Willowview Hill Farm


Bit Between the TeethCatskill Horse columnists sound off on a variety of horse related issues.
The expression "Bit Between the Teeth" dates back to 470 BC and Greek culture when Aeschylus remarked, " You take the bit between your teeth like a newly harnessed colt."
So expect lots of unstoppable enthusiasm from this column and a good bit of uncontrollable controversy!
Thanks to the late Andy Rooney for the notion.






The Dastardly 4 Beat Canter
By Tina Hammond

Our own Editor, Nikki Alvin-Smith, recently wrote about this on her professional trainer page in her popular blog, Dressage Art in Motion, and I felt is bears repeating as I have seen so much of it going on in the ring too.

The earthbound canters we see in some competitions are often rewarded as obedient and compliant when all the riders are doing is pulling the horse down and into false submission. A canter gait should always be 3 beat, and as soon as a lazy hind leg is felt the rider must address it.

Sometimes caused by soundness and stiffness, the developing horse often exhibits it. The setting up of the lower hock joints is often responsible. If this is the cause then the horse needs to receive medical help to alleviate any pain in the joint and be worked gymnastically to help it recover itself.

Another pet peeve of mine is bad halts. Creeping off in the walk, not properly passive at the halt, fidgeting and riders simply rushing the horse off its feet to try and disguise it.

It’s two sets easy 10 points people. It’s in every dressage test. Learn how to do it.

I agree with Nikki that what we see in the warmup ring is often cause for concern too. Forget Rollkür, just watch the rest. I urge judges to get on board with what a developing horse’s canter should look like through the levels and help the trainers and riders by pointing out weaknesses and giving guidance. That is their job at the end of the day.

Online Tack Shop Bait and Switch Tactics
By Kathy Collins
Like most horse owners my inbox is full of offers from a variety of online tack shops that at some point in history I must have subscribed to or purchased from – regularly hits on the unsubscribe link follow ones that barrage me with info.
The recent trend that has me annoyed is the offer of discounts from companies. Large online retailers sending me an offer like 20% off. Then you click through to an actual picture on the newsletter and lo and behold, no discount.
“Call us,” they might say, or “Product not included in this promotion.”
Marketing ploys are nothing new. But if you are trying to secure my dollar you better get on board with building some trust. This bait and not even switch offer wastes my time and pisses me off.
I doubt I am alone in this.
I miss the days when I’d visit a local tack shop where the owner knew my name and the type of tack I use and like. When they would order something special and hold it until I could come get it. Most of those tack shops have succumbed to the online invasion. That’s sad.
Online shopping can be convenient. Special VIP offers of ‘Perk Clubs’ or other terms that aren’t special at all and apply to everyone, or barns that have a special ship day each week where shipping is free are great ideas to engage us to buy from them. But when the follow through doesn’t add up your repeat customer walks out the door.
Please wake up marketing gurus. We aren’t stupid and we don’t like our time being wasted with misleading offers and advertising.

Tack Theft At Showgrounds
By Tina Hammond

Attendance at a horse show is becoming an increasing nightmare for competitors with the consistent issue of tack theft. Even if you buy an additional stall for storage, lock your trunks and the stall door, the chances of your tack disappearing overnight or even during the daylight hours seems to be on the up.

For most competitors lugging the expensive saddles and bridles from show to hotel room simply isn’t an option. There is so much equipment to take to a show that even one tack box isn’t enough to carry it all. It’s time horse show management took security more seriously.

Temporary stabling is common at local events. Lockers provided at fancier venues are not available or on the budget, but provision of better security devices should be easy to install. In Europe we enjoy massive surveillance and someone who sits in their cubicle anywhere can routinely monitor the comings and goings on the showgrounds. Why is America so far behind?

Technology is here to cover this issue and to make a real difference in catching thieves that roam the show world.

It is important that everyone be vigilant, and that we all take responsibility for secure storage of our handbags, wallets and show gear, but there should be a better system in place that is required for certain level events so that people can feel confident that when they have taken proper precautions to protect their valuable tack assets and riding gear someone else watching over them too.

Competitors pay a lot to show these days, and are often forced to stable on site whether they want to or not. Horse show organizers need to step up their security and provide up to date security services, not just one person roaming around in a golf cart who cannot possibly cover the entire event alone.

How Can Someone That Can’t Canter On Their Horse Be A Dressage Trainer?
By Tina Hammond

I recently heard the funniest thing. A lady that cannot do a speck of dressage and also apparently does not canter on her horse proclaims herself to be a dressage trainer.

How does this happen in the U.S.A.? In Europe you have to meet certain criteria to be licensed to teach the general public. Something important about that when you think about it. Health and safety of horse and rider for one thing and the ability to teach what you know firsthand how to do is another.

After I recovered from rolling around on the floor, clutching at my tummy muscles sore from all the laughing I delved deeper.

Then I learned more interesting news. Even if you have barely shown to Medium level (approximately 3rd level in the U.S.A.) you can still teach riders and promote yourself as a qualified dressage trainer. How does that work? If you don’t know the full scale of training a horse to advanced dressage how can you know the progression needed for the rider to properly develop their skills.

There’s more good news. You don’t have to qualify to show at a certain level, you can just go enter at whatever level you think you can manage. That explains a lot. No independent seat but you can hang on O.K. because you have that double bridle. What!

I am stunned to learn this is how things are done in the U.S.A.

I feel sorry for all the real trainers out there that are denied good clients by such charlatans. I feel even more sorry for the neophyte dressage riders who are subjected to such an asinine system.

When You Are Not Welcome
By Tina Hammond

A funny thing happened the other day and it was a first in the life of this competitor.
I heard that press was denied access to a public eventing competition.

How weird is that. The reason given was apparently that the owner of the property thought the writer might not have ‘honorable intentions.’ Whatever that means?

Fellow competitors that attended the event told me they found it ‘bizarre’ and ‘unheard of’ and were as confounded and bemused by the action as the magazine team were. The sponsors no doubt would have welcomed the press coverage and certainly the competitors would have welcomed coverage also.

Isn’t all press coverage good press? Well I thought so, and it wasn’t as if the magazine in question had ever negatively covered an eventing competition in the past or indeed been controversial anywhere in print that I could find. So what was the matter?

Colleagues suggested that as riders that regularly attended the competition in question, they had been interviewed by a myriad of magazines at the same event with no problems. Certainly accidents do happen at horse shows and indeed did happen at this same event last year, and perhaps somewhere the event organizers saw some negative coverage of eventing due to the loss of a horse or rider that perhaps included their venue, but I could not source any such coverage. But the owner of the property and organizers did not convey that was their concern.

One of the event sponsors who I know well from a major showjumping event that I regularly participated in earlier in my career, told me that they were aghast at the notion that press would be told they were not welcome. I also spoke with a friend that works at CBS and they suggested the magazine writer should show up and cover the event anyway to make the point that a public event is just that, public.

As one of the advanced competitors said, “It’s their {the event’s} loss.”

And indeed it is. And also a loss to the competitors, vendors and sponsors who pay hard earned money to attend and would no doubt like the press coverage.

News travels fast and blocking certain magazines from doing what is after all, their job, is not a smart move for any event organizer. As a competitor that has spent much time on the A circuit in Europe where competitions are well funded with prize money and sponsor participation is high, I was surprised that in the USA prize money is low and sometimes non-existent. Complaints on that subject are many. The reason often given is there is no press coverage to make the dollars spend worthwhile. Perhaps this is why! Who knew.

Did Your Trainer Fix Your Ride?
By Tina Hammond

I have been around the world of showjumping at every level in the sport, and around many other equestrian disciplines too. I’ve long known that it is not uncommon for horse trainers to only allow their students to purchase horses that they have located or from those trainers that operate in their ‘network.’

The reasons a trainer will give their gullible owners very but there is little truth in many of them. Here are a few cherries!

The trainer will suggest that they need to know the provenance of the horse to ensure its soundness and training.

Translation: The horse is being passed around from trainer to trainer, often in a circle and each time the horse changes hand the new owners are charged booth a buyer and seller commission. Often these horses have lameness or behavioral issues that are masked by the trainers by the administration of a variety of treatments completely unbeknown to the owners.

The trainer will suggest that the horse does not suit the rider because the horse is outside of the above circle.

Translation: Blackmail. The trainer will dictate that the owner must not purchase the horse. If the owner does not follow the mandate the trainer may threaten to either refuse to train the horse/rider or deliberately sabotage the deal. Reason is the same. The trainer is out of their circle of influence or the seller of the horse has refused to enter in the commission triangle.

The trainer will suggest they cannot find the right horse for the rider.

Translation: The trainer wants to maintain the rider in their barn utilizing their lesson horses. Often the trainer has a plan to target a horse already in their barn for sale to the rider at a later date on the commission circle above, but needs to wait until that horse has been outgrown either in terms of the horse’s abilities or the rider’s growth either physically (as in children) or in terms of rider’s riding abilities.

I could make a shopping list of the abuses and cornering that goes on in the horse world. How do you avoid it?

Don’t be naïve. You are probably successful in other areas of your life but for some reason all your common sense goes out the window when you enter the horse yard and you succumb to flattery, intimidation or self-confidence issues because the trainer knows more about horses than you do. If in doubt, find another trainer, and be sure it is someone that is out of the circle! There are honest trainers around. While it is easy to be jaded by bad experiences and you might feel that you are looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack you can find one. On the other hand, you might be a rider that enjoys being led around by the ring in your nose. If the latter is true, then examine why you are in the horse world to begin with. I think you’ll find it is not for the reasons you thought.

Please Read The Ad
By Tina Hammond

In the business of horses you are constantly moving horses around for sale and by your constant search for the next great prospect.

When you are in the market with your buyer hat on, please do your due diligence and actually take the time to read the ad. The seller has taken the time to lay out the relevant information on the horse that is available for sale. There is no need to call a seller on a horse that does not match your needs. What do you think will happen? For example, if a horse is noted as a 3ft jumper, do you think he’ll magically be doing open jumpers with a wealth of experience under his belt since the ad aired?

