Sunday, November 06, 2011

CALL TO ACTION: AQHA and the Reichert Celebration 2011

I have a huge amount of information and a call to action to pass on from a friend and true advocate of the horse, Lee Earnshaw, on the Blue Tongue Alumni Facebook page, who is working hard to address the issues our Quarter Horses face in their breeding, early training, and the distortion of gaits and frame they are forced to endure in the name of the "Western Pleasure" discipline:
"Please watch this, watch the poor horses, pick out the lame one, count all the draw reins attached to curbs and used as a primary rein...notice no active AQHA stewards there to ensure that rules 104, 401, and 441 were not violated. All you need to do to speak for the horses is send one email to and let her know what you think. Please include your country of origin."

Billie adds:
If you find this video and the riding you see in it offensive, inhumane, and/or cruel to the horses involved, below is a link to all sponsors of the Reichert Celebration. Although it takes time to email them to let them know your thoughts on their sponsorship of this kind of event and the treatment of these horses, it DOES make a difference. There is actually a remake of this video being done with an updated list of sponsors who have already responded to concerns of viewers - and those sponsors who haven't responded at all.

A huge effort is underway with regards to this. Please consider adding your voice in every way you can to help the American Quarter Horse. If you've ever known and loved a Quarter Horse, you know how incredible they are.

Our QH Cody came to us as a 2-year old fully trained under saddle. It took years (he's 8 now) to teach him to move like a normal horse. He is a teddy bear and even under our care and encouragement, he still tenses up sometimes and reverts to the tight, constricted gaits and frame he was taught as a baby.

When I look at the horses in the video above, and look out my window and see Cody gallop up the hill with his herd, I see a completely different breed of horse. He moves beautifully, has gorgeous muscling, and he has a regal air to him that is simply not present in the movements of the horses above. How has this come to pass? Go tell these sponsors what the Quarter Horse can be, and should be, and used to be. Tell them you don't like what you see at the Reichert Celebration, and ask them to stop sponsoring that kind of event - which in my opinion is no celebration at all.  and you can CLICK HERE to go directly to the list.

And read on - here are two articles Lee Earnshaw wrote sharing her research into this issue:


   My curiosity was piqued. I thought most Quarter Horse folks were going to be upset because of my nosing around into what was happening at 'their' shows, in 'their' warm-ups, and fully expected a mail box full of the typical response "You don't understand," and the all encompassing, "Mind your own business." 

     But, I was getting emailed cheers of encouragement from those folks that I thought would like to rip me to shreds, and many of them were telling the same tale as me. "I quit showing WP because of the peanut rolling and four beat lope." And here, I thought I was the only one.

     Being nosy, I just had to find out some statistics. So here we go...about the time the peanut rolling & four beat lope became really fashionable in the early 90's there were 207,286 members like me, renewing their annual membership.

     By the year 2000, annual membership was down to 179, 639. By 2010, it was down to 89,413.

     Total membership (Annual, 3-Year, Life, Youth, and Amateur classifications) dropped about 16% from from 2007 to 2010. Total 345,905 in 2007, and in 2010, down to 300054. Yes, okay, we can blame that on the economy...until we compare the stats from USEF membership decrease in the same length of time to be only about 9.6%

     There are 115,390 owners of registered QH's in Texas in 2010...only 41,186 of them are members of AQHA. That is a measley 36% of all Texan owned Quarter Horses are eligible to compete at AQHA shows or race at the tracks.

     No wonder one of the AQHA goals for the upcoming year is to entice more people into competing. Problem is, a lot of those people used to, but were driven away from it by the whims of judges forgetting what the American Quarter Horse was supposed to do...move like a horse that was a pleasure to ride. Or heck, even just move like a horse was intended to. And a lot of us will not be caught dead in custom-made sequin outfits costing $1000 and up. No way. If I've got a grand to waste, it won't be on clothing that I wouldn't ordinarily be caught dead in except on Hallowe'en.

     And another problem is, now, the expose' of what the horses are actually subjected to, despite AQHA's assurance that their shows are "regulated by some of the most strict rules within the equine industry, designed to ensure the safety and welfare of American Quarter Horses compete,in approved events, are not jeopardized." We know that's not true. We've seen video proof.

     Add on to that, the fact that the judges are still rewarding the non-level toplines, the uncadenced jogs, the staggering slow walks, and the extreme head-nodding at the lope, which is sometimes three-beat, sometimes four, depending on the judge. All against the rules, still. The rules have chnaged and been updated over the past few years, but the judges seem incapable of comprehension or change.

