This week is the World’s Championship Horse Show held in Louisville, KY – the top show for American Saddlebreds. I attended years ago as a spectator and dreamed of showing there as a kid. It’s got a wonderful energetic atmosphere – unlike any other show I’ve been to. Check out Karen of Contact’s post about it for some great photos!!
I grew up doing saddleseat and after college I tried getting back into the saddleseat show world briefly, but due to various factors I ended up getting into eventing instead. My views on saddleseat as a discipline have evolved a lot since then.
|Freedom Hall and the hallmark green shavings.
Image and more info from the ASHA Facebook Page
Here on the west coast especially, saddleseat is not a very popular riding discipline. I’ve had to explain the sport to other horse people just as often as I do to non horse people.
|Myself riding Dancing in the Dark in 2009|
But concurrently, some aspects of saddleseat really bother me, especially at the top levels of the sport. The prime one is hooves/shoeing. Saddleseat horses have longer hooves (as compared to sport-horses) to help achieve high knee action.
It seems to me that hooves have gotten longer and longer in saddleseat over the last decade or so, which is a shame. It can’t be comfortable or healthy for the horse’s longevity. More remarkably, there is no maximum hoof length for in the Saddlebred Division of the USEF rulebook. Other breed divisions, including Morgans for example, have length maximums and you can get disqualified for showing with overgrown hooves.
|Myself riding Ladybug, Ladybug in 2009|
In this photo of me on Ladybug, I can guarantee you that we had the shortest hooves in the class, yet she still has high knee action. It’s primarily a result of breeding and training, assisted by shoeing. My personal comfort level of hoof length has gotten shorter and shorter over time, the more I’ve learned about equine anatomy. Now, I certainly wouldn’t let Hemie’s hooves get to be that long (let alone add such a thick shoe or any leather pads), yet at this moment in time I’m not horribly offended by Ladybug’s hoof length in this photo.
But let’s take this blue ribbon winner from the current World’s Championship Horse Show. The photo has lots of positives – the wind blowing through the two blue ribbons and long tail, the horse’s expression and shiny coat, the rider’s poise and smile.
|From the ASHA Facebook Page
But to see those things I had to peel my eye away from that front left hoof! In my opinion, the hooves are way too long with an unhealthy and incorrect angle. It frustrates me that the industry is rewarding a practice that is not healthy for the horse, and change needs to happen starting at the highest levels of the sport. There should be hoof length (and possibly weight?) maximums in the rules, with ring stewards measuring and enforcing.
That all said, I do think that saddleseat has lots of positives that I am sure all those participating in and spectating at the WCHS are experiencing this week:
- A loud crowd cheering on the riders, with whistles and shouts of “yeah boy!” to encourage the horses and riders. Most ASB show horses THRIVE on the attention and perform their best when cheered by the crowd.
- Beautiful horses – truly I think that saddlebreds have amazing expressions, soft and intelligent eyes, and a je ne sais quoi sparkle and pizzazz about them.
- Racking!! 5-gaited horses are a blast to ride!
- Fun atmosphere – saddleseat shows are usually filled with barn parties, retirement ceremonies, champagne receptions, etc. People are there to hang out and watch, just as much as to compete. People generally stay for the whole show (rather than leaving when they’re done with their ride) because spectating is really fun!
Having once loved the sport so much, it is interesting to come to terms with my changing perspective as I have grown as a horsewoman. Please feel free to share your comments and questions about saddleseat!