A good seller is going to put down the relevant facts for your review. A horse at 15.3hh will still be a horse that stands 15.3hh when you get there. If you want a horse that is around 16.2hh then look at those.

This drives me nuts. Everyone’s time is valuable so don’t waste it. Even worse than wasting it chatting aimlessly on the phone is to show up for an appointment and then claim that the horse doesn’t meet your requirements in terms of size, color, experience etc..

Please do everyone a favor. READ!

Treat Other Professionals with Professional Consideration
by Tina Hammond

In any profession there are times when you are extremely competitive with your colleagues and times when you drop the work drive and collaborate to support each other. In my many years working on the international showjumping circuit I have seen over and over again that the best route to success as a professional rider is to keep your competitive nature in the show arena and not bring it elsewhere.

When you are at your home yard and organizing events on your home turf, or even farther afield, it is always wise to show professional courtesy to other trainers/competitors in the area. It is so unprofessional to stalk or social media troll your competition, or what you may view as your competition real or not, trying to lure their clients to your yard.

It is also completely unacceptable to mess people around. The nature of the horse business is tough enough. If a neighboring yard is hosting a show or a clinic then go show your support. Bring your students for a day out. Ride yourself if appropriate.

As a professional you should always honor bookings for shows or clinics you make and when the registration deadline looms or has passed and you have been given the courtesy of not being held to that schedule or asked to prepay before the day it is rude to just not show up. Or indeed have to be chased for numbers of students you are bringing and to offer payment. Shows don’t run on air. The organizers will have allowed space for you, stall space, riding times etc. and may have turned others away meantime because you indicated you would attend.

The horse world is a small world. Negative behavior will be rewarded with lost support for your business and your reputation will be sullied. So while you may not be the rising celebrity you think you are at least start acting like one. Your public (and private) behavior matters. Be businesslike and show some integrity. Your students will quickly notice how you operate and you need to set a good example.

‘Poachers’ are quickly identified in the horse world. The drive to build your business is admirable but how you do it is of importance too. If as a clinician you hand out your business cards to participating students and try to bring those students to your yard from someone else’s you are guilty of breaking a great deal of trust. Trainers that have to consistently move have to do so for a reason. They have most likely exhausted the supply of students for their business because they have not run their business in an honest manner.

So please think about how you treat your peers. Do you book lessons and then cancel? Do you engage with their clientele in a solicitous manner? Do you tell them you are coming to their show and then tell them at the last minute you changed your mind causing disappointment and unrest?

A friend of mine is always quoting T.S. Elliot:
“ It is never too late to be what you might have been.” That’s the truth. Improve your behavior. It is not too late.

Manufacturers Not Honoring Warranties Make Me Mad
by Tina Hammond

Like most horse owners we go through a fair amount of blankets in our yard. And horse blankets are extremely expensive. So when I am paying nearly $500 for a super quality blanket, or even if I’m paying $200, then I want to know the manufacturer is going to stand behind the terms of their warranty.

I had a medium weight turn out blanket that ripped at its seams within a month. I had sent in the warranty to the company in Arizona as soon as I bought the blanket. They told me to have it cleaned and send it to them at my expense. They received the blanket and I heard nothing so chased them up only to be told that the warranty would not be honored because the original date of manufacture on the blanket was too old. Why was that my problem? I bought it from a retailer based in MA. I contacted them and their response was I had the blanket for over thirty days so it was up to the manufacturer.

Next up I bought a bridle from a retailer that now manufacturers their own styles. It was not tremendously expensive and I was using it for start up horses. When I went to fit it the keeper broke on the noseband. The retailer told me that it was not under any warranty and that I must have been rough with the tack and broken the keeper and should contact a leather repair specialist to re-stitch the bridle. They also asked if I had cleaned the bridle before use. I told them know, I went to fit it first because if it didn’t fit I’d need to send it back for another size. The customer service representative told me that was a mistake and I should have cleaned it before trying it on. Good to know. Now.

I’m not sure what has happened to customer service in this country. There is little doubt both these products were made in China, but the retailers and manufacturers should work together to resolve these issues when things go wrong. It is very short sighted of them both, as I will certainly not buy from either one again.

The Safety of a Temporary Stall
by Tina Hammond

As a professional groom and competitor the show circuits of Europe are very familiar to me and perhaps I have been unduly spoiled by the standard of the equine facilities at events.

Recently I was on tour with some clients in the U.S.A. and I was shocked to see the average standard of the stalls on the showgrounds at recognized shows for dressage, jumpers and eventers.

I appreciate that in Europe there may be more availability of brick buildings for stabling at venues and we are used to living in brick and mortar structures after all. The idea of living in a wood building is certainly alien to me.

But there must be something that can be done to renovate these awful tiny little boxes with flimsy walls, missing bars, unhinged doors. The notion of taking a large moving warmblood horse and stabling him in such a tiny space is abhorrent. How is my horse going to even lay down to sleep?

As a groom safety is always foremost on your mind and even if you bed such a tiny space properly there is no assurance that your horse will not be cast. In fact it is entirely likely. The bars on the stalls are too wide for such foreign neighbors. Michael Poulin once explained he had a horse whose tongue was bitten off by a neighbor through bars that were too wide. Never mind the babies. What little hooves they have. With the excitement of the show these foals will easily catch their feet.

The distance between the stalls is also often dangerous. An aisle should be wide enough for two horse to safely pass and for a groom to work each side of the horse with room for people to pass.

And what is the story with all this equipment and chairs that litter those tiny aisles. A navigation nightmare when leading an energetic horse that has barely moved all night.

In my humble opinion there should be minimum requirements such as at least twelve feet by twelve feet stalls.

And don’t get me started in the human needs. Portable toilets should have sinks and be wide enough to turn around. You feel as though you are on an airplane trying to get your business done in some of those facilities.

Does Anyone Actually Read Horse Ads?
by Tina Hammond

Like most horse owners there are times when we market our horses for sale for one reason or another. In the world of internet advertising there seems to be a keen ability for viewers to half read the ads, even more so than with print ads from back in the day.

If you are looking for a horse for your kid then it is called a pony. Who wants to put their nine year old son on an unbroken 16.2hh four year old mare? So don’t call asking questions about unstarted young horses with big movement if you are searching for a Dressage4Kids pony.

What is the deal with height? I received an email in answer to an advertisement for a sixteen hand horse and the lady said she needed something 16.3hh because she was tall and preferred taller horses. Sorry, but while a young horse may grow a bit as they start work under saddle they are not going to grow another hand high.

Why does everyone want a quiet horse? How many horses do you actually know that are quiet and four years old? If you want a plonker, you probably won’t find it as an unbroken horse that is a chestnut mare. Horses by their very nature show spirit. If they don’t they may be sick, they may be older and broken down physically or mentally. How are you going to go eventing on a quiet horse?? Doesn’t jumping large obstacles require some level of boldness in temperament?

Then there is the temperament scale that some advertising sites offer. On a scale of 1 to 10 most horses will operate somewhere in the middle most of the time, even world class competition horses. Yes, you need some ‘fire in the belly’ for certain disciplines I guess, but who is going to list their horses as a 10 out of 10? Hot. Hot. Hot. And aren’t we all barn blind to a certain degree? Don’t we all think our horses are wonderful? And a timid rider will find a 5/10 horse too much to handle I guess, isn’t that scale rather subjective.

On any given day a horse can become stressed out and difficult to handle, or mellow basking in the hot sun while taking a nap in the field. We’ve all experienced those moments when we do a double take to see if their ears are twitching when we see them immobile stretched out on the grass.

Then there are those that clearly don’t understand price. Yes, there is a price listed. Yes, there may be some negotiability in the price but not by 50% and more. It is interesting to hear prospective buyers say they will get a loan for the horse? Will they? Where from. Most banks are not interested in a horse as collateral so perhaps a personal loan or equity line from somewhere but shall I sit back and wait while you see if that works out and hold the horse off the market? Probably not.

And sorry, but if it is a mare I cannot magic the horse into a gelding. No, my mare does not behave like a gelding. Why ask that? She is a girl. She has different hormones. She comes into season. She may lose focus during those times. Don’t you when your hormones are peaking up and down during your cycle?

Other random questions include ‘am I sure my mare is not in foal?’ I think I’d know wouldn’t I? If I’d spent serious $$ on a breeding contract and completed her AI with my vet I think I would follow up to see if she had taken and if so why would I keep it a secret? I suppose some people do let stallions run in their herds so it could be a pertinent question but highly unlikely in a dressage yard. Another favorite is can my dressage horse jump? Well sure. Any horse can jump. But am I likely to have more than a few cavaletti sitting around to try her over. Probably not. And am I planning in round penning her over a 4ft spread to see. Hmm. Let me think. No.

SO please people read the ads. If it says working 2nd level then it means the horse has not been shown at 3rd. Why ask. If it says the horse is kid safe/husband safe it is probably asleep. If the ad says the horse is 16hh then it is unlikely it is truly 16.3hh. Be honest with your budget and your needs. You’ll find your perfect equine partner much quicker that way.

Working Student or Slave
by Tina Hammond

I have worked in many stable yards for amateur owners, professional trainers and seen life from behind the wheelbarrow, ringside armed with towels and potions and from the saddle in both the showjumping and dressage ring. And while my experience is mostly in Europe, I am constantly amazed at the demands of employment and the lack of any kind of respect and decent pay.

We all know working with horses is never a nine to five job. As a professional groom I was consistently ‘on’ for sixty plus hours a week with almost no time off except for major holidays. The hours and the work itself can be punishing. The first one on a green horse, the first one on a horse new to the yard often equals the first one thrown off in the yard. I’ve been stomped on, knocked over, bitten and all the rest.Yes it is a dangerous job in some ways, but we do it because we love it.
But why is it seems so badly paid, if paid at all?

