Western Pleasure Winner – Does This Horse Look Happy?

Its A Pretty Thing, a mare who recently dominated in the pleasure show ring,  has become the subject of much debate. Some people find her video beautiful and others have a far worse opinion of it. I grew up showing western all-around horses, so I will sit this debate out. I want to know how you feel, but first I think it’s only fair to watch the mares sister as a yearling in the pasture. I would love to show a video of the mare herself, but I couldn’t find one. This is her yearling sister cantering around freely without anyone on her back.

Now here is the video that everyone is debating about! What do you think?

Does this horse look like she's being humanely trained?

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Instead of asking if this looks “natural”, I want to know if this horse looks like she’s being humanely trained. Natural is such a broad word, and to be honest horse training isn’t all that “natural” to begin with no matter what term you put on it. Horses are the most natural when they’re free on acres and acres of land! With that being said, do you think this mare is happy? Do you think she’s being humanely treated?

For those of you that will say the mare is too slow, her head is too low, she looks crippled, etc.  I urge you to look at her yearling sister freely running in a pasture.  Look at where her head is.  Would it be fair to pull it up when she was started under saddle?  Or spur her to make her go faster?  Maybe to try and turn her into a dressage horse or a barrel racer?  Or is it better to refine the natural way she wants to go?

I know I said I would sit this out, but I just have to say western pleasure has come a long way in the past few years and I look forward to seeing even more healthy changes in the future.
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45 Responses

  1. Diane Chilton

    I happen to know the exhibitor personally and the breeder of the mare. i know Aaron Moses ADORES this mare and wants her happy. all that movement is REAL. he did not force her at all. if you have not seen this mare in real life, how can you know?? she has very soft eyes and looks completely confident

    Reply
    • Leslie

      I’m a dressage rider so this is the antithesis of our discipline but I watched a rider train a western pleasure mare and she moved exactly like this video. Not my thing, but I don’t sense any cruelty whatsoever.

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      • Anonymous

        I disagree completely. Western Pleasure IS Dressage only with the reins thrown away.

      • Char

        I too am a dressage rider. I have had quarter horses, shown them a bit, etc. even had a horse go to the worlds (in reining)…Western Pleasure has changed much over the years in the AQHA in particular…and having had the privilege to work with some of the great judges in the 80’s, I learned, that it is the exhibitors who make the next style of performance come along. Not sure this is better or worse, but certainly does make the Western Pleasure horse look like a gaited horse. AQHA and APHA have created very unique and different lines of horses within their one breed, I don’t think they are the al-l rounders that was promoted for most of my life. And yes, the horse looks comfortable, happy and not stressed…so it works.

      • Rachel

        Anonymous – having done both – no. They are different in virtually every meaningful way. The most basic response would be that there is no such thing as dressage without reins, since the most basic foundation of dressage is arguably using soft aids in concert with one another, and the rein aids, while subtle, are vital.

    • D

      She Gorg, she’s natural & Gorg!! The horse she passes at the end of the video isn’t moving right, that doesn’t look “natural”

      Reply
  2. Suzanne

    I think both the yearling and Its a Pretty thing are naturally talented period. They both are natural in their movement, moving happy with lots of self carriage. Congratulations to the breeder and trainers of both these stunning fillies.

    Reply
  3. J. Shaw

    Everything we train horses to do is on some level, an exaggeration of that which they already do. Top level jumpers have a natural bascule, tidy knees and a great deal of power but their training’s aim is to enhance those natural talents for instance.
    This mare naturally goes long and low with a level topline, and her training may have exaggerated that, but she’s soft eyed, with happy ears, no tension in her anywhere that I saw. A discipline may not be your personal preference, but if the horse is humanely trained, well treated, and doing a job its obviously well suited to… well, when one flings mud, its a good indication they have only mud to fling.

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  4. anita

    This is an outstanding beautiful moving mare and she looks completely happy and relaxed with her ears up. I would love to have a horse of her caliber. If you were looking for people who would bash WP and this mare, you picked the wrong audience.

