What Could Rodeo Teach Us About Safety? Maybe More Than You Realize.

I have lots of hopes and dreams for this blog, not the least of which is to have guest bloggers who can change our perspective on certain things, or at least provide food for thought.  As luck would have it, there are lots of those kinds of people in the world!  So I’m happy to introduce my first guest blogger,  one very special cowboy, Max LaMee! (PS:  He’s also a great show announcer for hire, if you need one.  maxlamee@gmail.com)

12832534_1046339452092039_6305641855727785582_n

The equine industry is a huge industry with a lot of different niches. There are small things different disciplines do that their counterparts don’t. However there is often a lot of crossover between these disciplines that often gets overlooked because we horse people are very opinionated. I was one of those stubborn people myself, generally falling into the rodeo category I thought “what in the world can I learn from English pleasure.” It turned out there were a lot of things. Not everyone gets to look behind the scenes of rodeo so I’ll share some things that could be helpful to riders of other disciplines as well.

Keep your equipment as clean and functional as possible. Your tack is generally the physical link between you and your equine partner. It will make you and the horse more comfortable. I don’t like to wear dirty clothes that don’t fit well so I figure horses don’t either.

Stretch, if you go to a rodeo you will see competitors stretching. Stretches don’t take much time and they prevent injury. You warm your horse up, why shouldn’t you get ready to compete as well? Another thing you might see at a rodeo is a horse in the chutes and a cowboy holding onto a mane pulling a horses neck back and forth. This is to loosen the horse up, they get nervous just like us. Horses will lock up their jaws and necks when they get nervous. Getting the jaw or neck to release that tension will often relax the horse.

From a personal safety perspective, rodeos have an increasingly growing number of helmets being worn nowadays. One thing rodeo contestants have been doing for years though is wearing mouth guards. Sure it helps protect your teeth but they also may help prevent concussions that can lead to brain damage. It’s a mouth guard, cheap, easy to use, and some will even come with insurance if your teeth are injured wearing them. Also your boot soles should be taken into account. For safety PRCA rules require competitors to wear leather soles to prevent getting hung up in stirrups. The leather slides easier than rubber soled boots. Hopefully you never get hung up in a stirrup but it happens. If you find yourself hung up try to tun onto your stomach, this will turn your foot allowing you to get free.

Our disciplines can be very different but there are amazing horses and humans in every one of them.

God is Great, Beer is Good, and This Western Pleasure Thing Has Gotten Crazy

246507_309397709150429_2062996370_nI’m pretty much the worst blogger ever. They say you’re supposed to write at least a post a week, but for some reason, I only write when I’m inspired. If I don’t have anything particularly relevant to say, I don’t write. (I find it a useful practice when it comes to actually talking as well. More people should consider it.)

But now, it’s Congress time. That month or so long Central Ohio event, where dreams are made (and sometimes go to die), lots of money is spent, and thousands of American Quarter Horses and their people travel to see who is the “best of the best”. (At least in some sense, given that you don’t have to qualify to show there.) The All American Quarter Horse Congress, if you’ve never been also attracts equine enthusiasts from all breeds and disciplines, presumably because both the pecan rolls and the shopping are so fantastic. This year, however, it seems to be attracting people for a different reason…it is Internet open season on the Western Pleasure horse. Unfortunately, I can’t even type the words without feeling like I should duck at minimum, or put on a flame retardant suit at worst.

Several videos have been circulating via social media “highlighting” the best, (or the worst), the class has to offer, depending on your perspective. Many of those who are currently involved in the Western Pleasure world are raving about how good the horses are moving these days, by and large, but a seemingly more vocal majority is condemning the horses, the people and basically everyone who has ever come within 10 feet of a western pleasure horse be they owner, trainer, judge or stall cleaner. To this point, I haven’t really said much, as talking about western pleasure on social media is about as effective as trying to negotiate Middle Eastern peace via Twitter, but after giving it some thought (a less than popular concept in the social media world, it seems) I decided that I do have something to say.

Those who are condemning western pleasure riders, trainers, and owners are typically doing so “in defense of the horse”.   Horses don’t naturally move that slow (true), horses aren’t naturally that mechanical (also true), and horses clearly have to be abused to perform that way (ok, I know that part isn’t always true).

Let’s stop and think about Grand Prix dressage for just a minute. Horses don’t naturally trot and canter in place either, yet that seems to be perfectly acceptable and highly revered in the Dressage world. I think it has something to do with the difference in animation, lift, and suspension, and training progression demonstrated by Dressage horses as compared to stock type horses, which sometimes don’t have much of any of those things. I don’t mean to pick on Dressage, it just happens to be another sport where horses are asked to perform difficult, unnatural maneuvers. You can insert reining, jumping, or even trail riding here if you like. I’m guessing not all horses think 7 hours on the trail is big fun either, by the way. It depends on the horse.

