Showing Western Pleasure Amid the Politics and Controversy

I spent last night, Halloween night, at the Appaloosa World Show. (That’s what horse people do: we incorporate our inescapable love of horses into EVERY holiday ever.) Now, we were there to watch the freestyle reining, which is a heap of fun. Before that, though, they held the 2 year old western pleasure class, and I can sum that class up in one word: Eughck…

Lemme ‘splain.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, “peanut rolling” sprang up out of the depths of Hell and took over the western pleasure ring faster than Lucifer himself could. Its ability to spread from one breed association to the next would have impressed even the demon that invented the Croatoan virus. Or, that’s my version of the story, anyway.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem so bad. A nice, slow horse with a nice, comfortable gait, all easily controlled. Right?


Vets all over the world began to see the (VERY) dark side of peanut rolling and began voicing their opinions.

Nobody listened. Nobody cared.

(I know. You’re thinking “What?!”)

Wanna know why?

It's not because it's useful. Riding the ranch and checking fence would take five times as long.

It's not because it comes naturally to horses. Oh hell naw. Just watch a horse in the pasture, even a western pleasure horse, and that will become painfully obvious.

It's not because it's aesthetically pleasing. In all honesty, it can be quite painful to watch.

It's not because it's easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

It's because it's hard. Before, a decent amateur could train a winning western pleasure horse. Peanut rolling is far more difficult to train and it takes a lot of time in the saddle, something most amateur riders don’t have. Peanut rolling became a way of guaranteeing that the winners were professionals. (“But why is that a bad thing? Professionals deserve to win, too.” Just wait, I still have to explain peanut rolling.)

As time went on, it became an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” sort of situation. Trainers were judges and judges were trainers, so Jim would place Bob’s horse high at one show if Bob placed Jim’s horse high in another.

A few years ago, the American Quarter Horse Association, the largest breed association in the world, began to genuinely crack down on peanut rolling, but not enough. Mind you, they’re the association all other associations look to, so by not cracking down hard enough, other associations didn’t, either. The Appaloosa Horse Club was no exception. Granted, they were one of the last breed associations to pick up peanut rolling, but they are now one of the last breed associations to take action against it.

Things really hit rock bottom in the ‘90s. By this time, peanut rolling had been around for 30ish years and some vets and riders had been protesting (but not enough). Additionally, trainers had been “fine-tuning” their training methods and had finally come up with what is most commonly known as peanut rolling.

Now that you guys know how this wild fire spread, let’s talk about what “peanut rolling” is.

When I call a horse a peanut roller, I mean to say its gaits are hyper collected, strides maybe 2-3 feet long (a standard stride is 12 feet), and the heads are so low to the ground they look like they could roll a peanut in front of them. There’s an added bonus to peanut rollers, as well: canted lopes. What I mean by that is the lope (or canter, if you ride English) is so collected and the strides so short that the horse begins to move down the rail at an angle, with the shoulder parallel with the rail and the hips canted inward.

Then there’s all the negative physical and psychological effects peanut rolling has on horses. Hock injections necessary at 2 and 3 years old, horses retired by 10 years old, navicular disease, rampant lamenesses, serious physical damage from the forced unnatural headsets, learned helplessness (read more about that theory as it applies to dressage horses here), and all the accidental deaths from drug overdoses.

About 10 years ago, a friend of mine who showed the Paint horse circuit qualified for the world show, and right before she was due to go in the ring, her trainer accidentally gave her horse too much thiamine and killed the horse minutes before her class. She bawled on my shoulder for an hour. We were 13. Mercifully, her trainer was fired on the spot and driven off the Paint circuit.

A trainer friend said it best when he said that peanut rolling is like bull riding. It's a test to see how well one can do that which ought not to be done.

By now, I’m sure you’re asking "Why the hell is this still allowed, let alone rewarded, in the show ring?" After all, riders, trainers, vets, judges, even the AQHA have come out against it, including rules about penalizing peanut rolling in shows in their official rule book.

Remember that part about trainer-judges doing favors for one another? Rules are ignored because the only way they can guarantee that professionals continue winning is to continue pinning the peanut rollers.

My immensely negative opinion of peanut rolling aside, I do hope this post helps you out. As always, leave a comment below, or if you have questions, ask away here.

(P.S. "More correct" is an official term used in horse judging. I wish I was making that up.)