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    • Tamara Coburn

      The head is fine. The slowing of the lope to this extent is what concerns so many. Simple physics necessitates more speed in order to maintain forward motion without impairment of gait.

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      • Rachel

        I don’t think this is necessarily true. Collection and correct hind leg activity creates upward thrust and elevation of the horse’s front end, and at the upper levels the horse is probably covering less ground than this one.

      • Donna E

        So, how do you account for the ultra-slow, compressed movements in dressage horses? Those are certainly not something the horse does in the pasture.

  5. Liz

    You can say all you want how this is a “natural” movement….show me just one horse (even one that has been trained for western pleasure) move this way in any pasture or free setting. You won’t find one ….. this is NOT nor ever would be a natural movement for any horse. This is NOT pleasure but an agonising slow ride where the horse looks lame.
    Exactly what purpose does it serve to have a horse move that slow, with its head so low? In my opinion, the horse does not look natural in any shape or form.

    Reply
    • Liz

      After re-reading the article, the filly in the field does NOT carry her head as low as the mare being ridden, so her training included pulling her head down further then what is natural. So in essence, no, she isn’t being treated humanely in training.
      The mare is more then likely treated like a queen otherwise.

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      • Anonymous

        You need to watch longe line videos yearlings that are bred for western pleasure. They move slow and low like that naturally. The horses ears are perked forward. She’s not stressed or angry. You need to educate yourself before having such an opinion.

      • Donna E

        You do not “pull” WP horses’ heads down in training to get them to carry themselves in the manner of the mare shown. You do it through collection and lifting the ban, driving from behind. Look where her neck comes out of her shoulders. She is built to move that way. A European study showed that top-level dressage horses require 5 pounds of pull on each rein to maintain frame. Do you know what would happen if you pulled on that mare’s mouth with 5 pounds of pressure? She’d probably flip over backwards.

      • Anonymous

        Incorrect. You do not pull a horses head down – you lift their barrel up…in other words, you collect them. That naturally brings their heads down. Nothing cruel or inhumane about it.

    • erin

      Have you ever seen a dressage horse do a piaffe in the pasture? Or perfectly timed tempi changes? Lol. This horse is perfectly happy to go slow. It would never make it as a barrel horse (or another totally opposite discipline) and would probably be miserable. Riding a horse is not “natural”, no discipline in the showing world looks “natural”. The beauty of horseback riding is if you don’t enjoy one type of riding, there’s lots of others to choose from!

      Reply
  6. Heather R. MacKenzie

    I had a QH gelding that did this. He was built long and low. His head would drop so low, his nose would almost touch the ground and ABS brakes. He had little formal training but had no issues slowing his gait. People would often approach us at horse shows and ask if he was lame. The slowness of the gait makes it hard for forward motion and is difficult for an unconditioned horse. This horse in fabulous shape. In fairness this horse was bred to be a pleasure horse like the sister. The filly in the first video has loads of potential. Her sister in the 2nd video, looks relaxed, willing, attentive and focused. If abused, I highly doubt she would be so effective in the show ring.

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  7. Mary Kay Krupinski

    I absolutely agree with Liz. The horse under saddle is called a “peanut roller”. They have to be trained to go that way. A horse never goes that way naturally or on her own. She looks lame. She looks drugged. Its not how a horse should move.

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    • Donna E

      LOL! You think THAT is a “peanut roller”? Oh, my, you are way off base! Peanut rollers used to hit their chins with their legs. Not even close! If she was drugged, she’d be stumbling and her ears would not be forward. Does a horse move like a dressage horse naturally? Of course not! A horse should be trained for the discipline it is conformationally built to do.

      Reply
  8. Zena

    Not at all beautiful and looks like she struggles to move….?! I know nothing about western riding but have seen it at shows many years ago and looked nothing like this…question is will she remain sound doing this very unnatural stilted movement….?

