How did western pleasure world get caught up in this controversy? Slower lopes, lower heads, longer reins, stiller tails?
An Ontario Appaloosa Association trainer shed some light on this. “I think a lot of the fads western pleasure has endured come from the quest to go slow on a loose rein. People will always try new trends to try to reach what they think is a good result. Unfortunately this is not always so. I myself have always tried to maintain proper movement and not be too trendy but it is very easy to fall into the trap of copying what you see. [Each negative trend] was a result of that quest.”
An Ontario AQHA judge, feels that many negative horse show trends resulted when people with less talented horses tried to copy the more talented horses and put them into a box they weren’t meant to be.
As a horse trainer and riding coach, I understand the pressure to “produce”. Staying power in the industry depends on one’s ability to have your horses in the winner’s circle. Clients have a lot invested in their horses and many expect results. Missing training deadlines for the big horse shows costs the owner in entry fees paid up front. Ambition and pure financial survival motivate people to push the limits of good sense.
Because of the specialization of the western pleasure horse and the questionable techniques to produce a winner, many of my amateur clients have opted for the “all around” route. Classes offered at stock horse shows include western riding, trail, ranch riding and horsemanship. In pattern events, a horse which lacks the quality movement or compact stride of a pleasure horse can still be competitive.
The pace of the Novice (Level 1)western pleasure tends to be more up-tempo, and some riders make their debuts in this class where there’s no pattern to memorize and they don’t have to be alone in the spotlight.
An Alberta breeder and judge stated, “Maintaining this same entry level perspective, we see those who may not be the most talented western pleasure horses still competing in these classes to gain experience in the pen. I believe it is also a way for people to promote their horses to horsemen who may watch a pleasure class to pick out the prospects–those horses who may not win the pleasure but look like they will be excellent horsemanship, trail, western riding, all-around horses.”
In 1983, this english rider, a western pleasure spectator at Toronto’s Quarterama horse show, scratched her head and wondered “What is so pleasurable about this class?”
As one AQHA judge observed “The western pleasure class has been through some major changes since the eighties. Gone are the days of extreme four beating and skinny horses. We see the pleasure horse beginning to move in a more natural way. With the inhumane treatment rules that the associations have implemented, much of the abuse is being kept away from the show ring and even trainers being reported for what they do at home.”
Another adds, “The western pleasure industry has taken hits from outside our industry that aren’t warranted. Issues develop in all aspects of the horse industry but they are not at the forefront like western pleasure, therefore I think we get picked on more often. Not everyone should be a trainer. One bad display hurts the entire industry. There have definitely been things to criticize, but the industry is improving. When someone is trying to change it takes time – it can’t be immediate.”
As a horse show judge, I recently received my yearly updated horse show handbooks …. with rule revisions underlined in black.