Competence and Control:
Showing Stallions Safely By Julia McLean
Stallions in the show ring ooze virility and masculinity – they fairly sizzle with life. However anyone who has spent any amount of time at horse shows will more than likely have had some experience of seeing a problem caused by an unruly or mis-managed stallion.
Equestrian Australia Show Horse Rule 1.1.18 states that stallions are not allowed in Show Horse Classes, but there are of course a great many performing in the Olympic disciplines. Those showing at a breed show or in breed classes at an agricultural show can expect to encounter stallions and for the purposes of this article, the focus is on showing.
While showing stallions is the focus it is very important to note that any horse – stallion, mare or gelding – can at anytime get out of control if the handler or rider is not competent or the animal’s temperament is not sound. Mares can sometimes be more difficult to handle or ride than stallions and geldings taking fright, and any horse breaking away from a float can also present a danger to other exhibitors.
When Things Go Wrong
No matter how well trained a stallion is, or how long the handler has owned him, situations can and will arise at events. Consider an extreme scenario where a stallion gets loose, gallops through a number of rings, mounts a mare (with or without her rider) and then causes injury to those who try to catch and extract him from the situation.
Richard Thomas is a Canberra based Barrister, horse owner and competitor. He states “it’s not unreasonable for a competitor attending a show to have an expectation that they will be able to compete safely. It is reasonable for them to have an expectation that other horse handlers have an obligation to ensure that their horse does not cause injury to anyone. The issue is an extremely complex one, however, and unfortunately there are no simple answers.”
Ultimately, Richard believes that the handler or person in charge of the horse is responsible for the actions of that horse whilst entrusted to them. “All parties will have their role to play - the handler, the show organiser and other competitors, but in the event of a person seeking legal recourse over an issue our legal system seeks to foster or encourage responsible actions by imposing liability upon those who fail to exercise reasonable care. As such, it’s an assessment of common sense.
“Horse sport is inherently dangerous; by choosing to enter an event we assume some risk to ourselves,” he said. “It is a general view that stallions require a greater degree of control and supervision, and the handler taking the horse out at anytime exposes themselves to a liability, which imposes a higher duty of care.”
Richard agrees that owners and handlers would be wise to consider having their own Public Liability Insurance. As one event horse owner commented “We insure our horse for mortality and loss of use but we also take out the Public Liability option. Our horse actually fell at a recent event and was loose on course. Show organisers and course stewards had taken excellent precautions but it would have only take one stray spectator, or another competitor, to come into the path of the loose horse to cause a problem. Our public liability insurance would have gone a long way to helping to protect us. The rider has their own personal insurance.”
The equestrian industry can’t NOT have stallion classes – they contribute greatly to the development and showcasing of every breed. A Champion or Supreme award at a major show is important to a stud’s marketing program, the stallion’s profile and earning potential, and performances at smaller shows may be required to qualify for entry to these major events.
SAFETY AND RESPONSABILITIES
It is the responsibility of the show society or performance registry to set rules for how a show should be run and its expectations relating to the behaviours of all parties whilst on the grounds, handling a horse or otherwise. Entry forms are usually inclusive of declarations and waivers, which require entrants to sign that they agree to abide by and compete under the rules and rulings of the show or Ground Committees.
The Arabian Horse Society of Australia (AHSA), and its Affiliates, conduct a great number of shows of varying sizes where they present classes for colts and stallions; shows such as the Australian National Arabian Championships can have 700 horses on the grounds at any given time. Periodically, the AHSA rule book is amended, either as a reaction to, or a pre-emptive move, to address issues that might or might not arise. Thus the AHSA creates mechanisms for judges and stewards to make decisions and clear indicators to owners and handlers who are attending shows run under the auspices of the AHSA.
Above: A loose stallion in a class of stallions can result in injury to other competing
horses and handlers or anyone who attempts to interveen.
Above: Despite training and preperation that show horses are subject to, they are large,
flighty animals and situations can and will arise at events. Safety of the other
horses, handlers and spectators must take priority.
Chris Ros photo
On the subject of safety and responsibilities, Laura Smith, Show Liaison for AHSA said, “Firstly, stallions must now be bitted when shown in hand at smaller shows – this does not necessarily apply to the larger shows, such as East Coast or Australian National Championships – and any kind of gear failure in relation to show bridles or halters is not tolerated. Responsibility always comes back to the handler – the onus is upon them to ensure that their stallions do not get away”. Several pertinent rules and the consequences for contravening them are clarified in show programs and the AHSA rule book.
Rule 4:3 in the rules for the 2010 Australian National Championships stated:
Any horse which becomes loose and escapes from the handler or rider due to any form of gear failure will be dismissed from the event - eg a halter breaking or falling off, as has happened at recent shows.
This rule speaks of the necessity for appropriate head gear on all horses. The pretty little show halters are nice but handlers of horses, and especially stallions, need to be secure in their own knowledge that it is appropriate for the purposes of control.
