but they don't give you much leeway as far as staying on if you're a taller rider), and this saddle obviously is not forward enough for my Sasquatch thighs. Seriously, if ever I get a jumping saddle, those flaps better be long and FOR-WARD. That's going to be fun trying to find!

#10... I surprised myself here. In dressage mode, my heels usually sink so far down that they will slip from my stirrup. The balls of my foot are just barely touching them! I really could have them pulled out from under me and I'd be fine! Jumping? hahahahaha... no. Totally different balance and set of muscles. This might also once again have to do with having my stirrups just a touch too long. And Pam Baker did bring up a good point in keeping your horse's shoulders in front of you. That is VERY hard to do on Butters. He can do lovely dressage, but getting him to that point is way too hard. Possible, but hard. And he has a lovely tendency to duck out at the last minute on fences (happened several times during this ride, I stayed on, but they were some icky stops) if he doesn't feel confident. It's not always telltale several strides before the fence either. So sometimes in my defensive riding and steering his shoulders to the fence, he will get behind me. And I draw my heel up to urge him on when calf pressure doesn't work. BAM PROBLEM SOLVED. And it's really not that bad, but I can do better.

Also, I still get left behind sometimes. I think that has a lot to do with core control and just becoming more comfortable with the movement and timing of a jump. And I still obviously don't have enough balance in a jumping saddle, so I revert to ancient habits of balancing with my hands, which would probably account for the pumping.


What do you guys think? What are you riding faults you want to work on?

Trick pony, anyone?

Greta's kissy-kissy trick on video. And she has learned a new one, hugging. Cute stuff, really. I've tried teaching her other things, but if she's not gung-ho about it in the first place, I'm not successful in continuing the training. Which is allowed, because she's gung-ho about everything else in training: ground manners, riding, the important stuff. And no, she is not going to learn how to rear. That's one of the stupidest things you can teach your horse in most circumstances.

So far the failed list includes bowing, raising a hoof, and smiling. She doesn't do a lot of "smiling" in the first place, even with funny smells, so I didn't have much to work off of there. She's too smart to put her head between her legs to bow - she'd much rather just step backwards to my hand and/or look at me like, "Girl please." And she is dead-set that the only way to raise a hoof is if you make to pick it. And she has no problems whatsoever with hoof picking or picking up her hoof, so I'd rather not make it a problem. And she doesn't paw, so I have nothing to work off of there. And I'd rather not teach her to paw!

Any trick ideas? Seriously, we're starting to get pretty bored now ;)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Strap 'em down!

Taking "hold your horses" to a whole new level...

Training aids. Such a euphemism. Most of them are more along the lines of training coercion. A little whip, the occasional properly-adjusted side reins session (that should be quite short in time length), a properly-adjusted running martingale, or the occasional nudge of a mild spur: yeah, that's pretty good right there. It's justifiable when needed.

But German martingales, draw reins, crazy nosebands, and 3-ring gag bits............. all at once? I get that some horses genuinely need one of those devices, some horses, but certainly not all of these devices at the same time. That means it time to go back to square one.

Horse rushing at big fences? Before you strap him down with useless gadgets: is he in pain? Is he being overfaced? Is the rider being faulty? It might be time to just pop over crossrails for a couple of weeks and go back to basics. Sometimes for the horse, sometimes for the rider. Trotting at two-point over a crossrail, as noobish as it looks, can have it's benefits. Going through the basic gaits in two-point as you warm-up does fantastic things too. I learned that from Issy King. And I'll take her word for it. It's the basic things that can work very well the farther you go.

Horse being hollow? Before you strap him down with useless gadgets: is he in pain? Did you just never really teach him how to be round? It might be time to do some training level work until he can actually stretch to the bit. You can't run around doing passage when the horse is broken at the poll and has his hind end parked out a million miles away from you. That's not real. That's quite fake.

"But that's what wins!" Yeah, you know other fake junk wins? This bovine excrement:

So fake.

