VCMBH: Unpopular

Lots of riders bringing up rich "unpopular" opinions (see Cob Jockey for one example) in this blog hop. Love it. Love that we're being vulnerable.

So what's my unpopular opinion? It's difficult to say because I really don't talk to a whole lot of riders and therefore don't find out what opinions I have are unpopular. Let's just throw something out there and see if I can back it up.


Oh, wow, that came out in all caps. I think we found something.

When I was 12 we moved to po-dunk hillbilly central and I entered 4-H. There were no dressage shows or hunter-jumper shows  in our area. Hillbilly hunt-seat was just another way for Western Pleasure riders to enter another class. HUS/WP is VERY different than classic hunt-seat (namely, horses are ridden front to back). It was a rich Quarter Horse/Quarter Horse x grade area - TBs were understood to be dangerous, Arabians hot and wild-eyed, and every other breed out of reach. NO ONE ever saw a warmblood. Every kid in 4-H aspired to the end of the year county fair to show off whatever it was they learned during the year on their $500 4-H project (everybody sold their horse as a "4-H project" because that's all these kids could afford, present company included). When someone showed up on a $3,000 QH at Fair, we all sat there glaring with steam coming out of our ears. How DARE they just show up on a horse that was "pushbutton" (and we spit that out of our mouths with contempt) - and a lot of times these horses were just barely better trained than ours - they actually knew what the aids for a canter meant.

I know I'm perilously close to tangenting so I'll bring it back.

At our county fair, the pinnacle of riding competition for us, the classes were limited to showmanship/halter and under saddle classes. There was maybe two classes for jumping (which maybe 10 riders entered because jumping was very exclusive in our region) and maybe some contesting classes with lots of riders entering those because who can't run around some barrels or poles? (turns out, not many!)

So the majority of our classes were under saddle walk/trot/canter. And the top-placed riders every year had clearly spent the year riding around in some draw-rein set up. Horses (in both HUS/WP) went around with intentionally impure paces, heads slung low, walking like they were afraid to move forward, trotting around on their toes with just enough impulsion to make it semi-clear they weren't walking, and four-beating the canter/lope (they all had that trademark gimp).

And that's what kids were aspiring to be. Riders who flung their reins away, relied on spurs (and not because they had reached that refined technique which warrants double bridles and spurs because their aids could be so light), and spent their riding time hauling on draw reins for a headset. I hated it. I hated it because no horse should move like that, I hated it because the horses looked unhappy, bored, pained, and bitter. I hated it because I wanted to win a ribbon sometime and to do so, I "had" to make my horse look like that.

Luckily for me, every horse I had refused to listen (oh, those 4-H projects!) - I used draw reins once, saw that it only made my horse mad, and never used them again. Our 4-H advisor was a saint. She actually took regular dressage lessons with Leslie MacDonald and knew how to ride. Unfortunately she couldn't quite get us kids to understand - at every weekly lesson with her we left even more confused (extend the trot? what? ride the pony into a halt? Are you crazy?) - she was probably the only 4-H advisor in the county who actually knew what correct riding looked like (she was also the only one not wearing a cowboy hat and flinging bling everywhere).

Every year I go back and the same horses are doing the same thing. The warm-up ring looks like half-dead horses sleepwalking in tight circles. The classes are filled with butt-high, forehand heavy, sunken neck/behind the vertical worn out mounts getting repeatedly spurred to speed up and immediately yanked to slow down. Forget hind legs coming underneath the body, forget true roundness, forget a light forehand and happy horse. This is what the horses do in Congress, right? Everybody goes to Congress, sees what these horses and riders look like, and do their damndest to repeat it at home.

I don't know how it happened but my little sis never went that route. Somehow she knew better. Every year she goes in with her Morab, rides with Reagan's poll at or above the withers, his nose popped out in front of the vertical, and walks with purpose, trots with purity, and canters with impulsion. Do they place? Sometimes. Not usually. Does Reagan look happy? You bet. His little ears are perked and his expression is lively. Does my little sister look happy? Mostly (he can be a stinker!). Do the other kids look happy? Not on your life. Trainers yelling to pop him in the mouth to get him to drop his head, or slow down, or give him a jab to do who knows what.

They placed (4th?) in showmanship. Don't you just want to squeeze this pony and take him?!

Waiting between classes.

Thankfully, while my unpopular opinion is only unpopular in certain regions of the nation, it's definitely not unpopular amongst the equestrian crowd I follow. Thankfully my sis knows better - thankfully my mom, while she didn't know a whole lot, knew enough to know we weren't riding well enough to warrant gadgets and that riding the way the region did was unhealthy for both human and horse.



  1. Wait... did you sneak into my barn to watch lessons?

    1. I wish - that would have meant this was a localized issue!

  2. Ugh! I know Western Pleasure can be a legit discipline and the training that legit discipline takes is amazing. BUT, especially at the local level, it's just horrifying and stilted. It's honestly difficult for me to watch.

    1. I have to brace myself every year during Fair week when I watch the sis. I get SO angry.

  3. What a cute pony! I bet he's got some movement too.

    Going with the comment above about the local levels being stilted, they are trying to mimic what they see going on in the upper levels at the larger shows. If its winning at Congress, World, Nationals, Regionals or anything bigger than the local po-dunk show, then that is what MY horse has to do, look like, how they need to perform and I will get ribbons too... How that is achieved can be another horrifying story altogether. And many times it is again, this is what the Big Names are doing or using so it must get results!

    1. Thanks Cut-N-Jump!

      Yep, that's exactly it, trying to mimic what they see going on at the upper levels.


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