It frustrates me to no end when people lump these two breeds together, so I just wanted to make an EDUCATIONAL thread to point out the differences. I don't mean to bash Saddlebreds or Walkers. I love both breeds.
I owned and showed Saddlebreds for 10 years before I got bored and got a Western trail horse. I never saw or heard of any abuse while I was involved in the industry. I literally never heard of anybody putting anything harmful on a Saddlebred's legs or hooves. The two things I hear people bashing about Saddlebred training methods are the chains and the stretchies. The chains are very light, and fit loosely around the pastern. Their purpose is to make the horse feel like he wants to lift his leg out of the chain simply because it's around his foot... not because it's hurting him. Some Walker people put motor oil and other corrosive materials on the pastern before putting their heavy chains on to cause the horse pain to make him lift his legs higher. That's completely different from how the Saddlebred chains are used. The other thing is the stretchies (a bungee cord connecting the two front legs together by fleece-covered straps around the pasterns). Honestly, I don't even see how anyone could think stretchies are abusive. They are there to build muscles in the leg - that's all. There's absolutely no pain involved.
One year, my barn went to a show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a joint show for Saddlebreds and Walkers. While we were there, we witnessed all of the horrible things you hear about happening to the big lick Walkers. The amount of horses being abused at the show was really horrible. And the people who work at the show and the judges don't even attempt to get involved. My trainer refused to go back to that show.
I've boarded my horses alongside hundreds of Saddlebreds. I never witnessed any of those horses being abused. They all got turned out daily during the off season, and got a lot of exercise during the show season. I've boarded at the same barn as three Walkers. Two were flatshod trail horses. One was padded, beaten, and neglected.
I know that abuse goes on in every discipline. I know that. I'm not even going to deny that it happens in the Saddlebred industry. I'm just saying that I never saw anything in my ten years with Saddlebreds, and I saw a LOT of horrible things during my five days with Walkers. I also know that there are plenty of Walkers who are not abused at all.
So please don't start posting angry comments saying "Not every Walker owner is an abuser!" You're wasting your time, because I already said that. I realize that every discipline has abusers and non-abusers. I just think that the Walker industry has an enormous percentage of abusers compared to other disciplines.
Now I'll show you some pictures. I'm comparing a 5-Gaited Saddlebred to a Big Lick Walker. These are comparable classes - the big jackpot, the one everybody wants to win, the last class on Saturday night.
Here is a World Champion 5-Gaited Saddlebred:
Here is a video of the same horse:
Here is a World Champion Big Lick Walker:
I couldn't find a video of the same horse, but here is another Big Lick World Champion:
Now, I can completely understand how someone used to Quarter Horses or another stock breed can lump these breeds together. They both have naturally high headsets and tucked in noses, they can both be gaited, they have similar tails, and they both have high knee and hock action. But when you compare the two like I've just done, can you see the huge difference?
Look at the size of the pads/hooves. Look at the length of the stride, and how completely stretched out the Walker is. Look at how collected the Saddlebred is, in comparison. In the videos, look at how many strides the Saddlebred does in a single one of the Walker's strides. It's absolutely ridiculous.
The worst thing about the pictures, in my opinion, is the hind end. Look at the Saddlebred's shoulders and hindquarters. They're in a straight line. Now compare that to the Walker's shoulders and hindquarters. The hindquarters are wayyyy lower than the shoulders. Imagine the strain that position puts on the Walker's hind end.
I think the Saddlebred looks like a real horse. A hot, animated horse, but a real horse nonetheless. To me, the Walker looks like a caricature of a horse. How would you even draw a caricature of a Walker? There's nothing you can do to exaggerate it more.
Here is a picture of a young Saddlebred naturally carrying their head high and lifting their legs high. It looks suspiciously similar to the Saddlebreds in the show ring. I have yet to see a picture of a young, untouched Walker that looks anything like a padded Walker in the show ring. That alone should tell you how much more man-made and unnatural the Walkers are.
Woah... I'm sorry this is so long. I guess I got carried away.
Now, before people get angry, I'm going to state a few things again... I DON'T think all Walker owners are abusers. I DON'T hate Walkers. I DON'T think Saddlebreds are better than Walkers. I DO think there are more Walker abusers than Saddlebred abusers. I DO think the big lick Walkers look ridiculous and unnatural, whether you think they have been abused or not.
Feel free to respond with your thoughts, whether you agree with me or not.
I would particularly like to hear from someone who previously thought Saddlebreds and Walkers looked similar, and can now see the difference. That was the purpose of this thread.