Friday, February 26, 2010

wrapping up this week's discussion

Summary of the three things question from yesterday:

Lynda offered:

1. Double bridles are not permitted at levels below Grand Prix. (Harder to get hyperflexion in a snaffle!)

2. Horses that do not track up fully in trot exercises will be severely penalised.

3. The horse's poll must ALWAYS be the highest point of the neck.

I wrote:

1. Institute a review for all judges and stewards as to the existing standards, the new distinctions, with visual examples of what is okay and what is not. Sad to say this but I think some of the upper level judges need to see what a horse whose nose is slightly in front of the vertical looks like!

2. A strengthening of the process so that stewards are not intimidated or argued with - a rider can appeal a warning, etc. but must cease what he/she is doing until the judge reviews the call. Intimidation or argument with stewards is grounds for immediate disqualification. (there is no reason to argue with the stewards if there is an appeal process in place and especially if there are cameras so that looking at the infraction is simply done by the judge)

3. Include long-time classically trained dressage riders/trainers in the working group, the round-tables, committees, etc. IMO, Sjef Janssen being included as the "dressage representative" is counterproductive. According to Janssen, he invented rollkur. It seems unlikely that he will now denounce it as abusive. We need a balance of perspectives discussing these issues. He is not representative of the discipline and sport of dressage as many of us know and cherish it.

and Maire added:

Absolutely, stewards must be protected from intimidation. I am absolutely stuck on how to define aggressive force. Do they look at the rider's position, the horse's position or both? This is crucial as it is how they have distinguished Rolllkur from LDR. I wish they had not made this distinction but it is a given for now at any rate.

They could have a clear length of time that a LDR frame is held for.

I think we've covered some good things here. Thank you to everyone who came by to read and most especially to those of you who took the extra time and thought to comment.

Don't hesitate to continue adding comments if you've had a busy week and want to jump in. People come to these posts all day and all night long, and your words will continue provoking thought!


This morning when in between sleep and wakefulness, I found myself thinking of the spectrum of thought on the issue of competition.

On one end is Nevzerov and his Haute Ecole, who I read just now have put up a petition calling for a complete ban to equine competition.

On the other end are riders and trainers who seem to feel that whatever they need to do to get the horses into the winners' circle is warranted, and if necessary they will invent a name for it and say it's better than classical dressage, in order to make the ends justify the means.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle. Here at our little farm, my daughter enjoys competing at the local level, so we do occasionally go to shows. I've never taken Keil Bay to one, although he would probably be fine as long as he had plenty of hay and attention. Cody, our QH with PSSM issues, doesn't trailer well right now and wouldn't do well being stalled overnight, so his comfort dictates what we do with him. The pony seems to enjoy the "specialness" of being loaded and groomed and ridden in front of people, and although he's encountered some scary things (applause, a judge in a box, giant dressage markers, etc.) with some care he has overcome those fears. And we have never hesitated to scratch due to extreme temps or other last-minute factors that we feel will adversely affect his experience.

I noticed yesterday that Redford followed me out to the horse trailer where I am keeping hay. I went into the trailer and Redford came halfway in behind me, and suddenly Salina came charging out of the barn, whinnying her most concerned whinny. She does this any time either of the donkeys go near the trailer or practice loading.

For Salina, who was a fancy brood mare for years, babies and trailers mean one thing: mare and foal inspections. It is not a good memory for her.

I promise her repeatedly that those days are over, but she comes right out to the trailer and insists that the donkeys get out.

As I have wondered before about cross country courses, I wonder about competition: would any horse choose the trailer and a show stall and the loudness of music and announcers on speakers over home? I suspect most wouldn't, although obviously many seem to do okay while there. Others do not, and we see ulcers, stall vices, difficult to manage behavior, etc. as a result.

I think my final point is that if we choose to put horses into competition as our partners, or in my case, to join in as a spectator, we must do everything we can to make the experience a positive one. In my mind, doing no harm is an absolute, but I think going beyond that is a better goal.

The first thing I notice when I go to dressage shows is the horse's head, the frame, the noseband, the bit(s), and how the rider is impacting these. I think the fact that this part of the horse and rider stands out so blatantly is a huge red flag.

I notice too the busy legs of the rider, and the spurring forward.

Often I wander back to the stabling area, and see horses in tiny, dark stalls with no turn-out. In my mind I see them missing freedom, but the worse thing is that probably many of the horses don't even get that at home. They might have bigger stalls with more windows, but it's likely they don't have turn-out to the degree I feel they deserve.

The FEI cannot manage all of the above, nor is it their duty. But I do believe they play an important part in setting and adhering to standards that protect the horses in show stabling, in warm-up arenas, and in the actual competition rides.

We have to start with that, and move outward.

I think we've experienced here, this week, that it is far easier to complain than to engage in meaningful dialogue and to actually grapple with some of what the FEI committees and working groups experience each time they meet.

