Monday, March 3, 2008

What's Up with Arabian Halter? Good, Bad, Ugly? Part 3

The video that is in questions has lots of examples of what some believe is proof that the horses in the ring have been abused. I can tell you I no longer jump to conclusions based on what I see just in the arena. I train my own halter horses and I do NOT beat on them with the whip. I use the whip as a tool and yet I get lots of reactions just like those horses in the ring.

Sometimes my whip is an extension of my arm to guide the horse into position. Sometimes it is a target for the horse to reach. My horses are not afraid of the whip. Yet I'm sure that some of those people who think halter is cruel and all halter trainers abusive would look at my horses in the ring and be convinced I did bad things to them.

Mainly that belief comes from the responses of the horse. People think that a horse flicking it's tail, pinning ears, pawing, striking, swinging sideways away from a whip are all clues the horse have been abused. But there are plenty of other reasons for horses to act that way.

Inside the ring on occasion Rhythm didn't want to pay attention. He wanted to check out the other horses. He was really good at walking crooked, swinging almost hysterically over the cue to straighten and pinning his ears because I wasn't listening. He was very animated in his gesture's at me. To someone who didn't know him, they might have read all those things as signs of abuse. If anyone was being abused over halter, it was me. The little snot. Those of you have been reading Rhythm's story can just picture him at this.

The swinging abruptly away from the whip is classic in my horses. Just from cracking (notice I said cracking not smacking the horse) a whip during lunging none of my horses want to be touched with any whip. They are smart horses. They know it's a cue that means move so they move and move quickly sometimes. Even when they learn it's a target to touch, they usually do that quickly too unless they are distracted. Then their response is slowed by the distraction.

That's true of many halter horses. They are well schooled and they understand their cues. But when they get in the ring there's a lot going on. They sure don't get schooled at home with other horses all over the place. The horses have opinions about what's going on around them and having to work in all that commotion. Some what to play like Rhythm and others are, like some of the youngsters in this video, are feeling stressed. All are reasons to protest having to pay attention and do their job. Arabian horses are animated about most everything they do, that includes protesting working when they have something else they would rather be doing.

The annoying thing to me in this video was a trainer that jiggle, jiggle, jiggle on the shank while the two men and two horses were just standing there on the side lines. Holly in the comments thought that was good and I'm going to have to think some about her reasoning and see if I can digest it.

But for now I see it as there was no need to keep bumping that horse like that. But it's not really abuse although there are those who would label it as such. I think it's not really a good tactic either because it desensitizes the horse to the pressure on it's jaw. That's not really how you want a halter horse to be. The goal is a horse that is light on the jaw because a heaviness usually results in not lifting the shoulders and a drop in the back.

The other thing I should mention is these horses are usually trained to follow the hand up. BrownEyedCowGirls is right. The stance is to show off the flatness of the croup, the high set archy shape of the neck and the fine throat latch. Also they want the horses animated to show the tightness of the ears, the expression in the eyes and the flare of the nostril. All are signs of quality and some horses don't show those signs clearly when they are let down.

As for the question about what the point of halter classes might be. They are breeding classes. They are to show what are being produced by particular crosses. Particularly at this Scottsdale shows lots of people come to see what the young up and coming Stallions are siring. Many, many breedings are booked during this show after the youngsters have been seen.

I have one other issue I want to deal with before I get into my tizzy fit, that would be the idea that the horses all hate halter and they have nothing to gain from it. I've known horses who love halter. Legs is one of them and for that matter so are Rhythm and Storm. There is nothing more than any one of those horses wouldn't like more than frolicking in a halter class.

That didn't used to be the case for Legs. He was abused by his first trainer. The fact he could come back from that and still have fun showing halter tells me halter has been good for him.

The other thing I've learned from showing halter is that it teaches my horses much clearer about their space. They learn to be light and stay off the handler and how to behave with lots of horses around. I think that learning how to school my horses for halter has been a big help in teaching me how to have good control of my horse on the ground in all kinds of situations. Anytime I have better control, I think things are safer for both me and my horse. I sure have no more problems with rearing horses on asphalt.