If you are an apprentice, then fine, find someone very knowledgable and go work as an intern. The word ‘intern’ doesn’t mean a bunch of unsupervised duties with no new learning going on. It also shouldn’t mean no pay at all. After all, you need spending money if only for toiletries and personal stuff. It also shouldn’t mean bad flats/apartments, dirty rat infested cots in the ‘barn cottage’ or worse. Believe me I’ve experienced worse. No bathroom except a daily visit to the house from a cold, damp converted stall as a bedroom, or a bunk two inches from the ceiling shared with a bunch of lads with no privacy.

I constantly come across people of varying ages that are being taken full advantage of. Being abused mentally, not regarded kindly or not regarded at all. Working students should be given lessons, given an opportunity to learn and not on errant horses no-one else wants to ride. Pay should be coherent with the hours worked and employers you need to take a hard look at how you speak to your help as well as what you demand of them time wise.

You should not have to babysit the employers children, take care of their visiting relatives, do their laundry and fetching ( unless it is horse laundry of course). Neither should you have to do anything that the employer wouldn’t do themselves. After all, you are a student. You are still learning.

I was lucky to find some truly great people to work for that treated me with respect and were honest about the demands of the job and generous in sharing their wealth of knowledge. These days I work mostly in the media world, working on production and seeing much of the horse world through the eye of a lens of one sort or another. I travel giving clinics here and there too, and sharing as best I can what I have learned through the years on the road. My advice to anyone starting out down this career center line is be wary, ask lots of questions of the employer and try to chat with others that work there for an inside scoop. And if you do find yourself in a negative environment, quit. There is always somewhere better and with the internet available you can search easily for other options.

And to employers, please take a good hard look at yourself. While we all put the horses first, the people that care for them should be a close second.

Poor Professional Trainer Etiquette ~ Are You Guilty?

by Tina Hammond

There is much to be said for keeping bad thoughts and words to yourself. Rumors often begin as a bad comment on another trainer that take on a life of their own through repetition. The amount of embellishment can be astounding. Often started in a moment of frustration or anger by one trainer that perhaps has lost a client to another trainer, sometimes based in fact or truly factual, but more times not.

Students choose their trainers but trainers also seek others students out at clinics or public events. I have even heard of clinicians attempting to solicit clients at clinics THEY are conducting. What a way to treat your generous host. Often barn owners are giving up lesson dollars themselves as their budget conscious students may skip a lesson or two to afford a clinicians price point. This bad backchat and client seeking is deplorable behavior. But again are these claims against clinicians stealing clients rumors or facts? “ I heard,” is not the same as “I experienced.”

As an experienced dressage clinician myself, as well as a regular participant in clinics worldwide myself as a rider/auditor, I can attest to the sometimes poor judgement of other trainers in spreading gossip. In barn aisle-ways, rippling through auditor chairs, whisking up the walls of stalls, the gossip mill is alive and kicking everywhere. Whether it be about another trainer’s skill set, horse care or horse training methods or personal lives, this is just poor etiquette.

Remember, these actions reflect one hundred percent poorly on you, the purveyor of negative statements and thoughts. If you can’t say something good… know the rest. Try and live it.

Classy Contender or …..?

by Kim Sanford
We’ve all seen and heard them…maybe even, God forbid, BEEN them…the people who make everyone else cringe when their rig is seen pulling onto the grounds. Their reputation often proceeds them because the equine community is the embodiment of the adage “it’s a small world”. We horse people “know” each other, it is a given. How well we actually know one another can be debated but our behaviors, especially at a horse show can set the tone for how we are perceived going forward. It doesn’t take long before show management, exhibitors, and staff know who will be the first to have complaints; usually about several issues over the course of the event, be slow to settle their bills at the end of the day, not like the judge, “bending” the rules…you get my drift. Every competitor who comes to a show or an event leaves an impression, good or bad. Of course the same people will usually be guilty of multiple instances making life in the show office difficult. So when you go to an event or show, do you behave as an appreciative guest, or as a spoiled prima donna, leaving a mess, complaining, and generally revealing your lack of good manners?

Horse shows attract an array of individuals whose personality traits run the gamut from gloriously positive to downright soul sucking negative. Thankfully the vast majority of folks fall more toward the positive end of the spectrum but as is often the case, the ones behaving badly create a stressful atmosphere that may be difficult to deal with. Both types of individuals are remembered for their attitudes and are quite often the reason we have to deal with the stereotypes created by those behaviors…which one are you?

As an announcer I have seen and heard much over the years. It is almost as if I am invisible because I overhear a lot of conversations that if the people talking were paying attention I definitely would not be privy to. Most of the time it is nothing but gossipy, back stabbing, and just mean spirited commentary. We all get into the gossip from time-to-time (kudos to those of you who rise above it, you are truly rare indeed) and I love hearing the “poop” as much as the next guy…but seriously, when you come to the horse show it is best to have a positive attitude and maintain it throughout the day. Without fail I hear complaints about the event, other exhibitors, etc. on any given show day. On the ride home is where you can vent your frustrations or bask in the “glory” of the day’s successes to your heart’s content.

Running an event whether it is a horse show, trail trial, speed event, etc. requires a venue and it is not cheap. In fact nothing about putting on any event is inexpensive. As exhibitors we need to remember this. Exhibitors need to think along these lines is because equestrian activities are susceptible to things like taxes, insurance costs, loss of land that is available for our use due to the population growth, and other less readily apparent factors. The point I want to make today is that if we are all about complaining instead of helping (if only by having a positive attitude at the very least), the places we enjoy will disappear; and you can absolutely count on that. If you are interested in showing you need to take this to heart. Remember, the smaller, local events are where riders and horses begin and hone their skills. We horsemen NEED them to survive and being a “classy contender” goes a long way to helping them stay afloat.

One of the biggest complaints heard in and around the show office is how expensive it is to enter and show. Yes, yes it is, but there are unavoidable costs to being able to show that need to be covered. Too often, whether it is concerning board, lessons, etc. of the cost of showing, it seems there is an unspoken attitude that professionals are somehow expected to subsidize our hobbies by constantly giving everyone “breaks” on the costs of participation. No one likes a profiteer but since when did having a profit motive become a bad thing? Shopping around for good value is desirable but please be aware of what true VALUE is. I wish I had a dollar for every instance where someone is trying to get something from a hard-working professional for nothing or next to it and when told no they bash that person/business. Shame on you.

All too often shows, especially the smaller, local ones are run solely on volunteer labor. Thank God for those individuals who willingly take the job of running these events quite often giving up time they could spend in other ways. Sadly, year after year, it tends to be the same core group of volunteers who take on the huge task of putting together a show that people will want to come back to regularly. Nothing is more discouraging after putting in hours of your time in all kinds of weather and dealing with the inevitable “hiccups” that occur, than to be met with complaints from people who just showed up to ride. It can also be off-putting to everyone at the show to have the announcer calling for help with set up of the courses only to have no one step up but the same, constantly faithful, volunteers ready to help. This is quite prevalent especially when we are talking about club run shows. Everyone has an opinion on what should be done but when it is time to invest some sweat equity….crickets. No one is saying that constructive criticism is not welcome, but timing and delivery should be taken into consideration.

Another thing I see is exhibitors who arrive at the grounds, are there for the duration and then leave a mess for someone else to clean up. The mindset should be that you are a guest and need to leave your spot as you found it or better yet, cleaner. Show staff really should not have to anticipate cleaning up around the area you were in with horses tied to the trailer. Unless you are actually paying for cleanup services the manure and any other trash needs to leave with you or be put in the appropriate receptacles/areas. Please do not treat the grounds with disrespect.

Last but not least are the people with tack changes who make the class wait for them while they take their time or are unorganized and unprepared to make those changes in a timely manner. It is rude and inconsiderate because tack changes are a courtesy that are extended to the exhibitors and it should be respected. Usually it is one person/group who we can count on do this sort of thing show after show. Having your equipment at the gate and ready to change is appreciated by everyone at the show…exhibitors and staff. It is not enough to let the office know about your needs, you have to be prepared to get it done and in the ring efficiently. By the way, tack changes need to be done immediately after the concluded class, no one should be sitting around waiting until just before the next class is called before they start adjusting equipment. Please for all our sakes…BE READY WHEN YOUR CLASS IS CALLED.

So please strive to be the classy contender and not the person everyone hates to see pull onto the grounds. Courtesy and patience is greatly appreciated at the office, in the barns, on the grounds, and in the warm up rings. Support those well-run local shows; give volunteer help, sponsor a division. NEVER complain or if you must keep it courteous and constructive. Understand this…if you don’t there is a very real possibility that those shows will fold up and fade away. DO NOT TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED.

To Blanket or Not To Blanket….What is Your Problem?

by Kim Sanford
Ugh…we horse people are an opinionated bunch aren’t we? All you have to do is spend some time on social media and you will see it is true. I am not bashing the role it can play in our every day “horse life” but I do think we have to be careful about what we take to be gospel as preached by the myriad of “experts” sitting at the keyboard and lurking the various groups available to us. I love the following graphic because it illustrates my point so well and can be applied to every subject you care to address.

To Blanket or Not To Blanket

Winter has arrived and so have the postings to Facebook on the pros and cons of blanketing your horses. They all range from the FYI posts to the ones implying you are…
a) Neglecting/abusing your horse if you do blanket them or too lazy to properly care for them,
b) Stupidly ignoring the “science” and advice of those so much more informed than you are, or
c) Just being ridiculous and coddling them

There are more “accusations” but these cover the most common “fighting words.” I should mention that there are also numerous posts pro blanketing that will counterpoint the cons; once again, many of them with any or all of the “tones” listed above. Honestly it is one of the seasonal postings where I am enthralled by the passion displayed on both sides.

Every year, usually around October, someone will post a link to the CSU Blanketing Study as proof positive that their decision not to blanket is the righteous one. In it you will probably see a picture of two horses turned out. One is blanketed and the other is “naked.” In the article it will state “This is the result of a multi-year study done by Colorado State University, using state-of-the-art thermal detection equipment.” Another excerpt will point out that “horses have the ability to loft and lower their coats to seventeen different levels which would be like exchanging seventeen thermal weights of blankets off and on them all day and all night, depending on what they need” and “only three things make the ‘self-blanketing’ process not work: blanketing, clipping, and wind. Not even snow or rain stops their own thermostats from doing the job.”

