Sunday, 17 July 2011

Unflattering Snapshots

Recently, dressage and reining have joined the ranks of western pleasure and saddlebred competition as the subject of Facebook and discussion boards with accusations of abuse from the informed and uninformed alike. This week there was a video circulating, depicting snapshots of hyperflexion, accompanied by stirring music and close ups of sad equine eyes. Elsewhere, commentaries paint with a wide brush all western pleasure horses as being miserable peanut rollers. Generalizations include disgusting head sets in the show world and anyone who uses draw reins is taking an unethical shortcut to proper training.

I’ve had plenty of unflattering snapshots taken of me – in some of the funniest I’m in the middle of an animated explanation of a riding concept while teaching a clinic. My face is just doing something weird. I’d hate for folks to think I’m weird in general. I see snapshots of Hollywood actors on the gossip mags as I’m waiting in the checkout line, purposely taken in a bad moment. Today, a photo taken on an angle of Angelina Jolie made one believe the headline that she was a ninety pound anorexic.

Any snapshot of horsemanship doesn’t tell the whole picture. A video clip of a four beating western pleasure horse doesn’t mean that is that is what the judges are looking for. A shot of a horse behind the bit may only reflect a temporary state which was resolved on the next lap of the ring.

A judge’s update I received from FEI and Equine Canada cautioned officials not to mistake permitted stretching techniques for illegal practice. Longitudinal and lateral stretching may look unpleasant in a snapshot, but these associations maintain it is permitted and beneficial as long as it is not sustained or aggressive– interrupted by periods of lengthening and relaxation. (But these periods are rarely captured on video).

When horses are genuinely abused or confused by people it breaks my heart. But I want to consider the whole story before I pass judgment on the cover photo.

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