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.