As convincing as it sounds…there’s absolutely no science behind it at all, at least as far as Colorado State University’s College Of Veterinary Medicine is concerned including the CSU Equine Sciences department.
The following is a quote attributed to Ryan Brooks from CSU that I found online regarding this fabricated study:
“I don’t know where it originated,” said Ryan Brooks, an instructor in the CSU Equine Sciences department. “I keep asking people in the office, and I wish we could find a source. I can’t find anything outside of blogs or online forums. You can search literature databases, and you don’t find any studies on blanketing, period.”

Brooks said the hoax originated online a few years ago, and that it continually resurfaces in the fall. So does CSU have a formal opinion on blanketing horses?
“I’m sure everyone in the office probably has our own little take on stuff, but I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that CSU has a scientific statement on the subject,” said Brooks with a laugh. “I wish we had something more scientific now, but anything I’d say would be hearsay. I’ve seen articles about blanketing in magazines, but they’re just a layperson’s opinion. It'll be interesting to see if someone does a study on this, and then we could point them to that.

"Or maybe one of these years this will stop popping up, but with the power of the Internet, I kind of doubt that,” he added.  

I am one of those who blanket so I am approaching this subject from that angle. I readily admit that for the most part I blanket for ME, for MY convenience and yeah, even MY peace of mind. Is it a detriment to our horses? Nope, not even a little bit since common sense is in play here. Bear in mind that I am talking about OUR horses here…other horses may not react this way. Would they be fine without the blankets…yes, I am sure they would. Do they hate their blankets? I doubt it given their willingness, even eagerness, to put them on. Three of our six routinely offer their heads and/or turn to face us when we hold the blanket up in preparation for putting it on.

I choose to blanket for a few reasons and the major one is convenience…on a couple of levels. Of course it should go without saying, but I am going to throw it out there anyway; blankets should never be just put on and left all season with no attention to what is going on underneath them. Daily checks are essential to be sure there are no sores, weight loss, hair loss, etc. Good fit is a must too. Cover those bases and you are golden.

So, back to MY reasons for blankets for OUR horses. The biggie for me is that the horses stay cleaner under those blankets and that is a huge part of my time management. It will cut grooming time in half and with the busy schedules we have that is important. More time can be spent on the body parts that are exposed to the mud thus a more thorough job is done…namely the lower legs get the maximum attention, and rightly so since they are the most exposed. however, their bodies get a good rubbing too but due to the blanket coverage not as much time needs to be spent there to get them clean, I can concentrate on the feel good part for them.

I can already hear some readers judging me thinking that it is the “lazy” way out. So be it…I can live with that because it works for us, me and the horses, they are thriving and contented. Another reason blankets are a good idea for us and fall under the convenience umbrella is that I can turn them out in all kinds of weather with no worries for their comfort. While they have access to a run-in shed constantly they will rarely use it, not because it is not adequate for them, but because they prefer to come to the barn if I will allow them. With the blankets I can choose to let them “stew” outside where it is best for them (and my stalls will stay clean longer…good for me) even if it is inclement. Before anyone rushes to convict me, let me say that when the weather is brutal they are ALWAYS welcomed inside. These horses lived for several years in a pasture with just a run-in shed for shelter and they did very well. Now that we have a barn and stalls for all they have turned into “delicate flowers” who believe they will melt if they get wet. Oh yes, I know I am projecting human emotions onto them here but it underscores the point I am trying to make. Given a choice OUR horses will choose human provided comfort EVERY TIME whether it is a blanket or a cozy stall over “roughing it”.

So here is my take home on the Great Blanket Debate…I won’t make assumptions about you and your level of intelligence and/or horsemanship skills if you choose NOT to blanket and how about you do the same for those of us who choose TO blanket? There are so many equine management schools of thought, new ideas and methods coming along and old school methods that have borne the test of time. We are not all going to agree on everything and why should we? Just because your vet, farrier, trainer, friend has learned something new it does not mean you have to throw out everything that has been done up until that point. If you respect the opinions of those individuals awesome, you should listen to what they have to offer, but it is OK to exam it through the filter of years of your own experience (always being sure that your experiences have basis in success and not just dumb luck). How about some critical thinking people?

Although with that “critical thinking” we need be sure that we also recognize where our limitations lie. The availability of the Internet/Google has created so many experts. A few clicks and there you have it…ANSWERS!! They may not be the right ones but they are answers. It is our job to figure out the value of those answers. Well, while I recognize the usefulness of this resource I also am highly aware of how it can be a detriment. The information is infinite and you really have to be cautious in how you use it. I confess that I have to make myself step away from the “I have always done it this way” mentality in order to assess a new concept. I am also a bit lazy, for lack of a better word, in that I may not take as much time as others do to research new ideas. It is not easy to do especially the longer you are involved in the business and your ideas have always worked for you. Discernment and self-awareness are good things and not all of us possess them in sufficient amount.
God knows there are so many other things in the horse world alone to get into heated debates over, not to mention “real life” issues…how about outrage over bogus rescues that collect money by tugging on well-meaning but uninformed people’s heartstrings only to ship those “rescued” horses off to slaughter after the money dries up? What about the abuses within the horse industry…TWH soring comes to mind? Don’t even get me started on the Animal Rights groups who outright lie about what their mission is.

So here it is. Unless something is truly stupid, abusive, etc. let’s respect each other’s management choices. By all means, there is nothing wrong with having a dialogue about differing methods but how about keeping our minds open? At the very least, keep it respectful and if you can’t then back away from the keyboard…for all of our sakes.
With everyone convinced their way is the ONLY way, not to mention the sometimes nasty comments the conversation devolves into.

The Ethics of Horse Rescue

by Kim Sanford

First I want to be clear that the opinions expressed here are mine. So here is my rant du jour…

I recognize that there is a myriad of differing opinions on what rescue is and how it should be handled. Things such as the level of care the animals receive, which animals can be “saved” as well as recognizing that not all can nor should be saved, screening potential adopters, whether or not the rescue is really meeting the requirements of a 501C, funding, etc. they are all up for debate. Like everyone else I have thoughts on many of these subjects.

This past weekend some disturbing news has appeared on Facebook about a rescue. Apparently three animals under their care, two horses (at least one was a thoroughbred) and a draft mule; were sent through the auction and bought by a meat dealer or they were sold directly to that dealer. In either scenario they endured a horrific end to their lives. Yes, this was confirmed to me, it is a fact. Sadly this type of thing happens to thousands of horses throughout the US regularly. I am not going to debate the slaughter issue here because as repugnant as slaughter is in many people’s eyes in my view there is a more jarring concern.

One of the things I am enraged at is the fact that these horses and the mule were supposedly “saved” from this fate. Not only that, at least one of them was extensively promoted as adoptable, “loving”, ready for their forever home. I saw the ads periodically on Craigslist featuring this mare, along with several other horses described in the same way. She was carrying a rider in the pictures accompanying the ad and according to comments on the Facebook postings regarding this travesty, she was also taken to a local store and was giving pony rides during the rescue’s periodic fund raising efforts outside the store. I had seen these pictures myself on the rescue’s Facebook page. Ironically one of the reasons given for dumping these animals was that they had become “unruly” and/or “dangerous”. Obviously these horses were not always what they were portrayed as because there is evidence in the pictures and in previous sales ads that point to it all being a fabrication. So we have to ask, if it IS true, then what made them that way? What kind of trauma turned a quiet mare into something so “dangerous” that she had to be removed from the rescue, and if that was the case, why did they not put them down instead of sending them through the sales barn in order to collect what amounts to blood money?

My knowledge of this rescue is not extensive and it is gleaned from observation and yes, mostly word-of-mouth. A lot of what I heard was not exactly glowing however it was not anything that raised a red flag necessarily. It was just my gut instinct that made me disinclined to send someone there to adopt if my opinion was asked. Again, never enough details and/or specific information just “talk” and so I had formed impressions. I am not going to go into particulars because most of the information I picked up along the way is third hand knowledge and I know that there are always three sides to a story…his side, her side, and the truth. Unfortunately in hindsight the majority of the positive commentary in the random conversations where the subject came up was from individuals whose hearts were in the right place but maybe they just didn’t know as much about horses in general and what it takes to do right by them as they perhaps they should have to be successful in rehoming horses.

It seems to me that too many “rescues” who I would call questionable rely on this lack of practical experience and they tend to attract this type of person to be a volunteer. These types of volunteers are the ones who linger the longest putting in lots of time by raising money, laboring, handling the animals, etc. not realizing they are perpetuating a fraud. Those volunteers who are more experienced quickly figure out the status quo and they either manage to help change procedures within the organization, which is a great outcome for all involved, or they move on to one that is committed to doing right by their charges. Leaving the bogus rescue, yes…harsh word bogus but that is what it is…to continue in its downward spiral. Frankly, I cannot blame them for moving on once it is apparent that they cannot make a difference for whatever reason. You can only bang your head against the wall for just so long.

As most of us know the reality is this. There is a glut of horses in this country. Coupled with the collapse of the economy and over breeding in many breed organizations, as well as the end of slaughter in the US the prices for horses are depressed and have been for some time now. Horses are being dumped at auctions or just plain given away. More often than not the “free” ones end up with just anyone who will take them, not a necessarily a good thing especially if that person knows little to nothing about horses. Rescues are overburdened trying to save the lives of the “culls” and used up breeding stock from farms as well as the products from the ignorant backyard breeders that are basically thrown away on almost a daily basis. This opens the door for both the dealer who will buy horses specifically to ship over the borders to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered and the unscrupulous individuals who see an opportunity to prey on the horse lover who will do as much as they can to “save” every horse…an impossible task…by starting a rescue and them soliciting donations which do not support the animals.

