A friend posted a fairly educational, but deeply disturbing video the other day. I can’t seem to shake the images, or the new knowledge I gleaned from this video. In any sport, human included, you will find unethical practices and varying levels of abuse, to what degree is anyone’s guess.
I am most familiar with dogs and dog sports. I have been fortunate to be on the lighter side of things, although I have witnessed some grim acts by some trainers, in order to get a position or performance that will help them get that big ol’ blue ribbon. But this is not all competitors, and I do want to clarify that. I am just stating that it is there, it is out there.
I know enough about horses to be in a light conversation, but in all reality I know very little about them. I use to exercise ‘endurance’ horses back in the late 1980′s. This very cool job went something like this, I would go to one of my clients (endurance competitors) home/ranch, get their horse, light saddle or bare back, and ride up into the mountains for 3-4 hours each day. Toodle around on trails, in creeks, meadows and back country areas. Sometimes we even went swimming in the high country lakes. These were serious competitors, I believe one of my clients went on to compete in Dubai some years later. They all worked full time to afford their sport, so I was fortunate enough to be hired for the ‘daily conditioning work’. This job did not suck.
I never saw an ounce of abuse, I never saw mistreatment with any of these animals, and my clients were good people. But it is not always the case in the horse world. When you reach competition level in anything, sometimes things go on that aren’t pretty or ethical, and sometimes the abuse is so gut wrenchingly awful you loose faith in humanity.
I went to a horse show about six years ago. It was the Lipizanner Stallions that were visiting Montana. I don’t visit circuses, and in general, traveling animal shows. I am fully aware of what life is like for these animals on the road and performing, and it is far from natural. That being said, my friend told me to go and watch the trainers. Honestly, you can’t help but be impressed by their skills.
I saw some gating and moves that I fell in love with, head over heals, jaw droppingly gorgeous. Smooth as silk effortless movement. LOVE. So I started to work with my dogs on stylized gating. If a horse trainer can do it, I most certainly can with my dogs! I love training, and this gave me some new goals to work towards. High leg lifts, prancing, and exaggerated stylized movement. Woop!
After performing the routine in the video below, I received some beautiful comments, but also a few e-mails asking if I used ‘soring’ techniques on my dog. I didn’t know what that was, and it didn’t sound good, so I just didn’t respond. One person called it ‘saddle seating’ gate, and again, not a clue. The only techniques I used were kick ass timing, great observation, micro shaping, and a ton of meat balls!
One person said, no way, you did something to your dogs feet to get them that high. No way, I didn’t.
Here is that video -
Then this past week I learned what ‘soring’ was and why it is used. Now I know why some people had concerns about the gating I have done with my dogs. It is such an ugly practice, and the scary statistic, even with the Horse Protection Act in place, is that 95% of all horse owners know their trainers are doing this to their horse, and about 95% of all Tennessee Walkers in competition have this done to them.
I love watching animals move, all species. I am sensitive to this and watch puppies thru adults in our classes like a hawk. I love seeing how they use their bodies, use space, their flow, their movement. They all come with their own pace, timing, gate. And I can pick out a ‘hitch’, or a ‘glitch’ in movement right away.
So why do we like the exaggerated stuff for show? Why do we press it to the limit or push for more? We do it to humans too, just watch the Olympics. Is it to see ‘how far’ we can take something?
For me, working with my dogs is about training for sure, but it is also art for us. It is the act of creating, moving, and doing it together. Always changing, always fresh. Control is an illusion, it is more of a collaboration of skills between two species.
May all species be treated with kindness, and as Dr. Roger Fout’s so bravely said, “Plato and Socrates had it all wrong, man is not the center of the Universe, merely a part”.