Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Conspiracy--Dr. Robert Miller

Dr. Robert Miller, Cartoonist

Dr. Robert Miller 2011

Dr. Robert Miller Jungleland 1950's

The Circus "NO SPIN ZONE": Ghost Zoo--Jungle Land, Thousand Oaks, Calif. Click link

Do you think if learned, knowledgeable individuals in our profession had spoken out, instead of patching or alibiing, we would not now be whining about less learned and knowledgeable animal rights people telling us what we can or can not do? I regret there were not more "Dr. Miller's" in the Wild Animal Training/Circus profession.


[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 “Too Much Too Young Too Soon”. It was a complete waste of time. There wasn’t 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 it’s much, much easier to train a two year-old than to train a four year-old.

So that’s 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 don’t know the difference. They just listen to what the breeders and the trainers say.

And how are quarter horses advertised today? “Million-dollar horse”. That’s how they talk about horses today. They list how much their winnings are. In racing, that’s terribly important, but I’m sorry to say that’s become important in performance as well. And that’s 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 wasn’t 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.

[HFL]: Really?

[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 “how in the world did something like this ever get started?”

[HFL]: that was my question to you. How did that progression happen? How did it happen?

[Dr. Robert Miller]: A lady said, “Well, it’s you Californians that started it with your Californian headset”. And I said, what? I said, that’s 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, that’s what we call it. And I said, that’s completely wrong. That’s 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 it’d 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 don’t keep their nose to the ground watching where they’re going. And I looked at him like he was crazy. I asked if he’d 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, it’s 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?

It’s because of the way they carried themselves. They’re not worked that hard.

You see, it’s 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, I’ll 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 that’s not going to happen. That’s politics and money like every aspect of life.

[HFL]: You’ve 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 didn’t. So after a few years of this and after a number of articles and that editorial I told you about, “Too Much Too Soon Too Young”, she said, "well, it hasn’t gotten any better. Let’s try again".

I said, "listen, I’ve got an idea. Logic and reason hasn’t done a bit of good. Let’s try ridicule. I’m a cartoonist. So instead of using logic and reason and experience, why don’t we use ridicule and let’s 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 I’m 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 “Downhill Dock. World Champion Western Pleasure Horse.”

In another frame, I had a judge saying to a disappointed competitor “I don’t care whether or not he’s free of the navicular disease, I want him to move like he’s got the navicular disease!”

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 it’s 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 they’re not mule judges. They’re horse show judges so they judge by the horse show rules. That’s fine as long as you don’t 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 don’t 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 don’t think people are thinking about is how it’s changing the balance point of the horse when they let them down like that. And it’s not just the set of the head and the neck, it’s also the fact the the horse doesn’t have a collar bone. He doesn’t have the skeletal structure to support that kind of increase in weight. He’s not built for that.

[Dr. Robert Miller]: And we haven’t 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 that’s what your horses are going through. That’s what your horse experiences. You know, I can see the agitation and the stress in the horses. It’s just shameful.

A lot of people are doing what they’re taught and think it’s necessary [what they’re doing]. They don’t 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 you’re going to a) damage the horse and b) take that movement away. You’ve got to create those kinds of actions without destroying the horse’s natural movement. And it’s a full range of movement as well. A lot of people don’t understand that.

So are you still drawing? Do you still do cartoons at all?

[Dr. Robert Miller]: Oh yes, a little bit. I don’t do very much. But I keep getting requests for it. Sometimes it’s for an advertisement or publications. I’ve been doing columns for over 40 years in veterinary journals so I stick some cartoons in there. And I’ve cartooned over the years for two veterinary journals that don’t exist anymore, but they had a full page of my cartoons and I’ve done about nine books of cartoons. It’s a hobby.

[HFL]: I think you’re right that sometimes we can do more with ridicule.

So you’ve watched this for many years. You’ve seen the changes in the quarter horse in Western pleasure. You’ve seen them go down lower and lower and now they’ve come up and not down as low anymore. But they need to come up more. And you see rollkur happening in every barn. And I’m seeing Western cowboys using rollkur when they’re training their horses. There is nose to the chest with a fully engaged curb rein and you’re sticking it with the spur at the same time.

[Dr. Robert Miller]: Yes, I know there is one clinician that’s encouraging that and teaching that. It’s 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 don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to do to make a change.

[Dr. Robert Miller]: Well, …

Continued Next Issue…

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