Amongst the shysters are the ones who truly want to help but have no clear plan, just acquire horses then warehouse them (hoarding) until they wind up in a situation that is out of hand. Too many times, and on a regular basis we are hearing about starving horses and other types of animals that started out being “rescued” by someone who later could not handle the financial burden. Someone who just kept hanging on to the animals in the misguided idea that they were the only ones who could save them instead of making good decisions early on to prevent the suffering.

Over the past few years the plight of the OTTB (Off The Track Thoroughbred) has been brought to the forefront by dedicated individuals who have made it their mission to promote them. I have huge respect for them because they are pulling the horses from bad situations and they are not just throwing them into a pasture. They are working hard every day to make them adoptable so that theoretically they will have a better chance at safer lives because they will have a JOB. These rescues will also network with trainers/owners/breeders of the OTTB’s to see if there is interest in taking that horse in themselves or helping with the financial support for the horse while it is being rehabbed or retrained on its way to being offered for adoption…and if none of that is possible, the option of humane euthanasia. Of course, I am not sure but I hope the same can be said for other breed organizations that are churning out numerous foals every year; that they have similar types of people/programs developing outreaches to their breed’s connections but so far I have heard more about efforts on behalf of the OTTB. Too often we hear of the callous breeders/owners/trainers knowingly dumping the horses at auctions where their only future is a horrific ride to a gruesome death. We do not hear those who do step up to the plate to care for a horse they put on the ground, owned at one time, and/or trained. One of my favorite things is hearing about the connections who care enough to help finance a former horses future whether it is going on to a new vocation or being sent over the “rainbow bridge” peacefully.

I know one of the connections of the mare recently sold to a meat dealer by the organization saying they “saved” her. Again, I don’t know all the details but I was told specifically that this mare left the farm with full disclosure made as to her physical condition, her health records, etc. I do not know whether she went from farm to rescue or if they, the rescue, got her from another source. From what I know of the particular individual involved with the mare initially, I believe everything was done within their power to help this horse have a good chance at a new, safe life/home. Business decisions are made every day that involve the sale of horses for many reasons. All anyone can do is try to give that horse the best chance to be successful in their new life. There are no guarantees. From what I know of this person I am sure they are upset with the news about the mare and what happened to her. The fact of the matter is this…once a horse leaves your hands you lose control over what ultimately happens to them, meaning if you no longer own them you can only hope the new owner will do their utmost to keep that horse safe and healthy.

This most recent incidence of a rescue imploding is not new and it won’t be the last one we hear of. I am disappointed by this “rescue” and yeah, it sticks in my craw to refer to them as a rescue because it is a shameful lie. Not only have they deceived the good people who sent them money to support those animals and who volunteered their time, they have given rescues all over a proverbial “black eye” since things like this tend to tarnish the reputation of rescues one way or another in the community’s perception. Undeservedly so in many cases thus making it more difficult than it already is to compete for support, both financial and volunteer hours from the public.

To me, on top of the above issues I have with the situation what absolutely makes my blood boil is the fact that they were sent to slaughter. There is no excuse for that…NONE. If you call yourself a rescue, take in an animal, claim to have “saved it from the kill buyer”, used it to solicit funds for your organization then darn it, you have a responsibility to make sure it never gets sucked into the slaughter pipeline again. It is not my place to tell anyone what they can do with their animals; I generally won’t get entangled in anything unless it is an inhumane situation, and even then I will make sure that it is backed up with facts before getting involved. Too many times well-intentioned “saviors” jump in and create drama where it should not be. This is not one of those times. What happened a few miles from my home is disgusting and unconscionable.

I realize and accept that life happens and sometimes you have to rethink what you are doing in life, we have all been there in one way or another. In a situation like this, if a rescue, for whatever reason is in dire straits then they need to reach out for help but most of all make the tough decisions, the RIGHT decisions. If a horse/mule is really “dangerous” then EUTHANIZE it. That is your JOB as a rescue. How could they even think it was OK to subject these three to the fate that awaited them after they were loaded on a trailer and sent across one of the borders? It also makes you wonder how many others have made the trip before they did, slipped under the radar in an attempt to raise cash.

So what is the take away here? I guess it is this…if you get involved with any rescue do your due diligence! Don’t just write a check and call it good, you need to be as sure as you can that it is going to the animals and not into the pockets of the people running it for personal financial gain. The organization must be completely transparent and open to questions. If you choose to volunteer, be knowledgeable about the animals you are working with, keep your ears and eyes open and don’t be afraid to ask questions without expecting good answers. Most importantly let’s support the legitimate rescue organizations out there that are doing a great job.

Can’t We All Get Along?

by Kim Sanford

With all due respect to Mr. Rodney King for asking that question during a time in the recent past while referencing racial tensions, I have to wonder the same thing about the apparent intolerance, or maybe it would be better to say the lack of respect, of fellow horsemen…not everyone, but enough of us to make me scratch my head…toward those who embrace a different discipline or activity than they do themselves. Sometimes it seems astounding how deeply ingrained the stereotypes are in all of us to some degree. It is frustrating enough when we have to deal with it from our non-horsey friends and acquaintances but when it comes from those of us who should really know better the vexation reaches a new level.

The questions that come to mind are these, “Why can’t we appreciate the differences? What is it about horse people and our insistence that our favored discipline is THE ABSOLUTE BEST one and if others do not ride it or share your view point then there is something wrong with them?” We all have preferences and that is what makes the world go around. So you don’t like being “judged” by another individual, that is OK, don’t enter a horse show, but don’t dismiss those of us who choose to see how we stack up against our peers in someone else’s opinion on a given day. Frankly when someone says “I hate horse shows, it is so political” that makes me immediately wonder, well OK, you probably didn’t do as well as you thought you should so it is someone else’s fault. Yeah, I can agree, sometimes “politics” or bias can be an issue; however, I think it is not as rampant as some people like to think and more often than not your performance did not measure up in that judge’s opinion on that day.

I can only address this issue from my perspective and what I have experienced over the years. I am also guilty of having preconceived ideas about certain disciplines; but I would like to think that I recognize AND acknowledge that although there are certainly poor representatives among the riders/enthusiasts, I believe the majority of them are good people and work hard to be good horsemen/women within their chosen sport. We can all agree (I think), in every type of equestrian activity there are questionable practices. We have seen or heard about at least some of them…rollkur, tying a western pleasure horses head up or down for extended periods of time, over use of training aids and/or bits really too many other examples to list. Rest assured that I am neither condoning nor making excuses for this at all. What I am saying is please; don’t paint all of us within that particular specialty with the same brush….and don’t dismiss the entire activity as flawed.

The following is from one of those jokey emails we used to get before social media (some of us still get emails like this but I bet most of you see the funnies posted on Facebook and sites like it) listing the stereotypes we have all heard and in some cases believe:

The Hunter Rider:
Is skinny and trying her best to achieve the conformation of a 17-year-old male in case she ever has a clinic with George Morris. Field marks include greenish-beige breeches and a baseball cap when schooling or mud colored coat and hardhat with dangling chinstrap when competing. Forks over about a grand a month to her trainer for the privilege of letting him/her 'tune' up the horse, which consists of drilling the beast until it’s going to put in five strides on a 60 foot line no matter what she does. Sold the Thoroughbred (and a collection of lungeing equipment, chambons, side reins) and bought a Warmblood (also bought a ladder and a LONG set of spurs). Talks a lot about the horse's success in Florida without exactly letting on that she herself has never been south of the Pennsylvania line.

The Dressage Queen:
Has her hair in an elegant ponytail and is wearing a visor and gold earrings sporting a breed logo. A $100 dollar custom sweater (also with breed logo) is worn over $300 dollar full-seat white breeches and custom Koenigs. Her horse, 'Leistergeidelsprundheim' ('Fleistergeidel' for short) is a 17.3 hand Swedish warmblood who was bred to be a Grand Prix horse. The Swedes are still laughing hysterically, as he was bred to be a Grand Prix JUMPER, but since he couldn't get out of his own way, they sold him to an American. His rider fell in love with his lofty gaits, proud carriage, and tremendous athleticism. She admires him mostly while lunging. She lunges him a lot, because she is not actually too keen to get up there and try to sit that trot. When she rides, it's not for long, because (while he looks FINE to everyone else), she can tell that he is not as 'through' and 'supple' as he should be, and gets off to call the chiropractor/ massage/therapist/psychic, all of which is expensive, but he WILL be shown, and shown right after he perfects (fill in the blank). The blank changes often enough that the rider can avoid the stress of being beaten at Training 1 by a Quarter Horse (Appaloosa, or Norwegian Fiord Pony!)

The Eventer:
Is bent over from carrying three saddles, three bridles, three bits, and three unrelated sets of clothing (four, if she is going to have to do a trot up at a 3-Day). The hunched defensive posture is reinforced by the anticipation of 'a long one' a ditch and a wall, and from living in her back protector. Perpetually broke because she pays THREE coaches (a Dressage Queen, a jumper rider, and her eventing guru, none of whom approve of the other) and pay trailers/stabling/ living expenses to go 600 miles to events that are spread out over 5 days. She is smugly convinced that Eventers are in fact the only people in the world who CAN ride (since Dressage Queen's don't jump, the H/ J crowd is too afraid to go OUT of a ring, and the fox hunters, a related breed, don't have to deal with dressage judges). The hat cover on her cross country helmet is secured with a giant rubber band, so she can look like her idol, Phillip. Her horse, who has previously been rejected as a race horse, a steeplechase horse (got ruled off for jumping into the in-field tailgating the crowd), a jumper, a fox hunter, and a polo pony (no bit stops this thing), and has two speeds: gallop and 'no gallop' (also known as stop 'n' dump). Excels at over jumping into water, doing a head first 'tuck and roll' maneuver and exiting the complex (catch me if you can!) before his rider slogs out of the pond. Often stops to lick the Crisco off his legs before continuing gaily on to the merciless over jump just ahead. Owner often threatens to sell, but as he has flunked out of every other English-riding discipline, it will have to be to a barrel racer or pole bender.