    Reply
    • Donna E

      It is apparent that you know nothing about Western pleasure. She is one of the most beautifully fluid moving horses I have seen, and obviously happy with her job. What discipline do you participate in?

      Reply
  9. Rachel

    It depends on how we want to define “humanely treated.” 100% of horses tend to put their weight on their forehand and that distribution of weight while doing work causes the lion’s share of injuries and debilitating conditions. Western horses are notorious for retiring or becoming high maintenance by ten years old, or earlier. Promoting these training practices, even when they’re administered without abuse, is bad for the horses. Think how lovely she would be if the standard rewarded a healthier frame – just a slight lifting and rounding of the neck is all it would be – and permitted healthy contact with the rein/mouth.

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    • Rachael VanLaar

      Explain to me what is healthy rein contact? Why would you force a horse to submit to rein contact when it is obviously not always necessary?

      Reply
  10. Jen Rohlen

    I am the one who shot this video to show the owner, who has been a good friend of mine for years and worked her ass off promoting the horse industry. I was in awe of how naturally talented and happy this mare was. And to me symbolized years of hard work and breeding to create a natural pleasure horse. It was me that posted it on the page. I am SHOCKED at the ugliness that has been said and had I known would have kept my camera in the bag. This trainer, in watching him at the show, was so soft with her, and she NEVER was unhappy not for a second, he is phenomenal, and trend setting in his style. IT IS MADDENING how people think they can look at a clip of a horse and claim abuse. You can clearly see the mare in the video, there is not a mark on her. Have people ever considered the abuse that they inflict on PEOPLE when judging without understanding? I would ask anyone who is so, so upset by this horse, please, please, for the sake of education, post your video of your ideal horse in the comments, what you are looking for, how you train and how you can teach others and how we can all work together to better things in the horse industry instead of cutting others down.

    Reply
    • Donna E

      I’m right there with you, Jen. Most of the people that think this mare is “unnatural”, “crippled”, had her head pulled down during training to achieve this headset, “struggling to move” are people that ride dressage or another discipline where the rider has a death pull on the reins. Or people that don’t know anything about riding with collection. The “abuse in training” argument falls apart when you look at longeline horses. My trainers showed a LOT of longeliners and I saw all of them during training. They did not use ANYTHING to pull their heads down — no surcingles, no rigged bits, nothing. AND, they trained each longeliner for the discipline it was built to do – English or Western. As I mentioned in another comment, the Europeans did a study (when investigating rollkur) that showed the average top-level dressage horse required 5 pounds of pull per rein. And don’t even get me started on rollkur in dressage horses…

      Reply
  11. Denise

    I do not show at all. But I will say this mare looks depressed to me and her so called lope looks like a pronounced limp to me. Not being hateful, just giving my honest opinion. That is not a natural gait. I have never in my 50+ years go like that out in the pasture! If it did the vet would be called out. She looks uncomfortable. She is no doubt an obedient and gentle horse t that lope just doesn’t even look comfortable to ride.

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    • Lynne

      I agree Denise…….. I have been in the horses business for over 50 years and these horses, not just the mare targeted in the video, but all the ones in the ring with her, look strained, crippled, uncomfortable and reluctant. She goes like her toes are severely pinched. I understand that this is the popular “way of going”for these horses and it doesn’t really matter if she is uncomfortable, in pain or happy. The overall picture depicts something other than happy and natural. The video of her younger sister compared to her gives it good comparison……..the young filly is working free and easy with a good stride in front. The mare, just the opposite. Her stride is “inhibited” and is short, limpy looking and it looks like she is in pain. She may be happy and content, but I am saying that she just doesn’t look like she is at all to me. Also……her poll is below her withers and doesn’t the AQHA rule state that the poll should not be below the withers or did they change it? She is a gorgeous girl and her little sister is as well, but I just don’t like the trained mare’s tight, painful appearance and way of going. AND…….sometimes when a show horse is seen from someone outside the “industry” so to speak, they see things that people who are inside the industry do not or have become desensitized to. Just sayin’.

