Kelly Alley

The Wondering Wanderer column … in the summer? It’s more likely than you think!

Memes aside, this column will continue biweekly over the summer break. Also, as it is summer, the column will actually involve some wandering, giving thoughts and insights into traveling destinations and journeys.

Before we jump into a car and take off for the open road, I have a few thoughts to share about a popular subject in this column: horses.

I had originally intended to write about the results of the Kentucky Derby and its impacts in racing going forward, but I reckon many of you have heard enough about that already. So, I’m skipping that soap box speech for a more general topic about horses.

Usually around this time of year, thanks to the increased interest in horse racing, there starts an uproar about equine training abuse and negligence in the racing world. The problem is, this doesn’t just happen in racing. It happens in all equine-related activities.

Many of you are probably familiar with soring, the practice of doing unspeakable things to gaited horses’ legs to encourage exaggerated gaits, namely that high-stepping action they’re well-known for.

Soring is a nasty shortcut in training, with some – and I use this term loosely – trainers coating horses’ legs in kerosene or placing halved golf balls in the horses’ hooves. These horses thus have sore legs and hooves to walk or gait on, making it painful for them with every step they take, creating an artificial high-stepping action.

Folks in the western community aren’t saints either, especially in the western pleasure world. This equine sport is focused on one main goal: consistently keeping the horse’s head held low and encouraging the horse to move at as slow a gait as possible. The horse should travel smoothly, confidently and effortlessly while being judged.

Trained correctly, this is a pleasurable experience for horses, riders and spectators. More often then not, pleasure horses are shown with artificial gaits, the broken-down, painfully slow lope being one of them. I’ve heard of accounts where people have tied five-pound dumbbells to the horse’s halter – while they are in their stall – to get that low headset.

In warm-up arenas at western pleasure shows, it is unfortunately common practice to force the horse’s head down by tying it to the saddle or continuously yank on the reins to encourage them to drop their head, then repeatedly spur the horse to keep it moving as it warms up. This became a heated topic back in 2010 when a video was uploaded showing warm-up practices at the Quarter Horse Congress.

Sadly, this is just barely scratching the surface of horse “training” practices. Other disciplines have their own demons, and there are plenty of other issues involved with the two mentioned here. The horse industry is run on money and, as they say, money is time and time is money. The quicker horses are “trained,” the better the chances of making a profit off of them.

Don’t lose hope, though. Many riders and trainers are starting to abandon these methods of training by selectively breeding for natural movement and temperament. Many are also beginning to focus more on the biomechanics of their horse’s movement to correctly train them.

Like good training, these issues will take a while to resolve themselves. Anyone who works with horses long enough understands that patience is the key. I just hope we have enough.

Kelly Alley is a senior studying Journalism and Electronic Media. She can be reached at kalley2@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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