Did you learn how to read in a day? Don't you still have to go back and re-read sentences and look up words to make sure you fully understand something? I've read the same book ten times, plus several essays written about said book, plus did extensive research on various literary elements in said book, all before I felt comfortable enough to write a good essay on it in a very hard college-sophomore-level literary analysis class in high school aka AP English IV (oh the cute names they come up with for these things!) Got an A, passed the course, received a nice little note from professor. The skills I learned there have helped me a lot in real college. Also, I didn't have to retake it and that means lots of money and hassle saved in the long run.

What's that? Do it right the first time and save lots of money, hassle, and heartache in the future?

Some things you just can't bypass.

What caused me to gripe about this?

Sorry, but this is not a round horse. That, my friends, is a horse evading the bit and will need to go back to Dressage 101 before he can do much of anything else properly. Good luck getting him to accept or respect the contact and stretch to the bit. Good luck jumping him. Good luck keeping him sound and sane.

But dangit, it will probably win.

That's all. I'm going to go back to organic chemistry homework (shoot me) and pop some more allergy pills (shoot me again). Cheers!

EDIT: so that video just got taken down. Anyway, it was your typical strapped-down horsey (draw reins, German martingale, basic gag bit, AND a flash noseband so he can't protest too much). And not once was his nose at or ahead of the vertical or his shoulders in front of the rider. And the trot look unsurprisingly stiff. You know what I'm talking about.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kiss & Show

This is actually a trick I taught Greta. I don't think I ever teach another horse this, but Greta is one of the few horses I've met that's not mouthy. If only they could all be this polite! She also picked up on in less than a day, and will do it without any treats, just me asking. Love that pony!

OMG as for that last picture: either I look like Justin Bieber or Justin Bieber looks like a girl. Please God be the latter!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Girl Crush?

...and don't tell Greta, she might get jelly.

So, I have a secret girl crush that I'm going to come out with. I've known her for several months now, and she's beginning to really grow on me. She's really brave, she's got an attitude, and she's very bold and curious. She's a lovely brunette, and she's also two years old.


If I had the resources to get Greta a playmate (well, something to nanny and mommy over, really) and to start up (with help) for myself (eventing prospect anyone?) I would totally go for it. Seriously, this girl is not scared of anything. She'd much rather play with the bright blue tarp or plastic bag or rake dragging across the ground than run from it. She would much rather fervently destroy it, really.

LIZZIE! She's by Contucci and the last foal out P's beloved TB broodmare Tobin Or Not Tobin.

OMG CUTE BABY PICTURES! You could this "athletic" I guess. I just call it adorable.

She's not as tall as she looks in the picture, P is just short ;) But Lizzie should top out around 16 or 16.1 hands. She's still at that awkward my-front-end-is-catching-up-to-my-hind-end phase and everything is discombobulated, as yearlings do, but she should grow up to be a lovely (if not snarky) young lady. She already stretches like a champ on the longeline (nose on the ground, overstepping) and is picking up ground manners very quickly. P and team definitely did a good job of deterring the orphan baby syndrome before it did anything permanent. She still has her arrogant, bossy moments, but has never done anything harmful by it. She doesn't have a super flashy trot thank goodness, but it still has some nice suspension, and her walk and canter is lovely.

I have the fortune to know (and currently exercise for a week, which I'm still quite flattered about) her half-brother, and he's super awesome, super trainable, and super athletic.

Wow, half-brother Stilts. Could you jump that a little higher? You barely cleared it. This guy is by Art Deco, but also out of Tobin. We all speculate Lizzie will be a bolder, more "wired" version of Stiltsy.

Lizzie's full brother, Flash Forward, who is in training with Robert Dover and is shown here being ridden by Jenna Wyatt. He and his owner, Jodie Kelly, were reserve champions at the 2011 GAIG/USDF Region 3 Dressage Championships at Intermediare I.

And Lizzie's other full brother, Nightlife. He was champion at Pre-Green Hunter 3ft' at a few 'A' shows (don't know which, but oh well!)

And Lizzie's other half-brother, Artistic Impression, by Art Deco (Stilts' full brother). He's also rocked the Houston hunter circuit, which is a very competitive regional circuit.

So, there, a little info on my GIRL CRUSH :) I really can't wait to see how she turns out, and I hope whoever buys her makes an eventer out of her. That girl is bold and fearless and SMART.