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In The Spirit of Compromise

Filed under: Current Articles,Editorial,Featured |     

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110 – March/April, 2016

AQHA Approves New Lip Cord

by: Megan Arszman

Bridle1When the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) proposed a rule change that eliminated the use of lip chains, members of the Halter community came together and raised concerns about the safety of exhibitors when it came to dealing with stallions. Their concerns resulted in a spirit of compromise with the implementation of the newly created lip cord.

The Rule

The rule change passed after the 2015 Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show includes the following:

SHW355. Halter Equipment

SHW355.1 For purposes of this rule, the term “allowed lip cord” shall only mean:

SHW355.1.1 a round, smooth soft/flexible, nonabrasive cotton polyblend cord with a dense core that has an unsecured keeper with at least ¾ inches of the cord outside of the halter before attachment of keeper or leather part of the shank;

SHW355.1.2 is applied only over the gum and not through the mouth;

SHW355.1.3 with respect to the cord applied over the gum, is made of cord having a diameter of at least 3/8 inches; cord applied over gum may not contain internal or external material.

SHW355.1.4 no foreign substances or additional materials may be added to the lip cord.

Only stallions one year old and older may be shown with the approved lip cord in open and amateur divisions. Weanlings, mares of any age, geldings of any age, or horses shown in Performance Halter or Ranch Horse Conformation (regardless of age and sex) are prohibited from being shown with a lip cord, nor a lip chain.

Any use of excessive pressure or jerking with the approved lip cord is prohibited. Judges have the right to check the lip cord at any time, and they will be inspected at all AQHA World Shows.

The Creation

When posed with the dilemma of keeping exhibitors safe while avoiding any pain being inflicted on the horse, members of the World Conformation Horse Association (WCHA) approached the AQHA Executive Committee about working together to find a compromise.

“The WCHA approached the AQHA saying they wanted to work on some options that would be better for the horse and still aid the exhibitor,” says Pete Kyle, AQHA Chief Show Officer. “We were concerned about the handlers having control of their stallions, while avoiding any harsh instruments,” he said.

“We wanted to offer knowledge from the professionals who actually show and train Halter horses and who have quite a few customers that show Halter horses,” says Wayne Halvorson, an officer for the WCHA. “We wanted to share our expertise, ideas, and information to help the AQHA come up with a compromise, rather than just completely eliminating the use of an aid such as the lip chain.”

The first options were quickly rejected—leather covers over chains, surgical rubber over the chain, etc. If the device still involved using the actual chain, it was considered inhumane by the Animal Welfare Commission. Moving away from using a chain, members turned to the idea of some type of rope as a cord—braided rope, parachute-type cord, etc. While these options seemed a little more comfortable to the Executive Committee, they were looking for something better.

Halter judge and trainer Tim Finkenbinder and exhibitor Anne Prince worked with different parties to come up with the right prototype that would appease everyone involved. Prince looked to the expertise of Bob Falvey, a nearby leatherman who owns The Round Pen, for options. “We had to think outside the box a little more,” explains Prince. “I started doing research on the tensile strength of different types of ropes and bringing different prototypes to the board. It was an evolutionary process, trying to come up with a compromise and a happy alternative for both sides.”

With each version, professionals in the Halter industry were given a prototype to try out and give their honest feedback to the WCHA and the AQHA. Professionals were asked to use the lip cord on a daily basis on their stock and to have their amateur clients use it as well. Then, Prince would check in with them daily for their feedback—how did the horses like the cord? Did handlers feel it served as an aid to help manage their stallions? Were amateurs comfortable handling stallions with that type of cord? “It was an industry-wide product,” Prince says.

Finally, Falvey and Prince presented members of both executive committees with a braided cord—something that was durable, yet soft. The approved lip cord was a soft and flexible cotton poly-blend cord with a strong, dense core and a nonabrasive cover.

AQHA Professional Horsemen such as Luke Castle, Jarrell Jackson, and Tom and Mary Robertson helped give their opinions on the final product. Some WCHA members were given the opportunity to use the final prototype at the 2015 AQHA World Show for a real-world experiment where all interested parties could observe the stallions’ reactions under the big lights.

“The horses are very accepting of the lip cord,” Prince says. “The horses seem to like and respect it. There was no lip curling or excessive head movement, as you sometimes see with a lip chain. It was like it was just another aid that they accepted and were comfortable with.”

In addition, instead of a chain’s metallic appearance, the simple look of the cotton cord gives it a very neutral appearance when seen on a horse’s head while in the show pen.

The Right Direction?

Halvorson is proud of how WCHA members have worked with the AQHA to help provide a compromise for the ruling against lip chains. “Many of our exhibitors feel like the lip chain is still the most ideal apparatus to use in Halter, and you’ll still see other associations allowing its use,” he says.

As of press time, there were no indications that other stock horse associations such as the American Paint Horse Association, Palomino Horse Breeders Association, Appaloosa Horse Club, and others are looking to change the rules regarding the use of lip chains, but allowing lip cords to be used. At standalone WCHA shows, members are not required to show with a lip cord and may use a lip chain. However, if the WCHA show is held in conjunction with an AQHA event, the AQHA rules must be followed.

“The WCHA and AQHA worked very well together to try to come up with a good solution for the problem of the lip chain,” Kyle says. “Both associations listened well, respected each other, and had a good working relationship to come up with this compromise. We’re proud to be partners with the WCHA, and we’re really proud to have all the input that they gave.”

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