This rule also lays down a factual measure to assist organisers, judges and stewards – if a horse gets loose because of gear failure it will be dismissed – given that classes like these can cost $75 or more to enter, it’s a big risk to take with an owner’s entry fees, not to mention the embarrassment of being removed from the show ring.
Stallion bits and rearing bits are pieces of equipment that might be useful and are acceptable in most show rings. The Australian National Saddlehorse Association (ANSA) only allows snaffle bits in led and saddle classes, however in the interests of safety they accept the use of rearing bits in Led classes.
Gear checking before entrance to the show ring could occur where a breed or show society has stipulated unambiguously the required standard for equipment and stewards have received a level of training deemed suitable. However vast consultation with legal counsel and insurers would be required to create such a standard. It is highly unlikely that passing through a gear check would ever free the owners/handler from their responsibilities. Consider also the trials of defining how we might quantify the suitability of a bridle. A poorly constructed leather bridle may not show any outward signs of weakness, while the flimsy looking Arabian show halter may well be constructed from high tensile cables. Were any bridle to break during the course of competition, the owner could not absolve themselves of responsibility with the claim that the bridle had been passed by the Gear Steward.
THAT EXTRA ‘EXCITEMENT’
The ‘facing-up’ or ‘inciting’ of stallions is prohibited under AHSA Rules
Rule 4.7 STIRRING:
Exhibits are not to be excessively stirred-up. Horses must remain calmly in the marshalling area with a maximum of one handler/rider and one groom until they enter the ring at a walk or a trot. No devices, artificial gadgets or loud noises shall be used to excite waiting horses. This rule also applies to other persons on the outside of the ring or marshalling area. Exhibits who are deliberately excited may be asked to leave the ring or marshalling area and will not be judged. Persons failing to obey this rule may have their exhibit disqualified from the class. Handlers are not to incite stallions to challenge by facing them up to each other or crowding them. The facing up of stallions is strictly prohibited.
WHIP ABUSE OF ANY KIND WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.
Handlers are expected to be vigilant in their attention to their horse. As Laura says “a lot of competitions are held in confined spaces, you have to be aware of the ‘roarers’, or if it’s breeding season the ‘boys’ could be a bit more excitable and just a flick of an ear could be an indication of an imminent surprise.”
“We have a document called the ‘Registered Participant Waiver’” says Laura, and by “signing this waiver, owners and handlers acknowledge that they compete with the knowledge that they are competent to handle that horse. The waiver is a document stating the AHSA’s Duty of Care and was created under the guidance of our insurance company and solicitor.”
In effect this document is an admission of liability and in signing the owner/competitor/handler accepts responsibility for the actions of their horse. It is worthy to note that in signing the waiver that the competitor is only consenting to the usual/normal/ expected/ known risks of attending and competing.
Dismissing entrants for bad behaviour
What happens when a judge and the ring steward are presented with an unruly and badly behaved horse in their ring? Can the horse be ordered to leave? Should the owner seek legal recourse against that decision? How do you prove that the judge or the steward was actually qualified, or not qualified, to make that decision? The question returns to the set of rules under which that show is conducted.
Compare it to the instance of a gear steward at a dressage day: the ruling says whips must be no longer than 120cm in length - this is a clear and measurable definition. The question of behaviour can be subjective and a handler/owner may take offence with a judge or steward that they consider too quick to pass judgement, or not qualified to make that decision.
Ring Officials are, most of the time, volunteers and some stewards are often not even ‘horsey’ but have stepped up to help out the local show society. Judges on the other hand are subjected to more training, qualification and evaluation through the various breed and performance societies before being accepted to judges panels, and often possess vast showing/horsemanship experience.
Judges and stewards are not policemen and not responsible for competitors not competent to deal with an exhibit or an exhibit displaying bad manners. Their responsibility to competitors is to make sound judging decisions and manage the ring in a safe and practical manner. Should a judge assess a situation and deem an unruly horse to be an endangerment to the safe conduct of that show ring they are within their rights to request that horse to leave the ring and that decision must be respected. It is a decision seldom made lightly.
Above: Horses, including stallions, that are properly educated and well prepared,
will show better and be more controlled despite a stimulating environment.
In a Royal Show situation, the judge may be supported by two or more ring stewards, plus a number of mounted stewards or ‘Red Coats’. Neil Austin was Chief Horse Steward for the Royal Canberra Show for many years and said “it is clearly the responsibility of the ring steward to identify a problem and call for a ‘Red Coat’ to deal with it – the ‘Red Coats’ are selected because they are experienced horsemen and are recognised as being able to make the decision on whether to remove that horse from the ring or not. While competitors are ultimately responsible for control of their animal, the ‘Red Coat’ will make the final decision”. Neil also points out, “it is the right of the judge to choose not to judge a horse because they believe it to be unsafe’.
Referring again to the AHSA, Rule 4:11 defines ‘bad behaviour’ and gives stewards and judges grounds upon which to base that decision:
PROPER CONTROL: All horses must be under proper control at all times.
Bad manners exhibited by the horse such as kicking, biting, rearing or barging may result in the competitor being asked to withdraw from the class by the steward on direction from the judge. Any horse not under proper control will be issued a warning by ring stewards and subsequently may be disqualified from the class.
