Today’s rant, which should be read while listening to the strains of Elvis (see video below), comes to you from the very bottom of the barrel.
Even though it’s a coincidence and I only realized the appropriateness of my title and choice of music accompaniment as I started to write this very sentence, it is fitting that you should listen to Elvis singing Don’t Be Cruel while you contemplate the horrific Tennessee Walker abuse video that went viral after it appeared on ABC Nightline last week. Elvis and Tennessee Walkers do, after all, both have a lot to do with Tennessee.
I don’t watch a lot of pulp news, but I happened to stumble across the show while surfing for something Voice-Idol-Talent-Dance-TopChef to numb my wired, weary mind. Links to the video have since come to me by a variety of sources; even Astrid has posted it on Eurodressage, though it has nothing to do with dressage and everything to do with activities that are so awful they almost defy description. I am not endorsing the viewing of this video, because I don’t like making people feel sick. But in case you didn’t see it and in case you feel an urge to get really upset, you can see the Nightline story here.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the dubious training practices of the gaited horse community. I invoked the wrath of several practitioners of racking and licking during the 2010 WEG, when I dared to criticize Saddlebreds while I was mere walking distance from the American Saddlebred Museum. One indignant gaited trainer even went so far as to call me a ‘sour old patch of nasty’, which I found so quaint I adopted it as my nickname for a few months. But for any North American horse person who has been around at least one block with at least one eye open, it’s simply impossible to get around the knowledge that some of the ‘breed people’ as they are called have some rather horse unfriendly methods. And the gaited horse crowd is arguably the worst of the lot.
That’s not to say there aren’t responsible, kind and competent people training Walkers and Saddlebreds to show off what God gave them and nothing more. In Canada Walkers must be shown flat shod, though that doesn’t eliminate the problem entirely of course. And don’t be accusing me of picking on a breed, because this isn’t about whether Saddlebreds are flighty or Arabs are spooky or Morgans are stubborn. I’ve ridden many specimens from those breeds over the years, some of which were very awesome, and others of which were dreadful – as is the case with any breed. My mother bred Walkers for a while and she had two of the most wonderful geldings for a trail ride I’ve ever come across: Spunky and Dick (my mom has never been well versed in the sexual slang lexicon).
You know what I find sad about this story, beyond the terrible suffering of the horses that is? That it took an American news station that has no ties to the horse business , and the withdrawal of a major sponsor (Pepsi) from a competition, to create some pressure on people who have been abusing horses as a matter of course for many, many years. Shouldn’t a stop to these practices have been initiated from within the horse community? Where is USEF in all this? Let’s be honest. We’ve all been aware of at least some of what has been going on – though I must admit the video shocked the hell out of me because I didn’t realize how brutal a human being could be with a horse. How on earth does bashing a horse across the face with the equivalent of a baseball bat make it perform better?
It’s not just the gaited people who should hang their heads in shame. We are all guilty for not doing more to protect these noble, beautiful and honest animals we ostensibly love so much. Let’s also not get on any proverbial high horses by saying our disciplines are pure as the driven snow. Some of you will be familiar with the name of a certain dressage trainer in the eastern US who is being pursued for several ignominious activities, including cruelty, abuse and fraud. And how about the father of a certain show jumper who was caught electrocuting horses to collect insurance money? No, we are none of us more than one degree separated from heinous behavior toward horses. But who of us dedicates the time, energy and courage to do more than take our nagging doubts that all is not right at the barn down the road and stuff them into a disused corner of our minds? Not enough of us, that’s who.