September 17, 2012
AQHA's equipment rules put the horse first. (Journal photo)
A dedication to putting the American Quarter Horse first has led the AQHA Executive Committee to make changes in AQHA rules as far as equipment use at all AQHA-approved shows and approve a structure of fines and penalties that will be assessed to violators of these rules.
All of these changes are based on recommendations from the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission, which was appointed earlier this year by the Executive Committee to ensure the welfare of the American Quarter Horse. The Executive Committee also approved the Animal Welfare Commission’s definition of abuse: Any excessive and/or repetitive action to cause obvious distress or discomfort to a horse.
By November 2012 and to coincide with the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show, new equipment policies will be in place. The policies are published on AQHA's website, and exhibitors, owners and trainers have until November 1 to ask questions and become familiar with the policies.
Beginning with the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show in November, the following training equipment, in addition to that listed in the AQHA rulebook, will not be allowed at any AQHA shows:
1. Prohibited training equipment at all AQHA shows include riding in a curb bit without a curb strap, wire or solid metal curb straps no matter how padded; wire cavessons; wire or cable tie-downs; bumper bits; metal bosals, no matter how padded; chambons; headstalls made of metal (even if encased in a protective material); twisted rawhide; or rope (3/8-inch rope may be used with a slip (gag) bit with a smooth mouth piece only); running martingales with curb bits; or draw reins attached between or around the front legs.
2. No one is allowed to ride a horse with a curb bit without a properly adjusted, approved curb strap or curb chain.
3. A running martingale may be used with a snaffle bit only.
4. Draw reins may be used on the show grounds as a training device so long as they are attached no lower than the elbow of the horse.
“The greatest danger to our industry is the inhumane treatment of our horses during their training and the resulting appearance in the show ring,” said Jim Heird, executive professor and coordinator of the equine sciences initiative at Texas A&M University, and chairman of the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission.
That means training practices that cross the line, misuse of equipment, regardless of how humane one wants to claim it might be, and things like this have to become a thing of our past, said Tom Persechino, AQHA executive director of competition and breed integrity.
“While we may disagree on particular points or pieces of equipment, there is common ground between trainers and where AQHA is headed,” he added. “The vast majority of trainers and exhibitors are good people who have the best interest of the horse in mind.
“Regardless of the number of people who are using equipment improperly or harshly, the use of all equipment needs to be addressed and horsemen and -women need to understand that it only takes one person to create a negative perception of our industry,” he said. “We are living in a very different time where social media, technology and people’s unfamiliarity with the horse industry constantly puts us in a defensive mode. It’s never been a goal to punish but to bring about change and protect our horse and our industry before someone else decides what is right and what isn’t.”
Persechino suggested that if anyone has any of this equipment in their trailer tackroom, “we’re suggesting that you take it out now and don’t even bring it to the show – it is not allowed on the show grounds. Again, this is about protecting the horse.”
And the fines and penalties have been established to deter people who might even think about abusing a horse or using illicit drugs, he added.
“The fines and penalties chart further illustrates the consequences of breaking the rules,” Persechino said.
The AQHA Animal Welfare Commission also recommended – and the Executive Committee approved – the formation of an AQHA Grievance Committee that will consider fines and/or penalties to include suspension from competition or even suspension from AQHA as meaningful deterrents. The grievance committee will also investigate other forms of penalties and educate and hold owners to a higher level of accountability.