Any horse which becomes loose and escapes from the handler or rider for any reason may be disqualified from the class. If the horse remains in the immediate judging area out of lead reach and does not interfere with any other horse to cause danger and disturbance and is retrieved promptly by the handler or rider it may, at the discretion of the judge and show officials, continue to be judged.
Recourse for competitors is in the first instance to the Ground or Show Committee. Almost all shows will have a protest process outlined in their show rules. Under these rules the judge or steward, at an AHSA or Affiliate show, is able to detail to the Ground Committee that the unruly exhibit demonstrated bad behaviour as clarified in the rule and hence it was appropriate to dismiss the horse. In this instance the protest is unlikely to be upheld.
As far as can be ascertained there are no training mechanisms, which specifically pertain to the handling of stallions, but colleges such as Richmond TAFE and Marcus Oldham present a number of Certificate and Diploma courses that address competent handling of performance horses on varying levels.
Suzanne Manson, Head Teacher Equine Studies at Richmond TAFE advised us that the college presents courses addressing areas of horse industry management including performance horses, Racing - for stewards, trainers, breeders and equine massage therapies. Curriculums are designed to meet Australian Quality Framework Standards and students demonstrate competency by meeting those AQF standards through practical and theoretical assessment. Industry contributes to course design and it is common for employers to contact the school seeking graduates for job vacancies.
In selecting a handler for any horse, consideration should be given to someone with a track record of success in showing halter horses. Professional handlers and show training stables can be expensive but many are available for lessons to train handlers as well as horses.
Pat Ryan of Warrawee Stud, Lancefield VIC, has produced countless champions, including colts and stallions. In her view stallions are much more complicated and present a greater potential for problems to occur. Pat says “In relation to showing a stallion at halter or under saddle, consideration should be given to the actual handler as to whether they have had experience with stallions and I will only select suitable handlers who are experienced and have shown themselves to be capable. I will also only use handlers I have watched work the horses and shown themselves competent rather than those that just tell me they are.”
Pat also says “I always put a soft bit into a yearling colt’s mouth to be shown for control. A stallion being shown is advertising for your stud and therefore he should be presented to the public in good condition with the appropriate training with good ground manners. I also really believe in having young colts broken in as early as possible to teach them respect and most certainly before they commence serving mares.”
Out there to win.
In the Australian National Saddlehorse Association (ANSA) and Australian Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) ring temperament is highly prized. As one ANSA judge commented “Possessing a good temperament is stipulated in the ANSA Judging Criterion so we’re expecting to see mannerly horses - if the horse won’t stand still for judging, or won’t trot without leaping about and actually doing the workout, how can I, as a judge, assess it sufficiently with regards to conformation and paces or make a comparison against other candidates? A display of bad manners may rule him out as a suitable breeding prospect.”
There are many stallions competing in the Olympic disciplines, particularly
in the higher levels of competition. (Photo courtesy FEI.)
In a dressage test if a movement is not performed it will attract a mark of zero. If a halter horse will not demonstrate a trot then perhaps a show judge might also award a zero.
Again, in the AHSA Rule Book 2007 under the ruling ‘Requirements for Awards’ it is stipulated that horses must stand still for inspection and perform the workout as directed.
Horse owners/trainers/handlers, or breeders serious about success must understand the necessity of training for halter and led classes, particularly if they seek to put on a ‘good show’ by ‘standing-up’ in a required stance for the judge’s assessment and clearly demonstrating the horse’s paces. In-hand training should also establish some control and manners.
Ultimately competitors, riders or handlers show under the rules of the show and therefore it is their responsibility to be fully informed of those rules pertaining to their events and they are obliged to manage their equine exhibits accordingly.
Equestrian Australia to introduce
‘Stallion Safe Practice Guidelines’
Equestrian Australia (EA) is implementing a set of guidelines pertaining to the safe handling of stallions applicable to events run under EA Rules. It will be posted to the EA National Website shortly.
Some of the points the guidelines recommend are:
1. Stallions should wear official ‘discs’ at all times whilst at the venue — these ‘discs’ are to be worn on both sides of head collars and bridles, or on some part of the horse on both sides to identify to others that the horse is, in fact, a stallion.
2. No stallion is to be moved around any venue without displaying the stallion discs and a suitable restraint; this can be either a bridle, rearing bit or a chain lead rein over the nose, or under the jaw.
3. Where possible all stallions are to be stabled. If suitable stabling is not available stallions need to wear a collar, which must be securely tied to the outside of a truck or trailer. Stallions tied to the outside of a truck or trailer MUST be supervised at all times.
4. It’s recommended that riders and handlers of stallions at shows be over the age of 17 years, however it is the responsibility of the parent/guardian to understand the full code of conduct for stallions at events. With the exception of rule 1.1.8 in the Show Horse Rules and Guidelines, stallions are not permitted in show horse classes at EA state or championship events. All riders/handlers under the age of 17 yrs must be supervised by an adult/parent/guardian whilst at the event.
FOOTNOTE: The information provided in this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.