There’s a video making the rounds on social media that perfectly illustrates one of my biggest fears as a professional horsewoman: that the perversion of horses’ natural movement I see in most show disciplines today will persist – to the detriment of horses – for generations.
For example, I can’t stand the idea that today’s young riders, the professional trainers and judges of the next generation, may have never seen a pleasure Quarter Horse who doesn’t four-beat “lope” jammed on the forehand popping up and down like an oil pumpjack. How will they ever know that’s not how a stock horse should (or even must) move.
The clearly intelligent, accomplished young woman who posted this “educational” video to her Facebook page is exactly the type of professional I’m worried about. She seems honestly to believe this perhaps slightly less egregious peanut-roller posture should be celebrated.
Compared to the worst of what has been in the showring in the past three-plus decades, it’s just parsing degrees of awfulness, I’d say. Considering how stock horses were shown up until the late 1970s, there’s just no comparison.
I keep asking myself what can this winning trainer possibly be seeing when she remarks how “forward” these horses are moving when clearly not one of them is stepping through from the hindquarters?
How can she not see that all of these horses are dumped on the forehand, four-beating and their polls remain well below the withers except in that portion of the lope when they have to pop their necks up to drag themselves forward? There’s no push, no engagement, no impulsion at all in these horses.
The answer must be that she’s seeing what she’s used to seeing, what she has likely seen every minute of her equestrian life from the first time she sat on a horse or went to a show. Hence my fear. When horrific, unbalanced, joint pounding gaits are all that stock-horse show riders have been taught and practiced and rewarded with ribbons, how can we expect them to cringe at every step of this awfulness? They simply can’t see what I see.
I give the video’s poster credit if she really is working to move her industry to back from the brink of absurdity and encourage more sensible and humane standards. But this video’s value for showing the industry’s return to biomechanically correct movement is miniscule and this performance is certainly worthy of kudos for the AQHA or anyone else involved.
The only thing I do agree with the FB poster about is her statement that this class of the top 20 youth pleasure contestants in the nation “.. is not your grandpa’s Pleasure class.” Well, I’m old enough to be these riders’ grandmother and I still have the buckstitched tack to prove it. I can tell you no stock horse of any breed moved like these horses back when I was showing Quarter Horses.
Here’s a little background: I had my first horse in 1967 at age four and I grew up riding daily except in the worst of winter on a ranch in northeastern Colorado. Although in my family the lines between men’s and women’s tasks were pretty traditionally drawn, at those times of the year when riders were needed to work the 400-head Hereford herd it was all hands on horseback.
I gathered and drove cattle in all weather, rode fence lines looking for strays, and roped and dragged calves to the branding fire. My absolute favorite horseback task was pasture sorting steers bound for the sale-barn from heifers retained for breeding.
Third place 9 & under Western Pleasure, September 1969.
I also showed my horses, starting out at open shows at age six, adding 4-H shows when I was old enough and then expanding into Quarter Horse shows after I got a young registered horse in junior high.
All my horses, from the bomb-proof Welsh pony who was my first show mount to the cranky King Ranch mare who neither of my parents could ride to my really nice papered Hancock gelding, had to do double duty: working ranch horse during the week and prettied-up show horse on the weekend.
I guarantee you not a single horse shown in the video above could do that, at least not without some serious re-training including months of bodywork and rehab.
My only hope for the “AQHA Pro Horseman” who created the post and others like her is that they spend a good long time with some of the folks who excel in the increasingly popular Ranch Versatility competitions. I’m so thankful there are still ranches where the wonderful working Quarter Horse bloodlines have been preserved and that those people have some public outlet to show how a stock horse should move.
Here are some examples of what grandma’s pleasure horse actually looked like:
This young horse and rider could easily have been one of my competitors in youth Western Horsemanship at a show in the 1970s. The rider’s turnout and way of sitting the horse, the horse’s conformation and flat movement, and even the pattern look very similar to what would have been in the ring back in my show days.
The only obvious difference is the tail; back then we shortened tails to hock level on working horses to avoid picking up brush and stickers on the ranch and to emphasize the powerful hindquarters in the ring.
Here’s a bit more experienced horse and rider pair that also could have been plucked right out of the ring at any Quarter Horse show I went to in the late ’60s and through the ’70s. This solid, workmanlike pattern probably would have earned a ribbon the open Western Horsemanship class.
You would even have seen a few horses with suspension like this mare’s both on the ranch and in the ring. She wouldn’t have won the Western Pleasure, which was strictly a walk/trot/lope rail class back in the day. But any rider who could sit that trot well would surely win Western Horsemanship, the class judged on equitation and often run as a “pattern class.”
These horses really could work stock, and some of them probably do. A Quarter Horse is, above all, supposed to be able to perform the work he is bred for. And that’s what makes a beautiful horse.
I hope there will, some day soon, be a full-scale revolt against the showring peanut-roller parades so horses with sound minds and bodies will once again be prized.