Thursday, March 3, 2011

Industry Ethics-The Story of Guns and White Roses


We had a Sliders meeting last night to discuss our upcoming tack sale at the horse bazaar and to nail down some details of our upcoming clinic/schooling show with Gus. In the ensuing conversation, the topic of unethical practices in the show industry, came up. It was an interesting discussion. The talk started around the practice of some people drugging their show horses at shows, and evolved into a general discussion about the ethics of the 3 year old futurities and what people will/have to do (trainers and owners alike) to get their babies ready to go into such high pressure situations. We also talked about the "throw away" mentality, that appears to be common in the quest for futurity prospects, and how young horses get pushed too soon too fast and end up blowing their minds and/or bodies, and are ruined for life.
This is such a huge topic, that I could go on at length, and the longer I stay involved in reining specifically and the horse industry in general, the more formed and (in) formed my opinions become. My "reality check" is a daily dose of the Fugly Horse Blog", which I have referred to a few times on this blog before. Her blog IS totally devoted to bad practice in the horse industry, and in my opinion her commentary is right on the mark. I would encourage anyone to spend some time reading her back posts, and some of the hundreds of comments most of her posts generate.
Instead, I thought I would write about one horse's story I have been following for 3 years. This is the story of Guns And White Roses, a sabino daughter of the famous GUNNER (Colonel's Smoking Gun), and out of an NRHA Money earning mare.
I first came across this story when I was perusing the sale ads on Reiners World, a sale web site devoted to selling reining horses. She was listed under the weanling page, and although I can't remember the exact wording it was something like this: "FOR SALE, DEAF, CONFORMATIONALLY CHALLENGED REINING PROSPECT". She was listed at a ridiculous high price (if I recall, over 10,000.00), and included this picture:

It was such a strange ad!! Was this some kind of joke?? I had to follow up. The owner had a link to her blog, and when I went there, this was the story:
She had been looking for a reining prospect from Gunner, specifically, a sabino filly, and had found the perfect candidate from a reputable breeder. The price was out of their budget at the time, but as a birthday surprise, her husband took the plunge, and bought the horse, and had her shipped. Although he bought her without seeing her in the flesh, these were some of the pictures that they were using to make their decision, and the dealers are noted for breeding some of the best reining horse blood lines in the industry.

As you can see there is no evidence of any conformation issues with this filly

Nor can you see any issues in this picture

BUT, conformationally challenged she was! It was a SEVERE case of equine lodorsis. When Rose stepped off the trailer, the new owners were horrified. Upon contacting the breeders, they were met with denial. She was going through a "Growth Phase", they were told, and the "reputable"breeders refused to buy her back. It was a hard lesson in "buyer beware". The family was devastated. All their dreams of a futurity prospect were doomed, and it appeared that their huge initial investment in this filly was unrecoverable. However, what was there to do? Rose, became "one of the family", and quickly won her way into their hearts.
I continued to follow Rose's life on the blog, and watched as the family chronicled her journey.

Here she is as a yearling filly-the Lodorsis still VERY apparent.

Despite her condition, it also became quickly apparent that Rose was a very special horse. Amazingly agile, given her condition, intelligent, and highly trainable, with a quirky personality, the family simply fell in love with her-despite her condition.
As Rose entered her 2 year old year, the family started to investigate if there would be any possibility of even getting her going under saddle. Rose was looking for a "Job" and they wanted to give her something constructive to do (instead of digging for gophers out in the field-a "Rose" quirk) ...maybe driving might be an option. Many consultations with trainers, vets and equine specialists later, they made a decision. They would see about starting Rose under saddle, and play it by ear, taking their cues from Rose herself. Since reining was the discipline for which she was bred, they started a search for a reining trainer that would consider taking Rose. After much searching (what professional reining trainer would take on such a prospect?), they hooked up with Canadian, Francois Gauthier, and the rest as it is history. Rose took to her training like a duck to water. Here is a video of her show career debut. The run is by no means perfect, but pretty amazing considering all the facts!

In fact, she displayed so much talent, that Francois decided to take her to the NRHA 3 year old futurities last November.

WOW!! I got to tune in to see her run on the live feed, and it gave me goosebumps. She didn't win...didn't even place in the top, but it really didn't matter. Here was a horse, that, even by a lay person's standards, would NEVER have been given a chance to do what she had accomplished. This severe conformational flaw would have excluded her from ever being considered as a prospect by any professional in the reining industry, and yet here she was-competing against the top horses in the world, and holding her own.

