Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This is my righteous face

So I went to a dressage clinic this weekend that was also a tack sale. "Horses helping Horses" was set up as a benefit for our wonderful local horse rescue the Horse Protection Association of Florida.

Considering the title of the event I was surprised to see something I was not too pleased with in the first ring I stopped at. To be fair it was not what I saw that turned my day sour. The horse and rider pair were doing OK. The horse was green green green and the rider was unbalanced and out of shape but the clinician was giving great advise for the two to improve the experience for both of them. It is what I heard from the rider/owner after the lesson that turned my stomach. The horse was only 2.5 years old. She was also a Percheron/Curly cross. That horse belongs in a field somewhere not in a dressage ring! One of the reasons I chose dressage is for the sport's respect for the aging process of the horse. When I see this kind of stuff it makes me just sick.

I don't know what you guys think of FHOTD. Sometimes it is entertaining and sometimes it has the opposite affect for me--too depressing to want to think about. I read it sometimes. One point I really have taken to heart from that blog is that if you think something is wrong you should say something.

I checked with the associations website and they are associated with USDF. I checked the USDF/USEF guidelines on age of ridden dressage horses and it says the following:
"No horse may compete in any under saddle class if it is under thirty-six months of age (of foaling date) at the time of competition. horses competing at the Grand Prix level must be at least 7 years of age and horses competing above Fourth Level must be at least 6 years of age, the horse's age is to be counted from January 1 of the year of birth to January 1 of the current competition year."

So that is pretty black and white. It is included in the bylaws along with the banded drugs and equipment.

So I decided to write Arredondo Dressage Society a letter and this is what I said...
To whom this may concern,
I wanted to write a quick email in thanks for putting on such a great event. My friend and I had a nice time and I am always happy to come out and support a great cause like HPAF. Events like this are so great for the horse community, and so much fun! Thank you for all of your hard work.

That being said I did leave the grounds with one sour note that brought the day down for me and I wanted to write you and express my opinion. Around 1:30 or so I stopped to watch a Clinician who was mentoring a rider with a young paint horse. I think it was Shelley Van Den Neste but I may be mistaken
. I watched the session thinking "My! that is an immature looking horse". At the end of the clinic I heard the owner/rider talking with the clinician and she was saying the horse was only 2 and 1/2. To make matters worse the horse in question was a draft cross. I was appalled. A horse of that age should be in a pasture somewhere allowing her bones to grow and her growth plates to fuse not participating in a dressage clinic! I know this association is filled with well educated experienced horse people so we all know the health risks and long term damage associated with working an immature horse. One of the reasons I enjoy dressage as a sport is that most riders and trainers respect the horse and allow ample time for maturity and do not start working until 3 or hopefully 4.

I am also aware that you can not control other people's actions with their own horses. However, I think something you could do to promote equine welfare is have a mandatory age for participation in any of your events. This may not keep people from engaging in riding babies at home but at least your organization would not be condoning it! Also it would be a great educational opportunity to make people aware of the implications of riding young horses when they ask for your reasoning behind the restriction.
Thank you,

And They responded with this--

Thank-you for your kind words about our event.
I would like to let you know that we did not ask the age of the horses participating in the clinic - we did not recruit riders and horses as would be done for a demonstration, but allowed participants the opportunity to bid on available rides. It is not typical to ask the age of participating horses, and although I agree with you that I would hestitate to ride a horse of this age, I am not sure what it is that you would like us (as a group) to do. I don't believe that it is our perogative to mandate what individuals do with their horses unless clear abuse is indicated. It may be that this individual had x-rays performed that showed that the growth plates were fused - I do not know. Additionally, I am not certain that an individual wishing to participate would be prevented from doing so by our providing an age limit - we are not likely to be in a position to show proof of age - we simply to not have the manpower to police people's actions to that degree.
What our club does do is provide educational lectures each month based on promoting the health and welfare of horses as it relates to all aspects of their care and development.
I was the main organizer of this event - if you have a person to hold accountable, it is me. I will make certain that your concerns are lodged with our board at our next meeting. We would welcome you as a member of our organization and you could assure that your voice and your concerns would be heard.

To me it was a bit of a cop out. I saw her point but I responded with--

Thank you for your prompt response. To answer your question what I expected of a dressage event hosted by a dressage organization is for it to follow USDF/USEF standards. Proper equipment, proper etiquette and horse welfare are all part of the sport of dressage as illustrated by the 2010 USEF rule book quotation below. A minimum age is just as part of the dressage standard as soundness of the competing horse is.

"No horse may compete in any under saddle class if it is under thirty-six months of age (of foaling date) at the time
of competition."
(Taken from the 2010 USEF Dressage Division)

I understand the issue of man power. This however is not a good enough reason to not have an official statement on the matter of the proper competing age. I am sure you do not have a way to test for illegal drugs but does that mean it is officially allowed at your events? Same goes for lameness evaluations. I would like to believe that only sound horses are welcome in your events as well correct? Even if it is just stated that it is not appropriate to the participants at time of entry and not enforced or tested that would be so much better than your silence on this issue.

I would love to join your organization and I am very happy that you provide public outreach and education. That is important work. I will not however participate in an organization that does not follow basic USEF guidelines especially when it comes to an issue of animal welfare.

Thank you again, and I hope you consider my thoughts,

Which in turn earned me this--


Your comments are noted and although this was not a competition, we will consider your request.

Respectfully Yours,


So what do you guys think? Am I fighting wind mills here? To me riding a 2 year old horse is just as bad as riding an unsound horse almost. I am not normally so righteous but I really felt that this little filly needed a voice. Watching her whinny and fret through the entire clinic did not help either. She was so small and obviously over faced. I really do hope that they are considering my request but I fear the worst.

