Western equitation=wannabe mule riders.

I don’t think I need to repeat it too often-I don’t care for Western “equitation”. The western roundyrounders (show horse) have turned western riding from a working seat (and I mean that literally) into something that is no longer riding. I don’t know quite what it is, but it doesn’t appear to be riding.

I admit, too, that I find a western saddle comfortable. Too comfortable.  I have been riding Trooper in a western saddle when we go out trail riding. This is for ME, not for him. I’m not confidant in a dressage saddle outside of an arena, not just yet. I ride it for safety’s sake.  Trooper in the arena and Trooper on the trail are two different horses. He’s a “let’s GO!” trail horse.  Even when I’m in a western saddle, I’m still working on my seat. I don’t want to relearn bad habits, lazy ones. Doing so seems more difficult than in an english style saddle.  I think this is what encourages that lazy seat you see so often in Western riders. I can understand why, I suppose. When one spends the entire day in the saddle doing WORK, why bother with proper seat, etc. But Western Equitation has stopped being a working horse class and is now all about what one looks like.

Western Equitation riders train their horses to hang their heads down. WAY down.  We call ’em peanut rollers, and that image should serve to demonstrate  how low the WE’s want the head.  The horse must go very slowly. He doesn’t ‘trot’, he ‘jogs’. He doesn’t canter, heavens no, he ‘lopes’. Both gaits are, to my eye, the same, with the ‘lope’ being a little bit faster. I think I could walk alongside a ‘jogging’ horse, even in arena footing. The Western Equitation horse is, by breeder’s and buyer’s preference, sickle hocked. The rider rides with a rein so loose there is no contact with the bit, indeed, some riders seem to hang their hands in the air over the horse’s neck, as if they were all Reiki ‘masters’. (Reiki is a bogus physical therapy, wherein the ‘master’ waves his hands in the air over your sore muscles and they are, voil a’! healed.)

It’s as if there are two things in the picture: a person in a saddle, and a horse underneath it. They don’t seem to be connected.

I cannot think of a valid reason for why they ride this way, although I’m sure it will come to me in a minute.

But anyway. For several years, I’ve had this niggling little memory in my over-stuffed brain, one that has refused, until now, to come to the surface. It has been hanging just under my consciousness every time I see a Western Equitation rider.

And it finally came out today. 

Western Equitation riders want a horse that moves like a mule. 

Consider these pictures. Typical mule posture under saddle: head down.

Now consider the picture of a girl winning her Western Equitation class:


Do you see any difference in the animals body posture? I don’t. In fact, the mule has his head a little higher than the horse does, and that’s taking into account that he is standing slightly uphill. He looks to be a very nice mule, by the way.

Look at the western equitation rider on her ””’sorrel””’ Quarter Horse. What I immediately notice is how humped up the horse appears to be. If the breeders think this is indicative of the horse ‘using its back’, they’re wrong. It’s merely humping its back up, probably because it hurts. All that weight on the forehand, never being allowed to move with his head up, must really cause a lot of soreness. Put a bushy tail on this horse and he looks like a submissive dog. By the way, notice the facial expression and the ears…this horse is not happy. He is showing resignation. He is an arena horse. That is all.

Western Equitation riders have turned their horses into mules!! They walk like mules! They are slow like mules! The rider wants a dead quiet animal with a hangdog look, but they don’t want it to be a mule. Why?

Well, mules don’t bring much money to horse breeders. Anyone with a mare and a jack donkey is going to end up with a mule. I promise. Donkeys are hornier than a crowd of teenaged boys. Don’t worry if the jack is a pony sized animal and the mare a warmblood…he will breed her, one way or another.  Mules are smart.  I hate to admit this, but they’re far smarter than horses. But they also have a well deserved reputation for stubbornness and laziness. They’re very hard to fit a saddle to. Which may be why the western equitation rider won’t ride one. It’s hard enough to find a saddle that fits the mule, and now you want one encrusted with silver?

Finally, there’s a stigma regarding mules. I won’t ride one. Sorry. Unless, of course, the alternative is hiking back up out of Grand Canyon. But then, everyone ELSE will be aboard a mule, too. Otherwise, no, sorry. Not me. I don’t like arguing with the animal.

But I won’t slam mules any harder than that.

Not all mules are peanut rollers. Consider this mule:

Look at this nice mule! This is “Goldsmith”.  His head is up, he’s moving nicely, he’s on the bit, he’s balanced. He’s FORWARD, ears pricked, happy with his job. You need to look hard to realize he is a mule at all.  Were it not for the ears, you’d be hard pressed on first glance to know he was a mule. (and I’ve seen a few warmbloods with ears long enough to make you wonder if it’s really a horse!)

The reason mules walk hangdog, under saddle or not, is not due to their unhappiness when they realize they’re a mule. No, it’s due to their conformation. Most have no withers, long, straight backs, shoulders straight as arrows and short, heavy, upside down necks.

Horses aren’t supposed to look like mules, but apparently, that is what the western equitation horse breeders are  breeding for: expensive mules.

I won’t slam mules for going and moving like what they are. I will slam equitation riders, though. Damn it, get that horse’s head out of the dust so he can see where he’s going.

Ah, I suddenly figured it out. Funny how one finds one’s way when you finally find the trail head.

Why produce western equitation horses? Why have a performance standard that emphasizes slow, slow movements, head hanging horses, dead quiet animals whose only sound is the coughing they do when they’ve kicked the arena dust into their nostrils? Why?

Well, consider this picture!THIS is a rider


THIS GIRL can flat ass ride. THIS is a western rider. Same saddle-Western, although she isn’t bothering to be in it. 

She’s a barrel racer. This Quarter Horse is going flat-out, making some tight turns, and she’s urging him to go faster! She’s been riding forever, and CAN. This ain’t no peanut rolling western equitation horse. He has his head up, he’s moving lickety-split, and she’s dead in the middle of him, even with a mile of air between them. I suspect she doesn’t even need the saddle, but the show standards demand it, so there she is. Is she holding onto the horn, like miss sissypants on the ”’sorrel” above? Well, yes, but for entirely different reasons. The Western Equitation rider is resting her hand on the horn because it’s a more comfortable place to put the hand. It’s not DOING anything, so why not. I’m surprised she doesn’t have her elbow on the horn in order to prop up her sleepy head.

Whereas this barrel racer has her hand on the horn to keep her at least somewhere in the middle so that when she does,  finally, have touchdown, it will be in the saddle. But fear not, she’s not going anywhere but the same place her fast horse is.

 Miss Barrel up here has a hand on the horn because, I suspect, somewhere in the Barrel Racing rules it says, “rider must remain in contact with the horse in some form at all times.”  It’s really just to keep her on the same trajectory as the horse. It’s certainly not out of fear.

Western Equitation classes are designed to give people who cannot ride a horse a ribbon anyway. It’s a self-esteem class. It’s for losers. It’s one step above lead line class, but far more expensive.

And again, ultimately, it comes down to money. Breeders make money selling deadhead horses for deadhead riders.


About subodai213

Retired U.N.C.L.E agent. Living in Laurasia.
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