Recently I had been thinking about trying to show my mare at Appaloosa breed shows. Not because I thought we would end up at the World Show or anything but because she is registered and I thought it might be fun to try my hand at a little higher competition than what I had previously show at. I grew up just doing little local shows with my grade Appy/Paint mare and had a blast.
In doing research on what it takes to make a horse competitive at the higher levels I found myself uncomfortable with what I was seeing. Halter horses so huge they can't do anything else but stand still and look pretty. "Pleasure" horses who looked like they were broken in more ways than one. Horses pushed to the point that their brains were fried. And then I learned the "training methods" used to achieve these "desired" results. Enough to turn my stomach repeatedly. I love my horses. They are not money making tools by any means. They are strictly for my enjoyment. About a month and a half ago I happened to watch some of the Western Pleasure classes at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. The walk looked like a walk, the trot was not the wog I had expected, it did look like a nice jog and I was beginning to have a little hope that I might like what I was watching. Then they called for the "lope with forward motion." I started to snicker until I saw the horses begin to "lope." Somebody call a vet!! Every last one of those horses looked like they needed an x-ray and a couple of months of stall rest. Now this is probably standard practice but this was the first WP class I had seen at this high of a level that wasn't a grainy YouTube video. I thought I knew what to expect but boy was I wrong. These horses looked pathetic. And what I saw people do when the judge wasn't looking made me damn sure that I didn't want to go down to the warm up pen. If you want to know what goes on behind the scenes go read mugwump chronicles today. Make sure you read through the comments to where she mentions seeing a top trainer beat a horse with a logging chain. Now if you are just going to get the dish on names don't bother because she isn't that kind of blogger. She just writes about the things that made her turn away from showing.
Since my Stock Show experience I have been seriously looking at other avenues of competition. I just can't stomach the conventional show system. One organization I have looked into is the American Ranch Horse Association This is an organization that claims on the home page of its website to offer "a family oriented, friendly competitive atmosphere for those that are dedicated to the true versatile ranch type horse." They seem to promote a more natural state for the competitive horse, i.e. no hoof polish, only basic clipping of the bridle path and outside of ears, stuff like that. In fact one show bill I saw reminded its competitors in bold that there was to be no hoof polish or any other sort of artificial enhancement on the horse, all it had to be was clean. This is very refreshing to me. I wish that there was a group here in Colorado for the American Ranch Horse Association, I would love to go watch one of their shows. Another site I was just visiting today was the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association. They have a couple of groups here in Colorado and I plan on going and watching one of their competitions here within the next month. One additional sport I am looking at is Competitive Trail Riding. This just sounds fun! I will need to get back in shape however before I even think about trying that.
Now, I don't need to compete, I am perfectly happy just trail riding my horses but belonging to a group of like minded individuals with a little healthy competition is pretty fun most of the time. I enjoy the camaraderie of it. But I will not abuse my horses. Now that isn't to say that abuse hasn't happened at any of the events that I have listed about because I'm sure it has. Whenever people, horses, and competition come together the horse seems to get the short end of the stick. They just seem a little more removed from it to me. I may do a little more research on these groups and find that people in general just disgust me (this is a distinct possibility), or I may find that I really have a good time and the horses come out healthy. I'm sincerely hoping for the latter.