The Back Yard Rider:
Usually found wearing shorts and a sports bra in the summer; flannel nightgown, muck boots, and down jacket in the winter. Drives a Ford 150 filled with saddle blankets and dog hair. Most have deformed toes from being stepped on while wearing flip-flops. Has a two-horse bumper-pull trailer, but uses it for hay storage, as her horse hasn't been off the farm in 6 years. Can install an electric fence, set a gate, and roll a round bale, solo. She rode well and often when she used to board her horse, 5 years ago. Then she took horse home to 'save money' and has spent about 50 grand on acreage, barn, fence, tractor, etc. Have two topics of conversation - 1) How it's too hot/cold/wet/ dry to ride and 2) how she may ride after she fixes the fence/digs drainage ditches/stacks 4 tons of hay.

The Natural Horsemanship Devotee:
Looks like a throwback from a Texas ranch, despite the fact that he lives in the suburbs of New Jersey. Rope coiled loosely in hand in case he needs to herd any of those kids on roller-blades away from his F-350 Power stroke dually in the Wal-Mart parking lot. This “cowboy” with hat strategically placed, and just grubby enough to look cool; whose Levi's are well worn enjoys hero worship from a bevy of middle-aged, first-time horse owner women. 'Lightning' is, of course, this natural horsemanship guy's horse. Rescued from a bad home where he was never imprinted or broke in the natural horsemanship way, he specialized in running down his owners at feeding time, knocking children off his back on low-hanging branches, and baring his teeth. The hospitalization tally for his previous handlers was 12, until he was sent to Round Pen Randy; after ten minutes in said pen, he is now a totally broke horse, bowing to the crowd, and can put on his own splint boots. (With R.P. Randy's trademark logo embossed on them) R.P.R. says of this miracle, 'Well, shucks ma'am, tweren't nuthin'!' 'It's simple horsemanship.' 'With this special twirly flickitatin' rope ($17.95 plus tax), you'll be round-pennin' like me in no time!'

The Endurance Rider:
Wears Lycra tights in wild neon colors. The shinier the better, so the EMT's can find her body when her horse dumps her down a ravine. Wears hiking shoes of some sort, and T-shirts she got for paying $75 to complete another torturous ride. Her horse, Al Kamar Shazam, used to be called 'you' until he found an owner almost as hyper as he is. Shazam can spook at a blowing leaf, spin a 360, and not lose his big trot rhythm or give an inch to the horse behind him. Has learned to eat, drink, pee, and drop to his resting pulse rate on command.

Hmmm…methinks I recognize (own) the majority of the “characteristics” of that “Backyard Rider” referenced above, which brings me to the next point. Backyard rider really does have negative connotations that more often than not are not deserved. Yes, I do wear my flannel jammies, a jacket and muck boots when I go out to feed on wintery mornings and I am guilty of wearing inappropriate footwear (Crocs) in the barn and around the horses. I have also been saying “I will ride when (fill in the blank with whatever excuse/reason du jour). That being said though, I am always on top of any situation and have good horsemanship skills gleaned from years of experience in a professional capacity. I am always learning and paying attention to what is going on outside of our farm…which flies in the face of the stereotypical “backyard rider”.

Here’s a good question….what kind of image are YOU presenting to the rest of the us as far as your chosen discipline goes? Do you fit the negative stereotype within your discipline? In my opinion the best way to combat this type of attitude is to first and foremost become a good horseman/woman. Always, always, always put the needs of your horse first over the pursuit of that award. Make sure your horse is fit, and trained for the event and if he/she is green, take that into consideration when attending an event. Going into the ring and flogging your horse through the obstacles or even while trying to get your horse into the gate is NOT something we want to see. I have huge respect for the rider whose horses are not jacked up before running a pattern, can enter the gate, do their job and exit the arena in a manner that will not put spectators in jeopardy. I love to see a smooth barrel run where it is a team effort and not a discordant dash with rider slipping all over the saddle while trying to manhandle their horse through the pattern.
Take trail courses/trials…I would so much rather see a performance wherein the horse/rider negotiate the obstacles with reasonable speed and confidence. Many times the obstacles can be a little different or intimidating, yanking and spurring to get the horse through is counterproductive and no one likes to see it (or at least they shouldn’t). What about the western pleasure horses who are so intimidated by “yanking and cranking” that they are actually afraid to go forward. Again, as an announcer I have a birds-eye view of the pen and I have seen kids go out on their horses and be constantly picking at their horse’s faces…not because the horse needs it, he is already too anxious to leave that frame, but because they look around the warmup ring and see their “idols” constantly on the faces of these pleasure horses. I don’t even want to get started on the lope these animals are asked to perform, even now with breed associations calling for more forward movement. I guess the list could go on with all sorts of questionable practices in each discipline but I think the point is made.

With all that being said, however, there are methods that you may not agree with that are perfectly acceptable. We need to be reasonable in our “judgment” when we observe them. No one is an expert in all disciplines and methods do evolve. Even if you rode Hunter/Jumpers years ago, gasp…there may be things you do not know about…same goes for dressage. We need to keep open minds, not so open that our brains fall out but open enough to be educated before we dismiss techniques we may not understand as well as we think we do. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I am guilty of making snap judgments where I probably should not.

There are so many people watching and a lot of them are children and many adults who are just learning. If they see someone who is winning while treating their horse badly the chances are good, especially if they are not fortunate enough to have a good instructor/trainer or knowledgeable parent available, that they will imitate those methods. Take “natural horsemanship” for instance. There is a place for it, it is a good thing, but it is not a method that can nor should it be promoted, as something you can learn from books/DVD’s and attending the occasional clinic. I believe that you have to be able to understand horse behavior and herd dynamics for it to work effectively. Those concepts need to be stressed and in too many cases the clinicians are all about marketing and showmanship rather than actually teaching. This creates the stereotype of the middle aged woman who is finally able to afford her dream of owning a horse that she has waited to follow while raising a family and nurturing a career. She really has no clue about herd dynamics and is convinced that by using “natural horsemanship” her horse will bond with her and be her soul mate. Oh and by the way, in her mind, any other method is cruel and not open for discussion.

So yeah, I tend to cringe when someone starts touting the virtues of natural horsemanship and saying they are followers of certain well-known clinicians…precisely because of the stereotype created by the hype. The irony of this is that I have many friends who use natural horsemanship correctly and effectively. Too often I have to stop myself from becoming dismissive because of my frustration with so many others who have not really learned what it is about. So therein lies my point, no one discipline or training method is the end all be all for everyone. We all need to open our eyes and our minds, listen to others, and respect their choices as long as the horse is not suffering from those choices.

Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare

by Kim Sanford

There is a huge difference between animal RIGHTS and animal WELFARE. We need to be clear on this.

Animal Welfare, as defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association, is a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.

Animal Rights is a philosophical view that animals have rights similar or the same as humans. True animal rights proponents believe that humans do not have the right to use animals at all. Animal rights proponents wish to ban all use of animals by humans.

I got this information when I googled “Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare” along with so much more data stating the same thing. I will come right to the point…I do not believe that animals have “rights” I do however; believe that we have a duty to ensure that animal welfare is paramount. The problem, as I see it, is that these two beliefs have become almost synonymous when nothing is further from the truth.

Animal rights advocates such as P.E.T.A. count on this. They love it when people assume that their agenda is about helping animals. It is what brings in the dollars; money that supposedly goes to “help animals” but the majority of it is funneled into their publicity machines, politicians, lobbyists and the pockets of the “leaders” leaving a negligible portion to set up what in fact are bogus shelters…shelters that kill the majority of the dogs and cats they take in. They kill adoptable animals rather than try to rehome them!!

They are politically motivated…P.E.T.A., A.S.P.C.A., N.Y.CLASS, and H.S.U.S…all are money making lobbyist groups with the elimination of animal ownership (at least in P.E.T.A.’s and the H.S.U.S.’s case) the goal…but money is the true objective for these groups They will bald face lie about what the donated money is used for. Rarely is it earmarked to help animals. N.Y.CLASS claim they are animal advocates but they are funded by real estate interests and they heavily backed New York City mayor de Blasio’s campaign for election. Now that he is in office he is paying them back by upping the ante on the war against the carriage industry by making it a priority to ban the horses in Central Park.

Can’t you just imagine how much good these “animal advocacy groups” could do with the MILLIONS of dollars donated each year by animal lovers? Spay/neuter programs that reduce or even eliminate fees…same with gelding clinics for horses. How about funding humane euthanasia and/or low cost disposal of a horse’s body that would encourage owners to give their old or injured horse a “good death”? That alone would lower the number of horses entering the slaughter pipeline. A great idea would be state-of-the-art shelters/adoption centers that could become self-sustaining by offering services like grooming, pet-sitting, etc. to the public. In turn the monies, after LEGITIMATE overhead expenses were covered, could go back into animal welfare efforts.

These groups are dirty. I will briefly touch on the tactics implemented by the Animal Rights groups who are plaguing the carriage drivers since there is so much media attention on them right now. It is easy enough to do the research so I won’t devote too much space to everything they and the tourists are subjected to. A lot of the information I picked up during the time I spent talking to the drivers recently. Some of it I knew, some I didn’t. A lot of it offends me to my core.

For the most part the ignorance about the horses is evident and astounding…they cannot interpret the horse’s body language correctly…for instance often misreading a cocked foot (horse is lame), ears relaxed (the horse is “mad”), facial expressions (oh how many different human emotions they insert here…sadness, frustration, the list goes on), etc. Too many times the relaxed, contented horse is seen as dejected and forlorn. Let’s not forget about the potentially hazardous situations these protestors CREATE!!! They are totally unconcerned that the commotion (sign waving, screeching slogans, etc.) could create stress to the horses and worst case scenario cause these usually unflappable, reliable creatures to spook and bolt. In fact I would not be surprised if that is not the ultimate goal of the leaders of this rabble…what a great way to cast even more negativity onto the drivers and their horses. To my knowledge this has not happened...YET. The horses seem to take it all in stride, but the fact is it could be a problem or even worse, facilitate a tragic accident. Of course, if a horse did react because of THEIR actions you can bet it would either not hit the news or sadly what is more likely it would be twisted so the accounts of the incident fit their agenda.

