Lets take this blog to the next level

If you have a photo of crappy show riding, know of a jerkwad trainer or judge, or someone in the show world that is an abusive piece of shit then send the info to me. This blog is not anti-showing, it's anti-abuse. So there is no truth to the claims from the TWH, ASB, western pleasure and dressage zombies that I'm trying to shut showing down. Instead I'm trying to make showing more honest and to get abusive practices out of the showring! Email me at shameinthehorseshowring@gmail.com

I have a request for my readers: If you have successfully rehabbed a show horse, or gotten a rescue and taken it on to a show career then let me know, I'd love to feature you here!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Halter; an industry built on greed

Halter. Just the word conjures up images of well-built horses that are the epitome of a breed’s standards. Visions of horses trotting past a discerning judge fill the mind. Reality? No, fantasy! Face it, most halter horses today are such extreme examples of what a breed standard espouses that they should be barred from the ring. Why? Because every single breed standard out there, including the mini horse (which I looked up and read) talks about a horse that can work or perform some kind of duty. Halter horses usually don’t. Don’t inundated me with “but, but, but” because you know one or two halter horses that perform. So do I. I also know of a majority of halter horses that end up finished with their careers at ages when most horses are just starting to work. They are retired early due to “injury”. What injury? Did they sprain their jaws eating all that high protein feed and alfalfa hay? Or perhaps they drove their post legs into the ground too hard and injured their joints. Sounds plausible.

What is halter judging? It’s supposed to be based on these six criteria; breed and sex characteristics, balance, structural correctness, refinement, and degree of muscling. Balance is the single most important characteristic among all breeds.

Let’s look at the AQHA breed standard:
The ideal American Quarter Horse shown at halter is a horse that is generally considered to be solid in color and possesses the following characteristics: the horse should possess eye appeal that is the result of a harmonious blending of an attractive head; refined throat latch; well-proportioned, trim neck; long, sloping shoulder; deep heart girth; short back; strong loin and coupling; long hip and croup; and well-defined and muscular stifle, gaskin, forearm and chest. All stallions 2 years old and over shall have two visible testicles.
These characteristics should be coupled with straight and structurally correct legs and feet that are free of blemishes. The horse should be a balanced athlete that is muscled uniformly throughout.

Sounds like a fairly well made horse. And it’s not what we’re seeing the ring today. The above standard is used in almost all stock breeds.

Just to be fair I’ll include the breed standard for Arabians:
Comparatively small head, profile of head straight or preferably slightly concave below the eyes; small muzzle, large nostrils, extended when in action; large, round, expressive, dark eyes set well apart (glass eyes shall be penalized in Breeding classes); comparatively short
distance between eye and muzzle; deep jowls, wide between the branches; small ears (smaller in stallions than mares), thin and well shaped, tips curved slightly inward; long arched neck, set on high and running well back into moderately high withers; long sloping shoulder well laid over with muscle; ribs well sprung; long, broad forearm; short cannon bone with large sinew; short back; loins broad and strong; croup comparatively horizontal; natural high tail carriage. Viewed from rear, tail should be carried straight; hips strong and round; well muscled thigh and gaskin; straight, sound, flat bone; large joints, strong and well defined; sloping pasterns of good length; round feet of proportionate size. Height from 14.1 to 15.1 hands, with an occasional individual over or under. Fine coat in varying colors of bay, chestnut, grey and black. Dark skin, except under white markings. Stallions especially should have an abundance of natural vitality, animation, spirit, suppleness and balance.

Definitely looks like the Arab halter horse fits their breed standard more than the stock horses do. Why is this? I like Arabs, but they’ve been focused on “type” a long, long time. They even define “type” by subsets within the breed. You can have Egyptian, Crabbet (English), Russian, Polish and Spanish types.

The stock breeds have types too, such as racing, cutting, reining, WP, EP, foundation etc, but you don’t see all these types being placed fairly in the showring. I have seen Arab shows where all different types are represented in the halter ring, and all are placed based on their type and overall conformational balance. I don’t see that happening in the stock horse halter ring. In fact the main criteria in the halter stock ring seems to be how heavy, and how obnoxious acting, you can make your horse.

Why is stock horse halter such a narrow minded and prejudicial class? Because judges are blinded by big muscles to the point that they will excuse all other faults. The first fault they ignore is movement. Watch this video and tell me there are horses you’d ride in it. The second horse in the ring is very noticeably stifled and should have been excused. I see stiff, jerky and disjointed movement, yet it wins.


Now compare it to this video. Ignore the stupid smoke and note the horses are actually trotting and showing movement that could be used under saddle.


Where does this lead us? To the fact that our halter judges are muscle blind and they will forgive just about every fault, except a missing limb, as long as the horse is built like a feeder calf.

There’s an old poem my sister (she’s a judge) likes to cite. It’s about six blind men that are all asked to determine what an elephant looks like by touch. Each blind man touches only one part of the elephant and concludes from what he feels what an elephant is like.

The poem goes something like this

The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a tree;
the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope;
the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a snake;
the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a palm leaf;
the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall;
and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a spear

You have to add it all up to get a picture of what an elephant is. Judging horses should be the same way. You should look at each part seperately and then put them together as a whole. I asked my sister and a few other judges I know how they place halter horses. Three of them use similar methods of rating each “part” on a scale of one to five, then rating the overall balance of the horse and adding it all up. The horse with the highest score wins. To me this is the fairest method of judging, and one that I feel is used very little. I think most judges pick the winner in the first two mintues of the class and that horse is usually the biggest butted animal in the ring.

