Saturday, 10 December 2011

In Defense of the Western Horse

Be prepared for a rant today.  Before I begin, let me start by saying that I have absolutely nothing against the english discipline.  When I began riding, I began riding english.  I realize that it has it's own difficulties.  I do not dislike all english riders, we're people, every one is different.  This is not meant to be taken as an attack on any discipline, this is my own thoughts and feelings and frustrations.  This rant is about an attitude which unfortunately, is all too rampant in my area. 

I live not far from Spruce Meadows, there are dozens and dozens of fancy english barns around where I live, there are lots of horses shows and so on.  There's also the Calgary Stampede but for some reason, even being the richest rodeo in the world doesn't make people any more pro-western around here, unless it's for the ten days Stampede is on.  What I'm trying to say is that I live in a very english-dominated area. 

For the most part, it's not that bad.  I'm of the opinion that we all love horses, who cares what you ride.  I also don't pay much attention to a horse's price tag.  Each horse is special to their owner, how much they cost has nothing to do with how much they're loved.  I'm lucky to be at a very casual stable that has both western and english riders, although mainly english.  The stable owners are western themselves, they are both very into reining.  We manage to co-exist peacefully for the most part.  There are a few annoyances every now and then.  They leave jumps up in the outdoor which is infuriating sometimes.  I'm sure I do things that annoy them to, but like I said, for the most part it's fine.  After all, this rant isn't actually about the people I board with.

This rant is about the attitude that western horses are inferior to english horses.  A horse is a horse is a horse.  It doesn't matter if it's trained to ride with a saddle with a horn or one without, it's still a horse.  Why is it so impossible for some people to see that?  I don't think most people even realize the degrading comments they make about western horses, it's just so common to them to think like that but I am sick of them.

"Her movement isn't the greatest so she won't make an english horse.  She'll make a great western horse though!"  or, "He has really great movement, you should train him to be an english pony, not a western one."  I hate hearing things like that.  A horse needs good movement regardless of the saddle on it's back.  I don't want a horse that has a hammering trot or can't move fluidly and yes, I ride western.  If I'm out working cows I'm going to be in the saddle all day and I want a horse that is comfortable. 

Just recently we had someone say to our barn owner, T, despite the fact that T herself is a western rider that, "Barbed wire is only good for western horses, not english horses."  According to that attitude, western horses aren't as important so it is all right if they get cut up and injured. 

A true western horse is amazing in his own way.  To watch one work is one of the coolest things.  Watch a cutting horse, they can do it pretty much on their own.  They're like cats stalking a mouse.  A true cow horse absolutely loves chasing cows.  Pawnee will chase, herd and cut cows on his own if he's out in a pasture with them.  They can turn on a dime and launch themselves after the cow. 

I don't expect Socks to waltz into an arena and jump a flawless three foot jumping course and win a bunch of ribbons.  In fact, I can guarantee you it wouldn't happen.  I don't even expect her to be able to go in the arena and perform well in an english lesson.  At the same time, I don't expect the Warmbloods at the stable to even know what a cow is.  I wouldn't expect them to be able to be calm and sure-footed in the mountains.  Not to say a Warmblood couldn't be, but definitely not the ones I know.  I don't need a horse that can pirouette or side pass without threatening to eat my leg (thank you Socks, you could be a little nicer about that).  I need a horse that can get herself out of trouble if we find ourselves in a bad situation.  I need a horse that is going to listen to me even if we come across a cougar and her instincts are telling her to run.  I need a horse that if it gets tangled in something, it freezes and lets me fix the problem.  I need a horse that's trustworthy and if I fall, she'll stop and wait for me, no matter how long it takes me to get up.  I need a horse that won't give up and loves it job.  I need a horse that will give me her all each and every day.  I need a horse that will react to new situations and scary objects with curiousity and bravery.

The horse I'm describing could work in either a western saddle or an english one.  And that's what my point is.  The whole point of this very disorganized rant is that the saddle doesn't make a horse valuable and it doesn't make it worthless.  A saddle is just a saddle and a horse is just a horse.  My horse chases cows, can find the best trail to take through the muskeg and isn't afraid of bears and she is exactly what I need.  Yours can jump a clear round, side pass without trying to rip your leg off and load in the trailer on the first go, and he is exactly what you need. 

I am tired of having my discipline and horse put down because I don't ride what the insulter does, because my horse doesn't do what theirs does.  We both love horses, can't that be enough?  Western horses are just as talented and special as English horses and vice versa, so people need to stop being so focused on what saddle they have on.  A saddle doesn't make a horse.