Now for my tizzy fit. There have been an assortment of comments about the very last horse on that video. I have to say I was really fried when I watched my friend, Jesse Saldana, trying to deal with an unruly horse being singled out as an abusive halter trainer. I don't think Jesse has an abusive bone in his body. He has worked his way up the ladder through all kinds of prejudice and never once has he sacrificed a horse along the ways.

So this horse reared up and got its leg over the lead. I have had lots of experience with this kind of wreck and I've learned the hard way how to deal with it. Jesse was doing everything he could to keep the horse from falling but not let the horse loose because there's always the danger of injury with a horse loose in the arena.

When I am confronted with this issue, I handle it the very same way. Since I have been doing this, I have not had any problems. If anyone is interested my rearing horse is none other than Legs.

These people with their point to prove zeroed in on Jesse like he's doing something really terrible. You know if it had been David Boggs or Keith Kricthke or one of those big boys, I would have been tempted to not be so sympathetic, but only tempted. Fair is fair. Jesse didn't cause that horse to rear and he did the best he could to keep the horse safe.

For his troubles some boob singled him out. Added that clip from another class to the end or the yearlings where another handler with a similar colored horse had a problem to make it look like Jesse had caused this situation. Then they posted it on Utube like its some great example of what's wrong with halter in the Arabian horse industry.

I want to add that I am not saying there isn't abuse in Arabian halter. The rules have been changed so that horses with whip marks are excused from the ring. That has helped a lot. More and more judges and stewards are chastising handlers for excessive shanking. That's good too.

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  1. I wanted to apologize for my comment on post #1. I have absolutely no experience with the halter world. But to the un-educated eye, what I said, is how it appeared to me.

    I believe that was some of the points you were trying to get through, with this series? Helping the un-educated gain a little knowledge on halter and the Arab breed in general, then assume what they see.

    Mikael, I do have to say it was nice that you took the time to explain things on this subject.

    I look forward to more.

  2. wow that sounds a whole lotta technical and like you have totally got this all figured out. im clueless;P totally. but it sounds like people picking on others cause that is what some folks do best.. such a shame

  3. Have to agree with you there MiKael- I have seen in hand classes from all kinds of breeds, and they can ALL act stupid. And Arbas are NOT the only breed at halter to deal with abuse!

    The last fellow had an "accident" happen when his horse went up and got a leg over the lead. Not a big deal IMO. Also IMO, he handled it correctly, calmly, and professionaly. What else was he supposed to do- let that horse GO in the middle of the area with ALL those otehr horses? What if that was a class full of studs? Uhh-- NO!

    I guess it goes to show that there are willfully ignorant people everywhere, in every breed, every disipline....

  4. Well I'm glad you cleared all that up. I now know why they hold the classes,it's always good to learn new things. As for abuse, I'm sure some goes on at some level with a few here and there, but I'm also sure that if these horses are being showcased for breeding purposes no one will probably tolerate abusive trainers. As for the trainer at the end with the horse and lead, this doesn't only happen in Arabian halter classes, a situation like this can happen anywhere. People should know that whips are a useful training tool if used correctly, we use them in longeing, teaching manners etc. and have never abused or beaten a horse with one. They are basically an extension of your arm, as you said.There is nothing wrong with the proper use of a whip or crop as a training tool. Well that's it for now.

  5. Ok, I can surely see the point in not letting go of a lead unless you can help it. It can be dangerous and it can teach the horse all sorts of bad behaviors. First of all, a horse with a lead on can go nuts and cause uproar in the arena, then can hurt people and other horses. I am thinking if he stepped on the lead, the show halter would break, but with a regular at home halter you can end up with broken legs (as I have seen), and you can end up with neck injuries. Certainly pain with a show halter because of how thin it is, and the shank if they were to step on it. How would you like to be shanked with 600 lbs? Also, if the horse learns misbehavior equals release, they are going to try very hard for that release. I agree that often horses that are trained non-abusively can enjoy halter. I mean, how often do they get a chance to be fired up like that in hand? I am convinced that arabians enjoy strutting their stuff and showing off. There is a mare where I works whose name is Diamonds and Brass, and I call her Diamonds and Sass or Sassy. She has that quality. She is going to be cool under saddle, because she commands attention with her attitude.

