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Friday, May 18, 2012

Tennessee Walking Horses

Bunny, a Quarter Horse
I am in tears and not for the reason you'd think. I just watched this video from ABC News Nightline and can't believe the things we humans do to animals that trust us.

All my life I've watched horse shows admiring the beauty of the species, watching the "natural" gaits and the "free" spirits as they floated around the rings. As I got older I began to realize the realities of those spectacles and lost my love for the sport. I knew that poor Hackney ponies were forced to wear chains on their feet in order to make them lift their legs up high in the ring.

I learned that those beautiful flowing tails were broken to make them stand up tall. And I discovered that Tennessee Walking Horses didn't really have that exaggerated gait naturally. I began to wonder just how it was that they got those Western Pleasure horses to hang their heads so darn low to the ground.

I thought I'd heard that a lot of these practices were now banned in show horses but haven't seen a society horse show in many years nor looked into that world in quite some time. I remember years and years ago seeing those horses in their stalls struggling to stand comfortably with their feet fixed with extra high "lifts" on their hoofs. But then I stopped seeing hoofs fixed quite so high and hoped that things had changed. Now, from what they've shown on this video I see that things haven't changed all that much.

Horses are special creatures. If you've ever known a horse you will understand that. A horse is naturally a prey animal but somehow trusts us enough to partner with us as we ride or drive them. To truly enjoy your time with a horse you develop a strong bond with that animal. I always felt that I became a part of the horse and the horse a part of me when I worked with my own.

I knew what Gaucho would shy at long before he even noticed it. I could feel how Mike wanted me to adjust my posture to make his stride more comfortable as the grade of the trail changed. I knew when Blueboy was having trouble with his footing and changed our path or got off of him. And when Toby was done for the day I knew when to turn around and head back to the barn even though he was willing to go on.

Most importantly I took care of my horses and listened to their needs. We enjoyed each other's company.

Why do owners think that Tennessee Walking horse gait is so important that they'd allow someone to torture trusting horses in such a cruel fashion? It doesn't look right at all. I'd rather see they lope and canter like a normal horse. Why does a horse have to lift its feet so darn high while pulling a buggy? Aren't horses showy enough as they are? And why in the world do they think that a Western Pleasure horse gets any pleasure out of holding its head down so low to the ground? That's not the proper posture for horses; I worry that they might be injuring their backs.

If you were able to watch that video what did you think? Have you ever wondered what went on behind the scenes of horse training? What about racing horses? Do you wonder what weaknesses are bred into those poor horses just so they can move faster? Think about it as you watch the Preakness this weekend.

I love reading comments from my readers. Please let me know your views on horses and our relationships with them.


  1. My first love was and always will be horses, though I've not been blessed to have them in my life for many, many years. But I'd known about some of the practices, some of the things that are done. Like chains around a Hackney pony's front hooves while in his stall, to "teach" him to pick up his forelegs in that high gait. I remember being quite disturbed to see that, once upon a time at a boarding stable.

    I think it stems from the idea that Homo Sapiens are superior and somehow have "dominion over" non-humans. Humans think they're the epitome of intelligence and thus lack respect for other Beings. I generalize, of course. And we are, by nature, a terribly cruel and arrogant species.

  2. It amazes me how low we can stoop as a species sometimes. Thanks for commenting. I, too, have been without horses for many years and it feels like I'm missing a part of me. I laugh at myself sometimes when I notice that I've been leaning with my car when I take a turn or lean forward when going up hill! I guess my car is the only horsepower I work with now.