When and Why to Use Spurs

I love this article on spur use by Stacey Westfall– it is a must read for anyone who is thinking about using spurs on their horse!! She answers many of the common misconceptions and questions about spurs on different types of horses.

When and why to use…or not to use…spurs..

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Non-Profit Marketing

As a business student in college and an equine volunteer at heart, I have learned so much about the importance of marketing and public relations when it comes to the success of any business– especially for a non-profit. My experience volunteering at a physical therapy program and a psychotherapy riding academy has given me first-hand experience in working with a non-profit and how to correctly advertise its purpose, its needs, and its successes to the public.

As always, I look to the AQHA for ideas on how the equine industry should go about advertising and marketing itself in different disciplines and/or industries. I was able to find a therapeutic riding program called Because of a Horse (an AQHA program) that did a wonderful job of informing the public about the purpose of the program, as well as adding an emotional, but appropriate touch to the cause.

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Although appropriate can truly be a subjective word, I consider “appropriate” to mean accurate, honest, and positive– especially for a non-profit seeking the donations of the public. I don’t like to see ads that only elicit pity for recipients of the program; instead I want to feel inspired by their stories and motivated to join the cause. For example, the AQHA flyer uses positive words like “can,” “is,” and “together” to create an uplifting example of how one child’s experience can be an experience for all.

On a more local level, I have also seen fabulous marketing materials distributed by CORRAL (one of the riding programs that I currently volunteer at). As you can see below, their graphics are always bright and welcoming, yet professional and concise. I also like how they incorporate their logo/brand as much as possible to identify themselves in the public eye consistently.

CaptureJust based on my knowledge and experience so far, I believe that non-profit advertising is much different from mainstream marketing because it requires a balance between information and purpose. I hope to continue to learn about the varying ways that non-profits inform that public of their needs and successes while maintaining that appropriate touch of emotion.

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AQHA Advertisements

One of my favorite aspects of the Quarter Horse industry is the wide variety of disciplines and people that make up the industry– and how people choose to market their discipline. The breadth of topics, events, and horses provide for some amazing marketing tactics, especially in publications. (Some of my favorite AQHA publications are Cutting Horse Chatter, AQHA Journal, and America’s Horse. )

Many AQHA advertisements are focused on a single stallion, an entire ranch, or a famous rider that is offering training slots to the public. Below I have included some examples of the wide variation that can be seen in one AQHA publication.

ImageThe above advertisement uses an awesome action shot to advertise a famous rider/trainer or reining stallion. This ad lets the photo do all the talking.

ImageThe second advertisement is promoting a ranch called Coyote Rock Ranch. This ad also uses photos instead of fancy text or catchy slogans because “horse people” would rather see evidence of success than read accolades and awards that the ranch or horse has received.

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The third example is a much busier, graphically designed advertisement. This style advertisement is actually the most popular format for AQHA ads because it provides the most information to the readers (stallion awards, Lifetime Earnings, offspring earnings, stud fee, etc.) and has either still head shots of the stallion or action shots of him during competition.

What I find interesting is that this style advertising is very signature to the horse industry. Most other industries (retail, cars, technology) focus on modern, simple, and white-background based advertisements because they appear sharper, cleaner, and more sophisticated. The horse industry is all about grit, kicking up dirt, and sweaty leather; and the ads must portray the same attitude.

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Jerking Makes You A Jerk

For my entire life I have always yearned to learn more- to constantly read, watch, and evaluate the different types of horses, disciplines, and people that make up that equine industry. As I have learned about the different industries that combine to create the horse world, I have seen many amazing partnerships and I have also seen many abusive and ignorant relationships between horses and humans.

Sadly, there are many show circuits that focus on ribbons, beauty, and dollar signs instead of partnership, understanding, and humble beginnings. One such discipline that has consistently bothered me in the equine industry is Western Pleasure. Although I have been a western rider my entire life, I am not biased towards one style of equitation over another. In addition, I am 100% aware that EVERY discipline has wonderful people and terrible people. I am not classifying the entire discipline of Western Pleasure as cruel, but the methods that are used to train the majority of the horses.

I have attended many Western Pleasure shows and have been less than impressed with the styles of training used by most of professionals in the discipline. Recently, I attended a Quarter Horse Futurity in Raleigh, NC. (I always go to the complex to do my homework and watch as many different horse shows as I can throughout the year.) For this show, I was particularly interested in watching the reining classes, which is a close cousin to cutting (my ultimate equine obsession). After watching some amazing reining runs in the morning, I decided to go to the indoor arena and watch some of the western pleasure competitors warm up their horses. If anyone reading this has been to a horse show, you know that the majority of abuse will take place in the warm up arena, not the show pen. Riders and trainers treat their horses as they would at home in the warm up arena.

As I watched rider after rider come into the arena, I was so upset by their constant “jerking motion” on the horses’ mouths that I began to record the “Training Class” right after the warm up sessions. I have embedded the video below.

Example (allow to download as a pptx. and then watch video on powerpoint slide)

As you can see, the majority (not all) of the riders are consistently jerking on their horse’s mouth to get them to put their heads lower and lower to the ground. (Rider at 1:07 bothered me the most.) Although I do not oppose a low head set (generally, Western disciplines focus on lower headsets rather than pole collection and contact), I was very upset to see how aggressively many of the riders “asked” their horses to bring their heads down.

I am a huge advocate of Natural Horsemanship and I know for a fact that jerking on horse is never the right way to teach them to be soft. And needless to say, it is the opposite of good horsemanship and ethical behavior towards an animal. Jerking on a horse’s face/mouth gives them no chance to place their heads lower without being forced to do so. Instead of using steady pressure and release, many of the riders in this video can be seen jerking time after time without ever letting the horse find a release.

I hope that many trainers in the Western Pleasure industry use more humane methods to teach their horses the correct headset, but all of my experiences tell me otherwise.

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