Recently, the TWH world has been in the spotlight. If you read my blog because you like me and not horses (Hi, Mom?), the short version is that there's a very popular type of show horse called the "Big Lick" Tennessee Walker , and the only way to get them to do what they do is by torturing and eventually crippling them. See the ABC video and article for more info.
Here is A LOT of footage of the Big Lick walkers in action. Don't they kinda look like aliens? Two of the reasons people are outraged by the practices of Big Lick trainers are action devices and soring. Because of all the "civilian" attention this case is getting, I think it's about time we revisit a discipline that has been called out for completely unhealthy fads in the show ring, but has still not cleaned up its act. Western Pleasure has allowed ridiculous training and fads to win in the show ring, and while the style may change, the ribbons still encourage others to follow whatever is the winning style. Why would anyone going for a ride out in the pastures want their horse cantering with such a hook in his body that it's more of a crabwalk? Or is showing such a popular activity now that people breed show horses that need not even resemble what would actually be put to use in the real world? So, we are going to look at the similarities between Big Lick and Western Pleasure. Maybe people will get mad about this too!
Let's do a little comparison between these two and see what we can see
Big Lick has Soring. Trainers cover the lower leg with caustic chemicals, like deisel, and then they wrap the legs with saran wrap to make sure the chemicals get the skin good and tender. Then they put chains on the tenderized skin, which will repeatedly smack them as they move and, therefore, "encourage" their flashy gait. They also use huge platform shoes called stacks. These are extremely heavy and can warp the foot. Check out this post from a farrier about stacks on FuglyBlog if you'd like more information.
This video shows a few of the Western Pleasure problems that compare to soring. One is the "yank incessantly on the mouth while spurring" training method. This video got nearly unbearable at the two and a half minute mark. My goodness! While she's not necessarily pulling hard, it's almost incessant. That type of continuous nagging with the bit can do permanent damage to the tongue, not to mention make the whole mouth very sore. This gal seems to be fairly quiet with her spurs, but she's trying to get you to buy her how-to video. Maybe she's saving some of the really good tips for people who will shell out the cash? Some other methods to encourage the WP gaits are huge bits, draw reins, martingales, and hock hobbles. While these methods seem a little more humane than the TWH folks, many of these methods cause lasting damage to the horse and most do not remain sound.
Hmm.. both disciplines drastically change their horse's gait in a way that actually causes harm??
This is a winning TWH Tail
This high tail set is sometimes achieved by "nicking" the tail, which is the nice name for slicing a tendon on the underside of the tail so that it can be held higher and look better(?!) in the show ring. They also strap them into these tail set contraptions to help the tail look more awesome.
Sidenote: I have no experience with the above horse, and have no idea if that tail was nicked.. or set... or won anything for that matter.
Doesn't that look comfy for them to curl up in their stall with?
This is a winning WP tail
Because stock horses have big ol' booties, fake tails have become very popular to hide the fact that many stock horses grow pathetically thin tails, and thus they balance the appearance of the horse. Why this matters, who knows? Fashion is an unruly beast! But the next tail shocker is the fact that it is fairly common for pleasure horses to have their tails blocked. The tail is injected with a chemical to temporarily "partially" paralyze it. I've heard one reason for doing this was to stop the horse from carrying their tail away from their body. Apparently using their whole spine to move is out of fashion this year. Another added bonus is that these horses lose their ability to swish their tail when they are spurred by their rider. This fad is not without censequence, if the injection site gets infected or the horse has a bad reaction for any number of reasons, they could die. More commonly, the effects may not wear off, the horse may lose hair at the head of the tail, or it may develop a kink in the dock. Here is a photo of the aftermath of tail blocking gone wrong.
I bet that cost more than it was worth....
Looks like both of these disciplines are willing to go to extreme measures to "improve" their horses' appearance.
Here is a video of a class of 4 year olds at the Celebration last year. I think the canter is the most awkward one, but they all look like a strain on the horse. The structures of the leg were not designed for the additional work of squatting down behind and carrying bricks on their feet in front like these horses are.
Here is a video from a class at the 2011 AQHYA World Show. In my opinion, these horses don't look much more comfortable than the walkers. The main horse in this video looks like her booty hurts to me.
As we've just seen, both of these disciplines promote gaits that are unnatural and affect the horses' long term soundness.
While I know there is always a range of people involved in every discipline, nobody can deny that Big Lick and Western Pleasure have earned every bit of their terrible reputations. There is a major difference between these two disciplines that I should mention. While I feel there are people who actually care about horses in the WP industry, no horse loving person could ever do what the Big Lick weirdos do to theirs. Let's raise awareness people! Education is power and all that.