Any of you guys gotten the righteous bug? What did it? Were you pleased with the result?


  1. I think what you did was perfectly appropriate, and at least you got a conversation going with the event organizer. The result wasn't perfect, but perhaps they now know that this is something they may want to look into when signing up participants. Clearly there are some in the dressage world that don't put the interests of the horses first - but they we know that already - but that doesn't mean that your actions weren't warranted and appropriate. It's speaking out that keeps the worst abuses (mostly) at bay.

  2. First of all, kudos to you for standing up for what you thought was right and going about addressing the issue in a respectful and professional manner. I think it is IMPERATIVE that we stand up for what is right in our sport. I see sooooooo many horses that end up in this situation (re: Rachel's blog from Sunday) and it is just sad. These are wonderful animals and should be treated accordingly. I find it slightly upsetting that the organization would not address the issue. Even if they included it in thier release (which I am sure they must have in order to ride on the property), this would be a step. It kind of seems like they are more concerned with the money earned than following the rules :(

  3. Funny you should post something on age.

    I think you just hit the local politics and didn't handle it as tactfully as it could have been handled.

    As a clinic organizer, I ask the ages of the participant and their horse on the forms that they fill out. This is not only for my records, but for later use when I compile rider portfolios for the clinician.

    It's not a hard thing, but not for the organizationally challenged.

    But then again, when you host a clinic, you generally trust the fact that people are not going to over face their horse with the clinician. It is the clinicians responsibility to ask about the horse that they are training.

    There are a number of times I became self righteous, only bit me in the end.

  4. Yep you guys are right I was disappointed by the response-- it did feel like they cared more about the profit then the rules (though it WAS a fundraiser!) Another thing to add was my original email was sent to a few people; contacts a found from the webpage. Her response CC'ed a BUNCH of people. I am not sure what that means but I made sure to reply all. Two can play at that game! :)

  5. I tried to be as polite as possible. What would you recommend next time for approaching organizers as you have the inside scoop?
    I figured that was what happened--they did not normally check ages because as you said they would not expect someone to enter a 2 year old in a dressage clinic! Yeesh! That was why my first letter was hoping they would make a policy looking at age for future events.

    I was mostly disappointed by the comment about "clear abuse" as this would constitute in my book as such. I do understand how as an organizer it would be hard to keep all of your ducks in a line though, and I tried to be sensitive to that. I still don't want to be a patron to an organization however that does not share my (or USDF's) values on welfare however. You are also right it is VERY local politics. Always leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

  6. Polite and correct are two different variables.

    Here's how I would have approached it:

    Dear X:
    My name is Y Y, I recently rode with and had a wonderful time.

    However, I was concerned about the age of one horse attending. The rider stated it was XX, and it look like it was struggling through it. I do not believe that this is fair to the animal or clinician participating in an under saddle event.

    I was curious if the board would utilize the USEF rules as guidelines for hosted events to help prevent situations like this from further occurring.

    Again, thank you for putting on a lovely event, I hope this one situation doesn't deter the group from hosting again.

    Warmest regards,

    Rider Y.


    Side note: you cannot prevent stupidity. A policy for everything isn't the solution. However, as a GMO, the club should be using the USEF rules to keep in line the requirements of being a GMO.

  7. Kelly--- I was not a rider just a spectator, but yeah your letter is concise and better worded than mine.. Cest La Vie. :) I am many things but well spoken has never been one of them. Can I hire you for all of my letters to the editor? :)

  8. you should be proud for standing up for what you think it right. you can't control the outcome, but you can control what you do about it and if you can fall asleep at night with a clear conscious.

  9. I think it is great that you not only stood up for the horse, but also said that you would not condone such practices by joining the organization. I can understand them saying that really can not police each and every horse, but they most certainly can ask the age of the horse. People may still lie, but honestly if they ask the age of the horse and turn people away who have horses that are too young I don't think too many people would be trying to "sneak in."

  10. Good for you for standing up for the horse!!

    "It may be that this individual had x-rays performed that showed that the growth plates were fused - I do not know."

    A draft cross definitely has some more growing to do!

    And the bones in the back are the last to fuse. According to this article by Deb Bennett (http://www.equinestudies.org/ranger_2008/ranger_piece_2008_pdf1.pdf) a big horse like that might still have bones growing and fusing until he's 7 or 8.

    "What our club does do is provide educational lectures each month based on promoting the health and welfare of horses as it relates to all aspects of their care and development."

    Is there a knowledgeable vet, university professor or other expert in your area who would be willing to give a lecture on confirmation? They could also discuss skeletal growth and maturation. :)
    Might be something to suggest or help organize.

    I think the e-mails you sent them were great, though. If people are willing to speak up, the organizers will realize that this is an issue and maybe in the future they'll do something about it.


  11. Kudos to you for speaking up and I appreciate that it was done in a private format instead of a screaming hostile takeover at the clinic itself. ;-)

    Unfortunately, some riders do not have the best interests of their horses at heart, and there isn't much we can do about it other than make a stink. You email let the group know you were concerned. If this continues to come up, I'm sure they'll pay attention.

  12. I think you did a good thing by speaking up. Your emails were polite and well-written.

    Too bad the organization wasn't a bit more concerened/willing to take a few simple steps to keep an eye on that sort of thing...

  13. I'm late commenting on this, but I do have an opinion. I have run many clinics and other events, and in our state people must provide a coggins and a record of the horses shots. The horses age is clearly stated on the paper work. For the organizers to say they can't check on everything is baloney. When you advertise a clinic you list the requirements and if the person and horse meet them, they are in. It sounds to me like they did not have enough experience. You were not wrong, just concerned for the horse. So many horse people don't have a clue. Kudos to you.