My client Joanne Salisbury has a horse named SS Ekspresev +// (Ex) and boy does he express himself! I call him "grumpy gus" in the barn but at a show he's very talented and is very rewarding to work with. Joanne's other horses, VP Midnitestranger +// (Wes) and Rosies First Gold (Tilly) also love their jobs and they show it when they're working.
My point is: I want horses to be allowed to show their individualities or "personalities". I'm really very tired of watching horses that look like bored robots going around and around the arena, carrying their (usually) amateur riders around the ring with little or no help from the rider - each horse a copy cat of the horse in front and behind him, none seem to have any expression. (And yes, I think every major breed is guilty of this.)
Take the Western Pleasure and Hunter Pleasure worlds where we only reward and expect such complete perfection all the time. Don't get me wrong, I strongly believe in excellence but we set ourselves up for abuse when expecting perfection - each horse the "Stepford wife" of his or her class. Abuse starts to show up in how horses are handled and prepped for these classes, too many enhancing supplements and drugs are used to achieve what I think is an unrealistic look. Frankly, it just takes the horsemanship right out of the equation.
Joanne's mare Tilly, who Angela Wilson shows for her, can be difficult at times and certainly is not always perfect. But, I've never seen her on a Working Hunter course when she didn't have her ears up, her eyes bright and obviously loved her job. Wes also absolutely loves going to shows and is confidently interested in the Trail courses he's asked to work. He's not bored or stressed or unhappy, he's just interested and in his element! Even "grumpy gus" Ex is happier and more willing the longer we work with him and show him in his own style.
Maybe it's time we as trainers, owners and judges, rethink how we want horses to go and look. Hopefully by doing so, we will help people become better horsemen and allow their horses to express themselves. Viva la difference! See you next week.