      Reply
      • Lynne

        I am replying to myself b/c I just want to add that I am an outsider and what I described is just my opinion and what I see and I am not accusing that that this mare is lame or abused in any way. It’s just that I personally don’t like this way of going b/c of what it comes across to me as looking like. I understand the hours of training that go into developing this way of going. So before ya’ll jump on me, I certainly do not mean to offend anyone and I totally understand where you folks are coming from. I really liked that young filly’s way of going though……she was free and easy looking with what looked like a ton of talent.

  12. Mary

    I’ve been riding and training for over 40 years and I’ve rode both hunters dressage aqha and apha and while I now only trailride I’ll attest to the fact every horse is bred for a certain discipline and while I’m not a keen fan on the pleasure gate myself I’ve owned horses that from the minute they hit the ground they are that slow and natural isn’t it more inhumane to make a horse be something it doesn’t have the heart and ability to be clearly this mare would be miserable being a barrel horse or hunter jumper a lot of people need to educate themselves as to what the horse is bred to do. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s wrong or inhumane.

    Reply
    • Lynne

      I totally agree with you Mary……………even though I think this mare looks miserable and half lame, I am not used to this way of going in a horse. I think she looks bad but I just don’t like the way QH’s work b/c to me they look depressed and crippled and the canter is more of a hobble along than a gait. But that’s just me and I understand people who are dyed in the wool WP enthusiasts and riders like that way of going. Anyone can say the horse looks the way I just described to them but it means nothing really. Why would anyone abuse a horse this valuable? Although I will say I have seen trainers (of several different breeds) who completely disregard the animal’s well being and lie to the owners about the training. But you are right, just b/c someone doesn’t like WP horses and their way of going doesn’t mean that the horses are being abused. A lot of training goes into those horses and they are also bred to work slow……….so you folks that show them just keep on and ignore the naysayers and folks like me that don’t like the way they go…….the important thing is that the horses are happy and you enjoy them. More power to you.

      Reply
  13. Linda

    The comments for the most part were mixed but seem to be about middle of the road in opinion ! Where I find some confusion is in the video of the yearling !! This is not a baby running free in a pasture ! It is a trained horse being worked far too much , far too early in life I realize that quarter horses mature earlier than say a European warm blood , but that being said ! Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it !!

    Reply
  14. J

    The case you’re trying to make with these two videos are like comparing apples and oranges. The sister “free” is a love mover and carries herself in a balanced way. No you wouldn’t want to change that, her poll is higher than her hind end, to me she’s carrying herself just right. Th e mare being ridden I will not say is unhappy, she seems just fine with her way of going. What I don’t care for is her poll being so low. What I don’t understand ahead would love to know is what is the purpose of western pleasure in this style? Seriously, no one offers an answer, only “you know nothing about it.” Of course we don’t, please someone teach the rest of us. Call the kettle what it is and stop comparing apples and oranges. Comparing equine siblings is like comparing human siblings and expecting them to learn the same way or have the same personality.

    Reply
    • Rachael VanLaar

      Because when these horses lift their heads up they are hollowing out their backs. We want them to ideally keep the belly and shoulders up yet at the same time be relaxed in the head and neck. When they move like that they naturally tend to be at level or some may be above or some below. Also these horses tend to be built more downhill than uphill.

      Reply
  15. Anna

    Hard to say what goes on behind the scenes to say if this mare is mistreated or not. She looks pleasant enough. Used to show WP for many years and I have to say, the industry still has a very long way to go in my opinion. This mare is an improvement from the peanut roller and “troping’ era, but this mare still does not have enough forward motion for me, and the lope is just barely acceptable. Her head doesn’t pump up and down as much as some others I have seen in my time but she still gives the appearance of a labored gait while loping that personally I think is not aesthetically pleasing and does not look comfortable to ride. In short, this horse does not look like a “pleasure to ride” for me. I also am curious to see how long she will last before she needs hock injections to keep going. A lot of WP horses break down at a much younger age than other performance horses, even some jumpers, which is somewhat telling as to the strain that this type of riding puts on their body. Until the judges start placing horses that are radically different and people start riding their WP horse differently, don’t look to see anything changing in the WP industry any time soon.

