Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reining with the Best

I have always respected Bob Avila.

His competency as a horseman has never been in question. He is a renowned reining and cow horse trainer who holds over 37 World Championship and Reserve Championship titles in Quarter Horse competition, spanning a variety of Western and cow sports. He has won the "Magnificent 7" competition three years in a row, and the "World's Greatest Horseman" competition twice. His excellence needs no introduction and he knows his craft possibly better than anyone in the business.

What makes him, however, in my opinion, truly a cut above, is that he is an open advocate for the equine partners that he raises, trains and shows. I watched a clinic with Bob Avila and Al Dunning at this year's Equine Affaire, and while Dunning suggested tying horses out to a "thinking post" for hours on end to encourage them to somehow contemplate their bad behavior, Avila stressed engaging a horse's mind and feet at every phase of training, and giving him a break when he's lost his focus. Horses "go" for him because he puts their needs first, and he understands implicitly that if his horses are to show their hearts out and put food on his table and trophies in his case, he needs to be on the forefront of promoting their welfare and well-being.

And he certainly is.

Horse and Rider magazine contracted Bob several issues back to begin writing a series of monthly articles pertaining to training and showing techniques in the reining pen. Articles have always featured very useful content and have covered such topics as properly bitting a reiner, best methods for selecting one, and an interesting article about those little extra bits of effort that separate good horse people from great ones (all had to do with horse welfare, by the way).

But it is Bob's most recent article in H&R that has truly earned him my profound admiration. He addresses the current "trend" of low-headed reining horses, and the "fad" of horses dropping their noses as low as they can after each maneuver. He discusses the dangers of forcing horses to lower their heads unnaturally, and calls out to fellow reining competitors to focus on buying and exhibiting horses built properly (with a level topline, and low set neck) for traveling low. He also cautions the reining industry not to earn itself the same bad reputation that the Pleasure horse industry suffered for forcing unsuitably conformed horses to carry themselves in the "peanut roller" position. Bob stresses the need for proper conformation, proper collection, and proper engagement to ensure that reiners travel naturally and comfortably. The article was a pleasure to read, and in an era when horse abuses seem prevalent in every show pen, a breath of fresh air delivered from the top level of professional competition.

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