Tuesday, October 11, 2011

western pleasure QH champion 2011



You'll have to wait through the interview to see the world champion QH in western pleasure and his movement. This is what Cody looked like when he came to live with us at age 2. We thought he was almost 4 years old, but when his papers came he was 2 years old! And fully working at walk, trot, and canter under saddle.

His canter was just like this one. It took several years of gentle encouragement to teach him that we did NOT want this kind of mincing, choppy movement. He literally had to be re-taught to move like a horse.

I admit, it was easy to sit. But it looks like lameness to me, not like anything I've ever seen a horse do at liberty.

I'm not trying to pick on the rider of the world champion western pleasure horse. But I'm curious - what do you think of this way of going? I'm not even talking about the training methods or the riding - just the movement.

How does it compare to the canter pirouette and piaffe - my least favorite dressage movements?


30 comments:

Grey Horse Matters said...

Don't even get me started on this! If my horse was going like that I'd immediately jump off and check for lameness. It's the most unnatural gait I've ever seen and I think it's a crime that it's being touted as the way to WIN ribbons and trophies. I feel sorry for the horses who have been trained in this most unnatural way. It can't be comfortable for them. I just wonder who started this crap. I'm sure some big name trainer did this once and won and it became the norm. Disgusting to do this to any horse and take away it's natural flowing movement and beauty and turn it into something so wrong.

Kate said...

All I can say is yuck.

And the idea that you would ride a 2 yo and ride it hard to compete is just plain disgusting - the horses that don't break down in training often end up sore, lame or worse.

mugwump did a post today on precisely this topic in the context of reined cowhorses.

jme said...

hi! haven't been by in a while but my mom sent me your link and i just had to respond (of course ;-)

you can guess my thoughts on forcing horses into this disgusting movement. there is nothing natural, functional, attractive or in any way impressive about this, so i can't imagine what the appeal could possibly be. it blows my mind that so many people are desperate to develop this malfunction in their otherwise perfectly healthy, functional horses. not only is the movement wrong on many levels, but it actually deforms the musculature and conformation of the horse. how is that desirable?

not to mention, it doesn't speak well of the discipline or the riders if they can't learn to comfortably sit a normal trot or canter, but need to break the gaits in order to sit still up there and make it look... i guess they'd call it 'pleasurable'???

as you say, no horse does this voluntarily or naturally when at liberty. and, though i've never seen a horse execute MY least favorite dressage movement--piaffe--at liberty, i've at least seen all the others occur naturally, including canter pirouette. and at least those movements are naturally cadenced and the sequence of footfalls remains true to nature, even if they are extremely collected. if i saw my horse doing this wp stuff out in the field, i'd rush him to the vet clinic.

it makes me wonder if there isn't something very wrong with horsemanship (or is it just our culture, or human nature in general...?) that it seems to believe that if something is good, exaggerating it to the absolute extreme is ideal, i.e. if a quiet, relaxed horse is good, one that looks like it's on the verge of death must be way better! it may be most extreme here, but you see it in the hunter ring, in equitation, in competitive dressage, etc..

i don't get it, but i'm ok with that, because if this kind of thing made sense to me or seemed justified, i'd be questioning my involvement with horses altogether.

sorry, done ranting :-\

billie said...

A, I don't know what the training methods are - Cody was a sweet, trusting horse when he came to us, but it's true that he would literally break into a sweat if he thought he was doing something wrong under saddle, and he was very uncertain when we asked him to move out - he had clearly been trained NOT to and it took much encouragement to get him comfortable enough to really stretch out and use his body and natural gaits.

billie said...

Kate, we were slightly mortified when the registration papers arrived in the mail. He went into very light riding for the next year and we did not jump him until his fourth birthday.

Crazy how young he was.

billie said...

j, someone said on the Blue Tongue FB page that this way of going was originally created for cowboys and their horses to conserve energy. At that point, it wasn't the extreme mincing movement that's now rewarded - I read that the AQHA is behind the shift. I saw some videos from the 50s where the Western Pleasure gaits were shown - much less extreme although they were still very much unnatural in my opinion!

I am glad you came by and offered what I consider a highly informed opinion! Hope you're well - I miss reading your blog posts and comments and am hoping it means you are working on the big N. :)

jme said...

that's interesting about the intent to conserve energy--as usual, competition forces something intended to be practical to the extreme.

from what i understand (though i'm no expert) wild horses do use a kind of slow trot/jog to cover distance more efficiently, but they don't carry their heads low (if anything, we'd consider them 'inverted') or use that broken gait (it's still a true trot.)

but i can see how maybe some people, without knowing any better, just assumed they were helping conserve energy by slowing the horses to a dead, shuffling pace, not realizing the horse's anatomy is designed to propel it more efficiently with even footfalls and some suspension. but now it's been scientifically studied, so i think wp should get with the times and move past this myth. there used to be people who thought jumping horses should land with their hind ends first too, but we don't try to do that anymore....

actually, there must be a way to measure this kind of thing - i call for a comparative study! natural movement vs wp movement, to see which puts the least strain on the horse. that would be interesting.

and i do miss posting and commenting! i have been working (if you can call it that!) on the other thing whenever i have free time, but i think i need a break! maybe i'll take some time off to let it rest and get back to this a little :-)

billie said...