     AQHA likes to impress people with the fact that, in the last 31 years, they have actually reprimanded 52 members for cruelty. Sounds pretty good, right? Until you look at how many hundred thousand members they have now...and through the years, it must be well over a couple of million. Let's be generous, underestimate, and say, 1 million. 52 reprimands? Not even a drop in the bucket.

     The statistics I would really like to hear about are: how many complaints were received, how many were actually even investigated, and how many were reprimanded.  Every year.  Bragging about a vague total from a three decade span just doesn't do it for me.

     AQHA is probably regretting now that in their endeavor to have the most silver and sequins, the grassroots membership faded away. I'm pretty sure they knew all along that was happening--if I can tell, just by reading their published statistics, surely they could tell--yet did nothing about it. It might be time for AQHA to take a good hard look at the ground--they are diving for it, anyway.



Since the video was found and posted on our group wall, we have been following multiple leads...who, on Earth, is responsible for allowing inhumane treatment of horses in warm-up? Draw reins on so many horses, and attached to curbs? What organization failed the American horses so badly? Well, after looking into it for over two one seems to know anything. Definitely, they "ain't sayin' nuthin'"...I feel like we might have stumbled on the Mafia of the Western Pleasure world.

Reichert Celebration offers 1.5 million USD in prize money. The Reichert family raise Quarter Horses.

AQHA rules are to be followed, or maybe NSBA's unless they conflict with AQHA's, then those take precedence. The other breed organizations (PHBA, APHA, POA, ApHC) have their own rules, but AQHA's, again, would take precedence if in conflict; or at least, they think so. They allow show points to be accrued, but the ones who have responded stress that, beyond that, they have nothing to with the Reichert Celebration. It is ''altogether different," apparently.

Horses are supposed to be treated with dignity and humanely at all times, though...that's pretty much the standard rule for horse welfare with all the involved organizations. The video proves that everyone left it up to someone else to figure out what to do and how to do it, and it appears that no one did, and no one could figure out the difference between humane and inhumane. Sadly, there were even vets on site. Vets that yes, will profit from this kind of inhumane treatment. Money talks, and money even shuts one up.

USEF and FEI are not affiliated with any of the national organizations invited into the hodgepodge of Reichert Celebration show and sale.

The NSBA, AQHA, and the organizers themselves have not responded to the obvious rule violations. When they do, the questions I will be asking is:
-exactly how many of the horses were tested for drugs, and is fluphenazine on their list of drugs to be tested for;
-how many actual disqualifications were there in the Western Pleasure classes that state horses to have level topline (AQHA) and no head-nodding at lope (NSBA)
-who provided/paid for stewards and was each ring, including warm-ups, monitored by at least one, at all times;
-how did they not notice draw reins attached to curbs, or draw reins in use, when training devices are banned in warm-up
-why were none of the horses marked with identifiable numbers in warm-up, and do they feel this impairs the safety of the horses by overlooking this basic requirement at events with more than a handful of horses (let alone 2500). How are they going to identify all the riders caught on film violating their own rules?
-do they feel it is ethical to hire their major sponsors (like vets) and have other sponsors also be competitors? This is like bribing the boss to hire you, or buying your placings before you ever saddle up, imo.

AHC and HSUS and the majority of sponsors and involved breed associations have all avoided reponding to concerned thus far...

Update: October 15: NSBA has responded and do agree that their were violations of their rules in that video. They state they had a monitor, a steward, and a drug tester available at the show. They are launcing their own investigation and review. They also state it is not the norm for numbers to be displayed when outside the stall, but they feel that this is a valid point and will be suggested at their next meeting. I think they realized they could see violations but can't correctly identify the violaters since they were all anonymous without any identification.

October 25: RC responded last week and don't see anything wrong with draw reins, and they thought their stewards did a great job pf reprimanding people for using draw reins. Yep. I kid you not. We have a problem here. I think the media man who wrote this has difficulty keeping a train of thought, maybe adult onset ADHD or something can be blamed.
Sponsors who have now responded after me telling them we were going to remake the video for national TV to ensure their names were included if they didn't respond: Western Haulers and Show Girl Show Clothes.
APHA and AQHA sent me their usual generic "we will get back to you" crap email.
USEF has formally denied having anything to do with Recihert Celebration at all/whatsoever/no way, uh-uh.
One guy said he didn't want to be involved when I asked him to pass on a ''heads up'' to his client who also happens to be a major sponsor of the show.

