Today, we have all sorts of futurities - reining, cutting, barrel racing, etc. I have tried many times to get owners to postpone arduous training to give the colt a chance to mature. Most of the time, I was ignored. The lure of winning something or making some money was too great to resist. My strategy when the owner insisted on going ahead with training and/orcompetition that I felt was premature was to say, "That's okay. You go ahead. What you are doing is very good for my business."
Why is it that the protests against over-using young horses come primarily from the people who profit from such abuse - the veterinarians? Is it because we best understand the trauma being inflicted upon immature skeletons, joints, ligaments and tendons?
Just as I am not opposed to racing, if properly conducted, I am not opposed to horse shows or competitive equine events. Horse shows, like all livestock shows, were conceived of long ago to "improve the breed". They were designed to demonstrate and reward the people who were doing the best job of breeding, of selecting bloodstock, and of creating superior bloodlines.
Unfortunately, human nature, vanity and greed have corrupted the horse show industry. We see grotesque caricatures of the original character of each breed. Stock horses, the working ranch breeds, are shown in Western Pleasure classes traveling in a manner that would drive a working cowboy crazy. With lowered heads, going in a downhill manner, these horses greatly magnify the forces placed upon the forelimbs. Once again, good for usvets. It produces income, but the horses suffer.
The wonderful Tennessee Walking Horse is shod and shown in distorted gaits that can only be called "grotesque".If it weren't for the frequent veterinary checks, which are mandatory, can you imagine how many endurance racing horses would die because of their riders' consuming desire to win? I remember the early endurance races. Saddlebreds, with surgically distorted tails, and gingered anuses, are exhibited with the pupils of their eyes dilated with atropine.How many people who sincerely consider themselves to be "horse lovers" wean foals at three months of age, or even earlier, which nature never intended? How many horses, a gregarious species, spend their lives locked in box stalls? How many horses in the U.S.A, like so much of our human population, are damaged healthwise by excessive nutrition?Such abuses exist in ever breed, every discipline, in every equine sport. We need to step back and analyze what we are doing.One of my clients was a prosperous, educated couple. They were very congenial, and they owned three Quarter Horses. One day, they called me to come to their home to worm their horses and check them over and booster their vaccinations. When I arrived, I found only two horses, so I asked where the third one was."Oh, he's in training as a reining horse, with ____________" (a successful and notoriously brutal trainer who also happened to be one of my clients).I said, "Oh, I see." Then the wife said, "We know how cruel he is to the horses, but hewins!" I never felt the same toward those people, again. This same trainer (he's been dead for many years) once said to me, "Doc, why can't you guys cut the tails on my horses? Why do you make me drive 300 miles round trip to get my tails done?"
He was referring to the illicit surgical paralyzing of the tail, common in reining horses so they can't switch their tails. ALL of the horses in his barn had their tails cut.I said, "Were you ever beaten in a show by a horse that you knew had its tail cut?""Oh sure," he said. "Lots of times." "Well," I told him, "I didn't cut the tail nor did my partners. We won't do anything against the association rules."This same guy, a world-class competitor, kept every horse in his barn on Serpecil, a tranquilizer not approved by FDA for use in horses. I have no idea where he got the drug, but somebody was selling it to him.
I believe that a conspiracy exists in the horse show industry. The trainers are judges, and the judges are trainers. Too often, they scratch each others' backs.If Western Pleasure horses were shown as they were 50 or 60 years ago, a good amateur could turn out a champion. But it takes a real pro to produce the freaks seen in today's Western Pleasure classes. And, after the horse goes back to the owner from the trainer and is no longer winning, it has to go back to the trainer for a "tune-up".A few days before I wrote this article, I got back from Bishop Mule Days, a unique event I attend every year that has no equal anywhere in the world. I had the pleasure of seeing Western Pleasure mules that WERE NOT "peanut rollers".
The trend began some years ago, but the mule people balked at it and ruled it out. GOOD FOR THEM! You see, to be a mule lover, you REALLY gotta love horses!