I think Paul Belasik was involved with research on collection at some point - in concert with someone else whose name I'm blanking...?

But I *think* his focus was more on carrying the weight behind versus on the forehand. I'm not sure where the WP horses are carrying weight - the footfalls look so weird I can't really tell.

Oddly enough, Cody does a sort of piaffe at liberty. It's actually a thousand times more beautiful than anything I've seen a dressage horse do under saddle - very springy and light and he looks like a classical dressage horse when he does it.

Keil has done it in hand with me in the pasture, but with him it feels more like a cycling of energy whereas when I see Cody do it, I think of "joy" in his own body and movement.

I'm going to do some looking and see what I can find about the research - I know I read something about it somewhere!

jme said...

actually, i've seen my horses do a piaffe sort of thing when they are really excited but can't go anywhere, like in their stalls or at the paddock gate - they do a sort of fred flintstone running in place thing ;-)

i'll see what research i can dig up too. what i was thinking of was something about the mechanical elasticity and stored energy in muscles, tendons and ligaments of the legs especially during movement, and the natural efficiency of the gates at their average speeds (which is why those wp horses would probably be more efficient if they just broke to the slower gait rather than maintaining those lame paces.)

i remember reading something also about how the back plays a role in that efficiency at faster gaits, but surprisingly little in trot where it is relatively rigid. the goose rumps and stringy, underdeveloped hind ends and backs of those wp horses make me think they're not using them properly - and going on their forehands...

anyway, i'm babbling, but i'll see what i can find when i get a minute.

smazourek said...

That horse looked 3-legged lame to me too.

I think the greater crime is that these movements have become so ingrained in these horses that they move this way in the pasture (when they are lucky enough to get turnout).

ponymaid said...

billie - this way lies insanity. What is it all in aid of? What does it prove? I find it all very confusing indeed. I have a creeping fear that someday donkeys will be expected to perform this Western Pleasure contortion...

Matthew said...

That was grotesque.

billie said...

j, the trot does seem a very efficient gait to me, but not the slow shuffling jog. I'm just basing that on what it looks like and rides like though. You're right about taking something useful and making it ridiculous and hideous by taking it to an extreme!!

billie said...

s, I think we got Cody early enough that it had not yet been ingrained - he did move nicely at liberty, and I'm sure that helped in terms of convincing him it was what we also wanted under saddle.

The horses that were in the barns where he was (not where he was born and trained, but where he ended up being for sale) appeared to get very little turn-out.

The barn was HUGE - with all these connecting hallways that were literally still inside the barn - that led to various indoor arenas and one big outdoor but still completely covered arena.

Inside the barn where the stalls were, there were no windows and there was very loud country music playing nonstop. I literally thought I was going to scream by the time we left there. The horses for the most part looked like they never even needed grooming because they never really got out to play or roll in the dirt.

It was definitely a different kind of horsekeeping than I have ever seen. Cody seemed blown away when he arrived here and he was out almost all the time. The first summer he was completely miserable with bugs and sweat but each year since has improved. It occurs to me now he might never have been in a setting that actually had insects. Very "clean" in that barn but very artificial too - the lighting, no fresh air, etc. It was weird.

billie said...

Sheaffer, I hate to say it but I feel sure that somewhere, some crazed human has tried to turn a donkey into a western pleasure prisoner. This morning Rafer Johnson and Redford were running all over the front field, nonstop, using up all their excess energy so they could rest with hay after breakfast. That is how it should be!!

billie said...

Matthew, that is the perfect word to describe it.

Lawrence said...

I think Paul Belasik did the research with Prof Hilary Clayton, of the McPhail Equine Performance Centre.

The weight of this horse is absolutely on the forehand, and as an equine bodyworker, I cringe seeing the impact this gait has had on the horse's body.

I watched the Hunter Seat winner too, and it was not much better.

billie said...

Thanks so much, L, that's it - now maybe I can find it! And might check out the hunter video too.

Lawrence said...

You're welcome! I am a big Paul Belasik fan and really enjoyed the Dressage Radio Show's interview with him from a few weeks back. This kind of training and showing just makes me cry.

billie said...