  6. Another AWESOME entry! LOVED reading it! I've learned a lot through this series! :)

  7. I am so glad that someone questioned my desensing comment. I personally found it annoying also but after watching this vid several times, I decided that since shanking (however lightly or carefully) seems to be the norm, desensing, as in teaching the horse NOT to over react by flying back is a good thing. MiKael wrote:I think it's not really a good tactic either because it desensitizes the horse to the pressure on it's jaw.

    I think it desensitizes to over reaction to pressure on the jaw rather than learning to totally ignore it. Although I wouldn't do this to one my own horses, if I were an handler who was going to be selling my horse at some point to another person who MIGHT do this, getting the horse less reactive would benefit the horse.

    Good control in all situations is something to strive for, so I agree with you there. I also think that you are correct in that ground work (halter, showmanship etc) can be a very good way to teach a horse about personal space.

    Were the comments about the leg-over-the-lead on your blog? I don't remember them. I'll have to go back and look. I thought he handled that well, he went with the horse and tried very hard not to tighten up that lead but had a difficult time because the horse couldn't stop and stand. The horse was a little upset but not out of his mind scared, he just didn't know what to do to relieve the pressure. I also didn't think it was the same horse as the explosive one earlier. That was classic suppressed behavior, the horse Jesse(?) was handling was simply a little frightened and confused, certainly not explosive. I thought Jesse was trying to work his way up the line to release the lead. Stuff like the leg over the line is just stuff. It can happen with any horse that is athletic enough to find rearing easy.

  8. MiKael -- I once tried to show Gabbrielle as a yearling in a halter class, not having a clue to what I was doing. Right off the bat my show halter got disqualified, so I had to show her in a nylon halter. (This was a show not affiliated with any organization.) The organizers got started an hour late because they wanted to give everyone a chance to show up. Gabbrielle was going nuts, running in circles, rearing, bucking, ignoring my cues for that entire hour. At the same time there was a dog show close by with a lot of barking. Just when I was about to give up and go home, they opened the gate for my class. To this day I don't understand how to get an Arab into that pretty pose. I lift my hand with the handle of the whip pointing toward her nose for her to reach, and she just looks at it like she's bored. Getting the feet set and the ears forward is really difficult.

  9. MiKael-you really are an embassador for your breed. Good job. What I really like about your posts is the fact that you acknowledge the negative and stay focused on the positive.
    There is so much abuse out there, REAL abuse that it infuriates me to see people try to make this video out to be what is wrong with the horse world.
    I was 86ed from an open circuit in Mn one time for taking a buggy whip to jackass who was beating his barrel horse. This guy used to beat his barrel horse over the head with his crop when the horse would tip a barrel. The circuit told him he could not do this in the arena anymore, so he used to come out of the arena, jump off his horse and proceed to beat his horse's front legs with the crop. The horse was terrified, he knew what was coming. After watching this at a couple of shows, I couldn't take it anymore. I grabbed a buggy whip from a nearby tack trailer and proceeded to whip the crap out of his legs. My boss was furious and that incident had a lot to do with me losing/quiting that job. I have never been sorry.

  10. O have been following your blog, and managed to read every post you made, though this is the first time I have commented.
    Knowing that I don't know what I am seeing in halter, perhaps you can put a video of you setting your horses up in halter.
    I respect you, and your love for your horses, and I know, after reading your blogs, that you would not condone any abuse to your horses. Seeing your horses act the same would be reassuring to me, and though I don't know much about halter, I myself didn't see why the guy with the horse with the leg over the lead was put in with the rest, I didn't see him do anything wrong at all.
    If I could see

  11. Gee MiKael, why don't you open the biggest can of worms in the Arabian horse industry? :)

    I started leaving you a comment, but it got so long that I thought I'd write my own post about it. So go check it out!

    Kudos to you!

  12. I appreciate you helping to educate us about halter. As a spectator from ring side I love to watch a halter class as you get to see the entire horse without a saddle and all the other tack. I personally think there is nothing more beautiful than an Arabian with it's head up and nostrils flaring, and moving off with an animated trot.

    That said, our newest horse, now an upcoming three year old Arabian gelding came from one of the "big boys" barns that was in the video. I really don't know what their training methods are when no one is watching, but they did something right with this gelding we have. They showed him in halter as a yearling and he shows no sign of ever being abused. He loves to load into the trailer, isn't spooky, stands quietly to be groomed and clipped. He loves and trusts people and gets along well with other horses. Granted, it may just be the personality of this horse, but I see no evidence of abuse.