Apparently P.E.T.A. activists have no problem yelling at the children riding in the carriages saying things like, “Your mommy is killing that horse” which is just one example of the disgusting things they have no problem shouting. The passengers, adults, and children are verbally attacked as viciously as the drivers are. These fanatics seem to exhibit cult-like behavior and honestly this fanaticism eliminates ANY credibility they may have had in the foundation of their organizations. Yes, I am willing to say that probably at one time even P.E.T.A. may have been begun with the real intention of saving animals. Unfortunately it has devolved into a movement that uses intimidation to get what they want. Intimidation and lies…the tools of the animal rights movement…so I ask you animal lovers out there, is this the kind of organization you want your donations spent on/for?

Speaking of intimidation…I was told by a friend that she had read somewhere that many celebrities will not take a stance against the groups like P.E.T.A. or will pretend to support them because they are afraid of the consequences should they not do so. I was flabbergasted by this and yeah, disappointed in those celebrities if that is true. Sadly part of me thinks it may be true…

Interestingly these groups take NO action where N.Y.P.D. horses are concerned….all the groups are silent. I wonder why. Could it be that there is not a “pay off” for hounding the N.Y.P.D.? Do they not work in the city among cars, trucks, and buses? What about the fumes they breathe in that are the same ones the carriage horses inhale? How about crowd control…the horses are dealing with pushing people all around them, what about the potential danger if someone decides to attack that mounted patrol officer and their horse? Incidentally, sitting on a horse's back is more work for that horse than if they were hitched to a carriage. Compare carrying your groceries to pushing a loaded cart...see the correlation? If I showed up at the N.Y.P.D. stables I am positive that I would not be allowed to tour them even with an escort. Yeah, I get it; it is probably on the same level as the station which would not have an open door policy either for just anyone; but what a contrast eh?

I took this quote off of Facebook because I think it sums the carriage horse debate up pretty well:

Quote from NYS Horse Council-Southeast Region’s Facebook page: “Many New Yorkers care about animals. But please be aware that horses are very different from cats and dogs which are household pets. Horses have special requirements and need knowledgeable horse folks to take care of them. So listen to the folks who know about horses. - NYC carriage drivers today are 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation. They LIVE their job and horse care. Respect.”

In fact I have a former high classmate who is an animal rights disciple. While I can and do agree with some of her beliefs, but not the extremism, when we tried to dialogue on the carriage horse debate things just fell apart. In a nutshell she began parroting all the propaganda I have heard over and over again about the “poor horses” and how “inhumane” their working and living conditions were. Now as a horseman I tried to educate her on what was erroneous as far as the group’s rhetoric on horse management in gerneral goes, never mind whether or not we were discussing carriage horses. She heard NONE of it and what was more disturbing; there was no reasoning with her. This was an eye opener for me and pretty much the beginning of my interest in what was going on in New York City concerning the carriage horse ban. Incidentally, another thing this individual would constantly do on Facebook was comment, often negatively, on other’s posts about their pets and whatever might be going on with them. Many times she implied they were not taking proper care of the pet…how offensive and off-putting but typical animal rights advocate behavior. Once again, another example of how the radicalism of the animal rights follower can turn someone off to their underlying message…and sometimes it could have been an issue that needed to be addressed, but the delivery just ruined it.

I am not saying that oversight should not be there. There are abuses in all facets of the animal/human connection. We should be on top of it but we need to be realistic. These entities are not evil…rodeo, horse racing, circuses, and zoos, to name a few but for crying out loud even farming has been demonized. Are there things that could and should be done differently? Of course there are but the tactics employed by animal rights fanatics negate whatever good can come of it. My stance is this, go after the abuser not the entity/industry.

So here’s the thing my friends be sure you know and understand the difference between animal rights and animal welfare…they are most certainly not the same thing. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the land and of the animals we are blessed to have in our lives. Protecting them is important, assigning them the same rights as a human being just does not make sense. However, I recognize every person’s RIGHT to their belief whether or not I agree with it. I would only ask that whatever you believe that you educate yourself on the MISSION of whatever group or groups you choose to send your hard earned money to. Research, research, research…their philosophies and their track record all of which are important points. If you are behind the animal rights agenda, ask yourself…do I condone the tactics used to protest…where would I draw the line?

If you are more about the welfare of animals then I would suggest that your donations stay local where you can actually see the benefit to the animals. However, a caveat even local rescues/shelters need to be kept accountable by the people making donations and volunteering. Always check the credentials and know how they operate, much the same as you should do with the bigger groups I have been ranting about. There is an abundance of shady operations/individuals that have no business taking in animals and soliciting funds. Too often the money is taken and spent on privately owned animals in addition to the ones in need.

In this economy it is difficult for charitable organizations to raise funding so it is upsetting to me when behemoths like P.E.T.A., the H.S.U.S., the A.S.P.C.A., and now N.Y.CLASS funnel money away from the, in my opinion, more deserving rescue organizations. Too many people are sucked in by the commercials showing doe-eyed pups and kitties staring through the bars of cages while a celebrity reads carefully crafted words designed to tug at our heartstrings…heck, I find myself “misting up” if I listen to long and let my mind go there. Remember this…more often than not; the money you send to them DOES NOT pull those poor souls from any cages. It funds the big organization and its agendas.

If you would like to comment on this article email

Where Are the Horsemen?

by Kim Sanford

If you look up the word “horseman” you will find it as the defined as: 1 a: a rider or driver of horses b: one skilled in managing horses. 2 a breeder or raiser of horses. Good Horsemen-Are They Born or Made?

We see an abundance of the riders and the drivers for sure, but not as many who can claim to be one skilled in managing horses. It could also be argued that to be a breeder or raiser of horses you would have to be skilled in managing horses but if we are honest that is not necessarily true either. So yeah, where are the horsemen? I know they are out there, for sure. My concern is that they are a rare and dying breed and that should never be the case.

A month or so ago one of my friends, a local barn owner, posted a status to her Facebook page asking, “Where are the barn rats?” You know the ones, the kids who spent every free moment they had at the barn. That was where they wanted to be, with the horses; riding yes, but also taking care of them. They pitched in to help with grooming, cleaning stalls, feeding, holding the horse for the farrier or vet and they LEARNED about those horses. It wasn’t something they were forced to do; they did it just to be with these animals we love. They grew up not only knowing them but what made them tick as well. Many times they noticed if something was off before it became a bigger issue because they spent time caring for them. They knew what was normal and what was not so they were aware and could take action or get the barn owner’s attention.

I have seen several memes with George Morris’ witticisms on them circulating over Facebook this past winter. I realize that Mr. Morris practically “walks on water” in many people’s estimation and as amusing as I find the quotes attributed to him, the one that stuck with me the most is this one :-

“Young riders in America must concentrate less on lessons and the mechanics of riding that horse shows question. They have to start more basic than that, they have to handle their horses. That’s a very weak point in America now. You just can't be a finished competitor without being a horse person, a horse woman or man. That’s very, very, cosmetic and shallow today in America. They don't handle their horses; they don't know what goes in to horse management. Learn that FIRST and then concentrate on the riding. Have the base first and then the polish. We have the frosting on the cake and no cake...that’s not very valuable.”

- George H. Morris

So…riders, parents, trainers, instructors….are you hearing what Mr. Morris is saying?

As some of you know, I do a lot of announcing at horse shows during the season. These are anything from local open shows to breed shows. I am here to tell you that the lack of TRUE horsemanship is seen and noticed by the judges. So many times over lunches we have discussed this glaring reality and their frustration with what they see as well as their reluctance or inability to do much about it. Some do take the initiative and make the difficult call; if not disqualifying that horse at least letting the rider/owner know they will not use the horse for the day because of that condition. Of course, I am referring to lameness issues that are seen in the ring and if we are honest we have all seen it.

Over the past thirty years I have noticed a decline in the number of youth and yes, adults, who know about the basics of managing their horses. They seem to know next to nothing about the care of their horse(s)…and of even more concern are the ones who I am talking about who don’t even appear care that things are being overlooked in their management practices. They are inclined to take shortcuts or even worse, ignore essential tasks the horses need to ensure their well-being and optimum performance. I am not talking about reaching for the latest device, drug, method…but the nuts and bolts of taking care of that animal who will give its all for its rider. They deserve better from us.

How often have we seen horses that are lame being made to go around the ring in that condition? I am not referring those who are deemed “serviceably sound” meaning they will work out of the lameness/stiffness after warming up, but to the ones who travel 'off' consistently. Show management and even the judges are reluctant to make the unpopular call to ask that the horse not be used that day. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “She or he is not lame or she or he just 'moves funky'." As much as I hate to say it this situation is not limited to the small, local, 4H and/or open shows either.

Here is an even bigger question, at least in my opinion, what about the just plain ignorance that shows up in the ring too many times? Lots of judges will take the time to give pointers to the exhibitors if time allows but really, should they have to? I want to be clear on something, I am NOT talking about whether or not a horse has the mane pulled versus long, what color an exhibitor wears, how blinged out the equipment is…nor am I talking about whether or not the judge should give pointers to the exhibitor on technique. If time allows of course, that is awesome and is to be encouraged. I am talking about the horses that enter the ring with minimum grooming, broken and/or inappropriate equipment, unschooled horses, horses in poor condition. These issues should be no-brainers…take care of them at home, do not haul them to the shows.

Instilling good horsemanship begins with our youth but should be demonstrated by the adults those kids are watching. I firmly believe that good horsemanship is much, much, more than riding. It should be second nature to be aware of what is typical for a horse. Heck, I can tell the minute I come in the barn if something is not right first by just noticing how the horses greet me and especially when I walk into the stall. For example, if that stall is not looking pretty much the same way it does each morning then there could be a problem and I need to look closer. If I find nothing wrong, great...but if I do I am that much closer to fixing the problem than I would be if I had not noticed initially and went about my day only to find a horse in bigger trouble down the road. Horses will always tell you what is going on we just have to learn to listen and pay attention. That is a fundamental part of being a horseman/woman.

