Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Afternoon at the Horse Expo (and a brief history of Cowboy Ben)

I spend a pleasant afternoon with some great friends yesterday, old and new (I can't tell you how exciting it is to have a new friend... life gets a little stale as a homesteader, especially if you're prone to hermit-like behaviors like I am). We went to lunch and then over to the big expo center in Novi for the Novi Equestrian Expo - Michigan's Finest Horse Equestrian Expo. This is kind of a misnomer, as the Lansing Stallion Expo in March is far better as far as programming, setup, turnout and venue, but I digress. 

We wandered the shopping areas and I managed to talk myself and some friends into buying new Roeckl riding gloves (mother of god they're expensive!) and I found the perfect cowboy boots for my little brother, Ben. I call him my little brother (speaking of misnomers) because he's six years younger than I am, but he's probably ten inches taller than I am, too.

Ben used to have this bizarre alter ego as a toddler where he'd wear a cowboy hat and run around pretending he was a cowboy. If you called him "Ben" he'd correct you; "Cowboy Ben" he'd say. We'd have to ask him when "Ben" was coming back and eventually he'd go "Well I'm gonna get going" and leave the room. When he returned without the hat on, he obviously was "Ben" again. Oh, I bet I'm gonna get some flak for posting this. Anyway. These boots totally rock, and I'd love to see Cowboy Ben riding his dusty mare in them... perhaps this time in more than little-kid-tighty-whities and a hat. (Oh yes, I can see the approach of the end of my life, now... He will kill me. Tighty Whities. Bwaha. I <3 you, Ben! I'm an older sister, this is what I'm programmed to do!)

I also picked up some of the best machined socks I've ever worn. They're from a local alpaca farm (Williamston Alpaca Shoppe), and the woman raises Suri alpacas (super soft fiber), barters for Huacaya fiber (stronger, less soft) and has it combined, milled, spun and machined into boot socks which she sells at her store and at various expos and fairs. They weren't cheap, but I can tell you that they definitely beat out smartwool socks any day, and they were comparable in price. Plus, they're local!

After milling about the vendor areas, we meandered over to the demonstrations and sat. It's hard for me to go to these expos and take pleasure out of the demos, usually. There are a couple trainers in the area (who I will avoid naming, obviously) that I think are outright terrible. In particular, the one trainer bills herself as being a centered, balanced and gentle trainer; Her horses look stiff, there is no bend and no grace, and because this woman has shown at upper levels she has a massive following. 

Let me hop up on my soap box for a second and talk about the Golden Curse. 

My trainer, growing up, often talked about the Golden Curse. When people who have lots of money they often buy the horses with 10 out of 10 star movement. These are horses that have Olympic, or at least Grand Prix potential. 

These same people then want to get to the highest levels the fastest, so they employ a huge battery of methods to do so. This includes using gadgetry, strappy-tie-down-thingies, working the horses too much too fast, developing the wrong muscles, and basically creating the equivalent of over-processed horses (think McDonalds food - Fills you up, leaves you unhealthy). 

They started with 10 star movement, and because these horses are so amazing, naturally, their crappy training brings them down to 7-8 star movement and they still go to the top levels. They score well because the judges are looking for horses in a certain "frame" and despite the fact that these horses don't have the muscle or balance to be in that "frame" correctly, they do well at shows. Unfortunately, like any athlete trying to perform above their body's capabilities, these horses often break down by ten years old. You rarely hear of horses in the Olympics competing beyond the age of ten, and when you do, they're the horses that clean up and continue to come back year after year because they are correctly trained.

Cut to trainers like me. My horses have average movement. 5 star. I can't afford anything more. With slow, balanced, light and correct training my horses have the capacity to be ridden with 6, 7 or even 8 star movement. We all average out, but because most judges see the 10 star horses moving at 80% capacity consistently, they get the better scores. Never mind the fact that the horses have pinned ears and swishing tails, or that they have severe bits or cranked nosebands. They look miserable. The one trainer had a student riding her horse like that. The horse easily could've moved out into a fantastic gate, but was stuck in an outright abusive bit and had developed an S curve (swan neck) to it's neck. Ew. Ew. Ew.


Definitely hopping off the soap box.

So we watched the demos and gritted our teeth. I found where I used to giggle at the silly training mistakes some of the demonstrators would make, I now cringe and watch the horses bear everything simply for the love of their owners. They're simply amazing animals.

The last demo we watched was a cowboy with his overo (type of spotting) trick horses. He had the loudest colored Fresian I've ever seen - 50/50 black and white pinto. The bizarre thing is that usually when you see a rare-colored horse (Fresians are almost always solid black - in fact I don't think the spotted horses can be registered as purebreds) they are built like mongrels, and their color has come about from poor choices in color-genetic-focused breeding. This guy was actually considerably more "correctly" built than most, so I totally swooned over him. Of course then I learned his name was "Crusader" and that his owner is a "Cowboy for Christ" (his other horses were Apostle and Pastor...*PalmForeheadSmack*) I'm not atheist or anything, but GEEZUZ. Crusader? Really? I lost interest quickly, after that.

The expo was a nice way to spend an afternoon away from home. I get so caught up in things around the farm that I get a little too "in my head" and find myself talking to plants and musical instruments and stuff, so this was a mental health day for me - that's for sure!

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your soap-box moment(as well as your editorial comment on the naming of the Fresians)! Your outing will give you plenty to tell your houseplants, and they will also be healthier because of it!!!