[Dr. Robert Miller]: Even when I was in practice, I was preaching this, but fruitlessly. It was in the 80s that I did an editorial for the Western Horseman magazine called ďToo Much Too Young Too SoonĒ. It was a complete waste of time. There wasnít even one letter either supporting it or criticizing it. It was just completely ignored. The trainers like to start these horses young. And having started a few colts myself, the younger the colt is, the more submissive the colt is. So itís much, much easier to train a two year-old than to train a four year-old.
So thatís the number one reason the trainers like them young.
The breeders like them young because the faster they move them out, the more money they make.
The buyers mostly donít know the difference. They just listen to what the breeders and the trainers say.
And how are quarter horses advertised today? ďMillion-dollar horseĒ. Thatís how they talk about horses today. They list how much their winnings are. In racing, thatís terribly important, but Iím sorry to say thatís become important in performance as well. And thatís sad.
[HFL]: That is. So I have a question for you. We watched quarter horses go from a very upright head and neck and then it went lower and lower and lower in training and in breeding, to the point where they are touching the ground, which we refer to as the 'peanut rollers'.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: Right. Of course, that was taught. It wasnít just breeding. You know, there was a period, probably in the 60s, a lot of the trainers, including the most successful ones in the country, one of whom was a client of mine, would rap them over the head. They carried a stick and would hit them over the head to get their heads down.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: Yes, the peanut rollers. You know, I did some seminars in 1987, at the quarter horse congress in Columbus, Ohio. I was in a conversation group with some people and we were talking about the peanut rollers - that was before they changed the rules. And I said ďhow in the world did something like this ever get started?Ē
[HFL]: that was my question to you. How did that progression happen? How did it happen?
[Dr. Robert Miller]: A lady said, ďWell, itís you Californians that started it with your Californian headsetĒ. And I said, what? I said, thatís not a California headset. Go look at some old paintings. California headset is a classically collected horse with the poll way above the withers and the face almost vertical, but not quite. She said, well, thatís what we call it. And I said, thatís completely wrong. Thatís not a California headset. I was just shocked to hear that.
The next day. with a different group, I had a similar conversation. And this time it was with a man, a breeder from Ohio. And I said, how did this darn thing ever get started, the peanut roller?
(Incidentally, back at the stables at the show, one horse had a couple of gallons of blood withdrawn so itíd look tired with its head down the next day in the class. I saw another horse with its mouth tied to its hocks and I saw several horses with their heads tied up to the ceiling and just kept there all night until their heads drop from fatigue the next day. Terrible abuses. Terrible. All so that they would show successfully with their nose dragging on the ground).
So back to the breeder, this man had a different explanation. He said, in the West, there are a lot of badger holes and gopher holes. And these rancher horses just step into those holes and break their leg if they donít keep their nose to the ground watching where theyíre going. And I looked at him like he was crazy. I asked if heíd ever ridden in the West? He said, "no, no, but my wife and I mean to make a trip there one of these days".
Can you imagine that? Anyway, they did change the rule. But unfortunately, itís ignored to a large extent.
Now why should a Western pleasure horse that never moves faster than a slow, slow lope get so much ringbone and navicular disease and so much fore limb lameness that I saw in my practice?
Itís because of the way they carried themselves. Theyíre not worked that hard.
You see, itís a conspiracy.
The judges are trainers and the trainers are judges. No lay horseman would ever do that to a horse. It takes a professional to train a horse like that and so they keep their income.
You see, the way they showed pleasure horses, like 60 years ago, a good amateur could train a winning horse.
But it takes a professional to win at Western pleasure today.
No amateur could turn out a horse with such abnormal distorted gaits and carry its head in such a position.
And the judges place those horses at the top because they are trainers. And next time, you scratch my back, Iíll scratch yours. I believe judges for horse shows should be disqualified if they earn a living training horses. So the ideal judge would be a retired trainer. But thatís not going to happen. Thatís politics and money like every aspect of life.
[HFL]: Youíve worked very hard and you were part of the change of the ruling. Without your influence in the Western magazine - Western Horseman. You brought a very big change. Just getting away from the peanut rollers, that is a very big change right there.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: Well, I tried. But you know, an interesting thing happened. Pat Close, the editor, encouraged me. She hated the peanut rollers and she encouraged me to do some articles.
I said, "why don't you write something?" And she said," nobody is going to pay attention to me, but you are a veterinarian so they may listen to you."
