The recently formed Animal Welfare Commission (AWC) in the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) has proposed a new rule that will allow only arena-legal equipment to be used on the show grounds. This means that training aids like martingales, draw reins, certain bits, etcetera cannot be used in warm-up, practice, or lunging. This controversial proposal has trainers, owners and competitors stirred up on both sides of the fence.
In recent years, AQHA has been passing new regulations to ensure the safety of show horses, like the Steward Program. This program places stewards at shows who address abuse and illegal use of equipment on a case by case basis. However, the new proposed equipment rule has some trainers thinking the regulations have gone too far and could lead to a snowball effect of banning all types of equipment.
This topic is so controversial because it significantly impacts how these horses are prepared for the show pen. When trainers bring young horses to shows, they often use certain training aids in order to navigate the crowded and scary warm-up pens. If this law was passed, it could mean unsafe conditions for riders who are exposed to or riding these young horses. In addition, novice riders use these types of equipment to build up their confidence before entering the show pen.
AQHA and the AWC are working to be more proactive in the protection against inhumane treatment of quarter horses as the association often receives pressure from outside organizations about the treatment of show horses. It should be noted that any recommendations by the AWC go straight to vote by the Executive Committee rather than the normal procedure of receiving committee recommendation first. The AWC submitted two rule changes to the Show and Professional Horsemen Committee that will be voted on at the AQHA Convention in March. The proposed changes can be seen below:
Agenda item #4 – Add new rule – A horse may not be ridden, driven, or led, nor exercised anywhere on the show grounds with prohibited equipment. The use of prohibited equipment shall disqualify the horse from that show and may result in disciplinary action taken against the rider, handler, agent or owner.
1.) For lungeing a horse a lunge-line and a long whip is allowed.
2.) Senior horses can be exercised with equipment allowed for junior horses
Agenda item #8–Add to Western Equipment rule 443–Ban the use of draw reins used with a curb bit while on the grounds at any AQHA event.
First, take a look at the comments section for some perspective and some very valid points.
This rule change could certainly adversely affect trainers and riders who travel from show to show and have no other opportunity to school their horses except on show grounds. Not to mention the shows that can last up to several weeks, from what I understand (I have never shown AQHA). In such a case, the rider or trainer is then forced to school their horse in arena-legal equipment only with absolutely no opportunity for a tune-up using schooling equipment. This might be a good thing in that it forces trainers and riders to school their horses in a more correct manner and the rule itself limits the extent of abuse a rider may inflict on a horse, however is it crossing the line to restrict riders and trainers to working with their horse in such a manner? How do these riders and trainers cope without knowledge of any other manner of training, having relied upon gadgets to school their horses? Should riders be forced to only school their horses in one particular manner?
What this rule change does is not only weed out the riders using gadgets in an abusive manner, but it also greatly limits the riders using gadgets in a non-abusive manner, which is a bit of a grey area.
This rule change may force riders to find training alternatives that do not rely on the use of gadgets. Let's face it - maybe some of these riders are using draw reins and martingales in a traditionally acceptable manner ie, as a training tool used in moderation, but most are not. Most if not all are using such devices to create a 'frame' - ie, to bring the horse's head down. Correct use of a martingale or draw reins would be, for example, to encourage the horse to relax and drop his poll a little and keep him from inverting - in extreme cases whereby the horse is severely inverted and trying to evade the bit (and has the improper muscling to support this inverted frame as opposed to an alternative and more correct manner of moving). This would be done while simultaneously developing the horse from other angles ie, teaching him to relax in general, developing strength and balance in the horse, and teaching the horse to increasingly engage from behind. It is interesting to note that most if not all the 'masters' of classical horsemanship advocate against the use of gadgets such as draw reins and martingales (and even side reins, etc - anything fixed).
It is important to strengthen the horse and to teach him to balance and use himself correctly under the weight of a rider. Using himself correctly means he is lifting at the base of his neck (important!!!) and opening his throatlatch so he is in front of the vertical and his poll naturally hanging. The horse loads the haunches to land on a bent hock, the back is loose, swinging, and rounded, and the front end is lightened - the horse actually looks to be moving uphill. As a result of the biomechanics of the horse, all this means his head naturally drops. This differs from a horse in the frame demanded of western pleasure (etc) classes. The preceding creates a stronger, more athletic horse with pure gaits. The latter creates a horse subject to breaking down and unsoundness due to the stress placed on his ligaments, tendons and muscles to maintain a false and difficult to maintain frame. The latter also creates impure gaits. Like the 4-beat canter.
Note in the above photo the horse actually appears to be moving downward - this is because his weight is shifted onto the forehand as opposed to his haunches engaging, taking the weight, and lifting the forehand up. His haunches are actually strung out behind him and he is croup-high because his pelvis is not tilted so his hind legs can reach further beneath him. A horse moving in this position has to tense his back to hold the weight of his rider and this tension in the back, which of course is reflected throughout the horse's entire body, is what leads to unsoundness and break-down.
In short, gadgets such as martingales and draw reins should be used only in the most extreme of situations, in moderation - if at all. They are not go-to teaching tools for establishing a correct way of moving because they are fixed and they neglect the ultimate and correct manner of asking the horse to move which focuses on the haunches and results (among other things) in the poll dropping. Gadgets may aid in teaching the horse to lower the head (only), however they do not teach the horse to lift at the base of the neck and in fact they can aid the horse in building incorrect (and bracing) muscles that are actually counter-productive to his moving correctly.
So why do these trainers and riders NEED draw reins and martingales (etc) to 'tune-up' their horses prior to and at shows? A horse asked to carry himself in a correct manner should easily sustain this correct manner of moving and only further progress with schooling. This is because moving in such a manner - strengthened and in balance, is natural for the horse. A horse however asked to sustain a false frame will always have to be reminded to sustain such a frame because it is both difficult and unnatural to the horse. Is this right? Should these riders be permitted to use such gadgets when they are so obviously being used in an incorrect manner? Is this an area the AQHA should regulate?
Furthermore, what actually defines abuse? Is it the riders brutally yanking and jabbing at their horses in an obviously abusive manner? Or is it the ones who are using draw reins and restrictive martingales to tie the horse's head down, then using a curb bit not for refinement but to force the horse to lower his head, then quietly spurring the horse forward in this frame? I've seen these horses locally and though the riders' techniques are typical and accepted, does it not still constitute abuse when the horse is so distressed? Where is the line?
Lastly, I take issue with the following:
When trainers bring young horses to shows, they often use certain training aids in order to navigate the crowded and scary warm-up pens. If this law was passed, it could mean unsafe conditions for riders who are exposed to or riding these young horses. In addition, novice riders use these types of equipment to build up their confidence before entering the show pen.
Please tell me you are joking. Unsafe conditions for riders who are exposed to or riding these young horses?? SINCE WHEN ARE DRAW REINS AND MARTINGALES (etc) MEANT FOR CONTROL?? I HOPE the above comment comes from someone not familiar with AQHA showing and that the comment does not reflect typical thinking in the AQHA arena. Novice riders should NEVER be using these types of equipment to build their confidence (or for ANYTHING) and neither should these types of equipment be used on young horses to CONTROL them. IF these pieces of equipment are used at all, they should be used at home, to prepare (cringe) the horse. The horse should come to the show arena-ready, not out of control and requiring such extensive schooling that he requires such aids.
*phew. end rant*
Photo credit to Braymere.