Anyway, my point is this. I don’t care for how many western pleasure horses are asked to move these days…but I DO appreciate a great one, and I do appreciate the fact that when asked, the horses can and do move differently…more forward, and in some cases, more comfortably. (If all horses moved at about the speed of a good western riding horse, that would be swell.) When I judge, I try to encourage people to move their horses forward a bit when I can, while trying to help them understand how to collect their horses and develop some self carriage. (At least as much as any judge can do in the 5 seconds the have to talk to exhibitors at open shows).

Anyway, I also appreciate great reining horses, great racehorses, great draft horses…any horse that is good at their game. Even if that game is simply teaching a little girl how to ride (which for some horses may be considered abuse in itself).  If they aren’t “good at their game” I typically don’t take to social media and drag the entire sport or discipline through the mud.  But at this point western pleasure is like shooting fish in a barrel. People seem to think there are prizes for bashing western pleasure, and they come in the form of “likes”.

But most people who own western pleasure horses aren’t actually monsters. I know quite a few, and to be honest, they love their horses, and go out of their way to make sure they are well cared for, and have the best of everything. Many DO turn them out when they aren’t showing…sometimes (gasp) with other horses, even! Many trainers will have frank discussions with owners letting them know that their horse is better suited for something else if that’s the case. And often, horses start as western pleasure horses go on to have long careers as all around horses…despite what some would have you believe.

At the same time, if you do own a western pleasure horse, it’s pretty naïve to suggest that all of those people who don’t like today’s western pleasure horse are “ignorant”, (and they aren’t monsters either). Many of those people are horse people who have left the western pleasure arena because they can’t stand to watch what is (sometimes) happening. They too love their horses, and it pains them to see horses shut down to the point where they barely move at all.  They don’t like seeing horses excessively spurred, jerked on either, by the way, and its even worse if you don’t seem to have an end point in mind. In some cases, they are still showing, but avoid the western pleasure class altogether. Realizing that you may be asking your horse to physically and mentally do things he can’t actually do to satisfy your own competitive ego can be a tough pill to swallow. I know because I’ve swallowed it. Fortunately for me, the horse is still standing in my barn, and has forgiven me, it appears.

Love or hate western pleasure, I believe that more want what is best for horses than don’t. The most important lesson I ever learned was that if we’re going to ask animals (any animals) to do things for us, we owe them the highest level of care and consideration. It may be that rather than post videos and inflammatory comments on social media, everyone needs to take a step back, talk face to face, consider the genetics, training techniques, and daily life of western pleasure horses, the perspective and point of view of both sides, and then make their own decisions about what to do.  But then, that’s not always popular in this day and age. There isn’t always a “like” button (or a bronze trophy) for taking personal responsibility.

Looking for a reason…

When I started this blog, I figured I’d mostly write about showing horses, the horse industry, sports psychology and the like.  And I’m sure that will be the primary focus…but “Out of the Box (Stall)” thinking isn’t limited to those topics actually, and besides, it’s my blog, so I can write whatever I want, right?

My first “real” post was about the tendency of some in the horse industry to just say whatever they feel like saying, wherever they want to say it, without regard for the consequences.  To quote “Not being negative, just honest.”  It’s true that we could use more civil behavior in the horse world at times, but this morning I was reminded that while there are some pretty mean and insecure people in the horse world, it is also the home of the very best the world has to offer.

The first thing I do in the morning (after letting the dogs out and making coffee, so I guess it’s the third thing ), is check my phone.  In the past several months, the morning phone checking has been met with some absolutely heart breaking news.  A former student loses her fiancé in a tragic freak accident during a storm, and now, a friend who is a horse judge has unexpectedly lost his son.  There really are no words that can be said in either situation that will ease the pain at all…but fortunately, as challenging as horse people can be, when the chips are down and people need help, they rally, and they show love like no other community I’ve ever been a part of.

The first message was followed by about 10 more asking how they could help.  And that continued throughout the day.  People aren’t using social media to tear each other down,  They’re using it  to hold one another up.  To share their love and support,  to ask if “we can do something as a group”, to share service information, and to try to make sense of unspeakable tragedy.

We don’t usually find answers to the “why” question in these situations…I used to think that everything happened for a reason.  But I don’t believe that anymore.  I believe that things happen and then God helps us through them…often by using the very same people we were competing against, or upset with last week, or last month, or last year…and maybe we should try to remember that every day.

Image