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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