Oct 27:Another sponsor forwarded my email to AQHA and APHA, and guess what? Both organizations responded yesterday. APHA said they have pro-welfare rules.(I asked if they were aware those rules were violated when I emailed her back.)
AQHA rep emailed me like I was a retard and said she'd ensure my concerns about gaits of QHs and use of draw reins would be addressed in 2012. (Obviously, I let her know I am not waiting that long, and surely someone there knows how to call an urgent board meeting.) She also said USEF decides when to drug test, not them...very interesting...since USEF claims they have nothing to do with AQHA drug testing...I will bet money that no horses at this Reichert Celebration were tested, since no one knew who should decide when and who to test...which is why they all looked doped up on fluphenazine in the classes I saw before they made their videos private...


a link to a speech given by Dr. Jim Heird, an AQHA judge, in 2009, advocating for change in their system:
There is more information forthcoming. Stay tuned here and feel free to join the Blue Tongue Alumni group on Facebook if you want to be part of the ongoing conversation there.


Grey Horse Matters said...

You already know how we feel about this sort of training. I'm glad there is somewhere to go to help these horses. Thanks for all the info.

smazourek said...

You know what AQHA is doing to try to get more members? Making more classes. They know the regular "western pleasure" and "halter" classes are turning people off big-time, so they just went ahead and added new classes for "performance halter" and "ranch horse pleasure,", for people that want their horses to move and look like horses. They won't give up the other classes because they make too much money off of them.

Here's my conundrum, should I renew my AQHA membership so I can compete in the new classes and hopefully help change the course, or abstain because the old classes are awful?

Netherfieldmom said...

I tested this out on my vet, whose son (also a vet) is high up in the state AQHA. He smirked a little when I mentioned draw reins and rollkur and then said, "The AQHA does a pretty good job of policing that, I think." end of conversation. :/

Victoria Cummings said...

I don't belong to the AQHA anymore. Why support this kind of mistreatment? Silk was trained to the hilt as a Western Pleasure show horse and pretty seriously abused before I got her. In the beginning, she would stand facing the corner in the back of her stall and try to kick anyone who came in. She was so afraid of people, and I was mocked by the Western "experts" and trainers when I used Linda Tellington Jones' T Touch exercises to help her understand that I wasn't going to hurt her. So none of this surprises me, and I'm very glad that so many people are finally making noise about it. Unfortunately, in most sports that involve animals and children, making lots of money and stroking big egos usually seems to lead to abuse. Thanks for staying on top of this. Please keep posting what you learn.

billie said...

Arlene, you're welcome. I was glad to find this info and grateful to Lee for allowing me to share it here.

billie said...

smazourek, that is very interesting. I didn't know about the new classes.

I'm not sure what to say wrt your conundrum... there are pros and cons to both, I think. I don't think I could participate at all if I knew this kind of thing was going on in an arena next door to me, or if I had to see the horses going like this in warm-up.

OTOH, my daughter has shown her pony in situations where I was not thrilled with some of what went on around us - but we at least modeled what we felt was a balanced, humane, and pony-focused experience, and always had folks comment both directly to us and indirectly about us that our horsemanship approach was appreciated and admired. Sometimes doing something positively beside something being done poorly says more than anything else can to onlookers.

billie said...

Netherfieldmom, wow. I've had to tell a vet or two over the years that I disagreed with them about things similar to this and it's always tricky. Some can handle that and some can't. There is a lot of head in the sand thinking out there when it comes to what is best for horses.

billie said...

Victoria, you reminded me that I sometimes think of Cody as being a "rehabbed" QH - or deprogrammed from a bizarre cult.

It's sad when such a terrific breed is being methodically ridden into the ground, so to speak, and when I see Cody moving now and see how incredible he looks galloping up our front pasture hill, I wish I had video of his tiny mincing jog and canter steps and put it beside what we see now. I can't imagine anyone thinking the former is in any way natural or more beautiful, or even more efficient or rideable.

Gak. It's frustrating.

ponymaid said...

billie - that world encompasses many things but horsemanship is not one of them. Herself was a member of said AQHA for twenty years and ripped up her membership over just such issues as these. She told them why she could not renew her membership in all good conscience but received what was essentially a "too bad, so sad" type of response. For once she and I are in complete agreement on an issue. I even offered to eat the fragments of the torn up membership card as a gesture of solidarity.

billie said...

Sheaffer, it does not surprise me that The Woman saw this for what it is and ripped up her membership card!

How are YOU? I was worrying you had gotten stuck in a drift of snow and frozen your hooves up - is The Woman gallivanting all over the place again leaving you with no typist???

Have sorely missed your insights into the world and wish she would just give in and hire you an assistant who devotes him/herself to bringing your missives to the world.