    Reply
  16. Karen Waters

    It’s so, so sad to see horses shut down and lifeless, I can’t understand how people can’t see how ugly it is, but that’s Americans for you, I can’t understand how they can’t see how horrifically ugly the poor wretched Tennessee Walking horses’ way of going is in the Big Lick classes

    Reply
    • Lynne

      You need to read my reply to Anita who posted below you and ask yourself the questions I asked her.

      Reply
  17. anita

    To the person who wrote this article: Did you need website traffic so bad that you had to post an article you knew would start a fight and get you some attention you obviously desperately needed? That is a very low blow and you’re certainly no journalist. You’d better hope this horse’s people have a sense of humour. If you want to write a real story, write about all the abuse in the Walking Horse industry that trump just gave carte blanche to abuse to their hearts content. Or maybe you agree with his decision.

    Reply
    • Lynne

      Anita…….you don’t have a CLUE about the Walking Horse Industry. Our horses are free and sound and don’t look as crippled (not even CLOSE) as this mare does. How many performance horses have you owned? How many have you ridden? How many trainers’ barns have you been in and seen the way they are protected and worked? There is not one breed of horse in the world that is sounder and cleaner than the Tennessee Walking Horse. Are your horses inspected pre and post show for signs of abuse? Didn’t think so. Are you aware that the performance horse’s pads are of lightweight plastic? That the action devices cannot weigh over 6 OUNCES? Are you also aware that American Saddlebreds wear pads and action devices as well? If pads and action devices are bad and make WH’s sore, then why don’t the same items make American Saddlebreds the same way? Can you clear the air for me on that? If you saw abused horses, who did you report them to? You didn’t? Why not!? Sorry to rant on so but we in the WH Industry are sick and tired of people who say things about our horse that are just totally false and outrageous lies that are being parroted from something you have heard and not witnessed first hand. There are bad apples in EVERY breed’s barrel and there are still a few in it but we have cleaned our industry up and to the point we are showing 98% SOUND and CLEAN horses. And that is NOT our statistic but the USDA’s. And not only that……….a big percentage of horses turned down at shows is not because they are sore or show signs of abuse but b/c of shoeing issues being about 1/16″ or less off in some cases. You didn’t have a clue about that either, did you? Yes……we ALSO conform to showing regulations to help keep our breed sound and the VMO’s check every inch of the shoeing package to make sure all is as it should be. If not, if only an itsy bitsy off in even just one foot measurement the horse can’t show. We had one inspected at a show……turned down for shoeing violation……….ran to show farrier who pulled package…..gave the pads ONE swipe with rasp…….put them back on and the horse passed inspection and was able to show in a later class. He was off in one foot measurement ONE swipe’s worth of the rasp. So you need to know what you are talking about before you slander the greatest breed of horse to EVER draw breath!

      Reply
  18. susie

    it’s not cruel or inhumane..but it just doesn’t look right. it’s a little too slow.but everyone has a different opinion. everyone likes what they like. but no horse doesn’t look like it’s being treated wrong. and at end of video he passes someone who moves much worse than him.

    Reply
  19. Anonymous

    I was at the show…. Even in the video the mare moves with fluidity… Looking through the bridle with peace! Dressage all bowed up … Complete mouth contact along with leg/Spurs…. Crop also….. Talk about allot of aids…….

    Reply
  20. V. Alleshouse

    I don’t understand why we would ask a horse to move this SLOW??? I always have planned on getting back home on the same day… It looks ridiculous. I just quit showing “pleasure” horses. NOBODY would ask this of their horse on a regular pleasure ride on the trail. Congratulations to the trainers who can make this happen, but my question is “Why would you want to??”

    Reply

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