While attending the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Convention in March, I had the great privilege to sit and visit with Carol Harris. A longtime Quarter Horse breeder, Harris is best known as the owner of Rugged Lark, the two-time AQHA Superhorse who filled many a young girls’ dreams (including mine) with his beauty, athleticism and outstanding bridleless performances. His trainer, Lynn Palm, was one of my idols growing up in Michigan, and I thought Harris must be the luckiest woman alive to own a horse like Rugged Lark.
Harris was at the Convention to talk about Protect Them, a new group she formed to…well…protect horses. With the cloning lawsuit resolved (see page 30 for a potential new development), the hot topic at the Convention this year was animal welfare. Equipment, such as lip chains, and drug rules and penalties were debated, many times with strong opinions on opposing sides.
During a reception held to honor Harris and promote Protect Them, Harris gave an impassioned speech that built upon the coalition’s description, “Regaining the integrity of AQHA is our first priority, we have no desire to continue to see the largest breed registry spiral downward because of apathy. The intent is to better the horses lives and worsen the lives of the abusers.”
While Harris’ thoughts are directed at the AQHA and breed shows, she could just as easily be talking about any association and any discipline. The declining interest and membership is an across-the-board problem everyone can relate to. Sadly, in many cases, so are the allegations of abusive training practices. Rather than try to paraphrase her thoughts and comments, I’m going to let you read them for yourself.
“A great many of us today are finding ourselves in an awkward position while trying to help our American Quarter Horses receive relief from training techniques [trainers and the AQHA] permitted to be invented and created. Our lip chain users seem to have acquired a total knowledge about what is painful to a horse and what isn’t. Since none of them live in a horse’s skin, we don’t understand how they are able to do this. A few members now actually claim they know what a horse feels when severe pressure is placed on their tender gums, but I personally feel they are not that gifted. I admire their ability to describe reasons they feel they must use lip chains, but since I showed and trained all my halter horses myself for 30 years [including studs], I do know what I’m talking about. I just worked hard and used reward training and lots of trust to get the job done and I think it can still be done safely if all parties would work harder and take more time.
“Today we are doing nothing to convince the public that our horses are kind and trustworthy for young and old. At one time, we were privileged to show with talented trainers who seemed to understand better ways to excel in most disciplines. This is when I learned to work slowly with no unusual equipment or cruelty. I simply called it ‘building trust.’ But I’m sure today’s ‘get it done quick’ standards now make old ways much too old-fashioned and slow for everyone, including those who have created our horses’ weird styles of walking, jogging and loping.
“We have been compelled to watch all this much too long and find it pitiful to witness what our association has let happen. Their membership has begged them to correct everything that trainers are still flaunting and judges are still rewarding. The resulting ‘conflicts of interest’ are also out of control. Consequently, we must cringe when we watch our children and grandchildren witness our abusive culture. We have lost approximately 90,000 members and our youth are showing reluctance to ride Quarter Horses because they hate the abusive ways they are being told to ride them.
“I feel our horses are being exploited for the wrong reasons. I personally have had more trouble selling my horses than ever before because the public has little interest in the breed and training they once admired. We have tried to respect our association, but our conscience has finally made us admit we have blindly condoned too much cruelty on all parts of our horse’s bodies, and the public has lost interest in wanting to be a part of our culture.
“Sadly, only a few of our leaders seem to feel responsible for any of our problems, but we know the permitted ‘conflicts of interest’ have caused it all. Horse shows have also proven to become long and boring, and few spectators wish to attend endless levels of classes that have been forced on members for many wrong reasons. Even our elite exhibitors are no longer being given opportunities to socialize, have a little fun and perhaps get a decent dinner and nights’ sleep at any of their horse shows.
“Today, we are here in Fort Worth at the AQHA Convention celebrating our breed’s 75th anniversary. A group of 3,000 Quarter Horse folks has agreed to support our brand new coalition called 2015 Protect Them. We also know we have caught the attention of 110,000 other horse people who might possibly join our cause. We naturally hope our parent association will cooperate with us so we can officially help their horses receive better protection and more participation. If not, we must seek other assistance, because all of us feel our horses should no longer be asked to endure the inhumane treatment that is prevalent. This is all I’m going to say right now, but I hope and pray none of us will forget the proper treatment and respect we always owe to every American Quarter Horse.”
Well said, Carol. I urge you to visit Protect Them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProtectThem and see why more than 3,100 people have already “liked” the group.