Me too re: Paul Belasik. We have been lucky to have him coming to NC monthly for many years doing clinics. I was able to go a number of times and enjoyed his really no-nonsense honesty and also his eye for going straight to the weak link for each horse/rider pair and helping strengthen it.

His work with Hilary Clayton, now that I have refreshed my memory by looking it up, had to do with "proving" some of the classical dressage methods, focusing on collection and what happens to the horse's body when he/she collects.

I have seen Cody do the WP style gaits and I have seen him collect himself and do quite fancy things at liberty and although he is technically holding himself in in both, the circling of the energy in the latter is quite evident. There is a sense of power and beauty that makes anyone watching go "wow" - I don't think anyone has that reaction to the WP gaits.

Interesting too that I have seen him on a few occasions do a full-out gallop and then one of those huge stops that the seem to be fond of in the reining world. His free version of it was elegant and gorgeous and useful to him in the moment he did it. And at no time did his head drop down lower than his point of shoulder. I don't know why anyone would want to mess with the biomechanics or the beauty of what they do when they're free, happy, and healthy.

ponymaid said...

billie - if someone sneaks in and tries to make a western pleasure donkey out of Redford, I sincerely hope the cameras are rolling. And I hope the "trainers" have lots and lots of insurance. Though I feel Salina would deal with them rather harshly before it went too far...

billie said...

Sheaffer, I can't even imagine. Salina would be on the scene post haste!

Redford came into the arena during two different lessons today. He was determined to join in.

Netherfieldmom said...

That's a world champion?! Holy Toledo! What are all those folks smoking? That horse looks dead lame, so tender in front and stiff in back. I thought the canter was a 3 beat gait?? But what a lovely fake tail...ack! I also don't understand how anyone who has ever seen a horse being a horse, could ever WANT to ride like that. And it's just gotten worse and worse since I've been an adult. Have you read about a "spur stop"? Ick. As far as training youngsters, I have a friend in hunters, whose daughter is schooling and showing 3 yr. old welsh ponies over fences, for sale in the high-end pony hunter circles. I thought that was a little much...

billie said...

I haven't read about a spur stop - and am afraid to look it up! Virtually every horse sport has over the line practices - I steer clear of most competition scenarios b/c I just can't stomach what goes on.

Thanks for stopping by - I am going to see if you have a blog I can check out! :)

Netherfieldmom said...

Spur stop is where they teach the horse to stop when he feels the spur contact--that way they NEVER have to lift/touch/move the reins in the ring. Of course, it is counterintuitive for the horse to learn it, so you can imagine that the "training" (desensitizing) is not particularly pleasant. And, it is a whopper to unteach if you ever get a horse who's been trained that way. Sorta like your world-champ there, who can't cover 100 yards in a day...poor thing. Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

billie said...

I wonder if this is why Cody has always had a slightly funky stop - we don't wear spurs so have never experienced whether he would stop with spur contact or not.

We have taught him to stop with a squeeze of the reins (like squeezing a sponge) combined with a tightening of our seat muscles.

It's interesting how so many riding disciplines rely heavily on the artificial aids - in my mind the higher level of riding is when you can take everything off and just use your body to communicate with the horse. The purest form of riding. Of course, then you must rely on having a trusting relationship with the horse - which takes a certain mindset and a lot of time and patience and care.

Netherfieldmom said...

I guess the next logical step for those folks would be to put unconcious people over the saddle and judge whether they are able to stay on ??? I don't get it...head banging on desk...

billie said...

Ha! I don't know what the allure is at all. The horses look like they need antidepressants and body work.

Anonymous said...

Actually Western pleasure isnt as bad as yall are crackin it up to be. I does put some preasure on the legs... but its not like jumping and such dont???? Also what the horse in the video was showing was pure happyness in what it was doing(my horse loves western pleasure... not english and jumping). All those gates that are shown are natural they just look odd because the english horse is trained to move out extensively and extend... Although there is a 4-beat canter that is unnatural(not shown) but this gate is not usually favored by the judge. I show western pleasure and find this gate very unnessary. Western pleasure is also all about controll and consistancy,and the video was a perfect showing of true Western Pleasure! I thought it was very, very well done.

billie said...

Anon, obviously I do not agree with you about WP but I appreciate you leaving a comment with your thoughts on the video.

I do agree with you that jumping stresses the joints (and actually most sports do stress the horse which is why I am not competitive in any of them b/c I am unwilling to train that heavily in any one discipline).

My experience with our QH is that he is much happier and healthier riding in more extended gaits and doing a variety of things, including a little jumping. Will note though that we did not "train" him to extend - we simply encouraged him to use the same movement in the arena that he uses at liberty. Which is far from the tiny mincing gaits he was trained in for WP.

If your horse is happy and healthy doing Western Pleasure and you feel confident in that, then enjoy!