Here are some truly great western horses.  Not all of them are household names but they are all special in their own way.

Here's Willy, a champion Steer-Wrestling horse.  He is sought after by many pro-rodeo contendors and has carried many of them to winning rides.  He is 24 and a few years ago the Cassidy family, his owners and champion steer-wrestlers, were going to retire him.  They had him checked over by the vet and the vet said the best thing they could do for Willy was to let him continue to compete and carry cowboys.  He loves his job and he is amazing at it.  They are thinking about retiring him for real but lets see if Willy can handle retirement or if he'll be back showing again, doing what he loves.

If you know anything about barrel racing then you have heard about Charmayne James and Scamper.  This is a photo of their famous bridless barrel run at the NFR.  Scamper's bridle broke as they came out of the alley-way so Charmayne had no control over the gelding.  They ran the pattern anyway and they still had the fastest time.  Scamper was rank horse working on the feedlot when Charmayne met him but she turned him around and they won their first world championship when charmayne was just fourteen-years-old.

This is Lindsay Sears and Martha.  If you are Albertan you should know them.  They are one of the best pairs in barrel racing at the moment and right now, are first place for the average at the 2011 NFR.  They've won countless rodeos together and this year's NFR is their come back.  Martha was injured at last years NFR and everyone thought her career was over.  Lindsay's first concern is for Martha and that is very, very clear if you ever listen to her talk. 

Those are just the competition horses and only a few of the greats.  I don't have pictures of the great mountain horses out there because they don't get the recognition that Willy or Martha do.  They are the horses who carry countless riders into the mountains and forests and bring them out safely.  They are the ones who take care of their riders and stay calm in many, many dangerous situations.

I did manage to find a picture of Erin Bolster and her horse Tonk.  Together, they faced down an angry bear and saved an eight-year-old boy's life.  Tonk is not a show horse, probably never will be but he's still amazing and wonderful.  He was terrified but he trusted his rider enough to ignore his instincts and face down a hungry predator.

And here's my own great western horse.  It's highly unlikely anyone but my family will remember her once she's gone but she's great in her own way.  She's kept me safe and does whatever I ask of her (even side pass but not without letting me know she could kill me if she wanted to). 

Are any of these horses worth less because the saddle on their back happens to have a horn?  I don't think so.  I know I shouldn't let the attitude of a few get to me, but it's frustrating to know of so many great horses that so many consider to be inferiour simply because of the saddle on their back.  We're horse people, shouldn't we love horses regardless of their discipline? 


Megan said...

Barbed wire is only good for western horses?! WTF?

I agree with you. A good horse is a good horse. You can put a western saddle or english saddle on the horse and it won't make a difference.

I only know one english rider (which is my cousin). Despite the fact that she rides in a different style saddle, I value her opinions. She's talented and the basics are the same in every discipline. You can get ugly looking warmbloods and TB's just like you can get ugly looking QH's and paints.

Personally, I think comfort is a huge factor in western riding, just as much as in english. Nobody wants to sit on a horse with a 'jackhammer' trot working cattle for 6 hours a day, when they could be sitting on a nice moving, comfy horse!

Ally said...

I totally agree with everything you just said. Well put!

Megan said...

I completely see where you are coming from, but from the opposite direct!

Even though I grew relatively close to where you are (1 hour east of Cow-Town), I grew up in ranching country. My dad had cows for a long time, both my brothers own cows, 2 of my uncles have big cattle ranches and I've been to more brandings than I can count.

I know the value of a good solid rope horse that can drag calves to the fire all day, a quiet one that stands still when you get your rope tangled, one that crosses the creek without a complaint and the one you feel comfortable putting your 4-year-old niece on without having to worry.

Even though I now ride mostly english, I still appreciate a good horse, regardless. All horses have their own talents. I love Scarface to pieces and I love that he (almost) always listens to me, even when I make him to funny patterns or jump terrifying cross-rails, but he knows nothing about cows. In fact, he just recently got over his debilitating fear of them! Compare that to when I rode my parents' reined cow horse stallion. When he swept back and forth with the cow, wow! What a rush! Definitely an adrenaline rush (much like jumping).

And while I've never heard anything as ridiculous as "barbed wire is only for western horses", I have been the odd-girl-out, riding english at our neighbour's roping arena (he said it was the only time an english saddle had ever been in that arena).

I think western people are more accepting of english horses than english people are of western horses. Although I'm sure they're secretly shaking their heads at my flightly,high-strung horse. He's a quarter horse, I swear!!!

Sorry for the long counter-rant. Just a long way of saying I agree and don't let it get you down!!