In 1988 I was invited to speak at the American Quarter Horse Annual Congress in Columbus, Ohio.  One of the subjects I discussed was the increasing trend in the Pleasure Horse classes for the poll to be carried far below the level of the withers.  Somebody had coined the tern “peanut rollers” for the unusual headset.

My concern was for the horse, which normally has about sixty-percent of its body weight borne by the forelimbs due to the weight of its head and neck.  Lowering the nose to the ground increases the weight borne by the forelimbs to a serious degree, predisposing the horse to orthopedic injuries to those two legs.

Western Pleasure horses are not usually required to work at a high speed, spin, slide stop, or jump.  Why then was I seeing so many Western Pleasure horses with forelimb orthopedic problems? For example, one of my patients was a reserve champion Western Pleasure mare.  I kept her going, and successfully competing with corrective shoeing, medication, and all sorts of other treatments between the shows.  Both feet were equally affected and apparently the judges liked her stilted, shortened gait.

At the Congress in Ohio I got into a conversation with a few Pleasure Class participants about the “peanut roller” phenomenon.  All of them disliked it but said, “You HAVE to do it if you want to win!”

I said, “How did this damned thing ever get started?”

One of the gentlemen said, “Well, you see, in the West there are gopher holes and badger holes everywhere, so if the horse’s head is too high, and he can’t see the holes, he can break a leg.”

I said, “Where do you live?”

He answered, “Right here in Ohio!”

“Have you ever ridden in the West?” I asked.

“No” he said, “But we are planning to make a trip next year to see the Western States.”

The next day I was with a similar group, who again expressed dismay at the “peanut roller” tendency.  Again, I asked, “How did this damned thing get started?”

One lady said, accusingly, “It’s all because of you Californians.  Now every Judge wants to see the California headset.”

I was startled.  I asked, “Have you ever seen the artwork of California Vaquero artists like Ernie Morris, vaquero artist, author and historian?”

“I’m not sure,” she responded.

“Well,” I told her. “You should! You will not see any “peanut rollers.”  The poll is carried slightly higher than the withers, the head is flexed, but the nose is not behind the vertical.  I don’t know of a traditional horsemanship culture, except for ours in recent years that recommends the head and neck be carried lowered to the point where the muzzle is close to the ground.  It does not encourage good visibility, agility, coordination, or a rapid easy gait.  And, it can harm the horse.”

“Well,” she retorted, “We call it the “California headset,” and I hate it, but I have to do it.”

Aside from the harm this posture caused the horses, I objected to it for another reason.  Until I graduated veterinary school at the age of thirty, I had spent every summer of my life since I was fifteen years of age (except for the two summers I was in the U.S. Army due to World War II) working with horses.

I knew that a working cowboy would rather be afoot than have to ride one of those “peanut roller” horses.  What pleasure is there in riding a horse that moves like an incapacitated old man – stooped over, head low, taking short careful steps because of painful bunions, arthritic joints, and a low energy level?