So why this lengthy post about Rose?
I like this story. In an industry plagued by bad practice, it highlights the fact that there are people out there that still have their morals and integrity intact. That there are people that take their horse ownership seriously and responsibly, and are willing to do the best by their animals under ANY circumstances. That there are professional trainers that are willing to consider the best interests of the horses in their care, and that will work with the owners to help them achieve THEIR goals. AND, I like stories with happy endings...

After the futurities, guess what? The family took her back home-she's having a well deserved break, and will go back to Francois this spring to get ready for the upcoming show season. They are TRAIL RIDING her! and TURING HER OUT WITH OTHER HORSES!! Yes, Rose has a life-and a good one at that!! She is one of the lucky ones!
You can follow Rose's journey on her Face Book page or on her Blog

So if you have made it all the way through this post, now it's your turn. I would love your feedback on this story and your comments/experiences/stories on anything I have touched on in this post.


  1. Nice story, Bella. I am familiar with Guns and White Roses and it certainly is the kind of story that appeals to me - a real Cinderella story but also a story of heart, courage, commitment and love.
    Regarding futurity horses, I march to my own drum in this. I absolutely refuse to hurt a horse mentally or physically in the vain hope of making him "ready" or "better" for a futurity...but I think you already know that about me.The result of this is that my futurity horses don't often win...BUT they are still competing for years after their futurity year. In my book, A Life With Horses, I talk about how I became comfortable, as a trainer, with not pushing young horses. Anyone who has read the book will remember that. I am appalled at the abuse of horses in general and in my event - reining - in particular. The only thing I can do is not do it. One of my students came to me a couple of years ago when she heard about drugging. The person who told her also told her she didn't think I used drugs. "Obviously not," my student said, "Or I wouldn't be loping my ass off!"
    I do think the practice of "using up" a 3 yr old is not as bad as it used to be, mostly because there are a lot of aged events now.
    These issues have been around for many years and I don't know what the answer is. There are still trainers out there who still have a love of the horse and will not abuse. There is a difference between "tough" and rough; there is a difference between "assertive" and "aggressive" too. As a trainer, I know I have to be assertive and sometimes I have to be tough. Owners can want to win so bad that they will ask a trainer to "do whatever it takes" too. I guess I will be losing business if that happens to me.
    I think this should be self-policing - riders (especially trainers0 monitoring other trainers - and to a certain extent it is, but all too often riders look the other way and don't want to get involved. I can understand that. Don't know how far I would get walking up to a man and telling him to stop abusing his horse. I actually saw a NRHA official walk up to a competitor in the warmup arena right before a class and warn her that she had drawn blood. That horse placed ahead of me. C'est la vie...
    Well, you asked for comments and I did. Thanks for the post. Ironically enough, my blog for Monday on Ridin', Reinin' and Writin touches a bit on this subject - the selling part.

  2. Ahhh. Sharon. Thanks so much for your comment! I was SURE this post would generate SOME feedback. Sometimes, I think this blog is just my own form of self therapy!
    I have a whole lot of respect for the way you start your young prospects, and your attitude to animals in general. Given where you live, and how you have chosen to live your life, it is safe to say the animals in your care have "hit the jackpot"in regards to whom they have had to entrust their lives to...I wish all animals could say the same. Sadly, that is not the case in so many instances!
    I also liked your comment(s) about the difference between tough/rough and assertive/aggressive. This is a fine line that horse trainers in particular NEED to walk, and sometimes, to the uninformed, this can be so easily misinterpreted. I have a great deal of respect for horse trainers. They put their lives on the line every time they choose to interact with a 1500 lb animal, and NEED to know what they are doing, because it it so easy to screw things up and wreck yourself and/or the animal.One of my biggest pet peeves is people calling themselves "trainers" when it is so obvious they really don't know what they are doing! I often equate it to the teaching profession-"I went to school, so I know how to teach" = "I took a clinic in Natural Horsemanship, and now I know how to train my horse". BLEH!
    I also like your comment re Trainers in particular acting as a "self policing" body. I have seen that work, and one of the things I really like about going to the reining shows is seeing the comaradarie and respect that seems to exist between most of the reining trainers.In my experience, most of the trainers are able to put aside their egos and there is a definite feeling of support for one another and help when it is needed. It is one if the reasons I was attracted to reining, when I observed this at the first few shows I attended. This was definitely NOT the case in some of the other equine disciplines I have been involved with over the years!
    Having said all that, I too have witnessed some practices especially in the warm up pen,that have made me cringe. As a beginner and relative newbie/uneducated/uninformed, I have never felt that it was my place to comment! I have seen other trainers "step up to the plate" though and despite the fact that this is never a "comfortable" situation, it is nice to know that there is an element of "self policing" out there. It helps to keep everyone honest!
    Thanks again for taking the time to respond! I wish others would do the same!

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