Friday, March 27, 2009

really, they aren't!

In the horse world, opinions about training are as varied as the horses and disciplines involved. However, a few things are mostly universal: the spurring, the behind the vertical/way way below the vertical, the heavy hands, and the general lack of understanding how a horse moves.

The spurring is my biggest pet peeve. English and western riders both wear spurs, and they have become the answer to everything. Western riders are much more at fault for this, admittedly (and I have ridden western almost my entire "riding life"). Horse won't go? Spur. Horse moves too slow? Spur. Horse moves too fast? Spur. Horse isn't responding to the aids? Spur harder.

I'll admit right here, I use spurs. I use them correctly. I use them as an aid, and a last resort. Really, spurs have become synonymous with legs. There is no distinction between what is a spur aid or reminder and what is a leg aid or reminder. They're one in the same, and I would really like that to change.

The spurring is a vicious cycle, and it drives me crazy. I'm going to dedicate this blog to the training faux pas of mainly the western world, and the fixes. I'm going to try and stress exactly how a horse moves, and why spur, spur, spur is not the answer to collection, the ultimate goal of a whole lot of riders.


I'm going to start with "the jabbing." This drives me beyond crazy. This faux pas is especially prominent in western pleasure, though pleasure is not the only discipline guilty of this. All leg aids become a jab with the spur. There is no gradual increase of pressure; nope, just a rib crunching jab at the horse's sides.

My little sister is eight and just beginning to learn about horses. While riding, he is learning to squeeze first, then if the horse doesn't listen to make tiny bumps with her heels. I recently took her to watch a local schooling show, and the open western pleasure class was up. She turned to me in the middle and asked, "Why are the riders bumping the horses so hard? Is that why the horses all look so cranky?" Honestly, if an eight-year-old novice can recognize that the jab is just making your horses look cranky, it ain't working.

Take, for example, the picture above. Even though it's a still, you can tell this horse is being jabbed. Look at the horse's expression, and tell me if that isn't one pissed off horse. Her heels are turned toward her mount's side, which could just mean that she's getting ready to cue. However, her feet are swung forward in the stirrups, the motion of a continuous jab. She is braced in the saddle, as if she's sitting down hard on the horses back and going to town with swinging her legs. To top it all off, her horse's head is forward and raised in protest, which is very uncharacteristic for a western pleasure horse. Now tell me, is this a pleasant image? No, it is not, all thanks to "the jab."

Take a gander at the picture above, as well. That is another pissed off horse. Not only does he have the jab going, evident by the turned-out-toes and "sucked up" appearance of the stomach (a common reaction to hardcore spurring, comparable to ducking a punch), but he's got the face grab to contend with as well. This mount also looks entirely pissed off, but I don't blame him one bit.

The picture above is my good example. Not only is the horse's head above not only tripping level but the withers as well (yay!), his ears are up and alert. His expression is content, and he's concentrating on his job at hand, not the constant spurring in his gut. His rider's legs are close on his sides, and his heels are turned in, yet there is no jab of any kind. The lack of jabbing may be because the rider's legs are too long to successfully spur without reaching his heels up, but I'm going to give this pair the benefit of the doubt due to the horse's very happy and relaxed expression.

The differences between that last picture and the other two are monumental, in my opinion. Obviously a happier horse performs better, so why on earth are the spurring, yanking, and jabbing such popular training techniques? All those things do is piss a horse off, and that is where you get the "cranky" expressions. Jabbing and spurring to me in general is the same as a snappy person. When you're at work, doing your job, you want the environment to be pleasant, right? Jabbing is the same thing to a horse as a snappy boss is to you. A snappy boss immediately barks at you to do some task, and I'll bet it not only startles you but makes you uneasy. An ideal boss asks nicely yet authoritatively for a task to be done, and I can bet that you're more willing to complete his request than Snappy's.

I'll get off my soap box now. Stay tuned for more of my faux pas and fixes of the western world! :-)


  1. I believe that "good" picture is Cleve Wells, who was recently suspended by AQHA for one year. The reason? Cruelty to animals.

  2. Thank you for letting me know. I am well aware of the reason for his suspension also.

    The horse is Chips Hot Chocolate, and it is Cleve Wells aboard him as far as I can tell. I should have done better research before posting his photo as one of my "good" examples, but I was simply judging the horse in one snapshot of time. It didn't even occur to me that it might be an accused horse abuser riding him.

    In any case, thank you for pointing that out, but I just want to make clear that I am not promoting that type of treatment of animals in any way. There's no denying the remarkable stallion Chips Hot Chocolate is, though whether he is that way because of abuse or not it is not my place to judge.