Back in my public mental health therapist days, I ended up as coordinator and then director of outpatient services for children and families. There was long-standing difficulty between the mental health clinics and the social services agencies. We had very different mandates, and yet we were all supposedly there to help children. And it was clear that more children would be helped if we worked well together than if we didn't.

In an effort to bridge the troubled waters between, I instituted a monthly luncheon and invited all the mental health child and family staff, as well as the social services staff. The first month there were two people in attendance. Me and one worker from social services. Eventually more people came, and we ate lunches together and to some degree realized that we were all trying to help children and families. And that it was harder to complain about each other after we had shared lunch together.

We did several years' worth of work trying to find ways to support one another. That work involved lots of meetings, lots of administrative and structural change, and sometimes negotiating that felt a little bit ridiculous, but got us the next step further that day, that meeting.

Still, when it came to individual cases and children at risk of harm, we did what we had to do. I threatened numerous times to involve the national media and the governor's office when children were being left at risk. I stopped being polite in open court when testifying as an expert witness. If I had seen mistakes made and incompetence allowed, I said that. I was not popular, but often in private, I was thanked for what I was doing.

It was difficult - trying to maintain working relationships with people and agencies I would disagree with the next week when a new case landed on my desk.

I think this is what we have to do here though - create relationships with the organizations who govern, such as the FEI, while at the same time serving as active advocates for the horses.

Talk and discuss, as we've done here. Try when we can to leave the role of complaint behind and take on the role of change-maker.

And when we go to the shows, take our video cameras to the warm-up arenas. Keep watching, reporting, speaking out when we see things that are not right. And let the FEI know about it.

Again, thank you to Malina and all who participated this week. Hopefully we can do this again after the working group completes its current tasks.


Dougie Donk said...

I'm so with you on the issue of turnout. My little TB was a racehorse, who came from a trainer who believes in allowing horses to be horses & turns them out in herds together.

As a result, Dennis has always known he's a horse & how to behave around other horses. While he can be a little toad about testing rules, he has no issues about being caught, stabled or travelled to shows; coz he knows he's always coming back to hois safe base.

I compare him to a friend's top class showjumpers; who only ever get turned out for an hour a day & always alone, coz they are "worth too much to risk injury." Sure, compared to mine, they are all immaculately groomed & schooled. They also all have weaving bars above their stable doors and shared tendancies to bite, kick and barge at both people and other horses.

I know which I prefer!

billie said...

Lynda, although the issues in dressage competition and dressage riding in general have taken up most of my "advocacy" energy these past months, humane horsekeeping is probably equal in my heart as an issue that needs our attention and focus.

When I see horses in stalls for more hours than not in a 24-hour period, I am reminded of those beautiful little Siamese fighting fish I often see in pet stores, in tiny containers so small they can only swim in little circles.

It breaks my heart. I always want to buy all of them and give them big tanks filled with plants and whatever it is they encounter in a natural habitat. But of course that would simply drive the breeders (who in the world is it that breeds those little fish and packages them in those tiny containers?) to breed more.

So they swim in circles until they are bought or they die. I always see many floating dead. And I always force myself to look b/c I need to remind myself, as painful as it is, that we as a society have SO MUCH TO LEARN about how to treat our animals, our children, our elders, and to be honest, each other.

Sorry to get maudlin here, but maybe since it's week's end and I'm getting ready to turn 50 (which I am seeing as the exact mid-point of my life for some reason) I can be forgiven! :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sorry I didn't get a chance to comment yesterday. Things are rather hectic here for me as I'm watching my 9 month old granddaughter for this entire week while her parents are away. I'm trying to keep up but it's a struggle. I've got a break now as we're watching Baby Einstein.

I like your take on everything and agree with you completely. I especially like your thought of 'do no harm'. If we are to be our horses caretakers we should all strive to do no harm and advocate for them as much as we can responsibly and through the right channels. Yes, I get very angry with the way horses are treated before, during and after competitions. I think it's not a great life for a horse and we should make it the least stressful for them as possible. I'm sure they would rather be home with their buddies playing in the fields. As for the mistreatment of horses at show and beyond if we can educate more young riders the way you have with your daughter, I feel that's a good start. We should keep the dialogue open with the FEI and other organizations and if we treat them with a modicum of respect and keep a civil tongue some things may change. I'm always hopeful, but skeptical about most governing bodies.

Great series of posts, sorry I couldn't add much this week.

billie said...

Arlene, being a grandmother comes first!

Perhaps you should make a little video to go along with Baby Einstein that shows j and yourself riding correctly, kindly, and beautifully - indoctrinate from the very beginning! :)

And feel free to add comments later on, when you are not taking care of young people!

