Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News


Words Do Matter

Say What You Mean and Do What You Say

When I was a youngster my Mother used to tell me to be careful about what I said, but even more careful about how I said it. Plain speaking may look like arrogance or rudeness in some cultures. Perception is important yet it is not as important as clarity of purpose.

“Words matter,” she would emphasize sternly, “ and what you say, sets the standard for what you will do, and what people will expect from you.” Like many people I have grown to realize that my parents really did know more than I knew when I was a teenager and I often think about my Mother’s admonitions before I respond to evaluation forms for judges or have conversation with exhibitors, because Mother was right: Words do matter.

On a personal level, the words you say and how you say them reflect personal character. In the world of organizations, words reflect both the purpose and the values of an association. If you listen carefully to what is said and read the written words published by an organization like the KMSHA you can get a clear picture of exactly what is required for success. You also get a clear picture of where there are disconnects between what people say they want and what they really want, when they discover that the words they’ve written may not match the music to the tune they like to sing.

Recently, I sent out letters, rule books and examinations to prospective KMSHA judges. I was surprised when an application was returned from a candidate who decided that he no longer wanted to pursue a license with KMSHA. He wrote that the reason he had decided against taking his examination was that the rule book had too many rules/words regarding tack, attire, ring protocol, and way of going, and not enough emphasis on horses. In short, he felt that there were too many words that were unimportant to the actual judging of horses to suit him. He failed to realize that the rules regarding tack, attire, ring protocol and way of going are what make it possible to actually judge horses in competition, with all entries starting from the same basic point.

It struck me as I read his letter that a failure to read the words of the KMSHA rule book and to understand their importance in context is a root cause for the difficulty that exhibitors may have in understanding the placings of judges. Judges also fail exhibitors and the sponsoring organization when they go off on tangents that are not supported by the words in the rule book, when they substitute their personal judgments of what is wanted in evaluating horses over the written standard of the organization that sets the parameters for their breed.

I thought it might be instructive and helpful to use this column to take a look at a seminal sentence of the KMSHA rule book and to see what the words in a section direct judges to do, and by extension what exhibitors are meant to produce in the ring.

“Judges are to reward horses presenting the most fluid, natural, forward moving appearance, and to penalize horses presenting an appearance of a horse trained with artificial devices or methods to enhance or alter the natural gait, whether or not such devices or methods were actually used.” (Page 101 of the 2006 KMSHA rule book)

This sentence, describing the general parameters for what is to be rewarded in KMSHA show rings, seems straightforward but what do the words really mean? To discover how a horse that is supposed to win ribbons is supposed to look, according to this sentence, let’s examine the carefully chosen words through definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary:

Fluid: marked by or using graceful movements. Taken in the context of horse show judging, the word fluid means that horses are not meant to look labored in their movement. What does this mean to you as an exhibitor? If you present a horse that is rough, choppy, uneven, jerky, or makes transitions that do not flow naturally up and down - instead pulling your horse back over his hocks in a slam on the brakes fashion, or dragging him backward through pulling on the reins in the reinback, the movements of your horse can not be considered fluid. The description of what judges are to reward says that your horse can not be rewarded unless his movement is fluid.

Natural: true to nature, free from affectation or artificiality. A natural moving horse is one that appears to be a pleasure to ride. Although training may have improved the quality of its gaits, the training has not caused the horse to appear to be artificial or forced in its movement. When you see a horse gaping at the mouth, counter bent so that its head is going one way, while its hindquarters go another, or ridden with such a death grip on the reins that the horse has no option but to invert its neck and drop its back to try to avoid the pressure in its mouth, (a practice called holding a horse together or propping a horse up in the bit) that horse has not met the test of natural movement. It can not be rewarded when compared with other horses that give a natural appearance.

Ahah! Someone is sure to say. “I knew that this judging program intended to discriminate against animation in Mountain Horses.” Not so.

The word animation means to have a vivacity or a lively quality to movement, an energetic gaiety or spirit. An animated horse should be a joy to watch and a pleasure to ride. If the animation is affected or artificial, if it looks forced or appears to cause the horse discomfort through its execution, it does not fit the definitions of the words fluid or natural, used with intent and purpose by the writers of the KMSHA rule book.

Forward: ready or eager, prompt. A forward moving horse is one that does not require being spurred every step to continue on its way. All well trained horses should give the appearance of being ready or eager to work, prompt in their responses to the aids, and responsive to requests for changes of gait. Horses that pin their ears, are resistant in any fashion, or lack energy in the execution of the gaits do not meet the definition of the word forward.