Just for kicks let's do a little “blind” men examination of some horses. Instead of presenting the whole picture of the horse, which might lure you with pretty heads and cute expressions, as well as big butts, I’ve cropped photos to show just certain sections, and lined them to show where things should be. Included is a visual representation of the horse’s skeleton with some similar lines.

Blue lines: Form

Yellow lines: Leg correctness

Red lines: Balance

Green line: Top line

Now that we can see what a horse’s skeleton looks like we can start looking at the horses that are winning in the halter ring today. I’m going to be non-partisan and pick on stock type and Arab type today.

Here’s are first example of what the blind men would have felt:
I deduced that the horse is like an inverted bactrian camel. What is up with a hip that is that much higher than the withers? This horse goes beyond downhill, he’s actually built like a luge chute. He’d also be deducing that the horse’s neck was built like a pork barrel and his hind legs were built like a willow sapling. Had this horse been stood up where his gaskin and hock really want to be he would have been seriously camped out. I actually do almost like the forearm on this horse, but don’t like his pastern.

Here’s what the blind man would say: I deduce the horse is like a post. Seriously, don’t you just want to string a strand of clothesline between his legs? Can you imagine how rough this horse’s gaits are with that straight hock, no reach and pasterns like little pegs? His top line is better than the above horse and his hip to tail base is not as drastic. No way he could be camped out, because if you moved his legs behind the point of his gaskin the entire horse would collapse like a bridge without base supports.

Here’s what the blind man would say: I deduce the horse is like a stump. I like short backs, but seriously, this is a bit too close coupled. More post style legs and no pasterns to speak of. This horse will have no trot! He will not have impulsion. I also don’t like his hip ratio; this horse can’t get under himself to a huge degree. I’m not thrilled with him as a halter horse and I’d like him even less as a saddle horse.

Here’s what the blind man would say: I deduce the horse is like a llama. You think I’m kidding?

Looks like twins separated at birth, except one has a haircut and a pack saddle.

Just to be fair I think our little blind man would feel this horse and say: I deduce the horse is like a glacial rift valley with a built in ski slope. Come on Arab people! How can I pick on the stock horse industry when you’re breeding backs and shoulders like this?

Here’s another one. Believe it or not this is not the same horse as above. Yes, that means there are two of these little gems in the world, just waiting to reproduce and make more. Our little blind man is having a time with this guy: I deduce the horse is like a table. All this horse needs is a checker board and beer stein and he’d be the perfect horse. At first glance I thought this horse was one of those poor abused TWHs I rant about. But no, it’s an Arabian and the owner thought this photo really showcased his horse’s flat croup. It also showcases the horse’s weak hind end, bad pasterns, poor gaskins and nasty hamstrings.

I like a horse that can teach people things, but I don’t need a horse that can teach me how to spell VO. The front legs are base narrow, the hind legs are also base narrow, with a nasty bowing in the middle. Can you say interference and forging? Oh look, more straight pasterns! Must have been a special on them at Horse-Mart. I deduce the horse is like a spelling bee.

Where to start? By now our blind man thinks the horse is like a set of pick up sticks, with good reason. The horse above spells VO, this one spells OX. I can’t imagine what this horse’s trot is like. I imagine it tries to be airy and floaty like most Arabs, but I’m thinking there is going to be some serious interference going on. Think weedwhacker, not hovercraft. Toes out in front, cow hocked in the back, out at the knee, toes out behind. Please don’t reproduce this horse!

We’re going to leave our little tribe of blind men right now and go over to the tent where the fortune teller lives. She’s a cagey old broad, much like myself, and we’re going to ask her to look deep into her crystal ball and tell us the future of the halter industry. { crackling noises, smoke and mirrors}
Look deep into that ball and tell us what you see. I see that the halter industry is DOOMED! The colt you see before you is the reason why. He was bred to have a huge hip and butt. His legs look like toothpicks, used ones. He’s not even weaning age and he’s got such bad epiphysitis he’s already doomed to be one of those “retired early due to injury” horses. Look at those hind pasterns. He’s over at the pastern front and back. He’s crab shouldered. He’s got a big butt, typey neck and head ( which I cropped) but those legs are a nightmare. This is the future of halter right here!

Every one of these horses shown here is listed as a halter champion or halter prospect. From their names I know that some of them have placed high at sanctioned shows. It’s disgraceful that this is the best the halter show ring has to offer. If the human model industry was based on the same standards of having tiny heads and necks and big asses I'd be the top paid model out there.

The horse industry has taken a down turn. People are cutting back and they can’t afford a horse for each event. Horses that are specialized are going to be fast tracked to the dump pen. A halter bred gelding has less value than a grade kid’s horse once his show career is over. Those big meaty muscles are going to attract the wrong kind of buyer at the end of that horse’s life. Here are some links where you can view some more posted legged, poor shouldered, bad toplined and peg footed horses.


And for the record: I’m not bitter, jealous or a halter wannabe. I do know good conformation and the horses I featured are not up to standard, yet they have won awards and come from some of the industries most favored halter lines. You’ve doomed yourself by being greedy and specializing your horse, don’t blame me for pointing it out. Start breeding conformations that cannot only halter but can also ride. If you don't you will be flushed down the horse industry drain just as surely as the BYB's you bitch about.