The following is a piece I came across on the internet and it sums things up very well…

"Becoming a Horseman: The Top 5 Qualities That Separate Riders From Horsemen

What qualities do the top horsemen share? What separates the “riders” from the “horsemen”? I have come up with a list of the top 5 qualities that I think separate riders from horsemen.

5. Balance

A Horseman is balanced, and not just in the saddle. A Horseman has learned how to balance their emotions, to never get angry with the horse, to remain calm, cool, and collected in every interaction with the horse. A Horseman strives for balance in all things with their horse, from their position in the saddle, the horse’s balanced way of moving, to balancing the horse’s training to provide variety and prevent boredom.

4. Timing

A Horseman has great timing. They know when to apply and release pressure/aids to the horse to maximize the horse’s learning and understanding. They understand that the horse learns from the release, not the application, of pressure. They take great in the timing of their aids when they ask the horse to do something, and do not ask the horse to perform a maneuver they are not ready for.

3. Feel

A Horseman has great feel. They know where the horse’s feet are at all times, at all gaits. They ride in rhythm with the horse, using their hands, legs, and seat to communicate with a “soft feel.” A Horseman is also aware of the horse’s mental and emotional states, and can feel when to ask for more, and when to quit for the day.

2. Experience

A Horseman is experienced. They have spent a lot of time, with a lot of different horses, and usually spent a lot of time with a mentor, to become the best horseman they can be. Through their experience they have learned how horses think, and how to clearly communicate with the horse.

1. Dedication

A Horseman is dedicated. They never stop learning, and are constantly striving to become a better horseman. They are dedicated to the welfare of the horse. They work consistently with their horses, to ensure that the horse is capable of performing the requests of the rider. They expect 1% improvement at all times.

A Horseman is constantly working to improve their horsemanship, constantly working on these 5 qualities.

I am always working on these 5 things, from balancing the demands of life and work and family with my horsemanship, to developing my timing and feel, always increasing my experience by working with my horses and expanding my knowledge by reading books, watching training DVD’s, and spending any time that I can with mentors and trainers that I admire. It takes a lot of dedication to keep working on improving my horsemanship!"
July 31, 2013 by siobhanperfhorse

I’ve said it before and I will say it again…our horses deserve good horsemen and women who never stop learning and follow good, solid, BASIC horse care principles. We owe it to them to TEACH it, to EXPECT it, and to PRACTICE it. I cannot stress this enough. There are always different opinions on how to care, train, etc. your horse but if you educate yourself in good, solid, fundamental methods you can’t go wrong. After that it is easier to intelligently assess the innumerable bits and pieces of information gleaned from all the sources available.

Learn the basics, so you are not suckered into the latest trend in training, health care, management, etc. without looking at that information through the filter of common sense knowledge; which can only be learned through practical, hands on, experience. Admittedly there is never only one way to an answer or solution, but if you at least have a working knowledge of what makes a horse tick you are a whole lot further along the path to making the right choices where your horse’s well-being is concerned. Once you have mastered the nitty-gritties of horsemanship, please, pass it on to our youth so that they in turn will share with others following them.

Everybody Wins

by Kim Sanford.

It is the beginning of a new year, the calendar has “turned the corner”, holidays are over and many of us are looking forward to spring and HORSE SHOWS!!! I love, love, love horse shows. I used to haul a trailer full of horses with their kids to the local shows and I was very active in the local 4H club even a few years after my daughter aged out of the program. Getting out of bed at the crack of dawn after working into the wee hours of the night prepping horses for the next day or two at the arena is one of my fondest memories; and I miss it very much. What I wouldn’t give to be in the driver’s seat of Ethel (my beloved Ford F250), good friends and kids piled in her back seat, daughter riding shotgun, pulling the five horse trailer loaded to the gills with horses headed to a show. This was something we did EVERY weekend and it never got old.

However, there is something that did put a damper on things from time-to-time and it is a biggie in my opinion. It is the “everyone gets a ribbon” mentality in some of the youth programs, which translates into a sense of entitlement that invades the rest of the horse show world and indeed the “real” world. My problem is with the programs that trip all over themselves to make sure that none of the cherubs, will feel a moment of disappointment if they do not get a ribbon or in some extreme cases qualify for another event…even when they have been DQ’d per the rules of the show. Oh yeah, and here’s the kicker, those “cherubs” can be and often ARE teenagers with their parents screaming at those in charge!! How can this be a good thing? What message are we sending to them?

First off I want to make it clear I am not bashing the youth programs per se. They are a positive experience for so many youth and they are necessary entities that do a huge service to the horse industry. What I am saying is that they (we) need to change the mindset that ALL the kids SHOULD get a ribbon/trophy no matter what. Just to be clear, I am NOT referring to the lead line classes that do award prizes for all places but I DO applaud those that will place the kids 1-6 while recognizing the other riders. That being said…hey, I get it, we want to encourage them, build their self-esteem, confidence, etc. It is important to empower our youth but it needs to be done in a way that will not create little monsters who many times grow up to be adult monsters. So how about we do it realistically with the focus being on real life…a life that they will need to deal with as adults?

Here’s a thought, expect them to EARN the reward. In real life no one is going to make sure everyone wins, it is up to the individual and their work ethic to reap the appropriate reward. As a society we are already seeing what comes of that mindset and it does not bode well for the public as a whole or for those unfortunate individuals, indoctrinated by this method. These are the young adults who are already trying to make it in the “real world” with their naïve expectations ie: I am a winner, I deserve a job with high pay, or anything else attainable, with minimal effort. If we hand out rewards willy nilly where is the incentive to excel? But this is about what I see at the shows…

You have all seen the sour looks as some kids leave the ring without placing, or even worse, with a ribbon that is not BLUE. We have heard them blaming the horse, judge bashing, etc. and this is not just coming from the kids either…parents and trainers can be heard chiming in on it. By the way, I have been guilty of judge bashing myself sometimes, but I try very hard not to do so, especially in the presence of impressionable kids. It is not fair to anyone. I am not in the ring, therefore I cannot see things from their vantage point; barn blindness that we ALL suffer from occasionally, and bottom-line…I am paying for that person’s opinion on that particular day. These are all facts that should be ingrained in exhibitors by their trainers and by the parents. Too often after leaving the ring with an “inferior” ribbon or without one at all, the horse gets the blame. This can be anything from outright cruelty like yanking and spurring or smacking the horse, to basically totally ignoring the animal that went in and did the best it could at the time, in favor of sulking and complaining to anyone who would listen. It is NEVER their (the rider’s fault), not EVER. Too many times this attitude is fed into at the worst or ignored by trainers/parents/peers, when it should have been nipped in the bud at best.

I do a lot of announcing at shows now and that means I see all kinds of behaviors, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I once worked with a judge a few years ago who had the courage to DQ half of a 10 and under showmanship class because they did not know the pattern. How sad it is that I feel the need to refer to her decision as courageous, but it was. Parents were lined up along the arena fence and she could have taken a lot of heat. Good for her!! She took the time to explain to the kids why she did this before they left the arena. I truly believe that those kids learned a heck of a lesson that day and if they were asked about it today would remember her words. In fact, I have seen some of them over the last couple of years continue to show, improve, and for the most part they exhibit good sportsmanship. The point is…they survived being disqualified and have continued to show. Their little spirits weren’t crushed.

I truly believe that it is our jobs as trainers, parents, teachers, volunteers, indeed anyone who works with today’s youth, to avoid instilling a sense of entitlement into our kids at all costs. They deserve better from us. There is always something positive to focus on in their performance other than the prize. Acknowledge the areas that still need work as well as help them recognize what they did well. For God’s sake and the future of the world, take off the “rose colored glasses” and be real. Tact is imperative but the truth is important. Working hard is what wins and anything less should not be applauded.

One other thing I would like to touch on is good sportsmanship because it is integral to success and is also being lost in the quest for inflated self esteem. I have seen clients of some trainers/instructors band together in a pack mentality while sitting in the bleachers and make comments about the riders in the ring. They are also the ones who walk around with lots of swagger, sadly they are regularly in the ribbons at any given time, but God help us all if one of them has an off day. Anyone not in the group is fair game for their ridicule, especially if the target happens to have been in the ribbons that day. That person and their friends are likely to be told that the “judge is not a good judge and s/he did not know what they were looking at” or words to that effect. More disturbing is that the leader of the pack sometimes will turn out to be the trainer/instructor, if not in person then in spirit. I have even seen a bumper sticker in the past saying “We Came, We Showed, We Kicked Butt” that embodies the attitude. This was on the truck of a trainer, in fact the one whose clients occupied the bleachers disrespecting a majority of the other riders on any given horse show day. They were the ones who were often in the ribbons on those days. Real winners do not have to make those statements….EVER. I am not saying that it is wrong to take pride in your accomplishments. What I am advocating is that along with losing the entitlement attitude our kids need to win with grace…and they will not be able to unless the adults in their lives step up and teach it.

Our youth need to be accountable whether in the barn, at the showground, in the pens, no matter where they are. Handing out accolades for warm fuzzies instead of for real accomplishment is sending them on a downward spiral. Encouragement is good; building confident, capable human beings is desirable and achievable if we use common sense. Competition is crucial to developing a balanced psyche and honestly we are falling far short of the mark. So please, let’s give those who work with the youth a chance at helping them reach their full potential. As parents try to be objective, know that your kid may need to work harder than another one to get to the same place…a good work ethic is invaluable in life and too many kids and young adults have no clue what that is. I am in no way advocating “throwing them to the wolves” but don’t be too quick to smooth the path your child is on.

Adding responsibilities to the mix will also be beneficial. Too many parents jump in to take on the physical work that having a horse requires that kids have also lost a depth of knowledge about their horses that used to be ingrained just through the day-to-day care. Do not think that this loss is not noticed even in the ring. My conversations with judges over the years have verified what I have been seeing over the last ten years or so and I suspect it has been going on for longer than that…Horsemanship 101 is nonexistent….but that is the subject for another time.