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Where Have the Standards Gone?
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Where Have the Standards Gone?

Not too long ago I mentioned going to a local horse show. What I witnessed there seems to be the "norm" for Southern states horse shows whether it's a breed show or an open show. I am baffled as to why this new style of riding is becoming all the rage when it goes against most guidelines and rules for showing Western Pleasure.

An excerpt taken directly from the AQHA rule book in regards to gaits: (a) A good pleasure horse has a free-flowing stride of reasonable length in keeping with his conformation. He should cover a reasonable amount of ground with little effort. Ideally, he should have a balanced, flowing motion, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. He should carry his head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with his poll level with or slightly above the level of the withers. He should not carry his head behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance. His head should be level with his nose slightly in front of the vertical, having a bright expression with his ears alert. He should be shown on a reasonably loose rein, but with light contact and control. He should be responsive, yet smooth, in transit ions when called for. When asked to extend, he should move out with the same flowing motion. Maximum credit should be given to the flowing, balanced and willing horse that gives the appearance of being fit and a pleasure to ride.

Another local show that I went to was a breed show. It's all about the points. I witnessed a painful to watch Western Pleasure class where the judge did NOT follow the rules or guidelines set by AQHA. High scores and placement were given to the horses who were in gaits commonly called the "Trope", which is where the horse is trotting in the front and loping in the back. The pace is extremely slow, so slow in fact a person walking would have been able to pass the horse at any given time. The headsets are way below wither level and in some instances a near Rollkur position of the poll with the nose behind the vertical. No relaxed reins, head positions, or natural gaits were to be seen with a few exceptions. There were a few riders who actually showed their horses with correctness and what a surprise, they didn't place.

Another excerpt: (e) This class will be judged on the performance, condition and conformation of the horse. I believe the judge left out an important part of this: performance.

As the rule book goes on to say:(j) Horses to be shown at a walk, jog and lope on a reasonably loose rein or light contact without undue restraint. (k) Faults to be scored according to severity: (I will post just a few here) (4) Excessive slowness in any gait, loss of forward momentum (resulting in an animated and/or artificial gait at the lope) (8) Head carried too low (tip of ear below the withers) (9) Overflexing or straining neck in head carriage so the nose is carried behind the vertical.

Clearly there were many faults by both riders and the judge in this show. Where have these standards gone and WHY are people allowed to win these shows if they are not going to follow the rules? What I saw were gorgeous horses being made to look more mechanical in nature rather than their true performance. Are we becoming a nation of shortcuts? What about the judges? Those judges who do not uphold the standards set should not be allowed to judge a class if he or she does not have a full understanding of what NATURAL gait means. I personally think part of the problem is bias and greed. If a horse shown in the manner in which these were to gain points and become money earners, their offspring will bring in more money. Bottom line right there, especially if it's a mare in the ring.

This situation is spinning out of control, and I'm wondering who's going to catch this mistake and who is going to correct things, bringing back the standards set to make it fair to everyone. As I said before, it's a standard. You're not in competition against anyone else in that ring, your horse is being judged on condition, conformation AND performance. The performances in that show ring were sub-standard at best. There's no need for all these "extra" gaits, regardless if the horses are being bred for it or not.

Credit for guidelines and standards AQHA Handbook

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  1. Red Dun Ryder
    Red Dun Ryder
    I completely agree with you! I went to a big Paint Horse show at the Tulsa fairgrounds and saw horses moving so unnaturally that they looked like they were in pain! There were horses that were off... lame in one leg or the other. They looked completely miserable! I was in the process of selling one of my horses to someone who wanted to show it and I changed my mind, because I didn't want my horse to be made to move like that! I realized they would have a better life just being a nice trail horse instead of a show horse. Something needs to change, somehow and the standard needs to go back to what is best for the horses and their natural way of going! I just dont know how to help make this happen.......Is it up to the judges to change things? It needs to happen, for the sake of horses everywhere. Thanks for writing about it!
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    1. Rene Wright
      Rene Wright
      A lot of it has to do with the judges. They're the one's making the decisions on who gets ribbons and points and who doesn't. A strict guideline is set but it seems to be seldom followed. I really think it depends on who hires the judge also. Another factor is this; is it a top breed show, a local show, an open show. Even though it should not matter what type of show it is, the organization who hires the judge can have an influence on points and ribbons. Plus, if one judge let's these types of things pass as "best in class" then word gets around that it is his or her preference and so begins the incorrect movement and gaits. I'm not sure what to do about it either.
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  2. julian johansen
    julian johansen
    i have an idea to what can be done, and this may be THE thing that CAN be done... on youtube, there is a documentary. if that documentary was seen bye the one who made the rules for competesions. thise rules wuld be chanced forever... the documentary is called the path of the horse. someone shuld see it, trancelait what is said to there langues. and share that wisdom in it to anyone where it will give a result... me myself are trsncelaiting it to danish, in hope to chance riding schools here in denmark at first, and then laiter the rules for competesions...
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  3. Mira Clifford
    Mira Clifford
    Yes! This always bothers me. I've been showing for many years and it's so unfortunate how common these low standards are in the ring. While a good deal of it is due to the judge's preference or political influences, it happens all too often that those that work hard at accomplishing the true standards of the discipline and perform them with confidence are not rewarded for their efforts and attention to not only the standards set by breed associations, but those they must have for their horse's well being.
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    1. Rene Wright
      Rene Wright
      Hi Mira! I apologize for this late reply. I'm not sure where you show, but I can speak from experience that mid-west to the east coast seems to be where this mostly happens. I showed for many years on the west coast and never seen any of this out there. I was just flabbergasted when I watched this show! The gaits are suppose to be shown in are to be a natural gait. What I saw was far from natural.
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  4. julian johansen
    julian johansen
    reason that i say it will have to start with the riding school is this: its at the riding school your in the first place told to put your horse in its place. to punish it with pain in one sort or anoder if its nutty, and won't do what its told. if we can chance it THERE! fewer people will at all come to the competesions with the rules it has now. and so they will have to chance these rules, in oder to make it more kind to the horses, untell that point where any kind of pain, will put you out of the contests witout warning.... to say it with 4 words. from competesion to compasion
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