Claire said...

on the turnout front - when you have no grass, and are not allowed to put any hay out in the field, which is in any event also a mudbath....

you keep them in.

perils of not having one's own place... :-)

Anonymous said...

Very good series of posts - and you're correct about horsekeeping and competitive practices, too. Thanks for taking on this FEI dialog - I think it was very productive, if only to keep a conversation going.

Anonymous said...

Award for you over at my blog - no obligation!

Nachodonkey said...

I have been following the comments this week but as a back yard horse person and having no experience in dressage I felt it best to leave the discussion to people who know what they are talking about. In my limited experience with showing, I felt the comments showed some very good steps to take to better the life of these wonderful animals.

I have been keeping my horses outside for the last ten years. I have a small acreage which is made into a "paddock paradise". The property is made into a track around the perimeter that leads into the shelter of the trees. The trees stop the wind and they have a run in shed they can go into if they choose. I feed bits of hay all around the track so they are constantly moving. I got a horse two years ago that had navicular and with a barefoot trim and constant movement has been sound for a year. No more thrush or colic.

We live in southern Ontario and they are quite happy and healthy without all the things I used to put on them....bandages, blankets, shoes with corks (no need when they are barefoot), hoof dressings etc.

Billie, just to let you know, my fiftieth birthday was the most difficult. I thought as you that half my life is over but gradually started to think that the second half was just beginning!! Sixty was a breeze!

billie said...

Claire, I know there are times when some horses must be kept in - I think when it's the regular routine, it's not a good thing.

billie said...

Kate, thanks for your comment AND the award - I so appreciate it.

billie said...

Nacho, love the photo and also the paddock paradise. We have considered that method of keeping our horses, and may still do it at some point. I love the way yours sounds!

Thanks for the birthday info... :)

jme said...

hey, i'm just catching up (i have to admit with some guilt that i mostly read and comment on little breaks at work, and with the non-stop snow all last week, i never made it into work!)

i'll have more to add, but i'm struck by the association of inhumane (imo) management practices and inhumane riding. they have always seemed to go hand in hand, and perhaps it is more than a superficial connection...

sure, the logic behind keeping horses imprisoned 24 hours a day in a stall is because they are too valuable to risk injury (not to mention, you can pack a lot more horses onto a farm when you don't have to accommodate them with pasture, which of course means more $$$.)

but what makes these horses so 'valuable'? showing. my horses may not be olympic stars, but they are very valuable to me. yet, even when we were competing, somehow we always managed to turn our expensive show horses out for most of the day, and have even competed horses straight from the field. in fact, in my experience, particularly when i was doing rehabs on those same valuable horses, it was the very fact of their confinement that predisposed them to injury, either because they lacked the constant movement that conditions the body better than any intensive 1 hour session could, or because they would make the most of their hour of turnout freedom by going nuts and stressing themselves.

but one 'top' trainer (and one who used questionable training methods as well) gave me a disturbing insight into the no-turnout mentality. he told me he didn't turn his horses out because then they'd come to expect it when, in truth, they existed only to travel the show circuit where that was a luxury they didn't have. so they might as well get used to it all the time. he concluded that the horses should live to be ridden, and find the only relief from their imprisonment in work. he treated them like expensive cars parked in garages until it was time to take them on the road. they were nothing more than his vehicles to fame and fortune.

i think the two philosophies spring from the same flawed mentality: the ends justify the means and the the good of the horse matters only so far as it affects performance. trainers that don't turn out immediately send up red flags for me for that very reason, because it usually follows that the training will also be about ends justifying means.

billie said...

jme, thanks for adding your thoughts, which I believe are important to consider, and true.

The top trainer treating horses like expensive cars being garaged in between competitions makes me physically ill, and the idea that they should not get more b/c they would then expect more... is in my mind evidence of a demented mind.

I know this is not uncommon, and yet it seems so alien to me it's hard to believe such a mentality even exists outside some kind of horror movie. :/

The saddest part of it all is that it is ultimately so illogical.

Surely anyone with half a brain can see that a happy, healthy, naturally kept horse is going to perform better, have less injuries, and live a longer, more productive life. And yet the garaged mentality persists. It's almost as if people who keep/use horses this way WANT to throw money at expensive bloodlines, expensive vet bills, and the costs of competing - in exchange for a few ribbons, trophies, and some notoriety, which surely can't be all that widespread. Most average people couldn't name a winning rider if their lives depended on it.

I'm heading back out to the barn to rig up the wheelbarrow with new nuts and bolts, representing the $10. or so I spent today so I can move manure into compost piles, move some trimmed tree branches, and perhaps haul some mature compost up to top off my waiting piles.

While I do that there will be four horses and two donkeys milling around, trying to investigate everything I do, in between grazing hay, walking around the back field and paddock and arena, and being equines.

I hope some day this kind of life is the norm for horses. Thanks for your contribution - I'll look for more as you get a chance!