Anyone who has ever had to nag a horse to keep it going, or to get it going, knows that the quality of forward, yet in control, is an important attribute of a well trained pleasure horse. Judges are looking for forward moving horses, which is not the same as applauding horses that are being over ridden so that the required gaits are placed in jeopardy.

Here’s something else to think about—the often overlooked trail walk. At the trail walk, the horse must be relaxed through his neck and over his topline, yet he must still be forward moving. A trail walk is a brisk, ground covering but relaxed gait. The horse must look as if he has somewhere to go and that somewhere is not to the last round up. Good trail walking horses walk out of their shoulders and cover ground in an easy going fashion. Having a horse that is slow legged and walking in place is not synonymous with a forward moving trail walk.

Artificial: made in imitation of or as a substitute for something natural; pretended, feigned, ersatz. A comedian several years ago referred to something in his routine as being “a genuine copy of a fake Dior.” I loved that expression because it is so perfectly descriptive of phoniness in any endeavor. The word ersatz is also a great choice for describing something that is artificial, because artificiality, when compared to what is real or genuine, is only a cheap imitation of what is true and has inherent value. The KMSHA breed standard sets out what is required for the appearance and gaits of Mountain Horses, solid or spotted in color. The breed standard is the Genuine Dior; all variations away from that standard are ersatz. Judges are to penalize, according to the KMSHA rule book, the ersatz over the genuine.

Enhance: to make greater or to augment. The word “enhance” used in a penalty section could be a cause for debate. There are people who will be quick to say that all the gait purist wants is a horse that looks like he just came out of the pasture— that that’s what they mean by a “pleasure horse” and that purists are biased against a “show” horse.

The minute training of any type takes place a horse changes from what he was when left to his own devices. Improper training can make a horse rigid, tense and unsupple. Proper training makes a horse supple, athletic and gymnastic, and also allows for the development of extension of the gaits, engagement of the hindquarters, and, for horses with natural inclination, an increase in elevation. These “changes” in the horse can all beneficial and are to be encouraged. Proper training could be considered, in a positive sense, as “enhancing” the performance of the horse. Yet we must also remember what Xenephon said in his treatise written on horsemanship a thousand years or more ago, “Nothing that is forced can ever be beautiful.”

In the context of this KMSHA paragraph requiring that a horse that has been “enhanced” be penalized, regrettably the word applies to a horse that may have been augmented through mechanical or chemical processes, to do more than its normal range of motion would allow, thereby modifying its stance and way of going for the purpose of exploiting to an unnatural degree the natural gait of the horse. “Enhancements” of this sort are both illegal and ill advised as over time they destroy the natural gaits of the horse.

Alter: to become different, to change. The KMSHA desires to protect and preserve the genuine gaits of the Mountain Horse and the pleasureability of temperment of a this good minded pleasure horse. Whether classic, trail, country trail, or park pleasure, the foundation of the gaits and the importance of the mind set remain the same. Mountain Horses are not imitation walking horses, saddlebreds, paso finos or racking horses. Altering the gait to make it into something different, or changing it away from the from the standard, is to be penalized. The words in your rule book are clear and clearly intended to protect the breed while promoting the natural qualities of the horse.  

“Judges are to reward horses presenting the most fluid, natural, forward moving appearance, and to penalize horses presenting an appearance of a horse trained with artificial devices or methods to enhance or alter the natural gait, whether or not such devices or methods were actually used.” (Page 101 of the 2006 KMSHA rule book)

There’s a lot of information in this single small sentence from the KMSHA rule book. That one sentence leads us to another word that is repeated throughout the book. The word is quality. Quality, according to Webster’s, is the degree of excellence which a thing possesses or any of the features that make something what it is.

The KMSHA judging program is demanding quality performance of its judges, just as riders, trainers and breeders must look for quality in the animals that they are producing, whether they are intended for the trail, the breeding barn or the show ring. If you produce quality, you have a right to expect quality in evaluating your stock.

Quality, however, can be either excellent or poor, valuable or shoddy. There is too much poor quality and shoddy value all around us. Here, within the confines of the KMSHA, a commitment has been made to quality to achieve excellence in adjudication and in horseflesh.

A commitment is a pledge or a promise to do something. My promise is to work with judges until they deliver the best quality program, based on the KMSHA rule book, that can be put into action in center ring. Words do matter. You have mine.