Editor’s Note: WiseAssWallace is a beloved guest columnist for Cayuse Communications. From his Colorado pasture, he’s on a quest to improve horse-human connections and make lives better for his fellow equines. In this latest installment, WAW weighs in on colt-starting competitions. Read more from WiseAssWallace here.
It’s that time of year again, folks. Call it My Season of Discontent.
Because of colt-starting competitions, of course.
Don’t let them fool you into thinking this is a good deal for the horses. It ain’t.
What I see here is double shots of showmanship and ego with only a salt shake of actual horsemanship. Show-off-manship is more like it. Even with good trainers in the mix, their work is soured, squandered, in fact, by the ill-witted incentive and misplaced motivation to git-er-done with fireworks and fanfare. There’s money and accolades for the human. What’s in it for the horse? Nuthin’ but confusion, stress, and a wholly horrible start.
You might find these Highway to the Horse events entertaining, but let me present them from our equine perspective, in a way you might understand:
Consider, if you will, a trip to the dentist, or, driving on a four-lane highway in rush-hour traffic. You would not relish these experiences. Am I right?
— The dentist will put you in uncomfortable, vulnerable positions.
— Rush-hour driving will force you to make quick, stressful decisions.
Good times, they are not.
Of course, these scenarios would be more manageable if you had some decent experiences leading up to them:
— like your mom takes you to a children’s dentist with a cool aquarium in the waiting room and when you sit in the chair at each visit, there’s a television showing cartoons on the ceiling, bubble-gum flavored fluoride, and a free toothbrush at the end. What a deal!
— like you spend time driving on gravel backroads, learning how to shift, brake, and turn with the summer breeze blowing through your hair, and then you get to practice going fast and passing on a two-lane state highway.
But noooo, colt starting competitions aren’t about proper preparation or building on good experiences. In fact, they are specifically geared to highlight the freakouts us equines will inevitably have as we are put in sketchy, involuntary, and compromised positions.
Believe me. I’ve had to counsel many a horse who’s come to our pasture after being run through the gauntlet of a Highway to the Horse. They are damaged compadres, sorry to say.
What else would you expect?
Again, consider our perspective. Take a fresh, young horse who’s been hanging out with buddies, minding his own business, then put him under the lights, with frenetic crowds and loud speakers.
Dang, just this setup would set me on edge!
But noooo, we’re going to introduce you, Young Horse, to a human who aims to halter and saddle you in a matter of hours. Not shocking enough to the system? Let’s see how you handle it when this human snaps bullwhips and stands up in the saddle. Having fun yet, Flicka?
Would you like a root canal on your very first dental visit?
How would you manage that four-lane, rush-hour drive before you even have your license?
After they’ve been “started” like this, my pasture friends have issues. I call them Highway of the Horse Hangovers:
- They’re shutdown. They learned that if they submit, things will be easier. During the course of the event, they go from sweaty and worried to sweaty and listless. It takes a smart, kind, patient human to bring the life back in their mind and body.
- Their foundation is as fragile and frail as Little Piggie’s stick house. When asked to step up and, say, be a productive ranch horse or a reliable trail horse, these equines either overreact or check out. It takes a smart, kind, patient human to rebuild their confidence, mental and physical abilities.
So why not skip the next Highway to the Horse? There might be winners but horses ain’t among them. It might be fun, but not for us.