Well, they didnít. So after a few years of this and after a number of articles and that editorial I told you about, ďToo Much Too Soon Too YoungĒ, she said, "well, it hasnít gotten any better. Letís try again".
I said, "listen, Iíve got an idea. Logic and reason hasnít done a bit of good. Letís try ridicule. Iím a cartoonist. So instead of using logic and reason and experience, why donít we use ridicule and letís do a series of cartoons ridiculing the peanut rollers?" She said OK. I did it. And they published it. And it was right after that that they changed the rule. Now, maybe that rule change would have happened anyway....
[HFL]: You gave them the information and you gave them the education of why it was wrong. You may not have thought that they were listening, but Iím sure they heard that part. And when they saw the ridicule, it took form.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: Well, I did four cartoons on each page. It was a double spread. I had a trailer going down the road with a pickup truck pulling it. And the trailer had a sloping roof. It sloped forward so the front of the trailer was smaller than the back of the trailer. And on the side of the trailer it said ďDownhill Dock. World Champion Western Pleasure Horse.Ē
In another frame, I had a judge saying to a disappointed competitor ďI donít care whether or not heís free of the navicular disease, I want him to move like heís got the navicular disease!Ē
And it got started at the mule show and I had a fit. I had a fit and wrote a big article and it went away and hope it never comes back. I said itís an absolute sin to take as natural a creature in the world as the hybrid mule and make it do that. And I suggested that people putting on the shows make sure they always have regular horse show judges like dressage judges and quarter horse judges at the big mule shows like Bishop. And theyíre not mule judges. Theyíre horse show judges so they judge by the horse show rules. Thatís fine as long as you donít give the winning place to a peanut roller. My wife entered a class, and this is 25 years ago. She entered a Western pleasure class somewhere up in central California at a mule show. And at that time, the mules were all in peanut roller position. And my wife said, I donít care if I never win anything, I would never do that to my mules. So she rode her mule in proper flexion and collection and we had the right judge and got the first place.
[HFL]: One of the things that I donít think people are thinking about is how itís changing the balance point of the horse when they let them down like that. And itís not just the set of the head and the neck, itís also the fact the the horse doesnít have a collar bone. He doesnít have the skeletal structure to support that kind of increase in weight. Heís not built for that.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: And we havenít discussed the humane aspect. The brutality of forcing an animal to carry itself in this awkward position. You know what I would do? I would take an advocate of it and force her head into that position with a brace and then have them sit there for several hours and see how it feels. And tell them thatís what your horses are going through. Thatís what your horse experiences. You know, I can see the agitation and the stress in the horses. Itís just shameful.
A lot of people are doing what theyíre taught and think itís necessary [what theyíre doing]. They donít understand that you can teach horses to flex and to do all these beautiful maneuvers like the piaffe and all these extended actions without excessive contact.
[HFL]: And if it is done with excessive contact, then what happens is youíre going to a) damage the horse and b) take that movement away. Youíve got to create those kinds of actions without destroying the horseís natural movement. And itís a full range of movement as well. A lot of people donít understand that.
So are you still drawing? Do you still do cartoons at all?
[Dr. Robert Miller]: Oh yes, a little bit. I donít do very much. But I keep getting requests for it. Sometimes itís for an advertisement or publications. Iíve been doing columns for over 40 years in veterinary journals so I stick some cartoons in there. And Iíve cartooned over the years for two veterinary journals that donít exist anymore, but they had a full page of my cartoons and Iíve done about nine books of cartoons. Itís a hobby.
[HFL]: I think youíre right that sometimes we can do more with ridicule.
So youíve watched this for many years. Youíve seen the changes in the quarter horse in Western pleasure. Youíve seen them go down lower and lower and now theyíve come up and not down as low anymore. But they need to come up more. And you see rollkur happening in every barn. And Iím seeing Western cowboys using rollkur when theyíre training their horses. There is nose to the chest with a fully engaged curb rein and youíre sticking it with the spur at the same time.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: Yes, I know there is one clinician thatís encouraging that and teaching that. Itís not necessary and it is harmful. It is harmful.
[HFL]: So do you have any words of wisdom at all? There are a lot of people out there that care. For the rollkur petition that Gerd took with him to the February 9th meeting, they were able to get together forty thousand signatures. There are a lot of people out there that care.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: No question about it.
[HFL]: But they donít know what to do. They donít know what to do to make a change.
[Dr. Robert Miller]: Well, Ö
Continued Next IssueÖ
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