  13. Mikael
    While I was cleaning my pens, I gave some reflection on the comment I gave earlier(you do make a person think-good job)and I just want to clarify-I do not advocate physically attacking another person.
    This incident was extreme and no one would ever say anything to this guy. They would all just roll their eyes and walk away. I admit-I lost it.
    I admire your posts and look forward to reading them each morning. I don't want to bring anything negative into the mix. Thanks.

  14. I thought the last horse on the video with the lead that got between his legs, That trainer did an awesome job to keep that situation from getting any worse in my opinion, He maintained control and contained the horse and grabbed that lead when he had the right chance to do so. I was impressed with it, personally.

  15. Thanks Mikael for explaining that.

  16. Another well written post! Thanks!

  17. Mikael
    Thank you for the insight. once again I dont know enough to know anything.

  18. I watched the video and watched the video and I really didn't see anything that far out of hand. Sure a little too much shanking but mostly all I saw were nervous horses and handlers doing the best they could.

    Hopefully a few people have learned alot from your explanations. :)

  19. Sorry, I'm back!

    I just wanted to clarify my last comment and what you (Mikael) wrote in this post regarding Jesse Saldana and the horse in the last clip.

    I looked over the comments from all the posts and I apologize if I missed one regarding what I'm about to say.

    I didn't notice any un-ruly comments regarding the "abuse" seen in the video or with Jesse Saldana. I think those who did comment might have no to little experience with halter (like myself) and therefore do not know the general basis at a show or the training that goes into it.

    I can probably say with confidence that if a person (general public) who has not been around, or has no knowledge of horses (without even knowing that there is something like "halter" out there) would probably see that as abuse, nonetheless. I remember when I was younger before I got into horses, I would see the whip used by the Jockey's in horse racing as a horrid abuse, but I've been more educated on why it's used, etc.

    With that being said, I know people can go a little to far with their emotions per sey on this topic. But that generally is because those people take the care of horses very seriously. And in any case of "abuse," weather it just appears that way to an un-educated eye, or if it is truly out-right abuse, we cannot blame those who have that good at heart.

    If anything we would want to see people commenting with concerns of abuse than not. And if it is not truly abuse it is our job to inform those people.

    I believe no one is at fault here. No one was trying to point fingers, people were just explaining what they saw. There is no need for a tizzy in this case. We are not all knowledgable on halter or the arab breed.

    Everyone here that has commented, seems open minded enough to be willing to take the time to read and have things explained to them.

    I give props to those who have followed this series and commented, listened and taken in the thoughts and explanations from someone who IS experienced with and halter and the Arabian breed.

    What I am trying to get at is that you cannot expect people un-informed on the Arab and halter, to watch that video and NOT see some form of abuse, generally. It is your job, as you have done, with this series to show people what is being displayed.

    But please do not assume that we were pointing fingers and calling him out. Some of us don't know him like you do. Some of us don't know halter. We were merely commenting on what we THOUGHT we saw. It's not necessary to get upset or frustrated, at people for not knowing better. Again I did not see an malicious comments that are worth getting ticked about.

    I just wanted to better explain and I by no means wish to hurt your feelings or offend you and your thoughts.

    I love reading your blog Mikael and this series has been informative and educating.

    Thank You again for taking the time to explain,


  20. I would like to thank everyone for their comments on this series. They have all helped to shed light on the subject.

    I would like to clarify on the last comment that my tizzy fit was never directed at those commenting here. It was reserved for the people who put the video together and uploaded it to Utube.

    I believe that we are responsible for our ignorance. I'm not alone in that. Just try telling a judge you broke the law because you didn't know any better and see how far it will get you.

    I believe it is the coward's way out to accuse someone of abuse and not make any effort to know anything about the subject. I have watched the same people complaining for twenty years about halter abuse. They had done nothing to become educated on the subject in all that time. Those people have make the choice to be ignorant and they are responsible for that choice.

    That is the kind of person who posted that video. Someone smug and self righteous out there just trying to cause trouble. Those people don't come forward and particpate in the political process that protects the Arabian horse. They just sit back and complain about how terrible all of us who do work hard are. I have no respect for those who are constantly stirring the pot but doing nothing to execute change.